My Top 20 Songs of 2018

Originally, I’d planned to finish off 2018 by writing three posts of top 10 lists: top 10 albums and songs, top 10 TV shows and top 10 podcasts (or books).

However, I got really into going over 2018’s music this month and found myself feeling less and less enthusiastic about writing about my favorite TV shows, podcasts and books. Partly that’s because I didn’t watch that much TV this year (I think I had about 15 shows to choose from), and because my top podcasts list would have been very similar to my list of top podcasts of 2017.

So instead, I posted my top 20 albums and today I’ll cover my top 20 songs. With this post I’ve reached my goal set out a year ago of 52 posts in 52 weeks. I’m quite happy about that (and went into more detail about how important completing this project has been for my personal growth in this post from a few weeks back).

Anyway, please enjoy this romp through my top 20 songs. I’ll be posting a playlist of the top 20 in order on Apple Music, so if you are a member and want to hear the tunes, seek out Bryan Winchell as a member and I think you can find it (otherwise, I’ve linked every song to YouTube versions in this post!).

Numbers 20-11

Amanda Shires

Amanda Shires

No. 20 (tie) “Parking Lot Pirouette” and “Wasn’t I Paying Attention” Amanda Shires—Yes, a cop-out. But my list, my rules and I couldn’t decide! The former tune shows off Shires’ powerful voice and the latter is more about a groove underneath a story with a shocking ending. Probably not a mistake that she started and ended the album with these two killer tracks.

19. “Screwed” Janelle Monae: Even though this album was on my disappointments of 2018 list, this tune rated a five out of five stars from the very first time I heard it. Reminds me of some of those 1980s pop tunes that were summery perfection. Yet the lyrics are certainly a lot more 2018 than 1980s!

18. “Bassackwards” Kurt Vile: A droner that lasts almost 10 minutes, this is a song I can just find myself … where? On the beach? I’m not sure, but I like it. It’s also ironic that Vile is singing about short attention span yet this song seems to be him completely stuck in a deep pocket.

Wooden Shjips

Ripley Johnson, guitarist/leader of Portland-via-San-Francisco psychedelic rockers Wooden Shjips had to look like this, right?

17. “Staring at the Sun” Wooden Shjips: Yup, I like droning tunes; like a guided musical meditation. Add in “sun” to a song and I’m usually on board, too. On top of that you’ve got those druggy, hazy vocals riding above it all. Yessss…

16. “Keep It Simple” Xavier Rudd: A tune that flows over Rudd’s trademark sound; world music with bluesy guitars and a dubby bass line. As usual, Rudd is prescribing some brotherhood and love in a time of darkness. A prescription drug I’m always willing to take!

15. “Best Years of My Life” Pistol Annies: What a heartbreaker. A song I can relate to, unfortunately. That feeling that you are right in the middle of your life, that you should be doing great, but, well, you just aren’t. I also love how the women of this band trade vocals on the verses and then come together with sweet harmonies. Beautiful and sad.

Lucy Dacus

Lucy Dacus gets emotional on “Night Shift.”

14. “Night Shift” Lucy Dacus: This is that tune I was thinking of when I said in my review of Dacus’ Historian album (no. 16) that she sometimes sounds like 1990s Smashing Pumpkins. When I first heard this track, I had no idea how explosive it would become. Definitely a real highlight of a solid album.

13. “Maria Tambien” Khruangbin: Crap. This band was supposed to make my top 20 albums list! Oh, well. They are another that I discovered late but as I dug into this album, I found I’d already downloaded and given five stars to this number. It sounds like a dance party in the Sahara. As does much of this album. Great stuff!

12. “Murder to the Mind” Tash Sultana: Wow, what a groovy, soul-bearing crusher this is, complete with dancehall horns and Sultana’s voice melodically ranging over the music in a way that takes my breath away.

Foxing band

Hey Foxing: Who’s winning the game?

11. “Slapstick” Foxing: A late addition, this song is seriously powerful. I don’t think I’ve listened to it once without feeling chills. I’m not sure what the heck the lyrics are about, but some of my favorite lyrics are ones that I can’t make sense of (“Visions of Johanna” by Bob Dylan, anyone?). Still, it wasn’t the lyrics that did it for me in this tune, but the way it builds and then, out of nowhere, explodes. Plus, lots of ear candy going on in this tune as there seems to be on most tracks on this adventurous album.

The Top 10!!

10. “Join” Wye Oak: Combine a very pretty 1960s-esque guitar on top of a rhythmic track that I can’t make sense of and put an ethereal voice on top of it and you get this beauty. Is liquid heroin a thing? Because that’s what this song makes me think of.

phish-las-vegas-halloween-kasvot voxt

To become Kasvot Vaxt for Halloween Phish went all white because, well, Scandinavia…

9. “The Final Hurrah” Kasvot Vaxt (Phish): A faceplant into rock. That’s what this song is. No, it’s a lot more than that. From the opening hop of John Fishman’s steady drumbeat and the consistent bass line from Mike Gordon, this song is an instant Phish classic that has some serious potential to jam. Can’t wait to see how it develops in their live shows over the next few years!

8. “New Birth in New England” Phosphorescent: Last year, the word I kept returning to was “breezy” for lots of tunes I liked, so in that sense this song is more 2017 than 2018 for me. Whatever year it came out in, this is just a wonderful new direction for Matthew Houck. Not that I want him to stop making stunners like “Song for Zulu.” It’s just that this one makes me feel good.

Neko Case Is a Bad Ass

Neko Case is a bad-ass.

7.: “Last Lion of Albion” Neko Case: This song is almost like a companion in my mind to “New Birth in New England” because it is also from an artist who I associate more with melancholy than positivity, yet, man, this one is warm with one of the best sing-a-long choruses on this list. Case also shows off her voice on this one, but again, in a way that doesn’t say “look at me!”

6. “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino” Arctic Monkeys: Who is this Mark character working the desk of this casino on the moon? I’m not sure, but he’s probably my favorite of the alter-egos that Alex Turner tries on from my favorite album of 2018. Turner is rightfully hyped as the leader of this band, but I think the band itself doesn’t get enough credit for their success and this song is an example of that. I’ve always liked the bass playing on their albums, yet until this moment I didn’t know the name of that bassist. Folks, he is Nick O’Malley and his bass is killer on this track. As are Turner’s wild vocals. Soooo good.

5. “Yolk in the Fur” Wild Pink: This song has totally obsessed me over the past week. I love how it works like a song suite. The first time I heard it I was convinced it was three or four songs. It’s an emotional ride, starting out heavy and reminding me with its changes of The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly.” Then it develops a more uplifting sound with lyrics that speak to the potential we all have (“You’re changing the path of your life”) and, last, suggests that to do that, we have to put some skin in the game. Love it.

CHVRCHES_ Lauren Mayberry

Lauren Mayberry of Chrvches

4. “Get Out” Chvrches: Coming on an album that was one of the bigger disappointments for me in 2018, this tune didn’t really win me over for a while. However, upon further listens to this track, not only does it have a classic Chrvches, endorphin-rising chorus, but like most of their best songs it has a line that emotionally resonates, which is “So do you wanna turn it around? / And do you wanna show me how? / You are a kaleidoscope”.

Personally, pondering this one night opened me up to seeing my wife of 14 years in a positive way because I recognized that if we look at someone from a different perspective, maybe see the world through their eyes, we can see it and them anew, as though we are looking through a kaleidoscope.

3. “Oh, What a World” Kacey Musgraves: I already mentioned my poignant moment I had with this song on my visit to the US in my top albums of the year (this is off my #2 album, Golden Hour). In an era where people seem to be talking more and more about life being a struggle, I love artists who find things to celebrate about life.

One thing Musgraves has highlighted that I don’t think country singers of the 20th century ever talked about is support for psychedelics. Yes, I read an article that the opening track on Golden Hour, “Slow Burn,” and the short, beautiful track “Mother” were written by her after an LSD trip. And then on this track, she refers to “plants that grow and open your mind”—mushrooms? Ayahuasca? Who knows? All I know is this is a dreamy, beautiful song.

ARCTIC-MONKEYS

The Arctic Monkeys took their act to a casino on the moon in 2018.

2. “Four out of Five” Arctic Monkeys: God, the rhythm of this track just blows me away. It’s a testament to the magic of music that I don’t think there is anything special to this rhythm track, I think it is just a 4/4 rocker. But it’s the way the drums and yes, another killer bass line, emphasize the rhythm and allow Alex Turner to flow over this tune that makes it the song I listened to the most in 2018. But that’s only because this one came out a few months before the number one track came out. And without much further adieu…

greta van fleet

They even pose like Zeppelin. But what’s with the zebra pants, Jake Kiszka?

1. “Age of Man” Greta van Fleet: Fuck, Zeppelin would love to consider this a track in their catalog! That’s right, I said it! Yes, the lyrics are silly and an obvious rip-off. But the way lead singer Josh Kiszka belts out the words … well, I found myself singing this song all the time the past few months. Either that or air guitaring and singing the guitar parts, which are just bad ass. And then, when it hits the “And as we came into the clear” – blast-fucking-off! God damn, this is a bad ass tune and I’m swearing up a storm as I draw this motherfucker to a close. Rock, rock, no … rawk! A faceplant into rawk!!

And with that, the countdown has ended. As has the 2018 weekly blog post series.

Though I’ve put a lot of hours and effort into this series, I’ve really enjoyed the experience. I’m pondering what to do as far as blogging and writing in 2019 and probably in the next week or so, I’ll post my plans. Until then, thanks for reading!

Celtic-Tree-of-Life-Symbol-and-Its-Meaning

Shameless Self Promotion Time: If you enjoy my writing, please check out my novel, “The Teacher and the Tree Man.” The full 80-chapter story can be purchased as an e-book or as a paperback from Amazon or as an e-book at Smashwords. You can also purchase the book in each of the 20-chapter “books” (there are 4, for a total of 80) at Amazon as well (book 1, book 2, book 3 and book 4). If you are a member of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited like I am, you can read the individual books for free. If you like reading and discovering independent authors like me, I highly recommend joining Kindle Unlimited!

Here is a bit from the synopsis:  “The Teacher and the Tree Man” is a modern American epic fable about a Teacher in love with Nature who discovers a human head, a Tree Man, living in a tree in a forest near his house. The novel is about our need to unplug from our culture and re-discover ourselves in Nature. It is a fun-yet-deep look at: the media, our education system, drugs in our culture and our inability to listen to each other in the political arena. 

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My Top 20 Albums of 2018

In preparation for this post, I read my top 10 lists from 2017 (albums and songs) and realized that I broke the only real rule that matters in writing these lists: always start from the lowest ranking and work your way to number one. If you start with number one like I did last year, are people really going to keep reading until the end as the selections get worse and worse?

So this year I’m following that rule, but instead of 10, I’m giving you double the content, counting down my top 20 albums and top 20 songs. This post will focus on the albums; for the songs, please click here.

I spent much of December listening to and reading top 10 lists and then finding new stuff so a few of these albums may benefit from recency bias. However, I took that into account so I feel pretty good about this list.

Still, whenever I write about music, I’m always cognizant of how much my opinion can change over time. I learned this lesson at my college newspaper when I panned an album by the Primus spin-off Sausage and then, a few months later, listened to it again and really liked it and felt crappy for panning it!

All this is my way of saying don’t take my list (or any list) too seriously. Realize they are mostly done in the spirit of fun and discovery, not as some sort of ironclad declaration.
If I made the top 20 in another week or two, it’s likely I wouldn’t come up with the same order, some would drop off the list and some would be added.

Thus, these are just albums I dug in 2018 that I came up with these final weeks of December. All in all, I think this was a pretty solid year for music, even if there may not be any albums that totally blew me away.

A Few Trends

Eight of these albums are by women (or fronted by women), which seems to be an increasing trend in my listening habits over the past decade.

I’m not sure if that is a reflection of the #MeToo movement, of women becoming more promoted in the music world, or of me needing to hear positive female voices (I could go into a deeper self-revelation and psychoanalysis of that comment, but I’ll leave it there for now). Whatever the reason, I found I often preferred hearing female singers more than male ones.

Second, I seem to be appreciating Americana and/or country a lot more than I used to. Again, many of these artists, such as Kacey Musgraves and the Pistol Annies, are women and while they are based in country they are mixing in other genres, too. As a person who has always liked a bit of country in my rock bands (The Grateful Dead, the Byrds), I am all for artists who come out of country making efforts to blend that genre with other genres that I appreciate more.

Okay, that’s it for the intro, let’s get on with the list!!

Numbers 20-11

20. MGMT – Little Dark Age: Remember these guys? About 10 years ago, their Oracular Spectacular was one of the hot debut albums and it seemed everyone I knew was into it.

mgmt little dark ageI saw them at Summersonic, one of Japan’s big rock festivals, and felt like they were way over-the-top with their wall of sound. I read later that the band had been partying really hard on that tour so perhaps they were unaware that what they were producing on stage sounded, to these ears at least, like a muddled mess. I remember somewhat liking their follow-up album and then forgot about them.

However, this album shows a maturing band that still has a knack for writing catchy tunes, such as “Tslamp,” one of several songs on this album about the dangers of our technological age. Hey, if I’m gonna ponder that topic I may as well do it to a solid groove, right? What puts this album at the bottom of my list is it becomes less compelling after Tslamp.”

kurt vile bottle it in19. Kurt Vile – Bottle It In: Goddamn, Kurt, you’re gonna make a hypocrite out of me, a person whose favorite piece of music this year was Phish’s 22-minute mind-blowing version of “Mercury” in Las Vegas. But seriously, this album is long! Take it as a lesson, Bryan, to keep your next novel under 100,000 words!

That said, there’s a lot to like here; that is, if you like drony, stony philosophizing over guitar wizardry. To be honest, I’ve never even finished this album, which is why I can’t rank it higher.

18. Eleanor Friedberger – Rebound: Here is a female artist who I find hard to pin down. For one, unlike most of the female artists on this list, I am not crazy about her voice. That said, one time I was telling a friend I didn’t really care for Grateful Dead bass player Phil Lesh’s voice and he said something that has stuck with me, “I like it because it is honest.”

eleanor friedberger - reboundI think the same can be said for Friedberger’s pipes. She doesn’t have the range or power of the other women on this list, but her voice sounds authentic and it matches the music she makes.

And what kind of music is that? It’s breezy, melodic indie singer-songwriter pop. Songs like “Everything” frequently popped up on the playlist in my mind this year and put a bounce to my step.

17. Death Cab for Cutie – Thank You For Today: It was a typically muggy, hot summer night and I couldn’t sleep. I put this album on my headphones and its mellow vibe escorted me to the land of Morpheus.

death cab for cutie - thank you for today

This band has put out a number of solid albums but what made this one surprising is that it is the first without chief songwriter Chris Walla and yet frontman Ben Gibbard came through with one of their best albums in years. If you like mid-tempo indie pop with both a feeling of warmth and melancholy, this is as good an album as I heard in 2018.

16. Lucy Dacus – Historian: The first on this list that I discovered in December, this album has been a regularly companion these past few weeks. Listening to the soul in her voice, it’s hard to believe Dacus is only 23 years old.

lucy dacus historianShe backs it with music that can veer from an almost hushed quiet to bombastic rock guitars. I even remember thinking there was a little bit of 1990s Smashing Pumpkins in her sound. In other words, emotional range. Mostly, this is a mellow album (much mellower than the Smashing Pumpkins) but I like how she has an edge to her, as well. Yes, a talent to keep an eye on!

Before I go on, I’d also like to give a shout-out to her side project, a super group called boygenius. They put out a 22-minute EP that has a couple of great tracks, but it wasn’t enough for me to put it on this list. Perhaps they and Kurt Vile can meet halfway and both make a 45-minute album?

metric - art of doubt

15. Metric – Art of Doubt: Another band led by a woman, Emily Haines, with the kind of killer voice that deserves to be at the head of a modern rock band. It’s gritty and tough, but also able to express sensitivity. And she’s backed by a band that can match her sonically. I’m not familiar enough with Metric to rate this album in their catalog. All I know is it sounds the way I want a sleek, sexy modern rock band to sound.

14. Foxing – Nearer My God: This album is a grower. I made it about six songs through on first listen and thought it was pretty good but then forgot about it … mostly. It stuck around in my consciousness enough that when I started re-visiting albums this month to prepare this list, I finally made room to give this a final shot. I am glad I did!

foxing - nearer my godSome have compared this emotionally complex, musically dense album to something like if TV on the Radio had a big budget and put out an album. It’s not a bad comparison, though it could also be a reflection of how the singer often sings in falsetto, which some understandably don’t like. Personally, I dig it. For me, a voice is no different than any other instrument, so if it matches the music, I don’t mind if it is odd or not perfect.

Anyway, I want to spend more time with this album; it may deserve a higher ranking, but I put it down here because haven’t given it my full attention … yet.

13. Phosphorescent – C’est La Vie: Singer/songwriter Matthew Houck is the man behind Phosphorescent and his album Muchacho was one of my favorites of 2013, especially the hauntingly moving “Song for Zulu.”

phosphorescent - c'est la vie

So I was excited to see that, after getting married, having two kids and moving to Tennessee, Houck finally released his follow-up to Muchacho. It’s a warmer, more upbeat album than that one, with “New Birth in New England” standing out with its breezy, beachside-bar vibe catching my ear from the first time I heard it (enough to make my top 20 songs list).

There From Here” felt more like the sort of lilting, dreamy country vibe of Muchacho that I dug. Those two tracks alone made this an album I was happy to have as a companion in 2018, but the rest of the album holds together well, too.

12. Circles Around the Sun – Let it Wander: I have to thank Apple Music’s weekly designed For You “Chill Playlist” for my discovery of this band.

Back in the spring, I was taking a nap to that list and one day I woke up to an amazing song which turned out to be from this band’s prior outing, Interludes for the Dead. That particular song was almost 20 minutes long and was on an album that stretches almost two-and-a-half hours. What kind of debut album is this, I wondered?

circles around the sun - let it wander

It turns out those tracks were created as set-break music for the Grateful Dead’s 2015 Fare Thee Well tour. It was so well-received that the band put the music out as an album and then decided to create a follow-up and boy am I glad they did.

This seven-track album is a “short” 78 minutes, with two tracks clocking in at near twenty minutes. Without a bad track, it’s all psychedelic, groovy instrumentals to sooth the soul.

On top of that, Chuck D. makes a guest appearance!

Last, on a personal note the song “Tacoma Narrows” refers to a waterway and a bridge in my hometown. Nowadays there are actually two bridges, but its original incarnation shook so much in the wind in its brief five-month life that it earned the nickname “Galloping Gertie” until it crashed into the sea on a stormy day in November 1941.

(A funny personal note about that historical occasion: When my brother and I were in our teens, we went to the Smithsonian Museums in Washington D.C. and found a video like this one of Galloping Gertie falling into the sea. Yet somehow, that supposed museum of record had misspelled Tacoma with a “k.” Perhaps they were thinking of nearby Maryland’s Takoma Park? Either way, you know us two little know-it-all’s simply had to bring this grave injustice against our hometown to the attention of the Smithsonian staff. Hopefully they fixed it!)

wooden shjips - v.

11. Wooden Shjips – V.: This West Coast psych-rock outfit just keeps getting better and better. This album was a perfect summertime companion, with the band stretching out their Pink Floyd-meets-Grateful Dead tunes over hard-charging beats that make me want to find my bongo drums, shake off my shoes, let my hair grow down to my knees and hit the road!

Truly an album I can get lost in, even if it is only about 40 minutes long.

The Top Ten!!

pistol annies - interstate gospel

10. Pistol Annies – Interstate Gospel: Like the previous two selections, this is an album where I had trouble singling out one song; it’s just solid, Americana/country songwriting and playing from three female Nashville stars.

Of all the albums on this list, this one would surprise the Bryan of 10 or 15 years ago the most, but I just find so much to admire here: it stretches the gamut from deep, beautiful sadness (“Best Years of My Life”) to a rollicking roadhouse jam celebrating a divorce (“Got My Name Changed Back.”).

angelique kidjo - remain in light

9. Angelique Kidjo – Remain in Light: Last summer, I went to see another band that also covered this classic Talking Heads album. I wrote quite a bit about that experience (the anticipation, a bad experience and a breakthrough!).

And like that favorite band, Angelique Kidjo takes what is a very unique-sounding album and makes it her own, fully exploring the album’s intricate rhythms and, somehow, adding to them.

It might be because Kidjo comes from Benin, a country on the coast of West Africa that even I, a self-avowed geography buff, had to look up to place it in my mind’s map of that giant continent. (Do you know how big Africa is? Check this picture out to compare!).

Africa is huge

Kidjo’s Benin would be in Argentina on this map.

Called “Africa’s premier diva” by Time magazine, Kidjo certainly brings a lot of feminine fire power to her performance on this exuberant album. Add to that all those rhythms, call-and-receive voices, horns, synthesizers and this one is a true treat for the ears. But a warning: I feel like this is one you’ve got to be up for; as in, I wouldn’t necessarily want to hear this early in the morning or late at night. Great afternoon album, in other words. Viva la Africa!wild pink - yolk in the fur

8. Wild Pink – Yolk in the Fur: Of all the albums on this list, this is the one that might be benefitting the most from recency bias. I only listened to it for the first time just over a week ago, but man … this is a stunner. Many people are (rightfully) in love with the War on Drugs, but this band takes some of the sonic landscaping that the War on Drugs excels at and makes it sound more personal and lived in. About the only downside to this album is I feel like lead singer John Ross doesn’t have a lot of range to his voice. However, he writes great lyrics over rustic, gorgeous mid-tempo rock music. Lovely.

tash sultana flow state

7. Tash Sultana – Flow State: Sexy, sultry and soulful, Sultana’s voice soars over modern reggae, R&B and pop grooves on this, her debut album. What’s most impressive is that she plays every instrument on this album and does it with aplomb and she’s only 23 years old!

From the cascading waterfall Hendrix-esque guitar licks on the opening track, this album enraptured me in a warm glow, creating my own flow state where I found myself singing along, making up my own words on top of its deep grooves.

As I was re-visiting this album the other day on a sunny bike ride, I found myself thinking, “Tash is a jedi.” Those of you familiar with the Phish scene know that was (is?) a popular shirt for Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio, “Trey is a jedi.” I think it was during the outro, fiery guitar solo in “Cigarettes” that I had this thought. How in the heck can someone so young play so well? I don’t have the answer for that.

As one gets older, it can be harder to discover young talent because your list of favorites keeps growing and you have to keep up with them. And nowadays, the talent pool has so many more people to choose from.

One way I try to find new artists is by starting with someone I like on YouTube and then follow the site’s suggestions and I’m pretty sure that was how I stumbled upon Sultana. Anyway, watch this amazing performance of her first hit, “Jungle,” and I think you’ll see why I find her so compelling.

django django - marble skies

6. Django Django – Marble Skies: As I was working on this list, I thought this album would fall farther. After all, I’d kind of listened to it so much at the start of the year that I found myself skipping songs off of it when they popped up on playlists.

However, when I listened to it again, I remembered: Yes, this is a great album from one of my favorite bands of the 2010s. They are called an “art-rock” band, a phrase that doesn’t do much to explain them for me. I’ll just say that their tunes are dance-able, infectious, with lots of rhythmic interplay and ear candy. Great to bike to!

5. Neko Case – Hell-On: I’ve loved this alt-country songstress with the sultry voice and searching lyrics for over a decade now and this album, in my opinion, is one of her strongest in years. It’s got one of the catchiest tunes of the year in “Last Lion of Albion” and, as per usual with Case, just a lot of things to listen to from the instrumentation to the lyrics to, yes, that voice.

Neko-Case-Hell-On Better

All Music describes her voice as “warm and engaging but (it) speaks from a position of strength … expressive and emotional but never histrionic.” That last bit really strikes me because one of the temptations for those with big, natural voices like Case’s that invariably turn me off is when they take it over the top all the time (think Mariah Carey).

When you’ve got a pair of lungs like Case’s, you can afford to use them judiciously and then, at times, blow away the listener. Much more effective that way, in my opinion.

One thing I find interesting about Case is I’ve listened to some of her live concerts and she is almost like a stand-up comedian, yet that side of her rarely seems to be reflected in her music (though “Bad Luck” has some funny lines). Maybe I’m missing (or forgetting) bits of her catalog and someone can inform me of a song where she expresses some of her playful side.

One side of Case that she’s long explored that I identify with is her sorrow over our destruction of the natural world. On this album, she covers that topic in songs like “Hell-On” and “My Uncle’s Navy.” This is an album that is worth repeated listens and only seems to get better to me as I do so.

4. Greta Van Fleet – Anthem of the Peaceful Army: You know, I never did get my led all the way out. Not even close. When I discovered Zeppelin as a teenager, I wanted so much more.

greta van fleet anthem of the peaceful army

In the early 1990s, I can remember discovering both Pearl Jam and Soundgarden because they’d been referenced to being like Led Zeppelin. Yet when I listened to the album Ten and Badmotorfinger, much as I dug them, they didn’t sound like Zeppelin.
Wait a minute, wasn’t I supposed to be writing about Greta Van Fleet?

Well, unless you’ve had your head under a rock, you know that GVF is basically doing a remake of Led Zeppelin. People use that against them, saying how unoriginal they are. I won’t disagree, but I will say this: Zeppelin is not an easy band to re-create. If they were, there’d be a lot more Greta Van Fleet’s out there. But there aren’t.

And I think one of the reasons Zeppelin was and will always remain such a huge band in rock is because they tapped into something deep, along the lines of something like musical archetypes.

This is all my way of saying, man I really love this album, I love having a new batch of tunes that seem to come from that same place Zeppelin tapped into, performed by hard-working, talented musicians. I won’t, in the slightest, be bothered if you totally disagree. In fact, nothing you can say to me will make me turn against this album. It’s a classic with lots of great tracks and one that, like Zeppelin, I expect I’ll enjoy for a long time.

And I’ve got a feeling that because the members of this band are so young, they are going to discover their own sound and will be with us for a while. That is, so long as they didn’t sign a pact with the devil, in which case we’ll only get about a decade’s worth of great tunes from them before their Behind the Music decent into addiction and madness ruins them.

kasvot vaxt

3. Kasvot Vaxt – i Rokk: Okay, if you have heard of this album you know it is actually an album by Phish.

For years Phish has covered a classic album at their Halloween shows such as The White Album by the Beatles and Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones. However, this year they “covered” a lost classic by a Scandinavian underground band. Turns out, though, no such band ever existed and these are all originals.

The brilliance of this joke was it allowed Phish to explore some new sounds as though they were this 1980s Scandinavian psych-rock band. However, that’s not to say these songs lack the usual catchy hooks that Phish excels at. They have that and more, including a whole lot of odd lines and humor that just made this one of my favorite things to listen to in 2018. I mean, come on, “This is what space smells like,” “I’m the glue in your magnet” and “We are come to outlive our brains”? Great stuff!

No. 2: Kacey Musgroves – Golden Hour: This album is a singer-songwriter, Americana pop masterpiece. Until the past few days, this was going to be my number one, but it was usurped only because … well because of the reason I’ll get to in the No. 1. slot.

Still, if I wanted to hear some tunes that made me feel warm and pulled on my heartstrings this was the album for me this year. Musgraves has a very approachable voice and while it sometimes verges into a bit of country twang, it’s usually not noticeable as she was making an effort to make this album accessible to a wider audience.

kacey musgraves - golden hour

I read an interview with Musgraves about how she had been pondering how she could take some of the modern sounds found on Daft Punk’s 2013 classic Random Access Memories and mix it with the traditional sounds of country and Americana that she loves.

As a result, she comes up with some stunners, such as “Oh What a World,” which combines a vocoder intro with a banjo and created one of my most poignant music-listening memories of 2018. I was high above the clouds on an airplane on my July trip to the United States, listening to this track as I looked out the window and gazed at a field of what looked like diamonds but were probably clouds forming over the snow-capped Olympic Mountains of my home state. “Oh, what a world,” indeed.

No. 1: The Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino: If you have any issue with this being my number one album, please blame Steven Hyden, the host of the Celebration Rock Podcast. Not only did he also put this at number one, he gave me my justification for doing so.

He said that a number one album has to be one that he became totally obsessed with at some point during the year and this was the only album of 2018 that passed that criteria for him. Ditto, Steve.arctic monkeys - tranquility base hotel and casino

On my first listen to this album I was only impressed with the one hit, “Four out of Five,” and even it sounded sort of weird to me. However, the vibe of this album hung with me and I found myself wanting to re-visit it. Over and over and over again.

Upon my next few listens, that lounge-lizard-crooner-in-space vibe totally won me over. And then, upon further listens, it became the non-sequitur lyrics that did it for me, so much so that I wrote my own oddball poem using the melody of the title track as my jumping off point. (Maybe I’ll post it one of these days!)

This album sounds like nothing else that I heard this year and certainly was a new direction for this band. 2013’s AM was a big hit but for whatever reason it never captured me the way their previous work did. However, this album has got me back on board. More of this please!

Aw, What the Hell: Here’s Four More That Just Missed the List

King Tuff – The Other: Another one that I visited on and off over the year and that has grown on me. From the searching “The Other” to the disco stomp of “Psycho Star,” this is a solid, more accesible version of the kind of garage-psych-rock that Ty Segall produces. Segall’s album Freedom’s Goblin almost made my list, too, but I just didn’t connect with it as much as I did this album. So give this round to the King!

kamasi washington - heaven and earth

Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth: My only jazz entry onto the list. But that’s probably because I don’t listen to that much jazz. I’m sure if I did, I’d find more. This album is sprawling, epic and wonderful. So big I’ve never actually finished it, joining Kurt Vile’s club, which is one of the reasons I can’t fathom putting it into the top 20.

But each time one of its tracks comes up on a playlist, I find myself going on a journey. It’s much of the same reason I like improvisational rock; songs that can take me into another world always leave an impression on me.

Garcia Peoples – Cosmic Cash: Probably should be in my top 20.

I discovered this band due to another favorite music podcast, Beyond the Pond, which uses the music of Phish to turn us phans onto music from other bands. On that podcast’s almost two-hour best of 2018 episode, the hosts shared their top 20 as well as many top five lists from their listeners. Anyway, this album was on one of those listener list’s and the short clip they played from it was enough to make me check it out. And I’m glad I did!

garcia peoples - cosmic cash

So while this is a recent entry into my musical world, it feels like this album from these New Jersey newcomers could have been in my life for many years now. Much of that is due to the fact that they clearly love the jam band genre that the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers spawned. However, I’m not a person who listens to a lot of albums by jam band staples like moe. or Umphrey’s McGee, though I do enjoy some of their live shows and have enjoyed some of their studio work. Much of this is because bands like this don’t always translate into the studio.

For whatever reason, though, these guys did on this album. It may have just caught me in good spirits on one of my first days where I could just kick back in a while, but I think if you like the bands I mentioned above, you ought to consider checking these guys out.

amanda shires - to the sunset

Amanda Shires – To the Sunset: Shires is another of those Nashville-based songstresses who is just putting out some killer music. Like Musgrave’s album, this album is more than just a country/Americana album; it covers a lot of ground musically and emotionally. I only discovered it in the last week, so didn’t feel I had enough time for it to soak in and break my top 20. We’ll have to see how it grows with me over time! (An interesting note: Shires is the wife of another renowed musician, Jason Isbell, whose music I’ve liked for over a decade now. What a couple!)

Last and Least (A Few Disappointments)

Xavier Rudd – Storm Boy: If you read my top 10 albums of 2017 post last year, you may remember Rudd was my favorite new discovery of that year.

An Australian by birth and a world citizen by nature, Rudd’s music is rooted in reggae, blues and Australian folk music but his themes and vibe are about freeing ourselves from mental conditioning and living as a Brotherhood of man. It may sound a bit too hippie-ish to you (and it might be), but if you like the genres mentioned above, you’ll dig Rudd.

xavier rudd - storm boy

Like Sultana, he is also a multi-instrumentalist (what is it with Australia these days?). And like her, he plays them all well. In addition, he always has solid musicians surrounding him.

All that said, this album was underwhelming to me. Maybe it’s because his 2014 album Nanna is one of my favorite albums of the 2000s and I really dug the live album he released in 2017. I suppose he can be forgiven for turning in one that is solid but doesn’t really break any new ground.

Muse – Simulation Theory: I may have not given this album its full due, but the first time I heard it, nothing stuck and as I went through it again for this blog post I thought it was a little better, but still doesn’t seem like one of their better efforts.

Muse Simulation TheoryMaybe I’m tiring of their sound or maybe they just need a shift of styles? Personally, I love their ballads (Explorers!) and would love to see them do an album full of them, but I hear that bassist Chris Wolstenholme loves the heavy shit so I doubt that’ll happen.

That all said, they are still brilliant musicians and Matthew Bellamy’s voice is still one of my favorite voices in rock, so I won’t say this is a bad album. Just not as good as Muse can be.

Chrvches – Love is Dead: Man, I wanted this album to win me over. I gave it many chances to do that. Fortunately, the single, “Get Out” track made my top 20 songs of the year list, but other than that, this is a forgettable effort. Not sure why, but it just didn’t connect with me as their past two did.

Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer: Ever notice how when an artist becomes the hot thing, every critic out there will put their most recent work on their best of the year lists? Maybe I am just being curmedgeonly or maybe it’s just because I loved her previous albums so much that I expected more from this one, but even after trying to get into this album again this month, I just didn’t think this was a great effort. Sure, there are still some good tunes but overall, it just didn’t work for me. Maybe next time…

And speaking of next time, I’ve had your for long enough. I’ll be releasing my top 20 songs of the year in the next day or so, which will be the 52nd post of 2018 and thus the last time I’ll have a post out for you this year. Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll get to the top TV shows of the year, or something else. Regardless thanks for staying with me on this one and until then, thanks for reading!

Celtic-Tree-of-Life-Symbol-and-Its-Meaning

Shameless Self Promotion Time: If you enjoy my writing, please check out my novel, “The Teacher and the Tree Man.” The full 80-chapter story can be purchased as an e-book or as a paperback from Amazon or as an e-book at Smashwords. You can also purchase the book in each of the 20-chapter “books” (there are 4, for a total of 80) at Amazon as well (book 1, book 2, book 3 and book 4). If you are a member of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited like I am, you can read the individual books for free. If you like reading and discovering independent authors like me, I highly recommend joining Kindle Unlimited!

Here is a bit from the synopsis:  “The Teacher and the Tree Man” is a modern American epic fable about a Teacher in love with Nature who discovers a human head, a Tree Man, living in a tree in a forest near his house. The novel is about our need to unplug from our culture and re-discover ourselves in Nature. It is a fun-yet-deep look at: the media, our education system, drugs in our culture and our inability to listen to each other in the political arena. 

Free Flea!: A Short Story Starring Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (Song Spoiler Edition)

The following is a creative work of fiction, my 2018 Christmas gift to my readers. This version is the one where I HAVE highlighted with links all 49 Red Hot Chili Peppers songs that appear in the text, so you can use this as the “answer key” to the non-spoiler version (found here) and also link to many of the songs. I tried to choose a mix of album versions, versions with lyrics, live versions and some rare things I found, all on YouTube. I am grateful to the Red Hot Chili Peppers that, unlike some bands and artists who I won’t name, they’ve put their songs onto YouTube and allowed bootleg videos of others to thrive. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this crazy tale of freedom!

“Free Flea! Free Flea! Free Flea!”

“Let’s cut this and get somewhere quieter where we can put it together,” shouted the newsman with the sandy hair that, in spite of the wind or because of it, was miraculously in perfect alignment, all positions maintaining their postures, all postures erect.

The protesters were certainly not going to get any quieter and they weren’t going anywhere any time soon. Not until their beloved musical god, Flea, that goofy gap-toothed, grinnin’, fun-lovin’ surf-punk-funk bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, was released to the world. And not without a big apology, mind you. This was certainly no minor thing.

Because somebody somewhere high up on the Ladder of Unaccountability had really buggered the pooch up the keyhole on this one. No way in Hell would Flea ever harm a little girl, let alone rape one, and after years of reverent drug use but relative sobriety recently, he would never dream of abusing any drugs!

No, Flea was a free-loving man of peace who wanted to share good vibes to the world through his music, not some sicko child molester fueled by illicit drugs of abuse!

Sure, if he’d been dosed by a Truth Serum where nothing but Pure Honesty emanated from his very Soul, if you’d given him that and it was the pure stuff, the best Truth Serum—not the sort of stuff the “bad guys” sold on the street as a result of the immoral War on Some Drugs Some of the Time—nope, give him the good stuff and he’d tell you this:

“Yeah, man, of course I’ve used drugs”—flash that gapped-tooth goofy grin—“Uppers, downers, in-betweeners, all-nighters, short-dayers, middle-grounders, mind-expounders, mind-expanders, dillydangers, candy flips and of course, the hump de bump. And how can I forget the rollsy tollsy, or the meth that made it so hard to concentrate, that stuff’s not so great, or how I’ve feasted on the flowers of enlightenment, smacked the smackdown, chased the dragon around the mountain, here she comes!, and been singed by the secret sauce of abuse that was covered in milky brown lightning after the death of a Martian. All searching for that deep kick, ya know? Nope, nothing was ever frightening for me and my friends, my boy Anthony from the get-go and John and Chad later, we lived it up because we are FUCKING ROCK STARS, MAN, and that’s what REAL rock stars do. They get fucked up and they play! And by the way, we always played with love, man; love of the music, love of the girls and most of all, love of each other. A real love trilogy, man. So I am as harmless as a … Flea.”

Here the jovial man would stop ranting and the prison doctors who’d given him the pure stuff had to wonder if the Serum had caused Flea to prematurely shoot his Truth load and that was the end of it or if this middle-aged God of Bass had another energy source but his connection to it had been temporarily disconnected. But nope, not to worry, the orange-haired love-weirdo just needed to gather his breath before starting again:

“But abuse them? C’mon, man … why would a guy like me do that? Even when I was a young punk I never went into rehab, never fell asleep in my Beamer and drove it over the cliffs of Santa Monica, never passed no drug to some hottie at a UCLA frat party so I could later bang her … once she was fully passed out. Nope, never have I used drugs in a way that disrespected myself, the people around me or the drug itself. Fuck that, man! So yeah, these charges are all bullshit! Free me! Free Flea!”

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Meanwhile, word spread fast about this grave injustice, this crime against humanity committed by those committed to keeping control.

Fuck this social media, thought just about every one of the Dickless Despots who are going to be the bad guys in this tale. (You go ahead and find something good they do in all these words on your paper pages of dead trees or your screens of digital pixels, find that one good thing that a Dickless Despot—any of them—does in this tale and you email, message, iChat, eForm, Twitter or diddle me … however you want to contact me, you do it and I will take back calling them full-on bad guys. But until you do that, the Dickless Despots are the “bad guys,” so deal with it.)

So these bad guys, these Dickless Despots (DDs from here on) are a real treat. They get their kicks out of standing on one of the top rungs of another of our made-up ladders, the Ladder of Illegitimate Power, refusing the power of equality, and they enjoy the heck out of both looking down on us and stepping on any part of our body dare we try to climb higher, or worse, try to knock them off the ladder. They play the game for keeps, too bad they don’t usually enjoy it. Hard to enjoy yourself when your whole purpose is to be a dick about how you are on higher ground than everybody else.

Unfortunately, these dastardly dickwads sometimes get into positions of power and then they make up rules. For example, sometimes they make up a rule where they can put folks behind bars even though they have harmed no one, nor taken from anyone. Heck, in some places, the DDs in power throw folks in jail just for saying something the DDs don’t like, especially something that challenges their power or suggests ways to overthrown it. Again, don’t be climbing up that ladder! And leave the DDs alone on the top!

Nope, call for the DD to step down and you may be imprisoned for fighting like a brave. These DDs do NOT want any change to the status quo, which they support because it allows them to hoard so much while sharing so little.

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Back to our tale. The problem for the DDs was that the rest of us, the “good guys” of this tale, the Merry Masses (the MMs) were getting restless. As restless as brainless baboons on the first day of bobsledding season in the backwoods of the Yukon—yeah, just like them—and they wanted results. And in this case, need I remind you, there were two results: “Free Flea!” and then apologize about it, even if apologizing meant we had to get 15 of our strongest MMs to hold down the DDs so we could take a giant pair of pliers to reach down their throat and pull that soaking-in-guts-and-bile apology out.

Now, you’ll note that with the Truth Serum (hereafter known as the TS) running through his veins, Flea did not deny that he’d used drugs. What he denied was that he abused them.

How does one abuse a substance, a powder or a pill? With a sledgehammer?

That might do the trick. But why would anybody in their right (or wrong) minds do that to the poor drugs, why smash them into smithereens when you could just take the drugs and smash yourself into smithereens? Why not just dispose of them the normal way, by throwing them down the hatch, lighting them on fire and smoking them through a cheap McDonald’s straw or snorting them with a twenty-dollar bill and a whore draped over your back?

So sure, Flea would admit he was caught in the act of being at a crack and smack party by the train tracks that ran under the bridge through your backwoods now. He wasn’t really using those two drugs for he’d seen the needle and the damage done and it was no fun, not like those times he was dosed by those funky monks with those crazy-but-mind-blowing psychedelics or, barring that, bowls of the best bud this side of the Continental Divide. Mostly, these days he was just riding the high of being a free Flea so didn’t use much of anything; most days, he’d just surf, play music and be with friends and family and that was more than enough. Anyway, yeah, if forced to describe the scene, he would have to admit the drugs were around and so was he.

But abuse them? NEVER! NEVER!

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Now about the girl he supposedly raped; it was his best friend’s daughter and he was her godfather. No, don’t imagine horse heads and Marlon Brando, just picture a guy—with orange-hair (at least right now)—loving a kid like she was his daughter.

So what, pray tell, was the motive for this heinous crime? Let’s ask another DD, the police jackoff with the half-grown-in Hitler ‘stache and the loud leopard tie. Here is what he told the press:

“Well, umm, the suspect, Mr. Balzary, was angry about her taking the remote control from him. He wanted to watch the Lakers; she wanted to watch iCarly.”

Even though Flea explained several times that he’d really wanted to throw away his television and he’d kept it for his wife, kids and godkids, even after his wife, kids and godkids collaborated this, the cops were convinced that his addiction to TV was so strong that he’d rape a little girl for not giving up the remote control, that this addiction was so intense that it could turn him from coddling daddy into daddy with a big temper and a remote control/turned club in his hand, and so he’d struck her not once, not twice but six times. What a bunch of horseshit!

Flea’d be the first to admit he’d loved the Lakers since the Showtime days of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabaar, but he was also the guy who said about having kids, “It’s funny how you always hear people saying that classic parent attitude of ‘I brought you into this world, I gave you life!’ You know, it’s just, I think completely the opposite. My kids gave me life. They gave me a reason.”

Yup, sure sounds like your typical attitude for a shithead child abuser, doesn’t it? A dude full of gratitude to his kids for giving him a great reason to live. That’s definitely an abuser. Call it in, boys, we’ve got our man!

No, so long as the Powers That Be (Stupid) were keeping this innocent, lovely human behind walls, so long as they were imprisoning a guy the world knew as Flea—so how can he harm anything?—they were going to attract those idealistic activists fighting for a cause they believed in, the cause of confronting injustice and false imprisonment of a peaceful love-healing-vibe-spreading bad ass bassist. Such folks would willingly put up with a decent amount of bullshit that the rule makers/enforcers made up, but they had their limits and once those were exceeded, they would annoy said rulers until they released their man. But again, they also wanted an apology.

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“An apology!” yelled red-in-the-face Dick Clickstuck, yes a DD and the warden of this here prison and somehow also the county’s chief of police. How could such an opportunity for an abuse of power have been enacted in such a liberal, rich enclave as Malibu, California? How could this be in America, the land of the free? Free Flea!

“Apologize for what? What in the name of the freaky Venice queens would I have to apologize about? The man is a molester of children and an abuser of drugs. It don’t get much more scumbaggy than that.”

“But sir,” Underling #1, a man with a nervous twitter, said, “if you have to ask, the inmate’s lawyer has requested an audience so you can see this man for yourself and they can give you your answer.”

“What do I need to see him for? I am looking at his disgusting videos all over YouTube!” the man shouted, pointing at the computer that sat on his desk. “Have a look at this one—the little jerkface is naked! This guy thinks he is some sorta sir psycho sexy with his little pecker dangling in the wind,” Dick guffawed and then coughed up a phlegm ball that would have made cats on all seven continents plus the moons of Saturn jealous at his expectorating skills. “Nah, I don’t need to see him.”

“But sir,” the underling tried again, “he’s being represented by Sallows, Willoughby and Finch. The lead lawyer is some dude named Emit Remmus, whoever thunk of such a name as that.”

“It’s summer time backwards, ya numb skull,” Dick said, slapping Underling #1 across the crown of his head. “Pay attention for once.”

“Yes, sir,” Underling #1 said. “So, umm, sir, about this, what time is good?”

“Oh fuck it, you dimbnuckle, do it whenever is convenient for them,” Dick said. “I’m ready right now to blast his furry ass down a hole so deep the only way we’ll be able to get food down to him is to use a rope-and-pulley system run by cigar-smoking mice.”

The underling was looking down at his watch/phone and tapping a rapid succession of clicks and clacks, and then he looked up at the warden and said, “10:30 a.m.”

Dick ejaculated spittle again.

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“Batteries are not included for this Flea,” the musician was telling his lawyer as they prepared for the court case, though he was finding it hard to concentrate with the beautiful Apache Rose Peacock, his lawyer’s stunning secretary, stretching out her long legs in front of him. If only Anthony were here, he’d easily be able to handle her!

In spite of the seriousness of his situation, Flea was fighting off a serious case of the sleepyhead nods for he’d had no dreams of a samurai because his cell had a bed that was hardly tall enough for a deformed Chinese contortionist. That bed’s small size resulted from a national spree of privatizing prisons over the past 20 years, which meant the profiteers running the prisons gave two shits less than the previous owners about the inhabitants and gave all consideration to how to squeeze more and more money out of the system by cutting corners here and there, including bed sizes it appeared.

Yup, so here he was, on the brink of a decision that could possibly keep him locked up for eternity and yet he was falling asleep.

Of course, in his mind he’d already been in here an eternity—10 days—for something he had never done, nor ever would do and that was the full-on Truth of it, don’t ask again. I beg of you bloggers, you podcast hosts, you YouTube channelers, you Twitter tornadoes, you forum freaks, you columnists for the Huffington Post, I’m telling you the most Flea will admit to is he has used drugs but not on this night for he had to care for his daughter when he got home and he never soured that up with consciousness-altering drugs, especially something so disorienting as a crack/smackdown in the Okay Corral. Fuck that.

So Remmus Emit would first present the facts without emotion before ratcheting up the emotional rigmarole just as the jury started to get sleepy. He would summon all the powers of the unconscious, all the goodbye angels who happened to be watching this trial that day, all that latent energy in the courtroom that nobody was going to ever use, he’d call it forth as a muezzin calls the devout to pray towards Mecca five times a day from now until all the farts are counted. Emit would sum up the closing arguments with all his best emotional punches, frequently jabbing toward Flea and his kids right behind him, and the sexy Mexican maid/nanny and, dammit Anthony, keep your hands off her thigh!

About that Mexican maid, she was a lovely lass who’d shined her way into Flea’s life from a parallel universe behind the sun and had never left it as he raised his daughter to adulthood and now raised his second by way of a beautiful European fashion model.

So yeah, perhaps if they’d charged Flea with raping her and not a little girl then we’d have the start of something. For any person with an appreciation for how lovely and heart-poundingly beautiful women can be would see this woman and see Flea and think, “Well, umm, perhaps?”

Of course, if the jury empathized too much they’d let him off, so the prosecutor would make sure they knew he got to do it because, unlike them, he was a rich rock star, a real son of a bitch, who was abusing his power and what if this was your daughter? Well, maybe that last part wouldn’t work so well on the trucker in the back row, for his favorite form of porn narrative is of a father and his too-hot-to-resist daughter getting it on, so … who cares about all this anyway? Raping his hot Mexican maid was not what unfree Flea was being charged for, so let’s get back on topic.

Speaking of getting back, what’s going on outside the prison walls? It appears about 100 of the most geographically-challenged protesters had been at the wrong location, a police station in East LA, but had finally shown up and … just what are they doing?

Dance, dance, dance!” shouted one along with the music from the jukebox and this seemed to do the trick, as suddenly the mood in the crowd changed from one of righteous anger to light-hearted confidence that somehow they were going to win. Perhaps they’d all been smoking the Pure Stuff from the factory of faith, but whatever it was, the crowd all began to feel it, some faster than others, and the guards on the other side of the iron wrought fence were noticing it, too. In fact, if you looked really closely you could see that a few of them were starting to groove to the music.

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Meanwhile, back inside…

“I can’t stop, I can’t stop,” said the Mexican maid from the stand, tears cascading down her lovely brown cheeks, splashing on the floor below and stressing out the judge who was a total neat freak.

She’d been given the Serum and the Truth of the situation, that this man who’d saved her life was now on trial for something she knew he didn’t do … it was all too much.

“Flea is the nicest man I’ve ever worked for. He loves everyone equally, including that dried up, dead frog I found sitting next to him on the balcony with the ocean view. ‘What is that, senor?’ I asked him. He said, ‘Oh, he’s just my friend. He listens very well.’

This caused chuckles in the courtroom and even the judge had to smile.

Remis wrote down on his yellow lawyer’s notepad: “Closing Argument: Flea is not a man who would even hurt a frog, he is a man who makes friends with dead ones. Does that sound like a drug-abusing child molester to you?”

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Fortunately, Flea’d done things with his life besides making freaky styley party music that increased the listener’s endorphin levels. Sure, the music was so great that it convinced two of the jurors to support him no matter what. So much so that, in the jury selection process, when asked by the prosecutor if they’d heard Flea’s music before, both lied and said, “Never, I like country,” which caused lots of embarrassed-for-ya snickers in the courtroom which lead to a loud “ORDER IN THE COURT!!”, along with lots of slamming of that annoying gavel. Anyway, Flea contributed to charity, especially to the arts and this was known amongst most of the jurors so that was another strike against this case even getting off ground.

But wait, wait, wait … another minute, would you? We are far ahead of ourselves here. Here we were about to tell you about the sit-down Flea and his lawyer whose name was Summer Time backwards had with Dick, the warden/police chief, and some other faceless Underling jerkwads who worked at the prison and were proud of that fact. So let’s get to it.

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Well, the sit-down obviously didn’t lead to a free Flea since I am spending time telling you about the courtroom proceedings, but what it did do was, well, not much of anything. Still, why don’t you go and smoke some if you got some and come back when you are done as that’ll ensure that the rest of this tale is a real mind riot … for you, at least.

You done? Good. I hope you are in good spirits. Whatever you do, please don’t overreact. Sometimes the rule makers/enforcers are so fucking stupid with their (il)logic that we can ONLY laugh at them and not get all bent out of shape. Of course, our laughter is our way of telling them what a joke they are without actually phrasing it so harshly.

What kind of world would we live in if people only used laughter to express derision instead of all the other devices that, in the end, just take themselves way too seriously? A surely more joyous one than this world, that’s for sure.

But screw it. Let’s get on with this sit down.

So in walks Flea and Emit and one of them looks sharp. The other, Flea, looks less defined and here’s why: Mark this down, ye transcribers of prison history books. Flea is the first inmate in the long history of the Ventura County LockUp Enforcement Center (Prison for short) and, if our fact checkers are not total tools, in the history of any prison anywhere, to have hair that perfectly matches that crazy bright orange of the typical prison jumpsuit.

The only downside to this was it made Flea’s face sort of melt into his jumpsuit and for Dick the warden this reminded him in a seriously fucked up way of the only time he had eaten magic mushrooms. He’d been 18 and it’d been a dare by his farm boy older brother and his gay lover (no one had found out they were gay until two serious-minded investigative chickens caught them in the loft of the barn red-handed with their hands in each other’s chocolate chip cookie jar).

The dare was to eat all eight grams of those dried magic mushrooms and he’d done it. That night there was one of those bloody full moons that looked like it was going to burn the world alive and he’d thought it was going to do just that, but not only the world, no it would start with a fire in the field that would consume the world around him and then, it would wipe its hands and begin to burn into his very soul, the soul that had allowed him to torture squirrels and kill coyotes in the name of scientific inquiry as an eight-year-old geek, the soul that had caused him to make clear he wanted to break up with an annoying ex by squirting Super Glue up her hooch when she was sleeping, yes, that soul was going to be consumed by that bloody orange moon until there was nothing left, that awful, awful blood orange was consuming him now and how could he ever forget that, how—

“So in conclusion,” Emit/Time backwards was saying, “we want you to release our beloved badass bassist and then you, as warden and police chief, will go on TV and tell the world that you are sincerely sorry for the biggest mistake in the history of policing, breaking down in tears if you have to, admitting that you’d committed an awful error in arresting and imprisoning this innocent, peaceful man, this man who wants nothing more than to spread love around the world so places like this prison no longer need to exist.”

Well now this Emit character was threatening Dick’s job security and if there is one thing Dick’s the world over care about it’s job security because they live in a constant state of fear they will end up being kicked to the curb as a jobless nobody just like the homeless guy outside the Starbuck’s Coffee they frequent that they usually kick out of the way.

Thus, it was not too hard for him to say with a straight face, “No true man of peace would have such hideous orange hair. Request for release is denied.”

Of course, Dick was the last person to say what a true man was because true men don’t kill coyotes, yet he really wanted Flea to taste the pain so he added, “Underling #4, take the prisoner back to his cell and make sure he gets the rat surprise for lunch.”

“Rat surpr—“ started the rock star but it was too late, as Underling #4 was one tough motherfucker, a guy who made YouTube videos on the side telling people how to kick ass in real street fights even though he was just over 4 feet 1 inch tall, no taller than a pygmy pig on the prairies of Papa New Guinea.

So that was what happened that day, much adieu about nothing and so pointless that I am at a loss as to why I wasted so much time building it up and telling you. Well, hey nobody’s perfect; knock me down, if you will, but I’d rather you buckle down and forigive me, OK?

Thanks. Onward!

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Flea, then, was not nearly as upbeat about his situation as he’d been the day before and considering he was already buried deep in the pit of Beelzebub’s bellybutton, well, that was saying something. But now he’d lost something that had been keeping him going: hope, hope that this whole thing’d be sorted out once they had a chance to show the warden, this Dick fellow, how nice Flea was, he’d realize freeing Flea was the only way to be.

Meanwhile, Emit went right back to work, but not before stopping for a roadside tug of the best kush pot he’d had since last October (and what an October it had been for the kush!!). So he got high as fuck on that Malibu canyon road with the winds of change from the vast, blue Pacific below blowing new perceptions of desire and sensation into his lovely, perfectly groomed red beard and once he was sufficiently lit up by the bud, he realized the circumstances had changed, that he was now being forced to do something he only did when it was absolutely necessary: Play hardball.

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They put the Mexican Maid on TV that night. Barry Wynn, to be precise. In his 12 years on the Mercury Media Network, Wynn was proving to be every bit as good as Larry King, though that ain’t saying too much. Like King, he had a personable style and seemed to enjoy his guests. But unlike King, he asked probing follow-ups and didn’t let guests off the journalistic hook with tricks like taking commercial breaks too early. So Wynn’s star had risen to the point where he, too, could land bombshell breaking news guests, bombshells both figuratively and literally such as the Mexican Maid.

By now, “Free Flea” was a rallying cry that could be heard from the penguin-waddled ice floes of the North to the jaguar-roamed jungles of the South, a rallying cry for the foremen of the eastern Serengeti to the cattle breeders of the spaghetti westerns that dotted the landscapes west of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Yup, everyone and everything chanting “Free Flea! Free Flea!” and Emit knew that to put the Mexican Maid on TV would win over those who made an honest living working like dogs on a hard day’s night. Those folks who’d come home and heat up their TV dinners in the microwave and then sit on their favorite sofa or chair smack dab in front of those glowing hypnotic boxes, their beers balancing on their bellies and their TV dinners on their TV trays. Such folks saved their cheers for simple things that wouldn’t require much between the ears to enjoy, and threw their jeers at those that reminded them that they were one of the unfortunate masses not granted a backstage pass to the game of Life.

But even though Flea’d clearly been given not only a backstage pass to the game of Life, but a laminated all-access, VIP pass, his music, his rambunctious personality and his proclamations of Universal Love, made him hard to hate unless you were a heartless bastard which most of us are not. So yeah, he was a celebrity, but he was still one of Us.

Such people would watch the reports of the trial, see the gathering protesters/partiers and wish they could be there, and some would follow through on this wish and call in sick the next few days so they could join the raucous revolution of love outside the prison walls. In fact, even Emit underestimated how many had “been on their last straw,” how many had “had it up to here,” how many were at “their tipping point,” and so just how much of an impact the Mexican Maid’s appearance on Barry Wynn’s show would have on turning the tide in their favor.

In short, people were pissed. Pissed at the System, pissed at the corruption and ready to do something about it, even if that doing only meant calling in “sick,” packing up their pick-up trucks and heading for the sticks, er, Ventura County, to join the ever-growing, life-affirming party outside the prison walls where Flea was still not free.

Some of those pissed people were very fat people, the kind of people who couldn’t physically bring themselves to the protest party, but who were still moved enough to get up from their couch/chair to their computers where they would sign form letters to their Congressman/woman/pet begging for the freedom of Flea. Normally, they relied on things like finding out their team just won the first game of the Final Four to reduce the pressure cooker that was their lives, but what would really do the trick is if they saw the tag line on the bottom of the screen, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, displeasing only the DDs: Flea is Free! Flea is Free! Flea is Free!

Put down the “Free Flea” signs, y’all, for Flea is Free! Shout it from the rooftops! He’s free! Flea is free!

But that hadn’t happened yet; it was only what they were hoping would happen.

Thus, this revolution was an important one: The lines in the sand were about true freedom, not just the freedom of free-loving Flea, but the freedom of humanity itself, a freedom from the tyranny of those DDs and the tyranny of the TechnoMachineHead that they were building. Freedom from endless rules that existed for no other reason than to exist; freedom from the types of people who enforced such rules even at the cost of losing their hearts; freedom from paperwork that only served to tell someone you worked for that you were at work rather than them just trusting that you were; freedom from freedom fries and other such abuses of our English language; freedom from presidents who spoke of ending terrorism through warfare; freedom from, freedom from … this list could go on all night long! (Cue Lionel Richie!)

Word was spreading in so many ways and not just the modern way but the old-fashioned way, neighbors telling neighbors over backyard fences such as two out-of-work kitchen workers in Santa Monica named Rick and Rak: “Yeah, dude … fucking Flea! You believe it, Flea is not free!” “That’s whacked, man. Hey … you working today?” “Nah, man, can’t find anything right now.” “Me, neither. Wanna go to the prison and join the protestors?” “Fuck, yeah!” And off they went, scooting on their scooters away from the ocean, one of them pondering how they rarely put prisons next to oceans in warm climates and how fucked that was.

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By the time, Rick and Rak had trekked to the lockup, the onsite protesters had grown twentyfold since that morning into one big mob and the mood was really starting to change, or at least that’s what one hippie with stars in his eyes but wisdom in his words said as they arrived and parked their scooters under a giant weeping willow with its instrument of leaves being played by the soft, warm wind.

Now, it was no longer a protest, it was pure celebration and there’s nothing DDs hate more than to see a mass celebration of a victory for the good guys, the real good guys, especially before they had even won the battle. Didn’t they know their guy was still inside? Where was their humility?

Thus, the DDs often manufactured fake, nasty things to celebrate, such as the killing of another human being, but it’s not a true celebration because the Wisdom that lives in all of our hearts won’t allow us to feel true joy about this macabre fakery.

But there was nothing fake about the celebration to free Flea. So many came to party away that day outside the prison that it took a convoy of sorts to get through the mass of gyrating beings. (Author’s note: I wrote “beings” there for a real purpose: It wasn’t just humanity that joined the ball, it was Noah’s freakin’ Ark … dogs, ponies, buffaloes, water fowl, red-coated lions, purple-tinted emperor tamarins and more! … all were in on the fun and, wait … what, what’s that? I missed something … oh, shit, my good friends the plants, the trees: the budding cherry blossoms, the snaky vines of Mozambique, Douglas firs showing their eternal optimism by staying green in spite of the dark, rainy winters, palms way up high, waving their hair into the Hollywood wind, the Hollywood Shuffle … okay, not that last one, but I’m sure some of these beings were doing that particularly odd American ghost dance, because this was a fucking par-tee. Eddie Murphy’s girl was there and Eddie too, but he was starting to complain because he wanted to go home but, for her, the party is never supposed to end.

“Free Flea! Free Flea! Free Flea!”

Around lunch that day a convoy of sorts arrived on the scene. It consisted of tanks, airport carriers, police helicopters, dinosaurs and, of course, horses ridden by impudent, impotent men with scowls and noses pointed toward their heavens where Mount Pious resides. It also had one very sensitive horse that had reached its own last straw about all the bullshit its masters were putting it through so it snorted in disgust and it was that snort which the partiers heard as a cry of sorrow and pity that caused them to stop and let the convoy through. It was for that horse and that horse alone, and what a sad case it was. Perhaps they’d rescue it later?

So back we come to the reporter briefly mentioned and quickly forgotten at the start of this tale. He has no name, not then, nor forever more, but he did his job.

Most remembered that sandy, windswept hair that looked as though it had been sculpted by the Michelangelo of Hair, a real dude who is a second generation American with Lithuanian roots and lives down on 7th and Mario Kart on the edges of industrial Hoboken. Dude sculpts hair like he has no other cares except for the noble-but-perhaps-misguided goal of making hair everywhere look the part.

Still, it worked with Sand Blown, so much so that he just earned his name at long last. His first name day! So here is SB, wondering if I just called him a name, but carrying on with his duties: “What can we do to spice up this tale?”

It’s hard to understand why this tale needed any spicing up. Just take a look at the crowd now, it appears most of them have been dosed by fools and now appear to be a psychedelicized, smiling-at-the-love-they-found crowd, wondering why the hustle bustle of the muscle-bound cash carriers of the world were so hard to convince that taking care of one’s family was what counted during times of turmoil like this and times of peace like that.

Flea sat in his cell throughout this Hell and would have a story to tell that reporter if only he had some way to communicate. Well, a sweet fellow solved that, a prison guard name Gerard who had been dubbed “the Bard” for his ability to spin yarns out of thin air that made people dance like they just don’t care! He saw Flea looking despondent and said, “Here” and gave Flea his smart phone and told him to communicate with whoever he wanted. Heck, he even gave him a charger chord and adapter so Flea was able to stay plugged in for the rest of his stay in that dreadful, dark prison.

Must we continue or shall we skip to the good parts, notably the end?

I’m all for it. Let’s go.
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The closing argument lasted all of six minutes and 94 seconds. You figure out the math, I’ve got a tale to tell.

So it was during the worst part of the summer—June 16th to June 19th—that this trial took place and as such nobody was in any mood for harmonious pranks, celebratory gestures or obscene noisemakers. In fact, a kid with one of those wooden umbrella hats preferred by fools in all the cartoons and mangas of the world, had a noisemaker that sounded like a duck either farting repeatedly or having a false series of orgasms that never pay off.

As soon as it began to bellow, the judge stood up and threw his gavel at the kid, lodging it between his eyes and bringing the poor sap’s soul to the Waiting Room of the Worldly Dispossessed Spirits, those sad folks who died so suddenly that they had no clue what was going on and would find the Afterlife a series of insipient meetings with nincompoops whose explanations about what was happening to them only muddied their waters and this would go on forever or until they stopped believing in the Story they were being told and changed their orientation.

Nope, that kid was dead and the worst image, that image that everyone who saw it would forever have imprinted into their brains, was when the TV cut to scenes of outside the prison where the high-as-fucking-kittens-on-balls-of-Chinese-cheese protesters had been watching the trial on a giant big screen and were now rolling around on the ground in hysterics in reaction to the slo-mo replay of this awful scene. The TV station the screen was tuned to repeated it over and over and it’s no surprise because that station was composed of hawks whose cocks were made of rocks and whose socks were falling off. Yes, that station whose three-letter call number rhymes with many of those words above, actually slowed down the image of the gavel flying through the air and lodging in the brain of 19-year-old Andy Pepcic from East Tallahassee, New Jersey.

And that fact, that fact that they had actually slowed down such a macabre display of judicial abuse of power was what made those protesters die into heaps of hysterics as they made dirt angels with their contorting bodies that even the most seasoned snow angel creators would have been proud of. So while the media portrayed those protesters as bloodthirsty sickos, the reality was they were incredibly savvy media consumers who’d consumed so much bullshit from the media throughout their lives that they just couldn’t take any more and so did the only thing any sane person does in a situation where she faces media sensationalism taken to new extremes: they laughed their tripping balls off.

Literally, one of the sidebars for this case of the century of 2018 was about how three of the protesters had lost their testicles due to laughing so hard that they detached from their bodies. Quite the scene that, but the next day as Flea sat free in his Malibu home this was his favorite story of the absurd proceedings just because it was so damn unsettling. He told himself he’d have to watch out the next time Anthony started busting him up with one of his raps, his linguistic tour de forces, about their misguided-yet-fun-as-fuck youth, he’d have to watch out not to laugh too hard because for all he knew this ball-loss-from-laughter disease was contagious.

But that was a problem for a future time and for now, Flea sat next to his lawyer and watched the master Emit go to work and deliver the most effective closing argument that anybody had ever delivered, even in countries where they don’t get the morning edition.

“What is freedom, folks?” Emit started. “Is it getting up at 5 every day so you can go to a job that you hate just to pay the bills, just to keep the hamster-wheel of debt payments spinning? Is that it?”

“Is it going around the world with guns a blazin’, ragin’ to the world about joining you for the sake of freedom or dying if you resist? Is that it?”

“Is it the option to steal billions of dollars of pension fund money from people so you can have not just a yacht, but a fleet of yachts? Yachts that you’ll likely never use, but hey, you won them fair and square in the game of freedom?”

“Do these things sound like freedom to you?”

And here the master paused and almost seemed to channel his first name, which was Time backwards in case you’d forgotten, so that time in the courtroom was running so slowly that Flea lived out four past lives in the space of that pause.

“Or could freedom be what my client, the badass bassist of the best band around, represents? The ability to live your life by your rules, while not harming even so much as a dead frog? In fact, not only doing no harm to such creatures, but to befriend them because of their listening abilities? Some might call such an action crazy; I call it freedom, true freedom. And have you heard him play bass?”

Suddenly, as Emit asked this question, the earth-moving, booty-shaking sounds of Flea’s famous bass line from “Give It Away” came blasting through the walls of the courtroom. Obviously one of our partying protesters had some very big woofers and a well-tuned, exquisite sense of timing! It was then that Flea started to notice that the shaking of the ground from his bass playing was having actual physical effects, such as a few small cracks in the walls of the courtroom. But nobody else seemed to notice.

Emit went on, “The way my client plays bass is freedom in action, folks. It is playful, it is loving, it is rambunctious, it is rebellion! It is a call to the world to truly party on the pussy of life, to dance naked in the rain and to bring as many as you can along for the ride.”

The cracks were growing and Flea saw that others were starting to notice. From the prosecutor’s table, the two uptight, well-groomed men and the one uptight-yet-sexy-as-hell woman, were whispering nervously and pointing at the cracks which were now heading directly for their table. And here Flea noticed it was not just his bass, but the sounds of the protesters themselves that seemed to be causing this disruption to reality.

Emit went on, “Freedom is like a bird, an eagle let’s say, flying in the sky, gliding in the wind, not caring where he is going. It’s like a little girl dancing like a ballerina, smiling at herself in the mirror as she gets it just right. It’s like a well-cooked lasagna with its sauces and cheeses pouring out of its sides, ready for consumption. It’s all of these things and more.”

By now, in spite of Emit’s loud voice, the jury was having trouble hearing him for the foundations of the courtroom were seriously starting to crack. The foundations of law and order seemed at risk, as well, for how could this trial proceed in these conditions? But the noise from outside was only getting stronger and the cracks were only getting longer and it was then that the lead lawyer for the prosecutor, one Mr. Robbie Robot, stood up from his desk, cranked his neck and said in an odd, misplaced-in-Southern California Cockney accent, “Seen enough ‘ere, ‘aven’t we?”

Just as the judge was about to yell out another “ORDER IN THE COURT” the largest of the cracks spread across the floor straight for the prosecutor’s desk and, while seemingly quick from years of tennis and jai alai, Robbie Robot was too slow and was the first to fall into grace, hitting his head on the granite floor and knocking himself into worthless unconsciousness so that it was easy for the crack to eat its first prey.

Flea watched it all with bemused detachment, figuring this would make a great Chili’s song some day, knowing that the cracks were not going to get him but excited to see where they headed next.

Sadly, it was the sexy lawyer’s turn, because as she stood up to make her escape, a green, earthy vine from the crack suddenly shot out and wrapped itself around her waist, pulling her into the crack and that was the last Flea, or anyone, saw of that lass.

The third prosecutor was actually a man of God, so he got on his knees to pray for a restoration of order in the court, and the crack gladly obliged by swallowing him whole. And suddenly, all was quiet, the dust settling and the crack stopping its forward progress. But how it stopped communicated loud and clear to those with any sense or intuition about them—its next target was the judge, or at least that’s where it was aiming.

But the judge was a man who could see the writing on the wall from at least 4,200 meters, so he slammed down his gavel, yelled, “CASE DISMISSED!” and scurried back to his chambers.

This almost seemed to disappoint the crack, which spun in a confused circle, but then everyone present heard an exasperated sigh from the crack and then laughter, laughter that said this case was over and that Flea really was Free!

The jury jumped up as one unit and threw their arms into the air like jellyfish seeking their last bite of sunlight before going into hibernation … and well, that was that and the case was dismissed and just like that all was well with the world as Flea was now Free, so much so that he joined the Free Masons that night and never again was late on his monthly payments even when he went to Morocco in 2023 and got kidnapped by desert pirates, taken to sea, only to fall overboard in an unfortunate-for-the-pirates-but-fortunate-for-Flea boating accident in the Strait of Gibraltar.

Nope, all was well with the world because Flea was out there adventuring, being free for those of us who can’t, those of whose lives are stipulated by jobs, rules, useless instructions and ping pong robots that have bad tempers.

But folks, the story doesn’t stop there, for if it did, it would not be worth all these words, all this hyperbole and broken English. No, freeing Flea was only the start.

Outside, the protesters felt the buzz first, but it was instantly communicated through social media and the Internet to all the MMs all around the world, this buzz of growing awareness that the liberation had to continue, that Flea was not the only poor soul locked up for a victimless crime, that he was only the most famous soul.

So the parking lots that were outside the walls of the prisons of the world soon became playgrounds of celebration where people could ride the buzz of that collective, liberating energy all the way to the next victory, the next time the prisons would open up their locked cells to free the victims of oppression. Everybody who’d ever abused a drug, or used a drug and been caught, all free. Everybody who was locked up for speaking their mind: free. Everybody who was locked up for having unseemly stitches in their stockings: free.

But why stop there? Why not see this thing all the way through? Why not consider all the things that enslaved us?

Soon parties were starting outside the banks—lots of parties there!—and outside credit card company headquarters where people demanded liberation from unfair late fees, high interest rates, heck, liberation from the whole antiquated economic system of credit and debt! For we all had parties to attend and who can properly party when they are feeling weighed down by the burden of unpayable debts? So fuck the debts, it’s reset time! A recess from this experiment in …

… compulsory schools? Only fools or evil little men seeking control, those dastardly DDs, would create such a system that removed children from Nature and put them behind walls for several hours every day, several hours of sitting in chairs and staring at clocks, waiting for the bell to ring so this chalkdust torture could stop. Only fools…

… could think it was ever okay to outlaw things that grew from the bounty of the Earth. So all plants would be freed and they’d do it by planting seeds, seeds, seeds—everywhere! Seeds for demonized bushes and trees, the ones that grow into mind-expanding kushes, the ones that give an extra boost, the ones that make you want to hang loose. So free the plants, too!

There were many more things, this was only the start, but as Flea watched the news of this Liberation Wave sweeping the world, the only conclusion he could make was that this had all been a dark necessity. Two weeks in a stinky, sticky, smelly jail was a small price to pay for the total liberation of the planet!

So “Free Flea” may have seemed a small, even trifling, cause to some, but who can ever predict where these collective responses to injustice are going to go? Who really knows? It just goes to show that those with high noses wrapped around their garden hoses ain’t no Moses.

Yes, Free is Flea, Flea is Free and how could it be that this was ever not the case?

Flea is Free for Free is Flea!

Shameless Self Promotion Time: If you enjoy my writing, please check out my novel, “The Teacher and the Tree Man.” The full 80-chapter story can be purchased as an e-book or as a paperback from Amazon or as an e-book at Smashwords. You can also purchase the book in each of the 20-chapter “books” (there are 4, for a total of 80) at Amazon as well (book 1, book 2, book 3 and book 4). If you are a member of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited like I am, you can read the individual books for free. If you like reading and discovering independent authors like me, I highly recommend joining Kindle Unlimited!

Here is a bit from the synopsis:  “The Teacher and the Tree Man” is a modern American epic fable about a Teacher in love with Nature who discovers a human head, a Tree Man, living in a tree in a forest near his house. The novel is about our need to unplug from our culture and re-discover ourselves in Nature. It is a fun-yet-deep look at: the media, our education system, drugs in our culture and our inability to listen to each other in the political arena.

 

Free Flea!: A Short Story Starring Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (Spoiler-Free Version)

The following is a creative work of fiction, my 2018 Christmas gift to my readers. This version is the one where I DID NOT highlight the 49 Red Hot Chili Peppers songs that appear, so those of you who are fans of that great band can find them for yourselves. If you would like the “answer key,” which also serves as links to many of the songs, click here.

“Free Flea! Free Flea! Free Flea!”

“Let’s cut this and get somewhere quieter where we can put it together,” shouted the newsman with the sandy hair that, in spite of the wind or because of it, was miraculously in perfect alignment, all positions maintaining their postures, all postures erect.

The protesters were certainly not going to get any quieter and they weren’t going anywhere any time soon. Not until their beloved musical god, Flea, that goofy gap-toothed, grinnin’, fun-lovin’ surf-punk-funk bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, was released to the world. And not without a big apology, mind you. This was certainly no minor thing.

Because somebody somewhere high up on the Ladder of Unaccountability had really buggered the pooch up the keyhole on this one. No way in hell would Flea ever harm a little girl, let alone rape one, and after years of reverent drug use but relative sobriety recently, he would never dream of abusing any drugs!

No, Flea was a free-loving man of peace who wanted to share good vibes to the world through his music, not some sicko child molester fueled by illicit drugs of abuse!

Sure, if he’d been dosed by a Truth Serum where nothing but Pure Honesty emanated from his very Soul, if you’d given him that and it was the pure stuff, the best Truth Serum—not the sort of stuff the “bad guys” sold on the street as a result of the immoral War on Some Drugs Some of the Time—nope, give him the good stuff and he’d tell you this:

“Yeah, man, of course I’ve used drugs”—flash that gapped-tooth goofy grin—“Uppers, downers, in-betweeners, all-nighters, short-dayers, middle-grounders, mind-expounders, mind-expanders, dillydangers, candy flips and of course, the hump de bump. And how can I forget the rollsy tollsy, or the meth that made it so hard to concentrate, that stuff’s not so great, or how I’ve feasted on the flowers of enlightenment, smacked the smackdown, chased the dragon around the mountain, here she comes!, and been singed by the secret sauce of abuse that was covered in milky brown lightning after the death of a Martian. All searching for that deep kick, ya know? Nope, nothing was ever frightening for me and my friends, my boy Anthony from the get-go and John and Chad later, we lived it up because we are FUCKING ROCK STARS, MAN, and that’s what REAL rock stars do. They get fucked up and they play! And by the way, we always played with love, man; love of the music, love of the girls and most of all, love of each other. A real love trilogy, man. So I am as harmless as a … Flea.”

Here the jovial man would stop ranting and the prison doctors who’d given him the pure stuff had to wonder if the Serum had caused Flea to prematurely shoot his Truth load and that was the end of it or if this middle-aged God of Bass had another energy source but his connection to it had been temporarily disconnected. But nope, not to worry, the orange-haired love-weirdo just needed to gather his breath before starting again:

“But abuse them? C’mon, man … why would a guy like me do that? Even when I was a young punk I never went into rehab, never fell asleep in my Beamer and drove it over the cliffs of Santa Monica, never passed no drug to some hottie at a UCLA frat party so I could later bang her … once she was fully passed out. Nope, never have I used drugs in a way that disrespected myself, the people around me or the drug itself. Fuck that, man! So yeah, these charges are all bullshit! Free me! Free Flea!”

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Meanwhile, word spread fast about this grave injustice, this crime against humanity committed by those committed to keeping control.

Fuck this social media, thought just about every one of the Dickless Despots who are going to be the bad guys in this tale. (You go ahead and find something good they do in all these words on your paper pages of dead trees or your screens of digital pixels, find that one good thing that a Dickless Despot—any of them—does in this tale and you email, message, iChat, eForm, Twitter or diddle me … however you want to contact me, you do it and I will take back calling them full-on bad guys. But until you do that, the Dickless Despots are the “bad guys,” so deal with it.)

So these bad guys, these Dickless Despots (DDs from here on) are a real treat. They get their kicks out of standing on one of the top rungs of another of our made-up ladders, the Ladder of Illegitimate Power, refusing the power of equality, and they enjoy the heck out of both looking down on us and stepping on any part of our body dare we try to climb higher, or worse, try to knock them off the ladder. They play the game for keeps, too bad they don’t usually enjoy it. Hard to enjoy yourself when your whole purpose is to be a dick about how you are on higher ground than everybody else.

Unfortunately, these dastardly dickwads sometimes get into positions of power and then they make up rules. For example, sometimes they make up a rule where they can put folks behind bars even though they have harmed no one, nor taken from anyone. Heck, in some places, the DDs in power throw folks in jail just for saying something the DDs don’t like, especially something that challenges their power or suggests ways to overthrown it. Again, don’t be climbing up that ladder! And leave the DDs alone on the top!

Nope, call for the DD to step down and you may be imprisoned for fighting like a brave. These DDs do NOT want any change to the status quo, which they support because it allows them to hoard so much while sharing so little.

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Back to our tale. The problem for the DDs was that the rest of us, the “good guys” of this tale, the Merry Masses (the MMs) were getting restless. As restless as brainless baboons on the first day of bobsledding season in the backwoods of the Yukon—yeah, just like them—and they wanted results. And in this case, need I remind you, there were two results: “Free Flea!” and then apologize about it, even if apologizing meant we had to get 15 of our strongest MMs to hold down the DDs so we could take a giant pair of pliers to reach down their throat and pull that soaking-in-guts-and-bile apology out.

Now, you’ll note that with the Truth Serum (hereafter known as the TS) running through his veins, Flea did not deny that he’d used drugs. What he denied was that he abused them.

How does one abuse a substance, a powder or a pill? With a sledgehammer?

That might do the trick. But why would anybody in their right (or wrong) minds do that to the poor drugs, why smash them into smithereens when you could just take the drugs and smash yourself into smithereens? Why not just dispose of them the normal way, by throwing them down the hatch, lighting them on fire and smoking them through a cheap McDonald’s straw or snorting them with a twenty-dollar bill and a whore draped over your back?

So sure, Flea would admit he was caught in the act of being at a crack and smack party by the train tracks that ran under the bridge through your backwoods now. He wasn’t really using those two drugs for he’d seen the needle and the damage done and it was no fun, not like those times he was dosed by those funky monks with those crazy-but-mind-blowing psychedelics or, barring that, bowls of the best bud this side of the Continental Divide. Mostly, these days he was just riding the high of being a free Flea so didn’t use much of anything; most days, he’d just surf, play music and be with friends and family and that was more than enough. Anyway, yeah, if forced to describe the scene, he would have to admit the drugs were around and so was he.

But abuse them? NEVER! NEVER!

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Now about the girl he supposedly raped; it was his best friend’s daughter and he was her godfather. No, don’t imagine horses heads and Marlon Brando, just picture a guy—with orange-hair (at least right now)—loving a kid like she was his daughter.

So what, pray tell, was the motive for this heinous crime? Let’s ask another DD, the police jackoff with the half-grown-in Hitler ‘stache and the loud leopard tie. Here is what he told the press:

“Well, umm, the suspect, Mr. Balzary, was angry about her taking the remote control from him. He wanted to watch the Lakers; she wanted to watch iCarly.”

Even though Flea explained several times that he’d really wanted to throw away his television and he’d kept it for his wife, kids and godkids, even after his wife, kids and godkids collaborated this, the cops were convinced that his addiction to TV was so strong that he’d rape a little girl for not giving up the remote control, that this addiction was so intense that it could turn him from coddling daddy into daddy with a big temper and a remote control/turned club in his hand, and so he’d struck her not once, not twice but six times. What a bunch of horseshit!

Flea’d be the first to admit he’d loved the Lakers since the Showtime days of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabaar, but he was also the guy who said about having kids, “It’s funny how you always hear people saying that classic parent attitude of ‘I brought you into this world, I gave you life!’ You know, it’s just, I think completely the opposite. My kids gave me life. They gave me a reason.”

Yup, sure sounds like your typical attitude for a shithead child abuser, doesn’t it? A dude full of gratitude to his kids for giving him a great reason to live. That’s definitely an abuser. Call it in, boys, we’ve got our man!

No, so long as the Powers That Be (Stupid) were keeping this innocent, lovely human behind walls, so long as they were imprisoning a guy the world knew as Flea—so how can he harm anything?—they were going to attract those idealistic activists fighting for a cause they believed in, the cause of confronting injustice and false imprisonment of a peaceful love-healing-vibe-spreading bad ass bassist. Such folks would willingly put up with a decent amount of bullshit that the rule makers/enforcers made up, but they had their limits and once those were exceeded, they would annoy said rulers until they released their man. But again, they also wanted an apology.

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“An apology!” yelled red-in-the-face Dick Clickstuck, yes a DD and the warden of this here prison and somehow also the county’s chief of police. How could such an opportunity for an abuse of power have been enacted in such a liberal, rich enclave as Malibu, California? How could this be in America, the land of the free? Free Flea!

“Apologize for what? What in the name of the freaky Venice queens would I have to apologize about? The man is a molester of children and an abuser of drugs. It don’t get much more scumbaggy than that.”

“But sir,” Underling #1, a man with a nervous twitter, said, “if you have to ask, the inmate’s lawyer has requested an audience so you can see this man for yourself and they can give you your answer.”

“What do I need to see him for? I am looking at his disgusting videos all over YouTube!” the man shouted, pointing at the computer that sat on his desk. “Have a look at this one—the little jerkface is naked! This guy thinks he is some sorta sir psycho sexy with his little pecker dangling in the wind,” Dick guffawed and then coughed up a phlegm ball that would have made cats on all seven continents plus the moons of Saturn jealous at his expectorating skills. “Nah, I don’t need to see him.”

“But sir,” the underling tried again, “he’s being represented by Sallows, Willoughby and Finch. The lead lawyer is some dude named Emit Remmus, whoever thunk of such a name as that.”

“It’s summer time backwards, ya numb skull,” Dick said, slapping Underling #1 across the crown of his head. “Pay attention for once.”

“Yes, sir,” Underling #1 said. “So, umm, sir, about this, what time is good?”

“Oh fuck it, you dimbnuckle, do it whenever is convenient for them,” Dick said. “I’m ready right now to blast his furry ass down a hole so deep the only way we’ll be able to get food down to him is to use a rope-and-pulley system run by cigar-smoking mice.”

The underling was looking down at his watch/phone and tapping a rapid succession of clicks and clacks, and then he looked up at the warden and said, “10:30 a.m.”

Dick ejaculated spittle again.

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“Batteries are not included for this Flea,” the musician was telling his lawyer as they prepared for the court case, though he was finding it hard to concentrate with the beautiful Apache Rose Peacock, his lawyer’s stunning secretary, stretching out her long legs in front of him. If only Anthony were here, he’d easily be able to handle her!

In spite of the seriousness of his situation, Flea was fighting off a serious case of the sleepyhead nods for he’d had no dreams of a samurai because his cell had a bed that was hardly tall enough for a deformed Chinese contortionist. That bed’s small size resulted from a national spree of privatizing prisons over the past 20 years, which meant the profiteers running the prisons gave two shits less than the previous owners about the inhabitants and gave all consideration to how to squeeze more and more money out of the system by cutting corners here and there, including bed sizes it appeared.

Yup, so here he was, on the brink of a decision that could possibly keep him locked up for eternity and yet he was falling asleep.

Of course, in his mind he’d already been in here an eternity—10 days—for something he had never done, nor ever would do and that was the full-on Truth of it, don’t ask again. I beg of you bloggers, you podcast hosts, you YouTube channelers, you Twitter tornadoes, you forum freaks, you columnists for the Huffington Post, I’m telling you the most Flea will admit to is he has used drugs but not on this night for he had to care for his daughter when he got home and he never soured that up with consciousness-altering drugs, especially something so disorienting as a crack/smackdown in the Okay Corral. Fuck that.

So Remmus Emit would first present the facts without emotion before ratcheting up the emotional rigmarole just as the jury started to get sleepy. He would summon all the powers of the unconscious, all the goodbye angels who happened to be watching this trial that day, all that latent energy in the courtroom that nobody was going to ever use, he’d call it forth as a muezzin calls the devout to pray towards Mecca five times a day from now until all the farts are counted. Emit would sum up the closing arguments with all his best emotional punches, frequently jabbing toward Flea and his kids right behind him, and the sexy Mexican maid/nanny and, dammit Anthony, keep your hands off her thigh!

About that Mexican maid, she was a lovely lass who’d shined her way into Flea’s life from a parallel universe behind the sun and had never left it as he raised his daughter to adulthood and now raised his second by way of a beautiful European fashion model.

So yeah, perhaps if they’d charged Flea with raping her and not a little girl then we’d have the start of something. For any person with an appreciation for how lovely and heart-poundingly beautiful women can be would see this woman and see Flea and think, “Well, umm, perhaps?”

Of course, if the jury empathized too much they’d let him off, so the prosecutor would make sure they knew he got to do it because, unlike them, he was a rich rock star, a real son of a bitch, who was abusing his power and what if this was your daughter? Well, maybe that last part wouldn’t work so well on the trucker in the back row, for his favorite form of porn narrative is of a father and his too-hot-to-resist daughter getting it on, so … who cares about all this anyway? Raping his hot Mexican maid was not what unfree Flea was being charged for, so let’s get back on topic.

Speaking of getting back, what’s going on outside the prison walls? It appears about 100 of the most geographically-challenged protesters had been at the wrong location, a police station in East LA, but had finally shown up and … just what are they doing?

“Dance, dance, dance!” shouted one along with the music from the jukebox and this seemed to do the trick, as suddenly the mood in the crowd changed from one of righteous anger to light-hearted confidence that somehow they were going to win. Perhaps they’d all been smoking the Pure Stuff from the factory of faith, but whatever it was, the crowd all began to feel it, some faster than others, and the guards on the other side of the iron wrought fence were noticing it, too. In fact, if you looked really closely you could see that a few of them were starting to groove to the music.

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Meanwhile, back inside…

“I can’t stop, I can’t stop,” said the Mexican maid from the stand, tears cascading down her lovely brown cheeks, splashing on the floor below and stressing out the judge who was a total neat freak.

She’d been given the Serum and the Truth of the situation, that this man who’d saved her life was now on trial for something she knew he didn’t do … it was all too much.

“Flea is the nicest man I’ve ever worked for. He loves everyone equally, including that dried up, dead frog I found sitting next to him on the balcony with the ocean view. ‘What is that, senor?’ I asked him. He said, ‘Oh, he’s just my friend. He listens very well.’

This caused chuckles in the courtroom and even the judge had to smile.

Remis wrote down on his yellow lawyer’s notepad: “Closing Argument: Flea is not a man who would even hurt a frog, he is a man who makes friends with dead ones. Does that sound like a drug-abusing child molester to you?”

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Fortunately, Flea’d done things with his life besides making freaky styley party music that increased the listener’s endorphin levels. Sure, the music was so great that it convinced two of the jurors to support him no matter what. So much so that, in the jury selection process, when asked by the prosecutor if they’d heard Flea’s music before, both lied and said, “Never, I like country,” which caused lots of embarrassed-for-ya snickers in the courtroom which lead to a loud “ORDER IN THE COURT!!”, along with lots of slamming of that annoying gavel. Anyway, Flea contributed to charity, especially to the arts and this was known amongst most of the jurors so that was another strike against this case even getting off ground.

But wait, wait, wait … another minute, would you? We are far ahead of ourselves here. Here we were about to tell you about the sit-down Flea and his lawyer whose name was Summer Time backwards had with Dick, the warden, and some other faceless Underling jerkwads who worked at the prison and were proud of that fact. So let’s get to it.

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Well, the sit-down obviously didn’t lead to a free Flea since I am spending time telling you about the courtroom proceedings, but what it did do was, well, not much of anything. Still, why don’t you go and smoke some if you got some and come back when you are done as that’ll ensure that the rest of this tale is a real mind riot … for you, at least.

You done? Good. I hope you are in good spirits. Whatever you do, please don’t overreact. Sometimes the rule makers/enforcers are so fucking stupid with their (il)logic that we can ONLY laugh at them and not get all bent out of shape. Of course, our laughter is our way of telling them what a joke they are without actually phrasing it so harshly.

What kind of world would we live in if people only used laughter to express derision instead of all the other devices that, in the end, just take themselves way too seriously? A surely more joyous one than this world, that’s for sure.

But screw it. Let’s get on with this sit down.

So in walks Flea and Emit and one of them looks sharp. The other, Flea, looks less defined and here’s why: Mark this down, ye transcribers of prison history books. Flea is the first inmate in the long history of the Ventura County LockUp Enforcement Center (Prison for short) and, if our fact checkers are not total tools, in the history of any prison anywhere, to have hair that perfectly matches that crazy bright orange of the typical prison jumpsuit.

The only downside to this was it made Flea’s face sort of melt into his jumpsuit and for Dick the warden this reminded him in a seriously fucked up way of the only time he had eaten magic mushrooms. He’d been 18 and it’d been a dare by his farm boy older brother and his gay lover (no one had found out they were gay until two serious-minded investigative chickens caught them in the loft of the barn red-handed with their hands in each other’s chocolate chip cookie jar).

The dare was to eat all eight grams of those dried magic mushrooms and he’d done it. That night there was one of those bloody full moons that looked like it was going to burn the world alive and he’d thought it was going to do just that, but not only the world, no it would start with a fire in the field that would consume the world around him and then, it would wipe its hands and begin to burn into his very soul, the soul that had allowed him to torture squirrels and kill coyotes in the name of scientific inquiry as an eight-year-old geek, the soul that had caused him to make clear he wanted to break up with an annoying ex by squirting Super Glue up her hooch when she was sleeping, yes, that soul was going to be consumed by that bloody orange moon until there was nothing left, that awful, awful blood orange was consuming him now and how could he ever forget that, how—

“So in conclusion,” Emit/Time backwards was saying, “we want you to release our beloved badass bassist and then you, as warden and police chief, will go on TV and tell the world that you are sincerely sorry for the biggest mistake in the history of policing, breaking down in tears if you have to, admitting that you’d committed an awful error in arresting and imprisoning this innocent, peaceful man, this man who wants nothing more than to spread love around the world so places like this prison no longer need to exist.”

Well now this Emit character was threatening Dick’s job security and if there is one thing Dick’s the world over care about it’s job security because they live in a constant state of fear they will end up being kicked to the curb as a jobless nobody just like the homeless guy outside the Starbuck’s Coffee they frequent that they usually kick out of the way.

Thus, it was not too hard for him to say with a straight face, “No true man of peace would have such hideous orange hair. Request for release is denied.”

Of course, Dick was the last person to say what a true man was because true men don’t kill coyotes, yet he really wanted Flea to taste the pain so he added, “Underling #4, take the prisoner back to his cell and make sure he gets the rat surprise for lunch.”

“Rat surpr—“ started the rock star but it was too late, as Underling #4 was one tough motherfucker, a guy who made YouTube videos on the side telling people how to kick ass in real street fights even though he was just over 4 feet 1 inch tall, no taller than a pygmy pig on the prairies of Papa New Guinea.

So that was what happened that day, much adieu about nothing and so pointless that I am at a loss as to why I wasted so much time building it up and telling you. Well, hey nobody’s perfect; knock me down, if you will, but I’d rather you buckle down and forigive me, OK?

Thanks. Onward!

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Flea, then, was not nearly as upbeat about his situation as he’d been the day before and considering he was already buried deep in the pit of Beelzebub’s bellybutton, well, that was saying something. But now he’d lost something that had been keeping him going: hope, hope that this whole thing’d be sorted out once they had a chance to show the warden, this Dick fellow, how nice Flea was, he’d realize freeing Flea was the only way to be.

Meanwhile, Emit went right back to work, but not before stopping for a roadside tug of the best kush pot he’d had since last October (and what an October it had been for the kush!!). So he got high as fuck on that Malibu canyon road with the winds of change from the vast, blue Pacific below blowing new perceptions of desire and sensation into his lovely, perfectly groomed red beard and once he was sufficiently lit up by the bud, he realized the circumstances had changed, that he was now being forced to do something he only did when it was absolutely necessary: Play hardball.

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They put the Mexican Maid on TV that night. Barry Wynn, to be precise. In his 12 years on the Mercury Media Network, Wynn was proving to be every bit as good as Larry King, though that ain’t saying too much. Like King, he had a personable style and seemed to enjoy his guests. But unlike King, he asked probing follow-ups and didn’t let guests off the journalistic hook with tricks like taking commercial breaks too early. So Wynn’s star had risen to the point where he, too, could land bombshell breaking news guests, bombshells both figuratively and literally such as the Mexican Maid.

By now, “Free Flea” was a rallying cry that could be heard from the penguin-waddled ice floes of the North to the jaguar-roamed jungles of the South, a rallying cry for the foremen of the eastern Serengeti to the cattle breeders of the spaghetti westerns that dotted the landscapes west of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Yup, everyone and everything chanting “Free Flea! Free Flea!” and Emit knew that to put the Mexican Maid on TV would win over those who made an honest living working like dogs on a hard day’s night. Those folks who’d come home and heat up their TV dinners in the microwave and then sit on their favorite sofa or chair smack dab in front of those glowing hypnotic boxes, their beers balancing on their bellies and their TV dinners on their TV trays. Such folks saved their cheers for simple things that wouldn’t require much between the ears to enjoy, and threw their jeers at those that reminded them that they were one of the unfortunate masses not granted a backstage pass to the game of Life.

But even though Flea’d clearly been given not only a backstage pass to the game of Life, but a laminated all-access, VIP pass, his music, his rambunctious personality and his proclamations of Universal Love, made him hard to hate unless you were a heartless bastard which most of us are not. So yeah, he was a celebrity, but he was still one of Us.

Such people would watch the reports of the trial, see the gathering protesters/partiers and wish they could be there, and some would follow through on this wish and call in sick the next few days so they could join the raucous revolution of love outside the prison walls. In fact, even Emit underestimated how many had “been on their last straw,” how many had “had it up to here,” how many were at “their tipping point,” and so just how much of an impact the Mexican Maid’s appearance on Barry Wynn’s show would have on turning the tide in their favor.

In short, people were pissed. Pissed at the System, pissed at the corruption and ready to do something about it, even if that doing only meant calling in “sick,” packing up their pick-up trucks and heading for the sticks, er, Ventura County, to join the ever-growing, life-affirming party outside the prison walls where Flea was still not free.

Some of those pissed people were very fat people, the kind of people who couldn’t physically bring themselves to the protest party, but who were still moved enough to get up from their couch/chair to their computers where they would sign form letters to their Congressman/woman/pet begging for the freedom of Flea. Normally, they relied on things like finding out their team just won the first game of the Final Four to reduce the pressure cooker that was their lives, but what would really do the trick is if they saw the tag line on the bottom of the screen, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, displeasing only the DDs: Flea is Free! Flea is Free! Flea is Free!

Put down the “Free Flea” signs, y’all, for Flea is Free! Shout it from the rooftops! He’s free! Flea is free!

But that hadn’t happened yet; it was only what they were hoping would happen.

Thus, this revolution was an important one: The lines in the sand were about true freedom, not just the freedom of free-loving Flea, but the freedom of humanity itself, a freedom from the tyranny of those DDs and the tyranny of the TechnoMachineHead that they were building. Freedom from endless rules that existed for no other reason than to exist; freedom from the types of people who enforced such rules even at the cost of losing their hearts; freedom from paperwork that only served to tell someone you worked for that you were at work rather than them just trusting that you were; freedom from freedom fries and other such abuses of our English language; freedom from presidents who spoke of ending terrorism through warfare; freedom from, freedom from … this list could go on all night long! (Cue Lionel Richie!)

Word was spreading in so many ways and not just the modern way but the old-fashioned way, neighbors telling neighbors over backyard fences such as two out-of-work kitchen workers in Santa Monica named Rick and Rak: “Yeah, dude … fucking Flea! You believe it, Flea is not free!” “That’s whacked, man. Hey … you working today?” “Nah, man, can’t find anything right now.” “Me, neither. Wanna go to the prison and join the protestors?” “Fuck, yeah!” And off they went, scooting on their scooters away from the ocean, one of them pondering how they rarely put prisons next to oceans in warm climates and how fucked that was.

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By the time, Rick and Rak had trekked to the lockup, the onsite protesters had grown twentyfold since that morning into one big mob and the mood was really starting to change, or at least that’s what one hippie with stars in his eyes but wisdom in his words said as they arrived and parked their scooters under a giant weeping willow with its instrument of leaves being played by the soft, warm wind.

Now, it was no longer a protest, it was pure celebration and there’s nothing DDs hate more than to see a mass celebration of a victory for the good guys, the real good guys, especially before they had even won the battle. Didn’t they know their guy was still inside? Where was their humility?

Thus, the DDs often manufactured fake, nasty things to celebrate, such as the killing of another human being, but it’s not a true celebration because the Wisdom that lives in all of our hearts won’t allow us to feel true joy about this macabre fakery.

But there was nothing fake about the celebration to free Flea. So many came to party away that day outside the prison that it took a convoy of sorts to get through the mass of gyrating beings. (Author’s note: I wrote “beings” there for a real purpose: It wasn’t just humanity that joined the ball, it was Noah’s freakin’ Ark … dogs, ponies, buffaloes, water fowl, red-coated lions, purple-tinted emperor tamarins and more! … all were in on the fun and, wait … what, what’s that? I missed something … oh, shit, my good friends the plants, the trees: the budding cherry blossoms, the snaky vines of Mozambique, Douglas firs showing their eternal optimism by staying green in spite of the dark, rainy winters, palms way up high, waving their hair into the Hollywood wind, the Hollywood Shuffle … okay, not that last one, but I’m sure some of these beings were doing that particularly odd dance, because this was a fucking par-tee. Eddie Murphy’s girl was there and Eddie too, but he was starting to complain because he wanted to go home but, for her, the party is never supposed to end. 

“Free Flea! Free Flea! Free Flea!”

Around lunch that day a convoy of sorts arrived on the scene. It consisted of tanks, airport carriers, police helicopters, dinosaurs and, of course, horses ridden by impudent, impotent men with scowls for smiles and noses pointed toward their heavens where Mount Pious resides. It also had one very sensitive horse that had reached its own last straw about all the bullshit its masters were putting it through so it snorted in disgust and it was that snort which the partiers heard as a cry of sorrow that caused them to stop and let the convoy through. It was for that horse and that horse alone, and what a sad case it was. Perhaps they’d rescue it later?

So back we come to the reporter briefly mentioned and quickly forgotten at the start of this tale. He has no name, not then, nor forever more, but he did his job.

Most remembered that sandy, windswept hair that looked as though it had been sculpted by the Michelangelo of Hair, a real dude who is a second generation American with Lithuanian roots and lives down on 7th and Mario Kart on the edges of industrial Hoboken. Dude sculpts hair like he has no other cares except for the noble-but-perhaps-misguided goal of making hair everywhere look the part.

Still, it worked with Sand Blown, so much so that he just earned his name at long last. His first name day! So here is SB, wondering if I just called him a name, but carrying on with his duties: “What can we do to spice up this tale?”

It’s hard to understand why this tale needed any spicing up. Just take a look at the crowd now, it appears most of them have been dosed by fools and now appear to be a psychedelicized, smiling-at-the-love-they-found crowd, wondering why the hustle bustle of the muscle-bound cash carriers of the world were so hard to convince that taking care of one’s family was what counted during times of turmoil like this and times of peace like that.

Flea sat in his cell throughout this Hell and would have a story to tell that reporter if only he had some way to communicate. Well, a sweet fellow solved that, a prison guard name Gerard who had been dubbed “the Bard” for his ability to spin yarns out of thin air that made people dance like they just don’t care! He saw Flea looking despondent and said, “Here” and gave Flea his smart phone and told him to communicate with whoever he wanted. Heck, he even gave him a charger chord and adapter so Flea was able to stay plugged in for the rest of his stay in that dreadful, dark prison.

Must we continue or shall we skip to the good parts, notably the end?

I’m all for it. Let’s go.

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The closing argument lasted all of six minutes and 94 seconds. You figure out the math, I’ve got a tale to tell.

So it was during the worst part of the summer—June 16th to June 19th—that this trial took place and as such nobody was in any mood for harmonious pranks, celebratory gestures or obscene noisemakers. In fact, a kid with one of those wooden umbrella hats preferred by fools in all the cartoons and mangas of the world, had a noisemaker that sounded like a duck either farting repeatedly or having a false series of orgasms that never pay off.

As soon as it began to bellow, the judge stood up and threw his gavel at the kid, lodging it between his eyes and bringing the poor sap’s soul to the Waiting Room of the Worldly Dispossessed Spirits, those sad folks who died so suddenly that they had no clue what was going on and would find the Afterlife a series of insipient meetings with nincompoops whose explanations about what was happening to them only muddied their waters and this would go on forever or until they stopped believing in the Story they were being told and changed their orientation.

Nope, that kid was dead and the worst image, that image that everyone who saw it would forever have imprinted into their brains, was when the TV cut to scenes of outside the prison where the high-as-fucking-kittens-on-balls-of-Chinese-cheese protesters had been watching the trial on a giant big screen and were now rolling around on the ground in hysterics in reaction to the slo-mo replay of this awful scene. The TV station the screen was tuned to repeated it over and over and it’s no surprise because that station was composed of hawks whose cocks were made of rocks and whose socks were falling off. Yes, that station whose three-letter call number rhymes with many of those words above, actually slowed down the image of the gavel flying through the air and lodging in the brain of 19-year-old Andy Pepcic from East Tallahassee, New Jersey.

And that fact, that fact that they had actually slowed down such a macabre display of judicial abuse of power was what made those protesters die into heaps of hysterics as they made dirt angels with their contorting bodies that even the most seasoned snow angel creators would have been proud of. So while the media portrayed those protesters as bloodthirsty sickos, the reality was they were incredibly savvy media consumers who’d consumed so much bullshit from the media throughout their lives that they just couldn’t take any more and so did the only thing any sane person does in a situation where she faces media sensationalism taken to new extremes: they laughed their tripping balls off.

Literally, one of the sidebars for this case of the century of 2018 was about how three of the protesters had lost their testicles due to laughing so hard that they detached from their bodies. Quite the scene that, but the next day as Flea sat free in his Malibu home this was his favorite story of the absurd proceedings just because it was so damn unsettling. He told himself he’d have to watch out the next time Anthony started busting him up with one of his raps, his linguistic tour de forces, about their misguided-yet-fun-as-fuck youth, he’d have to watch out not to laugh too hard because for all he knew this ball-loss-from-laughter disease was contagious.

But that was a problem for a future time and for now, Flea sat next to his lawyer and watched the master Emit go to work and deliver the most effective closing argument that anybody had ever delivered, even in countries where they don’t get the morning edition.

“What is freedom, folks?” Emit started. “Is it getting up at 5 every day so you can go to a job that you hate just to pay the bills, just to keep the hamster-wheel of debt payments spinning? Is that it?”

“Is it going around the world with guns a blazin’, ragin’ to the world about joining you for the sake of freedom or dying if you resist? Is that it?”

“Is it the option to steal billions of dollars of pension fund money from people so you can have not just a yacht, but a fleet of yachts? Yachts that you’ll likely never use, but hey, you won them fair and square in the game of freedom?”

“Do these things sound like freedom to you?”

And here the master paused and almost seemed to channel his first name, which was Time backwards in case you’d forgotten, so that time in the courtroom was running so slowly that Flea lived out four past lives in the space of that pause.

“Or could freedom be what my client, the badass bassist of the best band around, represents? The ability to live your life by your rules, while not harming even so much as a dead frog? In fact, not only doing no harm to such creatures, but to befriend them because of their listening abilities? Some might call such an action crazy; I call it freedom, true freedom. And have you heard him play bass?”

Suddenly, as Emit asked this question, the earth-moving, booty-shaking sounds of Flea’s famous bass line from “Give It Away” came blasting through the walls of the courtroom. Obviously one of our partying protesters had some very big woofers and a well-tuned, exquisite sense of timing! It was then that Flea started to notice that the shaking of the ground from his bass playing was having actual physical effects, such as a few small cracks in the walls of the courtroom. But nobody else seemed to notice.

Emit went on, “The way my client plays bass is freedom in action, folks. It is playful, it is loving, it is rambunctious, it is rebellion! It is a call to the world to truly party on the pussy of life, to dance naked in the rain and to bring as many as you can along for the ride.”

The cracks were growing and Flea saw that others were starting to notice. From the prosecutor’s table, the two uptight, well-groomed men and the one uptight-yet-sexy-as-hell woman, were whispering nervously and pointing at the cracks which were now heading directly for their table. And here Flea noticed it was not just his bass, but the sounds of the protesters themselves that seemed to be causing this disruption to reality.

Emit went on, “Freedom is like a bird, an eagle let’s say, flying in the sky, gliding in the wind, not caring where he is going. It’s like a little girl dancing like a ballerina, smiling at herself in the mirror as she gets it just right. It’s like a well-cooked lasagna with its sauces and cheeses pouring out of its sides, ready for consumption. It’s all of these things and more.”

By now, in spite of Emit’s loud voice, the jury was having trouble hearing him for the foundations of the courtroom were seriously starting to crack. The foundations of law and order seemed at risk, as well, for how could this trial proceed in these conditions? But the noise from outside was only getting stronger and the cracks were only getting longer and it was then that the lead lawyer for the prosecutor, one Mr. Robbie Robot, stood up from his desk, cranked his neck and said in an odd, misplaced-in-Southern California Cockney accent, “Seen enough ‘ere, ‘aven’t we?”

Just as the judge was about to yell out another “ORDER IN THE COURT” the largest of the cracks spread across the floor straight for the prosecutor’s desk and, while seemingly quick from years of tennis and jai alai, Robbie Robot was too slow and was the first to fall into grace, hitting his head on the granite floor and knocking himself into worthless unconsciousness so that it was easy for the crack to eat its first prey.

Flea watched it all with bemused detachment, figuring this would make a great Chili’s song some day, knowing that the cracks were not going to get him but excited to see where they headed next.

Sadly, it was the sexy lawyer’s turn, because as she stood up to make her escape, a green, earthy vine from the crack suddenly shot out and wrapped itself around her waist, pulling her into the crack and that was the last Flea, or anyone, saw of that lass.

The third prosecutor was actually a man of God, so he got on his knees to pray for a restoration of order in the court, and the crack gladly obliged by swallowing him whole. And suddenly, all was quiet, the dust settling and the crack stopping its forward progress. But how it stopped communicated loud and clear to those with any sense or intuition about them—its next target was the judge, or at least that’s where it was aiming.

But the judge was a man who could see the writing on the wall from at least 4,200 meters, so he slammed down his gavel, yelled, “CASE DISMISSED!” and scurried back to his chambers.

This almost seemed to disappoint the crack, which spun in a confused circle, but then everyone present heard an exasperated sigh from the crack and then laughter, laughter that said this case was over and that Flea really was Free!

The jury jumped up as one unit and threw their arms into the air like jellyfish seeking their last bite of sunlight before going into hibernation … and well, that was that and the case was dismissed and just like that all was well with the world as Flea was now Free, so much so that he joined the Free Masons that night and never again was late on his monthly payments, even when he went to Morocco in 2023 and got kidnapped by desert pirates, taken to sea, only to fall overboard in an unfortunate-for-the-pirates-but-fortunate-for-Flea boating accident in the Strait of Gibraltar.

Nope, all was well with the world because Flea was out there adventuring, being free for those of us who can’t, those of whose lives are stipulated by jobs, rules, useless instructions and ping pong robots that have bad tempers.

But folks, the story doesn’t stop there, for if it did, it would not be worth all these words, all this hyperbole and broken English. No, freeing Flea was only the start.

Outside, the protesters felt the buzz first, but it was instantly communicated through social media and the Internet to all the MMs all around the world, this buzz of growing awareness that the liberation had to continue, that Flea was not the only poor soul locked up for a victimless crime, that he was only the most famous soul.

So the parking lots that were outside the walls of the prisons of the world soon became playgrounds of celebration where people could ride the buzz of that collective, liberating energy all the way to the next victory, the next time the prisons would open up their locked cells to free the victims of oppression. Everybody who’d ever abused a drug, or used a drug and been caught, all free. Everybody who was locked up for speaking their mind: free. Everybody who was locked up for having unseemly stitches in their stockings: free.

But why stop there? Why not see this thing all the way through? Why not consider all the things that enslaved us?

Soon parties were starting outside the banks—lots of parties there!—and outside credit card company headquarters where people demanded liberation from unfair late fees, high interest rates, heck, liberation from the whole antiquated economic system of credit and debt! For we all had parties to attend and who can properly party when they are feeling weighed down by the burden of unpayable debts? So fuck the debts, it’s reset time! A recess from this experiment in …

… compulsory schools? Only fools or evil little men seeking control, those dastardly DDs, would create such a system that removed children from Nature and put them behind walls for several hours every day, several hours of sitting in chairs and staring at clocks, waiting for the bell to ring so this chalkdust torture could stop. Only fools…

… could think it was ever okay to outlaw things that grew from the bounty of the Earth. So all plants would be freed and they’d do it by planting seeds, seeds, seeds—everywhere! Seeds for demonized bushes and trees, the ones that grow into mind-expanding kushes, the ones that give an extra boost, the ones that make you want to hang loose. So free the plants, too!

There were many more things, this was only the start, but as Flea watched the news of this Liberation Wave sweeping the world, the only conclusion he could make was that this had all been a dark necessity. Two weeks in a stinky, sticky, smelly jail was a small price to pay for the total liberation of the planet!

So “Free Flea” may have seemed a small, even trifling, cause to some, but who can ever predict where these collective responses to injustice are going to go? Who really knows? It just goes to show that those with high noses wrapped around their garden hoses ain’t no Moses.

Yes, Free is Flea, Flea is Free and how could it be that this was ever not the case?

Flea is Free for Free is Flea!

Shameless Self Promotion Time: If you enjoy my writing, please check out my novel, “The Teacher and the Tree Man.” The full 80-chapter story can be purchased as an e-book or as a paperback from Amazon or as an e-book at Smashwords. You can also purchase the book in each of the 20-chapter “books” (there are 4, for a total of 80) at Amazon as well (book 1, book 2, book 3 and book 4). If you are a member of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited like I am, you can read the individual books for free. If you like reading and discovering independent authors like me, I highly recommend joining Kindle Unlimited!

Here is a bit from the synopsis:  “The Teacher and the Tree Man” is a modern American epic fable about a Teacher in love with Nature who discovers a human head, a Tree Man, living in a tree in a forest near his house. The novel is about our need to unplug from our culture and re-discover ourselves in Nature. It is a fun-yet-deep look at: the media, our education system, drugs in our culture and our inability to listen to each other in the political arena.

 

Why It Is Important to Give Freely During the Holidays

The holidays are an emotional time for most of us, aren’t they?

As much as we want them to be a time of positive emotions, that is not always the case. For me, one of the emotions that has surfaced throughout my life during the holidays is sadness.

As a kid, I can remember being sad about not receiving a present I was hoping to get, a present maybe a friend was getting, or one I was convinced was under the tree. Many kids can relate to that, I think.

snoppy santaAs I got older, I began to feel sad over other things. One year when I was probably eight or nine, my mom bought me and my brother a pair of Snoopy stuffed animals. I was (and still am) a fan of stuffed animals, mostly because I like to create characters out of them (future blog post!), but also for the comfort of sleeping with them.

On the other hand, my brother is two years older and I suppose he wanted to move out of the “stuffed animal phase.” I don’t remember the details, all I know is he wasn’t happy about the gift and I can remember feeling really sad for my mom. Here was a person who was offering a gift and it was being rejected.

It still saddens me to this day. Now, though, it takes on another layer of sadness because as a father of a 13-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, I see how quickly kids grow up and how that can often make parents feel a sense of loss. Of course, when we look back to the early years of our children, we tend to focus on the good memories and forget things like when my son used to lay down on the floors of convenience stores and throw a temper tantrum when he didn’t get candy or a snack. So, umm, I guess I didn’t forget!

Still, it’s hard for me to watch these videos (#1, #2 and #3) and see how innocent and excited my son was about receiving Christmas presents and not feel sad. What happened to that cute little guy? And often now, when I see my kids open a present, I feel the sadness of knowing that they won’t enjoy it for very long, that in the not-so-distant future it will just be one more discarded item in a closet I may be cleaning.

Celtic-Tree-of-Life-Symbol-and-Its-Meaning

Nowadays, I associate sadness with Christmas for other reasons. First, I live in Japan and actually have to work on Christmas! Just another day, I suppose.

In addition, Japan seems to have imported only the commercialism of Christmas and none of its deeper values. So yes, my kids receive Christmas presents, mostly because kids here seem to expect them.

godzilla christmas

Godzilla also celebrates Christmas!

But it always feels flat to me because, unlike my family situation growing up when Christmas was not only about exchanging gifts but spending time together, playing board games, enjoying our new gifts and eating bigger meals than normal, we don’t do any of those things on Christmas in my household here.

I’m not going to play victim here. This is something I could have done (and still can do!), to be sure. I feel like I tried back when my son was smaller as those videos reveal. But still, it’s not a big part of the culture here so we usually don’t have family get-togethers for Christmas besides one year when I remember getting together with my wife’s brother and his kids for a Christmas dinner (fried chicken and strawberry shortcake … traditional Christmas fare here … and by tradition I mean, what, almost 50 years?? Ask Kentucky Fried Chicken). Again, it’s just a regular day of work.

KFC Xmas Japan

Some very smart advertiser for Kentucky Fried Chicken connected eating KFC with Christmas dinner in Japan and the rest, as they say, is chicken history!

A few years ago, probably the saddest I felt on Christmas here was on a very windy afternoon when I came home from school and my son wanted to open his main present before my wife and daughter got home. I called my wife to ask if he could and she said OK. Talk about unceremonious!

As he was opening it, we heard a loud crash outside our house. Looking out the window, we saw that the canvas bike shed which we’d built in our backyard but had been repeatedly uprooted by the wind, had blown into our neighbor’s field and crashed into some farming equipment.

So my son and I had to interrupt the opening ceremony to go gather this bike shed. It’s comical when I think about it now but at the time it just felt like a sorry reminder of what Christmas was like in Japan and how much it wasn’t like the Christmas I knew growing up.

Now, there is a part of me that has grown to appreciate being here because a lot of the pressures that come with Christmas in the US don’t exist here. I can generally buy a gift or two for my kids and wife and it’s more than enough.

Still, there is a part of me that wishes we just didn’t do Christmas at all here. It might feel more natural and less sad.

Celtic-Tree-of-Life-Symbol-and-Its-Meaning

All that said, there are some things about Christmas here that are fun and do make me feel the holiday spirit. One of them is, for my job, sometimes I get to dress up as Santa and go to a Christmas party at a local pre-school.

The teachers at the schools usually put a lot into these parties so they’ll have built and decorated a sleigh filled with presents, brought a bell to shake as Santa approaches and then I enter the party’s large room, yelling “Ho, ho, ho, Meeeeery Christmas!” to the delighted smiles and screams of hundreds of toddlers, and a row of video cameras from the papparazi, er, parents.

Santa-Suit-Sweater

Do I look this silly when I dress up as Santa?

Then, the kids will usually have some questions that I have to answer (this is prepared in advance so I know my answer and so the teachers can translate my English into Japanese because apparently Santa is only supposed to speak English!). After that, they often do a dance to a Christmas song. Depending on the pre-school, I may be lucky enough to just sit and watch, clap and smile, or have to get up and dance with them like I did this year. That part is filled with peril as I’ve had my beard fall off, pants fall down, an old pair of shoes start to peel apart and leave a rubber trail on the floor and, hardest of all, you’ve got to try to dance along with the kids yet this is a choregraphed dance that they’ve practiced for weeks yet Santa has no idea the moves!

So you just roll with it, smile and have fun. And it is.

After the dancing and music is over, usually the kids will line up and I’ll give them presents and then take a group photo.

Anyway, I’ve always loved doing this and it always reminds me that the Spirit of Christmas truly is about giving. So I give my best performance and my most kind Santa impersonation. Invariably, some of the kids will tug on the beard and ask if I am “the real Santa” or one of the smaller kids will cry due to being scared by Santa, but as a parent who watched both my kids tear up as babies on Santa’s lap at the Tacoma Mall, this also pulls my heart strings in a good way.

Celtic-Tree-of-Life-Symbol-and-Its-Meaning

Anyway, the winter holidays can certainly be challenging for a variety of reasons. Many people may not have loved ones to spend time with so the holidays may be one of the loneliest times of the year for them. Some people will feel financial pressure due to wanting to please their family but maybe not having enough money to buy gifts.

As a result of all these reasons, I think one of the best gifts we can give each other is the gift of patience and compassion, recognizing that this time of year is not always easy.

Our materialistic culture sometimes thinks a gift can only be a material thing, but gifts are so much more. Two weeks ago, I started an on-line course with Charles Eisenstein called Living in the Gift and I’ll definitely be blogging about some of the things I learn and experience as a result of that. One thing I already knew that the course is reinforcing is that one of the gifts we can give is gratitude, and I think if we express gratitude to each other during this season, it’ll make for a much better time.

Last week I wrote that the talents we are born with are gifts to us that, I think, are then meant to be shared as our gift to the world.

So in that spirit, I am going to give you probably my favorite piece of creative writing I’ve finished since the publication of my novel in 2015. It’s called “Free Flea” and is a free-form romp of a tale, centered around Flea, the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s bass player, being falsely imprisoned and why his possible liberation may save the world.

Flea on Guitar

Free Flea! Free Flea! Flea is Free so free Flea!

My creative writing teacher in high school, Mr. Mac, always told us before presenting a story that we weren’t allowed to give caveats, so I fear I will violate that very good advice by saying a few things about this tale to give it some context.

First, the first draft was written when I was in probably one of my strongest experiences of hypomania and I wrote it on a morning after staying up all night. So yes, it is over-the-top. At times it is crude. Juvenile. Offensive.

So my advice is to go into it with a light heart. It’s meant to be funny and silly. And then, I think if you stick with it to the end, you’ll see there is (was) a method to my madness. And if not, hopefully you’ll have as much fun reading it as I did writing (and editing) it.

Anyway, it’s a long piece (over 8,000 words), so pour yourself your favorite holiday beverage and get comfortable and, please, enjoy the ride. And as always, thank you for reading! (I’ve put 49 Red Hot Chili Pepper song titles within the text of the story. The version of the story where those songs are not linked so you can try to find them can be found here; and the one with various links to all the songs hidden in the text can be found here. Enjoy!)

Celtic-Tree-of-Life-Symbol-and-Its-Meaning

Shameless Self Promotion Time: If you enjoy my writing, please check out my novel, “The Teacher and the Tree Man.” The full 80-chapter story can be purchased as an e-book or as a paperback from Amazon or as an e-book at Smashwords. You can also purchase the book in each of the 20-chapter “books” (there are 4, for a total of 80) at Amazon as well (book 1, book 2, book 3 and book 4). If you are a member of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited like I am, you can read the individual books for free. If you like reading and discovering independent authors like me, I highly recommend joining Kindle Unlimited!

Here is a bit from the synopsis:  “The Teacher and the Tree Man” is a modern American epic fable about a Teacher in love with Nature who discovers a human head, a Tree Man, living in a tree in a forest near his house. The novel is about our need to unplug from our culture and re-discover ourselves in Nature. It is a fun-yet-deep look at: the media, our education system, drugs in our culture and our inability to listen to each other in the political arena.

It’s Time For Me To Be Committed!

Note: The following is the follow-up to my November post, “Is it Time To Face My Shadow?” and is part of a monthly check-up on my mental health/personal growth I’m planning to write until the end of 2019.

Winston Churchill was a man with many traits, including the gift of gab. Not only was he a skilled orator at public events, he had a wit in private affairs that set him apart.

In a famous, if possibly untrue, anecdote, he is said to have responded to a complaint from a female politician about how disgustingly drunk he was with a quote that is considered one of history’s finest insults: “My dear, you are ugly, and what’s more you’re disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be disgustingly ugly.”

The witty Brit: Winston Churchill

Not his finest hour as a caring, decent human being but it is a great line.

That said, he has another quote that I think can be very helpful to anyone who is going through a rough patch in life, which is: “If you’re going through Hell, keep going.”

Earlier this year, I started consulting with a man who I think of as a mentor to help me on my path. His goal is to create within me the notion that my life is a grand adventure and more than once in our sessions he has referred to that quote.

However, what if you don’t know you are in Hell? Anybody watch “The Good Place”? I rest my case.

Seriously, though, when I look back on the road I’ve gone down in 2018, I don’t think I perceived myself as being in Hell, or at least those words didn’t come up.

However, this mentor, who asks me to think of him as a Holistic Life Coach (an apt title, I think, considering all of the various methods and ground we have covered!), seems to have an uncanny sense of where I am at, maybe even knowing that better than I do.

He also told me about the concept of the J curve, which Wikipedia defines as “any of a variety of J-shaped diagrams where a curve initially falls, then steeply rises above the starting point.” 

A basic J curve: one must go down before going up.

Even as he explained about the J curve in the context of my life situation, I tuned into an ability that I think most of us have. And that is when we get into the nitty gritty hard stuff of our lives, we can detach from our emotions, objectify ourselves as though we are a scientist using a microscope to observe cells in a petri dish.

But yeah, he was telling me about the J-curve because he knew. He knew that if I really did commit and stay committed to doing the inner work on myself so I could make my life an adventure, I’d go down the J-curve before going up.

I was just coasting, never really going anywhere

Caught up in a web, I was gettin’ kinda used to stayin’ there”

Kacey Musgraves “Butterflies”

Yeah, I was pretty used to staying in my web. I’d accepted that, at age 45, I was probably set on my path and that, considering all of the absolutely horrific shit people have to deal with on this planet, I shouldn’t complain.

After all, I have a reasonably steady, mostly stress-free job that I enjoy and that gives me meaning and a fair amount of free time, two healthy kids, a nice, functional house in a lovely, quiet, peaceful neighborhood and a wife who, while our marriage is more like an unhealthy business relationship, manages to run our household with an amazing efficiency and works really hard raising our kids.

Only an ungrateful jerk would complain about that, right?

Well, I think sometimes our culture gets so caught up with what we look like on the surface that we don’t recognize that all of us have so much more going on in our depths. We are like icebergs and yet we tend to judge each other based only on that 10 percent that’s sticking out of the water.

Meanwhile the 90 percent is the shit we are dealing with, the shit that’s driving us whether we know it or not.

Last month I asked, “Is it time to finally face my Shadow?” I’d heard the term “Shadow Work” for many years and had a vague understanding of what it meant.

If Peter Pan can wrestle with his Shadow, so can we!

But now, one month later, as I write this promised update to that post, I’m realizing, I have been working on my Shadow all year.

That’s been part of what my relationship with my coach has been bringing to the surface.

But it’s called a Shadow for a reason. And that means even when we bring it to the surface, we may not see it. Or maybe we’ll project it onto the world around us.

The most powerful work we can do for socio-political change is to withdraw projection of our Shadow onto others.” 

Carl Jung


My coach told me that quote in our last session. Reflecting on it, I realized I’d been doing that all year as I kept asking, “Will humanity make it? Are we doomed to fail? Or are we going to find a way to live?”

Of course, I do think that is an important question for our Age. It is the question that lies behind the converging crises of: climate change/ecological disaster; an unsustainable economic system that, because it is based on infinite growth in a finite physical world, is pitted against our ecosystem; and a political system that rewards sociopathic, self-interested behavior over caring for people and the planet.

Can our species really carry on like this?

I’m going to continue digging into that question in my work because I want to join those who are seeking solutions to help humanity evolve in a healthy way, not just for humans but for all Life and our natural world.

That said, the heart and soul I put into that question in 2018 was, in a way, the question I was afraid to directly ask myself: Bryan, do you want to live? Do you really want to live? Or do you want to die?

My Soul, Higher Self or whatever you want to call that part of us that isn’t solely focused on survival in this world, wasn’t going to judge me based on how I answered that question. It really was my choice.

And because it is the question, the “to be or not to be” question, it’s not one a person should answer lightly or quickly. So I’ve been taking my time. And perhaps going through Hell as I did so.

But again, keep going.

And I realized in the past few weeks that somehow I was given the fuel to keep my feet moving last winter vacation when I was called upon to commit to this weekly blog post.

I think we are constantly being given signs to guide us. Paradoxically, in a world that is increasingly interconnected, I think it is both more confusing to determine the signs from the noise and easier to find the signs because there are so many places we can receive them from.

In my case, as I wrote about in the very first blog post of 2018, the sign I received came from listening to the Personality Hacker Podcast. It is hosted by a husband and wife team and the husband, who has the same ENFP personality type as me, talked on their 200th episode about how they’d committed to releasing a podcast once per week and how following through on that commitment had been a great boost to their personal growth.

Check out the Personality Hacker podcast if you are interested in personal growth!

Something about hearing how a fellow ENFP, who are notorious for our enthusiasm at the start of projects but inability to focus long enough to stick with them until the end, resonated deeply within me and, yes, called me to accept The Challenge: Write one blog post per week throughout 2018! Do it!

If you have been following this blog this year, maybe you remeber that it was the very first post after I made that commitment where I admitted that, had I not made the commitment public, I likely wouldn’t have stuck with it.

Because after being in good spirits during my winter break, returning to work seemed to send me into a depression where it was all I could do just to get out of bed and go through my regular life duties, let alone write a blog post.

But I’d been called to make the commitment, to do it publicly, so I stuck to it.

Unfortunately, that week in January wasn’t the only time in 2018 where I’d go into a period of depression. Off the top of my head, I recall a period in April, a short bout in August and then, the Mother of them all from mid-October to mid-November.

During that last period, I really did want to just crawl under a blanket and say “Fuck you, Life, I’m done. You. Are. Too. Hard.”

To be perfectly honest, I even acted out this feeling to my family. Most days, I’d come home from work, do my household duties as quickly (and lamely) as possible, and then retire upstairs, avoiding my wife and kids.

I found myself drinking more, taking more pills, eating worse, sleeping less and indulging in more media distractions. At first, this strategy worked. I remember staying up most of one night, indulging in these things and then going to play park golf with my friends, feeling really buzzed, that sober October wasn’t for me, that I was more boring sober.

Of course, the effectiveness of the strategy didn’t last. Pretty soon, I felt less pleasure and more and more guilt. No, I wasn’t going to be able to stick to this plan.

Perhaps that was the moment, maybe in early November, where I began to choose Life. The moment I decided I simply had to, that the other way wasn’t an option.

I had to figure this out on my own. 

I wish I could have talked it over with my wife. Unfortunately, my relationship with her is not close. Not even close to close. It’s something I want to work on and something I’ve been chipping away at over the past two weeks as I’ve come out of the depression into a really good head space. But it’s a big challenge and, I’ve realized, has many triggers that can potentially send me back into a funk. So it’ll take patience, inner strength and the knowledge that even if she cuts me down she doesn’t know the Real Me.

She has no idea the stuff I’ve been working out over the year. No, I don’t hold that against her; she has no way of knowing, because I haven’t told her. Because the stuff I was working out was such life-and-death stuff, there was no way I was going to risk talking to her about it and potentially receiving feedback that would convince me: Choose death.

As strong as I think I can be, nobody wants to hear from their spouse that they should choose death over life.

Before I go on, I feel I may be worrying some of you, especially those really close to me. Let me be clear about something: I never was suicidal or considered something drastic.

Rather, the choice I was making was between committing to actually living my Life, going on the adventure my coach is coaxing out of me, or living a flat life, possibly shortening it with bad eating, drinking, spending, etc. Being mediocre, not my best self. But probably sticking around long enough to see my kids to adulthood. Certainly, though, it wouldn’t be a very fulfilling existence and, in a way, it would be like being “dead alive.”

So yeah, that’s what I mean by saying I was choosing between Life and Death. I hope that clears things up. If not and you are concerned, reach out to me, OK?

As I went into those funks, especially the longer one this fall, there was always the fucking blog. I said I’d write it so I have to write it. Get off your ass and do it. Do that much and that’s good enough, I told myself. Fuck the rest, that’s fine. Just write the blog.

And it saved me.

And, at the risk of sounding prideful, in the past week or so I’ve been going back and reading some of my posts and, well, I am really proud of the work. I think some of these posts are as good as a lot of stuff you’ll find in a magazine or somewhere where the writer would be paid to produce it. (A few highlights: a post on using Integral Theory to take a very deep dive into Netflix’s awesome Wild, Wild Country documentary; a fun one about whether rock music is dead or can ever die; and part three of a deep dive on psychedelics, this one asking if our culture of individualism will clash with the true potential of psychedelics. Check out that whole series as well as the recent three-part series on climate change).

That said, I’m glad there was no external motivation to writing this, no “if you write this, you’ll be given money” or whatever.

No, this had to be motivated by an inner drive for it to do The Work.

And let me tell you, it often was work. I didn’t keep track of how long I spent on each post, but I’d say an average post took between 15-20 hours. I’m counting research, writing, pondering, re-writing, all the hours trying to deal with my computer being too slow to upload photos … all of it. I had to do it, so I did.

And I really do think it saved me or at least gave me the reason and confidence to discover there is a better way forward.

I used “The Birds” to write my first tale …

I’ve known since I was six years old and wrote a version of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” set in my elementary school that I was a writer. And I’ve always written a lot; whether it was letters to friends, soul-bearing diary entries as a teen; posts on Facebook as an adult, all the short stories I’ve started (some of which I’ve finished, including–teaser!–an epic one with Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as the protagonist that’s coming next week!), or the articles I wrote as journalist, first as a sports writer then as a political/cultural writer.

But it took this year to convince me that I wasn’t faking it, that I had what it takes. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I can be hard on myself. Especially when it comes to writing, which I think is my gift and thus, as a good gift should be, my thing to contribute to the world. I don’t want to half-ass it so if I find myself doing that, I stop.

… and used Flea to write a more recent one.

Thus I can honestly say there hasn’t been one half-ass post in 2018. All have been from the heart. All resulted from hours of soul-searching, trying to decide what the post was supposed to be.

Sometimes, I had to wait until the very last minute to figure out that what I’d started wasn’t it. Still, somehow I managed to produce something, almost always by my 7 p.m. Sunday night (Japan) deadline (once or twice I was an hour or so late and my editor, who is really just a cigar-chomping chimpanzee with a nasty disposition, let me have it!).

My hard-ass editor has often made me question my lifelong love of monkeys.

So going forward, I’m making a commitment: 

No matter what I do, as long as I’m blessed to be wearing this human suit, I’ll write.

That’s a promise.

But that’s not all I’ll do.

No, my coach has helped me make some pretty serious commitments.

One of them is to really commit to working on myself. Just as I made it my top priority to write this blog every week and followed through on that in 2018, from now until my birthday January 4, 2020, I’m committing to a daily spiritual practice.

I’m not going to go into the details of it, because I want to write about those in a future post. But in short, I have a 30-minute morning practice that I will do every day. And then I will carry the mindset of that practice into my daily life.

I was really happy when my coach told me, “At least do it six days a week, you can take one day off.”

But then he told me a funny story about a trumpet player named Chris Botti who played with Sting. He was religious about practicing every day but one day he forgot and that night he had a concert.

Chris Botti knows the importance of daily practice.

What happened? Right as he was about to solo nothing but the fart-like sounds that any person who has ever heard a beginner play a trumpet has heard came out and Sting busted up in laughter.

I cracked up when I heard this, too.

But there was also a lesson in there.

Sure, I can take a day off if need be. But it may come at a price, even if that price also has the reward of cracking up my friend.

I’ve only been on this program for two weeks, but so far it has been amazing. The first 10 days, I was filled with a certain magic that is hard to describe. I felt very open, clear and in a playful state of mind.

I have to think my co-workers, my students, the kids on my daughter’s baseball team and my friends have all noticed I’ve been more enjoyable to be around lately.

In part, due to this state of mind, I found it easier to tune into people and then sort of “listen” to my intuition about how to react. It’s hard to explain, but as I ponder how it works, maybe I’ll blog about it down the road, okay?

Point is, I can see immediate results from this practice.

A few mornings, I’ve woken up feeling kind of tired and a bit stuffed up. Strangely, this has happened on nights I’ve slept more than on other nights.

Anyway, because I made this commitment to the 30-minute practice, I don’t have to wrestle with “should I do it?” I just know I’m going to do it, stuffy head or not.

That said, the first time this happened, I did ponder messaging my coach to ask him what to do if you don’t feel physically well enough to do it.

However, I looked at the page with instructions on my AM practice I’d laminated and taped onto my wall the night before and saw “DON’T TAKE NO for an ANSWER! JUST DO IT! COMMIT TO THIS!”

So I did.

One step of the process usually causes me to cry. And you know what, not only does the crying usually make me feel better and clearer inside, it usually clears up the stuffiness in my head, too!

When I reach the end of the 30 minutes, I usually feel very good. I feel awake and ready for the day. Oh, and also grateful for another crack at it (gratitude is another topic I’ll be covering in 2019 posts. Gratitude is very important!)

Talk about immediate effects!

So yeah, I’m sticking to it. I know there will be days where it will be harder, where I will have more resistance. Days where I don’t get such immediate results. Or may even feel I’m going backward.

In fact, as I’ve been putting together this blog the past few days, I started to fall into a bit of a lull. Over the past year or so, I’ve come to realize I may have the condition that mainstream psychology terms bipolar disorder II, which means when I am in the manic phase, as I was last week, it is what they call hypomania.

Personally, I think mainstream psychology has much to learn about this condition and may be barking up some of the wrong trees, but I’ll save further thoughts on that opinion for a future post. For now, no matter what you call it, I dig the hypomanic phase. It feels like a pay-off for working with and through the depression. 

As I’ve developed my understanding of how hypomania shows up for me since I first remember experiencing it about a decade ago, I’ve been able to tone down the manic side, the racing thoughts, the desire to talk to everyone for hours; now it’s more like feeling a really good sense of energy, of feeling plugged into the Universe, of feeling a strong sense of empathy and of feeling a creative spark that goes beyond my usual everyday experience.

Life just seems to come easy during these phases. It feels like everything is as it should be and I get the deep sense that everything is right on schedule, not only in my life but on the cosmic scale. I get a lot done, but never feel rushed. Having experienced this state of mind on numerous occasions, I can totally relate to this Phish song, with it’s lyric “Everything’s right, so just hang tight.”

Last Monday, I could sense that I was “peaking” to borrow a term from psychedelic culture. And that meant, I knew a comedown was coming. And so it did over the next few days.

On Wednesday night I went to bed at 9:30, about an hour earlier than usual, and still felt tired when I woke and was dragging all Thursday in spite of drinking more coffee than usual and an energy drink.

But something great happened that afternoon and evening. I arrived home and was debating playing Red Dead Redemption II, which I began on Wednesday, taking a nap or working on this blog.

I decided to try the blog, at least until I picked up my daughter 45 minutes later. And guess what? Four hours later and, besides a few chores and dinner, I worked on this blog post the whole time and my natural energy began to be restored!

We often here that if you want to discover what you are here on Earth to do, look at what charges you. So yes, I’m here to write. And to do that to the best of my ability, I’m committing to a daily spiritual practice. I think the more I work hard at my Inner Work, the better the writing will be.

I’m committed, because with this blog in 2018, I have the experience of realizing what making a commitment and working through the rough times can do.

So, yes, Bryan: Just Do It. And so it will be done.

Until next week, thanks for reading.

Shameless Self-Promotion Time: If you enjoy my writing, please check out my novel, “The Teacher and the Tree Man.” The full 80-chapter story can be purchased as an e-book or as a paperback from Amazon or as an e-book at Smashwords. You can also purchase the book in each of the 20-chapter “books”(there are 4, for a total of 80) at Amazon as well (book 1, book 2, book 3 and book 4). If you are a member of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited like I am, you can read the individual books for free. If you like reading and discovering independent authors like me, I highly recommend joining Kindle Unlimited!

Hereis a bit from the synopsis:  “The Teacher and the Tree Man” is a modern American epic fable about a teacher in love with Nature who discovers a human head, a Tree Man, living in a tree in a forest near his house. The novel is about our need to unplug from our culture and re-discover ourselves in Nature. It is a fun-yet-deep look at: the media, our education system, drugs in our culture and our inability to listen to each other in the political arena. 


The 2018 Cro-Golf Photo Yearbook

We all played a lot of park golf this year. According to this photo-heavy blog post, I made 28 visits to the beautiful links of Yoshioka’s Park Golf Course.

If you read my post about my love for this pastime last spring, you’ll know that our motley crew of five calls it ‘cro-golf’ because it’s like croquet and golf combined. Another moment etched that moniker in stone, but you’ll have to read that post, which goes into the details of the sport, to find out what that moment was.

Today’s post is mostly like an early Christmas present for my crew, which is part of the ironically named Gunma Gentlemen’s Club, so they can enjoy looking back at the year that was at Yoshioka.

However, I also think it’s a visual way to look at the changing of the seasons in Japan as the concept behind this post was I’d take a photo of the first tee every time we played to compare how course conditions changed over the year.

I’m an advocate for paying more attention to the natural world, so perhaps this silly blog post will be a chance to do that and more than just a chance for me to have some fun at the expense of my friends.

With that said, let’s get this cro on the road!

Ian Griffiths gets the year started right on a cold but sunny January 5th.

 Day 1. Friday, January 5th, 2018:

I remember this day well, because it was the day after my birthday, it was the only Friday we ever played on as a group and, after finally breaking the par 99 on our previous outing in December with a 96 (3 under), I had a scorching 89 (-10).

My average stands at -6.3 so that was a great day. Unfortunately, my last four outings have been worse than that -10 at the start of the year, in spite of playing 28 times! In fact, my -3 today is the same score as a year ago this weekend.

That said, it feels to me now like a -10 is a “pretty good day” where on this fine January day, it felt brilliant.

But wait a minute, writer, didn’t you promise hijinx and hilarity? And now instead you are casting us into a statistical stupor?

Apologies. I get carried away. One of my personal growth missions with this game has been to both try to have a good score and have a good time. But I know the former is more boring to read about than the latter, so let’s get to some fun, shall we?

Oh, crap, I must introduce the cast of characters before I go on, right? What kind of writer am I?

We have Yasu, our sole native Japanese member of our core group of 5 and known for having a name we’ve turned into a verb with multiple meanings; Ian, our resident Brit and resident grandpa, as can be witnessed by his attire in the tee-off photo from September 23; John, who hails from Homer Simpson’s home town and refuses to keep score so he can take more silly shots; Steve, our resident Kiwi and also the first of our crew to begin keeping an Excel spreadsheet with his scores so he can tell which hole is statistically his worst (B6, due to a hilly dry green. Case in point, I lipped a birdie putt today and ended with a double-bogey); and last, yours truly, the only player who plays lefthanded and does it with grace, style and a flair for the ridiculous.

One of our favorite holes is the wild, tree-dotted, narrow, hilly C-7 because all those variables often cause some pretty crazy results, such as in this video where a few of us actually look like we know what we are doing. Part two of that scene can be found here.

February 11: Did Yasu miss this tee shot on a very windy day?

Day 2. Sunday, February 11, 2018:

Perhaps the funniest moment of the year occured on this day.

It was really windy and cold and on a green where the hole was centered on a hill, Yasu was about to knock in a gimme putt when the wind became too much for him. But just as he looked up to the sky as though begging for a respite, the wind began to slowly move his ball down the hill.

I saw it all happening in slow motion but was too slow to react and by the time Yasu looked down to putt, his ball was at the bottom of the hill, a good 10 meters away!

We generally don’t like playing in wind but that one moment made it worth it on this day.

In addition, there was some tomfoolery captured on video on C-7, which includes a guest appearance from beyond the grave by sportscaster Howard Cosell.

Day 3. Saturday, February 24, 2018:

Much less windy this day, but still Yasu almost broke Ian’s hand with a close-up drive. How did this happen? Well, Ian was being a gentlemen by holding up a fence for Yasu, but Yasu hit it right off Ian’s hand.

Unfortunately, I just missed recording that accident but this hole was still clearly fun.

Next…

Day 4. Sunday, March 4, 2018:

In a sign of the hottest summer on Japanese record to come, this late-winter day was so stunning and warm (75 F/23 C), that I took advantage by playing my first solo round, also a warning of things to come.

It looks lonely, right? Yeah, somewhat. But I found I enjoyed the stress-free solo rounds and they were also a good chance to work on my game.

In addition, who wouldn’t want to cycle 17 kilometers to the course when you can see photos like the one below?

I get exercise, fresh air, listen to good tunes, podcasts, audiobooks or just the sounds of nature, what’s not to like?

The 15 km up the lovely Tone River cycling path is one of the big bonuses of playing cro-golf at Yoshioka for me and Ian.

Day 5. Sunday, March 11, 2018: 

I can always count on my pal Yasu to have my back as I prepare to tee off. 

One of the cloudier days of our outings, which is always a bit less exciting than when the sun brightens the colors and, especially in the cooler months, keeps you cozy.

This day was also the day Steve joined us in a zebra suit and proceeded to clank a shot off a post but still turn out all right.

Day 6, Sunday March 18, 2018: 

Another solo trip, but this time I forgot the obligatory first tee photo so made up for it with this shot, showing the first time I was able to use the rarely opened D course.

The D course is the easiest of the three, and due to the distance from the clubhouse, the least crowded and most peaceful. I like it.

Day 7, Monday, March 26, 2018:

I took the afternoon off to enjoy the non-weekend afternoon discount and, considering I set a personal best (PB) of 85 (14 under), perhaps I should play hooky more often?

Also, here is a video where we see a case of Yasu “Yasing” the ball, meaning hitting it with too much power because he is our group’s muscle man. Ian has since evolved the word to “yasting” it which is a combo of “(to) yasu” and “(to) blast.” “Yasu” also means to make a very long putt or miss a short easy one.

Day 8. Saturday, March 31, 2018:

You’re going to see this is the last time the landscape looks more brown than green until November.

In the brown, dry, colder months, the grass is short and travels quickly. This can make putting on the hilly holes an all-or-nothing proposition.

Day 9. Sunday, April 15, 2018:

Yasu looks like he again has missed the ball, but it’s more likely this was back in the day he took practice swings.

On B-1, Ian got stuck behind the tree that is placed right in the middle of the fairway, but hit a great recovery shot to get onto the green, though on this video you can hear him complaining about the very long, highly improbable shot not going in the hole.

Lower your expectations, Good Man!

This day graced us with some great photo ops of flowering trees and some funny videos of John yasing a ball to the wrong green and Steve thinking he could yasu a ball out of some creek-growing thickets.

Day 10. Saturday, April 21, 2018:

What gorgeous weather we get here in the central Japanese prefecture of Gunma from mid-April to the end of May. And all the flowering trees are just icing on the cake.

That said, there was one weird three day stretch in this period where suddenly, it became very hot and sticky, like the middle of the summer.

And then in August, we had three dry, spring-like days. 

Thus, I have this theory that the Japanese physicists at the KEK particle accelerator in Tsukuba, Ibaraki bounced one too many atoms off each other one day, fucking with the space-time continuum and temporally switched those days in April and August (speaking of KEK, there is a wild, brain-melting rabbit hole of information on that word, how it ties to Donald Trump, the alt-right and an ancient Egyptian frog god).

What, you got something better?

Our favorite hole, C-7, looks great in April.

Day 11. Saturday, April 28, 2018:

This day was probably the pinnacle for the best weather days and course conditions. It resulted in the shot below.

I mean, as I wrote in the post about park golf back in May, there is a reason why the sport is called park golf.

Yet we often remind ourselves we are blessed to have such a lovely course. Not all of them are so well-maintained.

Okay, here’s that picture. PARK GOLF!

I think Steve probably missed this.

Day 12. Saturday, May 5, 2018. “Golden Week”:

I’m gonna leave this one big because it’s the only time all year Steve would get the honors of being in the opening shot.

Nothing special to say about this one.

Oh, wait, YES there is.

It seems that the man who introduced us to this crazy game, Mr. David Gann, graced us with his presence. He was rocking a Trey Anastasio from Phish look, which made me happy, and he really enjoyed it, saying how getting out into nature and away from his computer was good for him. 

Yes, David, yes! Good for all of us. So get out here again sometime. The work will surely allow a day off now and then, right?

Day 13. Sunday, May 27, 2018:

I wouldn’t know it at the time, but this was the start of a run of six straight weeks of 10 under par or better for me. It wouldn’t last, but it was fun while it lasted.

I have to admit, I’m digging Ian’s Italian pizzeria colored shirt.

Now, if you know me, you know my fashion sense is well, non-sensical. Mostly I stick to blues on the golf course!

Day 14. Sunday, June 3, 2018:

Then again, sometimes I wear pink. But check out the stylish light blue shoes. And what nice form!

It’s probably appropriate I won honors to be in the photo two weeks in a row because the next three times I would play, I’d be by my lonesome.

Day 15. Sunday, June 17, 2018:

Or maybe I got honors because I was about to have my best round of the year.

How did I do it?

Consistency: 5 under on A, 6 under on B and 4 under on C.

That said, I see two strokes I left on the links. I had a par 5 on A9 and a par 5 on B4. I feel like I’ve heard it said by some whispering, sleep-inducing golf commentator that you have to birdie a par-5 or else it’s like a bogey. Not sure because much as I enjoy playing most forms of golf (I’ll pass on Footgolf), I can only make it about 15 minutes before Morpheus whisks me away.

Still, not one bogey all day. I’ll take it. It’s still well off the scores the tournament winners get, usually closer to 22-25 under. Gotta keep practicing!

Day 16, Sunday, June 24, 2018:

June 24, 2018

The first of three summer solo outings for me.

Part of that was due to a three-week visit to the U.S, during which time an alma mater and one of the founders of the Gunma Gentlemen’s Club, James McKnight, came to Japan and celebrated his (and Yasu’s) 50th birthday with a trip to Yoshioka. Wish I coulda been there, boys, but I had gone Phishin’ that weekend.

Speaking of Mr. McKnight, he was the reason we found Yoshioka the summer of 2017. He had come for a visit and we wanted to take him to play cro-golf at our course in Fukiage, Saitama near David Gann’s place.

Tone River bike path in north Maebashi in November.

James’ schedule was too tight to go that far, so I looked on-line for courses closer to us and found Yoshioka. Hmm, it looks nice and appears I can bike 15 of the 17 kilometers there on the lovely Tone River bike path. Let’s give it a go.

Fukiage is a fun course, with a full 36 holes and some challenging narrow fairways and water hazards. That said it does take most of us almost two hours to get there and that includes a 40-minute train ride that adds to the cost of the day.

David Gann patiently lines up to sink a long putt as the Man in Black, er, Steve, walks rudely behind the hole at Fukiage.

I know I will always have a place in my cro-golf heart for our native course at Fukiage and a big thanks to David for introducing us to the sport. But a chick must spread its wings eventually and thus we now call Yoshioka our home.

Day 17, Sunday July 15, 2018:

My second solo outing of those three, on July 15, took place in record heat and I found I needed an extra scorecard because I sweated through the first one! Oh, and on the bike ride home, I had to stop in an air-conditioned drug store because I felt on the verge of heatstroke.

July 15: By far the hottest day I played on!

I did this partly to train my body for the following weekend’s three days of Phish and camping at the Gorge Amphitheatre in my native Washington state.

That was a lesson in “it’s all relative” because as I heard people complain about the heat during that Phish weekend in the high desert of central Washington, I kept asking myself, “Am I ever going to sweat?”

I even went into a Port-a-Potty for a few minutes to see if being in the enclosed environment would make me sweat. Nope!

It’s no wonder I found myself dancing under the mist tent frequently. I wasn’t hot at the concerts; I just needed some humidity!

The course is at its lushest in the jungle-like conditions of August.

Day 18. Sunday, August, 12, 2018:

Now, a nice thing happened on this August outing, but it didn’t start out that way.

I was stuck behind a very slow group of three and a fast group of four was squeezing me from behind. My scorecard reflects how this was impacting my psychology and play: from C3 to C8 I had four bogeys, a double bogey and a par. 

On C8, I drove my ball across a street, down an embankment and into a forest. Frustrated, I didn’t watch the path of the ball so couldn’t find it.

But then two great things happened: First, I found the beautiful dark blue ball seen in the photo below shortly before locating my light blue ball, which John had given to me as a Christmas gift. 

He gave everyone a ball, and they all had nicknames: Yasu’s purple ball is “purple haze,” Ian’s orange ball is “orange sunshine,” mine is “blue ball(s)” and–these are jokes, please don’t get angry!–Steve’s red ball is “red man,” and John’s white ball is “white power.” 

Regardless of their names, it was a very cool gesture and because it was my first ball, I wasn’t going to quit on looking for it easily. As a result of my perseverance, not only did I find it, I found it’s brother.

Oh, and when I went back to play, there was no one around. YES!

Now, I definitely have blue balls!

Day 19. Sunday, August, 19, 2018:

This day was in that stretch of odd, non-humid, space-time-distorted spring-like weather I mentioned a while back, though my scorecard says it was more like September than spring.

Regardless, I had to laugh that Monday morning when I heard two new co-workers who were from the San Francisco Bay Area chatting about how it was “now cooling off.” I bit my tongue, but yes, the heat and humidity returned, though it wasn’t as bad as July.

Day 20. Sunday, September 16, 2018:

All alone again, I can’t wait to play cro golf all alone again.

If only Willie Nelson had been available to play. I bet he’d dig the sport.

Speaking of sports, one of the reasons I went on this day was because my alma mater USC was playing at Texas and considering how bad the Trojans looked the week before at Stanford, I had a feeling I’d be better off playing park golf.

Texas ran USC out of the stadium. I played park golf.

Boy, was I right: USC went ahead 14-3, but ended up losing 37-14.

Day 21. Sunday, September 23, 2018:

When Ian arrived on this lovely day, I saw him from afar and thought he was one of the many Japanese old men that play this sport.

Thus, this one became known as: The Day Ian Turned Into a Grandpa.

Gramps Ian prepares to launch one.

What’s that Ian? Don’t like it. Maybe you should write your own blog, then!

Getting meta-artsy with our photo of sad John looking into the water at his ball. Fortunately, park golf balls float. 

Day 22. Sunday, October 7, 2018: 

You have to watch this video to appreciate how windy it was.

August-October is typhoon season in Japan and 2008 was one of our worst.

And this was from a typhoon that passed well to the west and north of us.

The one that came through the previous weekend was a direct hit on our area and shook our house violently.

Day 23. Sunday, October 20, 2018:

A gorgeous fall day highlighted by my best-ever round on the B course at 9 under, leading me to tie my PB of 15 under,  a funny John dig at Yasu regarding the name of his sex tape and a nice, if unsuccessful effort by Ian to handle C-7.

Day 24. Saturday, November 10, 2018:

Yasu has a bad back and is on the shelf for a bit, Steve has a serious girlfriend and John, Ian and me can’t seem to co-ordinate our schedules so we all can play on the same day.

This would begin a string of five straight Saturday outings for me; two with John, two with Ian, one by myself. It would also begin the change of the course into faster, drier, browner winter conditions, which seems to have caused me some issues putting. 

But hey, as Ian pointed out today, no way back home in England or in my Washington would people play cro golf during November and December.

Weather here is pretty good in winter. I’m grateful for that.

Can you believe this was taken in mid-November?

Furthermore, one thing that amazes me about Japan is how there always seems to be something growing, or even blooming here, year-round. Though I come from the Evergreen State because of the preponderance of conifer trees like the Douglas fir, that is certainly not the case back home.

Day 25. Saturday, November 17, 2018:

Just like last year on this weekend when I almost hit Steve with a thrown ball due to my bad temper, I was not in a good headspace on this day.

Even Ian said I was really wound up. I was.

I’m starting to realize the patterns of my ups and downs. Funny thing is Ian said he didn’t remember me being in a foul mood. 

I’m glad. Means he didn’t take it personally. No, I save the personal insults for jibs about fashion violations!

Day 26. Saturday, November 24, 2018:

We had a string of really nice weather.

Only bad thing about this day was I lost my scorecard and thus can’t enter the scores into my Excel spreadsheet. Yes, I’m a geek. But if you haven’t figured that out by now…

Day 27. Saturday, December 1, 2018:

I wasn’t sure I was gonna play this day until I was a few kilometers from the course.

I needed a personal day with no timetable and no one depending on me. 

This day was going well until midway through the middle of the D course but then the clouds rolled in and the wind began to howl. Two watchers were approaching…

Fortunately, this wasn’t some apocalyptic vision from the mind of Bob Dylan. It was just a day on the links.

My game was more up-and-down than usual, as my scorecard reflected. Part of that was the result of deciding that my next challenge would be to score and play out-of-bounds as per tournament regulations, which means you take a two-stroke penalty and a drop.

Park golf is much more about control than power. I had six OBs, playing with two balls over 36 holes (72 holes, then). None of those were wild, some were just inches away from being very good shots.

And on a windy day with wintry, fast grounds, one had to hit with more control or else.

However, the wind can also help.

My “gimme albatross.” 

Such as an A9 when I had my greatest shot ever–a 100-meter hole, I drove the ball about 99.9 meters resulting in a “gimme albatross.”

But just like my first hole-in-one back in March, it was a shame no one was around to see it.

Day 28, Saturday, December 8, 2018:

At last, the year had come to this: an absolute stunner of a day, rare because there was absolutely no wind.

Considering it fell between two cold days, we were lucky.

Ian had played cayman golf the day before, which seemed to help his putting on this outing as the cro golf balls “looked like a beach ball,” he said.

But all good things must pass, eh? He slowed down as I heated up and then neither of us were particularly great as we tired out, having included the D course for the full 36 holes.

Yet Ian ended on a high note, with a stellar approach on A9 after a not-so-great tee shot. However, as you can see in this video, he’d planned to have a lark by making his ball jump off a sand trap but hit the ball over the trap and set it up nicely on the green.

“Great shot,” I told him as I hit stop on my iPhone’s video recorder. “But we were looking for comedy!”

Such is cro golf, though. Ol’ Mick Jagger might say something about not always getting what you want, but still getting what you need.

Anyway, it’ll be cold the next several weeks and the holidays are coming up, so this was probably our last cro golf outing of 2018.

I say probably because sometimes we do make a decision late in a week to play if we see a nice weather forecast.

Heck after writing that sentence, I just had a look and see that my one day I know I might be free–Sunday, December 16th–looks pretty good, “sunny, 10 percent chance of precipitation, 51 F/10 C for the high.” It’ll depend on the wind, my mood, and whether next week’s blog post, the promised monthly update on my progress in facing my shadow, which I already started last week and is shaping into being a doozy, is finished.

I suppose I could pull another almost-all-nighter like I did creating this post in order to hit the links. I’m crazy like that, you know?

The “banana tree.”

After all, I know sights like this stunning ginkgo tree on the right, which is located where I park my bike and have a post-ride banana before starting play, await me. Due to its yellow leaves and location for my banana eating, I dubbed it “the banana tree.”

Who knows if we’ll play as much next year. All I can say is I’m glad we played so much this year and I’m happy you read about our fun. Until next time, thanks for reading.

Shameless Self-Promotion Time: If you enjoy my writing, please check out mynovel, “The Teacher and the Tree Man.” The full 80-chapterstory can be purchased as an e-bookor as a paperbackfrom Amazon or as an e-bookat Smashwords. Youcan also purchase the book in each of the 20-chapter “books”(there are 4, for a total of 80) at Amazon as well (book1,book2,book3and book4).If you are a member of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited like I am, you canread the individual books for free. If you like reading anddiscovering independent authors like me, I highly recommend joiningKindle Unlimited!

Here is a bit from the synopsis:  “The Teacher and the Tree Man” is a modern American epic fable about a Teacher in love with Nature who discovers a human head, a Tree Man, living in a tree in a forest near his house. The novel is about our need to unplug from our culture and re-discover ourselves in Nature. It is a fun-yet-deep look at: the media, our education system, drugs in our culture and our inability to listen to each other in the political arena.

Answering the Challenge of Climate Change (Climate Change, Pt. 3)

This is the final part in a three-part series on climate change. Part I, which focuses on changing the extremism in the social climate, can be found here. And part 2, which encourages us to get out into Nature and use our senses to re-connect to our love for the natural world, can be found here.

I think Shakespeare was right when he wrote: “To be or not to be, that is the question.”

But I’d like to re-frame it: To act or not to act, that is the question.

So, will we act to create a better world? A sustainable, bountiful world, not only for humanity, but for the various expressions of Life we share this planet with?

Blue Planet II - Ep 2 - The Deep - #15 Life on the Ocean Floor

Will we act for the sake of this crazy creature who lives deep on the ocean floor?

For the oceans, the rivers, the lakes and the marshes? The mountains, the hills, the valleys and the plains?

Will you act?

Will I?

Again: will I?

Working on this blog series this past month and reading Charles Eisenstein’s heart-provoking book, Climate: A New Story, has helped clarify for me that taking personal responsibility is the critical first step if we are going to answer the challenge that climate change and the ecological crisis poses. It’s time to stop expecting or others to act on our behalf, or, even worse, assuming nobody will act so why should I? Both actions will create the nightmare world many of us sense may be coming.

geddy-lee

Geddy Lee wants YOU to act to create a better world.

And yes, as Geddy Lee, lead singer of the Canadian “power trio” Rush once sang, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

So my answer to this question is: Yes, I will act.

But only if I act with love. I won’t act merely for the sake of survival. That’s the game of the ego-based, illusory self and that’s not the game I, or humanity, needs to be playing.

We’ve been playing that game for long enough now. Sure, the game can be fun, this game of competition, conquest and corporate consolidation. (Sorry, I got carried away with C power. Call me a crazy codger.)

Twenty years ago, I read a quote that sank deep into my soul. It has been (mistakenly?) attributed to Native American Chief Sealth, who the city of Seattle was named after. The main part of the quote, which allegedly is from a speech he gave in 1852 in response to an offer by the U.S. government to buy two million acres of Native American land, is as follows:

“How can you buy or sell the sky? The land? The idea is strange to us. … What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted by talking wires? The end of living and the beginning of survival.”

It was that last line, the end of living and the beginning of survival, which struck a deep chord in me.

I know to the deepest depths of my being that we are more than our physical bodies, so I do not fear death. In fact, there is a part of me that looks forward to that great adventure at the end of this human incarnation.

No, what I fear more than anything is mere survival. Living in a dying world of competing, disconnected, angry Others, a dispirited world lacking hope and looking forward to nothing. But hey, we are still alive so it’s okay, right?

I’ve sometimes joked with friends that the reason the zombie genre has never appealed to me is because I can’t relate to most of the main human characters, those people who are so hellbent on surviving and avoiding death they’ll go to any lengths to achieve that goal.

andrew-lincoln-as-rick-grimes-in-the-walking-dead

Good ol’ Rick Grimes puts up with a lot more shit in Zombie Land than I would.

I figure if a zombie apocalypse struck me and mine, I’d either try out the zombie life or find the nearest pharmacy and find some pills to gracefully exit this mortal coil and take our chances on the Afterlife.

But I digress.

My point is that Life is what I am after, a fulfilled, bountiful, beautiful, meaningful life, a life in a world where we care for each other and we care for all Life. We do this not merely because it serves our physical bodies in their goal of surviving (and fuck all that which gets in the way of that), but because we recognize the innate value of each and every expression of Life around us.

When I allow my doubt about the possibility of such a world to overwhelm me, I don’t choose survival. I choose death.

And as a 45-year-old man who feels I have the potential for a long, wonderful, fulfilling life yet to be lived, I don’t want to choose death. I want to choose Life so that means, yes, I’ll act, I’ll take responsibility for playing a role in addressing climate change and, much more than that, helping usher in a new world, a new world I know is coming because I’m going to help create it. Scratch that; if I may be so bold, I’m helping to create it now.

For me, much of this kind of understanding seems to suddenly rise to the surface, shimmer for a bit and then dip back below the waters of awareness. Over the past week, I’m seeing the shimmering and it’s glorious. And when I see it, when it becomes so obvious in its manifestation that I must write about it, I have a duty to follow through.

And over the past several years, the amount of times these understandings have come to surface in my consciousness and, I suspect, in our collective conscious, has been rapidly accelerating to the point where I have to work really hard to deny those changes are happening.

And I’m making the decision that when my ego asks me to participate in that denial, I will Just. Say. No. No more denying my role, no more falling into short-term hedonism in order to put off my duty.

Yet still. Still I doubt. Still there is doubt in myself, my ability to follow through. And I doubt that there are changes happening outside of me that are helping many people make similar realizations, changes in consciousness which could lead to massive societal changes that could make us look back at this era and ask, “What were we thinking?”

I feel these changes in myself, see them happening in others and hear people talking about them.

Yet still, still I doubt.

It’s almost like we are trying to stop (these changes) from happening using the habits of doubt, the old story about what a human is, to block the flowering into consciousness of the information that is coming in,” Eisenstein said in a recent fascinating podcast conversation with Orland Bishop.

I wonder if my focus on the heart, on love, in this series has perhaps given you the impression that I think our power to reason and use our intellect isn’t an amazing gift. No, I’m certainly not arguing for a new hierarchy where the heart trumps the head instead of our current hierarchy of head over heart. Rather, I want us to integrate the two and realize the power we’ll have if we do that. And suggest that what’s missing in the solution to climate change is using our hearts and our heads.

Do you realize that our heads and the beliefs that fill them have the power to move mountains? And also to raise or raze civilizations.

It seems recently we’ve lost heart, lost hope that there is a better future ahead for us if we work together, and this powerful (dis)belief in our hearts is causing us to feel we are going to fail the test of climate change.

But what if we are wrong? Can you open to that possibility? What if we have what it takes and we are going to come through with flying colors?

Blue Planet II - Ep 3 - Coral Reefs - #9 - How Gorgeous Are Reefs

Perhaps our better world will include the flying colors of these coral reefs, perhaps not.

Perhaps those flying colors will include a warmer world, perhaps not. Perhaps there’ll be a die-off of the beautiful coral reefs, perhaps not. But perhaps no matter what happens, we’ll somehow create a better world. Can you open yourself to that?

What’s interesting to me is that while sometimes it seems like we can’t open ourselves to that, we seem more than willing to remain open to some rather outlandish ideas our “best” scientists are coming up with.

An example: Some Harvard and Yale scientists have proposed a technique to potentially cut global warming in half by spraying chemicals into the atmosphere to dim the sun. 

Does that sound reasonable? Does it sound like a good idea?

Or can you hear warning bells in your head blaring? Or a man on a megaphone announcing: “We don’t know what this is going to do. Don’t do it!”

When I read about this on a friend’s Facebook page, I felt like I needed that megaphone. I try to temper my responses on social media, but in this case, I wrote, “Oh, for FUCK’S SAKE, arrogant-yet-so-stupid scientists. These kinds of ‘solutions’ are precisely why I argue against this idea that “science will save us.”

2015-01-19 07.32.57

I know in winters in my local area when the sun often shines in a radiant, life-affirming way, I really don’t want it to be dimmed.

When I see proposals like this, while I can recognize the technical savvy, I also see a lack of imagination. I see scientists from supposedly two of the top learning institutions in the United States who feel so stuck in and dedicated to our current way of life that they are willing to alter the very environment that all Life depends on to continue that way of life, all on a hunch that it “might work.”

And for what? Merely so we can survive?

Perhaps that’s all we can hope for now. Perhaps mere survival is it.

But I don’t think so.

And I challenge you: do you feel reluctant to use your imagination? Are you really unwilling to take some chances in order to create a better world? Is life right now, not just for you but for your fellow humans and for the planet in general, really so great that you’re willing to let scientists dim the freakin’ sun so that we can continue down this path?

Really?

I ask it this way because no matter their political persuasion or perspective on life, I don’t have any friends or acquaintances who feel that civilization is on the right track. It feels like it’s almost becoming a societal consensus that we are headed toward disaster.

So why would we even consider crazy suggestions that may do serious damage to our environment just to keep on this current trajectory?

Wouldn’t a more fruitful mindset be one that is willing to consider some possible alternatives to our way of life?

I biked home this afternoon with one of my area’s famous winter winds blowing me onward and watched with gratitude and childlike exuberance at the way the wind was blowing the falling autumn leaves, turning them into something like a leaf rave, dancing ecstatically in the wind.

It’s amazing to watch the processes of Nature. It’s a form of free entertainment that soothes and invigorates the soul much better than any Hollywood production, in my opinion.

I love being a part of this world. I love how it moves me just by being itself.

Biking to Park Golf 12 1 2018

Biking on this cycling road without cars and lots of Nature is wonderful.

Sometimes, though, I don’t feel that love for my fellow humans. I feel disgust and anger and, most of all, impatience. When will we learn?

For the past week, a ballad by my favorite band, Phish, has been playing on repeat in my head. It’s title is “If I Could” and the chorus—”If I could I would but I don’t know how”—has been opening myself up to feeling less impatience and anger toward the lot of you. I think perhaps a lot of us feel anger at each other for not acting right now.

But what if we all really want to act, but we don’t know how?

On a deeper level, what if my call for a revolution of the heart, a revolution toward Love causes many who read these words to, in their quieter more contemplative moments, sadly think, “If I could I would, but I don’t know how”?

Have we perhaps forgotten how to love? Have I? And in that forgetting, when a person like me suggests love is the way forward, does it just make us feel resentful? Resentful because I am committing the ‘sin’ that I started this series with, which is the sin the Beatles committed when they made love sound oh-so-simple with that repetitious “Love, love, love, love is all you need, all you need is love.”

Love’s great and all, but I don’t know how.

Yeah. I understand. Maybe this love revolution is going to take some patience. And practice. And then more patience, more practice. Repeat, rinse and repeat again.

There’s so much more I meant to say in this series, so many fine details I wanted to get into, such as how some scientists suggest that focusing on the water and soil is the better way to solve climate change, on how going vegan to get rid of meat and dairy products could help out a lot more than by driving and flying less, on how the process of deforestation may be contributing more to our climate crisis than we’ve understood.

But alas, there is time to write and post again, and this topic is one of the topics I want to approach from many angles in many posts to come. Or maybe in books or speeches. Or in dreams. Or in mutterings to myself or incantations to the Universe.

This, after all, is a long-term project and seems to be the project of our age, and certainly a project I care deeply to be involved with. How can we awaken our capacity to love? How can we begin to care again? How?

“Here is what I want everyone in the climate movement to hear: People are not going to be frightened into caring,” Eisenstein writes in Climate: A New Story.

And one more long quote from the book, which serves as a nice summation of this series: “In order to reverse the course of ecocide, we may have to consciously choose a healing path. We cannot count on collapse to compel us. (Aside: It looks like Charles got a case of the C’s, as well!). In order to choose it, we need to change the conditions from which we are choosing. To change these conditions, we need to implement a different economic system and understanding of nature, and more importantly, we need to recover our empathic ability to feel. Therefore, the issue of environmental degradation and climate change cannot be separated from the need for social, economic and personal healing.” 

Thus, there are many ways one can get involved. This series is just another step in my effort to be involved as a communicator.

In addition, one of the unexpected results of writing this series has been a re-commitment to being a better father and husband. I’m trusting that doing this will make me a better activist.

I’m also trusting my understanding that how this is all working is a Great Mystery; perhaps re-committing to my children will provide them with the love they need to discover their role in this challenge. Perhaps if one of our answers to “What is my role in facing climate change?” was “I’ll be a better to my family” that’d be a key piece to the puzzle that’ll help us solve the problem. I really don’t think we can know.

All I know is I want to find out. And I hope you do, too.

Until next time, thanks for reading.

Shameless Self Promotion Time: If you enjoy my writing, please check out my novel, “The Teacher and the Tree Man.” The full 80-chapter story can be purchased as an e-book or as a paperback from Amazon or as an e-book at Smashwords. You can also purchase the book in each of the 20-chapter “books” (there are 4, for a total of 80) at Amazon as well (book 1, book 2, book 3 and book 4). If you are a member of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited like I am, you can read the individual books for free. If you like reading and discovering independent authors like me, I highly recommend joining Kindle Unlimited!

Here is a bit from the synopsis:  “The Teacher and the Tree Man” is a modern American epic fable about a Teacher in love with Nature who discovers a human head, a Tree Man, living in a tree in a forest near his house. The novel is about our need to unplug from our culture and re-discover ourselves in Nature. It is a fun-yet-deep look at: the media, our education system, drugs in our culture and our inability to listen to each other in the political arena. 

 

Shameless Self Promotion Time: If you enjoy my writing, please check out my novel, “The Teacher and the Tree Man.” The full 80-chapter story can be purchased as an e-book or as a paperback from Amazon or as an e-book at Smashwords. You can also purchase the book in each of the 20-chapter “books” (there are 4, for a total of 80) at Amazon as well (book 1, book 2, book 3 and book 4). If you are a member of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited like I am, you can read the individual books for free. If you like reading and discovering independent authors like me, I highly recommend joining Kindle Unlimited!
Here is a bit from the synopsis:  “The Teacher and the Tree Man” is a modern American epic fable about a Teacher in love with Nature who discovers a human head, a Tree Man, living in a tree in a forest near his house. The novel is about our need to unplug from our culture and re-discover ourselves in Nature. It is a fun-yet-deep look at: the media, our education system, drugs in our culture and our inability to listen to each other in the political arena.

Re-Connecting Through Our Senses and Nature (Climate Change, Pt. 2)

This is part two of a three-part series on climate change. Part one, which focuses on changing the extremism in the social climate, can be found here.

Charles Eisenstein has played a big role in shaping my worldview over the past decade since I read his master work, The Ascent of Humanity.

The basis of that book as he writes in its Introduction is that we’ve denied our real human nature due to our belief in the illusion that we are “discrete subjects separate from each other and separate from the world around us.”

ascent of humanity

Eisenstein has often referred to this as the Story of Separation, and it convinces us we are separate beings in competition with each other living in a purposeless, random universe that lacks intelligence and sentience. This Story of Separation, he writes in his most recent book, Climate: A New Story, “reverberates through every institution of the modern world … underlying money, law, medicine, science, technology, education, etc.”

The Ascent of Humanity goes into great detail about how it does this, so if you want more elaboration, I can’t recommend that book highly enough.

In Climate: A New Story, Eisenstein writes that we are emerging into a new story, which he calls “Interbeing” (based on a term from Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh). Interbeing “releases the rigid boundaries of the discrete separate self to say that existence is relational. Who I am depends on who you are. The world is part of me, just as I am part of it. What happens to the world is in some way happening to me.”

This must be “more than a philosophical concept if anything is going to change. It must be a way of being, a strategic principle and most of all, a felt reality. Philosophical arguments alone will not establish it any more than appeals to prudence and reason will solve the ecological crisis.”

Yes.

But how do we experience this felt reality? Through love and empathy, Eisenstein writes and “to follow their guidance, we must regain our listening capacity, which trauma and ideology have numbed and restricted to a very narrow bandwith.”

For that reason, before I get into the meat of this post I’d like to ask you to do something at the risk of losing you. Are you ready?

Here goes: Go out into the natural world and just listen. That’s all. Though when I say “listen” I mean it more like “open your senses.” See the world around you, watch the way the sunlight ripples off your favorite body of water, feel the way the breeze ruffles the hair on your head, smell the odors that the air is stirring from the Earth.

Tone River

I feel grateful I can go sit next to the Tone River near my house and ponder how it is always there, always flowing, no matter what I’m doing in my life.

Get in tune with your senses and just stay in that space for a while. How long is up to you. And, if you feel so moved, say “thank you.” For showing gratitude is one of the purest expressions of love there is. And getting on the wavelength of gratitude is one of the best ways to feel re-connected.

And when you are done, come back to this blog and pick up where you left off. Because no matter how many words I write (and as you know if you’ve read this blog, I can write a lot!), the words I write are not going to be enough to grok what Eisenstein is on about. So, go on. I’ll be here when you come back, I promise!

How was it? Did it stir something in you? Did you feel yourself opening at all?

Maybe it made you feel a lot of things: happy to be alive in this moment in this body; sad to perceive something that seems amiss in the natural world. It doesn’t really matter what you felt or how strong you felt it. You might not have felt much of anything; thats okay, too. I think youll find that if you do this regularly, even once a week, itll start to open your senses and that will re-connect you to your feelings and re-connect you to the world around you.

Because what our culture is sorely lacking is connection. And if we don’t feel connection, we certainly won’t feel love. And without love, I dont think we stand any chance to really understand what the environmental crisis is asking of us.

Above is a picture mosaic of one of my favorite places to go when I need to restore my sense of connection to the natural world. It is a park near my house called “Gunma no mori” or “The Forest of Gunma” (Gunma is the name of the prefecture I live in).

The pictures dont do justice to it, though. Why? Because pictures are just one sense, and besides that, they are an incomplete representation of that sense. I know from having taken the pictures that the colors were deeper and made me feel much more than they do just by looking at the photos.

But more than that, I know that there were other sensual experiences that the pictures missed: there was the cackling of the crows that often return to the forest in the early evening. And when I say a cackling crow, perhaps the crow you hear in your head is different than the crows I heard when I took these pictures. A Japanese crow sounds different than a crow, say in my native Washington, it has a deeper, bigger sound because its a bigger bird (more like a raven).

This speaks to the fact that each place is unique; that I can write about a forest in Japan and those familiar with forests will have a sense of it, but not the full sense. In that way, each place, just like each human, deserves its own protection and respect on its own merits for once a place is wiped out, its gone and can never be re-created the same way again.

In addition to the sounds, there was the tactile sensation of the soon-to-be-cold-but-for-now-cool-and-refreshing fall air on my skin and the myriad smells of the forest, somewhat musty and raw (and those smells differ depending on the seasons, of course).

Writing Pagoda 1

My “writing pagoda” is a great place to re-connect to the natural world.

So when I sit under the pagoda in the picture to my right and do writing in the warmer months, the shade of the forest is a wonderful respite from the hot summer sun, though the humidity persists. However, if I perform the same task this time of year, Ill have to get up every 15-20 minutes and walk around to keep my middle-aged bones and muscles from getting stiff. And Ill likely have to wipe a runny nose from time to time.

Notice how this interaction with the natural world, this taking the time to experience it causes me to experience more feelings and sensations than I do when I am indoors. In other words, I feel more alive because I am in a living world. Another way of putting it is I am a part of that living world, rather than apart from it.

This is not even mentioning the fun one can have observing the other life forms in these worlds. When I lived in Washington, I frequently went to my favorite park, Point Defiance, and would sit in the forest and observe everything from the way the moss grew out of the fallen trees, to the way the woodpeckers chiseled sawdust out of trees still standing.

Just think of this: As you go about your day-to-day business, as you absorb yourself in the news from the human world, there are millions of other life forms going about theirs.

Blue Planet II - Ep 6 - Coasts - #13 Tide Pool Drama

Life in tide pool is colorful, fascinating and always changing.

The other night, I was watching episode six of the awe-inspiring, seven-episode BBC nature documentary Blue Planet IIand there was one amazing scene of a tide pool.

Using time-lapse photography, I watched (and listened) to an ever-evolving magical, almost psychedelic world of underwater creatures moving about. Some of those movements were a matter of life and death; one starfish was going after a limpet and, as the show often does so well, it created a protagonist in the limpet so I found myself cheering for it to get away.

It did in a rather ingenious way, and a way that shows that the natural world is as much about cooperation as it is competition. How did it escape? By having a bodyguard” living under its shell in the form of a scale worm which, when the starfish tried to eat the limpet, reached out and bit the starfish back, causing the often witty narrator David Attenborough to quip, The starfish was in search of food that doesnt bite back.

That footage took up just a few minutes of the shows 57-minute run time but showed just a few hours in the life of a tide pool and it hit me that this drama goes on repeatedly day in and day out all over this life-infested planet.

But how much do we notice? Or more to the point, how much do we care?

Up the bike path from Gunma no Mori and near my house is the area in the photographs below, an area that was wild when I moved into my house in 2012 but which has been under constant development in the past few years.

If you look at the roads they are making from the air using Google Maps or Google Earth it appears they are just adding a giant loop road that, for the life of me I can’t figure out why it’s necessary. The cynical side of me thinks it’s to keep construction and concrete companies in business, or maybe to give the old people that seem to be working in the fields looking for archeological treasures something to do .

And the biker in me who often frets over the high volume of automobile traffic in this region of Japan (I’ve heard Gunma has the highest car ownership per capita of any prefecture in Japan) is frustrated that more roads are being built to replace what was natural, wild land.

I used to treasure the very beginning of my bike commute because it took me through that wild land, down a small trail next to a creek that is too small for cars. The path took me past a beautiful, old, tiny Buddhist shrine and then through a lovely, ever-changing field before, about one kilometer from my house, I finally emerged onto concrete.

In June, that field would burst forth with vibrant orange wild poppies. In the winter, the grasses would turn a bright yellow, which in the winter sun that is common around here, often made me feel warm inside as I biked through it. That field now? Its the picture below.

Field of Nightmares.JPG

How many creatures lost their homes when this field was razed?

Im not sure what will be built there, nor do I particularly care. All I know is I wont like it as much as I liked that field.

But this is about more than just me and my experience. What of all the creatures that used to live in that field? What happened to them? Im sure many of the smaller ones perished as the bulldozers flattened the land.

All in the name of Progress, right? Perhaps whatever is built there will benefit some people, perhaps not.

But it seems to me that we are, all of us, feeling on a level that impacts us, even if we cant pin it down, the ecocide going on all around us in the name of human progress. A 2018 study in the official scientific journal of the National Academy of Sciences found that since the dawn of human civilization, 83 percent of wild mammals, 80 percent of marine mammals, 50 percent of plants and 15 percent of fish have gone extinct.

CUNY Professor David Harvey wrote in his A Brief History of Neoliberalism that the neoliberal era (of the past few decades) “happens to be the era of the fastest extinction of species in the Earth’s recent history.”

In Charles Eisensteins recent appearance on Russell Brands podcast, he asked Russell if hed noticed how there werent nearly as many bugs splattering his windows as there were in his childhood. Russell confirmed that hed experienced that. Charles called this an “insect holocaust” and said the statistics bear it out: about 75 percent of insect life on the planet has been reduced in the past 30 years.

I can hear some of my friends who are not Nature lovers saying, Whats wrong with that? Who likes mosquitoes?And sure, we can look at it that way if we are only considering our human experience of no longer being bit by mosquitoes like we used to be. But I think that we are connected to Life on a deeper level and the loss of that Life, even Life we may not be fond of, impacts us emotionally and psychologically and is, in no small part, fueling many of the mental health crisis we see on the rise in the industrialized, modern world.

Our disconnection from Life has made us sad and we do many things to try to cover that sadness. Yet as weve disconnected ourselves from Life around us, are we not disconnected ourselves from what it means to be human?

So maybe that bulldozed field that I used to enjoy biking through when it was teeming with life will become the location of a factory that produces something that many people like. Maybe one of my kids will earn a steady living working there. But will they be happy?

In other words, what is the cost of Progress? If the American Dream is actually a nightmare, why are we destroying the world to create it?

Id like to end this post on a higher note but I think to do so would defeat one of its purposes and this series as a whole: to make you feel a sense of loss and sadness. 

Because the problem with the climate change narrative, as Eisenstein points out throughout his book as well as on Brand’s podcast, is that it relies too much on scaring us, too much on focusing on our sense of survival as individuals and as a species. It tries to do this with statistics and other appeals to our intellect, and ignores how the environmental crisis is really a calling for us to re-connect with our feelings and to widen our sense of who we are and then create a world based on that deeper sense of Being.

“The ecological crisis is supposed to be the wake-up call, not a challenge to overcome to stay on our current course,” Eisenstein writes.

Next week, I’ll look more closely at some of Eisenstein’s ideas from his book and also talk more about the excellent, if somewhat disappointing in its conclusions, documentary “Blue Planet II.” Until then, thanks for reading!

Shameless Self Promotion Time: If you enjoy my writing, please check out my novel, “The Teacher and the Tree Man.” The full 80-chapter story can be purchased as an e-book or as a paperback from Amazon or as an e-book at Smashwords. You can also purchase the book in each of the 20-chapter “books” (there are 4, for a total of 80) at Amazon as well (book 1, book 2, book 3 and book 4). If you are a member of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited like I am, you can read the individual books for free. If you like reading and discovering independent authors like me, I highly recommend joining Kindle Unlimited!

Here is a bit from the synopsis:  “The Teacher and the Tree Man” is a modern American epic fable about a Teacher in love with Nature who discovers a human head, a Tree Man, living in a tree in a forest near his house. The novel is about our need to unplug from our culture and re-discover ourselves in Nature. It is a fun-yet-deep look at: the media, our education system, drugs in our culture and our inability to listen to each other in the political arena. 

Erasing Extremism with Love (Climate Change, Pt. 1)

 

This is the first in a three-part series on climate change. This week, I’m focusing on the human climate, in particular the rise of extremism and how best to respond to it.

All you need is love / All you need is love, love / Love is all you need” – The Beatles

There’s a pretty good chance you read those lyrics and rolled your eyes.

We tried that hippie shit in the 1960s and it didn’t work, you might say. Life is hard so we have to be tough in order to survive. The hippies didn’t get that and that’s why they lost.

Or perhaps you’ve some sympathy for the idea, you want to believe that love is all we need, but life experiences have convinced you otherwise.

Or maybe you believe so strongly in the power of love that you feel to reduce it to a simple “all you need is love” as though it is that simple underestimates what love is and forgets that sometimes, to borrow another popular song of the receding past, love hurts.


George_Harrison on Love

Because to love is to care. And to care means we are vulnerable and in a world with as much pain as ours, being vulnerable is a very scary proposition. So much easier to wear the armor of apathy and project the cool façade of cynicism.

But what if I were to suggest to you that the Beatles were right: In order to solve the various crisis’ our culture faces, all we need is love. The question, though, is how do we get there?

In this series on climate change, I am using the phrase ‘climate change’ more broadly than it is commonly used. In addition to the climate of the natural world, I’m referring to the climate of the human world, i.e. the political and cultural climate.

Because it is my contention that the poison that is rising to the surface in our human climate stems from the same source as the poison that is causing our environmental damage. That source is disconnection.

And no matter which one of these climates we zero in on, I’m going to make the case that love is, always has been and always will be, the cure for disconnection.

This series is going to draw from four main sources: some recent Under the Skin with Russell Brand podcasts; White Right: Meeting the Enemy, a documentary about white extremists in the U.S.; Charles Eisenstein’s work, and in particular his excellent new book, Climate: A New Story, and last year’s awe-inspiring BBC documentary, Blue Planet II.

Today, I’ll be focusing on the human climate, notably the ugliness of the rising extremism in our world and to do that, I’m going to zoom my lens in on the excellent documentary, White Right: Meeting the Enemy, created by filmmaker Deeyah Khan.

Khan Listens to Culpepper

Documentary filmmaker Deeyah Khan

I learned about Khan and her movie because of her appearance on Brand’s podcast a few weeks ago.

When she told Brand that she felt the cure for extremism was love and connection, Brand quipped, “That sounds like sort of a hippie thing.”

She agreed but then said that her film proved it. Khan, a Norwegian-born, British Muslim woman of Pakistani descent received death threats from right wing extremists after an appearance on the BBC in 2016 and became motivated to meet some of the men associated with the “white right” in America.

After much trying, she was finally granted some interviews and was able to spend a lot of time with some high ranking members in various white nationalist groups.

Scary Nazis

Some of the white nationalists that Khan met with before a rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

Her experience with these men was often difficult and sometimes even scary. She described how nearly 85 percent of the men were ex-military, many carried very large, military-grade guns, and one man followed her around and told her “the best part about serving in Afghanistan was being able to kill ragheads like you.”

Yet in spite of the hatred and threats she received, she feels love is the answer.

Have you ever noticed how sometimes people argue against those of us who believe love is the answer by saying that we are naively idealistic, that we’ve got our heads stuck up in the clouds? Yet people like Khan often reach these conclusions because they have gotten their hands dirty, because they have confronted hatred with love and because they have seen results.

Jeff Schoepp Khan 1She doesn’t whitewash it, though. Much as she became friends with Jeff Schoep, leader of the largest neo-Nazi party in America, the National Socialist Movement, he remains in his position, promoting hatred. Yet as we watch her interactions with him, we can see her exposing some cracks as she patiently listens to him and asks him questions. In one scene, she describes herself using words people have used against her such as “shitskin” and “degenerate,” and Schoep becomes very uncomfortable and tells her he wouldn’t use those words about her.

Her point is that these face-to-face interactions when handled with respect and a willingness to listen can change people, though it might be a slow change. And sometimes it will be faster, as was the case with Brian Culpepper, a man we are introduced to in the movie as the public relations director of the National Socialist Movement.

Former Neo Nazi PR Man Brian Culpepper

Brian Culpepper

By the time the movie ends, he leaves the movement, in part because his respectful interactions with Khan led to a friendship with her, his first Muslim friend he admits, and the movement began to make less sense to him.

Frank Meink is another character we meet who left the movement. He was an abused, fearful teenager who was recruited into a white power group at age 14 and rose to become a leader in a Philadelphia gang. However, after spending time in prison and making friends with people of different races, he renounced his association with the white right.

In no way do I want to suggest that breaking these walls was or will be easy. It takes courage to sit and listen to someone you’ve long considered the enemy. When I watched the movie, I marveled at how Khan seemed to not take personally some of the things her interviewees said and still calmly asked frequently penetrating questions.

Indy Jones Hates Nazis 2

Nazi-and-snake hater Indiana Jones.

It’d be so much easier, and we’d probably even feel justified for Khan, to just hate these extremists. Admit it: the self-righteous anger of hating a Nazi feels good.

But does it solve the problem? If the problem is hatred and violence that results from that hatred, will hating and violently attacking these “haters” solve it?

 

Do you see the absurdity in hating hatred? 

A question I think we need to ask is: what is our goal? I believe it’s a safer, happier world, right? A world with a reduction in extremism and the violence that results from those worldviews.

Another question: What is an acceptable method for how to reach that goal? Do we believe the ends justify the means?

Personally, I don’t. Personally, I believe the means create the ends. Thus if we resort to violence to solving our problem with violence, the violence won’t go anywhere. It’ll just have different sponsorship. And then somebody else may feel compelled to use violence to solve the problem, creating an ugly, unending cycle.

Another important question: do you believe that the people in these extremist movements are beyond redemption? Are they, at their core, evil?

Arno Michaelis.png

Khan’s movie challenges that thinking by focusing on real people who did change. One of those is Arno Michaelis, who led one of the more popular white-power rage rock bands of the 1990s. He spent several years being a violent asshole who preyed upon any dark-skin person he and his gang happened to cross paths with and now says he’ll feel ashamed about his former self until the day he dies.

Michaelis has been trying to redeem himself by speaking to young people at schools and colleges about the dangers of extremism.

One way he does this is by working with Pardeep Singh, a Sikh whose father was killed along with five others by a racist skinhead in a shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012. Like Michaelis, this shooter, Wade Michael Page, was also in a white-power rock band and a white power group so Michaelis has no trouble seeing how he could have gone down a similar tragic road.

Singh and Micahelis

The friendship and work that Pardeep Singh and Arno Michaelis share is a hopeful thing in troubled times.

“I think the surprising thing to me is not that Arno sees himself in Wade Page,” Singh said, “but … that other people don’t see themselves in Wade Page. When we don’t see ourselves in that person then we lose the ability to do anything about it.”

And why do people like Page, Michaelis and Meink join these movements? Many of them come from backgrounds without love, with abusive parents and so joining a gang gives them a sense of safety, camaraderie and power.

“When I see guys still active in the movement, I see suffering,” Michaelis says. “I see individuals that have been through hell, that have been through all sorts of trauma that they don’t know how to process … so they are lashing out like they are a wounded animal that’s been cornered. It’s so much easier to say ‘I hate Jews and niggers’ than to say, ‘I’m afraid. I’m afraid no one’s gonna like me. I’m afraid I’m not worthy of being loved.’”

On Brand’s podcast, Khan pointed out that one thing we are not talking about is how many of the members of the white right are ex-military. Why is this?

Khan said that most of the men she talked to had returned from tours overseas broken and often disillusioned with America because the government was asking for the working class to give their lives for the country but giving little in return. In addition, military training breaks a person down, then rebuilds them and demands absolute loyalty in return for order, brotherhood and a purpose in life so when soldiers return they still need those things and the extremist groups offer them that and also structure their groups in the same hierarchical manner as the military, providing a sense of comfort to these ex-military men.

Ultimately, these groups make the men feel connected to something bigger than themselves, but the problem is that connection is fueled by their hatred of the Other, something else that the military mindset helps instill, an Us vs. Them worldview.

Thus it seems in order to get men out of such groups, they’ll need something else to provide those things and/or some experiences to challenge that worldview. For Michaelis, it was having a baby daughter. For Meint and Culpepper, it was meeting and befriending people from other races who they had been taught were the enemy.

And now Michaelis and Meint, having been redeemed, have and will change many lives by connecting with the people they meet, not through hatred and fear, but through love and connection.

Too often I hear people in our culture say someone is “a bad person” or “an evil person.” But people aren’t nouns; we’re verbs. We change.

I’ve been training myself to think in terms of “ing” verbs, meaning I might say to someone “You are being a jerk” rather than “You are a jerk.” The former tells them they have the power to change in my assessment of them. The latter suggests they don’t.

We don’t always respond to the opportunities others give us to make changes for the better; sometimes it takes many such opportunities, and some may decide never to change. But I think it’s a wise and compassionate person who gives others that chance.

And if we can look beneath the violent, nasty surface of people who are in hate groups and perceive the suffering there, perhaps that can help us respond to them in a way that will give them the opportunity to emerge from their angry worldview.

This essay was finished. I had labored on it for several hours and it was getting late.

But then I remembered the most challenging segment of White Right, where Khan interviews members of the “alt-right,” who are, unlike the men I’ve already written about, not from working class backgrounds but from wealthy ones.

Spencer and Followers

The smug arrogance Richard Spencer displays in Khan’s movie is hard to watch.

Her main interviewee was Richard Spencer. You’ve likely heard about him. I hasten to give him any more print, but I’ll say this: he’s afraid. Just like these others, he’s afraid. He’s afraid “his people” and, ultimately, him, are going to get wiped out by multiculturalism. He covers his fear with smug arrogance and condemnation for those he considers beneath him, which appears to be just about everybody including the people he surrounds himself with.

It’s hard for me to watch him and think he’s redeemable. Maybe I have to draw on my belief in reincarnation to think he has a chance. I don’t know.

Michaelis in 1990s

The man who wrote and barked these words changed into a decent person who is helping others, so maybe anyone can change.

Then again, I bet if Khan had interviewed Michaelis in the 1990s I might have felt the same way. So perhaps even for a guy behaving like Spencer is in this movie something will happen to him that changes him.

I find that keeping open to that possibility, open to the idea that anyone can be redeemed, is a lot better place to rest my heart when the day comes to an end than to believe that there are some who are just at their core evil and always will be.

I remember my mom telling me about a vivacious woman she worked with who was a child in the concentration camps in Germany. When my mom asked her if she still hated the Germans who had killed some of her relatives and made her early childhood so Hellish, she told my mom that to hold on to her hatred would allow the Germans to win. That by letting it go, she took away any power they had left over her.

So I’m not going to respond to Spencer’s hatred with hatred. It does me no good and besides, he’d probably laugh about it. Instead, I’ll hope he has some experiences that change him.

In part two of this series next week, I’ll get into the work of Charles Eisenstein and Climate: A New Story, which will focus on the connection between the human and natural climate crisis.

Before I close this one, I’d like to be so bold as to make a suggestion: Make a connection this week. It can be with a human, an animal or something in the natural world. Find some way to open yourself to that thing in a way that may feel challenging. By doing this, see if you notice any difference in your feelings afterwards, any sort of opening. And then report back to me, either here on or social media. Okay, that’s all for this week, thanks again for reading!

Shameless Self Promotion Time: If you enjoy my writing, please check out my novel, “The Teacher and the Tree Man.” The full 80-chapter story can be purchased as an e-book or as a paperback from Amazon or as an e-book at Smashwords. You can also purchase the book in each of the 20-chapter “books” (there are 4, for a total of 80) at Amazon as well (book 1, book 2, book 3 and book 4). If you are a member of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited like I am, you can read the individual books for free. If you like reading and discovering independent authors like me, I highly recommend joining Kindle Unlimited!

Here is a bit from the synopsis:  “The Teacher and the Tree Man” is a modern American epic fable about a Teacher in love with Nature who discovers a human head, a Tree Man, living in a tree in a forest near his house. The novel is about our need to unplug from our culture and re-discover ourselves in Nature. It is a fun-yet-deep look at: the media, our education system, drugs in our culture and our inability to listen to each other in the political arena. 

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