Shake the Dust

Sometimes beauty hides in the magic of a URL. The nearly indecipherable strings of letters and numbers that only make sense when fed into a machine.

Anis Mojgani performs Shake the Dust at HEAVY AND LIGHT

Sometimes beauty hides in the magic of a URL. The nearly indecipherable strings of letters and numbers that only make sense when fed into a machine. But the code and the sound and the light the machine spits back is pure beauty. Pure magic. Pure love.

And sometimes this gift is delivered with the simple chime of the arrival of a new text message. Cutting through haze and blur of just another day. Landing like a burning ember, glowing red hot, right in the crotch of our day causing us to jump and slap wildly, dancing, flailing.  Trying in vain to maintain the shroud of an ordinary day.

The spark sets us alight. And for a few minutes, as the flames consume us, feeding off the tinder we pull over ourselves to keep out the cold, we can see in the light a different world. A place flickering with hope. Shining with love. Radiant with life.

Shake the Dust came to me today. Sent unheralded, unannounced. A flaming cannonball shot over my wall. And my kingdom is ablaze.

May the fire spread to your heart. The amazing and incomparable Anis Mojgani.

Fiction’s Frilliest Genre Gets Real(er)

Note: A version of this article was originally published in the San Antonio Current in 2002, and was reprinted in the Detroit Metro Times in 2003.

She gasped as he plunged his fingers beneath her heavy skirts. He grinned like a pirate when he discovered her honeyed folds — No, wait — as he plundered the honeyed core of her desire. Yeah, plundered is more pirate-like. Arrr! She reached out, tentatively, until her trembling fingers brushed the soft suede of his breeches. She felt enormous heat and hardness there, and knew she touched the pulsating evidence of his manhood. Pulsating evidence? Hmm… the throbbing shaft of his manhood. “Oh,” she gasped, her swollen, tortured lips sheened with the dew of her desire. “In truth, you may prove to be far too much man for me, Aelred.” “There is only one way to find out, my lady,” Aelred growled. In one move he bared himself to her, the enormous beast of his need rearing up from its inky thatch…

If I tell you I write romance novels, odds are you’ll think I sit around all day in my pink satin robe, popping bonbons while dreaming up passages like the one above (the purplest of purple prose that sprang, like Aelred’s manhood from its inky thatch, from my own imagination). For those who have never read one, the idea of a romance novel conjures images of a shirtless Fabio clutching a frilly female on the cover of a book filled with references to his throbbing shaft, her velvety sheath, the glistening dew of her passion, the devastating extent of his arousal, and the quivering mound of her femininity.

No wonder the romance genre still exists in so many minds as a ridiculous and easily dismissed form of fiction.

Fact for the uninitiated: Those flowery, gooey allusions to penis and vagina are generally found only in historical romance novels, not contemporaries. Another fact: Even historicals have updated themselves, often beyond recognition as “just” a romance novel. Read Patricia Gaffney’s fabulous Wild at Heart (Signet, 2002) for a case in point.

Take the term “bodice ripper.” Coined by the media and still used — by the media — to describe any and all romance novels, the phrase has been both outmoded and out of favor for decades. Originally invented to describe historical romantic fiction of the 1970s and ’80s, in which rape was, unfortunately, a common initial phase of the courting process between hero and heroine, the term “bodice ripper” is now, thanks to the efforts of feminism, frowned upon by the romance writing and reading communities. Continue reading “Fiction’s Frilliest Genre Gets Real(er)”

Thor the Thunder God and Other Loves of my Life

Dad and I were talking the other day about our dog Thor, which in Ancient Norse meant “Thunder God” but in modern Clifton, Colorado English meant “Hide Under the Old Studebaker Bed When you hear Thunder.” Notwithstanding his irrational fear of thunder, Thor was a handsome, super smart Border Collie/German Shepherd mix whom I regarded as my brother.

Thor the Thunder God, Family and Friends
Thor the Thunder God, Family and Friends

Dad and I were talking the other day about our dog Thor, which in Ancient Norse meant “Thunder God” but in modern Clifton, Colorado English meant “Hide Under the Old Studebaker Bed When you hear Thunder.” Notwithstanding his irrational fear of thunder, Thor was a handsome, super smart Border Collie/German Shepherd mix whom I regarded as my brother. He was like Adam Cartwright on Bonanza to Hoss and Little Joe (except in our family, I was nothing like Hoss and Little Joe wasn’t born yet but you get the idea). He was level headed and practical like Adam Cartwright and like Adam, he was my parents’ first child. When I was born, Thor was a full year older and wiser than me. When I was 15, he was 105 years older and wiser than me, despite being a bit senile. He gained this wisdom, I believe, when he left the yard one snowy night and walked to the house of an old grouch bastard who lived a couple of houses away. Old Grouch Bastard threw a rock at Thor, who probably thought it was a ball and tried to catch it. His jaw was shattered and his teeth were mostly broken off into little stubs. Dad followed the trail of blood and figured that this is what had happened although we don’t know for sure. His jaw was wired shut for a long time and he his teeth were an ugly brown mess. After that, Thor learned to temper his Border Collie energy and be a little more cautious and thoughtful. He did what he was supposed to do and a little bit more—he applied his lessons broadly and permanently. His wisdom and ability to anticipate what might happen were just some of the qualities that made him an amazing big brother.

We used to have a drainage ditch running through our back yard. This drainage ditch was dangerous because it was large enough for me to get in, and the culvert pipe it led to was large enough for five year old me to be sucked down. Obviously, I wasn’t allowed to play in the ditch, so of course, every day, I snuck down the yard to play in the ditch. You see, my parents thought I was like Thor, that I would do what I was told and they could trust me in the yard on my own. Mostly, that was true. But the ditch was a powerful lure. Some things are just hard to resist—for some kids it is candy, for me it was soggy dirt between my toes and dirty running water. After all, if you had a good friend and a strong shovel, you could lift a purple bloated muskrat out of that ditch long enough to poke it with a stick, then touch it with your finger before you dropped it and both ran off screaming, “Ew!” Not only that, it felt like a perfect summer day to stand in the ditch close to the culvert where the speed of the flow picked up and you could feel the water rushing around your legs, wondering what that slimy thing that just wrapped around your calf is and imaging it is a skinny fish. So one day I got a little too close to the culvert opening and maybe the ditch was a little too full and I started to get sucked down the pipe. Luckily for me, my big brother Thor had seen this coming for a long time and was always standing by for the imminent rescue. As I lost my footing, he was there with me, pulling me out by my clothes and giving me something to hang onto. After that, I couldn’t get anywhere near the ditch without Thor standing directly in front of the culvert pipe. Not only that, if I tried to get in, he would move his head to block me. He probably saved my life that day, if not the next day when I was already thinking of climbing back into the ditch because I figured I knew where I went wrong and could handle it this time.

More on Thor the Thunder God at the jump… Continue reading “Thor the Thunder God and Other Loves of my Life”

Two Wheels

The pure simplicity
And power
of travel over land
On two wheels

More trust placed
In an inch of rubber
Than years of friendship
Or love
Or blood

And seldom betrayed
Save an occassional flat
Easily repaired with three little tools
That fit in a pocket
Unlike friendship
Or love
Or blood

There are no tools
To fill a flat friendship
Patch love
Change out blood

So I sit astraddle
With beating heart
And pumping legs
On two wheels

“Lamentation” Friday and the Power of Love

heloise-abelard1A lot of Christians are going to attend a “Good” Friday service this week and hear how Jesus loved us so much he gave himself out of love for us, to save us. This is what is supposed to make his torture and murder “good.” They’ll be told that if they love him back enough, they will be transformed to love in the same way and forgive unto death.

This is a not so much an idea of love so much as an idea of unrequited passivity. And it encourages acquiescence to evil. The Canadian Catholic Bishops actually apologized in 1990 for teaching these ideas to victims of domestic violence. The Vatican has not apologized yet, but it might be too distracted right now with sexual abuse scandals to notice its been using this bad idea of love to shame victims into silence.

The ideal of love as self-sacrifice emerged in the twelfth century after Charlemagne started using Christianity as the propaganda arm of his empire. The main person who emphasized love as self-sacrifice was a brilliant, controversial scholar and teacher named Peter Abelard, but this piece is not about him; its about his amazing wife Heloise, who was both his most loyal supporter and his most astute critic.

In the face of the bad preaching about love that will fog the air on Friday, I offer the brisk, bracing clarity of Heloise, Abbess of the Paraclete. The affair of Heloise and Abelard has been idealized from medieval times as a great romance brought to a tragic and premature end by his castration. Heloise’s own letters to Abelard, which place her squarely among the most rhetorically brilliant and compelling ancient writers on love, probably constructed the popular legend and their mythic place in the pantheon of great lovers. However, her actual relationship to Abelard, found in her letters, was fraught with tensions.

Her differences from him reveal a remarkable figure whose understanding of love resisted violence, false piety, and the romance of suffering. Her voice has integrity, is steady, and resists self-deception or self-pity. She is honest about human feelings of love and loss and is committed to responsible uses of power—and she offers compelling antidotes to the dangerous pieties erupting from the cloisters of her age, which still deeply infect Western Christianity.

The young, intellectually gifted Heloise and Abelard, twenty years her senior and her charismatic teacher, became secret lovers. Heloise regarded voluntary love as a stronger bond than marriage, which was not a church sacrament at the time, but a civil contract, saying she preferred “love to wedlock, freedom to chains.” She observed that women often married for money, which she viewed as a form of prostitution. She asked if anything ordained by God, such as sexual intercourse, could be sinful, and asserted that she would rather be his mistress than his wife. “God is my witness that if Augustus, Emperor of the whole world, thought fit to honor me with marriage and conferred all the earth on me to possess for ever, it would be dearer and more honorable to me to be called not his Empress but your whore.”

Continue reading ““Lamentation” Friday and the Power of Love”

Adios to Richard From Texas

A tribute to “Eat, Pray, Love’s” Richard From Texas

richard&lizBooksAlthough I’ve known a lot of authors and am fortunate enough to count many of them as friends, only one of my friends was famous for being in a huge best-seller: Richard Vogt, better known to fans of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love as Richard from Texas.

Alas, much too soon, the time has come to say adios to Richard. He passed away on March 4 unexpectedly and much too soon for his vast circle of friends and fans.

I first met Richard in November 2006, when a mutual friend introduced us, thinking I could help Richard position himself to take advantage of the EPL effect. At the time, Richard was in between appearances on Oprah –– well, actually, he’d already taped them but only one of the two shows had aired at that point. And you bet I remembered Richard from Texas, and it made perfect sense that he would live in Austin! When my pal Jill handed me EPL, she read me a couple of the choice gems from Richard –– I think it might have been the “Groceries, your problem is you’ve got a wishbone where your backbone should be” bit. And yes, Richard was one of my favorite parts of the book.

Richard had a life that was stranger than fiction. Richard survived a tough childhood and went on to be a juvenile delinquent, a Vietnam vet,  an oil-field worker; a truck driver; the first dealer of Birkenstocks in the Dakotas; a construction worker; hippie farmer on a commune; radio voice-over announcer, etc. But for many years, he was a junkie and an alchoholic.

One night in a small Texas town, as he was casing a pharmacy to break into for drugs, something stopped him; he realized that he was on track to end up in prison or he could just stop and change his life. Richard said, “I ventured into the depths of hell. The hand of what I choose to call God pulled me from this ravage. It was not my own doing. Without a doubt, Divine Intervention interceded.”

With that, he sobered up and started a on the spiritual quest that eventually placed him at an ashram at the same time a wild-haired writer recovering from a divorce showed up. Richard took one look at her shoveling down her food and nicknamed her “Groceries.

And that’s how Richard entered Eat, Pray, Love and ended up on Oprah.

Most of my work with Richard consisted of trying to help him launch his career as a speaker. I immediately loved both his easygoing nature and his spiritual centeredness, not to mention his genuine interest in other people.

Continue reading “Adios to Richard From Texas”

Love/Hate vs. True Love

Growing up, I used to play over and over the scene from Spike Lee’s DO THE RIGHT THING in which Radio Rayhem bumps into Mookie on the street. When Mookie spots the gold LOVE and HATE knuckle plates Radio Rayhem wears, Rayhem takes the opportunity to expound to Mookie on the story of life.

In Radio Rayhem’s tale, LOVE and HATE battle violently. At first, “Left Hand Hate is kicking much ass and it looks like Right Hand Love is finished.” But in the end, Left Hand Hate is “KO’ed by Love.” Love wins the battle.

These days at the neighborhood bakery I’ve been frequenting since I was four years old, the knuckles of the cashier who hands me my coffee are emblazoned with two words more beautiful, but no less ferocious–and certainly no less devastating–than those worn by Radio Rayhem.

Right Hand TRUE. Left hand LOVE.

If the hard gold plates of LOVE/HATE were to face off against the bony knuckles of TRUE LOVE, I know who I’d be rooting for. But I’m not sure I’d dare to lay a wager.
true love

Read the scene from the script of Do The Right Thing at the jump…. Continue reading “Love/Hate vs. True Love”