Archive for ‘Unknown’

June 8, 2011

prepare to be amazed!

by Megan Abbott

Recently, I came upon a YouTube clip that felt like uncovering a childhood book at the bottom of an old box. One you don’t remember at all until you see its cracked cover and then every illustration, every odd turn-of-phrase, comes rushing back.

In this case, it was documentary segment dedicated to a miraculous structure called the Coral Castle. Located about 30 miles south of Miami in Homestead, Florida, it is one of those odd buildings—Mystery Castle in Phoenix and Winchester Mystery House in San José are others—that are the result of one “ordinary” person’s eccentric quest to create something extraordinary.

Coral Castle is the improbable—impossible?—product of one man: Edward Leedskalnin, a 5-ft. tall, 100-lb. Latvian immigrant who cut, quarried, transported (ten miles), and raised the entire structure, which consists of more than 1,100 tons of coral rock, alone.

While, in that part of Florida, coral can be 4,000 feet thick, Leedskalnin reportedly used only hand-made tools, with no large machinery and no workers assisting him. Among much of the disbelieving press about the Castle—particularly during its early years—much nasty head-shaking was made not just over the fact that one man could build something like this, but that an “illiterate immigrant” could. According to the  Castle’s official website:

When questioned about how he moved the blocks of coral, Ed would only reply that he understood the laws of weight and leverage well. This man with only a fourth grade education even built an AC current generator, the remains of which are on display today. Because there are no records from witnesses his methods continue to baffle engineers and scientists, and Ed’s secrets of construction have often been compared toStonehengeand the great pyramids.

At a certain point during its long construction point, Leedskalnin opened his monument to the public, offering tours for 10 cents. Apparently, he even served up hot dogs for visiting children, the product of a pressure cooker he had invented.

The work of the Castle absorbed him from 1920 until his death in 1951.

The best part of the story, though (for me), is not the triumph of one dedicated (obsessive) man to overcome expectation, engineering, and our conceptions of what’s possible (though that’s pretty good too). It’s the reason why Mr. Leedskalnin built the castle to begin with. I bet you know why.

Like an “everyman” Charles Foster Kane building his Xanadu for his beloved. In this case a woman Leedskalnin referred to as his “Sweet Sixteen,” a young woman with the Dickensian name of Agnes Scuffs. At age 26, Leedskalnin was engaged to Miss Scuffs, ten years his junior, but, legend has it, she broke off the relationship on the eve of their wedding.

A fascinating (and to my mind, quintessentially American) figure, Leedskalnin was not just a sculptor, he was an inventor, a theorist on the properties of magnetism and a writer, the author of five “pamphlets.” Three are dedicated to “Magnetic Current” and one to “Mineral, Vegetable and Animal Life”  The fifth is called A Book in Every Home:  Containing Three Subjects: Ed’s Sweet Sixteen, Domestic and Political Views. In it, Leedskalnin writes about “Sweet Sixteen” as more than a single Agnes Scruffs but a symbol for the kind:

Now, I am going to tell you what I mean when I say, “Ed’s Sweet Sixteen.”  I don’t mean a sixteen year old girl; I mean a brand new one.

Later, he writes:

 …I want a girl the way Mother Nature puts her out.  This means before anybody has had any chance to be around her and before she begins to misrepresent herself.  I want to pick out the girl while she if guided by the instinct alone

And he expand to larger social views:

Everything we do should be for some good purpose but as everybody knows there is nothing good that can come to a girl from a fresh boy. When a girl is sixteen or seventeen years old, she is as good as she ever will be, but when a boy is sixteen years old, he is then fresher than in all his stages of development. He is then not big enough to work but he is too big to be kept in a nursery and then to allow such a fresh thing to soil a girl—it could not work on my girl. Now I will tell you about soiling. Anything that is done, if it is done with the right party it is all right, but when it is done with the wrong party, it is soiling, and concerning those fresh boys with the girls, it is wrong every time.

Indeed, Mr. Leedskalnin. Indeed.

(I do not remember any of these details of the story from when I first became fascinated by the castle—which I’ve yet to see!—at age eight or so. I’m sure, however, that, at that age, I would have taken due note.)

Mr. Leedskalnin never married. While he extended invitations to Agnes Scuffs over the years, she never did see the monument he built for her.

Postscript: I am sure there are folks out there who know much more than I do about Coral Castle (Dennis, help me!), or who have visited it. If so, tell me more!

April 13, 2011

Trauma & Recovery (or lack thereof): a list of books that inspired CLAIRE DeWITT

by Sara Gran

One big theme in the Claire DeWitt books, my forthcoming detective series, is trauma and how we recover from it. Although “recover” isn’t the right word. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about trauma, it’s that nothing is “recovered.” Trauma is a destructive process, not a creative one. When bad things or big changes happen, nothing ever “goes back to normal,” and to strive towards that is, in my opinion, to guarantee yourself a big mess. The old “normal” is gone and it’s never coming back. Even if you can rebuild your house, you will no longer be the same person living inside it. Much of Claire DeWitt & the City of the Dead is about how we create that new world, and how we can free ourselves from the stagnation that comes from trying to cling to the past. (But it’s also a page-turning mystery thriller so BUY IT, OK? I promise, it’s not all, like, deep and shit. I hate those books!)

I’ll be posting more about the books that inspired CLAIRE DeWITT as we lead up to the release (June 2–holy shit!). I’ll start with  list of books I’ve found useful, as a writer and a human, about trauma:

When Things Fall Apart; Pema Chodron. You’re probably heard of this book–it’s sold like a million copies, for good reason. Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist nun, gives very good, practical advice on how to get through a crises. I think her most important teaching here is to stop looking for solid ground. When the world is falling apart around you, literally or metaphorically, our first inclination is to MAKE IT STOP. But in the effort to do so, we can cling to some really dumb stuff in our futile search for something to rely on. We glom onto stupid ideas, join cults, or just hang out with idiots. One of the great Buddhist teachings, in my very humble opinion, is that there is nothing to rely on. The nature of life is change. The good news is, if you come to terms with that, you can be happy anyway! Yay life! Yay Buddha! Thanks!

Persephone’s Return: Tanya Wilkinson. This is one of my favorite books of the past, say,  thousand years. I’ve always been oddly obsessed with the myth of Persephone, the Greek Queen of the Dead, which Wilkinson uses to illustrate how trauma changes us. Before Persephone was Persephone, she was a girl named Kore (which basically means “girl,” from what I gather). Then she was kidnapped by her uncle, presumably raped, and made to spend half of every year as the Queen of the Dead. She went on become an important goddess, but she never got to be Kore again. She was Persephone now. After traumatic experiences, I think that people are fundamentally changed. You never get to go back to being Kore. Persephone knew all kinds of things Kore never could have imagined. You can take that knowledge as shameful and try to pretend you don’t know it and keep calling yourself Kore. Or you can be grateful for the knowledge you’ve learned among the dead, and become Persephone. This is just one of many stories Jungian analyst Wilkinson uses to illustrate different ways trauma can change us. But it doesn’t have to change us for the worse. Nothing makes an event like, say, a terrorist attack, “worthwhile,” but given that these experiences are a normal part of our lives, it behooves us to mine them for gold rather than let them beat us down–and I am not putting down anyone who has let life beat them down or up a little or a lot, only trying to point out that for some us, sometimes, a better way can be possible. As Wilkinson says, victims are not responsible for their own betrayal, but they are responsible for their own recovery.

The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog; Bruce Perry. Terrible title but a great book by a compassionate psychiatrist specializing in childhood trauma. Although the author talks a lot about biology, hormones, and all that other shit that frequently drives me up the wall (I don’t agree that humans a basically a big bag of chemicals, although dear reader, believe as you choose), he does so from an interesting and useful place–rather than prove that our emotions are determined by our body’s whims, he argues that our emotional experiences can alter our body chemistry, and that understanding this can be useful in helping severely traumatized children (and all of us!) move forward. For example, in a home for naughty teenaged boys (what we used to call a J.D. hall), he gives some of the boys simple, side-effect free blood pressure medication to help them control their overheated fight-or-flight mechanisms. He isn’t limited to biological effluvia, though–he has a lot of insight into how to help children (and adults) who have lived through the unbelievable. Fascinating and wise. I would like to write an appendix to this book about how yoga and other mindfulness practices can affect these same flight-or-fight hormones, which is why I’m such a big fan of Street Yoga. DR. PERRY I AM AVAILABLE TO WRITE YOUR APPENDIX call me.

The Unsayable: Annie Rogers. I’ve spoken often about this book by Lacanian analyst Annie Rogers. Jacques Lacan was a follower of Freud who believed, among other things, that, our subconscious lives in our language. Rogers was herself an abuse survivor who found help through analysis. Her previous book, A Shining Affliction, is also a knockout. What interests me so much about Rogers work is how she always looks for, in her words, “the unsayable;” what isn’t said, what isn’t revealed, what we don’t exactly know–and often it’s these very hidden items that are writing the story of our lives. This book deals specifically with how these currents affect certain traumatized girls she’s worked with; sadly, though, the story isn’t confined to young women, and this book would be equally fascinating for all demographics. (By the way, in this very list you can see the conflict/dynamic between Freud and his two number one sons, Jung and Lacan, which was also a big inspiration for the Claire DeWitt books–more about that in another list!)

Wrong Place, Wrong Time: John A. Rich. I’ve talked before, but maybe not here, about this moving and deeply compassionate book on violence among young inner-city men. Rich, an M.D., takes the time to study and prove something many of have suspected: the greatest source of inner-city violence is the trauma caused by inner-city violence. Trauma=hypervigilence=thinking the world is out to get you=more violence=trauma again. Rich has an enormous respect for the young men he spends time with–he listens to young men in the inner city in a way that I’m sorry to say I just haven’t seen before in a mainstream work of nonfiction. Although the political and sociological causes of this violence are of course also important, I don’t think a political analysis can cut quite to the heart of the problem like a psychological analysis can. I think it’s true about inner-city violence, I think it’s true about most human violence, and I think it’s true about most human problems in general: I don’t believe that our problems will solved by a political or sociological or economic solution. I believe that going forward, our problems will be solved by psychological, spiritual, and emotional solutions. And yes, they can be solved, if you want them to. And you choose not to solve them, we will live in the same idiotic shit of fighting, violence, and stupidity forever. It’s all up to you! More good news!

These are the books I’ve found useful. If anyone has other books on trauma they’ve liked or learned from, please let me know in the comments, I’d like to hear it!


February 20, 2011

playing cards

by Sara Gran
Reversible tarot card

Image by Wm Jas via Flickr

I’ve been thinking a lot about cards this week. Cards occupy this weird liminal (I know I use that word too much) position that I love. Playing cards care used for gambling, but also for stage magic–which when you think about it isn’t really a given, although it’s so common as to seem so. Why cards, for either or both? Is it coincidence, or do cards contain a natural trickster-ish element that makes this inevitable? Gambling and legerdemain (possibly my favorite word) are combined in card cheats and in three card monte, which always seemed a little magic to me.  When I was a kid I would watch the three card monte dealers on Broadway, hypnotized into trying to find “the lady” (I remember them hiding a red Queen and calling it “the lady”). Their slight of hand skills were amazing–most of them cheated, but I think some of them didn’t need to. They just couldn’t be beat. Even if they were “cheating,” what a skill! Gifted men, dealt a bad hand in life.

People also tell fortunes with playing cards: I don’t know how to do that, but I do read tarot cards. Even if you don’t believe in any metaphysical ability of the cards, they’re useful as little Rorschach ink-blots to bounce your subconscious off of.  Or you could think of them as little paper dolls that you can use to tell yourself a story and see what happens. I bet you’ll be surprised. And I bet you won’t doubt their metaphysical ability for long.

There’s also business cards, those little bits that seem like a piece of themselves someone left behind, and in the old days people had calling cards, which they would leave so you’d know they’d been there. When you read old novels it’s easy to get confused by the elaborate rituals of dropping off calling cards here and there and the heavy significance of each one. In a magic spell, you can sometimes use someone’s business card as a substitute for the person themselves, and do to the card (the microcosm) what you’d like done to its owner (the macrocosm). There’s also credit cards and ATM cards and ID cards, each of which has magical properties of its own–credit and ATM cards can be turned into money and ID cards can tell a story (Illinois, 25 years old, blue eyes…). Credit cards can also tell a story, which is why American Express cards come in green, gold, and the coveted black.

Not only do cards themselves seem to hold a trickster-ish position but in playing cards, the trickster is built-in in the form of jokers. Jokers can be assigned a variable meaning or left “wild,” i.e. undefined, unformed, chaotic, pure potential. There isn’t much that’s left wild these days, so if you get a wild card, in cards or in life, appreciate it. These days were taught to fear the unknown–the wild–but remember: that’s where all the best stuff comes from. Including us.

A cautionary tale comes from what used to be my favorite short story, Pushkin’s Queen of Spades, although I haven’t reread it in years. I do remember though, that the story agrees with me: cards are strange little things.  Read it yourself, play some cards, and see what happens.

January 25, 2011

Alchemy & Ormus

by Sara Gran
Nicolas Flamel had these mysterious alchemical...

Image via Wikipedia

Ormus is…well, I don’t know exactly what ormus is. It’s some kind of alchemical potion I started taking a few months ago. It’s a magical substance that may or may not be the Elixer Vitae. It’s a liquid that theoretically has the power to increase your vibration and increase instances of synchronicity in your life. But what IS it? I’ll let these guys explain:

During the 1970’s and 1980’s David Hudson, an Arizona agriculturist, discovered ORME (orbitally rearranged molecular elements) and found these materials shared characteristics of that “essential salt” sought by alchemists. The knowledge of ORME is a wondrous bridge between the ancient work of the masters and the world of new possibilities. ORME material displays amazing effects on plants, animals and humans.

Others were inspired by David Hudson’s results and merged “philosophical processes” with his methods. The offspring of this work also displayed astonishing characteristics and beneficial traits to plants, animals and humans. This is Ormus. It is considered to contain the same material that David Hudson found and the same material that alchemists described as the “spirit of the source.”

Although known by only a few, the presence of Ormus in our body appears to benefit life: the physical “body” carries more vibrancy and a stronger constitution, the physical “mind,” greater communication with the “quantum field of energy. Imagine experiencing fantastic “insights” and enjoying that greater “wisdom.”

Despite the “quotation marks,” that’s a “pretty good description.” I think. There’s naturally-occurring Ormus, and then there’s alchemically made/extracted Ormus. In nature, Ormus is found in cool, structured water, in gemstones and minerals, in potent plants like Aloe Vera and other herbs. It’s qualities are cool, moisturizing, calming, enlightening. Not being so on top of my alchemical studies, (which one is the red lion again? who exactly was married at the alchemical wedding?), I’m pretty hazy on the details of extracted Ormus. But basically, it’s a whole new substance. According to fans, it will change the world. According to skeptics–well, we all know what they say, right? And they may be right.

I first heard about Ormus in David Wolfe’s books (you can watch some interesting videos of him talking about it here) and I’ve been curious ever since. When my friend met the folks from Ormus Miraculous at an event, I felt like the stars were aligned and I finally bought my own Ormus. And I am totally digging it. A few drops a day really seems to make the planets align. Synchronicity is definitely increased. Things seem to be flowing more flow-ish-ly. And I have an enormous bottle of it because I only bought the cheap little bottle, but they sent me a really big bottle by mistake, and they wouldn’t let me send it back. It’s about eight or ten ounces and you take one dropper-full a day, which will last me approximately forever. So I like them.

Anyone else tried it?

January 20, 2011

Yes, Bob Hope is violently insane

by Sara Gran

One recurring theme of this blog seems likely to be people who have an unwholesome relationship with Bob Hope.  As we’ve touched on before, there’s Brice Taylor, who in her book ‘Thanks for the Memories!” maintains that she was a mind-controlled slave of Bob Hope (and others!) for years, thanks to the CIA and their Mk-Ultra program (or so I think–the book is expensive, and therefore I’ve never read it). David Icke, too, I think, is on the Bob Hope bandwagon. And there’s also the infamous Sally Fox letters, which thanks to an Abbot Gran Medicine Show tipster (yes, we have tipsters!), I now have in possession (you can read them here). Sally Fox was a lucid New Orleans woman who was certain that Bob Hope was implanting unpleasant thoughts in her head. She wrote the FBI, the CIA, and her representative, Lindy Boggs, about this. Surprisingly, only Ms. Boggs agreed to investigate Ms. Fox’s case, but she came up empty handed. From Fox’s first letter to the press:

I am involved in a phenomenal situation which I believe merits investigation.

The whole thing started about seven years ago when I began to “see” Bob Hope (the comedian) when I would close my eyes and concentrate. Through study, I learned that the reason I could “see” Bob Hope was because he is violently insane and uses abnormal thinking processes which introject and project others’ egos.

When this problem began, besides worrying about my mental health, I also felt that my civil rights were being violated by an other person’s insanity, so I began to write letters to the FBI. At first, the FBI thought I was crazy, but a year or so later, the FBI told me that they had been getting 800 to 900 complaints a day from people all around the country saying the same thing I was: Bob Hope is crazy and interferes with their normal thinking. The FBI told me they were investigating.

The really strange twist here is that in Harper’s (they ran them in that little front-of-the-book section of of odds & ends), these letters are followed by a reply to Sally Fox, from an anonymous woman who believes that she, as well, is being mentally violated by Bob Hope:

I was recently visiting a local college and I was describing to a friend the rather odd things (all involving Bob Hope) which seem to be happening to me. Amazingly, someone nearby overheard our conversation and recommended that I contact you.

I understand that you too have experienced these thought disturbances…Yes, Bob Hope is violently insane.

How Harper’s would have gotten these last letters–the response–is a question I don’t have an answer for. A mystery indeed.

It’s easy to make fun of these people, and hey, go ahead. What fascinates me about this, though, is the same thing that fascinates me about the (at least!) three people who have written books claiming their father was the Black Dahlia killer. That is, how public figures fill holes in our psyches that we can’t fill through ordinary means. My father wasn’t just a shithead, he was the Black Dahlia Killer! I wasn’t just screwed by the CIA (heck, tons of people believe that–and some of them are undeniably right), I was screwed by Bob Hope working for the CIA! But I don’t understand exactly what role Bob Hope fills in people’s psyche’s. He fills no holes in mine, I’m sorry to say.

This also ties into one of my other obsessions; otherwise-sane people who think they’re the victim of mind-control programs. This Washington Post article is one of the better pieces of writing ever done on the topic (and check out the fascinating follow-up discussion). The other day I think I mentioned Gloria Naylor’s book 1996, which is also a must-read for anyone interested in the topic. It’s easy to call some poor soul who posts on the internet a nutjob, but Naylor is an accomplished, highly successful, entirely lucid writer. We don’t know much about Sally Fox, but we know she was, repeatedly, able to type a letter, get a stamp, get to the post office, etc. And her letters are pretty lucid. The issue isn’t “mental illness,” not in the sense of someone of someone who can’t function or be trusted to take care of themselves (again, see: Gloria Naylor). So what is the issue?

Bob Hope gets plaque on Hill.

Image via Wikipedia

But Megan, I think you have a contrary opinion on this vital topic…

January 18, 2011


by Sara Gran

I have become obsessed with Robert Bly‘s A Little Book on The Human Shadow. Bly describes the Shadow as those parts of ourselves, dissaproved and unloved by our parents, peers, society and self, that we’ve stuck into a great big bag and tried to forget about. So you might put, say, your anger, or your kindness into the bag–two qualities that many interepert as “weaknesses.” You think they’re gone, but they’re not gone. They’re in this big bag of crap you’re dragging around with you everywhere! And when the things in your bag, which are after all living things, start to poke and prod at you, you’re likely to project that experience outward, and think it’s that guy over there who’s poking you. Bly suggests that because a lot of us have put qualities we associate with the “other” gender in that bag, our projections might likewise land on that “other” gender. So a man might “project his witch” onto the women in his life, or a woman might project what Bly calls her “giant.” So you think this other person is out to get you,

because you know SOMETHING’S poking you all the time, but it’s not the other person at all–it’s your own witch, trying to tell you hey, buddy, you’re been ignoring me since you were five but I’m still here, and I never stopped growing! We have things to do together and you’re ruining it!

One way to find your shadow is to find the things that irrationally piss you off in other people. The key is the emotional charge, and the degree to which you’re willing to admit complexity. That person who is so awful maybe isn’t. Maybe that’s your Shadow.

“A human being who has. . .absorbed the shadow gives the sense of being condensed,” Bly writes. He says that people who have absorbed their shadow have a thick, viscous quality. People who are fighting the shadow might therefore be scattered, fragmented, brittle.

Earlier he says, “If we have given away thirty parts of our self, we will then eventually feel ourselves diminished in thirty different ways.”