KF: One other thing I wanted to ask you about, Alex, it was one of the more surprising things in the book to me was that you pointed out that contemplative practices seem to have started somewhere between 800 and 200 BC as a response to colonialism, global trade and urbanization. That actually does kind of bring us back to that idea of the technologies that causes this sort of problem aren’t hammers and bows and arrows but they’re network technologies like social media comes back to that comparison of urbanization and economics and so forth. I would have thought those practices would still have developed much, much earlier in history so I was wondering if you’d talk a little bit about the research you did in that area of the history of contemplation.
ASP: There’s not a huge literature on this yet, I mean people definitely are working on it but I think that what’s distinctive about that period which historians of religion refer to as the Axial Age is that it’s the first time that contemplative practices stopped being a secret. They stopped doing things that are for initiates that are part of … It’s the first time that we begin to see people like Buddha arguing that these are and should be accessible to everyone. That they’re open, they’re public sort of in a sense that they go from or they continue to the network metaphor they go from being proprietary to being open source. Anyone can do them. Anyone can improve upon and add to them.
KF: Cool. So let me ask you again on the topic of what Buddhist Geeks is. What’s the difference between a Buddhist Geek and a normal Buddhist or a Buddhist Geek and a normal geek?
VH: Yes, it’s a good question. Well, let’s see. I’d say one difference is that most people that consider themselves Buddhist Geeks are not so sure that they are actually in fact Buddhist. That’s one interesting characteristic of a Buddhist Geek that I’ve noticed.
CD: Like me.
VH: Yes. Which is why we’ll see if you’re still in the closet by the end of this conversation. Yes, that’s one characteristic that’s very interesting. The folks that consider themselves Buddhist Geeks often are very skeptical, I don’t know if that’s the right word, or they actively question the validity of any particular model, especially one that originated 2500 years ago in terms of its absolute ability to explain things. I’d say that’s one characteristic of a Buddhist Geek that’s sometimes different than your average Buddhist practitioner. Some Buddhists are like that and others aren’t. Other people treat it much more like a religion in which they’re looking for all the ultimate answers to life and think that religion or the people who started it do have all those answers. Buddhist Geeks tend to question that assumption, and I think that’s a fairly healthy thing to do.
In terms of on the geek side I’d say one of the big differences between a geek and a Buddhist Geek I think … I’m sure you guys in Mindful Cyborgs know this. Most geeks tend to lean in the direction of becoming completely absorbed in their technologies without asking questions about why they’re using them or how they actually support or serve the deeper purposes or aims in life. Certainly there may be a lack of awareness in most of the geek culture about how these technologies actually impact our consciousness or direct first person subjective experience as we move about our day. I think the Buddhist Geek, not by any means rejecting technology, in fact we’re geeks so there’s a lot to be praised and loved about technology, I think Buddhist Geeks tend to ask questions about how that use of technology affects them in terms of their first person experience in terms of their ability to show up in life and participate in a meaningful way.
I think that’s one of the things that Buddhism really has to offer the geek culture is more of the sense of awareness of how our merging with these technologies is changing who we are and how we are and not to do that in some sort of deterministic way where we think oh, we have to, we’re going up in light in a singularity therefore we have to just surrender to what’s evolving. I think, no we actually have to look at these technologies and make determinations about what we’re going to use and what we’re not going to use. Are we fetishizing the technology or are we using it for deeper aims? I think those are questions that we’ve been asking with the Buddhist Geeks project. I think people who identify as Buddhist Geeks, although that’s a weird identity, would probably say they care about those kinds of questions.
Ales Kot writes comics, amongst other things. His first graphic novel, Wild Children with Riley Rossmo, was published by Image Comics last year. He quickly followed this with Change with Morgan Jeske, also at Image. The collected edition was just released by Image last week.
Now he’s writing the superhero series Suicide Squad for DC and his creator owned espionage comic Zero for Image.
This week on Mindful Cyborgs Chris Dancy and I interview Ernesto Ramirez, the program director, editor and community organizer of Quantified Self Labs and the webmaster of quantfiedself.com. We talked about the beginnings of the quantified self movement, its chances for catching on with the broader public and the privacy implications of sharing health data on the cloud.
This week on Mindful Cyborgs Chris Dancy and I discussed the relationship between mindfulness and quantified self with biosensor engineer Nancy Dougherty. Nancy talks about how she came to the practice of mindfulness through some of her “happy pills experiment,” her light-based mood tracking system and why a portable fMRI might be a little over kill for self-tracking.
After a while, most serialized webcomics start to look the same. Just about every series seems to strike a similar balance of influences from anime and western animation. But not Light Years Away, which draws inspiration from European sci-fi comics by artists like Moebius and Tanino Liberatore.
LYA is set in a world where many — perhaps most — people have cybernetic implants. But there’s a growing, violent anti-implant movement called the Puritans. The first story arc, Escape from Prison Planet, tells the story of Milo, a repeat offender doing time on an off-planet penal colony, where he ends up in the middle of a prison gang war between the Puritans and the implantees. Soon, however, he finds out there’s something bigger going on.
I talked with writer Ethan Ede and artist Adam Rosenlund — the Boise, Idaho based duo behind the series — about webcomics, the future of the series and other projects they have in the hopper.
Left: Ethan Ede Right: Adam Rosenlund
Klint Finley: First, I’m curious why you guys self-published online. Did you shop it around to publishers first?
Ethan: We self-published this story because we wanted to do it our way. Having control over our product is very important to us, that’s one of the reasons there are no ads on the site, because that is content we can’t control. At the time when we started Light Years Away we were shopping several products around to publishers and we wanted to put something out in the meantime. We actually picked LYA because it is the least like the stories we normally tell.
Adam: As well as the story being built for the format. We were kind of frustrated at the pitch process when we decided on LYA. We just wanted to get some stories out there and read, and at the time, no one was buying science fiction. The market was in contraction, and publishers were reticent to take a chance on what we were selling.
If you’ve taken a lot of photos, if you’re a photographer and you spend a lot of time with the camera in your hand or up your eye. You develop the thing that is called the “camera eye,” that is even when the camera is not at your eye you start to see the world through the logic of the camera mechanism. You see the world as a potential photo with a framing, lighting, the depth of field and so forth. And that’s called the camera eye and I think social media, especially Facebook, has given us the sort of documentary vision or the Facebook eye where you see the world as a potential Facebook post or tweet or Instagram photo.
That is you see the present as always this potential future past, this sort of nostalgic view of the present. I don’t think it takes us out of the moment. Some people say that, that you’re not experiencing life in the moment because you’re worried about posting it on Facebook. I think that’s just a different experience of the moment. But it’s worth debating whether that’s a better experience or worse experience.
What Eric Schmidt was getting at when he was talking about how using a smartphone is emasculating and you need to have this Google Glass that is somehow more masculine or something like that. It was really, I thought, offensive. And I think the correct reading of that was that the smartphone, now, everybody has a smartphone. How can you look like you’re a rich, powerful man if you have this thing that everybody has?
Well, there’s Google Glass now and again reinforces how what a cellphone used to do. When people see you wearing the Google Glass will say oh, well, you’re an important rich, powerful man. It’s really I think sad in sort of an offensive way to market that product. They’ve done a terrible job marketing Google Glass I think.
More show notes, plus the complete transcript, inside.
Elijah Brubaker is the writer and artist of Reich, a biography of Wilhelm Reich in comic form. Reich (1897 – 1957) was an Austrian psychotherapist known for his theory of character analysis. He fled Nazi Germany in 1938 and came to the U.S. where became obsessed with orgone, which he claimed was a universal energy. He also began developing technology based on orgone, including the orgone accumulator, which he believed could cure cancer, and the cloudbuster, which he believed could make it rain. He was eventually arrested for medical fraud and died in prison.
This interview was filmed back in 2008 for Technoccult TV, but the audio and video were too corrupted for release. I managed to transcribe most of the interview, so here it is at long last.
Klint Finley: So you do a comic about Wilhelm Reich, were you involved in Reichian therapy before you started the comic?
Elijah Brubaker: No, I wasn’t involved in the therapy at all. I had read about Reich kind of anecdotally through William Burroughs. And he just seemed like this cool crazy guy, and he’s a great thing to talk about to your friends who don’t know about him. I just like to talk about esoteric bullshit at parties. My interest kind of grew after I read several biographies of him and I started looking at him as more of a person, so my interest comes from the compassionate part of it now. It started as “Ha ha ha, there’s this crazy quack” Now I feel like I’m a crazy quack too.
That really shows in the comic. You don’t vilify him or idolize him. It’s a really human portrayal of him. I think it’s generally sympathetic towards him, was that your intent?
Yeah, just today I was reading the back of a biography of Ayn Rand. And there was a pull quote on the back that said that the people who lionize her and demonize her equally do a disservice by dehumanizing her. That’s how I feel with Reich, he’s such a controversial figure that people don’t really look at him as human anymore, he’s just this series of events that happened or a series of ideas. They either agree or disagree and everyone has a strong opinion about it, but it’s not coming from a very humanistic point of view I guess.
How long did it take you to research it before you started on the comic?
I did strict research for about a year, and then I said “I’ve just got to get something on paper.”
Were your reference materials particularly difficult to find?
Yeah, at first. This book, Wilhelm Reich vs. USA, was pretty hard to find. I actually found it at the library, and I kept checking it out and checking it out and finally found it at Powell’s. I don’t read German. I would like to find some of the papers that he wrote that are only in German, but that would be sort of pointless right now.
Do you do any original research, like interviews with family members or people who knew him?
I wish I could. No. I started out thinking this was going to be a much smaller project. I would still like to travel around and find whoever I could to talk about it now. Originally I thought this would be a way for me to practice cartooning, essentially, of telling a true story in the most truthful way that I thought I could.
Did you expect it to be so long?
Well, I deal better with long works. So yeah, I thought it would be like 300 pages, but I didn’t think that I would have a publisher. I thought I would print like 100 copies and give out to friends.
Have you heard from any Reich experts who has taken issue with any of your portrayals?
Not that has taken issue, but I recently got an e-mail from a person that was at a conference on orgone and pulled out my comic and showed it to everyone. Everyone was really skeptical but semi-supportive.
The e-mail was essentially “Please don’t think mess this up. Graphic novels are a big deal these days and you have the potential to do our work some harm if you portray this in the wrong light. No pressure though!”
Well, it’s one of the most flattering things written about him, so it seems like it could do his work a lot of good.
Well, it’s still early in his career, I’m sort of interested in how people feel about how I deal with some of his more controversial views, his ideas on aliens and what not.
So you haven’t gone through any of the therapy at all, just as research even?
Seen an orgone accumulator?
Yeah, I’ve seen an orgone accumulator, but they weren’t… I don’t know if anyone builds them professionally any more, but the person who owned it was the person who built it.
Are there any ideas of his that you’ve come to accept now, or that have affected you?
Well, since starting working on the book I think about sex in a lot less uptight way. I can actually talk about things in an open matter, where before it was like “teehee, he said the word erection.” I’m still a pretty uptight guy, I’m not going to talk about free love or anything like that.
Other than just freeing of my own language, I don’t think I’ve really adopted any of his teachings or whatever you want to call it.
I’m not exactly part of the anti-psychiatry movement or anything like that. But I’ve never been to therapy and I’m not looking to.
So you found out about Reich through William S. Burroughs — how did you find out about Burroughs?
You know, I can’t really remember. I think Naked Lunch was a book that my brother had in his apartment, just because it was a strange book and my brother likes strange stuff so he kept it around to show his friends. So one day I stopped by his apartment and didn’t have anything to read so I just picked it up. It’s not a narrative in any sense of the word, it’s almost just a collection of jokes or something. But I really gravitated towards it because everything I had read was just straight forward plot stories, and this had no plot and was just dirty and gross and was this guy’s entire brain smashed up. Ever since then I’ve looked for artists that do a similar thing, where it’s just self-expression whether you like it or not. I can’t say that my stuff is even close to that, but I hope that I’ve learned a little bit from that type of sensibility.
That actually makes sense looking at your work, that it would have been influenced by Burroughs, just the psychological aspect of it.
Right. I also like his unapologetic paranoia, because I’ve always felt a certain amount of “they’re out to get me.”
You have a really distinct style, how long did it take you to develop that, where did it come from?
I’ve always had an interest in that 20s era Weimar German Expressionism sort of stuff. And just through looking at George Grosz and Otto Dix and stuff like that, and trying to see what they were doing. I just sort of stole ideas from this person and that person.
I’ve always liked the idea of a serial killer as a boogey-man sort of thing. And Billy Gohl, there’s no movie about him, he’s not in popular consciousness yet.
His story is interesting to me, because he was accused of a hell of a lot more murders than he actually took part in. He was a braggart and a loud mouth. He said he cannibalized a man in the mountains one year.
Gray’s Harbor, Washington at the time was this rough port town where people would go missing all the time. The Christian population of the time looked down on the fact that he had a bar. Fights would break out there and they’d blame Billy Gohl.
He was made a representative of the sailor’s union and he was responsible for watching sailors’ belongings while they were out at sea. If they didn’t come back he was in charge of distributing the goods however he saw fit. Finding the families and everything. Chances were he’d usually just keep it. So his stories were “Oh this sailor I didn’t like, I just killed him and took his stuff.”
And people would show up floating in the bay. I think there was one year where the was just a little under 200 people found floating in the bay, and they referred to them the “floater fleet.” And Billy Gohl was eventually accused of every single murder that happened there, thousands of people over the time that he was living in Gray’s Harbor.
He was eventually convicted of two murders, one of which the court decided he didn’t even actually pull the trigger, he just convinced the other guy to pull the trigger. I don’t know how the legal wrangling were over that.
I think it’s a cautionary tale about how being a loud mouth and talking what a terrible person that you can be. Eventually you’re going to try to prove that and you’ll find your justice.
What’s your favorite work of your own?
Reich is the thing that I’m most proud of. I think the stories in Papercutter are a little bit more aligned with my sensibilities, I think I’m having more fun with those stories, but I think Reich is a more fulfilling story.
You already touched on male aggression earlier, but just for any of our readers that — I’m already pretty familiar with the project — but for anyone who isn’t maybe you could talk a little bit about the original intentions.
It’s funny as time goes by and you get older it gets harder and harder to answer things because you see all these links and all these parallel pieces of information, and parallel things that have happened in the past that have led to these points. And you can also start to see potentially where they may be going. So it gets harder and harder to answer things lately. But, in a way, it all goes on from what we were just saying with TOPI: we were really focusing on behavior and breaking that.
And then we came into the USA in exile and we met Lady Jaye in New York. And the very first day we were together she dressed me in her clothes, put make-up on me, decorated my dreadlocks with Tibetan trinkets — which she didn’t even know I knew anything about. And it was just very crucial for us to immediately go into mirroring each other. And the initial impetus came from insanely powerful love.
We usually explain by saying: people will say, “I wish I could just eat you up.” Well, we really wanted to eat each other up. We were really frustrated that we were in two bodies. We wanted to literally be able to just get hold of each other, crush ourselves together and then be just one consciousness in one body or just one entity in any form.
In her series Psychopomp, author Amanda Sledz takes a literary approach to writing about urban shamanism, magical thinking, tarot, telepathy and other themes usually reserved for the fantasy genre. The series follows four characters: Meena, a woman who has experienced a break with reality; her parents, Frank and Esther; and Lola, a teenager who is becoming a shaman whether she wants to or not.
The first book in the series, Psychopomp Volume One: Cracked Plate, explores mental illness, empathy, our differing experiences of place, immigration and cultural identity, and the way our experience of family shapes our identity — without resorting to the cliches of genre fiction or descending into boring academic prose.
Amanda was raised in Cleveland and now lives in Portland, OR. She is self-publishing Psychopomp, but her work has appeared eFiction Horror and various small literary magazines. You can also check out some of Amanda’s works in progress on her site.
An excerpt from the first installment is here. You can buy the book from Amanda here, from Powells Books or from Amazon here.
I recently caught-up with her to talk about Psychopomp, self-publishing and more.
Klint Finley: I understand you wrote a first draft of the first book in college — can you walk us through how the book evolved?
Amanda Sledz: I started working on it during my last semester of graduate school. I’d finished the entirety of an MFA in nonfiction writing, and thought I’d try my hand at fiction before escaping the clutches of academentia. There were a lot of subjects that I wrote about in my master’s thesis that were perceived as being unbelievable, because magical thinking as a means of interacting with hardship was described as a natural way of operating. The tone of the thesis (which was a memoir) became very self-conscious, with the over-awareness of the audience that’s required for decent nonfiction writing. I found myself longing to write something uncorked that still utilized the same themes.
I finished the first draft, which consisted of a shorter version of each section, very quickly. The editing and perfecting and development of repetition took a long, long time.
I abandoned it after wrangling it and getting sections of it published in small literary magazines. Then just over a year ago I was cleaning off my hard drive and thought doing nothing with it would be a waste.
And, in a way, as Grant Morrison might say I had myself locked in a hypersigil. I’m fairly certain my writing career would be permanently stalled if I didn’t let it escape.