Apocryphal Zen Stories – Part 2

Bodily Needs

One morning, Hongren and Mazu the nine-fingered disciple sat side by side at the banks of a lotus pond in silent meditation. Slowly, Hongren began to hum. The humming grew in volume, until Hongren’s entire throat began to vibrate in sympathetic resonance. Gradually, the sound of the humming subsided, until they were once again sitting in perfect silence at the banks of the lotus pond.

Finally, Hongren spoke.

“When you feel the need to defecate, do you defecate?”

“Yes, master,” replied Mazu.

“Then the Buddha is a misshapen turnip!”

At this point, Hongren took a sip of tea.

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Apocryphal Zen Stories – Part 1

A Rotting Horse Carcass

One day, a young monk came to Master Hongren’s monastery to seek enlightenment.

“You will achieve enlightenment if you can answer this one question: What is Buddha?” asked Hongren. The monk could not think of an answer, and stood before Hongren in silent contemplation.

“Master,” asked the disciple, “Is there one answer, or are there many answers?”

Hongren slapped his disciple violently across the face. “A rotting horse carcass!” he exclaimed, answering his own question.

At this point, the disciple achieved enlightenment.

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A Thoughtful Analysis of Brand Nubian’s “Allah U Akbar”

In 1993, the rap group Brand Nubian released their sophomore album, In God We Trust. Two members lighter after the departure of Grand Puba and DJ Alamo, the group returned with a more aggressive, militant edge. But unlike the namesake of the departed DJ Alamo, I cannot remember most of these songs, even after repeated listens.

The album closer, Punks Jump to Get Beat Down, is a brilliant song with lyrics so problematic that some lines had to be rerecorded for release on their subsequent Greatest Hits compilation. Still, it is an undeniably potent evocation of the guilty pleasures of beating down punks who jump up for that very purpose. It also features an amazing beat from peak-era Diamond D, with a sample of “Gonna Fly Now” from the movie Rocky that dazzles us with its sheer hubris.

The album opener, “Allah U Akbar” (sic), is equally impressive in its own way. So impressive, in fact, that it deserves a detailed chronological analysis –  If not for its lyrical details, than at least for its weird sonic world and overall concept, or lack thereof.

Listen to the song on YouTube – But check out the timestamped links below for detailed analysis!

Read the lyrics on Genius

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Notes for a Memoir – Part 3

Continued from Part 1, Part 2, and the Addendum

  • Discovering Mexico; Changing My Life (Mexico Trip 1: Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita, Guadalajara, Guanajuato, Mexico City)
  • Back to Manila One Last Time, My Friends
  • An Interlude to Discuss the Finer Points of Buddhism
  • The Dissolution of a Friendship, or: Just Admit You’re Secretly in Love With Me, Already
  • Valentine’s Day Regrets, 2017, or: Eating Breakfast Alone at Jollibee on Valentine’s Day Is Not Very Romantic
  • Rooftop Bar Regrets
  • America: Land of Utterly Endearing Insanity (Related posts here and here)
  • Farewell to the Philippines (Hey, I already wrote a blog post about that! Now I just need to rewrite it to include more salacious details)
  • Climate Change and the Inevitable Collapse of Human Civilization
  • G. Bear: A New Friendship
  • The Dissolution of Another Friendship, or: Just Buy Me The Damn Hot Pot, Already
  • You Can’t Go Back: Totally Demoralizing And Utterly Failed Attempts to Recapture Past Glories Around the World
  • Moving to Mexico
  • COVID-19, or: A Great Excuse to Move Further Inward and Also Lose Weight
  • Toronto: The Least Worst Option in the Worst Possible World
  • Halifax: The Much Worse, But Still Probably Least Worst, Option for an Increasingly Bad World

Notes for a Memoir – Addendum

So far, I have written Part 1 and Part 2 of my notes for a never-to-be-written memoir. Before I hopefully start Part 3, I would like to sketch out a few chapters that either could be slotted into Parts 1 and 2, or that cover recurring themes that might not fit nearly into any linear chronology. In past instalments, I wrote brief summaries of what each chapter might cover. From this point forward, I would rather leave the chapter titles/descriptions even more vague, in the hopes that sample chapters will actually appear in this blog within the lifetime of the Earth’s Sun. And so, with only a little bit of further adieu…

Part 1

  • Going back to playschool after kindergarten, skipping a grade, and “special” classes, or: How to Disorient the Living Shit Out of a Child
  • Mr. Moskalyk, the Visionary Teacher Who Quite Possibly Left No Permanent Imprint on my Life, Because Life Is Pointless and Dumb
  • My violent mother-abusing alcoholic uncle who is totally dead now
  • My many schoolboy crushes (or: A study in proto-adolescent sexual repression)
  • All about autism, and what it can do for YOU
  • Dogs are, and always will be, better than people
  • Almost every dream I’ve ever been able to remember in my entire life has been unpleasant, or: Dreams
  • My A&B Sound Family (In retrospect, I already wrote at least one chapter of my memoir without even realizing it)
  • Temporary autistic obsessions:
    • Catalan music
    • Trains
    • Hip-hop
    • Terrible early ’90s techno-pop
    • Classical music
    • Cinema (As discussed in the newly-added chapter “My Hot Psychologist”)
    • Learning languages
    • [Redacted]
  • My Failed Career as an Early-Teen Filmmaker
  • Johann Sebastian Bach is the G.O.A.T.
  • Staying Up Til 3 AM playing Nintendo 64, Eating Potato Chips and Drinking Pop: A Study in Friendship
  • Beautiful Lady from the Dollar Store, Beautiful Lady from the Coffee Shop, and Other Beautiful Ladies Who I Spent A Lot of Time With But Was Afraid to Kiss
  • Watching Grandparents Die

Part 2

  • Almost getting shitcanned during pre-departure training for Manila because I was a hot, sticky mess of anxiety; bonding with the cutest gay guy ever during a starry post-training night on Parliament Hill
  • The existential rot of the autistic introvert trying to enjoy nightlife
  • Failed Pygmalion: How an eccentric rich Filipina made me her temporary, honourary son-in-law
  • Five Months in a Dilapidated Mansion
  • Living With Two Hot Sisters, Or: The Worst Mistake I Ever Made
  • Computer Programming: The Least Objectionable Profession
  • How I easily succumbed to shitty alpha male mind games, and hope I won’t again: pre-departure training for Vietnam
  • Loneliness – So, So Much Loneliness
  • That Time My Landlord Tried to Entice Me Into A Gay Orgy
  • Filipino Dentists and the Joy of Unnecessary Fillings
  • My five year pseudo-romance and its nightmarish end (related chapter: Breaking Up in Myanmar)
  • Khao San Road, A Beautiful Blond Danish Girl, and the Dying Gasps of My Youth
  • Am I Gay? And Other Conversation-Starters

A Little Free Writing

With all the things happening in the world, my reader (sic) might wonder why I’ve been so silent. The answer, to the extent that there is one: I had a fortuitously timed surge in my workload – fortuitous because it coincided with the rest of my life becoming boring and sad, like so many other people’s lives starting a few months into 2020. For a time, work for the sake of work became my primary distraction and purpose in life, which had the added benefit of granting me temporary insight into the lives of normal humans. Now that my workload has subsided, I can again return to a mixture of goofing off, acting insufferably entitled, and desperately grasping for meaning, i.e. by writing.

Now, you might think that half a year after my last post, I’d have a lot to share about the state of the world (both outer and inner) today. But, you’d be wrong – or at least, partially wrong. After half a year of letting my hyperverbal inclinations gather dust and gather rust, the first point of order is to clean out those leaf-clogged pipes and let the verbal fluid flow. And what better way to do that than with some cell phone autocomplete-esque free writing? Ha-hem.

Rickety bark snot consumed and complained of pleasant palpitations in its preposterous spleen additive. The thunderous crumpets of wilting agility snuggled up to the dessicated necktie of all things purple. Waggle waggle snorpity dazoozoozip. The cruel steel of the blade tore into his ambivalent protestations. Add three sticks of worry into the bubbling cauldron of uncertain pedigree, lick the fiery nipple six times to the left and twelve to the orange side, twist twice counterclockwise and five-point-Z times atop the translucent polka-dotted side of your bruised and battered Buddha figurine.

Drip, drip, drip – thus went the drooping dripping of the dreadful dreadnaught. Crispy, creamy, crumbling pillars, decaying ruins of a lost civilization of orange Oreo orangutan organisms. Slippery, dripping, persnickety, waffling waffles, wandering wands. The stream of chocolate vomit shot out from his friendship, angrily splattering across the bow of his amazing aunt. Do doodads do what doo-doo does best? Can your uncanny can-can cancel out the cantankerous cancer of the cantilever bridge? Nobody knows the answer, but almost half of everyone knows the question.

Thank you, and elbows.


Rushing Regretfully Toward Ivanovo

What follows is a travel story, about a trip where I took a great many photos. However, I may not post any photos in the article. Why? Well first of all, I am a profoundly lazy person, and the drudgery of digging through thousands of photos to find the least blurry ones, cropping them, and then resizing them hardly seems worth the nothing I am getting paid to write these posts.

And second, because photos would only get in the way of this self-pitying reflection on the bitter impermanence of all things.

I visited Bulgaria for the first time in 2016. I staggered in by bus from Thessaloniki, Greece with few expectations, and was immediately charmed. It was my first time in the Balkans, and I was fascinated by the characteristic intersection of the Slavic and Turkic worlds. I was intrigued by the combination of post-Communist stodginess and Mediterranean warm-heartedness. Also, it probably didn’t hurt that all the women looked like supermodels.

I spent some time in the capital of Sofia, where I managed to destroy my new phone while struggling to figure out the intricacies of a Southeastern European washing machine. (In case you’re wondering, you have to, like, put your clothes inside some sort of suspended cage while water sprays willy-nilly in every direction. And while you’re panicking, the lid comes crushing down and smashes the screen on your brand new phone.) And finally, with my barely operable phone, I left Sofia to continue on my journey. Read More

Some Thoughts on Canine Society

I recently took a trip to Zacatlan, Puebla. It’s technically a small city, but certainly feels more like an overgrown country town, in the best possible sense. The town has many delights to offer – Apples, great food, gorgeous mountain views, gregarious locals, apple-flavoured beverages, and apple-flavoured condiments. But one thing I always enjoy when visiting this type of town in Mexico is observing the free movement, congregation, and comings and goings of the local dogs, which wander from sidewalk to street to highway without an apparent care in the world. They gather freely for their inscrutable purposes, sniff each other’s butts, and eventually disperse, heading off on their next adventure.

Some of these dogs may be homeless, and some may have owners who simply let them roam without worry. Sometimes the homeless ones are obvious, and quite a tragic sight to behold. But in other cases, they’ve been on the receiving end of enough luck and/or tasty handouts from the local humans for the distinction to not be obvious. Either way, one of the wonderful things about dogs is that they do not discriminate on the basis of class. They have their friends and enemies, of course, and they choose them based on some mysterious set of criteria, of which smell is presumably close to the top. But happily, it seems that a disgusting skin or eye disease is no obstacle to the formation of a friendship or a strategic alliance. Read More

The Surprising Benefits of An Easy Life

For the last decade or so, I have single-mindedly dedicated myself to maximizing the freedom and minimizing any unwanted obligation in my life. I became a “digital nomad” so that external factors could not control where I chose to live, and so that nothing could stop me from traveling 12 months a year if I so chose. I have avoided serious romantic relationships and having children in order to avoid responsibility for the happiness of another human being.

I have seen how other human lives are weighed down by worry due to duties – Duties that were imposed, in some cases, by not being born into the comfortable middle class life that I happened to be born into, due to a combination of extraordinary good luck and my parents working harder than I ever will. But in many cases, these duties seem to freely chosen for nigh-incomprehensible reasons. Those around me, including many who weren’t much less lucky than me in terms of the hand they were dealt at birth, seemed to slavishly follow the conventional path of self-imposed obligation – Obligation to a full-time job; obligation to their spouses, their children; obligation to maintaining their expensive houses full of expensive things. I didn’t see much to envy in that kind of life, and mostly I still don’t. You might think my aloof freedom has made me arrogant and dismissive of people who choose more conventional lives of family and professional success. You wouldn’t be 100% wrong there; but I’m also keenly aware that having a ridiculous degree of autonomy and control over my own life probably hasn’t made me much happier in the long run.

And therein lie the hidden benefits of having a life free of obvious hardship, free of obvious external challenges to fight, be frustrated by, and push back again.

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Victor and the Void

The sound was awful. Every morning, Victor was awakened by the screaming of the Void – A shrill, overpowering noise whose awfulness seemed to transcend any normal laws of acoustics. And yet, each morning, Victor plodded over to the edge of the Void and dutifully shoveled in a fresh batch of Void food. After that, the Void’s screaming would become marginally less terrible for a time – or perhaps it didn’t, and it was all in Victor’s head, the mildly diverting delusions of a man who had been feeding the Void for as long as he could remember.

Either way, each and every morning, Victor faithfully executed his duty and fed the Void. He did this because the alternative would have been, somehow, even worse than the status quo – or then again, maybe not. And it didn’t seem to matter whether he fed it a few scant morsels of Void food or a big, generous, heaping portion – within a few minutes of feeding time, the screaming seemed to revert to its mean level of intolerability.

No matter what he did or didn’t do – although he inevitably stopped short of contemplating the bold concept of not feeding the Void at all – the Void’s interminable wailing continued throughout the day. Inbetween the daily feedings, Victor busied himself with crossword puzzles, cooking light meals (of human food, naturally; Void food is for void and human food is for humans), and, occasionally, brutal acts of self-mutilation. In the long run, and on average, ferreting out esoteric synonyms and digging up dusty old pop culture references in the crosswords was no more or less effective a distraction than harsh jolts of self-inflicted pain.

Because no matter what, Victor was there, and the Void was there, and the enormous sack of Void Chow somehow managed to perpetually remain half-filled. That tattered old bag was always at precisely 50% of capacity, and it seemed to scarcely matter whether he plucked the morsels of chow out one at a time, making a game of aiming them straight into the middle of the nothingness; or whether he frantically shoveled them into the Void’s insatiable maw, heaving in fresh heaps until he reached the point of exhaustion. Sometimes, as another completely futile act of self-distraction, he would make a game of tossing each tiny particle of Void food directly into the exact centre of the strictly circumscribed nothingness. But in the end, every day was the same, the Void was always the Void, and Victor was always Victor. The sheer sameness of it all was almost more terrible than the horrible, horrible wailing itself. But no, that unending shriek of unfathomable, infinite, and yet somehow abstract pain was probably still worse.

And then the Void burped. There was a brief lull, and then it resumed its relentless shrieking.