FOUR IGNOBLE TRUTHS

Before I write anything, I want to say that I am a die-hard Nirvana fan from way back. Being fair, when they released their first album “Bleach” in 1989, I was only 9 years old. Which means, I hadn’t hit puberty yet, I had no inclination whatsoever to “rebel” against anything or anybody, and while I did like seeing their videos on MTV when “Nevermind” came out in 1991, I didn’t get big into them until after 1993’s “In Utero” and 1994’s “MTV Unplugged In New York” were out.

And as any Nirvana fan (or literally anyone with an internet connection) can tell you, The “Unplugged” album was released November 1, 1994, which was about 7 months after Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain took his own life.

I didn’t really get into them until after Kurt killed himself. It wasn’t morbid curiosity as much as it was simply that Nirvana was all over MTV all the time for at least a year or two after Kurt’s death.

I mean, yeah, some of it probably was morbid curiosity. But this post-suicide mass-media blitz of Nirvana coincided with me first starting to take an interest in playing the guitar. I was 14 when Kurt killed himself, and that was also right around when I first started sneaking out my stepdad’s Martin and messing with it.

And being that Nirvana’s last album was played with (mostly) acoustic instruments, and furthermore being that Kurt was playing a Martin acoustic-electric in that show, well, sitting in the living room with my stepdad’s Martin and watching Kurt’s hands to see if they matched up with my tab book took on a special significance to me. I honestly get teary-eyed just thinking about it.

Nirvana was an awesome band. Their music was loud, kickass, and completely devoid of fakery and pretension. They got up on stage and rocked, and they were damn good at it.

And Kurt Cobain’s willingness to share the “Unplugged” stage with Kurt and Cris Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets was also super badass and cool, because it introduced me to an awesome band that MTV ignored, for the most part.

Kurt’s suggestions

Had to stop and wipe away tears for a second, sorry.

Kurt talked about other bands he liked in interviews, as well as liner notes of albums. He never came across as a rock star, he was just a dude that liked listening to and playing music. The Vaselines were another of Kurt’s favorite bands, and like the Meat Puppets, they became one of my favorite bands too.

And I don’t know if I should keep writing this, because it’s sort of an angry reaction to the film “Montage Of Heck” that I finally watched a few days ago (August 7, 2022) about 7 years after it was released.

Out of all the Nirvana documentaries I have seen, I hate “Montage Of Heck” the least. I hate it less than the others because it’s more about Kurt and Nirvana’s music, and less about trying to point fingers at Courtney Love and blame her for his death.

But I still hate it, and I don’t recommend it. What I recommend is that if you’re interested in Nirvana’s music, you should listen to Nirvana’s music. Because their music kicked ass.

And it makes me sad, really, that nowadays kids (and/or adults) who are learning guitar are more likely to see documentaries about Nirvana, as opposed to watching them play on TV and trying to play along at home.

During “Montage Of Heck,” there’s an old interview with Nirvana where the interviewer asks the band to explain what their music means, and I think all 3 band members basically replied that it means different things to different people, and that’s fine. They suggested that people just listen to the music and react to the music, instead of sticking a camera in their face and asking them questions about it.

There are multiple times when Kurt (and others) express their distaste for rock journalists. And it wasn’t just because those journalists were writing about unpleasant things in Kurt’s personal life. Kurt and the rest of them disliked getting praise heaped upon them, calling them rock stars or the “voice of a generation” and all that bullshit.

Nirvana – whether you like their music or not (and it does not matter one iota to me if you don’t) – were anti-bullshit.

And that’s why I am writing this. Because “Montage Of Heck” misses some fairly obvious “truths” about Kurt as well as Nirvana, and in the spirit of Kurt and Nirvana’s zero-bullshit approach to everything, as a huge fan of the band, I feel I would be letting them down by not pointing this stuff out. Even though what I am about to write isn’t all glowing praise.

I want to make something clear about these “4 Ignoble Truths” I am about to lay out here: they are not meant to be a stain on Kurt Cobain’s legacy, or on Nirvana’s legacy.

All the bullshit documentaries are a way bigger stain on that than this little blog post could ever be, in my opinion. If there’s ever another Nirvana documentary, it should be concert footage, with maybe a backstage interview or two.

Leave all the other bullshit out, including computer animated comic strips of scribbles stolen from a dead man’s private journals.

Anyway, the reason I decided to call this post “4 Ignoble Truths” is because (as you may or may not know), “Nirvana” is a term borrowed from Hindu and Buddhist traditions.

Here’s the definition of “nirvana” that Google just gave me, when I searched for “nirvana definition”:

nir·va·na

/nərˈvänə,nirˈvänə/

noun

(in Buddhism) a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth. It represents the final goal of Buddhism.

I don’t think Kurt was a Buddhist. I’m not one either. But I would be lying if I said Buddhist philosophy has had no impact on my life, because honestly the effect has been pretty profound.

But getting back to the point, if Kurt had any sort of philosophical reasons for naming his band Nirvana, I think it might have been because (at least when the band was first getting started), he felt that transcendence when he was playing music, and all of the other bad stuff in his life was gone while he was playing music.

For him, playing music produced a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and all sorts of good stuff like that.

Or maybe not. It’s a cool name for a band, whether there was any thought put into it or not.

But since “nirvana” is a Buddhist term, and since there are “4 Noble Truths” of Buddhism, “4 Ignoble Truths” seemed like a good enough way to frame this blog post.

Here are the 4 Noble Truths, simplified somewhat:

1. The truth of suffering (all beings suffer)
2. The truth of the origin of suffering (there is a reason all beings suffer)
3. The truth of the end of suffering
4. The truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering.

For Kurt, I think that maybe music was the path that led away from suffering. But that’s just me shooting off at the mouth.

On with the show:

4 IGNOBLE TRUTHS

1. Kurt Cobain’s infamous stomach problems were a direct result of heroin use.

The first song I ever learned to play on guitar was “Pennyroyal Tea.” The chorus of it goes:

I sit and drink Pennyroyal Tea
Distill the life that’s inside of me

And so on. Back when I was 14 or 15, sitting in the living room, watching Nirvana play this song on the VHS tapes I recorded from MTV, trying to match my fretting hand to what Kurt was doing, comparing differences between what he was doing and what was in the Unplugged tab book, as well as differences between the Unplugged tab book and the In Utero tab book, I got to wondering what the hell “Pennyroyal Tea” even was.

And maybe I read this in Rolling Stone or Guitar World or something like that, or maybe I looked it up on the internet at school (the internet not being nearly as ubiquitous back then as it is now), but somewhere I read or heard Kurt say that Pennyroyal Tea was something he drank to deal with the stomach problems he had basically all the time.

I remember reading about this back then, also: Kurt went to see all kinds of doctors about his stomach problems, and none of them ever found anything other than minor irritation in his stomach.

This was mentioned in “Montage Of Heck” as well.

And I’m not speaking from direct experience here, but I myself have personally witnessed healthy adults – for whom an alcohol hangover is no big deal – knocked on their asses, calling in sick to work with stomach problems after doing tiny amounts of recreational opiates.

Opiates cause stomach problems. Every doctor knows this, every opiate addict knows this, everyone who has seen the movie “Trainspotting” knows this.

The fact that opiates cause stomach problems is, for all intents and purposes, common knowledge.

But in the case of Kurt Cobain, every journalist and documentarian (and fan) in the damn world seems to have forgotten this.

When Kurt said things like “I started taking heroin, because it’s the only thing that cured my stomach problems,” there’s some sort of collective blindness that prevents basically everyone from recognizing that the heroin was CAUSING the stomach problems.

Doctors couldn’t find ANYTHING wrong with his stomach, other than mild irritation.

And here we have to ask ourselves: did Kurt suffer from some unknown, never-before-seen and totally unique stomach condition?

Or was his stomach condition the same pain and discomfort every single opiate addict EVER has felt?

Which is the more likely explanation?

If it sounds like I am trying to demonize Kurt for being addicted to heroin, I am most certainly not.

I am just calling “bullshit” on the idea that his stomach problems were unique in any way, because they weren’t. They were a direct result of his heroin use, and maybe on some level he knew that, and maybe on some level everybody else has always known that.

But they don’t talk about it in documentaries, and I have never seen anyone in any interview about him say that.

Addiction is a disease, not only because it physically ruins a person’s body over time. It’s also a mental disease, because it causes the victim to assign blame for every negative outcome to everything (and everyone) except the addiction.

Kurt took heroin and had stomach pains afterward. Then he took some more heroin and the stomach pain went away temporarily.

But he never made the connection that heroin was the reason he had stomach pain to begin with.

At some point in “Montage Of Heck,” an interviewer even asks Kurt whether the stomach problems helped inspire his music and art, and he said that it probably did.

And if that isn’t denial, I don’t know what denial would look like.

In “Montage Of Heck,” Kurt’s former girlfriend Tracy Marander talks about how she had heard that Kurt had started using heroin while they were still together, but that he hid it from her initially.

And incidentally, it was around this time when he started having stomach problems. Anyway, this is a good enough time as any to move on to Ignoble Truth #2:

2. Kurt Cobain exploited women.

Get mad.

No, really, get mad.

After you get mad at me for saying this about Kurt, somebody who created music that you and I both love and have strong emotional attachments to, watch “Montage Of Heck” again.

Pay extra close attention to the part where he goes over to the mentally challenged girl’s house and has sex with her.

Notice how when he’s talking about his friends that went to her house to steal liquor, they’re all presented as bad guys, and he was just along for the ride.

But then, when he goes over there alone and has sex with her, he never feels guilty about it at all, at least not in what he wrote about it in private journals.

In those journals, he talks about being made fun of at school for it. He talks about how he was the victim, not her.

If you’re still able to watch that shit without throwing up, find the part where his former girlfriend Tracy Marander talks about how she supported him completely for quite some time, while he sat around playing his guitar and/or painting.

I understand, more than you will ever know: if you don’t have time to create, you can’t create. And sure, the world owes Tracy Marander a debt of gratitude for being Kurt’s patron/girlfriend, while he wrote songs and got his band together.

But the world also needs to remember that Kurt ditched her like she was a used Kleenex when he found somebody he liked better. With no remorse or regret.

While Kurt was drawing “Mr. Moustache” in his notebook, talking about how overly masculine “jock”-type men were teaching boys how to exploit women, he was himself actively exploiting Tracy Marander. Mr. Moustache taught him quite well.

It’s not pleasant to think about, but there it is.

Incidentally, around the time Kurt broke up with Tracy, he also fired Chad Channing, Nirvana’s drummer on their first album “Bleach.”

Which brings me to Ignoble Truth #3:

3. Dave Grohl is the reason Nirvana made it big.

For the record, I don’t think Dave Grohl would ever say that, or even necessarily think it.

But without his aggressive and complex drumming, “Nevermind” would not have happened.

Don’t believe me? Listen to “In Bloom.”

If you’ve never played with a drummer (or a drum machine, for that matter), you might not know this, but when there’s a beat being played, musical ideas occur to you that you would never have had without the beat.

To be clear: I am not a rock star, or even an especially good guitarist. But I have had the privilege of playing with some pretty talented drummers here and there in my life, and I can only describe the experience as transcendent.

The drummer starts playing a beat, your body starts to involuntarily twitch around and move because of the beat, and you find places to put notes and chords that sound amazing, even if what you’re playing on guitar (or bass) doesn’t amount to much.

But you find that sweet spot to strum a chord, and that makes the drummer add something else too. And then you find something else simple to add because of what they just added, and then they add something else, and the next thing you know you’re playing the coolest shit you’ve ever played in your life, even though it’s just a chord or two.

Listen to “In Bloom.” Without Dave Grohl, that song would sound like shit. I would go as far as to say that without Dave Grohl, that song would not have ever been written.

And as I mentioned, I don’t think Dave would ever try to claim that he was the reason for Nirvana’s commercial breakthrough.

But I am here to tell you: he absolutely was the reason they made it big. Just like John Bonham was the reason Led Zeppelin made it big, just like Neil Peart was the reason Rush made it big, just like Danny Carey was the reason Tool made it big, the list goes on and on.

People who don’t actually play music – like many of the rock journalists Nirvana hated – always look at the guy who’s singing and give him all the credit. But I am here to tell you: without a solid drummer, your favorite rock band would suck ass.

And that includes Nirvana. Dave Grohl’s drumming took them from playing shitty underground clubs to playing stadiums. Like it or not, it’s the truth.

And finally, Ignoble Truth #4

4. Courtney Love is not responsible for Kurt Cobain’s suicide.

“Montage Of Heck” doesn’t say that she was, to be fair to that documentary, which like I said I hate the least out of all of the Nirvana documentaries I have seen.

But the last thing that’s talked about is how Courtney almost cheated on Kurt in Rome, right before he swallowed a bunch of Rohypnol and almost died.

“Montage Of Heck” just told what happened, from Courtney’s point of view. Unlike at least a couple documentaries that accuse her of actually murdering him, or hiring somebody to.

And I hate those documentaries way more than “Montage Of Heck,” because they’re all based on bullshit.

And the time in Rome, when Kurt couldn’t get any heroin and got mad at Courtney for talking to some other guy (or whatever “almost cheated on him” means), that wasn’t the first time Kurt tried to kill himself.

In fact, “Montage Of Heck” tells about once when Kurt got good and stoned and sat on the train tracks near his house, hoping a train would hit him. And the only reason the train didn’t hit him is because it was on the next track over from where Kurt was sitting.

There were two train tracks laid out side by side. Kurt sat on one, hoping to get hit, and the next train that went through there was on the other track.

Which means, the only reason Nirvana ever existed is because Kurt Cobain, as a teenager, sat on the wrong train track for his suicide attempt.

So don’t try and tell me Courtney Love hired somebody to stage his suicide. Don’t try to tell me she was faking, when she was squalling on MTV reading his suicide note.

She wasn’t faking, and she didn’t have him killed.

He killed himself. He had tried to do it multiple times before.

Look, I get it. You don’t want to believe that somebody you admire disliked themselves enough to stick a shotgun in his mouth and pull the trigger.

Nobody wants to believe it, when that sort of thing happens.

But it happens all the time. People get so mixed up emotionally that the only way they see out is death.

And if you or someone you know feels that way, you should know that you’re not alone. There are people who can help you start seeing things more clearly.

There’s a number you can call: 988.

Here’s an NPR story about it.

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2022/07/15/1111316589/988-suicide-hotline-number

If you’re struggling, just remember, you can make your life better if you try. And there are people on call all the time, ready to help you remember how to be happy again.

To sum up, I am and always will be a die-hard Nirvana fan. For my money, there has never been a more kickass band, before or since.

But as Aunt Esther always said, “The truth will set you free.”

Here’s to being free. 🙂

It’s Just The Way This Stuff Is Done

To remind: re the designation of this post as “philosophy,” I am not a philosopher. “Philosophy” just sounded smarter to me than “Musings” or “Thoughts” or whatever. But at the same time, my own “personal philosophy” or whatever you want to call it also plays a big role in the content of these posts, so various philosophical ideas may or may not be apparent in some or all of these posts, to people familiar with those ideas.

Or, maybe not. It’s possible that my own personal interpretations of various philosophical ideas are wrong, and that these philosophies were (possibly) misunderstood by me and misapplied by me. And if that’s the case, I say so be it. 🙂

At any rate, this post is based in personal experience, and it can be applied in a wide variety of situations. It’s not rooted specifically in one philosophy or religious tradition, but what I feel to be the “spirit” of the idea is present in several philosophies as well as religions, including Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and probably Islam too, I am just not as well-versed in the texts related to Islam as I am in the other 3 religions I mentioned here.

But instead of quoting scriptures, I will just get to the point: in life, you will occasionally find yourself in a situation where you want to say something or do something in retaliation for what somebody else has said about you or done to you.

The point of this post is to tell you that retaliation is most likely not going to help you in any tangible way. So, this post is somewhere in the philosophical area of “turn the other cheek,” but it isn’t quite that radical. I advocate hitting back, I mean. 🙂

At the same time, I know (from experience) that there are people in the world who will hit you, just so they can run tell the teacher when you hit them back.

So to speak. 🙂

And the thing about these people is, the teacher’s gonna believe them, because for one they’ve been kissing her ass all year, and for two, they’re gonna tell every kid they see in the hallway on the way to the teacher that you hit them, and by the time the teacher hears about it, all the other kids are pointing their fingers at you.

So, if you find yourself in a situation where you want to retaliate, first consider the very real possibility that the other person wants you to retaliate. So they can run tell the teacher about the horrible thing you did to them or said to them that wasn’t half as bad as what they did or said to you.

Why do people do stuff like that? Who knows. Another thing you should know is that wondering why people do stuff like that is also a waste of time, generally speaking. They just do.

What can you do about it? Nothing.

That’s right: do nothing. They are trying to start a fire. Don’t give them any fuel and they can’t start one. 🙂

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgfHSeLL9oQ

OKAY

It’s like if you worked at the mall. Like, for 3 1/2 years or so, with very little time off.

But you liked the job, so you didn’t mind. And you worked hard at the job, and you liked everybody you worked with.

And you used to hang out at the mall for fun, like before you got the job, but pretty soon you figured out that working at the mall put money in your bank account, and just hanging out there didn’t.

And you liked the job, like I said, but sometimes it could be a lot of work. Which wasn’t a problem since you liked the work.

And you worked so hard and were so reliable as a worker that you ended up doing way more than you were hired for. Like, way more.

And some of what you ended up doing required a decent amount of skill. Skills that people who had worked there longer than you (and got paid more than you) didn’t have.

And it wasn’t just skilled labor you ended up doing. When you got done doing the skilled labor most of your coworkers didn’t know how to do, you also had to do relatively unskilled tasks your coworkers didn’t want to do.

Such as standing outside the store, holding a sign, inviting people into the store, telling them about specials in the store. Or sweeping up, taking out the trash, stuff like that.

Then one day, the owner of the store announces that they’re gonna buy this really expensive coffee machine for the break room. It’s just like the one at Starbucks, except better. Any kind of fancy schmancy coffee you want, this thing can make it at the touch of a button.

Which is gonna be great, you think, as you’re standing out in the mall in front of the store, dog-tired from being there every day, for like the past two months.

Like every day, you’re working weekends now too. But that super-deluxe ultra-badass coffee machine is gonna make it all worthwhile, you think.

And I do mean badass. You look the thing up on the internet, and it’s wicked expensive. Like, this coffee machine costs more than you’re going to make for the next four or five months.

Not four or five days, not four or five weeks, not four or five paychecks. Four or five months of what you’re getting paid, that’s what this thing is gonna cost. Nearly half of what the store paid you last year, that’s what this coffee machine is going to cost.

But it’s going to be sweet, you imagine, being able to get all those fancy schmancy coffees any time you want, at the touch of a button.

You think about what kind of coffee you’re going to try first, as you close up the store for the night. You go home genuinely excited, and that night you dream of mocha lattes, frappuccinos, and all sorts of fancy shit like that.

You get up the next morning and go to the mall, like you’ve been doing most every day (weekends included) for the past 3 1/2 years. And you insert your key to open up the pull-down security door… but the key doesn’t work.

You stand there confused for a couple minutes, making sure you didn’t insert the wrong key.

Then you see the owner of the store through the bars of the security door. They’re sipping an orange mocha frappuccino, smiling, holding an envelope.

“Hey buddy!” the owner says to you. “Sorry to have to tell you like this, but you’re fired.”

You stand there, dumbfounded. “What for?” you ask them.

“Don’t worry,” the owner says. “It’s not because of poor job performance, and it’s not because of anything you did.”

“Okay,” you reply. “Then why have I been fired?”

“It was a strictly financial decision,” the owner tells you. “Everybody here likes you, and we appreciate all your hard work, but profits are down, and we just can’t afford to keep paying you anymore.”

“Okay,” you reply.

The owner sticks the envelope through the bars of the security door. “Here’s your last paycheck,” the owner says, and takes a big slurping sip of fancy-schmancy coffee.

“Thanks,” you say. You stand there like a dope for about 30 seconds, then go home.

That’s what it’s like, pretty much.

And it’s not like you don’t want your former coworkers to have fancy-schmancy coffee on their breaks. They work hard too, and they deserve fancy-schmancy coffee as much as anybody.

But you’re probably not going to hang out at the flipping mall again for a long-ass time, if at all.

That’s what it’s like.

THE WURLITZER PRIZE

They ought to give me the Wurlitzer prize
For all the silver I let slide down the slot
Playing those songs sung blue
To help me remember you
I don’t want to get over you

That’s the chorus to “The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don’t Want To Get Over You)” by Waylon Jennings, written by Chips Moman and Bobby Emmons. The song is from the 1978 album “Waylon & Willie,” Willie of course being Willie Nelson.

The song is from the point of view of someone who is holding on to a relationship that has ended. The song doesn’t say specifically how the relationship ended, it’s just over, and the singer doesn’t want it to be over.

So, he (or she, Kacey Musgraves did a version of the song a few years back) goes to places he went with his old flame, back when they were still together. He plays sad songs on the jukebox (“Wurlitzer” is a brand of jukebox) and sits there remembering the good times, feeling sorry for himself and crying into his beer.

To be clear: this is one of my favorite songs, from any genre. I’m not poking fun at it, I am just telling you what it’s about.

I like the song because it’s catchy, it’s fun to sing along with, and it’s not that hard to play on the guitar. And at just over 2 minutes long, whoever happens to be around when I’m playing and singing it won’t have to endure the torture of listening to me sing for very long, ha ha.

I also like it because I can relate to it. Years and years ago, I had a relationship end that I didn’t want to end. But it ended anyway, and I was sad about it.

I moved on then, many long years ago, but then something terrible happened. And “terrible” doesn’t even begin to describe what happened. There isn’t a word or series of words that can describe how awful this was: she committed suicide.

The aftereffects of that event haunt me to this day. I mean, it was 14 years ago now, and here I am blogging about it. It’s not something that gets me down or anything nowadays, but I do still think about it.

Here’s a visual analogy: imagine that my mind is a swimming pool, and the waves that gently reverberate back and forth across the water are my thoughts.

Now imagine that someone dropped a boulder into the middle of that pool, from a very great height: there’s such a huge splash that the pool is now half empty, and the water that’s still in there is crashing violently against the sides of the pool.

Over the years, I tried to heft the boulder out of the pool (so to speak) but it kept falling back in, creating more waves.

Now, all these years later, the boulder is still there, on the bottom of the pool. The pool itself has been refilled, and somehow the boulder has shrunk quite a bit. And sometimes when I am treading water in the pool (so to speak) I might stump my toe on the boulder’s jagged edges. And when I do that, it hurts pretty damn bad.

That’s how it is, all these years later. And either the pool is getting deeper or the boulder is still shrinking, because I don’t stump my toe on it nearly as often now.

Here’s how all this relates to the song quoted at the beginning of this post: for a good long while after this huge jagged boulder was dropped into the swimming pool of my mind, I would periodically swim out to the boulder and kick it on purpose.

So to speak.

I would do what the singer of the song is doing, except in my case there was no jukebox. I just used my phone or computer to listen to sad songs and cry into my beer.

I would sit there and get drunk, and play a certain set of songs that reminded me of the event, and just cry and cry and cry.

To be clear: I am not bragging about this. But I don’t feel particularly ashamed of it either, at least not anymore.

I am writing this to tell you that late one night, if memory serves on a work night, meaning I had to work the next morning, I found myself with my head down on my computer desk, forehead resting on my crossed hands, which were wet from all the tears, snot pouring out of my nose, silently sobbing, feeling horrible, head starting to hurt…

And I realized: I was enjoying this.

To be clear, there were times when I honestly believe that I needed to do that. I needed to just sit down and cry about it for a while. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I can tell you from experience: repressing negative emotions only makes things worse, in almost any situation.

But I went way past the point of it being healthy. The first few times I did that – stay up late listening to sad songs, drinking my face off, and crying like a baby, I mean – it was cathartic. The last few times, it was no longer cathartic, it was just me crying and snotting all over the place, clinging to the strong emotions it made me feel.

And maybe someday I will be able to explain what I mean more clearly, but for today I will just say that this one night (which was several years ago now) I realized that on some level, I was making myself feel horrible for the simple reason that I enjoyed it.

And when I realized that I was enjoying this strange torture I was putting myself through, I couldn’t enjoy it anymore.

It wasn’t that I became ashamed of what I was doing. I was ashamed of it already, that’s why I only did it late at night, by myself.

What happened was, I became conscious of the fact that I was enjoying it.

There was nobody making me do that. There was no rational reason to do that. Going back to the swimming pool analogy, the jagged boulder of the suicide was underwater, in the deep end of the pool, sticking up just enough so I might accidentally stub my toe on it every now and then.

And entirely of my own volition, on my own, with nobody telling me to do this, I would swim out to the middle of the deep end and kick that jagged boulder as hard as I could. Then I would sit on the edge of the pool, crying because my toe hurt.

To be clear, grief is a much more serious thing than stumping a toe. And I am not writing this to make anyone feel guilty about their grief.

I am writing this because somewhere out there in internet land, there might be somebody out there doing what I used to do, swimming out to the deep end of their pool and kicking the boulder (or boulders) that sit on the bottom.

And I just wanted to tell you: you don’t have to do that.

Thank you for reading. 🙂

The Upside Down

There are spoilers for the Netflix show “Stranger Things” in this post.

Be warned: this post is my own wonky interpretation of the show, based entirely on my subjective viewing of the show.

I am not arguing that what I am about to write is what the show is “really about” or that this interpretation will even enhance your viewing of the show in any meaningful way.

But anyways, here goes:

The world of “Stranger Things” is immersed in nostalgia. Everywhere, the viewer sees nostalgic images, hears nostalgic music, and is presented with scenes and plot devices that are themselves nostalgic, in that they mimic scenes from blockbuster movies like the original “Jurassic Park” (raptors = demidogs) or “The Exorcist” (when Will is possessed by The Mind Flayer) or many other such scenes.

To say that the show “Stranger Things” is immersed in nostalgia is an understatement.

But there is one recurring part of the show that is not nostalgic, that does not evoke warm, fuzzy feelings: “The Upside Down.”

The Upside Down is a parallel dimension where faceless monsters prowl around, looking for prey. The Upside Down is also inhabited (and possibly created) by a shadowy monster called The Mind Flayer who appears in visions over the sky of the town.

The Upside Down is just like Hawkins, Indiana (the show’s fictional middle class, midwestern setting), in that landmarks from Hawkins appear in The Upside Down, but they are all dilapidated, covered with dust, broken down and so on.

Here is my interpretation of what I have written about so far:

Hawkins, Indiana (as well as the California town in Season 4), as mentioned, is immersed in nostalgia.

When the various characters in the show enter The Upside Down, they are leaving this nostalgic bubble that they exist in.

Similarly, when viewers finish watching an episode of “Stranger Things,” they are leaving the nostalgic bubble that the show creates for them.

Before I continue, I want to make clear that I am a huge fan of the show. I am not trying to denigrate the show or its viewership by pointing this stuff out, I am just offering my wonky interpretation of the show.

Here it is, for real this time:

“The Mind Flayer,” the dark entity that kidnaps and later possesses Will Byers, is itself representative of the nostalgia that the show is immersed in.

And when characters from the show go into The Upside Down, they are leaving the nostalgic bubble and entering the world of the present day, in which all of the nostalgic elements of Hawkins, Indiana are long dead and gone.

(Madonna’s “This Used To Be My Playground” plays softly, inside your head.)

Nostalgia, in addition to giving us the warm and fuzzies, can also become an incredibly destructive force in our lives. When we as humans indulge in nostalgia, we deceive ourselves into thinking that “the good old days” – whenever they were for us as individuals – were actually better than the present day.

Here’s another spoiler for you: the good old days weren’t as idyllic as you remember them. Bad things happened then, too. People weren’t any more or less “good” back then, whenever “back then” was for you.

To be clear, hopefully: remembering “the good old days” can be a very positive thing, for a million different reasons.

But at the same time, it can very easily become a trap, in that it makes the present day seem like The Upside Down, where everything is old and used up and dilapidated.

If a person spends all their time immersed in nostalgia, it becomes more and more difficult to appreciate the positive aspects of life in the present day.

And this perspective-skewing (and highly addictive) manifestation of nostalgic thinking is what The Mind Flayer represents.

Think about it: in Season 2, as Will and his friends go trick or treating in their matching Ghostbusters outfits, with all kinds of nostalgic images and sounds bombarding the viewer, Will goes into a trance and finds himself in The Upside Down.

All the nostalgic Halloween-themed stuff is gone, and Will is left alone with the massive Mind Flayer, who is towering above him in the sky, with its various limbs dug into the ground.

Later, Will sees The Mind Flayer again and is possessed by it. And the way in which he is possessed is key: The Mind Flayer becomes a cloud of dust (or something) and enters Will through his eyes, ears, mouth, and nose.

Think about how we experience nostalgia: when we see something that reminds us of childhood, we feel warm and fuzzy. When we hear a song from years ago, memories can be triggered. When we taste or smell food we haven’t eaten in decades, our minds can involuntarily drift away to another time and place.

And no matter how great our lives are in the present day, when we awake from these momentary lapses into nostalgia, we as humans have the tendency to tell ourselves that “back then” was better than now, when that quite simply is not the case, in any meaningful sense.

Of course there are exceptions. For some people, the past may have been more pleasant.

But even then, too much nostalgia can make the present day seem worse than it is. What was can (and often does) blind us to what is.

And this negative aspect of nostalgia is what The Mind Flayer represents, in my interpretation.

In season 2, as mentioned, The Mind Flayer possesses Will Byers by turning into a cloud of dust (or smoke, or something like that) and going into his sense organs.

After the possession is over, in Season 3, Will’s friends have girlfriends, and they don’t want to play Dungeons and Dragons with him any more.

There is a painfully emotional scene in Season 3 where Will dresses up in his Will The Wise dungeon master outfit, and tries to get Mike and Lucas to engage in his Dungeons and Dragons campaign, one which he spent a lot of time preparing for them.

But Mike and Lucas are more concerned about a recent fight with their girlfriends. They mock Will’s game, and Will leaves.

Mike follows Will outside, and asks him, did you really think we would never get girlfriends and just play games for the rest of our lives?

And Will – who was possessed by The Mind Flayer, representing negative, backward-looking aspects of nostalgia – answers “Yeah, I guess I did.”

Watch the show if you haven’t, it’s pretty awesome. It’s a nostalgic thrill ride that will press psychological buttons you forgot you had.

But don’t get so involved in it that everything outside of your TV starts looking like The Upside Down.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

SPOILER ALERT: THAT’S NOT NEO

Merry Christmas! Just wanted to say that to everyone, and also to share something I found interesting about the new Matrix movie:

You may or may not know this, but a few years ago, “redpilled” (a Matrix reference) was being used by online misogynists to indicate that they had figured out the “truth” about women.

9/11 truthers were “redpilled” when they decided to believe “inside job” theories, Flat Earthers might consider themselves “redpilled” when they start believing the Earth is flat, etc. And people who don’t believe those things are “bluepilled.”

This refers to a scene in the first Matrix movie, where Neo is told to choose between a red pill and a blue pill. If he takes the blue pill, nothing in his life will change, but if he takes the red pill, he will “wake up” from the simulated reality of the Matrix and see the real world for the first time. Of course, Neo takes the red pill in the first Matrix movie, and that’s where the internet got the “redpilled/bluepilled” thing.

Sorry for explaining what you probably already know, ha ha. But anyway, circa 2016 or so, online misogynists, pick up artists, etc. were using “redpilled” to indicate to each other that they “knew the truth” about women, this “truth” being bullshit like “all women are manipulative,” “Feminism castrates men,” etc.

At least one of the Wachowskis commented on that, I am pretty sure. And that community may have stopped using “redpilled” but who knows. I think the term has migrated back to non-misogynistic conspiracy theorists, but at one point it was being used by misogynists all the time. 

Anyway, getting to the point, early in the new Matrix movie, Keanu Reeves’ character is shown at least a few times as someone other than Keanu Reeves. A white haired bald man is shown as Keanu Reeves’ reflection at least once, when his character leaps off a roof in a flashback, it’s clearly not Keanu Reeves leaping off the roof, etc. 

This is explained away with convoluted nonsense in the film, as one might expect. And this “Keanu Reeves might not actually be Neo in this film” element is never explained or explored beyond showing a different person in the mirror a few times. 

I apologize if you haven’t watched it yet, but as you may have read or otherwise heard already, “rescuing Trinity” is the main plot point of the second half of the film. “Neo” wakes up again about halfway through and is told Trinity has been captured by the machines again, and is in one of those pod things.

I need to back up here: Carrie-Anne Moss appears in the first half of the film. But she isn’t “Trinity,” her name is “Tiffany” and she’s married to “Chad.”

“Chad” has been used on the internet a lot, to refer to some woman’s handsome boyfriend or husband. The same people who said “redpilled” to refer to becoming misogynist pickup artists would use “Chad” as an attempt at an insult, to the husbands, boyfriends, etc. of women they wanted to date. 

It’s often in the context of delusional “if she only knew the real me, she would dump Chad” fantasies.

And I apologize if I am spoiling anything, but in the new Matrix movie, Keanu Reeves’ character (ostensibly Neo, but with a different reflection at times) only knows Carrie-Anne Moss’s character because he has seen her in a coffee shop. 

Keanu Reeves’ character is basically stalking her character in the movie. But it’s presented as if he is “rescuing” her from a delusion where she loves her husband and children, a delusion where she doesn’t fully remember being Trinity. Keanu’s character also knows where she works, and he goes and visits her – uninvited – at her work in the movie. 

There are probably other instances of this sort of thing that I missed, but in short, Keanu Reeves’ character behaves like a “redpilled” misogynist stalker creep in the movie. And as you know, in the first movie, Neo takes the red pill and unwittingly started the whole “redpilled” internet thing. 

What I am saying is this: in the new Matrix movie, Keanu Reeves does not portray “Neo” at all, Keanu Reeves portrays someone else entirely, a “redpilled” stalker who has delusional fantasies about how he is a superhero and the woman he is stalking is secretly in love with him. 

The entire movie (including “Analyst” scenes with Neil Patrick Harris) is a fantasy concocted by Keanu Reeves’ character, a fantasy that internally justifies his stalking of Carrie-Anne Moss’s character in the film. 

“The Analyst” is not actually the entity running the Matrix, “The Analyst” is just an analyst, and when he attempts to break through all of Keanu’s character’s delusions, the character mentally transforms the analyst into a nemesis and incorporates him into the fantasy. Which of course, the fantasy ends with “The Analyst” being defeated and “Trinity” remembering who she is. 

Which would be just another dumb Hollywood ending, were it not for the fact that the “not Keanu” reflection stops appearing (and stops being mentioned) after Keanu’s character starts immersing himself in “Matrix” fantasies more fully.

At the end (SPOILER ALERT), Keanu Reeves’ character can’t fly because he isn’t actually Neo. At the end, he tries to fly, in order to escape police pursuit, but he can’t do it.

Trinity – the focal point of his fantasy, a wholly imaginary version of Tiffany – *can* fly, and she holds his hand and carries him through the sky, away from the police who are pursuing him.

Which Tiffany or Chad (or one of their children) may have called the police on Keanu Reeves’ character when he showed up uninvited at Tiffany’s workplace.

In short: Keanu Reeves’ character (I refuse to call him “Neo” because I don’t think he’s actually Neo) uses his fantasy version of Tiffany to escape from reality.

This angle may have been totally accidental, nonetheless, I find it interesting.

Anyways, just wanted to share that. Merry Christmas!

Sonnet To Myself

‘Twas my own heart that led my mind astray
‘Twas blindness and desire to see the best
In one whose smile recalled a better day
And seemed to shine more brightly than the rest

But lo, my eyes were lying to my heart
And made a fool of me once and again
I do not blame the smile that did depart
For it was not from Hell, but Heaven sent

For I had lost all thoughts of love and such
And given up on matters of the heart
This revelation may not seem like much
But, for me, ‘twas another world apart.

From the place where my heart lived
With neither love nor hate to give.

April 13, 2021