Book Review: Dispelling Wetiko

Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil by Paul Levy

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


Incomprehensible and charmless, Dispelling Wetiko attempts to answer questions nobody asked with more meandering, answerless questions that don’t really even pertain to the initial question. Through the fog of schizoid babble and overuse of the meaningless signifier “nonlocal”, Paul Levy attempts to argue… something. He borrows heavily from Lovecraft in that, “Wetiko cannot be put into words (except the word Wetiko), Wetiko is so powerful and ultra spooky and pervasive that if you talk about it, it controls you, but if you don’t talk about it, it also controls you!”

Wetiko, as near as I could decipher, is being selfish and willfully noncreative. It’s etymologically linked to the indigenous concept of the Wendigo, who ate people; Wetiko as a “psychic disease” eats humanity by robbing us of what it means to be human, locking us in a non-generative box of self-absorbed consumption, something about “ego is a delusion” because Levy’s into Buddhism, blah blah, you get it. Oh, look, I used words to describe the indescribable.

He’s a miserable writer and it’s made worse by his flagrant self-obsession, which he props up on meaningless New Age jargon like an unconvincing scarecrow, periodically name-dropping Jung and Rollo May in an effort to salvage credibility.

The worst part is, it’s a book pretending to be about psychology, but no psychologist was even peripherally involved in its production. In the intro to the book, Paul Levy explains how the manifestation of Wetiko crept into his dreams, manifesting its vampiric and oogidy-boogidy nature by his recurrent dreamland dalliances with Dracula.

Multiple dreams about Dracula. One where they’re sitting in his parlor just vibing out, chatting, but Dracula keeps staring at him, eyes beginning to glow with a bestial hunger. In the second one, he and Dracula are laying in bed together, and Levy realizes “Wetiko” is aiming to consume him vampirically, so he jams something in Dracula’s mouth while chanting a Buddhist mantra that symbolized a very specific guru whom Levy idolizes.

Now, if at any point in the editing process, Levy had checked with a psychologist, therapist, psychoanalyst, or even a first-year psych student, they would have said:

“Paul, these Dracula dreams sound horny. The ‘charismatic, vampiric’ force manifesting in the form of Dracula, staring at you in a way that makes you feel desired and uncomfortable, literally sharing a bed with you… could that be your unconscious grappling with something latent? Maybe that’s why you chose to dissipate Dracula’s dark and alluring power with the sigil of your Buddhist father figure, who provides a channel by which to communicate that ‘compassion’ and ‘lovingkindness’ for other fellas? Is that maybe why you felt you had to mention waking up next to your girlfriend in the very next sentence?”

Not my pig, not my farm, not my client. Maybe if he were my client, I would have finished this book. As it stands, there’s no way I’m sitting through 12 hours of this. If that means I stay wracked with Wetiko, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.



View all my reviews

Book Review: Spirit Hacking

Spirit Hacking: Shamanic Keys to Reclaim Your Personal Power, Transform Yourself, and Light Up the World by Shaman Durek

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


No one to blame but myself for this one.

Here’s the problem. Conceptually, I think biohacking is cool, because I came up reading extensively on evolution, Zen buddhism, and the aggressive cyberpunk revival of the mid 90s. Unfortunately, the community surrounding it is insufferable. Ditto for things like paleo dieting. It’s the Rick and Morty effect. The show is pretty clever, but you can’t tell anyone you think that or you’ll get grouped in with people who like Rick and Morty.

I’ve got an academic interest in shamanism. I say academic to clarify that, as a white, heterosexual cis American male, if I were to announce that I believed myself a shaman, you would have a moral obligation to punch me in my smug mouth.

The other issue is I’ve pretty much exhausted GoodReads recommendations for books related to books I’ve enjoyed, so I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel, and nothing good is on the bottom of the barrel. That’s why it’s the bottom of the barrel.

Walking into a book called “Spirit Hacking”, linked to both biohacking and shamanism in the Similar Books category, penned by a guy whose first name is “Shaman” should have served as more than enough warnings to deter me. And yet, still, fool as I am, I plodded on.

The forward is written by Dave Asprey. For those blissfully uninitiated, Dave Asprey is the conman behind Bulletproof Coffee, which is the sad tech movement supported by cherrypicked and dummied-up neuroscience studies that encourages impressionable Silicon Valley elites with poorly tuned bullshit detectors that putting Super Special Bulletproof Brand Butter in their Super Special Bulletproof Brand Coffee somehow bypasses the blood-brain barrier to allow them to biohack their entire neocortex into some vague and ill-defined “greater functionality”. The nerds, promised that their brains work the same as computers and that doubling up on this scam will allow them to overclock themselves, they eat that shit right up.

So Dave Asprey writes the intro, and it isn’t an intro, so much as a commercial for his scam, but he also brags about how much money he has and how humble he continues to be, and how many cool spiritual adventures he has been on in his quest to be the perfect man, which, of course, he is far too humble and self-effacing to say that he is. However, you certainly can be, if you buy the right coffee, nudge and wink.

I narrowly made it through that when Shaman Durek hit the scene, reading his own book. Ill-advised. He proceeded to tell me that anybody could be a shaman, and he is a shaman, and he knew he was a shaman because he literally died. He goes on to explain this literal death was figurative, since it happened in a spirit journey or drug trance, so not really what literal means. Then he proceeds to get just, really, irrationally angry. Like he’s ranting about pretenders to the throne and fake shamans, gatekeeping ayahuasca use and railing against shamans who say other people can’t be shamans, even as he says that people who take drugs to become enlightened then get road rage can’t be shamans. Same breath. And it’s a wheezing breath, because as he’s reading his own audiobook, he’s getting genuinely angry again. You can hear it in the voice. Why would I listen to a grown man I don’t know throw a recorded temper tantrum for 11 hours?

I made it to the next chapter, when he started talking about how he knew he was a shaman because as a child he would hug random people and burst into tears. I cold-stopped when one of the sections was subtitled “My heritage is mystical AF!”

That’s enough for me, I think. I’ll continue along my wretched life deprived of my personal power. Sorry, dude. The rest of the book might be a transformative, world-lighting tour de force. After that… performance, I’ll never know.



View all my reviews

The Shadow Over Portsmouth

August 11, 2018. Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

In the deepest hidden recesses of the internet, on a vague Wikipedia page about “brewing in New Hampshire“, I learned that there is one beer that stands above all others. It is a Russian imperial stout lovingly handcrafted by an unusually tall hill dwarf, undoubtedly from an ancient recipe that his clan brought from under the mountain untold ages ago.

Wikipedia claims it is “the best beer in America” and also “the most sought-after beer in America”. It’s called Kate the Great, and legend has it that it can only be obtained by locating this master brewer on his home turf, the Portsmouth Brewery, and praying to whatever gods you keep that the stars have aligned and it’s in season.

It was drizzling on Mystery Hill, but it hadn’t quite started to monsoon in Portsmouth yet. Thunderclouds loomed in the sky like hanged men, shrouding the little downtown in portentous darkness. Everyone we encountered hated us. This isn’t altogether foreign to me, I’ve chosen the Bastard moniker for a reason, but the Girl tends toward amicability and we hadn’t done anything yet.

In The Shadow Over Innsmouth, an archaeologist crossing New England in search of genealogical information finds a foggy, derelict port town. He thinks it might be interesting to check out, so he books a room and pokes around. The locals seem to share a common deformity, a scaling skin disease, puffing around the face and eyes, and unusual hydrocephaly. They spurn him outright. We’re talking like, Amish shunning. The inhabitants call him an outsider and refuse to sell him anything. They bar most public places against him, and retreat into their homes if they see him on the street. As the novella goes on, he discovers that the inhabitants of Innsmouth have been interbreeding with a race of cannibal fish-people, the Deep Ones, who conduct grisly rites in worship of a bloodthirsty aquatic god called Dagon.

I thought the parallels were cute at first, but as our time in Portsmouth wore on, they got more distressing. We’d driven across New Hampshire into an HD remaster of Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth.

katethegreat

The Portsmouth Brewery was wall-to-wall with people, easily the most active building in the town. The hostess sneered that the wait for a table would be 20 minutes. The Girl said that would be fine, and asked if we could get a drink while we wait.

“Yeah, I guess.”

We dodged around the teeming masses of people and, for some reason, all their infant children, to get to the bar. When did the bringing babies into bars phenomenon start? And why? Babies don’t go in bars. Babies go in, I don’t know, parks. McDonald’s Playplace.

Eventually, the girl tending came over to us.

“Hey, we’re here treasure hunting,” I said, trying for charming. “Legend has it this is our best shot at getting Kate the Great. Do you have that right now?”

She scoffed. “We’ll never serve THAT beer again.”

I exchanged a glance with the Girl.

“Is this like, a sensitive subject?”

“No,” she said, providing the exposition she really should have led with, “It’s just, the brewer just quit working here, it was this whole big thing, so we don’t have Kate the Great anymore.”

“Do you know where he went?”

“He opened his own brewery, Tributary. It’s in Maine. But here, you can see our draft list.”

This was technically true. It was in Maine, across a bridge, an 8 minute drive from our present location. It was also technically true that we could see the draft list. It consisted entirely of IPAs, which would have been clutch if I’d ever liked one.

“Can we have a minute to think about it?” the Girl asked. The bartender nodded and drifted off. We escaped to the place next door, which had a similar draft list, substituting one of the IPAs with Budweiser which it listed as a “light lager”.

“I can’t Yelp,” the Girl said. “This is impossible. Two for two. You do it. I’m losing hope.”

20180811_125051.jpg

dolphins have had it good for TOO LONG

A few blocks away was a brewery called Earth Eagle, which specialized in a hopless proto-beer called “gruit”. It’s a Danish word, and should be pronounced “gryoo-IT”, but I pronounce it groot and will continue to do so until dead.

We made our way past the cute little technicolor New England cottages to Earth Eagle. Random assignment from day two of any outdoor music festival would give you the clientele. It was also crowded, but not as bad as the Portsmouth Brewery.

“Could we sit outside?” the Girl asked. The waitress glared at us balefully.

“You can if you want,” she said. “But it’s gonna rain.”

“If it starts to get bad, we’ll move back in,” the Girl said.

“You should probably just sit inside.”

The Girl was ready to fight her on this. She was hangry. I’m always hangry, and so I’ve developed a tolerance. I steered her aside.

“Not worth it,” I said. “If we sit outside, no one’s going to come take our order.”

It looked like no one was going to anyway. After a while, one of the Deep Ones waddled over, and we ordered gruit. It tasted like beer-flavored juice. They also played the entirety of Rancid’s “And Out Come the Wolves”. I found that suspicious. Like they were humoring me, and when I left they’d return to their backward recordings of whale song and those high-pitched meditation bowls.

The scene was about to turn. I could hear them sharpening their knives. During the next ponderous waitress’ circuit, we waylaid, paid, and am-scrayed.

“I’m so hungry,” the Girl said. “This is where we die.”

“Very possible. I’ll bet they have a sacrificial table here, too.”

“Bastard, we need to find something,” she said. “I’ll go back in there and eat tofu puffs if I have to.”

“Don’t talk like that,” I said. “Listen. We’ll go back to the pizza place. We don’t need to drink there. We’ll just get a pizza. It’s impossible to ruin pizza.”

She was hesitant, but I kept saying, “Huh? Piiizza?”, and that eventually won her over. That’s a pro strat for you, fellas. No charge. Just remember where you learned it.

They were kinder at the pizza place, probably because it was in a basement full of aquariums, and being below sea level and surrounded by their brethren soothed the agitated merfolk. They had a giant neon sign for RED HOOK, which I presumed to be of “The Horror At” fame, and would have won me a prize had I remembered my Mythos bingo card.

We asked the first pleasant waitress in New Hampshire for garlic and it baffled her.

“Garlic? Like, whole garlic?”

“No, like, powder,” the Girl said. “Or salt, if that’s all you have.”

“We… might have some in the kitchen.”

“That’s only a thing where we’re from,” I told her. “When I went west, none of the pizza places had garlic. A lot of ’em didn’t even have oregano.”

The Girl looked as though she might cry. “But… but why?”

“Forgive them. They know not what they do.”

We were given this.

20180811_135115

garçon! a ration of garlic powder, s’il vous plait, and your finest sprinkling fork

We walked back out into the building tempest. The fishfolk were growing stronger as it became soggier. It was like you could hear the Jaws theme playing in the distance.

“We gotta look at the whale wall,” I said. “That’s like the only other attraction. Then we get the hell out of here.”

We looked at the whale wall. It was both.

Then, we scurried back to the car.

20180811_150334.jpg

mood

Unfortunately, the Deep Ones were lying in wait for us. A supply truck was sitting in the middle of the street, right next to my car, parking us and only us in. I couldn’t get around it, and there wasn’t enough sidewalk for any real desperate escape maneuvers. I waited, crouched in the driver’s seat with a fileting knife clutched to my chest. The Girl sat shotgun, slowly pumping up a super soaker full of tartar sauce.

Some other lost tourist/genealogist had parked in front of us, and finally returned to her car. She got the hell out of my way and we made our daring escape.

We crossed the bridge into Maine. It immediately stopped raining. Whatever ancient cult magic held sway in Portsmouth didn’t extend beyond its borders.

Tributary Brewing Company even had a parking lot for free! It was busy, as one would expect for the chosen brewery of the creator of America’s alleged best beer. We sat on the bench along the wall and had a flight and took in the ambiance, most of which consisted of impressionist paintings of this dude’s face.

Tod_Mott_Pic_2_1_22_2016__94159.1454945975

Mott the Lesser is what he renamed Kate the Great, presumably in order to avoid legal disputes with Portsmouth Brewing. It wasn’t in season, but that was all right. Ask Tennyson. It was never about the Grail. The quest is all.

The man himself sat at a table, eating his lunch and grinning the grin of a man presently living his dreams. He was surrounded by a squadron of adoring Dads. I will admit the dude had an aura, and his biere de miel and porter were magnificent. The porter tasted like smoked joy.

We went next door to a tasteful mermaid-themed restaurant with walls colored in equally tasteful mermaid tiddy art. In retrospect, I should have photographed that, instead of whatever the hell it was we ate. (I know mine was scallops, and I know they were excellent).

20180811_160918

Our next stop, continuing with the supernatural theme along New England’s eldritch ley lines, would lead us to the most haunted restaurant in America.

But that’s a spooky campfire story for another day.

Love,

The Bastard

 

Hengin’ Out on Mystery Hill

 

August 11, 2018. Mystery Hill, New Hampshire.

The continental breakfast was your choice of limp Eggos, individual yogurt containers suspended in ice water, or off-brand chemical cake honey buns. I took a little of everything, variety being the spice of life, and topped it off with three cups of what the truly brazen might describe as coffee. Don’t mistake this for complaining. Continental breakfast is an integral part of the travel experience. If I’d wanted to work around it, I’d have booked a real B&B.

There’s a concept that always puzzled me. You leave home for a change of scenery, then get to a bed-and-breakfast, which is just someone else’s home where you hang out and a stranger takes care of you. I can take care for me. At my own home. The scenery has only technically changed.

First stop, America’s Stonehenge.

sunset

i’m sure you’ve heard this popular colloquialism before

America’s Stonehenge is an active archaeology site in the woods, doing its best to make archaeology an exciting, family-friendly event through the addition of indistinct New Age spirituality, snowshoeing, and an alpaca farm.

The site itself is of nebulous astronomical significance. Carbon dating indicates that the monoliths and cairns served as lines of demarcation for astronomical phenomena, and were probably used in rituals, possibly as far back as 4000 BC. Cosmic entropy has these configurations drifted out of alignment (sort of like how they tried to introduce Ophiuchus as a zodiac sign a few years back), so if these rocks were once for harnessing cosmic juju, they aren’t anymore. Still, pretty cool to see a living chunk of prehistory that may have dated back 6000 years. Some would argue that predates Creation.

20180811_104308

“this is a wigwam. it was probably constructed more recently than 4000 BC, and they usually have walls”

 

20180811_104832

ooo somebody up in that henge

20180811_104744

yall ever have cave anger

20180811_104005Girl: “what time is it?”
me: “time for you to get a sundial”

 

20180811_110221

Oracle Cave interior. i bet that’s what they called it in 4000 BC

20180811_110448.jpg

“an etching of an antelope running.” art has since evolved

20180811_110656.jpg

now we’re talkin

Nobody’s sure what belief structure dominated in New Hampshire millennia ago, but this table was constructed at the epicenter of this astronomically significant point with a discernible blood channel and a hidden “bed”, carved out way under the rock, so that sound would carry up from under the table while the source of the sound remained hidden.

Metal.

After that we went along the hiking trail and touched all the ominously named monoliths, like the “Eye Stone” and the “Solstice Stone” and for some reason the “Bert Stone”, assuming it would imbue us with stat bonuses like in Skyrim.

I have my suspicions that the last stone there, the thicc Venus of Haverhill, is a more recent addition.

We visited the alpacas on the way out.

It was starting to rain and we hadn’t eaten anything since the several honey buns which were, strictly speaking, not food. We bailed for the forgotten city of Portsmouth. It would be the most like a Lovecraft story I’ve ever lived in real life. The irony there is I didn’t feel particularly eldritch at Mystery Hill, and legend has it visiting the megalith site was big H.P.’s inspiration for The Dunwich Horror.

We didn’t get to stick around til dusk. A real bummer, since you know what they frequently and publicly say: there’s nothing like an America’s Stonehenge sunset.

Love,

The Bastard

Budapest: Saints and Heroes, Rain and Ruin

November 29, 2017. Budapest, Hungary.

It’s hard to look at the weirdly rounded mountains and omnipresent crumbling limestone deposits and not imagine that it’s all still underwater, especially at night. It’s hard to take a picture that neatly isolates what I’m talking about, but the overall impression is that Budapest was probably where the original Castlevania games were set.

24169324_1140833589386279_1946222728_o

In one of the endlessly sprawling parks, I found this little summary of how Budapest happened. Buda is the mountainous side, Pest the one with all the buildings leaning backward for some reason. Around the corner was Philosophy Park, which didn’t feature any of my favorites but I was still honorbound to check out.

Can you name them? Probably not, because the artist took a hell of a lot of creative liberties. Let’s make it a matching game. Above we got Lao Tzu, Buddha, Jesus the Christ, St. Francis Assisi, and Bodhidharma. The dude skipping legs is Gandhi.

He was the easiest to guess. Also present was Abraham, groveling in the dirt, as is the typical requisite demand of his horrifying god.

24208902_1140833549386283_293843758_o

There was also allegedly a statue of Ankhenaten, alias Amenhotep IV, an Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty who died around 1334 BC. He was the one who dragged ancient Egypt toward monotheism through worship of Aten, a kind of catch-all solar superdeity.

I say allegedly because I defy you to look at this sculpture and tell me this isn’t a fuckin annunaki.

24201367_1140833556052949_1172892067_o

annunakum?

Philosophy Park’s little plaque alleges that it was sculpted to pay homage to the great minds who increased understanding and compassion throughout the world and helped shape culture, but I’m pretty sure it was just dude’s hamfisted attempt to Leo da Vinci some Ancient Aliens lip service.

After that I headed up to Castle Hill proper and peeped the palace, the decorative statuary, and the associated vistas.

Further down through the Castle District is the Matthias Cathedral and Fisherman’s Bastion.

The cathedral is done up in a Gothic Revivalist style, which makes it look sort of like a Batman coloring book. Fisherman’s Bastion got its name from the fact that it was always manned by fishermen, who were rarely effective fighters, but did well enough that Buda Castle never fell in the middle ages.

They were charging admission to walk the 20 foot ramp to the top of Fisherman’s Bastion, then walk back down it again. I passed.

Across the bridge was Budapest’s oldest castle, Vajdahunyad Vara. It shared a lake with Heroes’ Square, which was a sort of Parthenon for Hungarian culture heroes like King Matthias and St. Stephen.

Among them is a bust of Bela Lugosi.

24251024_1141826245953680_337899483_o

This wasn’t an approved statue. There was an empty alcove on the castle’s exterior, so a German artist named Hartmut Zech took a trip to Budapest and he and his friends hid it there in the middle of the night.

Zech has done this kind of thing before. He made a bust of Jim Morrison and used a baby stroller to push it into the cemetery where Morrison is buried. That was removed before the week was out. But the Budapest authorities came to the castle, saw the bust, shrugged, and just kind of left it. So there it remains.

 

 

 

 

24201125_1140833486052956_1190628625_o

i activated this hedge and learned double jump

Across the river from my hostel, in Gellért Hill, there’s a church in a cave. It once belonged to yet another local saint, St. Ivan, who used thermal water to heal the sick. The same pools he used now flow into the Gellért Thermal Baths, which I’m going to go check out and get healed by when I get around to it.

24197089_1140833396052965_1379524819_o

It sure was a church in a cave. They gave me a headset for an audio tour. It was not optional.

I can’t stand audio tours. Just give me a plaque or a reference booklet. It’s like opening an article, then learning that it’s only a youtube video, so you immediately close the article. I can read exponentially faster than your voice actor can talk, I don’t care if they’re auctioneering. Let me learn shit on my own and get on with my life.

Not only was I subjected to an absolutely draaaaaagging audio presentation about what turned out to be a panoply of Roman Catholic wood carvings, it veered off into explaining chunks of Catholic dogma like the Sacred Heart of Jesus. What’s unusual is, it wasn’t explaining it informatively. It was explaining it sort of like an affirmation, because it was clearly operating under the assumption that you wouldn’t be in this saint’s cave church unless you, yourself, were Catholic, and Jesus is our Lord, and the Sacred Heart represents our need not to just acknowledge Jesus’ actions but also his inner thoughts and motivations that led him to being such a fuckin’ bang-up messiah and all this other culty shit I learned in childhood and repressed.

For a reason!

There was a projector running upstairs. The movie showed slow-motion videos of happy children running while piano-led Hungarian covers of Imagine Dragons songs played in the background. Then it shifted to a cabal of priests, all decked out in clerical vestments, telling the appropriated Native American “two wolves live within us” story next to a waterfall.

Have you ever seen a clergyman in full finery hanging out on a hiking trail, let alone seven of them? It’s incredibly bizarre. There’s something viscerally wrong about seeing them all gussied up outside of a church, just prowlin’ around in the woods with God’s ballroom gown dragging behind them.

24281711_1141826145953690_1159809503_o

For dinner, I opted to try the For Sale ruin pub. It’s covered in papers, and you can add to them if the spirit moves you.

24259749_1141826195953685_1197557552_o

I got a menu from a waitress and sat at a table for five minutes, but no one came near me. This was just as well, since all the food was a minimum of 4000FT ($15), and the place was crawling with bugs. If you looked at a light, you could see dozens of little gnats and flies buzzing around like dust motes.

I left the menu and approached the bar, whereupon the bartender disappeared into the back room and never returned. I gave her a few minutes, then decided an overpriced lager full of spiders didn’t sound ideal and left.

24197457_1140833446052960_318679561_o

fuckin viennese

I eventually scavenged a porter and some Hungarian ratatouille at an underground hipster bar. I know it was a hipster bar because of the Transformers decals on the wall, and the waiter’s preposterous waxed mustache.

24259402_1141826175953687_1900283710_o

The vegetables were a godsend. I’m a carnivorous dude, but I’m also fairly in tune with my flesh prison, and three days of nothing but sausage fat and fried potatoes leaves you feeling lethargic, ponderous, and sort of undead.

I’d been staving off scurvy with supermarket fruit juice, but even that proves to be a challenge when you’re functionally illiterate. I’ve been flagging down locals and saying, “Excuse me, this giant word next to 100%, is it ‘juice’?”

They think it’s funny, but it’s not. It’s very serious.

hohes

All right, I’ve written so much that WordPress’s shitty word processor is starting to arbitrarily reformat and delete what I’ve already put down, so that’s my cue. See you soon.

Love,

The Bastard

You Won’t Believe These Top 3 Ways to Cope with the Wrath of a Vengeful Goddess

November 13, 2017. Athens, Greece.

I had this master plan to do a day trip to Delphi, see where the Oracle was. She’s a major player in the Grecian narrative. Socrates, Oedipus, the ruling council and occasional tyrant of Athens all held her in high esteem. She was even in 300, although I imagine she was less naked and surrounded by fewer lepers.

 

main-qimg-47e1e317a8aaa6e45bba868a339144a2

“sOcRaTeS iS rEaL sMaRt”

Unfortunately, everything that could have prevented this from happening, did. I’m sure I’ve mentioned Athena is my patron deity; I reckon she heard my plans to skip Athens, however temporarily, and sought terrible revenge.

1. Flee

I packed all my stuff and staggered into the streets of Athens. It’s 9:20 now. The bus leaves at 10:30. It’s a 45 minute walk to the bus station. It’s possible. It could be done. Hauling all my earthly possessions on my back, I double-time it out of tourist/academic Athens and into sketchy metropolitan Athens. I nearly got hit by only 3 cars, which is low.

When I got to the bus station, my headphones imploded for no reason, but I didn’t have time to fix that. I had to find this bus. The bu sport is enormous and filthy, everything’s written in Greek, it’s got a real cyberpunk defunct space station feel to it. I track down the information desk with 10 minutes to spare and the woman says, “It is at other bus station. Here is address.”

She hands me an address in primarily Greek, although it says 260 Liossion on it. I start toward the direction she pointed, fighting with Google Maps, which is insistent that address doesn’t exist.

Half a mile later it is revealed that the phantom bus station is at 216 Liosion, which was a mile away from where the Greek bus service website initially sent me.

And then the sky opened.

2. Cower

Since I obviously missed the 10:30 bus, I had to catch the next one, at 3. Only 4 hours to kill! Maybe I could write! Unfortunately, all I’d seen in the past hour were weird, specialized blanket stores, auto repair shops, and one supermarket.

Since all my worldly possessions are on my back and the tiny, sad umbrella is jammed about halfway down. I needed cover and I needed it fast.

An entire nursing home worth of old men were gathered on the porch of what looked like a coffee shop. I dodged into there, ordered a coffee (the old men are all drinking hard liquor) and reevaluated my situation.

The thunderstorm lasts most of the afternoon, from what I can tell. I can still catch the 3 PM to Delphi, but it would cost about $15 either way. There are no hostels in Delphi right now, only seedy hotels. Nearly all of them are sold out. I could reserve a $45 room for the night, if I acted right then and there.

I did the math. $75 total for about 8 waking hours in the city during a thunderstorm, since I’d have to get back to Athens the next day. I’m not spending another $45 on a room. $100 is like, a full week of Bastard Travel, depending on the locale.

3. Weep

All right. Delphi’s a no-go. I’ll spend another day in Athens. Not a big deal, I love Athens, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the traditional Greek food that is so good I almost cry. Last night, I discovered that they make pies out of spinach and cheese. Pies! Out of spinach dip! This is why they authored civilization.

The Olds point at me forebodingly, shaking their grey, drunk heads and saying things in Greek. The woman behind the counter translates, or possibly just offers her own advice.

“You shouldn’t go out yet,” she said, gesturing at Athena’s soggy wrath. “It is too heavy.”

“Yeah,” I said, “It’s kind of looking that way.”

“Maybe it will stop soon?” she said with a shrug. “You stay, sit.”

I stayed. I sat.

It’s dying down now, so I might start the 2-mile charge back to the hostel. Guess I’m booking another night. At least they have a rooftop bar, though I’m pretty sure they’re watering the beer. Fortunately, last night, I found a hidden alley liquor shop, and an old man sold me a sketchy 6 Euro bottle of homemade moonshine ouzo, and I barely survived two shots of it.

Tonight, maybe we’ll go for broke. Wish me luck.

Love,

The Bastard

Yea, I’m into BDSM: Beatitude, Dharma, Stupas, and Moderation

October 8, 2017. Sedona, Arizona.

What the hell is a Buddhist Stupa, you may ask?

I suspect you may, because I certainly was, and by all accounts I should have known. In the five lost years I spent between high school and college doing sketchy blue collar work, abusing substances, and reading, I cleared entire shelves on Zen (and astrology but like, I’m not as proud of that one). I know more paradoxical riddles and methods of sitting real still than you could shake a shit-stick at. I also grifted my way through a grad course for my philosophy minor called “Special Topics: American Buddhism”, but that was chiefly just reading monotonous Alan Watts excerpts and arguing with communists.

Why they always gotta make it about the state, anyway? I’m just tryna talk about buddhanature and have a good time, it doesn’t always need to be civic responsibility and the plight of the proletariat. Besides, Buddha straight up said “the most important thing is to do good work”! Even Buddha’s telling you to get a job!

Sorry. I digress.

Two miles off the highway, through a residential area with street names like “Moondrop Ave” and “Allegra Drive” and the equally thematic “Splendor Court”, I found the dirt pull off for a ‘tranquility park’ that I am, quite frankly, too Western to remember the name of. I parked the car and shuffled up the path to the park proper, passing a shoeless nine-year-old girl who was discernibly closer to enlightenment than I have ever been.

The Stupa itself was a 36-foot tall pink monument with an alcove near the top housing, you guessed it, Buddha. A path was worn into the ground around it designating the meditative circle you were supposed to take while contemplating that good loving-kindness. Stupas function as compassion batteries, absorbing all the good vibes from decent, outwardly-projecting Buddhists, amplifying them, and broadcasting them across the world in an effort to cleanse the karma of all living beings. Only a Buddhist can say “#all lives matter” and really mean it, but they wouldn’t because of the douche factor.

22280073_148735825731319_3217237307102855168_n

In a little pavilion next to the stupa was a man and three generations of women, all sitting cross-legged and listening to him tell a story in a gentle, nonthreatening voice. He was definitely moving in on the cute daughter, and she was definitely into it. Next to their gathering was some Vegan chow, a plastic baggy full of graham crackers that someone had covered in birdseed.

“Not very compassionate,” I chided to myself, realizing my internal monologue was being, well, a bastard. “This karma needs cleanin’.”

I did three laps of the Stupa and touched it, got my cosmic tally reset, then spun a couple of prayer wheels. As I understand, prayer wheels do the same thing the stupa does, but in a little burst when you spin it. Think of it like an automatic car. You press the pedal and the rpms gradually go up. Stomp the pedal and for a second your rpms’ll jump to 6k and your engine will scream. It’s like that, but with understanding and kindness.

prayerwheels

Prayer flags hung from the trees all around the walking meditation trail, and little shrines to Buddha were decorated with colored stones and flat, stacked rocks. These little cairns serve the same purpose as the greater and better organized stupa, but more localized; each stone functions as a prayer to impart blessings on the stacker and their loved ones, with the implication that the balance of the stones mirrors the desired harmony of the stacker’s life.

It was a nice place. Very peaceful. The boundaries were ill-defined, so at one point I accidentally wandered outside of the park and a quarter mile into the desert. Luckily, somebody in the peace park lit a joint and I followed the smell back. I walked in on a cadre of young ladies with an older woman, howling like wolves in the center of a mandala. It was some sort of prayer for friendship. It made sense. Wolves make good friends.

The Girl was blowing up my phone, insisting that the Buddhist would close the parking gate and lock us in the stupa if we weren’t out by 6. I hit the Buddha with one of the mudras I remembered from my Zen days, then followed the Friend Wolf Sisterhood out to the parking lot, escaped before they sealed us in, and made a b-line for Phoenix.

22280678_317428338729623_2321464367909961728_n.jpg
haha gottem

We attempted to order a pizza from a place next to the hotel called Mellow Mushroom. Just one. The girl on the phone didn’t know any part of her job, so I’m hopeful that she was new.

“Hello, Mellow Mushroom, I don’t know what’s on our menu or how much anything costs, how can I realistically help you?”

Eventually I mined her for enough data to conclude that they had a “house special” which is what any other pizza joint would call a supreme. They clotted it with every available meat, which struck even an unrepentant carnivore like me as excessive. I had them remove the ground beef. The total for one supreme pizza was $30, or which translates to 120 chicken nuggets or 10 parking spaces on Vortex Hill, so I cancelled the order and found a Little Caesars attached to a beer store. Dinner was a pepperoni Hot ‘n’ Ready and a six-pack of PBR. Bone apple teeth.

Staring Long into the Vortex

 October 8, 2017. Sedona, Arizona.

By this point, word of my travels had made the social media rounds and five people demanded I go to Sedona because it changed their respective lives. Well, I’d already checked out all the large holes, along with the ghost town’s smaller, haunted hole, so I couldn’t think of any reason not to.

We had breakfast at a Mexican joint called La Villa DF. I don’t know what the DF stood for. I could correct this at any time, but I prefer the mystery. They brought us a bowl of chips, two squeeze-bottles of red or green hot sauces, and a little bowl of pickled red onions, which I’ve since learned are called escabeche de cebolla. I’ve never had a place not give me some form of salsa or pico, but the onions were good. Surprisingly spicy. I’ve looked up recipes since to figure out what I was dealing with (the Ecuadorian version is called ceballos encurtidos) and it seemed like they must have added hot sauce or peppers to the brine. I ordered a breakfast burrito in clunky Spanish. The waitress humored me the entire time, speaking in the tu form either because I was younger than her or because my valiant attempt at bilingualism reminded her of a tiny, stupid child. When they hit me with the breakfast burrito, I was awed to discover it came with tater tots. Tater tots! For breakfast! They’re basically hash browns! I’ve wasted so much time cooking hash browns.

22351826_1964833087073741_1144890864951099392_n

Back on to I-40 and all the way up the state for more sand, scrub, saguaros, and the occasional Ponderosa pine. Probably just my Pennsylvania privilege, but Arizona flora is not what you’d call particularly diverse. But if you’re into endless, flat expanses of sand, it really can’t be beat.

Then, all of a sudden, mesas sprung up and started changing colors. Red mesas were pretty standard issue all over New Mexico and in the non-flat parts of Arizona, but the ones outside of Sedona started red, than turned distinctly orange. This is the only place this particular phenomenon happens, and they took that right to heart.

took this myselfi took this myself. copyright Bastard Travel LLC all rights reserved

Wandering through the dozens of kitschy little retail shops taught me that Sedona was really proud of red dirt. Many of the shirts were the same color red as most of the landscape, and sported screen prints that read “Dirt Shirt”, “Dirty Old Man”, and, my personal favorite, “My Grandpa Went To Sedona And All I Got Was This Dirty T-Shirt!!!”. If it hadn’t been $28, you better believe I would be wearing it right now.

I also spotted a lot of signs of “Earth healing” and “Spirit tours” and “Vortex balance” and other New Age mad libs. Turns out, Sedona is the epicenter of some vague, shamanic ley line energies that crop up in spots that are suspiciously close to scenic vistas, typically of the pay-per-view persuasion.

I’m a try-anything-once kind of guy, especially if that thing promises the supernatural and I can get away without making a long-term commitment to a religious sect that pays undue attention to the moon. In most shamanic traditions, there’s the belief that the Earth is a font of primal, often restorative energy. Chi, qi, mana, prana, ether, akasha, life force, whatever culture you’re nearest to is gonna have its own pet name for Spirit Healin’ Juice, and there’s a 90% chance it’s gonna come from the Earth (otherwise from the sky, from the sun, or from medieval elemental concepts like “air” or “fire”). Since I didn’t seem to be dragging any Apache ghosts with me today — far as I could tell I had my usual shit luck and no new ghost-borne illnesses – I reckoned another supernal meet-and-greet was in order. This time, the brochures promised “tingling sensations across the neck and shoulders” as well as possible run-in with “Earth spirits”, who I pictured as earth elementals from early 2000s Everquest.

hulking.jpg

Airport Rd led up to a five-mile hiking circuit that would allow views of nearly all the scenic overlooks in Sedona. The trailhead for this, the main draw of the town, had 8 total parking spaces. A mile up the road, one of those scenic overlooks sat right next to a gravel parking lot with port-a-pottys and a tollbooth where a cowboy collected $3 from you to park your car. Annoying in principle, but it didn’t break me. Remember my Grand Canyon diatribe about people going to natural wonders and ruining everything by planking on the Statue of David? Full effect. I skittered into the “woods”.

The trail was 5 miles total, but only a mile from Revenue Point down to the trailhead which, according to the internet, was the location of the only vortex you didn’t need to pay for a $400 Pink Jeep tour to check out. Not that I’m cheap; I would’ve ponied up the cash if I could get a guarantee on the earth elementals.

The Girl was salty about the hike, but made a heroic effort at hiding it. When we arrived at the trailhead, a few people were clustered around yet another scenic overlook, with more atop a nearby mesa, laying in the sun.

vortex

“Is this it? They up there tanning on the vortex?” I asked the closest people to my age.

“I think so,” the skinny neckbeard said with a shrug.

“We’re looking for it, too,” the girl with the bob haircut said, eyes darting around uncertainly. Her jeans were far more Mom-ish than you’d expect for her age or figure.

“All right,” I said. “I’m tryna tingle, I’ll go check it out.”

“Shout down if you find the vortex!” the neckbeard said, and I threw back a thumbs-up and shimmied up the slope to the top of the mesa.

I was immediately disappointed by the lack of earth elementals. Would’ve even settled for gnomes. Nope. Just tourists. Although, I did have a moment of blind panic when I noticed that one of the girls laying spread-eagle on the rocks, absorbing the voodoo, looked exactly like a young lady I knew very well during undergrad. How did she get here? Plane, probably. Why did she get here? Earth healing. Where did her abs go? The freshman fifteen must’ve been extended release.

She sat up and opened her eyes and it wasn’t her, so I stopped staring in alarm lest I be misinterpreted as creepy.

Of the vortex itself, I did not feel tingling, so much as a ton of wind. I waved up my alt-couple and we all hang out in the epicenter together, feeling a ton of wind.

“You feel healed?” I asked the Girl. She shrugged and sat on the rocks.

holdthat3

When we had cultivated enough sunburns, the Girl asked some dad with a camera to take our picture. I didn’t plank.

“Let’s go drink beer,” we said, but it was a lie because Atlas Obscura informed me that, hidden somewhere deep among Sedona’s tiny trees and windy vortices, is the only Buddhist Stupa in America.