So today marks four years since I learned how to practice Vipassana, or Buddhist insight meditation. I’d been going to a Buddhist meditation group for a few months, but what I know about sitting still had come from learning Transcendental Meditation in my late teens, and then having a friend show me some mantra-based Hindu meditation techniques. When I took the class, which lasted eight weeks. I’d heard people talking about how they started and really liked the effects produced by the practice, but they couldn’t keep it up or find time after a while. I made a decision that I would meditate every day during the eight-week course, and then after it finished I kept right on going.
So what’s different? I don’t know. After getting conditioned by all the marketing pitches for TM, I still figured I’d get instant results, and that virtually overnight I would be transformed into this ueber-groovy person who sailed through life’s problems like a warm knife through butter. But it wasn’t like that. It was a lot more like learning to play a difficult song using guitar tablature — changes, when they would come, would be almost glacial.
Let’s see. As for those glacial changes, I am a lot calmer and more comfortable in my skin. When something traumatic or sudden happens, I seem to have a moment in space where I can decide how I am going to respond. I still respond stupidly sometimes, but that’s my decision. I’m more thoughtful and anchored in the present moment, and less prone to daydreaming. I can bring myself into the present moment quite rapidly whenever I drift away into the future or the past, just by connecting with my breath.
On the downside, I’ve become a lot more cerebral — perhaps too much so, I think. So I’ve taken to working on some other practices with the objective of opening my heart to others, and becoming more warm and generous and loving and compassionate. Also, that cerebral nature has diminished my old rapid-fire sense of humor somewhat, although when I really want to, I can still turn the laughs on. So I think maybe it’s time to join a sketch comedy or improv workshop to hone those skills a bit. And I still get emotionally wounded to an exaggerated degree — “butthurt” is the popular appellation — as any reader of this blog or anyone acquainted with me knows. But I believe that today I’m more focused on my part in whatever is triggering the emotional upset, so instead of pointing fingers of blame, I try to look inward toward causes and conditions.
I guess the salient thing to remember is that I practiced every day even during the most difficult portion of my life, that two-year period when I was out of work and homeless and on the receiving end of a lot of help. Perhaps sitting in meditation daily helped keep me from losing my mind, or going off the deep end, or deciding to end it all. I certainly flirted with the idea of personal oblivion more than once, because things were so hard. But meditation, and practicing a recovery program, and getting physical exercise from riding my bike everywhere, I am convinced kept me going when I might have given up.
So will I continue to sit daily? I’d guess so, at this point. Kind of a habit now. no? —Jackson Griffith
Uh-oh. I’m not going to be getting much of anything done for a while, I suspect. Dunno how I stumbled into this Facebook group called “You Know You Grew Up in Stockton When ???????????,” which contains eleven question marks and about a million posts, but I think this could be the rabbit hole that sucks me in for the immediate future, if not until sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Now, most of you with no Stockton connections or experiences most likely look at the seat of San Joaquin County as a geographic variation on the old punchline, “Why, the Aristocrats!” I even make Stockton jokes, too. But I can, because I grew up there, and my experiences and relationships in the town formed the core of my character. If I was from someplace else, like Sacramento or, God forbid, San Francisco (actually, I was born in Berkeley), I might be as boring and lackluster as the rest of you fuckers, but because I grew up in Berlin on the San Joaquin, I’ve got that extra twisted David Lynch smoking laudanum with Salvador Dali gene that welcomes darkness and weird shit like treasured old friends.
Anyway, it’s Friday, I’m dateless, ogling “chicks” in a coffeehouse and wanting to read more about Stockton. So, as the drunks say in Amador County: “Je bemte!” –Jackson Griffith
I’m not sure what I’m going to write tonight, so I won’t waste your time. There is a couple sitting at three o’clock to me, and he’s reading a comic book, and he’s wearing a wife-beater and he’s got a huge Baphomet tattooed on his left shoulder. His girpfriend is kinda cute, and she has short hair and tats, and she’s typing into one of those little notebook computers. No Lunchables anywhere, though.
I miss my old comic book collection. Especially my sets of Dan Clowes’ Eightball, and Jim Woodring’s Frank, and the Hernandez Brothers’ Love & Rockets, and Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve, and a bunch of others: Justin Green, Robert Crumb, Bob Armstrong, Peter Bagge (Hate!), Mary Fleener, tons of others I can’t remember right now. Wayno, Mack White. Comics are great. I could waste lots of time reading comic books. When I worked at Tower Records’ Pulse! magazine, I wrote a column called “Spins” and, via my fellow editor and writer, the great Marc Weidenbaum, I learned that some of these fine artists would do spot illustrations. Once, over the phone, Dan Clowes told me that he’d design the cover of a 7-inch record for me if I ever made one. Of course, I never did. Stupid me.
Fuck it. I’m tired. I should go home and get an early night’s sleep. —Jackson Griffith
Summer messes with my sleep patterns something fierce. I can’t sleep. When I finally do get to sleep, I have weird dreams. Most of the time, those dreams evaporate into the mists of waking consciousness, sometimes leaving an emotional aftertaste and, sometimes, not. The dreams of winter are different, but I can’t tell you what’s different about them right now because I forget.
What I remember this morning was that I was cleaning up, and I had this inner urgency to do that because there were larvae in my living space. I glanced into a bathtub, and there were 20 or so giant maggots, your basic housefly larvae but the size of small thumbs, wriggling about. I went to another part of the house, and there was a corner that was swarming with mealworms, or larva-stage beetles, and then when I was in the kitchen, there were moth larvae moving about in the cabinets. I instinctively knew to grab a large plastic bag, which was shiny white, and I went to the bathtub and scooped up all the maggots with a dustpan and dumped them into the bag and, after that, hosed out the tub. And then I went to the corner where the mealworms were crawling, and I brushed them into the dustpan and dumped them into the bag, and used a small vacuum to suck up whatever was left. And then I went to the kitchen and, realizing the moth larvae had infested bags of bulk grain I had, I threw all the bags of grain into the big white shiny bag, and I brushed everything clean. I walked through the house, satisfied that I’d gotten everything, and then I asked someone who was there if I should burn the bag, and they said, no, just sealing it up would most likely do the trick by depriving them of life-giving oxygen.
Later on, I was having a discussion with this guy I work with about God. He’s a Mormon, and he was saying something like, “Well, you Buddhists don’t believe in God.” And I started explaining the concept of dependent origination, which posits that everything emerges from causes and conditions, which is one of the things the Buddha taught. But I added that my own spiritual experiences in recovery have led me to the conclusion that there’s some kind of benevolent intelligence at work that steps in when we open ourselves up to its presence and handiwork, and sometimes even when we’re not overtly looking for help. Maybe, I added, God is like an ant colony, with billions of ants of limited intelligence working together to compose something far smarter and greater than each individual. Then we got into talking about the nature of God in relation to man, and I had to admit that the Latter-day Saint idea of eternal progression, or that a man can become a god, with his wife as Mrs. God, on another world or in another dimension wasn’t something that resonated with me, but neither did a heaven with angels singing and clouds and harps. More like: We’re just like a glass of water pulled out of the ocean, and when we’re done, the water goes back into the ocean, and maybe little drops of us end up in a lot of other glasses, combined with a lot of other drops.
Sorry if that sounded like babbling. It probably was. Dreams make no sense to me. —Jackson Griffith
Guess I missed out on the whole Sacramento lovefest a few weeks ago. There are things I love about this place, mainly Midtown, the American River Parkway and a bunch of places for cheap eats. And there are things I hate about myself. Sometimes, those two things go together like kiwi jelly and Marmite. I’m not so sure why I get so conflicted about this stuff. Most of me wants to be that warm and funny life of the party who shows up and lights up a room, or a backyard, or your life. Not the guy who cuts that trouser-burning brapper that clears the room.
Sometimes I have this most marvelous way of shooting myself in the foot. This isn’t a self-pity rant as much as it is the recognition that I habitually seem to fuck myself somehow, usually out of insecurity. See, I write and play songs, but I used to be kind of a music critic at the local level, and before that on the national level, and I got a little burned out on that over time, and I still make snarky statements about some local acts that come back to haunt me. Mostly it’s out of frustration; I’m still beating my head against the wall, trying to get my music out in front of people, and I’ve had a really difficult doing that in Sacramento. Part of that may be that I and my music “suck,” at least according to Sacramento standards, and part of it comes from the fact that some people just don’t like me because they feel I’ve treated them badly. (The reality is that sometimes I’m goddamn lucky to make it out of my apartment, and what people perceive as me giving them the stinkeye is really me flopping around the dock like a fish out of water, and any sullenness is just the proverbial storm clouds lurking around my head that I thrash in vain to dissipate.)
So tonight, I heard a story at an open mic from a local singer-songwriter, about how he’d tried to add me onto a bill at a local coffeehouse, but the booker told him, “Find some other guy. Anybody. But not that guy.” It turns out the booker is a member of a very popular local band. It isn’t that I don’t like his band; it’s just that I’m not over-the-moon multiorgasmic about them the way that a bunch of people in this town are, as much as I’ve tried, and when I’ve heard so many people gushing about the greatness of this band, I’ve wondered why I just can’t get onboard the Mondrian-patterned groovy love bus. So maybe that, coupled with my own frustration, caused me to say some stuff that I should have kept to myself. Like I said, I am an idiot much of the time, but I have to be an honest idiot, and I’m too old to fake enthusiasm for things that I’m just not feeling. So I don’t blame this guy for barring me from playing his club for mouthing off about his band. I really don’t.
To me, Sacramento is a funny place. I’m just woefully out of sync here for some reason. I know I write good songs, and when I play them elsewhere, like at the gig I played in Stockton last weekend, people respond. And I’ve had some really good shows at Luna’s (here on 16th Street, in Midtown, or Downtown, where I think I’ll be playing on Saturday, August 13.) But this place often goes nuts for stuff that leaves me scratching my head, and it ignores people I think should get a lot more support. It must be some residual toxin in the water that I’ve managed to avoid since I got here in 1984. Or maybe it’s just that my planets are in some kind of detriment in Sacramento according to astro-cartography. Or maybe it’s just that I’m an unrepentant and incorrigible asshole, but I’m the only one in the 916 who hasn’t figured that out.
But part of me really likes it here. I’ve got an anonymous life, and I could hole up in my apartment with a guitar and no one would be much the wiser. I love the feel of walking around Midtown, usually alone, and I’m on reasonably friendly terms with enough people here for me to feel somewhat at home. On top of that, the recovery community in Sacramento is like none other, and I’d really miss thse people if I left. But otherwise, this place has been pretty lonely, and I haven’t had the best luck with women here, or with making close friends in general for that matter.
Yeah, the grass is greener elsewhere. Maybe I should find out how green. Someday, I will. —Jackson Griffith
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m probably the antithesis of a hipster, or what currently passes for hipster these days. That’s the inevitable byproduct of growing older, I guess, and I’m so old that my definition of “hipster” goes back to guys like Cab Calloway, Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart. But rather than be some butthurt old hippie about it, I think it might be better to remain open to whatever is forming and shaping the evolving hipster aesthetic. Well, mostly, except for this yacht rock obsession: Please kill me first if you’re going to foist Toto and Christopher Cross in my general direction. But if you kids really want to fall down a rabbit hole of stupid, feel free to chat me up about the blow-dried universe of smooth jazz.
So this evening I was hanging out with my pal Ian, whose late dad Nick the punk-rock guitarist and Ventures and Throbbing Gristle and Dennison’s Chili enthusiast was an old friend and icon, until he passed away in 1989, a few months before Ian was born. Me and the kid hunkered down in the corner of the patio at a midtown coffee joint, and I tried to force him to listen to “Happy Egotist” by Womb, arguably the shittiest rock record ever recorded, 17 minutes and 17 seconds of Manson Family retardation and mutant asshole rock about a car wreck, kind of like Rashomon for glue-sniffing Brady Bunch rejects.
The kid commandeered my laptop and pulled up some French zombie shit with a nice throbbing electronic beat that cracked a cold beer for my inner happy camper; the visuals were the sort of runway fash-fash glamwank that might get a drunken Lindsay Lohan jilling off furiously, except it had way more dudes in it than femmes so that would be a wash. Nice. (And, yeah, if this is way past its sell-by date fedora to some of you sneeros, no biggums; like I said, I’ve got zero hipster cred, so consider me your clueless grandpa rambling, much doo-wacka-doo about nothing.)
Next up was some nice glammy boys from, I think, San Diego. “I’m gonna get you fired up on this Three One G shit,” the kid says. I’m not utterly convinced; while the vid has some laugh out loud moments, like with a small dog — what my former father-in-law the chowchow enthusiast used to call an hors d’oeuvre — getting hammered repeatedly as it pops up (so sue me, PETA, for laughing), it’s also got the usual bunch of lads posing in rawk-star moves, which isn’t quite as novel if you lived through the ’70s and were into all that English homo-rock swill like I was, because, well, having done enough shitty drugs while listening to Sparks and Roxy Music at ear-bleed volume, and that was before the whole punk-rock thing turned up the intensity and incoherence turned me into a complete vegetable, and it’s just another rerun, albeit quite a cool one.
The kid pulled up a couple more videos, including one with a bunch of hipster mouths chewing on hipster hot dogs, and another one that, well, I forget. It’s all good fun, but like I said, I’m old, so even though I’m amused, I still gravitate to old videos with static visuals, or spinning 78s, accompanied by the music of Blind Blake, or maybe something with Mississippi John Hurt on some 1960s TV show, or Lightnin’ Sam Hopkins in a documentary. That’s what really feeds my heart these days.
Funny how your tastes change when you grow older, no? —Jackson Griffith
It would appear that thangs are janky all over the place. I see that a combination of persistent hot weather — and the news of Norway’s version of a Tea Party conservative, watering the Yggdrasil of Liberty with random people’s blood, hitting the 24/7 wall of newstainment across the corporate cable channel infogasm — has caused people to go a bit touchy around the ol’ Heimat over the weekend. As in: trigger finger, itchy. Blam. Blam blam.
Nutters with firearms went off in the usual places, namely Texas, and it was somewhat queasily familiar to see the city where I was raised — Stockton, California — make the weekend roster with a horrible birthday party shooting that left one dead, a 15 year old, and eight others wounded. I’m not going to comment about what went through the shooter’s head and what he — I’ll presume it was a he — was thinking, because whatever it was, it probably wouldn’t make a lot of sense to most of us. I will say that I can understand that kind of simmering resentment, but I’ll also add that I’m extremely grateful that I found some psychological tools to air my head out before I showed up at somebody’s birthday fete with the idea of turning it into a wake.
Stockton is a weird place. I get a little bothered when people in other places, like in the smugly satisfied State Worker Republic of Sacramento where I’ve lived since 1984, spout off about how the county seat of San Joaquin is a violent shit-hole full of crazy people and other mutants. But if you grew up in that part of the 209, or you’ve lived there or worked there for any amount of time, then to me you’re welcome to opine.
I’ll say this: I was surprised once I got out of Stockton that, in most places, people didn’t arbitrarily jump out of cars at stoplights and run over and beat the shit out of you, because that kind of thing seemed to happen in the Stockton of my youth with, well, I won’t say disturbing regularity, but I was the recipient of a sudden and unprovoked ass-kicking several times, and it left me in a state of raw fear for years. Hell, I’m in my 50s, and I still look nervously over my shoulder, and I glance up and down streets rapidly, reading every stranger and group of strangers for the threat of impending violence.
The shooting this weekend took place on Lincoln Road, east of Eldorado Street and south of Hammer Lane, about a mile from where I lived during junior high and high school. It was an okay neighborhood when they built it in the 1960s and ’70s, but like a lot of North Stockton, it’s decayed into a neighborhood over time where you might not feel comfortable living.
But that’s happened all over America. And you can point the finger of blame at that black president you don’t like, or those “socialist” Democrats, or whoever the ruling class clowns like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and the rest of the Murdoch circus are telling you to hate this week. But the grim reality is that what’s happening now is the result of the greedy portion of the top one percent of people in this country, according to wealth, who don’t want to help pay for maintaining the infrastructure of this country — including a vibrant private sector that provides living-wage jobs here that aren’t in Indian casinos — or the health and welfare of its citizens. Instead, they are using their considerable wealth and influence to wage war on the rest of us. As for the rest of us? Well, look on the bright side: We can buy guns and ammunition, at least until the unemployment checks stop coming. Then we’ll just steal them.
I do believe we are in for a weird ride the next few years. —Jackson Griffith
Well, shit. The trouble with wobbly trains on wobbly train tracks is that, sooner or later, those motherfuckers come off the tracks and then there’s a heap of twisted wreckage and smoke, and those of us who were standing trackside as the train wobbled by all look at each other and mumble, “Well, kinda told you so, no?”
Amy Winehouse, dead at 27. People die from addictive disease. You keep doing the shit and getting fucked up and bouncing in and out of rehab, and sooner or later your number is gonna come up. Sooner or later, you’re not going to get another chance. Those of us who have spent any time around what’s euphemistically called “the rooms” recognize this. We’ve gone to the funerals, and when that broken-hearted parent or sibling or child asks us “Why?” we shrug our shoulders and respond: “Because that’s what happens to alcoholics and addicts.” It’s no mystery. You either accept the gift of sobriety and recovery when it’s offered to you, gratis, and then you treasure that gift by putting it into practice and then paying it forward to others who need it the way you needed it, or else you bounce back and forth until something like this happens.
So, yeah. I look at an event like this filtered through the prism of, at this point, 18 years, 10 months and two days of continuous sobriety, with periods of solid recovery interspersed with other periods of being a miserable old cuss because I wasn’t working it. I’ve also buried a few people with similar stories who weren’t famous. It’s always the same with people who don’t understand addictive disease: “Why?”
Anyway, I’m not one of those people who thinks that anyone who picks up a drink or a drug is an alcoholic or a drug addict, but I sure can recognize a drunk or a junkie when I see one, as in: takes one to know one. Oh, well. Rest in peace, sweet wasted princess, and hope that others can learn from your example.
Last night I played music in Stockton, at a cafe I got permanently 86’ed from 30 years ago for drunkenly heckling poets. I get to play places like that now, because I’ve learned and accepted what happens to me when I take that first drink or do that first hit or line or pill. Shit happens. Handcuffs mysteriously appear out of the blackness of night. So, instead, I just show up with my guitar and songs and goofy stories, and if the stars are aligned nicely like they were last night, a good time is had by all.
I wish that Amy Winehouse could have experienced what I have in sobriety. Sadly, she won’t. —Jackson Griffith
Boy, do I have a lot to say, and I’m in this just overflowing with groovieness mooding, too! Peaches! We are special golf make shop! If I don’t put a damper on my effusive effusivious Vesuvioness, um, I’m just going to boil over with goody-goodness and get my dinkle squinkled so many times, I’ll probably lose count!
Heck whiz! Actually, I’m in Stockton, I seem to have misplaced my favorite hat today, and I’ve gotta blow this Peet’s popsicle stand and get to my gig, which is at the Blackwater Cafe on Yosemite Street, nine-something-something is the address, where I’ll be playing some music later with Dan Ambiance and whoever else shows up. You got a guitar and have some particularly odious jam-band hippie-rock anthemic 20-minute buttnuggets you want to foist on the sparse crowd? Come on down! Because if you don’t bring it, I will, and you have no idea what I will be pulling from my gigbag. Hell, I don’t either! Show starts whatever, like nine or something, and it’s Friday, July 22. The sun is trine my native sun, and apparently Uranus is in my trousers. Wait. That doesn’t sound good at all.
Aw, fuggit. Come on down. —Jackson Griffith
Oh, goody. It’s summer again, and it’s Sammie season, which in this age of social media means that some of us are getting inundated by people begging us to nominate them, or their band, for the Sacramento Area Music Awards. Let me just say that I’ve got nothing against the Sammies; I used to work at the Sacramento News & Review, and while I never was the most over-the-moon believer in award shows, I’ll admit that they do help focus attention on this town’s music community — well, some of that community — and that a lot of people seem to like the awards.
So who am I to complain?
Where I get a little crinkly is with the begging. Now, come on: If your music is so darned wonderful, don’t you think the whole town would be beating a path to your door? Why do you have to beg people who don’t even know you that well to nominate you, and then turn around and beg them again to vote for you once you’ve gotten yourself nominated? And should you win, what does it prove — that you’re a better politician than everyone else? More like, oh, Tracy Flick with a guitar.
Then again, I have a problem with social-media hype in general, like, say, people coming onto my Facebook page and hyping their stuff. It would be like me coming over to your house and pounding a ten-foot-tall billboard into your lawn with my face plastered on it. You wouldn’t like that, would you? I mean, if you’re going to come onto my page and beg people to listen to your band or nominate you for a Sammie or sell your book, at least have the decency to send me a message and ask permission first. Anything else is just so goddamned gauche.
Yeah, I’m a grump. Sorry. I just got some devastating news two nights ago from somebody who has been finding fresh ways to say “fuck you” to me for over 20 years, and it’s still slicing me inside like a pizza made from rusty nails. I’m finding it hard to be happy, so stupid little things are setting me off: cutesy-poo couples burbling their affectionate little sweetnesses to each other in public places (this means you, yuppie couple in the bulk foods aisle of the Co-op this evening), idiotic entitled drivers (you bints in that white Isuzu Rodeo by the Weatherstone? Fellate me), dumbfuck fat-tire bike riders in Midtown who ride on sidewalks at night with no lights, ad infinitum. Then again, I’m just a grumpy asshole who needs a big hug.
But I’ve always thought the Sammie beggars were Kardashian-level tacky. —Jackson Griffith