FICTION: "All Gods Are Bastards" Irreverence, pt. 1 -- 24 June 2016


I.

Roz was already in the office. Of course; he'd barely sleep if there was still a case to solve.

Bastard.

I shuffled in and left the door to clatter shut behind me. He didn't look up before stating, simply: "You're a wreck."

Bastard.

I half-mumbled, half-rasped something at him. To my pounding ears it sounded vaguely like "fuckyouneedashower."

"Water shut off today. Pipe rusted through or something. Apparently the basement's flooded."

"fuckthatimgoingbed"

"You have a client."

I stopped. Blinked. The greasy fog in my field of vision swirled and resolved into my partner, Roz, and a woman.

I glared blearily at Roz. He shrugged with the minutest of movement, but his face remained infuriatingly nonchalant, eyes casually running over some of his case files in one hand, a mug of coffee steaming in the other. He was sitting on the desk.

On the desk. When we had a client.

We had a client!

My gaze lurched toward her, while my mind struggled to keep up in between imagining the darkest of punishments for Roz.

"Gurgh." My greeting came out as a turbulent cough. Fuck. Fuckfuckfuc―

I became vaguely aware of the woman's face. Her eyes. Wide. Abundantly blue. Terrified. She was barely registering my obscenely disheveled act.

But that could change. Fuck, but my head hurt, and my stomach. I doubted her distress would hold out if I belched bile and yesterday's dinner all over the floorboards, and our firm could not afford to lose clients. There was, of course, only one solution.

Of course, a nagging, self-loathing voice in the back of my mind chided, it's not like we weren't about to do this very thing regardless of who was in the office this morning. We were looking forward to it...

I dropped to my knees and sat back on my heels, letting my arms rest palms up on my knees. My eyes were already closed. Try as I might to avoid it, to forget it, the action had become automatic.

I focused my thoughts on a single passage, a mantra. Everything else, all other sensation, was nullified. I'm told that I sometimes speak it, so low that it borders on inaudibility, but of course I can never hear it at the time.

Worshipful we praise You
Mother
Joyous we sing to You
Pure and whole we sanctify our bodies
All for You
Mother
Cleansed and shining
Your light undarkened
Our flesh unmarked, uncorrupted
Mother

Our Lady of the Universal Solvent
Mother of the Sterilizing Catalyst―"

SHE seized me, and suddenly "I" was no more.

Contact with the Divine is not a good experience―although, to be fair, it fails to be experiential for most of it. The simple fact is that the gods are not human, never were human (despite the baffling number of apotheosis myths), and can barely be said to possess intelligence as we understand it. Oh, they know things, that much is never in doubt―one might more precisely say that they are, in essence, the knowing-of-things. But how can you emotionally relate to living concepts?

One wonders why the gods are so "interested" to sentient physical life. It's the wrong word, of course, but to talk of the gods is to insist on metaphor. Then, one makes contact, and the system of world becomes terrifyingly clear.

The gods eat ego and shit power. Your consciousness is put to work cohering their own, and (pursuant to your prayer) they may use those brief moments of executive function to help you out. Key word, "may." That's why it's a leap of faith.

SHE, "Our Mother of the Sterilizing Catalyst" and so on, less poetically called the Homeostatrix, is one of "ours," a deity with a portfolio directly touching on the peculiarities of humanity. Somehow part of HER essence contains a description of human "baseline" blood chemistry, and HER tendency is to convert any pollutant directly into what I've heard is a rather hypnotic play of light in the visible spectrum, emitted from the pores, with brief bursts in the low ultraviolet. No one has quite figured out where the extra mass-energy goes, but such is to question the ways of the divine. Whatever the means, it all comes down to the simple fact that HER presence, for the low price of a few minutes' oblivion, makes for a superlative hangover cure.

When I regained integrity, my pores still sparkled with the last photons of what used to be alcohol, and my head spun with a sense of purpose and wonderment at the vast glory of the univ―I shook it off and stood up.

"So it's true." The woman's voice quavered, but just barely. Her eyes were as wide as ever.

"Apologies for my poor behavior, miss. Allow me to introduce myself. I'm..."

"Valiant-heart-steadfast-before-the-gaze-of-the-universal-One. I've heard of you."

I blinked. Very, very few people knew the given to me at my... birth. "You've... heard of me? That's―" but I quickly regained my composure. "But call me Val. I know my liturgy well enough, obviously, so I don't need any verses repeated."

She blinked back, and didn't laugh. "Val then." Her voice had lost its quaver. "I need your help."

I blinked again. And again. "I... I'm sorry, but I don't handle the investigations. You should direct your inquiry to my partner Rostilev there―" I nodded towards my infuriatingly calm partner, still reading notes as if we didn't exist, but the woman shook her head.

"I know that. I don't need an investigation. I've heard what you can do. What you do. What you are."

Oh hell. Oh fucking hell. "I don't know what you've heard, lady, but I'm not―there's no such thing as―"

"Beloved of the gods."

Incarnated, I almost said. Thankfully I held my tongue long enough to switch that word―never a good one to just blurt out―for a much more blurt-worthy "What?"

"I can see that. I know. Because I am too, in my own way."

This was a new one. The gods are many things to humankind, and humankind are many things to the gods, but never 'beloved.' Maybe it was because my little ritual actually worked, so apparently spontaneously, and did what I wanted? Maybe I could believe that, but...

"What do you mean, 'beloved'?"

She pushed herself off from my desk and walked toward me, her eyes growing liquid, about to tear up.

"I need you to bring my husband back."

I took half a step back. This conversation was entirely too strange. Something about gods and love, but now a simple missing persons case? "Your husband? Madam, I still believe that falls under Rostilev's purview..."

"My husband is a god."

I vaguely registered silence to my left as Roz stopped rifling through his papers, the nonchalance vanished.

To this, I had no answer.

REVIEW: "Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage" -- Man versus nature

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Shackleton's doomed voyage―an attempt to cross the Antarctic continent―pretty much can't be described in any other way than "incredible." The preface to the book tells us two remarkable facts: first, that what Shackleton and his expedition were attempting to do would not actually be accomplished until the 1950s, with the full gauntlet of modern machines and electric heat; and second, that no human being died or even suffered grievous physical injury over the course of the entire ordeal.

Then we dive in to the narrative itself, and as soon as the Endurance becomes ironically trapped and crushed by ice floes, it's just one damn thing after another. Even having been assured by the preface that everyone survives, you swear up and down, even shout aloud, "No! Someone's going to die! Nobody can survive that!" Reading what the expeditionary force endured: dragging hundreds of pounds of gear and lifeboats over actively shifting ice, dodging leopard-seal attacks, crossing the objectively worst span of ocean for storms in lifeboats not built for the high seas, an overland journey to a whaling station that modern mountaineers have refused to attempt for fear of death...

And nobody dies. I think a couple of the crew get frostbite.

Lansing pulls together a lot of primary source material, because all the crewmen kept diaries (of course they did!) and didn't ever throw them away. The Audible version really makes the story pop, as narrator Simon Prebble gives each crewman a voice. Of course, feeling a sense of connection with the characters only increases one's anxiety that surely one will perish eventually.

Oh, and when they do return to England, World War I is still on, and a good proportion of the crew go on to enlist in the armed forces for King and country. Because why not? "Back when men were men," and all that.

I'd recommend this book to anyone. It's that engrossing.

View all my Goodreads reviews.

Summer camp for "adults," pt. 3 -- Late stage camp-italism

This post is third in the Summer camp for "adults" series: See part 1 and part 2.

How long can I go in critiquing another, more transparently corporate-retreat-aspiring "summer camp for grown-ups" before giving up and yelling "fuck off"? Read and see!

I.

At the end of last summer I wrote two posts about Camp RAHH, "Seattle's summer camp for adults." And my feeling by the end of it was less rage than bleakness and despair, except for the one hopeful fact that they were paying money to their host camp, Camp Kirby, and that Kirby is a lovely place that deserves all the money it can get.

Now I've come to learn about the broader trend of adult summer camps, and I'm angry again.

I think I have a Facebook sponsored ad to thank for this, but first, here's a TIME article from 2013:
Like cartoons and cupcakes, summer camp is becoming one of those things adults just won’t leave to the kids anymore.

“Glamping” — that is, staying in a tent, yurt or treehouse but with butlers, electricity and luxury hotel-style amenities — was discovered by Justin Bieber and Elle magazine last year, and this year, camp fever seems to have trickled down to the masses. An “American Idol” alum is even hosting a new reality show called “Summer Camp.”

There are camps for dog lovers and drummers, for surfers, and for senior citizens. The Wall Street Journal says there are some 800 summer camps for adults, and the number is growing by about 10% a year. So go write your name on the inside of your undies and grab some granola bars: Your camp is waiting.
As soon as my eyes scanned the word "glamping" I had to fight the urge to yell "Fuck off!" at my laptop screen.

I mean, god damn it, but "retreats" were already a known commodity among the middle and upper classes. Why bother calling them "summer camps"? And for "grown-ups" no less?

Among those mentioned in TIME's list is Camp Grounded, whose original advertisement I saw on Facebook and on whose website I found the TIME link in the first place. How are they billing this...

Unplug & Get Away

Pure, Unadulterated Camp for Grown-Ups


Just Like the Summer Camp You Remember from Your Childhood
Trade in your computer, cell phone, email, digital cameras, clocks, schedules, work-jargon, networking events and conferences for four days of pure, unadulterated off-the-grid camp fun. Together, we’ll create a community where status updates, job titles, bitcoins and “busyness” models are worth little… and individuality, self-expression, community, friendship, and memories are what matter most.
Ffffffuuuu... no. I can't say it, not yet.

I said this before about Camp RAHH: What exactly is this giving people that can't be gotten on their own initiative? Well, I'll be charitable; maybe these camps are in places, and serving people, who maybe don't have the opportunity to enjoy natural parks or forests...?

It's not summer camp without tee-pees! ~u.w.u~
Well, this isn't a good sign. California, N. Carolina, New York, and Texas, all places that are pretty well known for having nice backcountries, and whose residents go outside a lot. But maybe they're at a lower cost? No tech might mean less expensive (oh who am I kidding)...


NY: 595 ticket + 27.85 fee
TX, NC: 645 ticket + 29.35 fee
CA: 695 ticket + 30.85 fee

Notably, the California rate is double what it was in 2013, judging from news articles.

I've got a bad feeling about this, but where are these camps, really...? How do they relate to urban centers...
Only 150 miles from the Bay Area...
Just 60 miles from NYC...
Just 40 miles from Asheville, you’ll find yourself in a setting rarely found in real life.
Just over an hour from downtown Austin...
Yep, tech nerds, hipsters, and "creatives" (hurrrk) abound! (Granted, New York City is New York City, but c'mon.) The North Carolina one is especially egregious, since Asheville itself is just two hours away from Charlotte, the largest city in the state!

Then there's the white-people-playing-Indians aspect. Sweat lodges and tipis! But don't forget speaking to the spirit of the fire with your fellow "primitives"!

But why stop at Native Americans? Throw in some milquetoast Eastern mysticism!

I sense a theme here. (The hell does tea ceremony have to do with camping in the wilderness?) And that theme is: stuff that's already thick on the ground in hipster/tech/"creative" enclaves. There's nothing surprising here, nothing that isn't advertised in every arts and music magazine, or random lamp-post flier, or every farmer's market, or every skill-sharing school.

It's all the same thing as one can find (if one is so motivated) in a hip urban setting, just now in a woodsy environment (with camp counselors!). Hooray? Again, there are already retreats for this sort of thing, as my friend Jon found out, to his chagrin.

I guess the idea here is that you can try several different things out? But isn't that also true of the regular in-town stuff? Oh, nevermind, I've already speculated on this in the Camp RAHH posts. It's (probably) all about highly-mediated-experiences and all-inclusivity.

II.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the press for Camp Grounded was bemused, at least in its first year. It was also, well, pretty obvious: the Atlantic article notes that the session was attended by correspondents for the New York Times, the New Yorker, and NPR. Ding ding ding!

The New York Times article not only drops the analogy to Wes Anderson's movies that I was totally going to make with a bit more disdain, but it includes this oh-so-flattering anecdote about the campers vis-a-vis the food:
Meals were vegan and gluten-free variations on summer camp staples: The first night we ate chickpea “sloppy Joes” and kale salad; another night, gluten-free “mac ’n’ cheese” made from rice pasta and soy with collard greens.
Oh, but that's not all. The official blurb about food is, well, eye-rollingly obvious:


Ding ding ding! No, that's not the dinner bell, that's the "rich urban liberal memes to justify price premiums" bell. Kombucha on tap? What's next, actual food woo?

Fffffuuuuu... no. Not yet. Back to the Times:
To hear some of the campers tell it, giving up meat was harder than giving up technology, and by the second day, talk of hamburgers, bacon and fried chicken was constant. For some, the craving for meat got so bad that a group of campers sneaked into the kitchen one night and devoured slabs of bacon and packets of hot dogs that had been stored in the freezer for the kitchen staff. Another night, two campers who had volunteered to tear kale for hours in the kitchen were rewarded with bacon, which they passed around like contraband candy at a weight-loss camp.
Jesus Christ, people, it's a fucking long weekend! But I guess Camp Grounded is delivering on its promise of letting campers behave like children...

Unaccustomed to such a legume- and leafy-green-rich diet, many campers privately complained about feeling bloated or snickered about the dubious wisdom of feeding 300 people so many lentils and asking them to share a few latrine-style toilets.
Ah yes, lentil sharts. Just like Boy Scout camp!

Oh, and there was naysaying press too. The Atlantic article shared some of my current views. The Atlantic Wire article put it succinctly in a headline: "Digital Detox Camp Is So Easy To Hate." Contrasted with the unshakable feeling that, say, the Mashable writer was genuinely surprised by face-to-face, unplugged conversation, I can't help but agree.

One attendee, not a professional journalist, blogged about the experience, including "The one event that completely ruined camp for me":
Sunday was the camp-wide activity – Colour Wars, and this one activity completely ruined Camp Grounded for me. We were all divided into teams based on our favourite colour – mine was blue. I was looking forward to Colour Wars – my childhood camp was always divided into two tribes, and throughout the month you earned points for your tribe by doing individual activities, earning badges, and participating in camp-wide programs. At Camp Grounded there were about 10 different colours and after breakfast that morning we all met our groups and were tasked with coming up with cheers, chants, posters, slogans etc. This might have been fun, however the sheer volume of items they asked us to create seemingly took hours to finish. When all the teams reconvened on the parade ground we all had to present the judges with their various cheers and slogans, and we were to be judged on them. This again could have been fun, except the judging was a farce with the judges assigning points in a random manner that reflected only the level to which a team would, to put it bluntly, kiss ass for what seemed like hours as each team repeatedly went up to do their cheers, and fawn over the judges.

Eventually it was time for lunch and we all sat in our teams, and at least where I was sitting, the talk turned to how Camp Grounded was nothing like what had been expected by the campers. There was a general feeling of discontent with some comparing it to being in high-school – the popular kids were the councillors and the chosen few of the campers who knew them previously, and the rest of us were the wallflowers who were being asked to obey their every whim.

About halfway through lunch the judges decreed that as of that moment we were no longer able to feed ourselves, and had to find someone to pair with and feed each other. I, along with some of the campers around me, refused to participate, and continued to eat as before. If a plausible explanation had been given for the request, or if there had been a reasoning behind it, I would have more than likely participated, but the dictate simply to force us to do something for the councillors amusement was despicable.
Highlights mine. Later in the post, we learn:
Camp Grounded was advertised as drug and alcohol free. It wasn’t. This alone wouldn’t normally bother me – drugs aren’t my thing, but I’m aware there are some people who enjoy them. What bothers me is that it was advertised as one thing, but no effort was made to ensure it stayed that way. This reinforced the ‘high-school’ feel of camp in that there seemed to be two sets of rules – one for the ‘popular’ kids, and one for the wallflowers and that wasn’t the experience I was looking for.
This is my completely unsurprised face. The Bay Area (and really, by extension, Silicon Valley) has acquired a Greek-row reputation for a reason, after all. And the extreme "do this, now do this" attitude (even in the official promotional materials) walks a very thin line between "authentic experience" and "hazing."

III.

And now, the face-heel turn. What's this button?



Team building, eh? That sounds nice... but why do I get a bad feeling...


Oh. Oh no. Oh nononononononono...


Stop. Don't go there. Pleas don't. Pl―


FFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK OOOOOOOOFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF

IV.

This is all a goddamned lie. How can you go on about authenticity and "being a kid again" when every element of this experience could be found in a decently sized liberal-arts-college town? How can you go on about "unplugging" from work and digital addiction when you flirt so coyly with "analog" versions of those same things, knowing full goddamn well (or do you?) that it's called a "bulletin board" and not "analog analogies" (fffuuuucckk offfffff) of some Web 2.0 service, as the Forbes article helpfully offers:
The camp’s main courtyard is littered with analog analogies of today’s most addictive tech habits. Campers have physical “inboxes” — cubbies where they can receive letters, painted pet rocks, or even “spam,” as one camper hand-wrote letters from a Nigerian prince. They can ask questions or leave notes on large scrolls of paper — a human-powered Google search and Facebook wall. And the canteen has a board with post-it notes stuck on it with tips about the food — a replacement for Yelp.
INBOXES WERE ORIGINALLY PHYSICAL, FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK

And make no mistake, the trajectory back into corporate life is clear. Both Digital Detox (Camp Grounded's parent company, tagline "Disconnect to Reconnect"―fffuuuccccckkkk offfff) and Camp Grounded itself have prominent "for teams" sections, with Digital Detox explicitly "corporate + teams," and their mustachioed (fffffuuuuucccckkkk offffff) founder proudly told the eager techie press that Camp Grounded would expand to offer "day camps" in the Bay Area proper. I can only assume that was the precursor to "Daycare"―how transparently infantilizing can one get?

I mean, if literally wearing diapers is your thing, you do you; but can we not advertise it as something allegedly for the general public?

Oh wait, they also have a version just for Jews! Ffffffuuuuuucccccckkk offfffff