Jake Block

The Stare

by Jake Block

I got an email from one of the elders, not quite as elder as I, but still, long in the tooth and possessed of that glassy-eyed “1000 yard stare” of one who’s been there and done that. He wrote that he just wanted to vent because he had just been in a thread where someone with bright eyes and an undeserved swagger had lectured him on some subject that he had just read about on a web page somewhere… boils down to Satanism 101… and that the youngun had told my friend that “you old people just don’t get it.”

Prefaced with a “LOL,” the old timer assured the kid that not only did he understand it, but he had indeed written the paragraph that had fired the youngun up. I explained to him that it has happened to me as well, and that I understood how he felt. Quite often, when it happens, oldsters like us can be tempted to snap back with something like, “Looky here sonny or missy, I’ve forgotten more about that subject than you are likely to learn in a lifetime.” Most of what people write on the web is something that has been written and plagiarized over and over before, but to someone, somewhere, out there, it’s all new.

In his song “A Pirate Looks At Forty,” Jimmy Buffett sings:

“Yes I am a pirate, two hundred years too late
The cannons don’t thunder, there’s nothing to plunder
I’m an over-forty victim of fate
Arriving too late.”

For my magician friend and I, we’re looking at seventy, and I can understand how those who are relatively new on the Left Hand Path can possibly get the idea that maybe we just don’t “get it,” but get it we do, and probably have for a long, long time, so forgive us if we sometimes seem less enthusiastic than those sitting there with their pdfs or even their fresh, new paperbacks of books we bought in hard back decades ago… books now worn with age and use, with dog-eared pages and pages tinged yellow with age. It’s not that we don’t appreciate your enthusiasm, even if we might have a little doubt at your presumed expertise in your advanced age. We’re willing to give you the enthusiasm of youth, because you know, at one time, we had it too. But do us a favor and realize that just because we are so much older, we’re most probably not the doddering old farts you imagine, sitting there behind your screen.

I’ll give a shout out here to a well respected musician, humorist and master magician, Lon Milo DuQuette and refer you to his song, Don’t Write Me Off. Those with ears to hear and minds to understand might find wisdom in his little ditty…


Things You Don’t Get To Do

by Jake Block

I was talking to a man the other day, and he told me that he’d really like to go see a Jackyl concert, but his wife told him that he couldn’t go.


I looked at him like he was from Mars and asked, “She told you that you couldn’t go to a concert?”

“Yeah, Jake,” he said. “She doesn’t want me to go to concerts. She won’t let me do a lot of things, and you know what they say; happy wife, happy life.”

Now, I’ve heard the saying before, and while it makes some sense, because we would all like our wives (or husbands) to be happy, I have this problem with someone telling me “I CAN’T,” because I’m a grown-assed man. You MIGHT request that I don’t do something, and I MIGHT take your concerns under consideration. Perhaps there’s something that I have a previous commitment to… perhaps there’s a more pressing need for the money I would expend… maybe locusts or vampire bats are scheduled to ravage the town… you might remind me that I really don’t care much for Jackyl. But “I CAN’T” just ain’t gonna cut it. If I’m “paying the freight,” that goes double.

There are things I shouldn’t do. I know that and I understand that. But in my life, it’s up to me if I am going to accept my limitations or go against “what I ought to do,” in favor of “what I WANT to do,” so long as it isn’t hurting anyone else, taking food off of their plate, or money out of their pocket. If I WANT a new piece of camera equipment, and I have the money to pay for it without severely impacting the financial state of my household, I’ll buy it. If I want to go to the casino for a day’s recreation at the blackjack table, and I don’t have anything on my schedule that I should be home to take care of, then you can leave a message for me on my answering machine, because I won’t have a phone on me when the dealer’s asking me if I want another card. If I’m in the mood for sex, and the lady in my life tells me I’m cut off because I did A,B or C, and she felt I should be punished, well… the door is that large, upright slab with a knob on it. Walk through it.

You don’t get to tell me what I can eat or drink unless you’re paying for my dinner and it was part of the agreement for me being there, and if that was a prerequisite for me having dinner with you in the first place, I would rather eat alone at McDonald’s.

You don’t get to tell me where I can stay when I’m traveling. There are times I might travel on the cheap, but mostly I stay in 3-4 star hotels. My dime… I spend it as I see fit. Now if YOU are paying for my room, I might accept a two star hotel IF you’re paying for meals too.

You don’t get to tell me what I can do with my talents. A fellow photographer was once engaged to a woman who told him, “and after we get married there will be no more nude photography.” She lives somewhere in Ohio now, I think. Probably married to someone who never has an opportunity to come into contact with women. My photographer friend is thriving in San Francisco and shoots who and whatever the hell he wants.

I spent thousands of hours and thousands of dollars learning my craft as a photographer and if I am freelancing, I will decide what, where and whom I will shoot. If I want a boss, I will take a job, and then he or she can decide what I shoot… during the hours they’re paying me! I don’t think anyone, anywhere could pay me what I would want to be paid for that kind of artistic and intellectual confinement. So, I’ll shoot what inspires me, or is enjoyable, vs what anyone else feels is a proper photographic subject. Jake’s rules of photography are no kids, no shake and take (awards ceremonies), no wedding or family party shots. If that doesn’t match up with someone else’s desires, I suppose it’s a sad state of affairs… for them. My art comes first when I am inspired to work with it.

We all have times when someone feels that they should have the right to restrict us, not for cause, but “just because.” Most often, they would never accept the roles to be reversed, and if you tried, you would surely be accused of abusing their friendship or trust. LaVey once famously opined, “It’s too bad that stupidity isn’t painful.” It’s hard to disagree. But it’s also hard to disagree that if you give up your personal freedom of thought and actions to someone else who you otherwise want in your life, you have to be willing to accept responsibility for a good deal of the pain you feel as a result.

Now, this is not to say that you should, as a rule of thumb, reject the advice or informational input of others. Sometimes it’s needed and it’s a vital thing to have. But in the final analysis, what you do in and with your life if your own business, and you and you alone have to live with the consequences, so one’s own counsel should and does carry more weight than even the most well intentioned advice from others. And no matter how comfortable the cell is, or how appealing the cell mate might be, I’m not going to imprison myself just because someone else thinks it might be good for me!

What Do You Want From Life

by Jake Block

“What do you want from life
Someone to love
and somebody that you can trust
What do you want from life
To try and be happy
while you do the nasty things you must…

Well, you can’t have that, but if you’re an American citizen you are entitled to: a heated kidney shaped pool, a microwave oven–don’t watch the food cook, a Dyna-Gym — I’ll personally demonstrate it in the privacy of your own home, a kingsize Titanic unsinkable Molly Brown waterbed with polybendum, a foolproof plan and an airtight alibi, real simulated Indian jewelry, a Gucci shoetree, a year’s supply of antibiotics, a personally autographed picture of Randy Mantooth and Bob Dylan’s new unlisted phone number, a beautifully restored 3rd Reich swizzle stick, Rosemary’s Baby, a dream date in kneepads with Paul Williams, a new Matador, a new mastodon, a Maverick, a Mustang, a Montego, a Merc Montclair, a Mark IV, a meteor, a Mercedes, an MG, or a Malibu, a Mort Moriarty, a Maserati, a Mac truck, a Mazda, a new Monza, or a mo-ped, a Winnebago–Hell, a herd of Winnebago’s we’re giving ’em away, or how about a McCulloch chainsaw, a Las Vegas wedding, a Mexican divorce, a solid gold Kama Sutra coffee pot, or a baby’s arm holding an apple?”

— What Do You Want From Life (The Tubes)

I got a call from a very old friend named Jim Youngblood, that I served with in Vietnam. We spoke for about an hour about nothing and about life and about why we continue to participate in a life where we seldom, if ever come out on top. He told me that now, in his 70th year, he was finally “retiring”and had spent the day, beer in hand, wondering with his wife of 40 years, “Is this all we get for all that we give?”

I listened for a while and then asked, “Jim… what did you WANT to have at this point in life when you made your plans to attain it all those years ago?”

I wasn’t really surprised when he said, “I dunno, Jake. I just kind of did what we were always told was the way life worked; got a job, raised a family… you know… I just lived.”

Those of my generation might answer that way quite often. We would be called “baby boomers,” and those assumed to be destined for the great middle class simply by virtue of having a father who survived the war and being born into a post war economy. We were urged to go to school and get that high school diploma, as it was almost a sure thing that you would be able to make a living and probably be able to enjoy your assumed wife and two point five American children. That’s the way most of our brothers and sisters, children of the fifties, lived. Once in a while one of us would break the mold and get a college degree, but that was to become a mark of success over a decade later when that generation would return from yet another war and spawn a generation of their own.
People began to expect more as the generations passed and felt discriminated against if they didn’t get every damned thing on their wish list and a few more things beside… and it had to be THE BEST because they deserved it because they were, after all, themselves. Now, you notice that I didn’t say that they put in any sweat equity in obtaining all of their expectations. I mean, that would require EFFORT… that would require COMMITMENT. Why should one have to bust his ass to have more in the land of milk and honey? So, what’s a self-centered and pampered “Me Generation” to do when all there is is barely enough to go around, and those who have it worked their asses off to attain it. Well… in the words of the Crowned Prince of Guthy-Renker’s self-improvement series, Tony Robbins, they learned to “Fake it until they make it,” and tell themselves that “Second place ain’t all that bad. Beats third.” His $500 course would show you how.

Along with the expectation of success without effort came the whole attitude of entitlement in the face of ample evidence that in the greater scheme of things, the universe cares nothing about the individual for good or ill. For the cold-heartedness of time and space, the individual simply is, and is subject to complete oblivion at the capricious whims of the universe. But then, so too was the universe itself, in the harshness of its environment where billions of galaxies spun in a cosmic game of bumper-cars, smashing into one another, absorbing them, with the remnants of destroyed stars simply fuel for new ones. The idea that entitlement could exist in such a totally hostile and endlessly obliterative environment was ludicrous at best and spoke to insanity.

You all know the history here. We went from the good old days that were only “good old” in the hazy visions of memory, when the sun shone every day and the air always smelled like a freshly mown lawn, to the times when wars took the best and brightest, leaving the rest to cope and mourn the loss of good old days that their sons and daughters would never have lived to remember. There there were times of economic booms, economic slumps, greed that led to a burst of an unsustainable economic bubble, loss, rebuilding, more wars, more bubbles, more debt. When a president proclaimed America a “shining city on the hill,” we all stood proud, looking up at it and making our way as best we could, but it now seemed that the closer we got, the less it shone. We stood at the door, hands out, like some expecting kid awaiting his treat on Halloween, only to be told, “Go away kid, there ain’t no more candy,” the single porch light dark. We’ve all stood there hoping, at one time or another, listening to the party inside, while we stood there in the dark.

The words of the old Billie Holliday song from 1941 played somewhere in our memory.

God Bless The Child

by Billie Holliday

“Them that’s got, shall get
Them that’s not, shall lose
So the Bible said, and it still is news
Mama may have, and papa may have
God bless’ the child,
That’s got his own
That’s got his own.

Yes the strong seem to get more
While the weak ones fade
Empty pockets don’t
Ever make the grade
As mama may have
And papa may have
God bless’ the child
That’s got his own
That’s got his own.

And when you got money,
You got a lots of friends
Crowdin’ ’round your door
When the money’s gone
And all you’re spendin’ ends
They won’t be ’round any more
No, no, no more

And rich relations
May give you
A crust of bread and such
You can help yourself
But don’t take too much

Mama may have
And your papa may have
But God bless’ the child
That’s got his own
That’s got his own
God bless’ the child who can stand up and say
I’ve got my own

Ev’ry child’s, got to have his own!”

Ok, we asked, that’s all well and good for those who “got their own,” but where the hell is OURS? Why don’t we have it? Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? The children whose parents grew and prospered inherited their wealth and were able to add to it and take from it until the time when they would die and bequeath all that we had gained to those who we had brought unto the earth in their billions, each expecting a large piece of a pie that simply couldn’t sustain the ever growing hungry masses of the planet. We’ve always been told that hard work and effort will return to us as a comfortable life with a few luxuries to enjoy. We made money for “THE MAN,” and now it’s time for him to bleed… bleed for US, and we don’t really care if it means that we’ll bleed him dry until the jobs are gone and the man himself gives up and moves on to try to make it elsewhere.

So now, here we are, expecting our laundry list of goodies that surely is the birthright of anyone who draws their first breath, but faced with the sad reality that the days of entitlement are over, if they ever really existed at all. It’s disheartening to some of the “youngers” that the economy is volatile enough that they can’t count on being wealthy as easily or as quickly as they would have liked, or at all, and that’s the truth.

Jim Youngblood, like all or us who took the attitude that our generation couldn’t fail, are simply coming to grips with the reality that ANYONE, any generation, any nation, any species can and often does fail to achieve the standards that the more successful of their society or culture have set. But in having reached the heights of wealth and control, those elevated few are simply employing the true “Golden Rule:” “He who has the gold makes the rules.” That doesn’t mean that we have to accept their definitions of success or abide by their limitations, either.

Today in America we hear a lot of talk about the 1% and how they hoard their wealth while the 99% serve and suffer. The truth is that the imbalance of wealth as an economic phenomenon has ALWAYS been with us, and there has always been a small class of the extremely wealthy, with a number of subsets of the economic swale, roughly and colloquially seen as the middle and lower classes. So what’s different today? The difference today is that you are constantly reminded of it on TV, on the radio and in omnipresent programming ubiquitously on the “world wide web.”
In earlier generations we had high unemployment and we had working poor and we had the chronically unemployed. And I’ll tell you something. If those of yesterday saw the way that the “poor” of today live, they would look at each other and then look at us and chortle, “Hey, QUITCHERBITCHIN’!” In my youth, if you were “poor,” you didn’t have personal luxury items and high-cost disposables. Cell phones were not yet invented, but you can bet your poorly deprived ass that we couldn’t have afforded yakking away on a $700 iPhone, or have a computer in our homes or NETFLIX or ROKU, Sling or any other add-on entertainment services. Hell, boys and girls, there were times in my family that we couldn’t afford that basic dial-up phone. We ate tuna casserole, or government subsistence foods. We didn’t have food at school and if your parents couldn’t afford a bologna sandwich and a few chips for their kids, you went hungry at lunch after a bowl of corn flakes for breakfast.

My father and mother both worked, and we as kids learned to take care of ourselves when they were not at home to take care of us. When you were twelve, you were expected to babysit the younger kids, learn how to fix simple meals, and still get your homework done, the house cleaned up and in return you got your small (and I mean small) allowance for your candy bar and maybe a small Coke to go with it. There was a farmer’s co-op and grain store about a mile from my house where little glass bottles of Coke were a nickel and there was a guy named Ferd Winkler who brewed his own brand of cola on the other side of town. He only charged three cents for a small bottle of his cola, IF you turned in another bottle as a deposit.

We used to ride our rickety bikes down Douglas Hill which was the biggest hill in town, but the fastest way down to Swansea. Other kids made fun of me because I rode my sister’s bike, but it had a basket, so we could load some Ferd Winkler’s soda in it to take with us back up Douglas hill. Hey! Cola at 3¢ a bottle? Even kids recognize a bargain when they see it, so we drank A LOT of Ferd Winkler. I wish I had kept some of the bottles. They go for over $15.00 each now on EBAY.

In my parent’s lifetime, they saw the economy waiver several times, and even lived through the stock market crash in 1929. There were seriously poor people who were reduced to standing in long lines for a bowl of watered down soup and a few crackers to keep body and soul together. Door to door salesmen tried to earn with small household necessities from pencils to shoe strings earned pennies a day, but pennies were better than nothing, especially when without them, you HAD nothing.

An interesting factoid about the “great depression” is that more millionaires were made during The Great Depression than in any other era in U.S. history. … It is important to know that the Great Depression actually started a few years before the 1929 stock market crash and lasted until World War II brought the country out of the Depression.

Today, we concentrate on the things we don’t have, rather than the things we can achieve, because there is a serious doubt in the minds of many that we CAN achieve. This is not because there is no possibility of achieving things, but that our (society’s) tendency toward entitlement emphasizes that the government, national birthright and indeed, life itself owes us something as part and parcel of our assumed “covenant” with life. We’ve been sold a bill of goods that tells us that we CAN have it all, but we really don’t have to work that hard to get it. In my experience, if anything, we have to work harder and smarter to get what we desire based, if nothing else, on the increased number of participants in the race to get that gold.

A few years ago, I read that this generation was on track to be the first generation of Americans that must face the distinct possibility of not being wealthier than our parents by the time of our retirement. But if that is our motivating factor in life, perhaps we are all laboring under the false impression that happiness is dictated by the number of zeros on the bottom line of our bank statements. We need to moderate our cultural drives of acquisition and align our expectation more with the lip service we give to the platitudes we often spout relative to “money isn’t everything.”

Be heartened in the knowledge that even today, millionaires are being made on a fairly regular basis. Of course, a million dollars isn’t what it used to be. And you know, on a hot day, an ice cold Ferd Winkler cola was just as refreshing as an ice cold Coke, AND you can put the extra few cents you save in to a savings account, or buy mutual funds.

Beyond Babel

by Jake Block

Building a room is simple, actually. All you need is a floor, four walls, a ceiling and a door. Anything else is a modification. Add windows… add a bed, and you have your basic bedroom. You want a bathroom, you can either put it into that basic room or cut a small door in that basic room and attach 3/4 of a room structure and put it there… compliment it with a toilet, a tub and shower, wash basin, certainly a water source, heated and cold, of course, decorate it nicely, and while we’re at it, let’s cut in a door or a pass-through to another smaller 3/4 structure, add shelves and drawer units….you can put your clothing there and whatever accessories (modifiers to your style) that you might enjoy and (voila) the room becomes an “en suite.”

If this is as far as you go, you can build individual shacks or elevate that structure to share the same glories as your average 1950’s style strip motel somewhere out on some lost highway winding through the southwestern U.S.; of use to no one, save the occasional transient, rat or wino in search of shelter for the night. Two dimensional thinking at it’s finest, to be sure, but consider the glory to be gained in thinking in THREE dimensions.

Thinking in three dimensions is the domain of physical and mental architecture. Going UP in one’s architecture and one’s thinking can lead to new vistas, new horizons and new dreams beyond that which can be seen or even comprehended by those who are content with the simple (and safe) world. When one reaches up and out, one must confront age old cultural and personal fears, using and even inventing tools to build secure structures for further growth and exploration. One’s mind must then expand and fortify itself to handle the new parameters and new boundaries, realizing that in recognizing them requires still further expansion and fortification, as one step begets another and another and another. Soon, the mind recognizes that there are no limits, so long as one can envision alternatives to any status quo and the tools to make a new vision and a new reality come to pass.

All the while through this endless round of physical and mental expansion, the wise learn to bolster their structures, their foundations, with facts and with truths that can be trusted to stand yet another round of building. As well, one must learn to recognize the need for reevaluation and change without egoism, when current wisdoms and examinations prove that there are cracks and faults in the foundation that must be remedied before further expansions upward and outward can be put into place. Perhaps one might reach the extent of their physical and intellectual abilities, based on what they have been taught or what they have discovered and it is time to rest and let another with fresh eyes and ideas take the lead.

One thing that we must resist is the urge to stop our building and expansion, for there lies stagnation. There likes inertia. There lies the tyranny of “can’t.” The Tower of Babel threatened the realm of God because man had the vision and drive to make it so.

“But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.”
— The Bible, Genesis 11 5:9

Learn and grow, but speak your vision and your method to those who share the will and the drive to succeed. You all stand on the shoulders of those who have come before. Honor their wisdom and vision, because they did not accept the limitations placed upon them, but found the strength and the wisdom to move onward and upward. Keep them in mind as you work to finish your section of the tower, because in reality, as long as there are those who will not accept limitations and have the drive and intellect to keep on building, the sky and heaven itself is no limit.

While thinking in three dimensions is the domain of the Architect, thinking in the fourth and beyond is the domain of the Magician.

Practical Applications of the Concept of “Being Your Own God”

by Jake Block
Pretty much as soon as someone finishes The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey, or reads the concept of being one’s own god on some webpage with stereotypical graphics including gothic arches, cowled figures and images of black flames and lightning, they begin to picture themselves as some kind of demonic omnipotency, and invincible, while everyone else around them is somehow inferior to their magnificence and grandeur. I suppose it can be a comfort when one’s up to their knees in sewage or bulldozing trash in the stench of some trash pit. But they know that they are superior, because they have read the words.

All well and good, I guess… after all, Christians know that they’re assured of going to heaven because they have read the words in their holy book and believed. So they spend their life in “sure and certain hope of the resurrection,” and know that no matter what the difficulty, “this too shall pass.” But you are superior to these louts, as YOU are a GOD. They just believe in one. As you both sit in the dingy lunch room and unwrap your bologna sandwich, I wonder, “who’s fooling who,” as you look at each other in certainty that the other is wrong.

I suppose that one can’t expect people to fully understand the concept of being one’s own god when they don’t have… or care to find… the whys and wherefores of LaVey’s conceptualization of the term. Most people out there seem to think that all LaVey ever wrote was encapsulated in the Satanic Bible, The Satanic Rituals and The Complete Witch (The Satanic Witch), but he wrote The Satanic Bible in 1969, with The Satanic Rituals and The Compleat Witch following in 1971. Between then and when LaVey died in 1997, he wrote many other things in essay form in the Pages of The Cloven Hoof, the official newsletter of The Church of Satan. For those of us who were members of The Church of Satan and kept our subscriptions current, many items of interest and enlightenment greeted us month after month and year after year.

It’s from this font of knowledge that I will try to distill the essence of what LaVey meant when he said, “you are your own god.” Now, eccentric as he was, he was no fool, and knowing him as I did, I can tell you that he in no way believed that by reading The Satanic Bible you would be somehow imbued with godlike powers, as those ascribed to the omnipotent “hairy thunderers” of antiquity. What he was getting at was that a “god” controlled his life in the reality of the here and now, amidst a world of sheep led by religious, cultural and political shepherds. In order to actually DO this, one had to break away from the herd and take control in ways that were tangible and sound.

“Being your own god” (which is the code for having one’s life in order and under control) is something that I would think that all serious Satanists would aspire to. As simple as the concept is, it’s very common to see people muddy up the waters into a murky muck with talk of the universe and adversarial power and all of the buzzwords common on the web today. Everybody’s got to go through that exercise, it seems, but being that we’re ostensibly creatures of the carnal and of earthly existence at the center of things, we don’t need the muck and mire of metaphor to cloud the simplicity of it. I’ve known a lot of “gods,” and have yet to meet one casting lightning bolts and communing with demons on a practical and demonstrable basis.

The point was to make yourself as independent as possible, so that the winds and whims of change and control had as little effect on the Satanist as possible, so that when the herd blindly reacted to the dictates of control, the Satanist had ability to resist, survive and thrive within a culture and society hostile to his/her very existence. LaVey would be the first to tell you that he had invented nothing new, and that the powers behind the power had long before been practicing the black arts of manipulation and control. The difference is that once THEY had found them, they kept the methods to themselves. LaVey now freely gave them to “the Devil’s Own.”

I’ll break them down here in easy to digest chunks. They’ve worked for me and for others and, if you try them in ways meaningful to you, chances are that they will work for you as well. Like any other tool in the box, efficiency depends on the skill and motivation of the craftsman. Someone who is dedicated to getting what they want out of life and will sacrifice the time, effort and in some cases money to get there will fare better than the average Joe who thinks that life and success should be their birthright because they are… well… they just ARE. Not likely, because the world and the universe don’t give a damn about anyone. They are simply environments that are to a greater or lesser degree, survivable, but requiring manipulations and skills to produce the best crops once the soil is tilled and fertilized. We must provide the seeds of success and tend our gardens well. One thing to remember is that being a god is all about having options. Options give you power. A “god” needs options.
Let’s start out with securing our place as our own god. This is going to require a good deal of effort on the part of those aspiring to the goal, and it’s going to be a life long effort. The best way is to build one’s personal knowledge and skillsets to allow them to become successful in the career of their choice. Making a good living gives you choices. One of those choices is in the saving and investing some of the money that you earn, vs the hand-to-mouth existence that over 90% of the world experiences. Trust me, my friends, you’re going to need some of that money in the not too distant future, so make the most of your peak earning years. Gods can take care of themselves and are not beholden to anyone for their lifestyle, and that takes financial security. By financial security, I mean sustainable income, property, stocks and of course cash that’s going to last you a while when you need it. Enough to weather storms or at least keep your head above water… and that includes your immediate family as well.

My personal method of cash management started out with one year’s pay in the bank, another $10,000 in my personal checking account, and a back up of stocks in mutual funds and company funded savings in stocks. Now, that’s not an easy thing to do without self-discipline, and as a broke-ass kid from East St. Louis, money was hard enough to come by, and harder still to keep. Now, as your chosen career progresses, and your salary rises, attaining and maintaining that goal becomes easier, as you have more income to work with. Always remember to “pay yourself first,” meaning, put something into your savings and retirement accounts. With care and a little luck, you can manage to amass quite a bit of money, and money gives you options.

The next thing that a god needs is a place of his/her own. I’m not talking about renting, or renting to own, but a place that you OWN, free and clear, where you can live in a manner that is pleasing to you and that you control, there in your own place. Remember back when you were younger and, exasperated because you painted a pentagram on the wall of your room, your parent said, “When you own your own house, then you can do any damn thing you want to with it!” There will come a time when you’ll realize that your parents were right.

LaVey took those words to heart when he occupied his residence in that Victorian house on California Street in San Francisco. Each and every room in the house was a reflection of his personal, dark aesthetic, and he didn’t give a damn if anyone else liked it or not. It became his sanctuary, his “Batcave,” his “Fortress of Solitude,” his own personal Pleasure Dome as envisioned by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his poem, “Kubla Khan.”

“Kubla Khan
— by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1834)

Or a Vision in a Dream. A Fragment.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedern cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And ’mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw;
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.”
If you own your own home, you can own your own world. This was a concept deeply explored by LaVey, and his home became a sanctuary, where he could lock the world he detested outside. Here, he was in control, with a capitol “C.” For someone who was allowed to visit his home for the first time, it was like either being in a home in the 1940s or a museum dedicated to that time. It was LaVey’s vision of the world as he had known it, and reflected his personal aesthetic, which could run along the lines of 1940s film noir. Furniture, paintings, lighting and even the often bizarre bric-a-brac you found on his shelves were all hand picked for his personal enjoyment and nostalgia. Outside, he had little control of the rush and bustle of the modern world, but here in his little slice of the past, he was king. He was “god.”
It was in this “owned world” his alternative reality, that he was able to be his most creative, because since he owned the property, he could do pretty much what he wanted to. It was indeed his own world, and if he wanted to paint the walls black and the ceiling red, he could do that. If he wanted to build “The Den of Iniquity” in the lowest level of the house and people it with “manufactured people” of his own creation, he could do that. If he wanted to own exotic pets from a cheetah to a black panther to a lion, he could do that. If he wanted to paint murals of Tchort exploding from a volcano, or demonic figures on the walls of his “kitchen” area, and then move in six synthesizers that he played in the night until dawn, he could do that. And yes, if he wanted to open and start The Church of Satan, converting his living room into ritual chamber, complete with skulls, a huge Sigil of Baphomet, naked altar, and a thundering Wurlitzer organ, that too was something he could do.

LaVey was an epicurean consumer of life, on his own terms. He was reclusive by nature, but also as a means of controlling his world and those who entered into it. People just didn’t “stop by for a visit,” unless they were high on LaVey’s list of people with whom he had formed some level of kinship. He felt that most people were a drain on his time and intellectual reserves. He had a mental exercise from which I developed my personal system of interpersonal relationships and the theory of diminishing return. One of LaVey’s personal analysis questions always on his mind was “Who gains in this?” If you could offer him something in financially, intellectually or in mental stimulation, you might get an invitation of a visit. In his personal world he was “god” and peopled it as he saw fit. He once wrote:

“There are many who take my time.  I shun them.
There are some who share my time.  I am entertained by them.
There are precious few who contribute to my time.  I cherish them.”

In the “rented world,” you might get away with painting a room black, and you might even have a landlord who might allow you to put a nail in the wall to hang your small-scale Sigil of Baphomet, and you might be able to have a party once in a while where people might come in costume. But you’ll never have the same freedom of expression that comes from owning. You’ll always be under control of the landlord or the finance company. That deed of ownership allows you to do what you need to do to be who who you are in your heart and soul.
Owning the land on which you live and the dwelling and outbuildings upon it also gives you standing. It also gives you personal wealth that grows with every passing year. Owning more than one home makes YOU a landlord and can provided a steady and meaningful income for many years to come and, if at some time you want to retire, it can be liquidated for cash. Ownership gives you options. A “god” needs options.

So now, we’ve covered two of the three things that you need on a practical basis to have some form of legitimacy to your claims of being a “god.” But what makes you so special? I mean, really, we all know a lot of people who have money and a home or two. They might be generally nice people and we’re glad that they’ve got it a bit easier than most. But what motivates them on an intellectual level? What is it that they have learned and put into practice? What is the “magic” that turned the lead of mundane existence into the gold of elevated enlightenment?

Intellectualism and power… they go pretty much hand in hand, because when you have the skills to handle yourself intellectually, deftly using knowledge and personal philosophy to tip the scales in any transaction, you become a force to be reckoned with. Why? Because you can concretize ideas in the minds of those you would wish to convince, control and manipulate to make your position dominant. That might not seem to be an important point, but when you are establishing personal control, you will find that you will have to deal with others “on the outside” to secure your control of your personal realm.

Additionally, a “god” needs to have a firm understanding on where his philosophy of life rests for his own peace of mind and for those who look to him or her for inspiration and guidance. Part of being one’s own god is being true to oneself and to the face he presents to the world. We can easily cite examples of the most “satanic” of “gods” here on the web, but once one meets them face to face, they’re not quite what they are cracked up to be. If a god can’t even be straight with themselves, how can they ever expect anyone to take them seriously?

In law, the concept is “Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus,” meaning “false in one thing, false in everything.” In common law, it is the legal principle that a witness who testifies falsely about one matter is not credible to testify about any matter. You can have that personal world, a castle of one’s own creation, behind whose walls one is sovereign and secure. But unless one is true to oneself and one’s stated vision, there will always be a fatal flaw in the foundation. It may remain unexposed for many years, but eventually, truth will always shine through, and has ever been the bane of charlatans and mountebanks.

In the old western movie Ride The High Country (1962), you’ll find the line, spoken by one of the heroes, Steve Judd, “All I want is to enter my house justified.” Justified is right, justified is earned and justified leaves you beholden to few, if any. What you have in your world will not be given to you, and if it’s real, won’t be taken away. A god is justified in his own house.

Take care of the basics of your divinity, and you’ll still have time for fantasy and magic, but the experiences will be even more enjoyable, knowing that their cost is covered and you’re security and standing as a “god” is secured.

The Koan of Jake

The Koan of Jake
“Koan (Ko-an) — a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.

Origin: Japanese, literally ‘matter for public thought,’ from Chinese gongan ‘official business.’”
– Webster’s Dictionary

In Zen Buddhism we find uniquely enlightening and sometimes frustratingly elusive pronouncements by the masters called “koans.” These are teaching tools that the master might pass on to the student, that he might meditate and contemplate their meaning. Some can be humorous, some pithy and some brilliantly insightful. We’ve all heard the koan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Here are a few examples of koans by Zen Masters.

“A monk told Joshu: “I have entered the monastery. Please teach me.”
Joshu asked, “Have you eaten?”
The Monk replied, “Yes, I have eaten.”
Joshu said: “Then you had better wash your bowl.”

At that moment the monk was enlightened.
— The Washing Bowl Koan

A Zen student arrives at a temple and finds an audience with a Zen master. He asks the master how long it will take him to become enlightened. The master tells him, “Ten years.”

With that answer, the seeker says to the master, “If I work very hard to achieve enlightenment, how long will it take?”

The master’s response is, “Twenty years.”
— The Enlightenment Koan

“Out of nowhere, the mind comes forth.”
— The Diamond Sutra Koan
“Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

— The Cup of Tea Koan

The “Eastern Mind” is culturally acclimated to accept wisdom as it is, and to search for the meaning of a seemingly meaningless pronouncement by one seen as “holy” or “personally enlightened.” In the Jefferson Starship song, Ride the Tiger, there is a line that illustrates this point, and could easily be seen as a koan by a western “master.”

“It’s like a tear in the hands of a western man (will)
Tell you about salt, carbon and water;
But a tear to a Chinese man —
He’ll tell you about sadness and sorrow or the love of a man and a woman.”

Now, the “Western Mind” might not see the significance of a koan in the same way that those acclimated to their use as a teaching tool. This might be due in part to our over emphasis on the scientific methodology. We are taught to break it down… to see what makes it “tick,” as in our academic training in English, we are taught to diagram sentences and analyze them to minutia; to visualize how the different parts of a sentence fit together.

In this koan by John Tarrant, director of the Pacific Zen Institute, we might tend to “read western” into it, but it’s a simple and evocative koan that stands well on its own without diagramming or over analysis.

“The coin lost in the river is found in the river.”

Let it roll around in your mind for a while and see how it brings images of that shiny coin there, where it might have been for a thousand years, waiting for the lucky person, one in a thousand who have passed this way before, to notice it and pick it up. Thoughts and ideas can be like that. Every now an then, was will read something in a book of philosophy, or hear something in a song, or a few suddenly meaningful words jump out at us from the pages of a magazine, and we, like the ancient Buddhist monk, find wisdom and enlightenment. Ten thousand others might read the same book or magazine, or hear the same song, and nothing registers with them. Or they see something else entirely.

And indeed, there are times when someone does find that elusive coin in the river, but for some reason, loses it in a moment of fleeting thought, or simply tosses it aside as not worth the time or effort to continue. Perhaps their mind, like Nan-in’s guest’s is already full of ideas and speculations and he is simply not ready for the insights or wisdom that can be attained through this simple coin, carelessly lost by others.
The koans of many Eastern Zen Masters are often eloquent and erudite. The words can be flowery and flowing or as deceptively insightful as the seemingly throw-away lines of some of the great thinkers of our time. Here in the Western world, and specifically in the United States, our development is full of home-grown koans that began in the earliest days of the nation, with our founding fathers. Benjamin Franklin, for example, was known for his homespun homilies, such as:
“A stitch in time saves nine.”
“Fish and visitors stink after three days.”
”We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
“Well done is better than well said.”
“The way to see by Faith is to shut the Eye of Reason.”

As “civilization” moved west, the wit and wisdom of the few traveled with it, and in the time following our great Civil War, a plain-spoken and humorous man named Samuel Langhorne Clemens, also known as Mark Twain wrote new western koans, like:

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

“Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work. “
“It is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not deserve them.”

“The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.”

From the wild west, we can see a lot of wisdom in the throw-away lines of cowboys. They come to us through the works of early writers who penned “dime novels” about life on the western plains. You could read the western drawl into the character’s voice on the page, and read the words:

“If you climb in the saddle, be ready for the ride.”

“When in doubt, let your horse do the thinkin’.”

“Don’t mess with something that ain’t bothering you.”
“Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin’ it back.”

“When you give a lesson in meanness to a critter or a person, don’t be surprised if they learn their lesson.”

Later, one of these western characters would come to life in the guise of a American stage and motion picture actor, vaudeville performer, American cowboy, humorist, newspaper columnist, and social commentator named Will Rogers. Will Rogers (1879 – 1935) was born in Oologah, Oklahoma, and was a Cherokee Citizen. He arose to be a prominent American citizen, and wrote over 4,000 nationally syndicated newspaper columns. He had the ear of the “common man,” but was a beloved character who could walk just as easily with presidents. Some of his wisdom and wit lives on today in quotes like:

“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.”

“I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.”

“Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.”

“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

“It’s not what you pay a man, but what he costs you that counts.”

Typically, “American koans” of the past tend to be in the self-deprecating and introspective vein. This is often at odds with the sometimes bombastic realities of our nature in the current era. But there can be wisdom still if we learn to strip away the hyperbole to which we have become accustomed in our speech and writing. Wisdom comes in knowing that we don’t know everything, and we can learn even from those we feel are wrong.
I’m sure we’ve all employed koans of our own to enlighten and to entertain. And the wise man knows that one can only make their statement of fact as they know it, and it’s the responsibility of those who read and hear them to either accept or reject them as befits their own sensibility. Our personal influence is quite a bit less than we believe, and we would be deluding ourselves if we were so gauche as to think that we have any right to impose our personal philosophies or preferences upon others.

And so, I leave you with The Koan of Jake. Take it for what it’s worth. There’s a box of salt in the cabinet, in case you need it.

“What we too loudly declare ourselves to be, and what others have to do, we probably aren’t, and they most certainly don’t.”

Cogito Ergo Somnium (I Think Therefore I Dream)

By Jake Block

“Why don’t you tell your dreams to me
 Fantasy will set you free.”
— Magic Carpet Ride (Steppenwolf)

Cogito Ergo Sum is the postulation of Rene Descartes, translating to “I think, therefore I am.” Every philosophy student learns it from day one and it is considered the “gold standard” of philosophical self realization. This, however is a rephrasing of Descartes’ original statement in the French, “Je pense, donc je suis,” (I think, so I am), as stated in his work, Discourse on Method (1637). Descartes reasoned that even if an all-powerful demon tried to deceive him into thinking that he exists when he does not, he would have to exist in order for the demon to deceive him. Therefore, whenever he thinks, he exists. (Encyclopedia Britannica)

Of course Descartes lived long before the current era when those on the left hand path would extrapolate the kernel of thought expressed in “Cogito ergo sum” to the idea of personal deification. And as we’ve learned over the past 50+ years, as Porgy sang to Bess in the American opera by George Gershwin, “It ain’t necessarily so.” We might THINK we are gods, but proving it through demonstrable superiority is another thing altogether.

I think that often disregarded as fantasy or mind manipulations, dreams are also key to man’s exaltation to godhood. One must dream to be a god. Without dreams, a god is nothing… he/she has nothing to strive for and nothing to accomplish to lay claim to superiority over the dull masses who, at the end of their lives, might as well never have lived at all.

Children have dreams. A child has dreams that allow them to fly, to have adventures and do wondrous things. They can see themselves as astronauts or cowboys, doctors or lawyers, baseball players or rockstars on the worldwide stage. They have their entire lives ahead of them and choices to be made. But all too often, they get overly involved in life at a young age, surrendering their youth and innocence to the herd… and there are many herds from which to choose. They might give up their dreams for the fairy tales they are told in church, or they can surrender them to the fairy tale of a career in sports, never realizing that of the millions of others vying for that Monday Night Football career, only a tiny fraction of those who strive ever reach the goal and the rest succumb to daydreams on the sideline where those who couldn’t make the grade are nevertheless on “the team.” And far too many answer the siren call of peer pressure to waste their vital essence in a blur of alcohol and noxious substances that dull the mind while giving the illusion of revelations as gossamer and fleeting as the sands of a time wasted, substance sotted wasteland. There are dream-killing traps at every step along our lives, and even the most well-balanced and potential-filled can find a reason to put their dreams on hold. Dreams have a way of fading away when left on the shelf.

In this world of billions, there are a few who manage the herculean feat of managing life effectively AND maintaining their dreams and goals. In the midst of serious adulthood, they can still see themselves in a less serious and less trapped way where they still feel that they can do anything, as long as they can manage to keep their “soul” from being crushed by the weight of a life surrendered to survival at any means. Through their dreams, they manage to maintain a sense of wonder and joy that marks the dreamer from one who simply sleeps. Their waking dreams are guides “from here to there,” and working becomes less of a drudgery and more of a tool to help them get to where they want to go. They see their jobs and the pay they receive as a means to get just a bit closer to the life they wish to lead, and look for ways to advance within their jobs, gaining promotions and perks to give them more time to dream and then work toward that dream.

Today, while getting gas for my road trip, I glanced over at the mini-mart and saw the Lottery sign. The Powerball game was up to $660 MILLION, and the Mega Millions game was sitting at about $350 MILLION…all tolled, over ONE BILLION DOLLARS for the cost of a ticket. Now, we all know that the chances of winning are slim. I think the odds of winning the jackpot are roughly equivalent to being struck by lightning twelve times while skinny dipping in a vat of chocolate. But SOMEBODY wins. If somebody wins, why can’t it be ME? Why can’t it be YOU? Better us than the guy we’ve all seen on TV who does win, and says, “It won’t change me none, and I’m still going to be on the job Monday at Joe’s Bait Shop.” He’s apparently living his dream, such as it it. You can bet your ass that I have dreams on a far grander scale!

Now, I’m not saying to live in dreams and let your waking life go to hell, but consciously strive to dream of something better. When I was a kid on the streets of East St. Louis, IL, there were times when I saw no way out of that hell hole, but I had dreams that one day I would leave that place far behind and travel, and have a good job, and a nice car and a woman by my side and money in my pocket. I worked my way out of the hole I was in, and as things got better in my life, I maintained my dreams, tweaking them as reality either provided them through my efforts, or kept them from me when I wasn’t YET up to the task of attaining and maintaining them. It was a long time, coming, but eventually I got everything I dreamed of, and more. And as a bonus, I got them while I was still young enough to enjoy those dreams of a broke kid on the streets, come to fruition.

And you know what, I’m still dreaming. Against all odds, I have two tickets in my hand for this week’s lottery drawings. I’ll be waiting for the lightning to strike… but I’ll never stop dreaming! Cogito ergo somnium.

It May Be Life, But Is It Living?

by Jake Block

I got my “wellness check” this week, when I went to the doctor for a horribly wrenched shoulder that I have been fighting with for the past month. We all get them when you’re old enough for Medicare, so I sat in my doctor’s office in the blue smock of shame, a nurse checking out my feet, answering the “100 question assessment,” and going over my list of medications in preparation for Dr. C to come through the door.

So, all in all, I’m as well as you could expect an almost 69 year old man with arthritis and polycythemia to be. And after being put into shoulder holds that reminded me of the pretzel twists used by the late wrestler The Iron Sheik, getting two shots into the joint of my shoulder, and getting my shirt back on, Dr. C had me come into his office, where he sat at his desk and opened up my file. He leaned back in his leather chair, as he touched a button on his CD player. Humble Pie. Always a good choice. 30 Days In The Hole. His desk is full of files, a few “toys” and on the wall, diplomas and family pictures, and one of my infrared photos of Reelfoot Lake hung on the wall to his left.
He withdrew my “Living Will” from beneath the red sheet of paper and glanced through it. He looked up from his desk and asked, “Any changes?” Now, my “living will” is pretty simple. If I go into surgery and die on the table, I have a standing DNR (Do Not Resuscitate), unless he could guarantee my Power of Attorney, with 95% certainty, that reviving me would not leave me dependent on tubes, wires and technology to live. End of story. I assured him that it was good, and he asked if my wife would want to review it.

Now she and I have been on the same page regarding our end of life agreements for many years. I know what she wants, and she knows what I want. Neither of us is so in love with life that we would agree to spend any time in a limbo between life and death, supported my machines, or drugged to the margins of life. And we have both lived a good, long life with some pretty great highs and a few trips to the abyss that were traumatic, but learning experiences, in the long run. As my father used to say, “Live hard, die young, and leave a good looking corpse.” He was a mortician, so if anyone should “get it,” it would be him.

There are some that would quote Dylan Thomas’ (1914-1953) poem, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” For those who don’t know it:

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Yes, there are those who, no matter what the pain or ignobility survivability might demand, would beg the doctor for just one more wire, one more tube… one more cut of the scalpel to keep the blood flowing, the breath circulating… keeping them “alive.” I can, on some level, appreciate their desire to survive at all costs, but I reserve the right to disagree, at least as far as my personal life is concerned.

I, for one could not be so self-centered and egotistical that my waning life should take precedence of those around me, when the intervention of medical technology might buy me a scant few months or perhaps a year of “life,” hooked up to machines that, in sustaining my life, can drain the emotional and financial vibrancy of my loved ones. So, when I spoke with Dr. C, who was not only my physician, but my friend, he understood where I was coming from. He knew that there were many situations where he could keep me alive with technology and his medical skills, but knowing me, he understood that for a man like me, just being alive wasn’t necessarily “LIFE.”

We all must, at last, come to grips with our own mortality for certain, but to do that, we must examine our existence on this earthly plane and what we require to make it worth staying. For me, I would have to be viable as a man, and able to function in a self-sufficient way, be able to exercise my creative side with my photography, my intellectual side with my writing, and my erotic side as well, to provide the emotional support that my partner requires with me. Now certainly, as we age, these facets of our lives require some modifications based on our physical attributes. Much as we would like to think that we can be the men and women that we were in our teens, twenties and thirties, reality eventually shows us the weakness of our personal equations. Or, as the immortal Dale Grabowski, explainer of things, once told me, “You may not be as good as you once was, but you can be as good once as you ever was.”

So sure, hang on to life and drain every drop of personal enjoyment and pleasure that you can until your cup is empty, but then, realize that we all must at one point lay down the sword and shield, because like it or not, age is the one battle you will not win in the end. Many fear death, but I am not one who does. It’s simply another damned thing you’ve got to do. I still have time to rage against the dying of the light, but when the sunset comes, it won’t find me cowering and begging to stay.

I remember one day when I was undergoing phlebotomy for the second time in the same week, and lamenting the nurse ripping through my flesh, shoving a sharp 16 gauge needle into my vein, trying to draw off a pint of the thick sludge that was my blood. I’d just been diagnosed with a fairly rare condition called polycythemia, in which, for some reason, your body begins to make way too many red blood cells, increasing the amount and thickness of your body’s blood. Like forcing more and more water into a balloon, unless the excess is drawn off, the results are always less than good. Ultimately, the condition causes clotting and stroke, or internal gangrene, or other less than pleasant and ultimately deadly conditions.

In the chair next to me was a older gentleman, a man in his late 60s, who was hooked up to a machine and three separate bags of chemicals… chemotherapy… attempting to stave off the inevitable ravages of a particularly aggressive cancer. The cancer, at this point was winning, but he fought on vowing to reach the goal of seeing the birth of his grandchild. He told me, “My goal used to be living to see 100, but then it became 75, then 70.” Now it was the birth of his grandchild, but by the time he was finished with this four hour procedure, he laughed and said, “bedtime. I know I can make it until then!”

His lips moved from time to time as he sat there, shivering under his blanket and trying to concentrate on the group TV playing in the cancer center’s treatment room. I asked, “praying?” He looked at me, kind of sideways and tired, and said, “No, I don’t pray anymore. I think about the poem “Invictus” by William Ernst Henley (1849 -1903). When I get sick from the chemo, it helps to take my mind off of the nausea.”

I told him that I wasn’t familiar with the poem, and he smiled wanly, eyes closed, and quoted:

“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

I sat there, watching my thick, dark blood oozing into the bag marked BIO-HAZARDOUS WASTE. I said, “Good words. Glad they help.” Then we chatted for a few moments and he drifted off to sleep. He was still sleeping when I left, once my treatment was complete. On my way out, I remember touching him on the shoulder and whispering, “Beat that bitch, man.” I learned that he indeed made it to bedtime, but died before the birth of his grandchild, a boy, they named after him.

I’m still kicking, a few years after then, and that big-ass needle isn’t nearly as hard to take as it used to be, and thanks to the doctors and nurses there at the Cancer Center, I’m enjoying the condition “in remission.” I’m thankful for the small doses of humility that being in the company of people who were fighting their losing battles with dignity, offered me. They’ve given me insights into my own life and outlook on death I’ve found enlightening and supportive in times less pleasant.

Death is inevitable, but we choose how to face it. It’s a bitch we’ll eventually lose to, but while we may end up broken, we sure as hell don’t have to be defeated. I sometimes think of the words of Invictus, but also those of Death Be not Proud by the poet John Donne (1572 – 1631):

“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”

We’re living, so we live, and we alone should be able to choose the manner and time of our passing, when we can. We may not inevitably be able to “beat that bitch,” but however we decide to leave the ring is our own choice. We have no one to impress but ourselves.

Attitude and Altitude

by Jake Block

I’ve lived long enough to know, and have screwed up enough to confirm, that your attitude has at least as much, if not more to do with how far you will go in life as skill. I’ve seen instance upon instance of circumstances where people who were brilliant in their jobs, with the potential of rising to the top of their field failing miserably because of their attitudes. They are so caught up in their own sense of self that they make the fatal error in thinking that “this company would be nothing without ME.” Soon, the rules don’t apply to THEM, and they become arrogant, thinking that they are in control. They push, when cooperation would serve them better, demand when requesting will get them what they need, and they’re always taken aback when they get that Friday afternoon appointment with the corporate boss who thanks them for their service, tells them to clean out their desk by the end of day, and are escorted by security out the door.

They were good… they were productive… but they became a disruptive element in the corporate structure and corporations don’t do well with loose cannons. Like the weapons for which they were named, unless adequately harnessed and controlled, they can careen across the deck, leaving havoc and destruction in their path. Sometimes, when a weapon is too bulky or powerful to be restrained, it’s better to just shove them off the deck to sink of their own weight into the sea. Human “loose cannons” too must sometimes be let go, for they fail to remember the “corporate golden rule.” Simply stated, it’s “He who has the gold makes the rules.” Failure to follow the rules or simply “fit in with the corporate culture” can and will get you fired.

“A bad attitude from a chronic complaining employee is like a cancer; it will only spread and infect others. This can take your business down in a nanosecond. You must cut out the cancer and invite them to seek employment elsewhere. Quickly.”
— Beth Ramsay

In the military, we called it “affected attitude.” A display of bad attitude could result in loss of your days off for 30 days. If that didn’t change your attitude, then an Article 15 (Non-judicial punishment) could put you in the slammer for a “short tour” of 30 days and/or take a substantial portion of your pay away and even a reduction in rank. If THAT didn’t work, you could be discharged with a Bad Conduct Discharge, which is bad, but if your behavior was bad enough, a Dishonorable Discharge, with harsh penalties that can follow you for a lifetime.

Those with a bad attitude seldom rise though the levels of employment to positions of authority and trust. You might be the best thing since sliced bread, but the employer (or person in charge) has to ask themselves if keeping you around is worth the aggravation that you cause. Part of that is simply that they don’t NEED the aggravation, and part of it is, in part, purely financial. If you are a recently hired person, do they want to put up with your bad attitude as you become more involved in the workings of the company and, inevitably, quit the company in a fit of pique, taking the knowledge that you have gained with you to benefit the competition? And if you have already “risen through the ranks” and have attained corporate skills, is it more cost effective to keep you and your disruptive attitude around, or would it be better to let you go and hire on someone to train at a much lower pay rate, saving money and getting rid of an irritant at the same time.

In my military and civilian careers, I have dealt with the problem of bad attitudes several times and, after attempting to get their attention through counseling and remedial training without success, found that it was both operationally and financially most efficient to send the bad actors on their way. “Thank you for playing, please pick up your lovely parting gift as you leave the building.” I could tell you I felt badly… but I didn’t, because the needs of the group and its success always come first. I would much rather send the bad actors packing than allow their bad attitudes to lead to disruption.

Conversely, those who displayed a good attitude, kept their noses clean and enhanced the group’s efficiency and productivity found me most willing to help them succeed in any way possible, with promotions and pay raises commensurate with their contributions to the group. It wasn’t altruism, and it wasn’t because I’m just a good guy. In being a team player and not “making waves,” their efforts and enhanced production made me look good to my superiors, resulting in promotions and pay raises. My attitude played into my advancements as well, because in well organized and maintained corporate cultures, while it does occur, managers with bad attitudes are often worse for the company’s bottom line than the bad actors in the workforce.

While there are some people who wear their bad attitude like a badge of honor, and find it a ready made excuse for their failures in life, most people find it a detriment to their success and satisfaction and work hard at changing it. Overcoming a bad attitude is a process that requires work, personal effort and admitting to oneself that their attitude is a significant impediment to success. Most often, one has to learn to curb one’s impulse to negativity, sarcastic response, and vengeance for every perceived sleight. Until one gets those traits under control, they will remain a disruptive element, doomed to eventual failure.

There are people for whom a bad attitude is a badge of honor. “Macht nichts” to me. And from the viewpoint of an employer, they don’t really care either, because in the long run, it’s the business and the bottom line that matters. They aren’t going to employ someone who is simply unwilling to work harmoniously with others and the public. In my experience, the person who most considers their bad attitude an asset is the person who will complain the loudest when that bad attitude costs them their job.

War of the Worlds

by Jake Block

“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” — T.S. Eliot

I was talking with a friend one evening about the “close approach” of Mars recently, and he remarked that he’d always liked looking at Mars in the night sky with his Celestron telescope, and that as a kid, he remembered the original 1953 movie War of the Worlds, staring Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, with the fantastic Martian war machines rising from the crater, spewing death rays, impervious to our most devastating weapons, inside their protective bubbles. The Martians themselves were weird little creatures with their “trinary” eyes and suction cup fingers.

As we talked, I thought about T.S. Eliot’s quote about exploration, and remembering what we have since come to know about Mars and the possibilities of life on that cold and barren planet, it occurred to me that maybe… just maybe… if we ever did go to war with Mars, we might actually be going to war with the descendants of our own species. Fantastic as the idea might seem, we need only look to our own planet to see that it’s not only possible, but probable, given our nature as borne out in human history.

Consider. Mankind has spread across the planet since its earliest beginnings, possibly in the equatorial regions of what would one day be called “Africa.” Along the way, tribal units began to settle in various areas along the path of migration, perhaps finding the hunting sufficient to sustain them, or perhaps because they were too weak to travel further. Others of the original group moved on and settled further along their journey, small groups at a time. Meanwhile our original group began to breed and grow larger, necessitating further colonizations within their area, finding new resources and new opportunities for hunting and gathering and, later, the growing and harvesting of crops for sustenance and trade. Still later, a portion of those groups began to form militias to protect the individual towns against other groups. And eventually, the individual cities became co-ops and then regions, and finally a nation, with trading and agriculture and an army to protect it all.

So it was with the others who had continued their exploration until they to developed along the same lines, and built their own cultural identity. Then came trade amongst these emergent nations, and, so long as the bargains were equitable, harmony reigned.

Eventually, one side or the other developed “greed.” And they wanted more than their fair share from any bargain, and eventually decided that bargaining itself was a waste of time, so they sent their army to take what they wanted. Crops, treasure, slaves… all could be taken at the cost of blood, and the nation most determined took the spoils of war. Once independent nations became vassal states under control of the victorious. Laws were passed to control the conquered, and they served under threat of violence and death. So it went on, age upon age, eon upon eon, until today, where stand almost 200 countries, armed to the teeth, more or less at odds with one another. And even though they spring from the same seed, thousands of years of separate acculturation makes them think and react differently, and assume that they each have “right” on their side.

So now, here we are, on the cusp of change from planetary culture to becoming interplanetary in scope. And Mars is first in sight as our most likely and most accessible off-earth colony. To be sure, our sons and daughters will rely on their earthly origins to survive and to obtain everything they will need to develop any kind of self sufficiency, but given time, skill and a great deal of luck, Mars will eventually be peopled by those who will at last, view themselves not as “Earthers,” but as Martians, having never seen their ancestral home. They’ll form their own government(s) and laws to protect their property, rights and culture. They’ll look to their flag and honor their own sovereignty.

They will develop agriculture, and they will mine the wealth of their planet for raw materials for growth and trade. There will undoubtedly be trade, much as there was between Europe and the “new world,” and expected allegiances between the “home planet” and the new Mars colony. One can predict, without much effort or fear of failure, that the new Martians will eventually come to resent any element of control that those on Earth might demand, and reject demands to comply, or taxation from control some 34 million miles distant.

Then will come a time when the the old will issue a challenge to the new. Comply or face consequences. Honor your origins or be brought under control. Tariff wars will begin to strain relationships, and diplomacy will fail. Eventually, as it always happens, one of the upstart Martians will say “NO” to demand and claim independence from the Earth and its control. Mars for Martians. The demand to disarm, met by the words of Spartans… “Molon Labe” — “come and take them.”

And we all know where things go from there.

To quote the immortal Pogo (old American comic strip), “We have met the enemy, and he is US.”

The Orders of The Sect of the Horned God

The Order of Pan
The Order of Cernunnos
The Order of Prometheus
The Order of Dionysis
The Order of Shiva