Fire Dancer

here you play with fire with me, by the old Ford truck
the oiled cord, coiled in a loose snare, a fuse
my flip-feet drag to catch in the sand-dirt
flick flames dance from each of your finger tips
the sun a red pupil in the jaundiced sky
your invisible lips do all the kissing (none)
your silent eyes blink out three syllables
why did god’s electron fingers zap my spine ridge?
(vertebrae to vertebrae)
'til the fire in the mountain is fire between my hips
and the baby in your belly prays "America"
as crows wheel in smog, charred leaves rain down,
and infernal dusk daunts the Western ridgeline.
a tree can stand like this forever, I
need you to tell me when it’s time to fall.

Oad I

I am 13. My crush is my Valentine.
I buy her a chocolate orange and meet her
at the Berkeley public library off Shattuck.
She has blue hair, wears spaghetti straps,
loves someone else.

I am 12. I sit on a concrete tube in the schoolyard
and tell myself, “I will remember this moment forever.”
Wind rustles the crumbling leaves
of Berkeley’s perpetual autumn.

I am a young man. The Warriors just won the NBA finals.
We go out in downtown Oakland.
She has a nose ring and an avocado tattoo on her
smooth left shoulder.

It’s 2009.
The cheap carpet flooring in our flat in Edinburgh is always sticky.
I show the Scots how to build a gravity bong.
Hands dusted with chalk from the climbing gym,
I make myself red curry rice for the third time that week:
grilled chicken, bell peppers, pre-cooked rice.
We start drinking at 4 in the afternoon
and we’re still up twelve hours later,
sitting around a candle singing along to the
guitar strums of a guy named Monkey,
simmering in the smell of hand rolled cigarettes,
finally going to bed when the last girl goes upstairs.

I tell her "I love you" when she finishes me.
I didn’t mean to! It just came out.
I just graduated. I’ve been getting high on 
my own supply, and some darkweb stuff my friend shipped in,
making art with dirty pastels,
locked on the couch while my roommates watch
No Reservations featuring Anthony Bourdain. 

We’re cuddled in the fresh plastic walls
of our 6’ x 6’ greenhouse, high on acid,
gazing at our prized collection of succulents.
She starts to cry. I feel it too.
It’s the thought of us sitting in front of these same plants
as they grow, and we grow old
maybe sitting next to each other.
maybe nowhere near.

So the story of my life is the story of my love for Luci.
No, the story of my life is the story of my love for women:
Tracy Z.
Emma from RISD,
Jane from 3rd grade, who I later found on Facebook.
No.
The story of my life is the story of my love for M.K.

Michelle is standing in front of her house,
which is a giant snail shell
across the street from my columnar startup palace.
She wants to collaborate with me.
Up close, her eyes are fractal florescences 
beaming quadrophonically in extra dimensions.

I am waking up asleep
the morning after heavy drinking
in my tiny bedroom overlooking the river in Providence,
on my balcony in the aether world
where the coral grows from the flowerpots.
A voice made of light says,
“We are all everything.
You am I or our I we is world.”

She is darkness, the glinting surface
of a polished obsidian blade.
The knife maimed deer
chooses a place to surrender:
a matress of secret moss,
a pillow of forgotten ferns.

Photographer II

is your finger still so naked
because I would never marry you?
are your bird wings still flapping for the air
we guzzled out of the sky?

do you remember when the California Grizzly
still roamed in the old-growth mountains,
before the first photographers came
to snap candids of this rolling golden land?

I see your heart ruled in the book
of the newly elected official.
your eyes wander from the the document.
your pen hovers above the page.

Photographer I

as a photographer I am asked
never to fear the darkness;
to sit in a room full of it
waiting for the crimson shadow’s 
furtive resolution
into an observable scene,
a photon prodding an election.

as a photographer I stand alone
on a dark road in California
aiming my camera where the comet is:
NEOWISE becomes my child
as she reaches the horizon.

from some invisible dark direction
comes a panting
a sound of heavy breathing
a wolf
a death
a reason.

sun now

In the windy sunshine
of a California mountain
trees singing their green anthem
in all directions,
I think of you.
My heart fills with hopeful longing,
smiling secretively into the horizon,
winking at the aether,
hiding nervous belly
ready to unfold in tidy laughter.
The breeze you licks my forearms.
Even the ground you presses back
	against my curling toes.
Who “you” are is another matter
though, for sun now, it doesn’t.

sack of meat can’t die

the backdrop of consciousness
is blaring orchestral
fractophony hung
loosely like a phantom 
in the corner of a Dalí bedroom.

existence is an opinion: an onion
we can only see entirely
by slicing it in half,
sautéing with a splash of salt 
ground black pepper,
a thigh from the meat sack
(won’t be needing that anyway)
cover and let cook on medium for 
two millenia, stirring frequently.

look closer at the darkness.
there’s nothing there
to be scared of.
nothing.
the tiger’s dinner is the dandelion’s breakfast.
the bee has a pouchfull of pollen,
dear pistil,
the trigger you pull on makes seed.

Positive Thought Loops

What is a loop?

A loop is a meme. It is an entity composed of behavior, experience, and knowledge that tends to self perpetuate within one individual and can spread to others. 

The gravitational core of a loop is an experience. Once one has had contact with the felt sense, and knowledge of the behavior created it, they enter the orbit of that loop.

In a world were scale is large, only policy changes and mimetic loops create widespread change.

Three archetypal loops can facilitate the transformation that needs to occur in society:

(1) Letting Go

The “letting go” loop shows the looper that they can live happily without something they previously felt a need to hold on to. In fact, without it they are much happier.

Letting-go-loops challenge the human process of design and creation because they are about letting go. How can a newly created “thing” and its accompanying ask to be acquired help its recipient to let go?

Books that teach people to let go have been some of the most effective propulsion vehicles for the letting-go-loop. E.g. Marie Kondo, Eckhart Tolle. 

What should we let go of?

Stuff. The magic of reducing one’s inventory really is life changing, and starting at a physical level gives new loopers a tangible entry point.

Choice. When one takes what is already there, what is freely given, what is abundant, settling for survival over optimization, this creates a loop of joy and acceptance that defies consumerism. 

Aversion to negative sensations and emotions. The power of negative feelings comes from our strong aversion to them. Accepting what is hurting begins the healing process.

(2) Empathy

Is empathy (especially with those suffering) a loop? It is not, as long as the aversion to negative emotions exists in a mind or culture. One empathizes, feels the pain or fear, and then pushes those unpleasant feelings away, killing the loop. 

The typical cycle of charity plays into this non-loop. Some image of suffering people or animals is presented, a viewer feels compassion, starts to see how painful it would be to empathize, and a donation is made which alleviates the negative, creating a story of “ok, maybe that pain is slightly lesser now.”

This is fine, but it’s not a loop, it’s a dead end. A mimetic loop vehicle for empathy is a critical missing component to Earth-healing, and the letting-go-loop of aversion to negative emotion could be a precondition for it.

(3) Gratitude

Everything is better when one is grateful for it. That which one is grateful for, one attracts more of into their life. 

Gratitude is not complicated, it has no downsides. It just requires a tiny bit of additional effort and creates an immediate reward. Let’s start with gratitude.

Thank you for spending your ten minutes embarking on this intellectual journey with me.

Thank you for caring about healing the Earth and her ensemble of beautiful inhabitants.

Thank you for being an inspiration to those around you.

Thank you for being.

The Climate Letter

On March 20, 2020 I climbed to the roof of my apartment building in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It was a clear night and on the horizon I saw the jagged silhouettes of lower Manhattan, the crystalline frames of the Hudson Yards complex, and the Empire State Building, whose decorative lighting system pulsated an eerily pragmatic red, like a giant emergency beacon.

In the context of the pandemic, I empathized more easily with prey animals. Humans preyed upon Earth’s entire living environment. Now, a tiny virus had swiped our role as the apex predator.

As an empty plane flew overhead I considered the fear and alarm raised by this virus, which threatened to kill 3% of our population. I wondered how it would feel to face a threat that might not even spare 3%.

Through a chipped Pixel 2 to the last person I had hugged before quarantine, I said, “If humans could feel so much as a fraction of the fear and suffering we cause each day to life on Earth, flights would be grounded and this city would be shut down until we found a way to live sustainably.”

The next morning, I received an email from my grandfather, Ray Clayton. He wrote:
I want to try out an idea on you, perhaps worth a letter to the Times.  And if you’re interested we might co-author it, which would be fun.

I think it’s useful to compare the near-panic with which the world has reacted to the coronavirus, with the slothful way it has reacted to the far slower-acting but ultimately more deadly “virus” of the climate disaster.  Both phenomena are based on sound scientific evidence, Both have their deniers and “hoaxers.”  The big difference, of course, is that the climate crisis has been downplayed to the tune of billions of dollars by the fossil fuel industry.

My argument is that the coronavirus crisis has shown us that we can survive the wholesale disruption of our social fabric and economy to counter an attack by an agent for which we have no known cure. 

The death and destruction due to the climate crisis are already with us and for this we know the cure: stop burning fossil fuels.

A viral pandemic, even if left uncontrolled, will come and go with its toll on human life and property, within months or a few years.  But the climate disaster even with prompt action now, will disrupt human life for many years.  We should look on the coronavirus pandemic as a model for the climate disaster compressed from many decades into, at most, a few years.

My grandfather had been successfully published for his letters to the Times on several occasions. The idea of co-authoring something with him was exciting, so I took him up on it. 
Granddaddy,

I think that is a wonderful idea. I have been having the similar thoughts, though I never thought of submitting a piece to the Times.

One positive outcome of the pandemic might be this: it will place in recent human memory the disastrous consequences of not taking warning signs seriously, and hitting the brakes too late to stop a total wreck.

On an individual level, the COVID-19 outbreak gives us an opportunity to internalize how our actions affect others. I was talking to a young woman on the phone last night about how the pandemic highlights this principle of Buddhist thinking. Buddhist monks are known to walk with a broom, sweeping the path in front of them to make sure they aren't crushing any insects as they proceed. 

While most U.S.Americans would consider this level of care crazy, we’re now confronted with a situation where an action as seemingly benign as leaving the house without a mask could be endangering the life of a passersby.

After receiving my draft, my grandfather gave me some feedback, and suggested that we might increase our chances of actually being published by framing the piece as a response to Tom Friedman's Op-Ed on “Finding the Common Good in a Pandemic.” In the end, this is the letter that I submitted to the NY Times:
The pandemic teaches us two things. One is that rapid societal behavior change is possible when people and government align on what constitutes "common good." The other are the disastrous consequences of waiting too long to make those changes.

We are willing to shut businesses, stay home, and bear significant economic hardship when we see those around us sick and dying. Yet we aren't willing to make such sacrifices in the name of Earth’s wildlife and ecosystems, or even the lives and livelihoods of future human generations.

It doesn’t matter what experts tell us. Our collective definition of "common good" doesn't change when we are told something, it changes when we feel something. If we could feel even a sliver of the immense suffering caused by climate change, flights would be grounded and metropolises shuttered until humans found a way to run their economy sustainably.

Eventually the climate disaster will be actively destroying human lives with a ferocity and persistence that will make the pandemic of 2020 look like a picnic. If we wait until then to change, our legacy as a species will already be doomed. It would be better if we could update our conception of “common good” today.

The Times never ended up getting back to me. A piece published a day after our submission broadly covered the topic of COVID-19 & Climate, and likely scooped our chance of bringing a novel argument to the table. 

In spite of that, co-authoring the letter with my grandfather was an amazing experience, and if you are still reading, I’m willing to call our collaboration a success.

Sci-Fi

On a warm afternoon in early May, I sat at a cafe in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn with a self-proclaimed hacker. The cafe was “Cotton Bean,” one of the many spouting up in the Nostrand Ave. corridor catering to a new influx of young professionals in the area. The hacker was Evan Stites-Clayton, former founder of Teespring, an e-commerce platform that was once considered a golden child of the Silicon Valley tech scene, commanding valuations approaching one billion dollars. Now, he was at the outset of a new venture, one that found a nest in Backend Capital’s Hacker Fellowship, a 10-week program that took place in a 23-bedroom brownstone a few blocks from where we now sat. 

“For you, it’s 1:15 EST. For me, it’s 4.65 hacker time,” Evan remarked, “As soon as I leave this meeting, my autopilot will tell me exactly what I need to do next.”

There was a clear feeling that even though Evan and I were sitting across from each other at the same cafe, in the same year 2020, his experience was driven by a technology that planted him firmly in the future. It was this technology which he had built initial prototypes of during the fellowship.

“The investors at first didn’t understand the concept — we had to let them take it home so they could experience it for themselves.

“We think of this as an Operating System for humans. By default we run "software" that results in greed, disharmony, and unhappiness. Ultimately it heats up the planet and destroys Earth's ecosystem.

“Our technology is an OS for humans that allows us to run different software, and thereby get different results.

“We expect most early users to think of it as a self-help or productivity tool, but really it’s much more than that.”

I was a little taken aback by what Evan was telling me, and even more surprised that he already had investors lined up to give his team over a million dollars in funding. Almost on cue, he gave me a knowing look. He pushed a stack of devices across the small table to me — a bluetooth headset, a fit-bit, and a cheap android phone. 

“The hardware solution is a bit of a hack at this point, but trust me, when you try it at home, you’ll get it.”

[ This piece was written as a part of an exercise at the Hacker Fellowship in which we were asked to envision an optimistic future vision of a reporter meeting with us a few months after the program. It was written on Friday March 6, before we realized fully what was about to happen. ]

keep it lovely

things will be whatever they are

let them be

life will tend towards over-complicating itself

keep it simple
keep it lovely

here’s an expression of absolute joy:

MmmaRGERGO MGLAGKERP YAY LLL! !! eooo … 

smile on your face
in the face of
in place of

there are these three 
sensations to really pay attention to:

(1) the blank contentedness you feel when you first wake up, with a ray of sunshine on your pillow, after you remember that your dreams are dreams and before you remember that reality is real.

(2) the tingle of adventure when you step out the door, into the bus, onto the train platform, onto the spaceship - every footstep is yours to select. you never know what you’ll find, but you know that one way or another YOU will find it.

(3) the warm comfort you feel towards and from those people in your life who truly care about you.