Category Archives: The Teeming Brain
A week ago I announced on Facebook that I would be abandoning social media in 2011. This drew a flood of comments and questions, both online and in person, from friends and family. So I thought I would inaugurate this year of my partial unplugging from the Matrix by explaining here, in what will be my sole Teeming Brain post of the calendar year (although see below), the exact nature of and reasons for my choice.
WHAT I’M DOING
First, a clarification: I’m NOT abandoning computers and the Internet completely. This was one of the commonest questions I received. I was careful to specify in the aforementioned Facebook update that it’s the Web 2.0 milieu that’s the object of my cyber-fast. More specifically, and as mentioned above, what I’ll be withdrawing from is the social media subset of the whole thing. This means that while I will still update MattCardin.com with news about my publications and such, and while I’ll still use the Internet to get some of my news and information — including, especially, a host of essays and other worthwhile, long-form reading matter — I won’t be posting or paying much attention at all to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. I’ll put The Teeming Brain into hibernation, but will continue — thanks to the savvy suggestion of a friend who shall remain unnamed (although you know who you are, Simon) — to maintain and update Demon Muse, probably on a monthly basis. The site has been flying in a holding pattern for the past three months anyway, so monthly updates will constitute an acceleration.
A lot of people wrote to ask if I would keep using email. The answer is yes, but my use of it will assume a highly restricted form compared to my customary schedule. In the past I’ve been one of those people who, when I’m working on a computer, has left Gmail open in the background, the better to respond to time-sensitive messages immediately when they arrive. No more of that. In 2011 I’ll wall off my email activity into two or, at most, three distinctly defined daily sessions: morning, noon, and the end of the workday. Beyond that, nada.
In addition, my overall allotment of online time in general will be drastically curtailed. I’ll regulate and compartmentalize it much in the manner of my email schedule. This will represent a dramatic departure from my former way of doing things.
Beyond all of this, I’m cutting back on the amount of time I spend listening to music and podcasts. Since I was a teen, I have generally filled my drive-time with a buzzing wall of technologically piped-in noise. Now I’m traveling almost entirely in silence.
WHY I’M DOING IT
So what gives? What happened to elicit this plan? Why this shifting of the gears?
By way of an answer, I’ll exploit the very medium that I’m partially abandoning. What follows is carefully chosen, and worth watching to the very end.
(Dialogue immediately before the start of the scene below:
TECH SUPPORT: It’s been a brilliant journey of self-awakening. Now you simply have to ask yourself this: What is happiness to you, David?
DAVID: I want to live a real life. I don’t want to dream any longer.)
What’s that? I run a blog, you say? And blogs are things that you have to update? Oh, yes. I had forgotten all about that.
Yes, it’s true, I took an unannounced and unplanned month-long vacation from The Teeming Brain. I hope the suspense wasn’t too much for those of you who tune in regularly. The reasons for the hiatus are various. Among the most prominent are the advent of summer vacation from my teaching job, which led to an unplanned but much-needed period of semi-hibernation from my public appearances, even the virtual ones here at the blog; the imminent onset of some serious changes in my living situation; my assiduous pursuit of several writing jobs, an effort that is beginning to bear fruit; and the necessity for me to devote a great deal of time, attention, and energy this summer to finishing up work on “Curse of the Daimon,” the first album from my musical project Daemonyx, and also on the revisions (sometimes extensive) for Dark Awakenings, my forthcoming fat book of fiction and nonfiction dealing with religion and horror, to be published by Mythos Books late this year. I’ll be having a lot more to say about these topics in coming weeks.
Then there’s the fact that I have been doing a lot of traveling. Three weeks ago I journeyed down to San Angelo, Texas and environs on a three-day tour for reasons that will remain unspoken for the time being. Then a couple of weeks ago I spent three days attending the Missouri Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in Springfield, where my video skills were put to use just like last year. Then, most recently — as in, last weekend — I journeyed to Indianapolis as one of the guests of honor for Mo*Con III, the third installment of a convention created by the original Sinister Minister himself, Maurice Broaddus, and devoted to exploring the intersecting issues of horror fiction and spirituality.
The Mo*Con experience was great. Other guests included Mark Rainey (“the legendary Mark Rainey,” as Maurice justly referred to him), Nick Mamatas, Kim Paffenroth, Bob Freeman, Lucy Snyder, and Chesya Burke. Plus a bunch of members of the Indiana Horror Writers were there. And Lucy’s husband, the inimitable Gary Braunbeck (one of whose books I browsed in the Springfield, MO airport before flying out on Friday), was present as well. And various members of The Dwelling Place, the groovy church-in-a-strip-mall building where Maurice serves as the “facilitator” (a minister by another name).
There was a party on Friday night involving chicken marsala, fettucine Alfredo, and a Celtic band named Mother Grove. On Saturday there was a panel on spirituality, moderated by me, followed by many varieties of chili for lunch. Then there was a panel about editing, composed of editors (including me) whom Maurice lovingly referred to as “those rat bastards who keep rejecting me,” since each of us had rejected his work in the past. Then there was a panel about issues of gender, followed by a late-night party with pizza at Maurice’s welcoming house in an Indianapolis neighborhood. On Sunday morning we all went to The Dwelling Place to attend the regular service, which had been retooled in honor of all the Mo*Conners being there. The centerpiece was a playing of the DVD of Brian Keene (“We all stand in the shadow of Keene,” Maurice said) talking about his personal spiritual journey as a writer at the first Mo*Con in 2006.
There was also much selling of books and other wares. I only found out this was going to happen shortly before the weekend arrived, so I got out the few copies of my Divinations of the Deep collection that were handy and also burned off some sampler CDs of 5 Daemonyx tracks, complete with Jason Van Hollander’s wonderful cover art. I ended up selling quite a few of these, which was gratifying. N.B., I’ll make some additional Daemonyx-related announcements here soon.
Here are images (kind of fuzzy, since I’m not good at converting PDFs to jpegs) of the flyers I handed out along with goods; click them to see the slightly bigger versions:
Beyond all this, there was something that has become known to insiders as the Mo*Con III.2 experience, wherein Nick Mamatas and I became refugees from an inclement weather situation that prevented flights from leaving the airport. We ended up crashing at Maurice’s house on Sunday night with his pleasant and patient wife, his two delightful kids, and a handful of other Mo*Conners. Weakling that I am, I became the only one to finally abandon the party and steal a few brief hours of sleep before the early-morning flight. Given the far-ranging nature of the conversations and debates that had taken place up until then, I can only imagine what all was talked about in the wee hours of the morning while I was zonked out.
And this was all after I missed my Friday morning flight to Indianapolis because Mapquest took me to a non-existent airport. (Yes, I had been to the Springfield-Branson airport umpteen times in the past. The Mapquest route just looked like it might be more efficient. Stupid me.)
There are other reports about the con that are worth reading. You can read Mark’s. You can read Maurice’s (complete with photos). You can read Bob’s. You can read Nick’s brief comments about his and my flight delays. Good stuff, all.
So now it’s back to the real world, including The Teeming Brain, which will be significantly more active for the rest of the summer. Hope you’re all having a good one. Gas prices getting you down? Or food inflation? More gathering economic doom? Weather weirdness? Never fear. It will only get more interesting.
In the meantime, I’ve got some creative pursuits to — er — pursue. Watch this space for ongoing news about Daemonyx, Dark Awakenings, and other stuff. We may be living in the proverbial Interesting Times of the Chinese curse, but there’s no reason why that should have any other effect than to make artistic pursuits even more engaging and passionate.
Well, I’m back from another long hiatus. It’s been four weeks since my last confession—er, blog post. I’m certainly making good on my previous claim, circa early September, that my foreseeable activity here at The Teeming Brain would be sporadic.
At the moment I thought I’d drop in to mention that this downturn in blog activity isn’t due solely to an upsurge in real-life busyness, although that certainly has played and continues to play a role (as with my 13-hour work day yesterday, culminating in my returning home last night around 10 o’clock and leaving again for work this morning around 8). What’s also factoring into the situation is a downturn in my overall motivation to take part in the life of the Internet. And that, in turn, is a result of certain inner changes that have occurred in me over a several-month span.
In a nutshell, I’ve started receiving or experiencing flashes of nondual insight that have put flesh, as it were, on the bones of the spiritual, philosophical, and theological ideas that have occupied my attention for most of my life. Readers of this blog, as well as of my formally published fiction and nonfiction, are well aware of my philosophical and spiritual proclivities. So they (you) may (or may not) be interested to learn that this latest development kicked off in earnest last spring and has continued pretty much unabated ever since. Hints of it appear in some of the posts I’ve published here. The change has taken the form of an intensification of things I initially began to realize some years ago—first intellectually and then existentially—about time, consciousness, and identity. I used to read the words of various sages and spiritual teachers who said things like, “You are not your mind,” “You are not your experiences but the experiencer of them,” “The world happens inside you, not vice versa,” and so on. And I really dug it. Delving into this kind of thing, seeking and savoring books and ideas along these lines, became a way of life for me. My thoughts and bookshelves were, and still are, populated by things relating to meditation, mysticism, theology, Zen Buddhism, nondualism, esoteric Christianity, comparative religion, existentialism, consciousness studies, depth psychology, and more.
But for the most part, my experience of all these things was purely intellectual. I was pursuing not real experience but intellectual ideas—“mere thoughts in your head,” as Eckhart Tolle would say—which I, with my particular personality and set of predilections, found appealing, intriguing, and exciting. Only I didn’t realize this, since I mistook the ideas for the realities.
Now, recently, this situation has undergone a substantial change. It didn’t happen all at once but instead arose, as mentioned above, as an intensifying of something that had already started. I’ve experienced various “awakenings” over the years but this recent change has been more fundamental and extensive than anything that’s come before. My frequent thought/feeling has been, “So that’s what the words always meant!” Another frequent thought/feeling, often accompanied by a fleeting, cackling laughter, has been, “You’ve got to be shitting me” (addressed to no one in particular, or perhaps to myself).
Several side effects have accrued, including an interesting shift in the tenor of my personal relationships and the aforementioned lessening and loosening of my attachment to the Internet. The latter isn’t permanent, I think, since it’s primarily a spin-off of the fact that the fundamental motivations that have fueled a great many of my lifelong pursuits, including my writing (including my activity here at The Teeming Brain), are presently called into question. I’m undergoing a bit of an internal reorganization.
In truth, the whole thing is a lot like what Josh Baran describes as his awakening experience in his excellent and even essential little book of quotations, 365 Nirvana Here and Now. Baran says that after many years of reading books and practicing various spiritual techniques, he flew to Nepal “to receive Dzogchen teachings from a revered master, Tulku Urgyen,” in whose presence he “found my ‘self’ instantly stopped cold. There were no fireworks, no thunder—just the sudden, obvious, stunning realization of the pure awareness that I had overlooked my entire life, not hidden or elsewhere.”
He goes on to write: “In the face of this presence or nowness, all seeking, wandering, and waiting vanished before my eyes. I saw how much of my life’s energies had been focused on looking forward to some imagined future, rather than simply celebrating the all-pervasive present: trying to get ‘there’ instead of being ‘here.’ My previous years of forced meditation and effort seemed, in retrospect, useless.”
Lately, whenever I read Baran’s words and others like them, I find that I actually understand them on a level beyond that of mere interesting thoughts.
In linear-temporal terms, this might be considered a partial fulfillment of some time I spent—virtually, in cyberspace—with the now-deceased spiritual teacher Scott Morrison during the mid-1990s. I came into contact with him via his website 21st Century Renaissance at www.openmindopenheart.org, now sadly defunct (although most of its contents are still available via the Internet Archive). Scott had just achieved a measure of recognition as a teacher of nondual wisdom via the publication of his little book There Is Only Now, which had aroused considerable excitement among Zen and nondual spirituality circles. He created 21st Century Renaissance to serve as an online community where people from all over the world could participate in an electronic version of satsang or dokusan, the Eastern spiritual practice in which disciples gather around a teacher and ask questions in order to deepen and sharpen their insight. I became one of his informal students in this manner. Several of the questions, along with Scott’s responses, that appear in the archived website are from me. He and I also struck up a private email relationship, in the course of which I was impressed to discover that he was one of the first batch of original American students of Chogyam Trungpa.
But none of that meant that I really understood what he was talking about. Repeatedly, to me and lots of other inquirers, he said things like, “Give up looking for anything like ‘enlightenment’ or ‘spiritual awakening.’ You’re making it into some sort of external goal to be attained in the future. That’s the very opposite of the truth. Just focus your attention on the present moment and recognize what’s already here, what’s already true, what’s inescapably real when you drop all mental-emotional storylines.” I thought I knew what he was saying, but that was precisely the problem: I thought I understood him, which meant I was just understanding a thought, which meant I was making the whole thing into a “thought in my head,” which was exactly the delusional move that he was pointing out.
Scott died in 2000. For more than a year afterward, I didn’t know why my sporadic emails were going unanswered or why the website had fallen silent. Finally, I wrote to the people at www.sentient.org to ask if they knew what was going on (since I knew they had a page devoted to Scott). They wrote back to inform me of his early death at around age 40. I hadn’t even known he was ill. Apparently he died during gall bladder surgery.
These seven years later, it’s gratifying to return to his books and online writings and have an “Oh, that’s what he meant” experience.
I’ll close this post with two excerpts from two different authors that get at the type of awakening I’m talking about. The first is from Scott:
What follows has been said in many, many different ways, here and elsewhere. If you are passionately interested in Self Realization, I suggest you go into this very, very slowly and carefully. If we are honest, we can’t assume anything, so don’t take my word for any of this. (What that means is that to know the truth, you have to search your own heart with as much sincerity and integrity as possible. It’s entirely up to you.) That said, it all comes down to this:
There is only now. This is it. This is everything.
Everything we think we think we know, in advance, about ourselves, about each other, about the world, about God, about the universe, is nothing but the play of memory, belief, and opinion, with all of its historical, emotional, psychological, social, political, economic, and intellectual baggage. This includes all spiritual, philosophical, and religious beliefs and fantasies.
The only thing we know, for sure, is awareness.
If attention is not fixated on self-centered ideas about things, its true nature is revealed as love, affection, insight, clarity, wisdom, equanimity, and compassion.
That true nature is what you are.
You are a verb and the universe is a verb.“If you don’t deny that, trivialize it, or pretend it’s not so, you will discover that all of the joy, happiness, peace, and freedom you have been seeking everywhere else has been right here all along.
“However, these are all just words. If you are truly open and honest, you can put the words, too, aside.
Without the word, ‘awareness,’ what is it?
Without the word, ‘love,’ what is it?
Without the word, ‘freedom,’ what is it?
Without the word, ‘peace,’ what is it?
Without the word, ‘now,’ what is it?
The second is from Richard Lang, who worked with Douglas Harding for several years before the latter’s death in January of this year. Richard now carries on Douglas’s work of pointing out the reality of “headlessness,” that is, the immediate, inescapable first-person experience of being not a thing but space, or the capacity for experience, which each of us knows firsthand. Richard’s description below is wonderfully precise and lucid:
Here’s a suggestion:
Sit down on your own for ten minutes with the sole purpose of being awake to Who you really are. Keep guiding your attention home to this undivided Capacity for your boundless view, this Silence for the limitless soundscape, this clear Absence that is Room for the edgeless world of body sensation. Whatever you find yourself thinking about, notice these thoughts are happening in your Spaciousness, in your No-Mind. That’s all you have to do. You don’t have to try and stop thinking for example, or try and feel peaceful, but simply be aware of being Space for the thinking process, or for whatever you are feeling. Attend to the Space and whatever is happening in it. As you do so, things will naturally reveal themselves, then dissolve. Just keep seeing that things unfold in the Space. It may happen that insights or understanding come to you. If this happens, observe these things too, occurring in the Space. See them arise, see them dissolve. Be aware of all of this happening there, as you look from the Mystery here. The Mystery that you are.
If the experience is a pleasant one, be aware of that feeling in the Space. Pleasant feeling there to its Absence here—two way attention. If it’s unpleasant—say you don’t like what you are feeling or are impatient for something different to happen—also notice this reaction in the Space. In fact, when difficult feelings appear it’s good news! Now you have the opportunity to see Who you really are in a more challenging situation. See there is no one here to be challenged. Feeling there to no-feeling here. . . Reaction there to no-reaction here—to no one here. World there to Capacity for the world here. Moment by moment, stay with the obvious and visible fact that you are not a thing at Centre but capacity. This experience of staying with the truth of Who you really are in a difficult situation will then help you if you experience something unpleasant at another time. You will know that you have the capacity and power to view it from the Space here, and to respond to it from the Space here. It’s not a matter of trying to have any particular kind of experience but of noticing that whatever your experience is, you are viewing it from Awareness, from this boundless clear Space or Single Eye, from Freedom, from Peace.
Hello and welcome to The Teeming Brain! My name is Matt Cardin and the brain in question is my own, which indeed teems with thoughts, impressions, and creative impulses. This blog is a tool that I’ve created to help me glean it.
By way of introducing myself—and this information is of course archived on the “About Matt Cardin” page— I’m a writer with two books to my credit: the short fiction collection Divinations of the Deep (2002) and the novella The God of Foulness (2004). Both are horror fiction. A third fiction collection, titled Dark Awakenings, is tentatively planned for early 2007. I also write scholarly papers, essays, and reviews, and am fairly well known amongst a certain subcommunity of readers for my writings about contemporary horror author Thomas Ligotti. I have a master’s degree in religious studies from Missouri State University and have therefore written a number of substantial papers dealing with religious and philosophical matters.
In addition to my writing, I’m a musician and composer with twenty-seven years of experience as a pianist and keyboardist. Presently I’m in the late stages of recording an album of instrumental music that I plan to release some time in the next twelve months. It will feature nearly an hour’s worth of music representing various forms and genres—classical, New Age, electronica, rock, heavy metal, and maybe more. Much of it is informed by my twin emotional attachments to horror fiction and film and an atmosphere of unredeemed melancholy. Aided and inspired by some very helpful input from Jason Van Hollander, the award-winning fantasy and horror artist who is providing cover art for the album, I’ve decided to name my musical project, i.e., my one-man “band,” Dæmonyx (pronounced “Demonics”), for reasons that I’ll soon explain here at this blog. The album itself will be titled “Curse of the Daimon.” I’ll eventually be sharing the titles of the individual songs, notes about their inspirations, and a few mp3 samples here at The Teeming Brain. I may even give away a free CD or two.
Beyond all that, since the early 1990s I’ve kept a private journal in which I conduct an often-agonized philosophical conversation with myself. Three years ago I selected and edited portions of this journal to create a book-length work, portions of which were published just last month in a book titled In Pieces: An Anthology of Fragmentary Writing from Impassio Press. Much or most of my journal writing has been prompted by thoughts and feelings in response to the books I read, films I watch, and music I listen to, and I’ll probably end up sharing some of that here.
Finally, tangential to my real interests as described above, I pursue a hobby, which also happens to take up most of my daylight hours and serve as my primary source of income, of teaching English language arts to high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Given that this not only depletes much of my time and energy but also provides a great deal of fertile fodder for culture-oriented rants, I’ll probably have some things to say about that part of my life. Most of it will not be positive.
The Teeming Brain is effectively an expansion of a blog I started in October 2005 titled Confessions of a Conflicted Cultural Skeptic. At the time I created that one, I was caught in the grip of a stronger-than-average eruption of disgust at the insanity of contemporary American, Western, and world culture as evinced by everything from television to politics to the book publishing industry. This was abetted by the fact that I was reading Morris Berman’s The Twilight of American Culture at the same time that I was preparing to lead four sections of sophomore students through Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Berman’s 2000 book proved to be a searing and convincing diagnosis of late-stage cultural decline, while Bradbury’s, for its part, although it had long been one of my favorites, startled me all over again with its scarifyingly accurate depiction—fifty years ahead of the fact—of the cultural dystopia that America has largely become in this 21st century of the Common Era. I used Confessions of a Conflicted Cultural Skeptic to conduct a few extended rants inspired by my then-current state of mind.
But I soon realized that I had limited myself by framing the blog exclusively in terms of that state, which, when it comes over me, consists largely of a combined attitude of rage, disgust, and despair. For instance, it occurred in January that I wanted to write something in response to a religious question I had received from a student, but the parameters of my blog didn’t quite accept that. Similarly, for several years I’ve been increasingly interested in the apocalypse-level issues of peak oil, global warming, American culture-death, and the impending world financial crisis, but that, too, was properly excluded from my blog as I had framed it.
So while Confessions of a Conflicted Cultural Skeptic will continue to exist over at Blogger, I will no longer be updating it. Instead, I’ll incorporate a few of its posts into the categories I plan to create here, and will then use this broader format to pursue not only that particular tangent of cultural angst, but also many of the other subjects that interest me as well. The categories here at The Teeming Brain will eventually expand to include Books & Authors, Movies, Music, Philosophy & Religion, Writing & Publishing, Apocalypse Watch, Rants & Such, of course Dæmonyx.
Regarding the title I’ve chosen, the expression “teeming brain” comes from a famous poem by the English Romantic poet John Keats in which he expressed his “fears that I may cease to be / Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain.” In other words, he was saying that he felt himself so fertile with unexpressed thoughts, emotions, and impressions that he was afraid he might die before he had had the chance to write down everything that was demanding to be written. I sometimes share this sentiment; hence, my loose borrowing of Keats’s wonderfully evocative term. I’m one of those unfortunate types who is saddled with a volcanically active intellectual, emotional, and imaginative life that I frequently squander due to a lack of time, opportunity, and quite often the sheer will to bring all of it out into the open instead of letting it rot and die inside me. Thus, as stated above, I’ve created this blog as one modest effort among several others to help me glean my teeming brain before it kills me. (Incidentally, I also like the term “teeming brain” because it conjures up a vague image of a brain or psyche that’s bristling with bizarre, half-formed organisms like schools of mutant fish shimmering and struggling for dominance in psychic space. Or at least that’s one connotation it has for me personally. Chalk it up to my long-running love affair with the writings and persona of H.P. Lovecraft and a few other relevant horror writers.)
As I close this first post, I’m sensing the arising of a question on the part of you, the reader, and so I’ll go ahead and be helpful by stating it for you: “Why should I or anybody else care about any of this? What sort of deep-seated vanity has led this Matt Cardin guy to conceive, let alone to execute, a blatantly narcissistic plan like this one?” By way of deflection, I can’t help but think back to a clever and related moment from an episode of that late, lamented, short-lived television series from the early 1990s, Key West (which was really just an attempt by another network to create a clone of CBS’s hit Northern Exposure) that goes something like this: The lead character, played by the ever-amusing Fisher Stevens, asks permission from his editor at the local newspaper to start writing a weekly column focusing on human interest stories. “You know,” he clarifies, “for insights, impressions. Stuff like that.” His editor responds, “Why do you think anybody gives a diddly about your insights?” Stevens pauses for an uncertain moment, and then says, “Well . . .” To which his editor replies, “Good answer.”
But to return to this point, why indeed have I created this blog? Aside from the fact that blogs are presently multiplying at such a blinding rate that it seems they’ve become a kind of cultural imperative, if not a full-blown requirement for citizenship in the Information Society, there’s the fact that I don’t entirely agree in all cases, at all times, with the otherwise sage advice given so brusquely and obliquely by the editor of the Key West Meteor. This is because most of my greatest satisfactions and even exhilarations in life have come from discovering that my own deepest, most personal insights and observations have been shared and expressed by someone else. Essentially, I take what Tom Ligotti identified as the sole authentic consolation of fictional horror in his indispensable essay “The Consolations of Horror” and expand it to apply to life as a whole: “This, then, is the ultimate, that is only, consolation: simply that someone shares some of your own feelings and has made of these a work of art which you have the insight, sensitivity, and—like it or not—peculiar set of experiences to appreciate.”
If it should so happen that something I say in text or music, that some thought, emotion, or idea that I express in a journal entry, short story, song, or rant, ends up invoking that same sense of identification in somebody else—perhaps you? — and that it perhaps helps to solidify and sharpen your own thoughts and feelings about the matter, then the question will have answered itself. Or maybe you’re somebody who just shares some or all of my interests and will be interested to see, read, and hear what I have to say about them. I know I’ll certainly be interested to read your own words if you choose to comment or if you have a blog of your own. And although the present post may seem to belie it, I’ll aver now that instead of uploading gargantuan posts very infrequently as I did at my last blog, I plan to post more concise ones and do it on a regular basis, probably several times per week. (Of course, I’m on summer break from teaching right now. We’ll see what happens when school resumes in August and the slow pressure-cooking of my spirit begins again.)
In any event, that’s the purpose of this blog. It’s an ongoing transmission of gleanings from my teeming brain to yours.
An explanation of the name Dæmonyx and my reasons for applying it to my musical activities.