Thoughts on the Death of Thoughts on the Dead (Without Research)

  • This post has to be written in bullet points. Because of course it does.
  • If you have to ask, you’ll never know . . .
  • Well, unless I explain it to you.
  • Or, unless you were a regular reader of that most special website that today’s post honors, in which case you know the rules, and the requirements, and the structures and meta-structures that made the whole thing work.
  • Suffice to say that me writing this post in bullet points, under the tenets of “without research,” means that you can’t interrupt me, and that I can’t Google things.

But . . .

  • No. I love you, I really do. But no. No. Bullet points are here. And bullet points must be respected. No interruptions.

Yeah, understood. Okay. Carry on.

  • Thanks. Seriously, I do love you. And I wonder where you are, and where you’ll go now. I hope Bold Guy is there too, I think, to keep you company. I suspect you two get along better than we all might appreciate here on the receiving end of your various wisdoms.
  • Say “Yo!” to Precarious for us all, ‘aight? ‘Aight??

I said “Carry on” . . .

  • You did. My bad. Here I go . . .
  • I am a terrible sleeper, due to a combination of psychological and physiological factors, which combined to force me into an arising at 4am, Arizona Time, this morning.
  • I nabbed my phone from my bedside table as I left the bedroom to make myself more comfortable, and as I do at the start of most days, no matter how early, I clicked on my saved link to Thoughts on the Dead.
  • And I saw this terrible, terrible news. Posted by Brother of the Dead (BotD), father of Nephew of the Dead (NotD), both of whom were dearly and publicly loved by my online friend, Thoughts on the Dead (TotD).
  • Who has died. Of a terrible cancer. At the age of 46. Which is too young!
  • I’m reading a book that’s about, in part, the Neolithic Period. TotD might have been an elder statesman/shaman type by making it to the age of 46 in those days.
  • Then again, maybe he would not have been. Our accepted modern understandings of the short life spans of our forebears are not necessarily correct, per this from another of my favorite online resources.
  • In any event, we live in neither Neolithic nor Medieval times, so 46 is too young, in the reality which we all inhabit, more or less.
  • And while TotD clearly did his best to keep his public persona going to the best of his ability without groveling and complaining (much) over the 10 months since his cancer diagnosis, it was pretty clear that he was suffering, and that was a hard thing to read, and hard to know, and hard to accept, and hard to comprehend.
  • And that’s just awful. And terribly, terribly sad.
  • And if I, among many, who knew TotD only through his anonymous online postings feel as sad as I do right now, then it’s beyond comprehension how bad BotD and the rest of his family and their “real world” friends and colleagues must be feeling now.
  • I extend my love and respect and compassion and care toward them all, for what that’s worth. May they find some small peace in the weeks and months and years ahead, and may they find joy in the incredible body of work that TotD left behind for all of us.
  • Because, Holy Moly, what a body of work that was!!
  • He was my favorite living, working writer, right up until the point when he wasn’t.
  • He’s now one of my favorite non-living, non-working writers. There’s a wealth of brilliance to be had among the work he left behind, novel-length and story-length tales that challenge the very best of anything I’ve read by anybody else, ever.
  • That’s not hyperbole. I’ve written about TotD numerous times on this site, sharing such accolades in real time, and not just as memorials. Here’s the list of pages here that reference him, in one way or another.
  • I loved his writing, dearly.
  • And I am something of an arrogant tool when it comes to writing, since I fancy myself as something of a fine writer, too.
  • (That’s a key part of my self-identity and self-worth, so if you disagree, you’ll hurt my feelings by doing so publicly, so why do that, right? Thanks for your restraint.)
  • As a writer, I believe (rightly or wrongly) that I have a fairly finely attuned sense of what makes for good writing, and what makes for bad writing, or “blah” writing, and I can tell you without any doubt or hesitation that TotD was a truly great, once-in-a-generation caliber writer.
  • A genius, on that front. And I do not throw that word around lightly.
  • Which may sound or seem weird, given the premise of his website, where all of his public work (to the best of my knowledge) resided and resides.
  • Here’s how he described what he did. Note that putting a quote box in here is going to break the flow of bullet points, because that’s what WordPress does. That does not mean that you get to interrupt before I return to the bullet points.

But . . .

  • No. I love you. But no.

Right.

  • Right. So here’s how TotD described his enterprise . . .

My thesis is that the Grateful Dead were the Silliest Band in the World. I will attempt to prove this through misquotes, malicious lies, and just plumb crazy talk; everything in these pages is, of course, satire. Except for the stuff about Bobby: Bobby actually thought he was a fucking cowboy. He was also a terrorist, but we’ll get to that. Bob Weir is a fucking prince.

This is my first time making blog. If you enjoy what I’ve done, then that’s entirely your decision. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them, along with your choice for #16 Mississippi Half-Step OF ALL TIME.

  • It seems slight, doesn’t it?
  • Nonsensical, even. Soft. Half-baked. Not much depth there. How could this one-skit SNL-caliber concept run for days, much less months, much less years?
  • In any other writer’s hands, I don’t think it could have.
  • But TotD used that modest, humble,  soft launching point to embark upon one of the most astounding bits of world-building that I’ve ever experienced.
  • To cite but one of many examples: The Dead’s on-stage set-ups over the years could often look haphazard and amateurish.
  • That’s a fact.
  • But why was it a fact?
  • TotD created a character named Precarious Lee, who was a Dead roadie, and who took great glee in building the most structurally ridiculous stage plots possible, ideally involving low effort by the crew, disinterest from the band, and high risk to audiences, players, other crew members, the environment, the equipment, and quite possibly Precarious himself.
  • Ha ha ha! There’s a joke! Good for a solid post of chuckles, right?
  • Except . . . in the hands of a master like TotD, Precarious became a character of unexpected depth, with an incredible before- and after-story adjacent to his time with the Dead.
  • Precarious took us out on the Interstitial Highway, which was mind-blowing.
  • Precarious took us to the place where he settled (sort of), which was called Little Aleppo, and which was a neighborhood, in America.
  • And which spawned a book-length series of stories, one of which remains one of my all-time favorite reads ever.
  • Especially when it was rolling out, chapter by chapter, in real time.
  • I read it all on my morning train commute with my coffee, gleeful every day that a new installment arrived.
  • It was like being a Charles Dickens fan in the late 1800s.
  • When it was all done, I named that first Little Aleppo novel My Best Book of the 21st Century.
  • Even if it never saw the printed page. Even if it never made TotD a dime. Even if it never had to claw through the publishing industry’s maw to see to the light of day.
  • It remains brilliant, and you can still click the link above to read it, and then to read the stories that followed it at TotD’s site.
  • I strongly encourage you to do so.
  • So many great tales. So many great characters. Such incredibly refined writing, where words and phrases routinely pop from the page and shine, craftsman-like example of the ways that our language can become sublime, even when discussing the mundane.
  • A lot of it is really funny, as are a lot of other parts of the TotD semi-fictional universe, where real-world personages (living and dead) interact with created characters in ways sweet and sublime and subtle and soaring.
  • (Another Grateful Dead connection in the Little Aleppo stories: the group’s famed Wall of Sound PA/speaker system became sentient, and is now providing sound for an historic movie theater in Little Aleppo).
  • (The Wall is another great character, a fascinating exploration into the ways that an artificial intelligence might interact with the humans who surround it, often to its despair).
  • (But don’t call him WALLY).
  • But deeply integrated with all of the laughs into the weft and woof of the the TotD semi-fictional universe were moments of deep, haunting, soul-moving pathos and compassion and love.
  • And you never knew when a sad story was going to get funny, or when a funny story was going to get sad, and that’s pretty much the way real life happens, and that’s pretty much what made this little escape from real life so very, very magical.
  • There are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of TotD’s excellence on such fronts on his website, so if you just head over there and plow through the archives, you will be richly rewarded.
  • (Expert tip: find a subject/topic you particularly enjoy, then use the categories and tags to dig deeper into the story lines associated with said topic).
  • Among that plethora of fine choices, one piece springs to mind today, and I encourage you to go read it.
  • But first: consider what’s happened in Arkansas over the past couple of days with regard to the rights, health and well-being of transgender young people.
  • And then: consider all of the other States in our country that are seriously considering similarly hateful and harmful laws.
  • And then then: read this.
  • That’s extraordinary story-telling. A short piece, that quickly introduces you to places and people who are remarkable and not, in equal measure, and makes you care about them, deeply, quickly, wholly.
  • And there’s a lesson in there, too.
  • You might learn something.
  • Or at least re-consider some other things.
  • And that makes it art, to these eyes, and to this mind.
  • Great art. Fine art. Serious art.
  • With chuckles.
  • I look at the very best things I’ve ever written, and they pale in comparison to that piece, or hundreds of other similar pieces scattered throughout TotD’s canon.
  • Wow, was he good.
  • Wow, will I miss his work.
  • And wow, will I miss him.
  • Even though I never met him.
  • Even though I have no idea what he looked like.
  • Even though I only learned his first name within the past year when Bob Weir outed him on a David Lemieux podcast.
  • Even though I only learned his last name when his brother told us all that he died this morning.
  • He was truly a Ninja Jedi when it came to online stealth and protecting his anonymity, while living fully in the public domain.
  • Hats off on that front. Well played, you.
  • So when I miss him, my brain will miss him as TotD, not as Rick Harris.
  • Though I wish I had had the chance to get to know Rick Harris, too.
  • I think we would have gotten along well.
  • Common interests and suchlike, you know?
  • Because online connections and friendships are real, for reals.
  • Truly.
  • Meaningfully.
  • Deeply.
  • I have met and gotten to know (virtually-speaking) a lot of other folks in the “Comment Section” at TotD’s site over the years.
  • A couple of them have already reached out to me this morning to make sure I knew the news and that I was doing okay with it.
  • I did know.
  • But I’m not doing okay with it.
  • I do look forward to keeping in touch over the months and years ahead with the community that TotD built.
  • Good folks. Funny. Freaky. Fine company.
  • Enthusiasts.
  • Weirdos and squares in equal measure.
  • You decide who fits in which bucket.
  • Or not. We’ll be here all the same.

All of us?

  • Yes, all of us.
  • We love you.

With Which I Am Well Pleased VIII (Days A Week)

In which I, once again, share a list of 15 things in various categories that have delivered me pleasure and joy in recent weeks. Here’s hoping some of them might do it for you, too. I hope you will share your own recommendations in the comment section if there are things that you think I might need to see, hear, watch, eat, read, or do!

FILMS

(A Displeased Note on Films: I have also watched Oscar favorites Nomadland and Mank since my last report here. I generally quite like Gary Oldman and Frances McDormand and their various projects, but in this case, I am decidedly not pleased that their most-recent films are leading in the buzz for this year’s weird Academy Awards season. They both reek of “Hollywood Loves Films About Hollywood” and/or “Hollywood Loves Method Stunts” to me, and I am not a fan of either of those tropes and they ways that they manifest in modern film-making).

TELEVISION

MUSIC

BOOKS

(A Displeased Note on Books: I do most of my reading on a Kindle, which I love and hate in equal measure for various essay-worthy reasons, and which means I don’t have much exposure to book cover art when I read things. As I searched for imagery for these three great new books, I was utterly appalled to discover that I could not get high resolution digital versions of their covers without having to share hard-printed “book club” bullshit with you, dear readers. Honestly: Had I been shopping for these books in a traditional brick and mortar shop, I never would have picked up Infinite Country due to its “Reese” logo, and I would have presumed that Klara and the Sun was dumb fluff because of its “GMA” logo, and probably would have skipped that one too. What a terrible trend in modern publishing, ugh!)

MISCELLANEOUS

Marcia and I received our first dose COVID vaccines this week.

Make Your Own Bayeux Tapestry

What Are 10,000 Words For? (Sedona #5)

(Note: Click on any image for full-size view)

PRIOR ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES:

10,000 Words In A Cardboard Box (Sedona #4)

10,000 Words (Bless The Lord) (Sedona #3)

Brighter Than 10,000 Words (Sedona #2)

10,000 Words (Sedona #1)

Storm Force 10,000 Words (Chicago #10)

Ship Arriving Too Late To Save 10,000 Words (Chicago #9)

Beyond the Valley of 10,000 Words (Chicago #8)

Return to the Planet of 10,000 Words (Chicago #7)

Revenge of the Son of 10,000 Words (Chicago #6)

Son of Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #5)

Yet Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #4)

Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #3)

10,000 More Words (Chicago #2)

10,000 Words (Chicago)

With Which I Am Well Pleased VII (And Seven Is)

In which we, once again, return to a list of 15 things in various categories that have delivered me the bounteous joy in recent weeks. Here’s hoping some of them might do it for you, too . . . or that you’ll share recommendations in the comments of things that you think I might need to see, hear, watch, eat, read, or do!

FILMS

TELEVISION

MUSIC

BOOKS

MISCELLANEOUS

 

Heaven is the Dust Beneath My Shoes

Bear with me, this post rambles. Literally and figuratively . . .

Marcia and I arrived in Arizona to begin our retirement era (we’re still in the go-go phase) just over four months ago. Since that time, we have generally hiked at least five miles every day, beneficiaries of both a benevolent climate and a more-than-ample local trail system. Our daily walks are, for me, personal highlights: we amble, we ramble, we walk, we talk, and we share a deep appreciation for the history of the region we’ve chosen as our current home, loving both its geological and human-historical scaled facets.

On a geological front, we routinely see from our home and hike through a region that’s about 320 million years old, formed deep in the heart of the Carboniferous Era, when much of the modern world’s climate-altering coal and oil beds were laid down. It looks like this, and it’s all around us:

The most marvelous thing about this region, though, is somewhat defined by the fact that you can travel a very short distance (in modern, human scales) and move from ancient landscapes to ones that are in their geological infancy. Case in point: the Sunset Crater region, about a 90-minute drive from our house, and where the youngest prominent landscape features are less than 1,000 years old. That area looks like this:

As interesting as the geological aspects of our new home turf may be, the human-scaled history of our home region is equally fascinating. Near the aforementioned Sunset Crater region, one can visit the Wupatki National Monument, where the ruins of Native American civilizations may be walked and considered, close to the homelands of the modern Navajo and Hopi people. Wupatki is an extraordinary site, featuring vistas like these:

The first photo above shows what was once a three-story urban edifice. The second shows a ceremonial ball court, something of an historical anomaly hereabouts, as such sites are generally associated with Central American or Hohokam sites well south of Wupatki. These particular human relics date from around 1,000 AD, and the local civilizations of that era came and went as the neighboring volcanic eruptions allowed, blessed in some ways by cinders that held moisture in the arid soil, and cursed in other ways by the sulfurous vapors that would have shrouded the area in its most tumultuous geological eras.

The net effect of being regularly, easily confronted with such examples of geological and human history is that we routinely find ourselves discussing time and its scales. I considered some facets of the ways in which we small humans exist and thrive (or not) within the vast time sphere of the world and universe surrounding us when I wrote my Credidero series in 2019, most especially in my articles about Eternity and Mortality. Being confronted daily with deep geological history, and with evidence of the transient nature of human history, often leads to small conversations about big topics, oftentimes while we are out walking the trails and paths that present such evidence of pasts short and long to our senses and our minds. It creates an interesting blend of physical activity (e.g. we have to climb this 1,000-foot face to get a great view of some ancient rocks) and mental activity (e.g. considering why those particular rocks are still standing all these millennia on, when those around them have long since washed away), and that holistic sense of full, deep experience greatly adds to the joys associated with walking and talking around our current home.

A couple of months ago, I wrote an article called Red Is The Color, where I posted the following photo, of my green hiking shoes:

Those green shoes are coated with our region’s signature red dust. The big local rocks decay into red powder over time, and that hard evidence of deep time and deep history sticks to us as we trek through it, on our boots, on our skin, in our hair, in our house. In that prior article, I made reference to a favorite song called “Red” by a favorite artist named Jarboe, though it has occurred to me since that post that I probably could have even better captured the spirit of what I wanted to communicate through another of her songs, called “Panasonic in Red Dirt,” which sounds like this:

I love the red dirt around us. On one plane, it reminds me of the red clay of my father’s native Piedmont region in North Carolina, evoking many fond childhood memories. On another plane, it’s both humbling and heroic to walk through visible dust relics of the magnificent ancient rocks around us, making new memories today. There are many things that I adore about our new home, but I have to say that our daily walks may be the best of the best things hereabouts, for reasons obvious and intangible, good for the body, good for the mind, good for the soul.

I recently spun another favorite song by another favorite band called NoMeansNo, and the lyrics of its final chorus perfectly expressed the way I feel about our daily rambles hereabouts, why they make me feel so very, very good, and how they fit within the belief structure I explored and elucidated in my Credidero series. Here are the most relevant lyrics:

Heaven’s not a kingdom
Not a land on which to roam
Heaven’s not a palace
Where God sits upon a throne
Heaven has no treasure
There is nothing there to lose
Heaven has no choices
There is nothing there to choose
Heaven’s not in heaven
Heaven’s in the dust beneath my shoes

 

Yes, that. Exactly. Getting dusty while walking makes me feel good, in just about every way that I am programmed for pleasure. If that’s not heaven, then I don’t know what might be. With that, I’m off to ramble here (literally, not figuratively), but I leave a copy of that brilliant NoMeansNo song for you to spin below, and I thank them for giving me the title of this particular post, and for so brilliantly laying out the sentiments I wished to express here today, and to live and experience in the days that remain before me:

10,000 Words In A Cardboard Box (Sedona #4)

(Note: Click on any image for full-size view)

PRIOR ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES:

10,000 Words (Bless The Lord) (Sedona #3)

Brighter Than 10,000 Words (Sedona #2)

10,000 Words (Sedona #1)

Storm Force 10,000 Words (Chicago #10)

Ship Arriving Too Late To Save 10,000 Words (Chicago #9)

Beyond the Valley of 10,000 Words (Chicago #8)

Return to the Planet of 10,000 Words (Chicago #7)

Revenge of the Son of 10,000 Words (Chicago #6)

Son of Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #5)

Yet Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #4)

Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #3)

10,000 More Words (Chicago #2)

10,000 Words (Chicago)

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