Still above ground.

I’m back. By “back,” I mean I’m going to make a disciplined effort to write in this blog with greater regularity. To the consternation of at least one friend, I deleted a long-standing blog that I began when I lived in Seattle. I’m proud of some of the work I posted there, and honored that people enjoyed it. But keeping it- even allowing it to become a derelict ghost blog- seemed improper. You’ll pardon the expressions, but it was dead and I needed to bury it. it was a link to another person, someone I don’t know anymore. I identified, I suppose, as “a writer.” (Even now, but especially then, I am uncomfortable with the term.) I went to college for it, got paid to do it on occasion, and derived a great deal of satisfaction using it as my primary creative outlet. Part of the joy in the process, despite how treacly and cliche it sounds, was its use as a tool for self discovery. And you know what I discovered, after countless millions of written words?

I love death.

I love death in a way that would seem too clinical and academic for the eighteen year old goth “me” of ages past to warrant consideration. But looking back on that old blog as I was poised to delete it, it was as plain as the nose on my face. Each and every one of my stories or essays were shot through with themes of death and dying. I wove death so densely into the tapestry of my writing that it verged on obfuscation, nearly rendering my pieces into little more than inchoate imagery. Some folks saw that as the appeal, apparently. I’m honored that people liked it. But writing alone is not where I’m at anymore.

I’ll tell you more later about the joy I feel when making a coffin, sculpting or carving wood. But what’s important to me now is to leave a legacy, a body of work- like Henry Darger and his mammoth canvases and inscrutable, thousands-of-pages long Glandolinian epics. I want to build coffins and mourning art, and I want to write about why, and I want one to compliment the other. I don’t just want to go to my own grave (or crematory retort, I still haven’t decided) and leave people scratching their heads, saying “Coffins. Thousands of them. He never said why.” I want to add to the mystery. The biggest part of the riddle is that even I have no fucking clue why I do this. Maybe that’s the point. If I ever come perilously close to understanding the nexus of my obsession, I promise to stop writing about it. But I’ll never quit building coffins.

That, friends, is the beginning of the beauty, the romance of death. I want to study it, obsess over it, scrutinize its every detail, and come to the end of my days being no better prepared for it than someone who dies instantaneously of a hemorrhage while waiting for the bus. But that instant– that briefest of moments when your lizard brain abdicates reason and you realize, however faintly, ‘this is happening, and immediately, and goodbye” will, for me, define every single day of the life that preceded it. I am waiting for a stranger I am desperate to know.

So thank you for reading again. I want to talk about my work, I want to talk about the countless facets of being mortal, of how we face the inevitability of our demise, and how we can do so with awareness and perhaps even giddy expectation. There are, after all, no experts around to talk about being dead.

Onward to the grave!

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Your guess is as good as mine.

I was raised by a Pagan Mother. She shopped at a co-op before anyone even knew what the fuck those were, and sent me to school with vegetarian bag lunches. When we moved into my childhood home I remember very distinctly coming home from meeting the neighbor kid for the first time to find the High Priest of the coven my Mom belonged to blessing the house, sprinkling salt all over from a big sea shell. I got my first set of Tarot cards when I was about eight, and was reading for money by age ten. I met some like minded kids in Junior High school and formed our own coven by eighth or ninth grade- which, in hindsight, is astonishing, given the time and place. Small town Minnesota in the early nineties wasn’t really hip to a bunch of kids in robes offering silver coins to trees in exchange for branches with which to fashion wands and staves, not to mention hosting sleepovers that included Beltane celebrations and the waving about of athames. It was a fucking amazing time, though. One of the guys in that ancient order of juvenile Druids is still one of my very best friends, and being exposed to all of that Neo-Paganism opened a lot of doors for me that would have otherwise remained hidden. It was through all of that Earth-Mother Wiccan hoo-hah that I was introduced to a galaxy of authors, artists, philosophers, weirdos, freaks, visionaries, and, maybe most importantly, drugs. All of these things coalesced to create a kid who was fully and irrevocably transformed by the time he was sixteen. I should have been a white guy with dreadlocks, playing a Didgeridoo on a beach somewhere, strung out on mescaline. But something happened. My teen angst never left. 

I had a gnawing suspicion that all of the Occultists I had been studying for so many years were just self aggrandizing, laudanum addled Western European egomaniacs. John Dee and Edward Kelly were confidence tricksters. Crowley had mesmerizing charm, but no Divine knowledge. Madame Blavatsky was the living embodiment of the three-card monte, wrapped in a mink stole, and her eyes were too pretty for her face. Every single grimoire I read and exhaustively researched- from the Book of Solomon to the Goetia, The Garden of Pomegranates, the Equinox, the Qabbalah, none of these had a verifiable pedigree. More than anything, it made me angry. I went from a depressed teen, which was typical, to a guy in his early twenties who was so furious with human beings for being so desirous of something beyond the natural world that they’d use their genius, their charm, and their charisma to to hoist aloft a flag woven of such shoddy material and ask the terrified living to march beneath it. That’s really when my obsession with death won me over, wholly and completely.

I don’t know what happens when we die, and I don’t care to. I can say with certainty that I have read every major religious text of the worlds “Big” faiths, and I understand that they’re all pretty much predicated on the same concepts. Occultism, by and large, takes that simplistic notion as a starting point, and shows pathways to engage yourself more wholly, immersing yourself in these concepts until they become inexorably intertwined with your essential being. They’re beautiful notions, and I don’t buy them for a minute. I have actively sought visionary experiences for the better part of three decades and have only attained them through plainly biological means- things like sleep deprivation, hallucinogens, physical exertion, and the like. I have an accurate moral compass in the absence of belief, despite the suggestion that such a dichotomy is an impossibility. I have no further interest in examining the substance of my “soul.” And I want to die. 

I want to die because after a lifetime of studying religion and spirituality, ghosts and cryptids, conspiracy theories and entheogenic drugs, seances and ectoplasm and table-rapping- rituals and rites and demons and angels, other realms full of mythical beings- I am still profoundly moved by the unknown, the unseeable, and the enormously mysterious. I never let this mundane world full of parlor-trick Messiahs force me into a position where I had to mortgage my imagination for a sense of false security. 

I want to die because I am very much alive. 

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Of Axes, dolls, and Law enforcement.

The dimensions of most of my coffins are about 14x4x4, give or take. They’re this size because it just so happens that that’s the size of a…ahem, “Popular girl’s doll.” So when I started making these regularly, I suddenly had everyone and their mother trying to fop dolls off on me. I took most of them gleefully, because if I didn’t use them for coffins, I’d hack the heads off and make “Predator” style necklaces or attach them to remote controlled cars, or burn them or crucify them and generally make teen goth-art out of them. Oh, to be young.

What’s also key to this story is the fact that I drove an 87 Nissan Pulsar NX as my first car. It was a sporty little job, originally purchased by my stepmother, then handed down to my brother, and finally, to me. I immediately festooned it with several bumper stickers, including “JESUS IS COMING. LOOK BUSY” and “OPERATION RESCUE, COME TO MY TOWN, I’LL LOCK YOU IN A CHURCH AND BURN THE FUCKER DOWN.” The backseat was tiny, and as I drove around, visiting friends, they’d give me dolls. Bags and bags of dolls. Soon, my backseat was full of them. They spilled out onto the floorboards and filled the foot wells. Those I couldn’t use I had cut the heads off of, and made a garland of unblinking, perpetually smiling blonde heads, most with shorn hair and upside down crosses drawn on their foreheads with marker. It hung from my rear-view mirror. I should also add that I had a bright blue mowhawk at the time. This will be important later.

The next thing to keep in the back of your mind while reading this narrative is that, since childhood, I’ve been plagued with an absolutely explosive temper. I’ve calmed down considerably in my middle age, but as a teen, I was a real motherfucker. 

One winter, backing my tiny, impossibly light little Nissan down my driveway, I gave it too much gas and the car drove up onto a massive ridge of ice formed alongside the driveway by months and months of compacted snow thrown by the snowblower. Three of the four wheels were off the ground. I put the gas to the boards. I shrieked myself hoarse. I punched the driver’s side visor and got a lap full of broken mirror for my troubles. Eventually, I was absolute insensate with rage. My solution was to go into the garage, grab a massive axe, and laboriously chop my car free. I eventually succeeded, tossed the axe into my backseat, and drove off to do whatever I was in such a hurry to do, which was probably to buy LSD or go play “Hey Mister” at the local liquor store.

Fast forward to the following summer. 

I have never kept a particularly clean automobile. The axe was still back there, atop the piles of dolls and books about sorcery and empty packs of cigarettes. 

One weekend, I spent the night at a former girlfriends. I drove home the following evening, having brought along my “overnight bag.” Let me say a few things about my “overnight bag.”

I have never been a large man. I’m about five foot nine and have never weighed more than 130 pounds. Back in the day, when I was driving around with dolls and axes and had a blue mowhawk, I also had a healthy appetite for hallucinogens and booze and filterless cigarettes. I was (and still am) a hypochondriac of mammoth proportions. So I thought it wise, in an effort to perhaps counter the insalubrious effects of the smokes and the acid and the whiskey, and maybe also help me put on some weight, to also take huge quantities of vitamins. I had it all in that overnight bag. Fish Oil. Garlic Pills. Rose Hips. B12. C, Zinc lozenges, Multi-vitamins, Echinacea, you name it. They didn’t do shit. I’m still the same size I was when I graduated high school. 

So, on the drive home from aforementioned ex-girlfriends house, I decided to stop off and visit a dear friend who worked the overnight shift at a gas station near my house. This particular friend has quite literally made it his life’s work to document the strange goings-on at that particular gas station in that particular corner of time, but that is a tale for another telling. He was, and is, a great, affable gent, and all the coffee I could drink was on the house. I pointed the Nissan with it’s cargo of axes and dolls and nefarious grimoires towards the gas station. 

I should point out, here, that at the time, I lived in a crappy, conservative suburb. It was also the early nineties, and not many people had blue mowhawks, facial piercings, and bumper stickers on their cars full of axes and headless dolls that made it fairly clear that the driver was waging a one-man war against Christianity.

The cop following me certainly thought he was on to something.

Just as I was about to turn the corner into the lot of the gas station, the cherries came on. I had no drugs on me at the time, I knew I wasn’t speeding, and I was eighteen. I just assumed this was another case of a fucking power-mad pig hassling the weird kid. So I got out my license and insurance card and waited.

The cop approached the car a little more slowly that I had become accustomed to. His flashlight beam lingered on my bumper stickers, and as I rolled my window down he stopped. As he began asking me if I knew why I had been pulled over, his flashlight played into the backseat. He stopped talking and unsnapped his holster.

This was like, eight months after I had thrown the axe back there, man. I had totally forgotten about it. It was only after he forced me out of the car and led me back to the squad that I glanced in back and saw it. I laughed. He tightened his grip on my clasped hands.

I was seated in the back of the squad car and watched as he picked through the bizarre detritus in my back seat. He held the axe aloft and shone his light directly on the axehead, looking, I presumed, for traces of human blood. He stacked the dolls on the trunk like old photographs of piles of corpses at Sobibor. Then he opened my overnight bag, found the baggie full of vitamins, and called for backup.

Twenty minutes later there were four more fucking cop cars there. They were actually getting a chance to use their field test kits, putting one of each vitamin pill into a test tube with a reactive catalyst and shaking them vigorously in front of the headlight beams and matching them against a color chart. “It’s only B12!” I shouted through the partially opened wing window in the back seat. “They’re ROSE HIPS, Dick Tracy! Fight the real enemy!” I was full of witticisms. They were not amused.

The only thing they could hang on me was driving with a suspended license. I had decided years prior to this that paying for parking tickets was fucking extortion, and as it turns out, if you believe thusly, and with enough conviction, they will summarily suspend your license. They called for a tow truck, but not before asking me if I wanted to get anything out of the car before it was taken to the impound lot.

This is how I got a cop to help me carry two garbage bags of dolls and an axe into my house at two in the morning one fine summer evening. I went in the basement and made coffins until the impound lot opened. 

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Why tiny coffins?

If you’re reading this, you’re probably already a fan on the FB page. If you’re not, this post might explain a few things. Either way, having a “blog” allows me to make better use of my absurdly loquacious nature and not run the risk of guaranteeing a “TL;DR” scenario in any other forum. Many people have asked me why I’ve chosen to devote the bulk of my creative impulses on making weird, heavily detailed, tiny little coffins. I don’t have an easy answer for that. What I can tell you is that I’ve been sculpting and making things for my whole life (or the part of it that matters, anyway, the part where I was old enough to actually have a sense of what I wanted to make, as opposed to just making things because I felt like making them.) I was very interested in sculpture from an early age, which led to an interest in puppetry. But my puppets were cool, man. They smoked cigarettes and shot dope and fucked and murdered. I made short films using an old super 8 camera and a shitty old VHS camcorder- and one day, I’d like to get back into doing that. Telling stories has always appealed to me, and if I can build something with my own hands to facilitate the telling, so much the better. But I digress. 

Somewhere along the line, many, many years ago, I stumbled across an article in some shitty punk-rock zine about a woman who was making ceremonial coffins for Barbie dolls to psychically bury the notion of female beauty. (Zines are another thing I could go on and on about for hours. I miss those fucking things.) Anyway, this chick was some type of horseshit performance artist, and was doing an installment where she’d have funerals for Barbie. Her coffins were crap- basically just plain cardboard painted black. But, being a punk-rock/goth kid, I was immediately intrigued. I had been doing some large-scale plaster casting, and was really pumping out the sculptural pieces, so I figured I could do something similar, and do it better. I still remember the first coffin I ever made. It was shit- I cut a bunch of images of Indian princes riding elephants off some packages of incense I had laying around, decoupaged them, and raided an old box full of my dead grandmothers fabric scraps. I sort of forgot about it, but my friends loved it. So I kept building them. I gave most of them away. I hope to God anyone who still has one has forgotten about it. They probably look horrid.

At the end of the day, coffins are a perfect fit for me simply because I am obsessed with death. That sounds hysterical and oh-so-goth, but it’s the truth. The bugs under the welcome mat have always been inherently more appealing to me than the cheery interior of the house I’m about to step into. I guess that’s the easiest way I can explain it. More later, I’ve got coffins to build. Thank you for reading. This is going to be fun.

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