Murder Comets - 083022
This is a newsletter by Christian Sager that comes out every other Tuesday. In it I attempt to make sense out of the chaos of the world, trying to sort my thoughts around the model of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. This issue I write about a metal show I went to, getting excited about comic books again, Mondo 2000 magazine, re-evaluating my place as a professional communicator, and a whole lot of stuff I'm enjoying reading.
The waterways around my home aren’t safe for animals right now because of toxic algae blooms. So I’m staying off the water until it’s deemed safe again by the experts. This appears to be yet another side effect of our climate change present, where our natural bodies of water are turning into poison.
For Kelly’s birthday we had an incredible meal at a southeast Portland restaurant called Obon Shokudo. They specialize in vegan Japanese comfort food and the description was spot on. I felt satisfied after the meal, without the lethargy that usually accompanies gorging until I feel full. The kimchi okonomiyaki (pictured above) was delicious.
There was an armed robbery this week at my campus grocery store. When I work at the office I go there everyday and get snacks or vegan lunches like sandwiches or faux buffalo wings. This grocery store is next door to our campus police station, so the perpetrator must have either been really desperate or really confident. Especially since they’re already known to PSU security by name. They caught him two days later.
I’d been mulling a physical return to the office, but this news put a damper on that. I stopped going in at all earlier this summer because of the rising COVID cases and the frequent violent crime on campus. In the last 6 months we’ve had multiple murders, a suicide and constant theft. I’d rather be a hermit thanks.
I realize that the crime is worse there because there are less people downtown. But it’s a dilemma, because many of us don’t want to return until the crime slows down. And Portland State — much like the rest of the city of Portland — is in a constant tug-of-war between either investing in law enforcement or defunding it, before trying to use those funds to build social services programs like Portland Street Response. Meanwhile, employers are claiming “no one wants to work” anymore and have started relocating their companies outside of the city. No one, however, seems interested in addressing the base cause for all this turmoil: the pervasive hardship many are experiencing in our society.
While this is going on I considered applying for a higher level position at the university as a director in their University Communications office. After some thought I decided to stay where I am, since there are potentially a lot of challenges ahead for me this year and starting a new position would add to them. The hiring committee recently hosted presentations by their top candidates and I was intrigued by the applicants.
I’ve worked in higher education long enough now that I’ve noticed patterns in the types of people applying for communications roles there. Usually they’re former journalists who are struggling to find a career after the news industry was decimated. Sometimes they’re young enough that I’m reminded how long I’ve been working in the field comparatively.
Some younger applicants tend to think about a communications role less strategically and more like a social media influencer. Fun, entertainment, cat videos and dance challenges take precedent. Short term, viral wins are valued over meeting long term goals.
I’ll never forget the time a former boss told my team that we needed to copy a social media challenge where someone on Facebook kept wrapping rubber bands around a watermelon until it exploded. We asked what the goal would be for doing that and his answer was to just get those views and likes. He had enough FOMO that our job became chasing after fads, without any plan or relevance to our organization’s mission.
The more this approach to communication careers seeps in, the less I feel that there’s a place for me in it. Maybe I’m aging out of my profession, which is inevitable. But I also value more than just my job and I have bigger goals to meet than simply winning and cashing a paycheck.
That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when one of the candidates proved to be an exception. This person started off in higher education, made a name for themselves creating independent media and were headhunted to bring their talent to a major digital media corporation. After a few years they now want to return to higher ed, to support their community with a mission of diversity, equity and inclusion. That resonated with me, especially when they demonstrated a clear plan for how to communicate well, achieve the university’s goals, and reach the right audience. It made me feel less ostracized from the vocation. Maybe it’s not all vapid, opportunistic exploitation after all. I’m rooting for them to get the job.
Something felt different when I first started going to comic book stores again after lockdown. I paced the isles listlessly and could bring myself to be excited about much of what I saw on the shelves. Floating World isn’t just my favorite comic store in Portland, it may be my favorite I’ve ever been to. But even there I wasn’t feeling excited about comics the way I used to.
For a variety of reasons related to my concerns about downtown above, they just moved their shop from downtown to the practically abandoned mall of Lloyd Center in northeast. So we went down there for their first weekend to support the shop and check out the new space. I don’t know if it was rearranging their collection or perhaps a discovery of new material, but that kid-in-a-candy-store feeling returned immediately.
I found Rick Veitch’s dream journal comics and learned that he’s uploaded all the previous issues to the internet archive. I also discovered Gutter Hunter, a comics zine about the history of weird outsider comics. Both of these reignited my imagination and honestly, made me feel a little less alienated from comics in general. There’s so much that can still be done with the medium, but the best work is often done at the fringes. Looking forward to being a patron of Floating World for years to come.
So I started the notorious Conspiracy Against the Human Race by Thomas Ligotti. I’m going to save more in-depth thoughts for after I’ve finished it. But I’ll simply report that the prose itself has a remarkably sedative effect on me as a reader. Reading Ligotti’s carefully compiled research into the history of pessimist thought is like a warm bath or a strong dose of clonazepam. It too made me feel like less of an alien in this world. As he thoroughly hammers home the argument that consciousness is merely a defense mechanism against inevitable suffering, it feels like it’s okay to let go and just let the everyday horrors of the world wash over you.
To be clear, I don’t (and he doesn’t) mean this in a suicidal ideation type of way. In fact, the book argues exactly the opposite, that suicide only increases the world’s suffering. But it is devoted to a meticulous appraisal of consciousness as our escape hatch to delude ourselves that life isn’t actually a miserable shitshow. Again, I haven’t finished it yet, but I suspect the problem many people have with it isn’t just the bleak nihilism, but that it advocates that the only responsible thing to do if you agree with its conclusion is to no longer reproduce other human beings.
The whole thing reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut and his phrase, "What are people for?" I imagine Ligotti and Vonnegut would have had some pretty interesting conversations if they’d met.
Speaking of people being awful... as I was putting the finishing touches on this issue Scott Kelly from Neurosis confessed to physically, emotionally and financially abusing his wife and children. I'm still processing this, but Neurosis is a band I enjoyed listening to and a group of people I respected as independent artists. The rest of the group apparently found out in 2019 and "parted ways" with Kelly. Domestic abuse is a major trigger for me and I don't know if I'll be able to listen to the band for a long time to come. The whole thing makes me sick to my stomach.
I witnessed a live band called “Belezebong” last week. During their set they held their guitars over their heads, so the words “SMOKE OR DIE” were spelled out in electric tape. It reminded me of the time I saw Exhumed play and they did the same thing, but it said “GORE FUCKING METAL.” Shortly afterward, one of them forced himself to vomit all over the stage.
My friend and I were actually there to see the bands Elder and Dreadnought. I’ve been to several shows since lockdown lifted, but this was a whole different level of immersion with 300+ mostly maskless bodies squeezed into a small, hot room. It felt good to be in a crowd full of metalheads again, but my pandemic paranoia was definitely overwhelmed by the sensory overload.
At one point during Elder’s explosive set I realized I was wearing two masks, earplugs, and had closed my eyes to avoid the glare of the light system. The experience became an amusing simulation of the chaos of life and the sensory barriers we have to establish in order to survive it.
My next step is to wear a full-fledged Extravehicular Activity Suit, with the music pumped in directly via the house soundboard. Elder released a collaboration album with Kadavar called A Story of Darkness & Light that was one of my favorites of last year. I would love to hear their “Blood Moon Night” through the radio of an EVA suit.
Next week it’s Shellac at Mississippi Studios.
I started planning a solo trip to Astoria in late September. I’m going to take the train over to the coast and explore the town for 3 days. Looks like I’m staying in an old garage that’s been converted into a bedsit. Report to come.
I believe I missed out on the Mondo 2000 magazine because I was a child living in Singapore at the height of its popularity. My friend and collaborator EC Steiner introduced me to it a couple of weeks ago and I was surprised that I’d never heard of it until now. There’s a treasure trove over on the Internet Archive, where a history project is hosting digital scans of the Mondo 2000 issues along with related materials.
Reading through the first issue alone made me nostalgic for its kind of futurist thought making. The ads — not any older than I am — feel like condensed pockets of history. But my favorite segment so far is “Cyber Evolution: Montage,” compiled by Robert Anton Wilson, where he waxes on about Buckminster Fuller, Dawkins’ early memetic theory, the Weather Underground, and a masonic conspiracy to launder money for the Catholic church through cocaine distribution networks.
It was inevitable, but I’ve apparently now reached the age where I’m looking back on the past as being better than the present. I don’t know what’s in our chemistry that causes this longing, but reading Mondo 2000 I wondered, “What happened to radical forums like this for public thought?” It feels like after we rolled into the 21st century we forgot how to operate spaces like this, gateways to bigger, weirder ideas. Make America Mondo Again.
It would be easy to spout off that it’s some combination of late-stage capitalism, globalization and the Big 5 tech companies that have led us to a world of mediocrity. But really it’s just that the setting has changed. There are still plenty of radical thinkers out there. But they’re buried like needles in the haystack of content we are bombarded with everyday.
Case in point: I’ve been following the work of Leah Sottile for a few years now, ever since she guested on an episode of Live Wire to discuss her podcast Bundyville. Her newsletter, The Truth Does Not Change According to Our Ability to Stomach It is a must-read every month. The most recent edition — thinking coincidentally about Vonnegut in reaction to the horrific assault on Salman Rushdie — was so inspiring that I plunked down for the paid version.
Simultaneously I’m reading Sottile’s first book, When the Moon Turns to Blood, about two Latter-Day Saint, anti-federalist nuts who were charged with murdering two children in 2020. Alternating between that and Ligotti has been overwhelming for sure. But there’s so much resonance between his arguments for the end of humanity and their sociopathic need for the world to end. If you want the cliff notes version of Sottile’s book there’s a Netflix docuseries coming out next month about the same case.
Corridor is on hold for the time being. I need to send an official message out to the audience, but it appears that neither crowdfunding or fulfillment are in the cards for us in 2022. We’re currently researching grant-funding, hoping we can turn it into a non-profit.
To give my brain a rest on that front I’m spending a little time every week tinkering with a roleplaying game campaign for my friends, mixing elements of Spelljammer, Planescape and Numenera together. I splurged for the new Spelljammer books last week. I’m very happy with the purchase, especially because there’s a new monster in there called a “Murder Comet.”
- Leah Sottile’s writing
- Mondo 2000 archive
- The Conspiracy Against the Human Race by Thomas Liggoti