Kevin Annett: A Portrait at Sixty One

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So tell us, Kevin, are you a happy man?

The term is ambiguous. It’s like asking if the sun ever shines on me.

Let me put it another way: Are you satisfied with your life?

With my work, yes of course I am, but not because of the work; that’s merely an expression of my own essential being. Ask me about the seed, not the branches.

By that you mean your Essentialist philosophy, right?

Don’t do that. We don’t need another shrine to grovel before. Next you’ll be quoting me.

But people are curious about you, Kevin. What is it that keeps you going?

Does it really matter? Look, I’ve matured enough now to stop living vicariously. I refuse to give anybody an answer for themselves. Are people really that banal, to have to search for their own meaning through my example? Or through anybody’s? Can’t we grow beyond that infantile need for parental approval?

Well, speaking for myself, you’re an inspiration.

Why should you even need to be inspired? Are you that devoid of your own fire? And why I am worthy of emulation? Because I’ve done what you won’t do, or made it easier for the rest of you by showing you how the magic works? What does my example make you inspired to do: go out and copy me, or merely applaud? Or maybe, just maybe, acting from your own mind? You see, that’s what I mean about maturing past vicarious living. The applauding spectator is just an empty shell. The imitator never goes beyond the model. The times call for much more than that.

Like what?

Jean-Paul Sartre said it right when he described how modernity serializes human existence out of existence. The price of cooperation with the world is we must remain dead souls waiting to be born. We’re kept that way by a global corporatocracy that requires us to be components, thingified parts of institutions rather than free souls. But we are co-dependent in that process of “assimilation” – the word means “to be eaten”. We insist on keeping ourselves reliant on the very system that’s feeding off us. We are raised to desire slavery over inner freedom.

And what is freedom?

The capacity to die on our own terms.

Not live?

No. It’s not possible to live within the modern world, which is just a life-sucking machine. We can only operate in it as lifeless serialized units. But we can pull the plug. We can pull out of the machine.

How do we do that?

There you go again: always the how. Don’t you have an answer? But of course you don’t, or you wouldn’t have asked me – unless you’re just being rhetorical.

No I’m not. I don’t have the answer.

You mean, how does one pull out of Necropolis?

Yes.

You start by coming to life.

But you said you can’t live here; not in this system.

That’s right. So where does that leave you? Imagine.

Long pause

I think you’ve spent your whole life struggling with this.

Of course I have.

Have you always felt estranged from the world?

The word means to no longer be on friendly terms with something. But I never was friends with this world.

You mean you never fit in?

Well who the hell would want to? Going along out of habit is not the same thing as choosing to be part of this insane butchery we call civilization. That’s something the armchair critics of all those despised, so-called “sheeple” don’t understand. No-one raised in and confined to this world is capable of making a free and conscious decision, including the armchair experts.

But you have.

How would you know that?

Well, that’s how it …

Appears. Correct?

But what else can I go on?

Alright, fair enough. And the answer is yes. I deliberately chose very early on in my life not to fit myself in anywhere, much to the consternation of my so-called loved ones. No career prospects. No planned sinecure somewhere. Nothing to achieve, no personal empire to build on someone else’s back.

Then what did you live for?

To overturn everything. It was a natural reflex, a gut level imperative. Everything had to go.

How old were you when you realized that?

Sixteen.

Did something in your upbringing prompt your awareness?

If we’re going to tread the hackneyed garden path of pop psychoanalysis, son, excuse me while I sleep.

It’s a legitimate question.

Uh huh. (pause) Look, it wasn’t that a light switch suddenly went on for me. I always knew not to take anything here too seriously. One day, after having been ripped to pieces, I found out what was left of me, the part that couldn’t be wiped out, and I owned it. I owned my own experience and I let it guide me after that.

You conformed the world to yourself, and not yourself to the world.

So you’ve read George Bernard Shaw.

Of course I have. He’s Irish.

Only half Irish: the unacceptable half.

So what’s that been like for you Kevin, to always conform reality to your own understanding of things? I’d think that would be hard to sustain over time, just you against the world, up against even reality. Haven’t you ever identified with anything in the here and now?

Briefly, but I was always repulsed in the end.

Such as?

Well, I was married three times. Or was it four? And therein lies the biggest illusion of all.

You mean love?

Marcus Aurelius said to never to lie to ourselves by dressing up a simple thing in the rich garments of our own desires. He said that being in love essentially comes down to a mixing of bodily fluids.

Oh come on now, Kevin …

Essentially, he’s correct. Everything else is romantic fluff we add on to try to sustain forever what cannot be. And as for the heart and soul, well, Jesus apparently said that in the Kingdom of Heaven there is neither male nor female, no winners and losers. Everyone is married to everyone else. Total existential oneness. I guess lonely souls like to call that God.

So you’re not a fan of monogamy, I assume.

Well it’s all so trite. We are basically incapable of knowing ourselves, and yet somehow we’re able to know another person well enough to join up with them for life. That’s about as ridiculous as when God-believers and atheists both proclaim that they know with absolute certainty the nature of a cosmos of which they can only perceive or sense barely a fraction.

So we can never act on anything because of the basic uncertainty of everything?

Sure we can act, like a man walking around with a blindfold on. But act with complete knowledge or understanding? Of course we can’t. But why should that bother anyone? It’s quite humbling, actually.

Well of course it’s bothering! What you’re saying amounts to a recipe for complete apathy! How can you believe that? You, who’ve acted with such devotion your whole life, who’s changed so much in the world …

No, no, you’re not understanding me. You’re confusing realism with apathy. To know how incomplete everything and we are actually makes us even more determined to act. We have to act, to create meaning and purpose in a universe that’s ultimately empty of both. Nothing else will do that for us.

But we’re always incomplete …

Well of course we are. We’re not a machine but a thought in process. But as to how we actually go about fighting the evil around us: well, it took some hard knocks for me to get it. I started in blindness, like everyone. I set out with the illusion that reality was a jigsaw puzzle that could be seen as it really is and then reassembled. But when that didn’t work I realized that it was all beyond repair. I told you, I chose to pull out of my allegiance to the illusion. And the more I withdrew, well, I suppose that’s what’s responsible for the changes I’ve been able to make.

I don’t get it.

What happens to a balloon when we stop puffing into it?

It collapses.

Bingo.

So it’s that simple?

Sure. We stop giving away our life force to something else. But that’s only possible when we reclaim and learn to control that life force. That’s always the hard part, and something that’s effectively impossible for humanity, right now at least.

Why?

Because people are not themselves and they don’t want to be.

But it is possible for you.

Sometimes.

Pause

Let’s get back to love.

I thought you’d say that.

Some call love a mystery.

Here’s what I wrote about that one night in a Madrid airport: “What we carry inside ourselves is too spectacular to endure, so we flee from its flames. Later, safely distant, we call the simmering residue Love.”

You mean we substitute our own fabricated human desires for the divine love?

Well, that should be obvious. But it goes deeper than that.

How so?

First principles, son: the little matter of existence. (pause) Just go up to anyone on the street and ask them the reason they’re alive. Why are they here? Not about existence in general or in the abstract, but about their own life. Why did they come into being? If they’re honest in their responses, every single person you ask will be as confused and panicked as if you told them they’re about to die. (pause) So why is that?

You tell me.

Why is the most basic question of our existence unanswerable? Logically, it should be the easiest one to answer. And it would be, if we were actually alive.

You mean we don’t exist?

If we did, would there be such an enormous disconnect? Quantum physics and Taoism both say that the smallest particle contains within it the totality of everything. Well, if that’s true, then surely we, as a very tiny bit of the universe, would have within us the same sum of everything, including the answer to that question, Why are we here?

So in other words, we’re not conforming to the Laws of the Universe.

Again, that should be obvious.

Then who and what are we?

Maybe we’re somebody’s nightmare or some weird experiment. We’re definitely operating under another set of laws and forces outside of cause and effect, justice, reason or anything else we pretend is in operation.

Maybe our heart has the answer our mind can’t provide.

Heart or mind, it still bangs up against the same enormous paradox and the Great Cosmic Shrug. Can anyone ever really love an absentee God?

So from the sounds of it you don’t believe in God, is that right Kevin?

The cosmos doesn’t require my belief in it for it to be. But I’d say it needs my capacity to reason.

But you just said reason doesn’t apply here, that we’re outside the laws of nature! We’re simply caught in an irrational chaos!

Correct. But somehow, and don’t ask me how, the fog of chaos diminishes when I bring my own substance to bear. Put another way, some absolute truth is reasoning through my mind. Does that make sense at all to you?

No. I assume it does to you.

I’m not talking about habitual thinking, the kind of minimal functional intelligence granted to us stock yard animals until the big knife descends on us. I’m speaking of Reason, the creative light in the void that one of my ancestors described as the Divine Mind incarnated within us.

Peter Annett.

That’s him. He scared the shit out of the British establishment in the 1760’s because he publicly called on everyone to use their reason and bring it to bear on everything, starting with religious superstition and political tyranny.

Ouch. So no wonder the big knife fell on him, too.

Sure, but that didn’t change anything. Peter planted the germ of doubt in the monstrous Body Politic. He made the crack in the official House of Mirrors, just like I’ve done. Time does the rest.

So even in this irrational madness we’re in, we can create meaning?

That’s all we can do, and it’s the reason we’re here. We create meaning and it creates us by our mutual immersion in everything. The sunset outside my window just now set the huge oak tree ablaze with a shimmering and dying goldenness. That had meaning for a moment because it merged with everything that is me, the pulse of love in my breast, my seeking mind, my hall of memories and the roots of my integrity. Meanwhile, a child dies not a block away from me, and I’ll never know about it. So which is more true? It’s like examining sub-atomic particles: the closer they come, the more they disappear. All our tiny, separate moments aren’t what’s real. Only the big mosaic is.

Maybe the madness comes in trying to figure it all out.

No, that’s just a cop-out. What’s crazy is focusing on the particulars as if they had substance. Ever worked on a psychiatric ward? All the inmates there are totally absorbed in the meandering details of the moment because they are trapped within their own illusory subjective neurosis, which is like a stuck record playing over and over in their heads. That’s what makes them crazy: they can never see the big picture and step outside themselves and their own now. They devote themselves to trading their mealtime desserts with one another or squabbling over the TV channel as if it that’s the Alpha and Omega of their life.

Well, that’s not so unusual.

Exactly. Welcome to the nuthouse.

And it seems to be getting nuttier every day.

Well yes, and that’s the intriguing part, the chink in the illusion if you like. The collective fantasy we call civilization is unraveling and it can’t be sustained. In the latter days of the Roman Empire the coinage began to not only be devalued and worthless but the design on the coins became less clear, more impressionistic, almost like its meaning was fading out of time and space altogether. It was a symbol of their disintegrating matrix. That’s precisely what we’re in today, except our group neurosis is more extreme.

Why?

Because everyone knows everything instantly. We don’t have the buffer of space and quiet anymore. The infection spreads everywhere now and there are few, very few, spaces of retreat left to us. Whoever is plugged into the single electronic medium that runs our collective mind now is not capable of clarity or sanity.

So what do we do? Become latter day Luddites?

No need. It’s all coming down. At least, it had better be, for the alternative is unimaginably horrible.

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Two Daring New Canadian Plays – A Call

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – May 30, 2017

Brian Sharpe and Associates are proud to announce the upcoming production of two new theatrical works by Angus Byrne: DOPPELGANGER and MY LOVELY CANADIAN. Both plays will commence production in Vancouver during the summer and fall of 2017 and will then be taken on a cross-country tour.

DOPPELGANGER is a drama set in a hypothetically future Canada after a successful revolution. The plot centers on a former Caucasian clergyman who is standing trial for alleged war crimes before an aboriginal court of law. This is a play about identity and collective guilt, about who gets to judge whom. Behind all the appearances and crimes dwells the Doppelganger, the “Other One” within each of us as individuals and as nations.

MY LOVELY CANADIAN is a comical-tragedy centered on a not-so-typical Canadian family. Corporate malfeasance, high level conspiracies, foreign intrigues and sordid family plots all shine a remarkable light on English Canadian culture and its self-exculpating foibles. “How many Canadians does it take to change a light bulb? It doesn’t matter, since none of them will admit that it needs changing!”

Angus Byrne is the pseudonym of a blacklisted Canadian writer.

The Producers are accepting applications from actors and technical staff. A casting call, auditions and rehearsals will commence during June 2017 in Vancouver. Please send all resumes and inquiries to Brian Sharpe and Associates c/o sharpestedge101@gmail.com .
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Issued 30 May, 2017

Not Living for Ourselves

Hi friends. The following is an excerpt from a book I’m writing called “Fallen”, about four of the aboriginal members of our movement in Vancouver who were killed: Bingo, Harry, William and Ricky. I know you’d all relate:

One night a year after Harry Wilson had died I was speaking to a gathering of stricken people in Liverpool. After the meeting one of them approached me. She was a woman my age but seemingly older, a local resident who’d hung on my every word. She had been visibly moved when I spoke about my persecuted and imprisoned free-thinker ancestor Peter Annett who was Liverpool-born and raised.

She and I chatted over coffee as people came and went, and she kept staring at me like one draws the best water from the deepest part of the well. Finally the woman said to me quietly,

“I’ve been trying to figure you out for years. Now I think I finally understand you”

“Oh yeah?” I replied, feeling awkward.

She nodded, wide-eyed, and said,

“You were sent here to uproot and tear down the old so the new can grow. You’re a Systems Smasher.”

I smiled at the simple truth she had so precisely nailed.

“Thank you” I answered.”Thank you for seeing me”

She took my hand and whispered tearfully,

“And your Indian mates, they saw that in you too. That’s why they stood by you”

At that moment, a flood of appreciation for my fallen friends filled me, and a profound gratitude for who they really were. All five of us had together stumbled over the secret: that our lives are ultimately not our own.

Another survivor put it this way,

“The true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his psyche. For being human always points and is directed to something or someone other than oneself. The more a man forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or to others to love – the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. Self-actualization is not attainable in itself, but is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.” (Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning)

People not privy to the secret continually ask me why I don’t worry about myself more, admonishing me with the cure-all incantation “Stay safe!”. The same kind of people used to relate to my four friends as broken objects to be fixed rather than a work in progress.

Bingo and Harry and the others certainly never spent any time fretting about their own personal “healing”: that’s a Pale watchword, not one of theirs. Like me, their days were directed towards who we had to help and what we had to overcome in a world trying to stomp us into nothing. Forgetting about ourselves, we ended up moving mountains. Narcissists never move anything.

Smashing whole systems is the prerogative of those who are no longer the center of their own universe, but revolve around a higher fixed point.

One of Bingo’s buddies was Maggie, an older Nishga woman who seemed like any other stumbling and struggling street resident. But one night I saw her single handedly drag a police barrier to block off Main street as part of a spontaneous protest to free a homeless guy named Trevor who was being worked over in the cop shop. Maggie was completely unmindful of the risk to herself, even though twenty fully-armed riot cops were but a dozen paces away. She turned and started screaming at the goons who could break her head in an instant. Maggie was fearless in that moment, because her mind was on Trevor and her spirit had risen above herself.

The riot cops didn’t seem to know what to do when faced down by Maggie. And barely a half hour later, Trevor was released.

I always remember that night and Maggie’s stand whenever fear starts tugging at me and I forget myself by collapsing back into self-concern. For her selfless courage is a microcosm of the power we hold in our hands once we depart from ourselves and live for a new society and a new humanity. Being thus consecrated allows our souls to soar and makes the obstacles we face surmountable, and what we are birthing indestructible.

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Harry Wilson and Kevin Annett, Vancouver, spring 1997

Loving what we know: William and me

by Kevin D. Annett

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Wandering into the outback of one’s sixties invariably leaves me, at least, with a persisting sense of exile. Perhaps I’m not alone, if the strained and semi-confused demeanor of other folks my age means anything. The lot of us came of age during the 1960′s, after all, when the tyrants were toppling; so today’s droll, narcissistic nuthouse that passes for Civilization is doing its damnedest to bludgeon our dreams into early retirement. 

My father Bill is nearly ninety, although you wouldn’t know it. He’s just published a sheaf of his writings over seventy years called Letters from my Gin Mill: An Octogenarian Odyssey (Amazon, 2017) which brims with his usual slashing wit and levity, undiminished by all the wear and tear. Perusing his fifty selections, it struck me how the sense of exile runs like a vein through anyone who sifts through the strata of their own life with something more than remembrance. Whether situated in the dust-bowl prairies that he knew as a child or in the surreal world of high finance, Dad’s stories echo a sort of heart filled longing for that which he never found during his own kick at the can.

Dad’s a Yankee who ended up in Canada at a tender age about the same time that Wall Street went under. Now he’s returned to the Land of the Fee to live out his final time in a Daytona Beach flat with his little dog Princess. And so while not strictly an expatriate, Bill Annett seems to be in that set-apart zone reserved for the artist who is looking for summation. He’s still got a lot to teach me, especially about accepting ourselves.

 I find myself digressing more with the passing years, which comes I suppose from lots of memories and battle hardedness as well as possible early onset dementia. I recall scenes from my own child hood more vividly these days, especially concerning my Dad and my mother Marg. They couldn’t have been more different.

As kids some unspoken pneuma wafts us in the direction of one parent or the other. In my case it was towards Dad, which of course frustrated Marg to no end. One reason I viscerally identified with my father was because he saw bullshit for what it was, in the crowd or in himself. He had an innate self-acceptance that didn’t require that he thirst after other peoples’ approval. I guess you could call him the ultimate realist. Marg of course was the polar opposite.

I can’t say I wasn’t touched by my mother at all, for although I wasn’t strictly birthed by her but lifted, or hijacked perhaps, out of her sliced belly, Marg left some of her mark on me. In my early years I hankered after some great achievement, a stunning public recognition that would give me the friendship and love that always seemed to elude me. But more than that – and here’s where Dad came in – I too saw through the oceans of crap around me. And yet unlike Dad I had a burning need to do something about it all. I was permanently restless, and already in my teens I was in exile from the need to fit in somewhere. I was compelled to do something new, and so I could already sense the long loneliness that would be my life.

Unlike my mother, Dad always accepted me, which to a son is like oxygen. He and I would go years without speaking, but I knew he was out there somewhere rooting for me. Now it’s different, and when we meet up we’re like two guys batching it together and swilling our thoughts around the way war vets do with their vodkas and tonics. Being with Dad has been like a home coming in a way, or maybe an oasis.

At the end of the day I love my father not only for who he is and what he’s given me but for that peculiar Annett gift of exposition and clear sightedness that I’ve inherited from him. And knowing who we are and loving what we know is at least one of the higher qualities of the true man.

In one of his recollections of his deceased brother Ron, Dad writes of their deathbed farewell,

“By the time I reached Florida three or four days later, he had already told them to pull the plug. I found I had no tears left, nor regrets over a brother who never made the headlines but in some strange way for me will always be one of the true riders in the chariot.”

And so too my father.

………………………………….

Order Letters from My Gin Mill: An Octogenarian Odyssey by William Annett through amazon.com or at this link:

https://www.createspace.com/7171289