28 July 2010

Scientific Ologies‏
"A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be."
-- Albert Einstein, scientist

They told me that L. Ron Hubbard was an engineer, and I believed it.  They told me he traveled extensively in the Far East, soaking up Eastern religion and philosophy like a Sham-Wow, and I believed it.  They told me that he took his Western, scientific training and applied it to Eastern philosophical thought and from this marriage of the Oriental and Occidental, Scientology was born.  And I believed it.  You gotta admit, that's a pretty compelling narrative.  It sounds right out of The Matrix or some such.  Unplugging from a computer download, Neo knows kung-fu.

(To my family:  This is going to be difficult for you to read.  I apologize wholeheartedly, but I am pretty much done with dishonesty in matters of the spirit.)

In college, I discovered the Tao Teh Ching and Buddhism.  My Old Testament professor (I went to a Presbyterian university) calmly and eloquently explained that the Books of Esther and Daniel are fictionalized history.  I read about the Gnostic gospels, and how the current New Testament line-up was crafted by men, not God.  I became a "Preterist" after studying the Book of Revelations and history.  I decided that Plotinus was probably right, best case scenario our consciousness emanates from the source of everything, and that's about all there is to God.  I stopped believing in a literal Hell.  I flirted briefly with atheism, and settled on something between agnosticism and deism; I assume there is a God.

Leaving college, trying to sort myself out vis a vis religion and matters of the spirit, it occurred to me that an honest attempt at sussing out the truth would involve a survey of world religions.  Perhaps applying scientific principles to the truths offered by Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, etc. figuring out what works, and going with that.

Enter L. Ron Hubbard, an American engineer and nuclear physicist whose extensive travels through the Far East led to a scientific approach to the spirit.  Or so they said.  As it turns out, he was neither an engineer nor a physicist, and his travels through the East were not nearly as extensive as he (and the Church) led us to believe.  One may say that, to borrow a phrase from Tom Cruise, Hubbard was glib.

So there you have, in a nutshell (emphasis on "nut"), what appealed to me so much about Dianetics and Scientology that I was willing to join the parade of fools.  There were other things:  I was attracted by the potential for losing psychological baggage (not that I have much) and increasing my potential as an artist.  (Laugh if you want, I really dig Travolta.  Been a fan my whole life, even through the dark days of "Look Who's Talking."  Back in 1997, when the wife and I first bought a copy of Dianetics, Travolta was in the middle of a career resurgence.)  Regardless, it was the science angle that really engaged me.

But is it science or faith?

From Geir Isene, an OT VIII, former member of the Church of Scientology: "It seems fanaticism feeds on hope and faith rather than experience and personal certainty. Maybe fanaticism is a substitute for real personal certainty."


A long quote from Haydn James, aka "T. Paine" from Scientology-Cult.com, an Independent Scientologist:
I have not one shred of doubt that Scientology is a religion, never have had. To me the evidence is clear and unequivocal. Though we may not talk about it often, faith is a very important element in Scientology.

In the lecture SELF-DETERMINISM ON THE DYNAMICS, dated 23 October 1951 LRH points out that the 8th Dynamic is actually faith, when he says:
“… Because the eighth dynamic is faith. It is not even knowledge, and it is certainly not ARC or understanding. It is faith; it is a static, and in a complete static there is no understanding. The individual is taught ‘You have to understand things in life,’ so he goes ahead and tries to understand the eighth dynamic. But you can’t understand the eighth—that is faith! You accept it. You don’t try to wonder about it.”
People may gain faith from life experiences, visiting with holy men and in other ways I am sure, but other than Scientology, I know of no actual technology that is capable or restoring, repairing or creating a resurgence of faith in an individual -- which provides incredible certainty that nothing can strike them down or a feeling that everything is absolutely going to be alright or any other way one may wish to describe it.
Uhhh ... faith is inconsistent with science. You don't have "faith" that a hypothesis or theory will hold out. You may suppose, based on experience, that such a thing may happen, but you don't take it on "faith" that a+b=c. You set up and conduct the experiment, and see what happens. If it turns out that a+b=d, well then. That's that. Reconfirm the results by duplicating the experiment, etc. "Faith" in the area of science leads to prejudice. It is inconsistent with certainty. (Perhaps this is semantic hair-splitting.)

I have had the "incredible certainty" James describes restored, repaired and created by everything from prayer to sex to socializing to going to the Getty Museum to reading a good book to playing with the dogs to holding my wife's hand. Experiencing life fully in the moment, in my experience, is what gives you that "incredible certainty." Even when my neck has been on the chopping block, I've found incredible courage and certainty in confronting the circumstances fully.

If that's all that Scientology has to offer, what's the point of paying $4,000 an intensive for something you can get for free with a library card or in the halls of the Getty? In the end, is the church a "Cargo Cult" with the trappings of science and a few neat parlor tricks that do little to actually clear someone? Is the most it can offer is a way to key you out and give you that "incredible certainty?" If so, that's fine. That's enough, actually. I could be a part of that church.

What I need from ANY church or religion is honesty, transparency, and a "true" commitment to being right -- not a false sense of "rightness" pasted over wrongness. What I find interesting is how the older I get the less I need religion. It seems extraneous and arbitrary. If THIS is what life is, and it's as awesome and wonderful and scary and exciting and horrible and glorious as THIS, why would I need anything else? It would take a lifetime to master life itself, without taking on ridiculous side-projects that, in the end, have no real bearing on my life. In short, why do I need international events, Friday night graduations, TMs and checksheets when an hour or two of burlesque does the job?

Because "An artist never cleared anyone," or so David Petit, the Commanding Officer of Celebrity Centre International once told me. Well, maybe that's just because no one ever went clear.

If I sound bitter, it's only because I get a bit grumpy when I wake up.

23 July 2010

The Great Busking Experiment of 2010

(BTW - I'm following the free lessons on busking available through www.buskerworld.com.  These blog entries are using the lessons as a jumping-off point.)

Where does my confidence as a performer come from, and will that confidence exhibit itself once I'm on the sidewalk?

I think it may stem from a deep understanding that I have nothing to lose from performing.  Before embarking on some new adventure, I consider the best case and worst case scenarios.  I know full well that the worst and the best rarely--if ever-- happen.

I've gone up on lines, I've forgotten lyrics and chords in the middle of a song, I've been heckled.  I've run afoul of authority and I've said some things on the fly that I have regretted.  On the other hand, I've held an audience, I've nailed a song, and I've thrown in the exact right line at the exact right moment.

Knowing what can go wrong and what can go right allows a person to relax.  Tension is caused by the unknown.  It's the "fight or flight" instinct queuing up psychologically and physically, ready to send you into the thick of things or through the nearest window.  There's an observation a character makes in The Usual Suspects which is quite apt:
First day on the job, you know what I learned? How to spot a murderer. Let's say you arrest three guys for the same killing. You put them all in jail overnight. The next morning, whoever's sleeping is your man. You see, if you're guilty, you know you're caught, you get some rest, you let your guard down. 
Not to say that artists are murderers -- although I have killed in the past -- the point is when you know the stakes and know what cards you hold, you can let go of the "fight or flight" business and just let the flow happen.

The audience identifies with the performer onstage.  If the performer is relaxing into it, going great guns, so too will the audience relax and become enraptured by the performance.

I need to mine my busker friends for their experiences; the horror stories and the fish tales.

14 July 2010


My Dad bought me an accordion.

You see, I had an accordion-riffic week a couple of weeks ago.  Count Smokula hosted the Monday Night Tease:

Then I performed three nights of Victory Variety Hour's The Wrong Show at Hollywood Fringe Festival.  Also on the ticket, Renee Albert:

I finished off that week with Fish Circus:

And the Fuxedos playing together in concert at Hollywood Fringe Festival:

[Take my word for it.  They have an accordion in some of their songs.]

The last night of The Wrong Show, I asked Renee how the left hand works.  All those buttons -- DAUNTING!  She explained it to me briefly, and then asked, "Do you want to try it?"

Ha ha ha ... do I want to try it.


She helped me saddle up, and I was off to the races ... er, I was tentatively pushing buttons and working the billows. 

So I expressed my deep desire to get my grubby hands on an accordion over on Facebook.  Something along the lines of, "If anyone has an old accordion in the back of their closet, I'd happily trade for the unicycle in the back of mine!"  Dad started checking prices on eBay and gave me a call.  After an excruciating week of being outbid and losing a number of fine instruments, Dad finally won this beaut:

An Ambassador 120-button squeezebox, built in Italy.  The case was manufactured in Los Angeles, and the vintage lesson books that came along for the ride are stamped with a music shop address in Chula Vista.  Oh, and it sounds sweeeeeeet ...

There is a learning curve.  I took piano lessons when I was six years-old, and I have rudimentary knowledge when it comes to reading music (a combination of Mom teaching me to sight-read for singing as well as cello and trumpet lessons as a teen) but putting it all together is a bit vexing.  Never fear -- I will be up and running soon.  I told Mr. Buddy that I'll be ready to bring the accordion onstage in a month or two.

You remember Mr. Buddy, one half of Mssrs. Snapper & Buddy:

Last night, my second time to really pull the thing out of its case and practice, I figured out the left hand and right hand parts to "La Valse d'Amelie" and John Mayer's "Neon."  Now the challenge is to get those hands working together.  Pretty tough!

I'm very fortunate to have a very understanding and patient spouse.  She is very supportive of my musical pursuits, even if they sound like a whole lotta noise at first.  She's a peach!

So there you have it.  One more weapon in the arsenal of mirth, soon to be unleashed upon unsuspecting burlesque audiences across the Southland.