Monday, April 22, 2013

Everything You Wouldn’t Bother to Ask about Reincarnation

Whew. That's enough about celebrities'n'stuff for awhile. Let's get back to the real stuff. The deep stuff. The stuff that draws in wackos and cult-types with long fingernails and pointy hoods. -- Tom

Q: Is reincarnation real?

A: Maybe.

Q: People like to fantasize living a long time ago, or, like 'way in the future, right?

A: Uh-huh?

Q: What's the difference between a reincarnational fantasy and a reincarnational reality?

A: None to speak of, if a). You don't believe in reincarnation, or b). You don't know yourself very well.

Q: Are reincarnational experiences fun?

A: Big fun if you know who you are now. If you don't, stay away from hypnotists.

Q: Why?

A: They're no fun. Want to hear a case?

Q: I guess.

A: What enthusiasm.

Q: I'm being patient.

A: Fair enough. Here we go: one day I found two pieces of mail in the mailbox.

Q: Incredible.

A: Shh. One was a letter from my brother Victor in Paris. The other was a little box that contained a tape recording.

Q: Huh.

A: Brother Victor wrote that he had recently visited the palace of Versailles. That night, he dreamed he had once been Louis XIV, who'd built the place.

Q: Uh huh.

A: The tape recording was of a session between a hypnotist, a "past life regressionist," and a man who was looking for money to write a book, then head an institute, based on the fact that the hypnotist had determined he had been the French King Louis XIII in a past life.

Q: Huh.

A: You mean "hmm." Imagine my amazement at hearing from two whole French Kings in the mail on the very same day!

Q: Hmm.

A: Aren't you listening to me, man? I go out to the mailbox -- me, virtually a hillbilly in the middle of nowhere -- and here are letters from psychic fragments of two dead French Kings! Neither knows the other has reincarnated and both want to talk to me!

Q: Holy Cow.

A: Yes, Holy Cow. Well, here in the annals of the Eternal Soul, my brother Victor had finally mopped up the last dribbles of his eternal lesson about enslaving people. It went "enslaving people can make you feel really bad, so don't enslave people." He learned it by visiting Versailles, then being that famously overindulgent Louis XIV for awhile in a dream. Louis XIV used slave labor to build that staggeringly lush palace. Well, okay, they weren't literally slaves, but French peasants, what snobby modern Americans might call "hillbillies," who were conscripted to work for practically nothing.

Q: Like minimum wage is lately?

A: Yup. I replied to Victor that I remembered it too: I was once Louis Catorce's piss-boy, a humble servant named Poupon. I told him that when he peed in the morning while I held the bucket, he liked to confide in me. I was simple, you see, and it was refreshing to him that I'd forget whatever he'd say. Sometimes he would agonize about using slaves, even though it was for a beautiful lasting monument. Was he wrong to do this? Or that? Or the other? I'd always reply "I don't know, your highness," but in French. Then I would forget about it. The King appreciated my refreshing, frank honesty so much, I got to be piss-boy for all of my days and was not turned out to sleep in a damp haystack in my old age.

Q: Is that true?

A: I don't know, your highness. We were just having fun. Still: where there is no fun, there's probably no truth.

Q: That's too deep for Dick Cheney. So what about Louis XIII and the past life hypnotist?

A: The hypnotist had this really deep unctuous voice; it kept goading his rather unlikable, sleepy-sounding client into telling an unlikable, sleepy-sounding story about himself. "Nobody likes me," said the subject. "Wanna get in touch with that feeling?" intoned the unctuous hypnotist. "They're jealous of me because of my clothes," said the subject. "Wanna get in touch with that feeling?" he'd intone again. That's about all the unctuous hypnotist said throughout the session.

Q: That doesn't sound like goading to me.

A: Well, it is.

Q: How?

A: The hypnotist selected only the negative things his sleepy subject uttered to rhyme with "wanna get in touch with that feeling?" At each negative point, he'd prompt the poor ex-king to create an imaginary time and place in which he saw himself. He was leading Louie around in a state of suggestibility. Just like in that famous session with Aldous Huxley.

Q: I don't know about that.

A: Never mind then. With this kind of goading the subject prompted himself into being somebody nobody liked. “I see… a room. People are looking at me. I know they’re jealous…” Everybody around him, of course, was jealous of his kingly powers. Not to mention his snappy clothing. He was unhappy.

Q: Sounds like a King to me...

A: Sounds like a lot of people working in any given corporate office to me, which is what this particular King did in this life right here. They hate him from their cubicles because he is better than they are and dresses snappier too. The unctuous hypnotist helped him make this business retroactive. Look at these snappy imaginary clothes, I'm Louis XIII, King of France!

Q: Maybe he was.

A: You’re being damnably argumentative. There wasn’t a word in that unctuous and sleepy session that could have been construed as the historical Louie Thirteen. Maybe he was constructing a story by suggestion. Maybe if he really was ol’ Louie, that’s all he ever thought of himself, despite the colorful religious activity. But, what's the point of reincarnation if you're still the same jerk you were 300 years ago, now working in some office?

Q: And I suppose you're not?

A: Ahem. Unlike him, I quit my office job successfully. I'm living on money not spent on unctuous past-life hypnotists. Well, Louis XIII version 2.0 wanted my money now. He needed it to set up a whole new-age kingdom based on the fact he was once a putatively unlikable French king. Victor, on the other hand, had had an edifying dream triggered by a visit to a historical monument. He's now very likable, by all accounts. He hasn't taken unfair advantage of a gullible hillbilly in centuries. In fact, he lately makes his living teaching them American English. Hillbillies are popular in Paris now.

Q: I see.

A: No you don't. Sigh. What if I tell another story?

Q: What if we see what's on TV?

A: Get out of my book. I'll tell it to myself.

Next! How Not to Reincarnate! (It's a few pages back from here.)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Here, This Other Thing for Roger

In case this doesn't show up on the "I remember" blogs Roger's Far-Flung Correspondents have been writing, I'll leave it up here for awhile. This is addressed to them, among whom I felt more -fetched than -flung. Kind of like Roy among the Mouseketeers. To illustrate: ;

Well kids, all of what you've written is the Roger I knew in-the-flesh for about five (five!) years, including Kevin Lee's implying a naturally priestly outlook, a high priest at the temple of The Movies.

Like a couple of amateurs on a park bench in the Endless City of Writing (never try to shed your amateur status), our e-mails gossiped about you more than you may have guessed; the outcome of that is somewhat apparent in certain of the e-mails you've produced. The truest outcomes are of course up to you.

I was angry at ol' Rodge twice. Part of our kinship rested in a knowing that, no matter how one may get to roaring, there's always a friendly whimsy to go home to at day's end. One anger was the sloppiness in not squashing a couple of human roaches constantly drooling Muslim-bashing on the commentaries. That section had begun to get very readable for awhile. Then these one or two poop-spreaders began making some threads look like an inner city junior hi-school boys' room smeared with militant puerility.

The other was the morning after I wrote Roger an attaboy for his final essay. I'd believed him. Michael Mirasol passed around a sad note and I replied with a tut-tut. It was what I'd been advising Roger privately for a couple three years by now. He was gonna back off on the workaholing and skate into his eighties, writing all anew, the time to try his hand at being his own Sebald (whom he admired and accused me of being), whatever, however, whoever.

So I wrote him an attaboy. I lay down to sleep; as my head hit the pillow, there was Gene Siskel with that wry smile of his, looking at someone standing behind me to my left, saying "Welcome home, Roger." Ooooh, shit, I thought. As you know, his beloved partner has been dead for years.

A few hours later Roger was dead. That rascal! Whattaya gonna do, though?

Roger's last seven years were like a star novating. The face made kinda cute by horrendous medical mistakes has now been shuffled off, but the corona of inner energy he propelled into our space and time is quite present, very busy, and worth very many attentions. Some will ride it for the rest of their lives.


Friday, April 05, 2013

My Last important chat with Rodge

(Me to Roger:) This year two brief dreams made me think I’d better spill the dream-beans, in case it might help. One, just plain “Roger may die on us this spring” – from needless exhaustion – the other, you may not show up at Ebertfest.

I dunno. But I know writing. Your energy has been flagging on your personal blog lately. Your reviews, if not as wonderful as ever, then moreso; but where you’re winging it, I see this. I don’t doubt you’ve been overextending yourself, stubbornly.

I don’t know if who’d all advise you to shut some things down for awhile, but I’m recommending it. If you get through this one, can deflect it, there’s yet a new [literary] ballgame you’ll incite just because you’re Roger Ebert, son of his good old dad.

And so, Dear Rodge, there you are. I don’t know what else. Maybe I’ll use some of this for the missing part of “Epilogue II” of my book, which I wrote at a coffeeshop in Champagne-Urbana. A copy of it may still be in Carol’s handbag. My handwriting is easy to read.

(Here it is: )

(Rodge to me:) From: Roger Ebert (rebert@com)This sender is in your contact list. Sent: Thu 1/05/12 4:30 PM

To: Tom Dark (

Well sir, I was fascinated by your letter and your accounts of your dreams, although as you know I don't take truck in no woo-woo. But you made some observations about my writing that would be just as valid in a waking state.

I, too, have felt an occasional flagging of energy in my blog. I think that's because the blog came out of nowhere, evolved into a memoir, and energized me with recapturing the past. This was happening during years when I was learning how to deal with the loss of speech, and the blog became a way for me to talk. I clung to it like a life preserver.

"Life Itself" was an enormous project for me. After it was published, I felt a sort of postpartum letdown. I think blogs have a certain rhythm. I expect that with an election year coming up, my energy will also ramp up.

I think my reviews read about the same. The majority of movies are pretty routine. I try to make every review entertaining in itself, on the grounds that the vast majority of my readers will never see the vast majority of the movies I review. In a sense, a review is like a column. Sometimes I will use a review as the occasion for a more general discussion. Take the new documentary "Paul Goodman Changed My Life." Here is a movie few people will ever see. Nor have most of them ever heard of Paul Goodman. My piece isn't a formal "film review," but more about who Paul Goodman was and how he changed my own life. To the degree it has an influence, it may cause a few people to read Goodman's "Growing Up Absurd."

When a movie comes along that inflames me, I'm plenty passionate and there's no lack of energy. These days I'm reviewing more movies that I would have passed on in previous years. The paper has now discontinued using all freelancers. If a movie doesn't get reviewed by me, it doesn't get reviewed. Last year I wrote 292 reviews, a personal record since 1967. There was a time when the annual average was around 160.

One big inspiration for me is the explosion of On Demand. For the first time in my career, I know that most of my readers will eventually have the opportunity to see most of what I review, through the many forms of On Demand. They may have to pay something, but at least no matter where they live they can see "Kinyarwanda," "The Mill and the Cross" or "Silent Light." For many years most it was true that most art films played only in the largest cities. Now I am writing reviews of potential interest to every reader. This is an inspiration.

Newspapers are laying off movie critics right and left. The Village Voice just fired Jim Hoberman, which is unthinkable. What they don't take into account is that their readers are watching more movies than ever before. Netflix by itself accounts for 30% of all internet traffic during the evening hours. That's a lot of moviegoing. And those viewers are casting their nets wide. They're watching films that wouldn't have played in their towns.

You dreamed that I would "collapse," perhaps onstage at Ebertfest. As you observe, your dreams do not literally predict events, but seem more in the nature of general symbolism. I have not collapsed onstage anywhere just yet, and in any event would probably describe it as "falling over." After going through four rehabilitations to learn to walk again, after as many surgeries, walking is no longer the routine process it once was. My balance is okay, my endurance is reduced, but I keep on with the physical therapy and only a week ago my therapist told me I had set new personal records on the treadmill for speed, distance, and walking without holding on to the bar.

When I do fall, it is a considerable blow to my self-confidence. I am not a child anymore. My most recent fall was a few months ago. I fell on my butt. Chaz and my care-giver Millie hauled me upright, I went to bed, seemed fine, and in the morning was in excruciating pain and had to be hauled out of bed. X-rays showed that I had sustained a "compression fracture" to two lower vertebrae. It's been slower going recently, but my treadmill records show I'm recovering.

In a more general sense "collapse" means death. Some readers have noted a preoccupation with that subject in my blog lately. I think it's a kind of mental process to prepare me for what Henry James on his deathbed called the Distinguished Thing. But there is no reason to believe I will die anytime soon. My blood numbers and blood pressure are better than even before in my life. I appear to be cancer free since 2006. I have no current health problems.

I supply you with this information because your words contained real concern. I go into such detail because at some point during this reply, I realized it could do double duty as a blog entry. Shameless, eh? I know a writer of whom it was said, "He's never had an unpublished thought." I must say that your dreams strike me as a sort of psychic invasion of privacy, but we have no control over our dreams and I can only hope I go on to inspire some more entertaining ones. We could go walking around London, for example, and I wouldn't fall over hardly at all.

(Me back to Rodge:)

Beautiful. Hell yes, blog it. Damned good seeing you write about it; it'll be valuable for a lot of readers aspiring to write, and the "I jez' write whut cums out" was getting a tad sleepy anyhow. How do you know it ain't de Lawd dictating what to say?

As to taking truck in woo-woo, I say booga booga. Dreams are thoughts set loose in associative 3D, or 4D, if that's the combination of the three plus time/space. You pare them down into words for people to understand. You learn it when you're little. I still learn it every time I'm searching for a word. I don't know why it never gets any easier, tho' it's never too terribly hard.

Yes, for instance, what are you s'posed to do when you dream your old pal Rob has had a crooked penis all his life? Well, one is not surprised when his young new wife blabs that he's going to have an operation so they can fuck, but... wasn't there anything else to dream about? Like, the winning lottery numbers or something?

There are High Certain Reasons for all of it, I'm sure, just to say so. As Johnson said in my favorite quote, applicable to nearly anything, "...[it may seem strange to some by way of ratiocination, but] testimony bears great weight, and casts the balance."

So what's wrong with working out an Ebert's Thanatopsis? As good as anything to write about, and maybe something there that will click "on." Yeah I already knew your memoirs wouldn't hit the Big Spot. I knew that before you finished. That IS what I do for a living and Holy Calling.

You know how in quantum physics they say that observing an item alters it. That's what I hope telling you these dreams did.

That's the thing and I hate being concerned about anything where it seems all I can do is wring my hands over something that isn't my business. We're kin because of writing. It doesn't matter what, it's that writing, whereas, not all writers are kin.

You know how bad it made me feel when you wrote you couldn't take those beloved walks. Come out here any time and we'll walk. I don't care if you say anything.

All Richard Savage ever did was walk around, then stop into a stationery store and borrow some foolscap and a goosequill and ink. Here is a relative from heaven, provided there's somebody to write to.


(Me: Next letter, noticing all these previous dreams about coming disaster in Chicago seem to reflect what the military is doing now, re the big g-7 conference)


Good gravy. I'll just die. It'll be easiest that way.

(Me: )

…you, old man, need to stay with us a good while longer. Your writing is that important. If Beethoven could compose increasingly greater stuff deaf, you can do it despite having been banged up.

Added now, April 2013: dreamed last spring that Rodge would choose to die after reaching age seventy, even though he could keep writing into his eighties, which I usually tried to pep-talk him into doing. So yeah old buddy, dreams do indeed "predict" things, insomuch as one finds himself listening in to somebody's decisions. I was hoping you wouldn't make that one.