Tags: dreams


anko anko pai: the cult of asherah

Just woke from a nightmare in which my high school friend Isaac had joined a Japanese nihilism cult called Anko Anko Pai. (cougarfang, too, who had joined when her boyfriend had disappeared under mysterious circumstances. And a bunch of my other younger Japanophile friends.) It was an apostate splinter of Shinto Buddhism. It spread its message exclusively via short anime clips on the Internet, featuring a cast of ominous minor "gods" who were the characters. The core ideal was to literally want nothing.

Members met in convention centers in an experience that was the precise intersection between evangelical conferences and anime conventions. It was horrifying. You'd walk into a screening room and there'd be a crowd of people watching anime projected against the wall. But the anime being shown was a 3-second repeating clip of Osaka from Azumanga Daioh waving her hands back and forth to a loud droning noise like an excited clothes dryer. And the audience would be lying in their seats (or in the ground) with 3D glasses on, all wearing the same neon-on-black "MIND OVER DREAM" t-shirt, heads limp against their shoulders, as if they were dead, chanting "CHU CHU CHU. NOTHING REALLY MATTERS. CHU CHU CHU. MIND OVER DREAM."

If you took the 3D glasses off any of the worshippers you'd see a glassy-eyed expression of shock. Like a person who had died having a heart attack. Except her mouth would still be moving.

There were also shorts consisting mostly of shots of empty rooms, with an unseen narrator--a giggly, flirty female voiceover (with English subs)--talking casually about changing her name so she could have a funny death certificate when she committed suicide. The stoned-looking convention volunteers, most of them college-age, would smile at you and tell you how liberating it was to finally know the truth that nothing mattered, and would wax poetic on how they wanted to die.

Anko Anko Pai was Emo: The Religion.

The cult's chanted mantras were spread as Internet memes (image macros and copypastas). They began on 2ch and spread to Nico Nico, and from there propagated to YouTube and 4chan, soon assimilating Anonymous's agenda. The wave of suicides (to which all members ultimately aspired) did little to stem its growth. By the time the New York Times, NBC, and Fox could do the obligatory panic piece it was already unstoppable, with the death toll in the tens of thousands and growing exponentially. No virus spreads faster than an Internet virus--especially one that grants instant identity and community to disillusioned young people in a weak job market who have been raised to obsess over their uncertain futures. It was weaponized otaku culture.

I was sent by Isaac's older sister Michelle to infiltrate an Anko Anko Pai convention and rescue him--my qualifications being that as a former convention volunteer and Former High School Anime Club President (lol) I knew how to social-engineer my way into restricted areas, and that as a former role model I may have been able to talk some sense into him.

The whole time I kept track of Twitter messages from cougarfang about how everything made SO MUCH SENSE NOW omg because MIND OVER DREAM had finally given her life some semblance of warmth, community, and purpose by encouraging her to simply give up on all three. A Facebook quiz app had given her a choice of 20 shikigamis to guide her into the neverlife and she was having trouble picking which one. This train of thought was occasionally interrupted by updates on an actual anko pie she was baking. There was not a single mention of her missing boyfriend.

Eventually even I was corrupted by the Lovecraftian horror that was the Anko Anko Pai movement. I don't know how it happened, but in the midst of my investigation I started seeing single frames of animated characters--the Major from Ghost in the Shell frowning disapprovedly, a little Totoro ghost, a cartoon version of the 4chan Anonymous mask--briefly superimpose the corners of my vision. A rictus-smiling Taiwanese teenager grabbed my wrist and reality bled out into a two-dimensional, minimalist hand-drawn version of itself. As my body slipped into a coma and all I could perceive was the smiling, crudely imitated hand-drawn face of my father staring at me sunlike in the distance I finally came to realize what MIND OVER DREAM meant:

Reality was but an illusion to these cultists. They were going to dispel it, through meditation and denial and ultimately suicide. They were going to trap themselves in a world in which there was no uncertainty. It was for the same reason a generation of geeks turned to model railroads, video gamesm and computer programming: They knew the parameters, they were not powerless, they were experts in the tropes that governed the universe. They were lucid dreamers, asleep. That is, until the moment they got up from their chairs and returned to waking lives full of insurmountable loneliness and powerlessness and futility. And now Anko Anko Pai was giving them the option to never return to their waking lives, even if it meant giving up their earthly ambitions and leaving their mortal bodies behind. It was the reverse act of looking away from the television screen to face your broken marriage. And in my unconsciousness I was trapped in my own mind, never to wake.

Do you have any idea how terrifying it is to be dreaming this? Especially if you are convinced you will never wake up?

Why am I telling you all this at seven in the morning? Because it's plausible enough to almost actually happen.

I guess there are two things to take away from this experience:

1) Nothing scares me more than institutionalized apathy, and
2) Never read Internet media essays before going to bed.
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subconscious adventures in magical realism

Today I talked on the phone with Mr. Genest, my high school physics teacher, who has been living in Brooklyn for the past few years. It's really kind of encouraging how someone a decade years older than me is still very much a kindred spirit. His professional life is, in many ways, not all that different from mine. Considering that this is the man who was grading my exams when I still had more acne than forehead, this is really bizarre. He gets kudos for recommending to me two countercultural literary journals: N+1 and The Believer.

In other news:

Last night I dreamt that I and a bunch of my early childhood friends had to infiltrate the mind of an evil teenage bitch to retrieve a piece of our friend's broken heart. We entered said bitch's mind by opening a portal via threads of magic she had left behind in a framed family portrait, which she had used to abuse and intimidate him. (The evil bitch was also, unsurprisingly, an evil witch. A very Asian evil witch. Incongruously.) The bitch's mind-world tiny a little slopey-roofed attic room, which was being used as a cozy faux-French cafe. Aproned waitresses, all with the bitch's face, bore trays heavy with steaming teacups, buzzing around half a dozen tables where bitchface customers ate light meals and made energetic conversation. There were windows, but they were dark; the only light came from the double candles that flickered atop each table.

One smiling waitress-bitch led us to a table and handed us a menu, and we lounged back in the diner-style padded chairs, deliberating on how to crack the secret of this place. None of the items on the menu made any sense to the waitress. Despite the distraction of a guy and a girl at a nearby table, who attempted to sideline us with friendly conversation, we made it through an impossible series of deductions that led us to conclude that the password was the Korean word for a particular variety of tea. The lone Korean member of our party spoke the magic word to the waitress, and they engaged in a lively conversation that resembled in tone and body language "And would you like fries or coleslaw with that?" "Coleslaw, please," but which came out in a series of unearthly demonic growls. The waitress left and came back with a tiny Korean girl, who sat down at our table and flirted aggressively with the couple at the other table. From then on it was like picking a lock--we had to find the right action or code phrase (saying the proper thing to the Korean girl, asking for another fork, inserting a spoon into a keyhole under the table) that would trigger a clockwork-like reaction in the cafe environment, leading to the next step in the sequence. Occasionally this process would be interrupted by one of the bitch's treasured memories--usually one about our poor victimized friend--coming into our heads (it wouldn't physically appear; it would just suddenly be part of our collective memory as if we had seen it ourselves), and that was how we knew it was working. Throughout the process the couple at the next table kept chatting with us, seemingly oblivious to what we were doing, and before long we had all taken a liking to them.

I don't remember much of what happened after that--something about being out of the cafe, and running through a field against a very powerful wind. I remember sitting alone in a tiny single in North, holding a tiny golden key in my hand, and the bitch-girl, now nearly my age, was sitting on her bed at the far end of the room, guitar in her lap, tears streaming down her cheeks. I remember thinking that maybe she wasn't really a bitch at all, and felt like I had taken something terribly precious from her.

new york is the new new york

I am now 70% moved in. One load left to ferry: toothbrush, fluffy blanket, pillow. And then the movers come on Sunday and drive my boxes across Manhattan, and I am officially a Brooklynite. Yay!

The stress of working all day and moving all night has produced some bizarre yet realistic memory-salad dreams this week. Among them:

  • Riding through Edison to James Madison Elementary School on a tiny experimental motorbike--the kind where you pedal most of the time and stomp on the gas only when you need a boost. It is completely overcast today, so the sky is an empty gray slate. I do not know how to ride a motorbike, so I keep accelerating too fast and bumping into things, but otherwise it's great--I soon get the hang of coasting both up and down hills, and the rows of maples and parked SUVs seem to float right by. Sam Krulewitch is riding ahead of me on his bicycle, and whenever I crash into the curb after crossing an intersection he looks back, grinning stupidly, and asks if I am okay. Anna's "Little Icarus" is playing in the background, and the road feels so light and smooth it's like I'm not pedaling at all.

  • I have a second dad. No, I don't have gay parents in this dream, and my parents are still my parents. But somehow it is revealed that I have another dad who somehow contributed one third of my genes. He is a crass but erudite Irish alcoholic with huge hairy arms who is very bitter and very self-important, and he is where I get the writing from. He takes me to Menlo Park Mall for some father-son time, and it doesn't go very well. He tries so hard to be witty to random ladies that he comes off as being very rude, and he hits on the sixteen-year-old Pretzel Time girl, and when we come out of the Cineplex Odeon he won't stop bitching to me about the movie. He's got a biting wit, but he always uses it at the worst possible times, and this makes him come off as a class-A douchebag. He makes me miss my actual dad. And yet I tolerate him, because there's this unmistakable feeling that he's part of me.

    Why do I keep dreaming about New Jersey? It's so weird that now that I physically live in the city where a lot of my dreams take place (Hsinchu-Cleveland is New York! It all makes sense now!), my dreams keep going to other places instead.

    Tonight on the West 4th Street stop on the A line I saw a really talented drummer slamming out a complex uptempo beat on a pair of plastic paint buckets, and every couple minutes a group of NYU students coming down the stairs would stop in front of him to dance. I don't mean just nodding their heads and tapping their feet, either--they were skanking, moshing, flailing, screaming, spinning, hopping around in giddy delirium. I love this city so damn much.
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      Anna Leuchtenberger - Little Icarus (2007 version)
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    in which my subconscious goes to grad school maybe?

    Woke up feeling ill this morning. Think I pushed myself too hard yesterday, cleaning the new room and unpacking my shit.

    After calling in sick and going back to bed I dreamt I was returning for another semester at Oberlin. The thing that made it not just another nostalgia dream was that it was a sophomore year semester, a semester without the friendly familiarity of the halls and the dorms and the green spots. It was an Oberlin I knew, but a new Oberlin, into which I was taking none of the things that make it special to me, like Will returning as a sophomore four years after he was a freshman. Not post-Oberlin, where my friends are going, where I guess I am going, but something entirely new. No late-night chill-out sessions on Union Street or Nerf battles in North. No concerts at the 'Cat and dancing at the 'Sco. No Anna, Kate, Tom, Erica; no Eric, no Todd, no Heather or Will; no living in a little green house with Andy, Mike, and Phil; no worship night with OCF; no losing the game in the lab (you just lost the game); no pretentious English major parties; no running through the halls of an empty Science Center with a female kindred spirit. A clean slate, with none of the good memories and none of the bad. Just a big, strange campus, with the vague smugness of past experience.

    I was living in a double in Phillips Gym, which had been converted into a dorm and was occupied entirely by enormous jocks. I introduced myself to my RA, an eight-foot crew-cut Asian troglodyte, telling him that in the past I had always made the mistake of never getting to know my neighbors, and he smiled at me and welcomed me to the dorm and told me not to let his door slam shut when I leave because he fucking hates it when people do that.

    The Asia House lounge was full of strange young faces. Very '08. There was some kind of social going on so everyone was in costume or fancy attire, standing or lounging about on a series of couches. Yoshi was juggling flames in a circus mask, Eric Michaels was fencing a freshman, Aries and Liz Hibbard were looking out the window and holding hands and smiling. All the lights were turned off, though the streetlamps of the North Quad outside were more than enough to bathe the room in orange--groups of froshlings babbling to each other, couples under the wisdom tree, a half-moon over the Science Center. Trees. I looked outside, and thought of all the research I needed to be doing. I wondered if I would ever manage to leave.

    But you already have, I thought.

    This is just a dream.

    And I woke up alone, in the dark, on an enormous double bed, in a room with no windows. With a whinging headache. I fumbled for the light switch but the bulb was burnt out. Familiarity told me otherwise but I knew that this was real life and that was the dream, and, well.

    It was only after maybe an hour of sitting up, staring at the empty walls, awake, that I could bring myself to get out of bed.
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      Avenue Q - How Do I Go Back To College?
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    re: magic

    Not much time. Going to keep this short.

    Spent Sunday and Monday in Toledo with the Todd and the brothers McDaniel. Almost every minute of it was spent at toy and hobby stores, looking at Lego mechas and hobby airplane simulations and the like. There was delicious junk food at almost every meal, and quite a bit of it in between.

    The McDaniel Jotuns are true geeks. Compared to them, I am a football-playing, beer-can-crushing frat boy. The years I spent playing video games with my friends, they spent collecting anime figurines, building remote controlled airplanes, and launching rockets. (Not much better to do when you're a socially awkward townie.) What they may lack in personal hygiene and social aptitude they more than make up with a keen understanding of Real Cool Shit. They know the kind of things that make the little boy inside go squee, like World War II fighter planes that are essentially Vulcan cannons with wings, and thermite reactions that produce fireballs half a mile high. The kind who have centuries of history from the World of Warcraft universe memorized (and can dictate it historian-style), and can identify the name and first appearance of each of hundreds of painstakingly hand-assembled anime mecha figurines that sit in neat legions on their shelves. They are the keepers of arcane knowledge, the crazy hedge wizards of our age--the successors to those eccentric old folk who run hobby train stores. There's a strange romanticism to their lifestyle that most people wouldn't understand--the same people who couldn't imagine why anyone would wait in line outside EB Games, at midnight, in the freezing cold, for an expansion pack to World of Warcraft. (Which we did.) They're like geek cowboys.

    Slept well last night, got up early--a rare occurrence. Had strange dreams. Highlights:

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    Going to Wisconsin for that interview tomorrow. Back Friday. Wish me luck.

    i once was lost, but now am found/was blind, but now I see

    Though I was decently well rested, I went to bed right after Linear and slept right through lunch. Two and a half hours. Gah. Body, what is wrong with you?

    Had a nightmare in which it was summer and I was back at NEHS, on the fourth floor landing. (Not an uncommon nightmare, and one that keeps coming true.) About half my graduating class was still hanging out there because it was the only familiar place to them and they didn't know where to go.

    Some non-NEHSers were there, too, and they replaced NEHSers with similar personalities: Felicia became Erica, Joann became Aries, Tom Gorlin fused into Howard. I had grown so sick of the place that looking at it was gradually making me go blind. Everything just got fuzzier and fuzzier until I couldn't see anything anymore. I went to the cafeteria to buy some food--my feet knew the way, so it was no trouble--but I couldn't read the menu without straining my concentration. The lunch lady responded by giving me armfuls of hot dog buns and black sauce noodles and other things I liked to eat, since it was the end of lunchtime and she had to get rid of all that food somehow, and it took great dexterity to make it back to the classroom without dropping anything. I bumped into about five people on the stairwell and shared stupid jokes at my expense. Talked to some old friends for a while, which would have been fun had it not become increasingly like a radio show. Could barely see straight enough to eat.

    Apparently there's an animal anxiety to slowly going blind, even if you know it's psychosomatic, and the breaking point for me was hugging a friend and realizing I didn't remember what she looked like. That was when I realized I had to run away. Anywhere but there.

    I ran off and found myself in Cleveland, which was so hideously ugly that I got even blinder. And it was dangerous, then, because I couldn't read street signs and cars were coming up to me without making any noise and angry male voices would bump into me and shout "HEY! Watch where the fuck you're going!" I tried to get around this problem by cutting through lawns and climbing up the sides of parking tunnels, but this strategy only got me lost. And with my last shred of vision I followed two nuns into a tiny chapel, begging them for some kind of blessing to make the blindness go away, but they just chided me for interrupting service and bid me sit in a pew. And by now I was completely blind, the entire world just a blur of shape and color and organ music, and I leaned back in the pew delirious and nauseated and possibly crying, and suddenly I could hear the voices of various people from high school and college--not all of them Christian--coming into the chapel, and some of them were making fun of me.

    "Kevin! Stooopid!" one of them said. "The school is just two blocks away, you fag!"
    "I know," I told him dryly. "I was trying to get out of there."
    "How the hell did you get lost two blocks away from the school?"
    "I'm blind. I can't fucking see. Leave me alone."

    The sermon was long and dull and in Chinese (and thus mostly incomprehensible to me), but when it was over and everyone was clapping I blinked my eyes and could see perfectly.

    Not until I woke up did I realize that I had been the subject of a parable.