Screwtape Revisited

From: B.B. Screwtape [mailto:]
To: D.A. Wormwood [mailto:]
Date: June 26, 2001
Re: Current Assignments and Suggested Course of Action

My dear child:

I have been watching your progress over the past few decades, and I am happy to report that the results are most promising. You are doing fine work down there, and I hope to see even more delicious chaos from you in the years to come. Now that I am on this confounded computer (and I think it’s quite wonderful that my service is nicknamed “AO-Hell”, don’t you?) and have been happily “surfing the web” as they say a few things have come to my attention that I think might assist you greatly in our work.

Before we get to that, however, I really must comment on the excellent job you’ve done with the educational systems for those poor, hapless mortals. Never mind the near upset we suffered as a result of that land war in Asia that almost brought those cursed “peaceniks” into power. Your recovery in that matter I could not have done better myself. A few careful words in the right corporate ears, a few suggestions about the definite (however untrue) limitations of planetary resources, and your appeal to the Pirate nature of those behind the scenes with the real power has resulted in a “dumbing down” of humanity to such a level that even mindless superstition is making a jolly comeback. Now that we can utilize the power of the Internet to innundate mortals with more information than they can possibly assimilate, the moral ambivalence we have always dreamed of is within our grasp. And nice work on that Buckminster Fuller business. The gentle genius? Hrmphf. To think that one man could possibly convince others that an egalitarian and cooperative universe was possible … I warn you, my boy, it’s always the crackpots that pose the greatest threat to our future. And none of us are immune to little oversights … for myself, who would have guessed that the Dalai Lama would have lived this long? I should have worked harder with Mao when I had the chance.

But back to my suggestions … along with the increase in available information (much of which is mere opinion paraded as self-righteous clap-trap), the very anonymity of the Internet introduces great possibilities. I myself have witnessed people saying things on-line (in chat rooms, on bulletin boards and the like) that they would NEVER say if they knew that the other parties knew what they looked like, where they lived, or had to actually converse with them face to face, like that Hawaiian concept of ho’oponopono, until their differences were resolved. It makes me positively gleeful, the way they think that these on-line places are real – and not an artificial construct that provides the illusion of gathering in a single place without the damning evidence of having to sit together and look each other in the face. The fact that some even believe that real life problems can be resolved in the “ether” that reputedly connects these electrons that give us a obviously false sense of community makes me laugh aloud – or should I say, ROFLMAO !!!!

Well … someone is trying to IM me, so I’d better go. Let me know what you think and I’ll be checking back with you soon.


From: D.A. Wormwood [mailto:]
To: B.B. Screwtape [mailto:]
Date: June 27, 2001
Re: Re: Current Assignments

Dear Uncle Screwtape:

Thank you so much for your encouragement. You know how much it means to me to know that you are happy with my work.
I agree … the Internet does provide SO many avenues for encroachment into the mortal world. I’m surprised you didn’t mention my work in getting all the fundamentalists, isolationists and hate-mongers to spread their propaganda more readily thanks to the WWW. They certainly have cut down on our own recruiting costs – and that’s one of the bonuses about self-publishing — people see it in print, and they mindlessly give it more validity that it often deserves. LOL.

I do have a concern about the Internet, however. Have you noticed the number of earth-based, nature-loving religions have proliferated? It worries me that the concepts of personal responsibility and inner-connectness that they espouse might do away with years of our effort. In particular, this “education” about witchcraft and the like is disturbing. They are trying to convince people that WE don’t even exist! Please provide me with any insights you might have. Your treasured pearls of wisdom will not fall upon deaf ears, I can assure you.
Now, dear Uncle, I must sign off … there is a meeting of an ecumenical council that I absolutely must visit. There is nothing so sweet as denominations of the same so-called faith that can’t stand to be in the same building together … >;-}

Your faithful servant,


From: B.B. Screwtape [mailto:]
To: D.A. Wormwood [mailto:]
Date: June 30, 2001
Re: PAGANISM [was: Current Assignments]

My dear lad,

Sorry for the delay in responding … my AOL account has been booting me every time I pause to think for more than 45 seconds … AAARGH! It certainly is a double-edged sword … on the one hand, it keeps people from forming complete thoughts … and on the other hand, it keeps ME from forming complete thoughts.
I am quite sorry for overlooking your work with extremists of all sorts. You’ll have to forgive me, young one. There are SO many sites to look at on-line that one does get a bit overwhelmed.

I too have noticed this trend toward “earth-based” religions. While the Christians seem to think it’s due to our influence, sadly nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I think our work with His people has been much more productive than any steering away from the path that we could have possibly engineered. It’s so much easier just to change the underlying principles that support His organizations – no one is really paying much attention anyway, and it doesn’t seem to matter how ridiculous we make His emissaries look. But as you know, we have had our people in place in His hierarchy all along. In fact, hierarchy was MY idea! LOL!

Yes, all those pitiful mortals imagining they see some kind of greater community and a need to take personal responsibility for their actions, “harming none”, as it were, is quite troublesome. But you need not worry over it … it will pass. If any of those organizations every actually DO get organized, and forget their petty in-fighting, squabbling and “pseudo” traditions, then we might have cause for alarm. But I don’t see that coming any time in the near future. Ultimately, they’re all tied into our bureaucratic method to begin with – so they’re already lost.

Focus on keeping them prideful and jealous of each other’s standing in their so-called “community” – that’s worked for centuries with all of them. Fortunately for us, some things never DO change.

One last thing – and I hesitate to bring it up, because I don’t want you to feel like I’m disappointed in your progress.

While I applaud your efforts in so many areas, I have noticed a disturbing trend of mortals seeking to escape their urban and suburban hells and find ways to keep themselves afloat in the rural areas. THIS MUST NOT CONTINUE. There is nothing worse for us than any of them realizing that they don’t need to continue living like rats in cages, and blaming Him for putting them there. Keep drilling into them the need for Power Over, and they will forget there ever was such a thing as Power With. I could kick myself for not doing something about those trees and their centuries-long babbling. When He gave them voices, I knew it was trouble. Now, it’s all we can do to keep the concrete growing and the green places shrinking. BTW, your endangered species project seems to be slowing down. I need to see some improvement there, my boy. And WHAT HAPPENED WITH WHALE HUNTING?

It’s obvious I need to stay more involved. Keep me apprised of any new developments – and don’t think I won’t know what’s REALLY going on … I DO have a clipping service now, you know.

Your Uncle,

In 2001, Harper-Collins held a contest related to the anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters” asking participants to propose how these letters might be updated to reflect the current environment and the historical changes that occurred since Lewis originally wrote the book. This was my entry.

Chapter 1: Sep 30 2016

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin[i], I find that on the whole my life has been “felicitous” enough to suggest that I would, if given the opportunity, live it again exactly as it has been to again reach its current point – assuming that although perhaps desired, an author’s prerogative of certain rewrites in a second edition would likely be denied. Admittedly, one usually only says that sort of thing if the point at which they are currently arrived is agreeable to them. In my case, that is relatively accurate – although there are parts of my present life that I would like to change, on the whole my life is a good one. Its faults are entirely my own, and mine to correct or put up with. Besides, “agreeable” is such a subjective word. What is agreeable to one person is anathema to another. What you might find absolutely intolerable, I enjoy if not for its comfort, then for its familiarity – and ultimately, we each seek out what makes us comfortable, in the end, regardless of any desire, obligation, or imagined destiny to push beyond our perceived and respective envelopes. We each have our own personally defined “veneers of responsibility”, those public-facing masks we wear so others, as quick or quicker to judge than ourselves, can “understand” who we are without all that much effort. If, as Julian Jaynes[ii] suggested, the definition of civilization is any group of people gathered in large enough numbers than no one knows every other on a first name basis, then it follows that the premise of society is a subset of that civilized people who are comfortable enough with each other’s masks that they need not invest too much energy in finding out the details of their neighbors’ lives.

Once again, it’s tempting to succumb to no small degree of vanity. If I am so important, it’s only natural that my neighbors and in fact almost anyone falling inside my circle of influence would be infinitely interested in not only the agreeable, but admittedly and egregiously disagreeable segments of a lifeline starting at my birth and ending at the right here and right now. Again I think of Franklin, who suggested that vanity might be a gift from Providence worth nurturing.

So if it is to be utopian fiction, at least let it stop some distance short of hagiography. An “honest” appraisal by a devil is always more entertaining, at least, than an overly generous gloss by a saint – again, two terms far too subjective in their definition to be of much meaning, anyway.

28 SEP 2016

This is then a semi-autobiographical work of utopian fiction. It is not, as Stanislavsky titled his biography, “My Life in Art”. My own experience is more like a “life around art” wherein the primary milestones perhaps appear musical or artistic, but those really make up a kind of “musical busyness” that surrounds and often obfuscates the point that the life creating that music is supposed to be making: the evolution or constant evolving of the person, and how to whatever extent the making of music enables that evolution, that both the musical creation and the life that surrounds can be deemed a success. And where that is not the case, both the life and music are less than extraordinary – at least in my subjective opinion.

But where does the music begin? At birth? Or somewhere later down the line when conscious thought becomes one of the primary motivators for action? My maternal grandmother swore that my first word, at six months, was “elephant.” No one believed her – including me, when I was later told the story, although I must admit a romantic notion of some spiritual connection to India persists in me to this day. My family was always “musical” in a sense. Our house in Michigan had a “music room” which housed a baby grand piano and the various other instruments I discovered later, in other houses, but must have been present at that early date as well. I don’t remember playing the piano at that time (we left Michigan when I was seven) but I do remember being awed by its size, its intricate construction – I often crawled underneath and looked up at it from between the giant pillar legs, and what seemed to me to be a gigantic amount of sound it produced, particularly when the lid was fully opened.

I also don’t remember music or the radio being played. Of course, there were likely television programs, Saturday morning cartoons and movies of the week, but most of my free time was spent outside playing or inside reading books.

29 SEP 2016

It seems to me that any story describing a lifelong battle between art and commerce must inevitably be either a tragedy or comedy, both in the ancient Greek sense, with the comedy not necessarily funny or humorous in a happy way, but more abstractly sharp to a degree up to but not quite serendipitous. Like life in general, I suppose, the amount of sorrow or joy depends entirely upon the participant – because what may seem a precipitously jagged set of manic to depressive interludes to one person may seem of little consequence to another. It is not just beauty, but the absence of it as well, that lies in the eye of the beholder.

It may be in the way we’re made up – that we focus on the negative or positive throughout our lives, and remember best those episodes we believe are the formative forces in becoming who we are at present. That focus may in fact be our undoing, the reason why at some point or another almost everyone seems to lose their balance, perspective, “moral compass” or rudder, and for at least a short time float or drift aimlessly – until we “find ourselves.” We inherit the courage and timidity of our parents to a large degree. After all, their prejudices, fears, confidences, talents, and weaknesses are the stuff of the gods to our infant perceptions. They are our Zeus and Hera, and their relations, our Poseidon, Hades, etc. Any older siblings or relations, until we better understand and are able to exploit their human frailties to our own advantage, serve as our Athena, Diana, Ares, and even Aphrodite.[iii] Like all myths, our initial worldview serves not as an explanation of things, but more as an introduction to the explanation, a framework or morphology within which our instinctively curious selves, particularly if encouraged to do so, seek out and create a working definition of reality that both encompasses and steps outside the mythos of our infancy.

30 SEP 2016

[i] Franklin, Benjamin. His Autobiography. Vol. I, Part 1. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14;, 2001.

[ii] Jaynes, Julian (2000) [1976]. The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind (PDF). Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-05707-2.

[iii] Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 1942. Print.

Preamble to a Dream

The past is but a dream, a dream:
a palimpsest where writ, the scene
fades in and out of nothing, fast;
seems permanent, but cannot last
beyond the span of just one breath.
Each life begins and ends in death,
and like as not leaves little trace:
no name, no song, no deed, no face.

You often suppose that when someone sits down to write their personal history, autobiography, or memoirs, it is because they have at least in their own mind (or at the suggestion of some influencing other) achieved some sort of milestone in their life, reached a certain point at which they might feel that others would be interested in how they got to that place.

You assume a certain level, or at least type, of success prompts the need to trace your now self-satisfied steps back to their point or origin.

There’s the humble beginning, the rough start, the middling trials, and the glorious outcome, right? With an extraordinary bunch of hindsight applied to what probably is, taken individually, a completely ordinary and commonplace series of events. There’s a certain amount of hubris required, in any case, since relaying one’s own story without unnecessary embellishment, laying on the mortar and brick without laying it on too thick, is far from the humblest act one can undertake. Much like taking a vow of humility is often the vainest statement a person can make, writing about oneself under the assumption that anyone else would be the least bit interested is quite a self-assessment from the get-go.

How many who have achieved any degree of wealth, power, or fame are really in a position to spend too much potentially dangerous time with truth, insight or self-examination? Interesting reads, memoirs, but quite often the truer view is found in autobiographical fiction. After all, when the diarist creates a character or caricature of themselves, the result is often a more telling portrait of who they wanted to be, rather than who they are – which gives the attentive reader an infinitely clearer picture of the writer than an “honest” exercise in non-fiction.

No matter what genre you purportedly start out in, every book ever written eventually glides or morphs, intentionally or not, into utopian fiction. Because, after all, whether you’re making up the world or not, what you describe is either the positive result of some horrible thing or the horrible result of some seemingly positive thing. A memoir or dystopian post-apocalyptic vision in that respect are the same. You write about what you know: the good, the bad, and the ugly; the bold and the beautiful; the long day’s journey into night; the light at the end of the tunnel; the cloud of unknowing, or the voice of god. In any case, if you’re describing how wonderful things turned out to be, chances are you start out with a picture of how they began in much direr straits. On the other hand, if you’re waxing philosophic on the pile of shit the world’s become, odds are good you can point to some idyllic past moment when the fulcrum tipped irreversibly from roses and sunshine.

And every written work, whether a guide book to the inner secrets of programming in Ruby on Rails or a fanciful account of the secret life of a covert operative, presents itself in a world that either is, or is not, like the one that currently exists – and in either case, then perhaps its details differ from those personally known by the reader. Because after all, the world “as it is” or “as it is not” is a matter of perception. And the only perception forming that subjective interpretation is the writer’s.

No matter what the writer describes, no matter how “truthful” to their own reality, that description may read like complete and utter fiction (or fantasy) to a reader whose own personal life experience is nothing like it. And the agenda the writer is spinning? That’s an alternate ending to the “fate” doled out in this life, whether in the “real” or fictional world. Whether the fiction or instruction ends up as utopian or dystopian depends on whether or not the reader takes the writer’s advice, and changes the things that the world requires be changed to evolve into something better. Or at least changes, to prevent the stagnation that apathy and inaction tend to breed. And isn’t that the point of life, after all? To change, move, and grow, until you can’t do that anymore – at which point, depending on how you’ve done to that point, you serve as either fertilizer, or poison, to what comes after.

26 SEP 2016

Counterpoint: Domestic Strife and Miles ’64

A flurry of words assaults the ear
as she storms back in the room,
alto voice filling the space
left by the withering blast
of the horn; the false lull breaks

as the drum, relentless, kicks
forward the time, and her growl
bites off the bar viciously,
saying, listen close and learn –
you don’t know my opinion.

No, no, that’s my quick response,
block chords of the piano
trying to fix the segue,
substituting chord after chord,
as the bass beneath pushes

us ahead, red hot and mad,
working the room with anger;
the murderous notes fly wild,
burning away useless charts
as Miles and I turn our backs,

and say, “Never mind.”

The head that began it all
now lost, deliberately,
only tensions and guide tones
suggesting of melody,
her alto pauses and breathes

as the snare drum snaps, alert,
finding the primal level
in our talk, the undertow
where the nothing we share breeds
and lets loose its dark malice.

A conversation, I think,
is not about streams of words
in space from a single voice,
but interplay of accent;
subtle questions in each pause

a spur driving another line,
or emphasis, amplifying
the other’s words, pushing back
perhaps only with a breath
to change rhythm and the tune,

like saying, “So What?”

For the song is not possessed
by one alone; it weaves and moves
from alto to first, trumpet,
then to bass and to the drum,
brass bell, then ivory key,

as moistened reed gives way, back
to the brass, struck on its edge
by wire brush; each one pushing,
working off of each other,
waiting to get the last word.

Now she’s back in the kitchen,
but her solo I block out;
focusing my quiet vamp
’til she sits out a chorus
and I can speak my own phrase

as she turns her back to me,
thinking, like Miles, of control,
giving me a bit of space,
with an irritating cool
that shows she is the leader.

The band says, “We hate that.”

Revised version 10.31.2001

Some Things

Some things that might have always been:
that reason clouds the minds of men,
and lets them think a thing defined
is by those limits held entwined;
one’s moral compass shows true north;
that one can judge another’s worth
by using just the scale you know;
or can by wishing make it so.

Some things have been that should not be:
the vain illusion that once “free”,
one sees the world without deceit;
that victory holds no defeat;
that there is, and will always stay,
a place so black and white, that gray
can find no stronghold nor sustain;
that pleasure teaches less than pain.

Some things that ought to come to pass:
that traveling so far, so fast,
will give perspective on the whole,
and our illusions of control
might fade and gently fade to dust;
our war machines can slowly rust;
and in that brave new world, somehow,
come things not even dreamt of now.

18 JUL 2016

I Wonder, St. Patrick

Oh Paddy, oh Paddy! Long have you and I
held difference perspectives, not seen eye to eye,
nor found much in common, through legend or faith,
or some shared experience wrangling with wraiths.

I wonder, St. Patrick; and wonder makes doubt:
disabling sureness of what one’s about.
Is that what’s called “testing” or “trials” in life,
when words said against you cut like a dull knife
and nip at your ankles, like so many snakes,
while waiting so patient for your heart to break?

There is no reward save a deed in itself,
so never mind waiting in silence and stealth,
but swing that shillelagh as hard as you can!
The wheat and the chaff that cling fast to a man
can turn him to shadow and blind him to truth,
and leave him a feeble reminder of youth.

I wonder, St. Paddy, if a shallow grave,
the rest for both cowards and foolishly brave,
grows grass that is greener than one dug so deep
that who lies there never awakens from sleep.

17 MAR 2016

No End of Days

The world has not yet made its final twirl
around a sun still managing to burn;
the seasons, although changed somewhat of late,
continue with their ceaseless promenade.

Both wise and foolish prattle on no end,
with new results no different from before;
the civilized maintain the status quo
their barbarous ancestors stumbled on.

The end of days is always almost here;
soothsayers find new suckers without fail.
The young, in spite of things, still become old
and stop all their pretending at some point.

So put away those funeral shrouds for now.
There will be no apocalypse this week.

16 MAY 2016

Both Kinds of Good

It should be said (at least one time in jest)
that in the world exist two kinds of good
to separate what matters from the rest,
for use by some discerning soul who could

in keening the true nature of a thing
believe their observations to be fact,
and, damned be the naysay blabbering,
to light the world with simple, subtle tact.

To say the thing could scarce but make it so!
The world believes the magic of such words,
and will, despite what evidence may show,
imagine rocks transformed to cooing birds.

And what are these two parts of goodness named?
The pointing finger, and its share of blame.

14 MAR 2015

When It Comes

When it comes,
the night don’t know no difference:
right and wrong
and that thin line in between.

In the dark,
you just watch for the lightning.
All the rest?
Doesn’t matter what you mean.

Simple truths
in the shadows become complicated:
black and white
both appear as shades of gray.

Choosing sides
beyond sight of the border,
where you find
it don’t matter anyway.

When it comes,
the night don’t know no difference:
You and me
and the darkness closing in.

In the end,
it becomes uncomplicated:
birth and death
and the sacred space within.

04 DEC 2015

Those Whom the Goddess Calls

Those whom the Goddess makes her own
She occupies, both flesh and bone;
and will remain, solid as stone,
until She leaves to take them home.

Those whom the Goddess picks remain
only so long, until the pain
of separation, soul and brain,
creates desire for home again.

Those whom the Goddess wants, she takes:
to mold and change, and sometimes break,
until the raindrop seeks the lake
and finds out there are no mistakes.

Those whom the Goddess loves, live on,
and are but for a moment gone:
before the darkness cedes to dawn,
those listening can hear their song.

Those whom the Goddess makes her own
She occupies both flesh and bone,
and shares them with us just so long
before She calls them to come home.

for Karen Kirchem

27 OCT 2015