Memories of Mr. Trippi; The Trauma of an Urban Shaman
Hawk Mummy Floating on the Ocean, Brian George, 1992
I had outstayed my welcome at St. Peter's Parochial High School. Its one virtue was its location in an ancient house, with many irrational crawl spaces. The smell of oiled wood and chalk dust was of more interest to me than my courses. Faith had pinned the intellects of some. Others had been locked in the cabinet of science.
Of one thing I was sure -- that the servants of Earth's cybernetic reich had been planning to remove my neocortex. Better embalmers than they had tried. It was difficult to get each scrap without damaging the nose.
My supernatural weapons were in storage. A wind preceded the philosopher's stone, whose energy had been hidden behind the two hands of a clock. My teachers were concerned about my psychological health. I did not dare to obey. A more frightening voice had also issued ultimatums. It was only by accident that I had broken such a large percentage of St. Peter's rules. I left, with a strong push to the back from a secret board of judges, at the end of my sophomore year.
A revolt against causality had been launched. Ghosts pointing to the collapse of the third dimension congregated.
No act of will could restore my freedom of association with the double.
That would come, at the end of a long war. It would be necessary for an enemy to prepare the way for my breakthrough.
The dream that we called consciousness was a joke -- whose punchline had not yet arrived.
Humans were just variations on the prototype of the object. They were less real than the memories that consumed them. Fate would orient the phallus of the wounded god. My ego was the necessary evil, the contraction of an eight-armed sphere, the plaything projected by an earlier but still present state of omnipotence.
Instructions had been broadcast from a star; "Get out!" It was time for a change. Milkweed pods, sprouting from the junk of abandoned lots, broke open. My sail swelled.
Bright with hope I said goodbye to working class South Worcester, a neighborhood of factories and railroad tracks. At the age of 15 I transferred to Doherty Memorial High. It was at the time a brand new school, in the low, expansive style of architecture common during the 1970s. The complex of buildings was enormous, resembling more than a bit a shopping mall. The corridors were brightly lit and long, going off in all directions. Vast crowds migrated when the bell rang.
In search of a symbol that existed before birth. In search of a door to the non-existent. In search of the key to industrial strength sacrifice. In search of a lost race. In search of a drop of blood to activate their noses. In search of the loved bodies that they left on a crumbling shore. In search of the magnet of Mohenju Daru. In search of an exit to the labyrinth made from 26,000 years.
The school was by far the best in Worcester, and was located in an affluent part of the city, with some of the most challenging courses and the most demanding teachers. Even the students, children of lawyers, professors and factory owners, were more articulate than the teachers I was used to. It was there that I met Janice Rayner and Sue Castelliano, two teachers who intervened like psychopomps at a crucial turning point in my development, and who without doubt changed the course of my life. They were present in a way that I was not used to teachers being present. They not only cared, but saw. By recognizing certain talents, they showed me to myself. I saw through their eyes suddenly, and to my great surprise, what I could do.
It was there also that I met Mr. Trippi, my senior-year art teacher, the destroyer of hallucinations and mutant shadow of the demiurge, who was demanding in a way that I was not prepared to take advantage of, and who sent me running out of class.
Mr. Trippi was short, aggressive in his occupation of space, very plainly spoken, with wide, intense eyes. He had many of the traits that I associated with the first generation descendants of immigrants from Europe, in his case Italy, of whom there were many in Worcester at the time. To meet him you would think that he had missed his calling as a bricklayer, until you noticed the flash of intelligence in the eyes, or picked up the extensive scholarly references when he spoke.
He was proud to be an American, at a time when I was against the war in Vietnam. He was eager to ascend through the ranks of the middle class, to display his success, to prove what he was worth. I did not see him as a person like myself, or recognize that we acted from the same urge to prove what we could do. I was by turns arrogant and withdrawn, contemptuous of the opinions of others. When he talked, Mr. Trippi would stand about a foot in front of you, and stare, unblinking, into your eyes. I would always end up looking at the floor, the ceiling, or out the window.
Guided by the above-mentioned teachers, I was undergoing a kind of alchemical transformation. I would stay up late, listening to the crickets chirp in the field beside my house. At three AM one night I had experienced a volcanic outpouring of creative force, and wrote about a dozen pages of a personal epic, accompanied by drawings. Amazed, I found that I could write. I could draw, not just objects but revelations. Momentarily the flux of the kaleidoscope would pause. Visions from the other side would pose, thoughtfully, like living hieroglyphs or electrocuted statues. My energy fed on a sense of danger. I felt that I had been projected headlong into a labyrinth of new dimensions- the same labyrinth in which others had been lost, but that a revolutionary force had now somehow made transparent. The support was, if needed, there.
Support came also in the form of dreams -- an alternate educational network, if you will. The Institute of Oceanic Dreams sent agents to recruit me. They would observe from just behind my shoulder. Dreams took hold; they would not let go. As the Ojibwa would say, the presences found there were destined to become my other-than-human companions; my guides to the great society whose branches stretched far into the dark. Tangled beyond belief, and anxious to be fed, its roots were a bloody map traced by the transmigration of lightning. Symbols hit me with injunctions. I would be taken by the hand, led layer by layer down through the flames of collapsing civilizations. Snakes would whisk me across epileptic floods.
Snake with Wings Emerging Out of Triangle, Brian George, 1992
Birds led where I would never dare to go. Shadows took the initiative in creating my new body- a body more suitable for the exploration of the dream.
Gifts were freely given. Reciprocity was the key. Gifts should be kept continuously in motion, as Lewis Hyde would argue. I knew that I did not have much to offer- yet. I did have my inflated ego, the star stamped on my forehead, my excitement at being one of the first creators of the world. I had a growing sense of destiny, a sense that I was doing what my story had determined that I should do. One foot led the other. "Please" and "thank you" were the operative words. Knowledge should not be accumulated for future use, but spent; only the present tense existed in the dream.
I then experienced the gulf between dream and waking as having almost no importance.
It did have more importance than I was willing to admit, as I had not yet found a way to eternalize the wealth I had discovered; the object would remain inside the dream. Transformation had not yet made me strong. Presences would not appear on call to help me with a math exam. An ancient snake would not lend me courage to ask Claudia Mulalley for a date. Although it never did, it always seemed that a "mysterium conjuntionis," a true marriage of opposites, were just about to happen.
On the edge of sleep I would levitate above the Earth, landing on an unknown planet. I would, let's say, be riding my bicycle and the energy would begin to flash, to explode. The horizon would spin. Such experiences, which might today bring joy, then brought joy- and a fear for sanity. Oceanic scents, known to the dead, circulated. It seemed as though the entire visible world was about to pass out of existence, and dissolve into a ball of light.
I felt as though the greater part of my nature had been hidden out of sight. By what or who? I was anxious to meet this other part of myself, to find out how it looked. That my tools, unfortunately, were not the equal of the task, did not stop me from producing a series of mythological drawings. Symbols spewed out. I brooded over pictures of archaic urns and ruins, and imagined what I would like to say to the Sphinx, were he to suddenly stand up. The works that most resembled what I wanted to bring forth from the flux were the pictographs of Adolph Gottlieb, which, having completed several turns on a spiral, I now study again.
Let us praise famous birds. They will feed us. View as from an unimaginable height the explosion of the pin-point city. Sheathed in an iron glove let the hand of fate, as in the painting by de Chirico, with a thunderous click put its finger on the chessboard. Already, and how many times, the stage props of the 20th century had been swallowed by the ocean. Only fools could believe that the First World War had begun in 1914. It was "a" world war. By no means the first. I had been forced to push back the date by 11,000 years. Soon the daemon would transform and systematize the dissociation of Pierre Lunaire.
The moon was a vehicle. The true sun was black. Pursued by implanted memories, we were pawns lost on a flood plain of spent symbols, the victims of atomic bioengineering, the playthings of omnipotent beasts. We were the horizontal shadows thrown by a vertical geometry. Our bodies were not other than symptoms. Our brains the materialized fallout left from the sabotage of the hall of records.
I had discovered a poem by Cesar Vallejo which in part reads, "You people are dead. What a strange manner of being dead. Anyone might say that you were not." These were my thoughts, exactly. I continued my back-breaking work on the scaffold of a Micronesian volcano, producing a few more pages for my journal, a few more drawings. Several weeks went by as I explored the non-local field, during which I let my homework accumulate. I brought the best of the drawings from this series to my art class. I did not get the response for which I had hoped.
Slowly, Mr. Trippi looked through the pieces with an expression of deep thought, but said almost nothing. Here or there he pointed out a detail that I might want to change. He would like to see more color. In retrospect, there was nothing he could have said that would have been adequate, or enough. It could even be seen as a sensitive response.
It is unfortunate that things did not stop there. What happened next brought a quick end to my experience in the class, and to my openness to learn whatever he might have had to teach.
Returning to his bull in the china shop mode, he insisted that I stay after school to complete several assignments that I had not turned in -- a color chart and a still life with some fishing nets, driftwood and a bottle. To me this was the equivalent of asking me to work on one of those paint by number versions of Gainsborough. Blue Boy. A masterpiece in a box. You too can learn to pretend to be an artist. A still life to impress the relatives, to be hung above a couch.
My ego was wounded. My intuitions had been shoved into the back of a closet. I was not, in fact, a shaman. After school I hung around for several hours, trying to imitate the grain on a piece of driftwood. I did not return to class for the rest of the semester. Later in the year I was allowed to submit an independent body of work, and squeaked by with a C-, but no. After digging out my notebooks from this period, I am shocked to find that this memory is a confabulation. Failing, due to my near total absence, I had been forced to take a summer school course, and only after completing this had I squeaked by with a C.
Mr. Trippi came and went, like a mastodon in the moment before the glacial crags descended.
He was of course guilty of bad timing, a flaw in any teacher, but also of violating the commandment: "Do not disrespect the daemon. The primordial twin has no sense of humor." Like many adolescents, I could be faulted for a pathological inability to listen. I had not yet found a way to take from each teacher what he or she had to offer -- always demanding something else.
Shortly before I graduated I ran into Mr. Tsang, my art teacher from junior year.
He said, "What happened with Mr. Trippi? He was very upset that you dropped out of his class. He thought that you had talent, and was doing his best to toughen you up, to teach you how to focus. He could not imagine what he had done wrong."
During the next few years, when I would return from school in Boston to visit my family on the weekend, I would sometimes see Mr. Trippi wandering around downtown Worcester, like an autumn leaf. An infinite ache would spread upwards from my solar plexus to my heart and then finally to my throat.
Was this shrunken man the monster whose demiurgic eyes had sent me running out the door?
Was this the fascist who had interrupted my early training as a shaman?
Was this the magician whose finger snap had once broken my connection to the dream?
No, he was just a retired high school teacher. He often looked quite serious, having found out that his wife was very sick.
Mr. Trippi was the unacknowledged catalyst, the distorted face of the friend, the left hand of a free-associative god, the flawed avatar who had all along been important to my growth.
The door in my memory opened on the archaic concept of the tragic; a no fault generation of humanity. Two actors perform what they are scheduled to perform. Collapsing the wave function, and by violence crafting a location for the ego, one story is pulled out of the oceanic flux of all potential versions of that story.
We are driven by our ignorance. The perfect watch from the upper benches of the data bank. True consciousness is retrospective; it does not choose between the positive and the negative poles of a sphere.
Star Bird, Brian George, 1989