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The Final Chapter

by Morris Sullivan
Contributing Editor

It was summertime, 1995.

I was pissed off.

"Notes from the Cultural Wasteland" was the child of that anger. At the time, I was spending a lot of time at a community theater in Orlando, Florida. The Magic were in the playoffs; thus one could have let go with an Uzi in the theater and probably not hit anyone, unless one were aiming at the stage.

Meanwhile, Orlando's citizens were spending gazillions of dollars to watch guys play basketball. That seemed unjust to me–I knew there were thousands of people putting their asses on the line to produce things of cultural value, usually with little or no financial reward, and often at their own expense. They did it for love of art and for their communities. I wanted to point that out to people, and encourage them to take a little of their basketball money and put it toward support for the arts.

I wrote down my thoughts and handed them to a sales rep for Tabula Rasa, a 2-color tabloid-style free 'zine that was printed sporadically and distributed in record stores and such around Orlando. They printed it as a column. Apparently, people liked it, because they asked me if I'd do it again. That first column for Tabula Rasa was probably the last thing I wrote "on spec."

I had published a few things back then, mostly for free. It was sort of a hobby then. Now, I write full time, and then some. I took off a day and a half during Father's Day weekend. It was the longest I'd gone without writing something for at least three weeks.

A lot of other things changed during the decade since I wrote that first column, including the forum. Tabula Rasa soon stopped publishing; it was replaced by Eleven magazine, another two-color job, but glossy. Eleven lasted a few issues before folding. IMPACT press turned the column down at first, but assigned me some feature stories. I finally whined until editor Craig Mazer agreed to run the finished column I'd sat on since Eleven went bust. Readers must have liked it, because he continued publishing it.

In the early days, I wasn't always sure what the column was about, either. It took a couple of years to figure out that I was writing about American culture. Specifically, I was chronicling culture at the turn of the millennium. Fortunately, "culture" is a really broad topic. I probably used this in a column somewhere before, but I'll repeat it here: Culture, according to Webster, is

"the ideas, customs, skills, arts, etc. of a people or group, that are transferred, communicated, or passed along."

In other words, I could write about almost anything. So I did. I wrote about musicians who liked to nail people's penises to boards, for example. I said there were giant man-eating carp sharks in a downtown Orlando lake. I opined that an earlier war in the Middle East, Desert Storm, had a name that sounded like an antiperspirant. I recited conversations I'd had with my dog about old blues records and compared media coverage of Dale Earnhardt's death to coleslaw wrestling.

And as Canada–the entire country–and every figure-skating fan in the world will attest, I never, ever, allowed my ignorance of a subject to prevent me from having and expressing an opinion on it.

Allow me a brief digression. I have received a fair amount of argumentative mail, but very little "hate" mail. There were two exceptions. The first came when I criticized the Patriot Act. My lead for the column read: "I must be getting paranoid. I am afraid to write this column." Then I think I called the president a goat-roping little turd, or something like that.

Most people still had flag decals on their cars back then. I got a lot of mail agreeing with me. I also got hate mail, including two that were especially venomous. One almost incoherent letter riddled with bad grammar and misspellings came from a guy in the marketing department at Verizon. The other came from a civilian worker at the Pentagon who said he was looking forward to hearing my screams all the way from Guantanamo Bay.

Given the latest reports from Gitmo, I feel little chills now when I think about that.

That paled next to the hate mail I received after I commented on TV coverage of an Olympic controversy and referred to a pair of Canadian figure skaters with terms like "pussy-whipped" and "trailer park housewife."

Oh, I also mentioned in that column that Canadians suck.

Canada was not amused. Figure skaters still drive by my house and throw shit in my yard from time to time.

For the record, I apologized. And I think Canada and Canadians are great. Really.

Anyway, in the last ten years, I have tried to start a 12-step program for American Idolholics and proposed sending Republicans to Mars. I borrowed half a column from Hunter S. Thompson, quoted Revelations, proved the Rev. James Dobson was gay, and wrote at least one column in the nude, just to piss off the FCC (who pissed me off in turn by remaining completely unconcerned about my wardrobe malfunction).

It has been fun. All things must pass, however, and thus this is my final "Notes from the Cultural Wasteland."

I have several reasons for putting "Notes from the Cultural Wasteland" to bed. First, as I said, my mission was to document culture at the turn of the millennium. I figure five years either side of it is enough.

Also, we live in a very different world now, and I think that world calls for a different approach. In 1995, there was a Democrat in the White House. We might have been at war. I'm not sure about that–no one was too concerned about Clinton's wars. They were more interested in his sex life.

Now we have... well, I'm not sure what the fuck we have in the White House. It calls itself a Republican; I think it's a demon from hell.

In 1995 or 1996, I noticed our culture seemed increasingly nihilistic. Since we've gone to war, that has changed somewhat. We were already evolving, but on September 11, 2001, that evolution sped up. We have replaced a culture of nihilism with something even more disturbing:

We now live in a culture of cruelty.

I'm not sure why cruelty has become such a defining component of our culture. Perhaps it's a national response to fear and anger.

I live in a small city. Downtown, there's an intersection of two major highways that cut the city into quadrants. The intersection is only a couple blocks from the county courthouse one way, and the county administration building the other way. That corner becomes like a mini-center of the universe, sometimes. During political campaigns, it's always crowded with people waving signs for their candidates. Recently, a bunch of people stood at the corner and demonstrated against a plan to implement paperless touch-screen voting machines in our county.

On Fridays, a group of evangelical Christians stand on the corner, hold up their Bibles and scream at passersby about sin and hellfire. I have talked to them some, and their religion is one of fear and anger. They react to their fear and anger by assuming those whom they feel are responsible are going to burn in hell for all eternity. That seems to make them feel better.

Almost everyone in America seems to live in fear. We either fear the terrorists, the liberals, and the secularists, or we fear the military, the fundamentalist Christians, and that demon from hell in the White House. Perhaps watching our fellow Americans stick their heads in a cage full of scorpions, then eat dog shit and maggots makes us feel less vulnerable. Like, "Hey, look! No matter how bad my life gets, I'm pretty sure I won't stick my head in a cage full of scorpions, then eat dog shit and maggots."

In 1995, I was angry at professional basketball. Now, every American is angry at something. We're either angry at insurgents, environmentalists, and Democrats, or we're angry at Donald Rumsfield, Rush Limbaugh, and that demon from hell in the White House. Or, if we're a Canadian figure skating fan, we're angry at Morris Sullivan.

Perhaps we placate ourselves by feeding our anger with the sadistic rush we get watching some poor bastard win a new car, then see it systematically get smashed with a sledgehammer, or watching some schmuck get ridiculed by Simon Cowell.

My life has gone through a lot of changes during the last decade, of course. Relationships went and relationships came, my child reached almost to his majority, I directed exotic dancers to perform an excerpt from Shakespeare's Scottish tragedy in the nude, I saw the face of death a couple of times, and I now walk with a slight limp sometimes, especially during hurricane season.

During the last presidential election year, I joined a fledgling Buddhist Sangha. I've been a Buddhist–or at least had strongly Buddhist tendencies–for a long time, but never practiced with a group before. I'm not much of a joiner. But if felt good, amid all that negativity generated by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Karl Rove, MoveOn, etc. to take time once a week to sit down with a small group of like-minded people and meditate together.

I'm now helping lead that group. The founder wanted to back away, so my wife and I picked up the task of leading it. We're not gurus, by any means, but we felt there was a need for something that would help interject some compassion and loving kindness into this culture of cruelty. So we were willing to get there early, open the doors, and maybe guide a meditation now and then.

We even joined in with Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and brought a Change Your Mind Day to little ol' DeLand, Florida. It was great–the floodgates opened, and almost 200 people came, starving for doses of kindness, compassion, and inner peace.

In a decades-worth of "Notes from the Cultural Wasteland," I have done my fair share of treating people cruelly. I no longer want to participate in that. And that's the best reason I can think of to put this column to rest.

Of course, I'm not gone altogether. There has been talk of compiling columns into a book, but I haven't decided whether I want to do that or not. And I'll still be in IMPACT press, although I might take an issue or two off–I haven't decided yet. I will eventually return with a new mission and a new column.

In the meantime, I'll just be sitting here with my eyes closed, watching my breath come and go.

Om mani padme hum.

Contributing Editor Morris Sullivan has written for IMPACT for more than five years. A freelance writer and former high school teacher living in DeLand, Florida, Sullivan is also a playwright. His most notorious work, Femmes Fatale, contained the infamous "Nude Macbeth," which has been covered by diverse news media from the BBC and NPR to Playboy, HBO's "Real Sex," and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

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