To Teen Love, Forbidden Texts and Afternoons Lost

Photography // Jeff Wolfe

There's a few types of physical places that I feel comfortable enough in to spend hours and hours at, never getting bored and in fact feeling a sense of ecstatic energy pulsing firing from my brain and down into my body.

I've been this way as far back as I can remember. Being a loner with intense niche interests brings me to these places. Away from the crowd. Away from the noise and bustle. Away from fluorescent lighting. Into a womb. Into the sacred. Where I' called to. Places of age and ephemera. Some would call it clutter or junk. To me these places represent a dig site for cultural archeology. Record stores. Comic shops. Second-hand vintage sellers. Public libraries. Photography dark rooms. Indie video houses. And above all, the metaphysical bookstore. 

But not just any kind of store, though I like them all. The best kind has to be older, carrying as much used as new and bursting forth with magical tools, religious images and altar icons. A place where just being there feels like entering a secret temple and the sensory experience amounts to a ritual.

My first initiation into the weird world of occult mysteries hit me when I was an early teen. At 13, I was obsessivly frequenting the comic and used record shop in the next town over from where I grew up. Time Travelers was and still is a cavernous dwelling with comics and vintage toys floor to ceiling. A few blocks away was the Beat Hotel, a place where you could find original Sub Pop 7-inches of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney as well as catch a live show on Saturday afternoons by one of any number of local teen punk bands. Sadly, the market for rare vinyl fell out at the turn of the century and the best converging space for outsider kids didn't survive to see the fetish bounce-back. 

Further on down the road right at the edge of town stood this really strange brick building covered with paintings and tree vines. It's not really that spooky looking but it really impressed me that way all those years ago. There were rumors I wish I could accurately remember among my friends about what went on inside this forbidden place called The Mayflower. My recollection is simply that whatever was said was strange enough that a strange kid like me never went in to see for myself. 

That is, until I meet a girl. 15 and silly in puppy-love, I distinctly remember getting my courage up to venturing inside. It was approaching the special girl's 16th birthday and I need a unique gift. Early in my courting the girl had read my palm in the high school cafeteria and that must have made an impression. I would kill to relive that moment to hear the reading again and what it predicted. 

I can't be sure if it was that interaction or one of the other deep conversations we had that inspired me to buy her an intention candle but that's what I ended up getting and a few other trinkets. Personally, I wasn't yet into the goods available at the Mayflower but I had a sense that there was a romantic meaning behind them. 

Most certainly I was overcome by the sights, smells and ambiance of the place. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. There's an element of intimidation when you're young and just discovering new things about the world. How much bigger it actually is compared to what you thought. It's a hard feeling to recapture. The silly nerves, the giddy excitement, the sense of danger. 

Striking as the musty and dark shop was to me, I didn't want to overstay my welcome. The place was like a foreboding tomb, in which I needed to complete my mission but get out alive. I remember being very pleased with myself and what I had procured. You know it when you get someone a good gift they won't be expecting and expresses something about the person and yourself at the same time. 

Beaming with satisfaction, my six-gear bike glided home on a cloud that afternoon. The gift went over well. I hope she got whatever she wished for after the wax was all burned away.

Something else important happened that day as well. A portent impression was made, a seed was planted. I had had my first brush with the occult and didn't even realize that's what it was. 

It wouldn’t be until years later that I would use incense for anything other than masking the smell of weed. A lot happened in between but when I made my way back to the occult bookstore I retrieved a little bit of that youthful excitement and transgression. Finally beginning to read and practice rather than tour and browse, the spines on the wall to wall books where actually communicating with me. It takes learning a new language to hear but once you do, the intuitive feelings of resonance take actual shape and dimension.

Once the pursuit of the esoteric takes hold the occult books and supplies shop becomes a regular religious outing. A place not only to stock up on hard to find books but also candles, Tarot decks, beads, runes, medallions and jewelry. For close to a hundred years that has been the case anyway. Occult Bookstore opened the first shop of it’s kind in 1918 Chicago, and so began a cultural institution that would spread to all corners of the world. But like the Beat Hotel and many others like it, I fear that the beauty and awe-inspiring presence of physical storefronts on the outskirts of our towns and cities could one day be no more.

Let’s be honest, most of the book shopping we do happens on a keyboard or taping on a smart phone. Let’s also be honest and admit that while the convenience of digital shopping is too powerful to resist, it bears no resemblance to the act and magic of browsing row after row of dusty tomes on rickety shelves with the smell of sage hanging in the air. 

Everyone goes to the library, I still do everyday at lunch, but believe me when I say it's not the same deal. You get the sense in a magic focused bookstore that the literal secrets of the universe are bearing down on you from all directions, written in every century, and on every content in the world since the beginning of time.

When we decide to pull ourselves offline and push ourselves inside of four-walled chapels of synchronicity, theres no telling what we’ll serendipitously find or who we'll meet. There’s just no replacing those opportunities and experiential moments. The personalized recommendations and advice, the weight of a heavy stack of books that called to you and the cats that sleep on the display cases of crystals.

When I was a teenager, all I wanted to do was get out of my house, out of my room and out into the world of adults and forbidden lands. That impulse has yet to leave me but is admittedly harder and harder to act on. The kid is still very much alive in me underneath the life-hardened exterior and in need of simple adventure and connection.

The Mayflower still stands. Even after one or two fires. Who will run it after the sole owner/operator hangs up his wizard cape? Who knows. A used bookstore in general is a magical place with rare and surprising finds. 

In Detroit, we are blessed with one of the largest in the country called John K. King. You can find books there on any topic under the sun. Depending on the day they carry a delicious selection of vintage UFO, conspiracy and magic texts. Not to mention wheather-worn classic sci-fi and fantasy paperbacks.

The floor creeks, the halls are long with darkened corners and you need a step stool to reach the top shelves. Did I mention they have enough books to fill a three-story warehouse? Yeah, it's that good.

These are places of lost afternoons, checking your wallet to see what the damage we can do, seeing people actually weirder than you and returning home with months of knowledge to absorb. Standing where thousands of long gone occultists have stood, brooding and pouring their energy into the walls is not to be dismissed. If places are holy and alive, these places must be.

That reminds me, I’m long overdue for a pilgrimage.

Radical Design for Ecology and Freedom

Making attempts at using my design skills, which so often go to the furthering of corporate interests, voluntarily towards causes or organizations doing positive social work has become very important to me. Good causes are usually aided by volunteers and their resources meager. It is in this case my pleasure to lend a hand to both contribute something as well as receive the satisfaction of seeing my talents used towards ethical ends. 

The graphic artist has become almost entirely a tool for encouraging capitalist consumption of one form or another. In order to survive, creatives are faced with a horrible dilemma: refuse to work creatively on behalf of capitalists and suffer the economic consequences or to squash personal objections in order to secure a wage. In the case of the refuser, that person faced with joblessness for what they are trained for usually must offer services to the capitalist enterprise by some other means anyway. There are always exceptions. At present my choice has been to take the highest available wages while at the same time determined to use my craftsmanship to non-commercial purposes whenever and wherever possible. 

My pursuit of a commercial art career was initially made in the destress of going into a college debt and having no family funds to fall back on if I failed to become self-sustaining. I abandoned idealistic notions of artistic purity for the promise of security. I question that course daily. It was hard to come to as a single person seeking living wages, but made even more pressing when there were four mouths to cloth and feed. Such is our collective circumstance. I admire starving artists or those who achieved a less complicit livelihood. My best option as it stands is to give my labor for free given the opportunity.

Often, I have to seek out such opportunities as is the case with the work being posted here. I'm rather happy and excited about it because it's on behalf of a group that aligns strongly with my social and political values with a origin connected to a man who has set my thinking in a progressively enlightened direction. 

That man is Murray Bookchin and the organization is the Institute for Social Ecology

Tribute poster to Murray Bookchin - "Visionary Thinking"

Bookchin defined himself differently at various times in his long life which spanned across many of the 20th centuries pivotal conflicts, revolutions and radical movements. He was a young Marxist communist that later turned to anarchism and later towards a direct democratic model he called Libertarian Municipalism. Just before his death in 2006 he simply saw himself as a "communalist."

It would be fair to say his views and ideological tendency fits under the umbrella of libertarian socialism, which confuse the hell out of intellectually stifled Americans but makes perfect sense to the rest of the world that has a historically accurate connection to the anarchist tradition that began outside of the States. 

Among many other considerations, it was Bookchin's highlighting of ecological issues that breathed some original and fresh life into the anarchist thought. While pioneers from the 19th century like Peter Kropotkin wrote about the environment and wildlife, none may have been unique in placing ecology so centrally within the context of radical politics. 

His work in turn sparked a whole number of related movements exploring ecology and building anarchist societies at the municipality level first and foremost. This has resulted in a number of practical experiments, most notable among them today is taking place in the unlikely war zones of Turkey and Syria among the rebel group Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)

Here in the United States Bookchin himself helped to found the ISE in 1974 as an educational and activist school in Northern Vermont.
"Social ecology advocates a reconstructive approach that promotes a directly democratic, confederal politics. As a body of ideas, social ecology envisions a moral economy that moves beyond scarcity and hierarchy toward a world that fully celebrates diversity. The ISE has been a pioneer in the exploration of ecological means of food production, like organic gardening and permaculture, and alternative technologies. Studies combine theoretical and experiential learning in community organizing, political action, ecological economics, and sustainable building and land use. The ISE, as such, strives to be an agent of social transformation, demonstrating the skills, ideas, and relationships that can nurture vibrant, self-governed, ecological communities."
Their offerings today include annual summer intensives as well as an MA program in social ecology for Prescott MAP students. It's primarily through ISE and obviously his writings that Bookchin's memory and ideas most strongly carry on in very practical, hands-on means.

After reaching out to them to offer my services, an opportunity came about to help them develop graphics for T-shirt and canvas bag offerings for their promotional use to help with fundraising. 

In addition to creating designs for those needs I assembled a tributary poster to Bookchin himself which I was inspired to do as I was working on the project. Out of everything I proposed the board is choosing to move forward with two designs in particular which I am greatly pleased by. 

It is my hope and contention that graphic artists, writers and photographers have skills that are valid and worthwhile to the community in ways that have nothing to do with increasing profits and growth for international corporations whose concern for communities is limited to the extend in which material value may be extracted from them.

In all revolutionary movements, artists and particularly graphic artists have made crucial contributions to the struggles by means of artfully extending ideological and informative messages to the people. Of course the ability for these arts to be turned towards propagandistic on behalf of totalitarian governments is all to well understood. 

Like writing and language itself, the arts can be used for good as equally as evil. In and of itself, communication can be a tool or a weapon. Who wields it and for what purpose dictates the morality of it.

I can only strive towards a future when creatives like myself will have a productive use in society that  rightfully enhances the life of the community by inspiring or informing rather than being relegated to tasks of creating pressure towards unnecessary expenditure and vanity.

That time may well be far off or only in the reaches of the utopian imagination. In either case doing what is necessary to survive at present is unavoidably comprising, as the power and advantage lay in the hands of the bosses who have claim of our resources. 

Contributions like these remind me of the usefulness of my craft and provide a spiritual boast to my value, as necessarily limited as it may be.  




POETRY MAGICK: A Feast of No Body, No Age, No Place & The Mailman

// Photography: Jeff Wolfe //

A Feast of No Body, No Age, No Place

Wading through desperate minutes
crushed under weight.

Clock hands hold knives.

The sky walls off from sight,
as who I thought I’d be dies.

A once comfortable noose tightens, and the burn chafes.
Pillars of support that once held me up, fissure and split.

Voices of her and him fade as they retreated.
Shards and scraps are nothing you want to play with unprotected.
Need a light to walk out of here alone.
The others had no trouble in abandoning this post.
Leaving only me shackled to an immaterial abyss.

Never a part of the plan to age this way,
conditions worsen in the cold.
Pass the time mantras may speak a path out into existence.
The mounting bones of former idols deposited here
limit space to maneuver.

Better burn a fire fast, big enough to signal emergency,
different but similar to the last.

Several spirits need satisfaction before much of anything
happens around here.
The overlapping of their demands make dreams a swamp of entanglements.
I banish them in confusion,
miss them when they’re gone.

I’m as silly as Hercules with none of the strength.

More than 12 trials appear necessary to survive this.
Each to levy a tax unpaid.

Crossing the guards of this world, my biggest mistake yet.
Labor upon labor for debts incurred.
My existence pleases someone, as long as I toil and churn.
Plenty of dirt to be done.
My dreck wave-energy is a wine for the demiurge to toast.

Profane judges and wardens
keep my communication weighted down here,
clogging up the ether of this quarter.

Far from where it’s meant to be heard.

I wait impatiently, with body cracking at seams hoping not to crumble.
Passing to dust alone, forgotten.
A voice frequency forever dissipated.
Unhinged to history.

A footprint gleefully erased by Poseidon’s receding tides.

Time is nothing here.
More still, the binding construct is made of no thing.
When truly perceived there’s a promise of passing through
border cracks made of thought.

Made of magic.

Out there lies a feast of no body, no age, no place. 

The Mailman
I am the mailman,
I see and I sift.
I am the knower of the letter and the word.

Carrying the weight of your debts.
Seeing the end of worlds.
Messages not of me but through me
are delivered.
Aged by the elements, hands hardened
by the handling of griefs.
(Announcements of joy soften parts unseen.)
The task is to connect it all with indifference.

Notes move through the artery of township bodies
as I have designed.
Ever coming, ever going.
The route is forever in my command.

Memos on pillars as far as the eye can see.
In my organizing and archiving,
my radiance grew and grew.

Between every step between every stop,
I am more or less located in the Pleroma.
My main task while carrying was to receive the totality
of communication from all worlds.
To become as they asked of and wished to be.

The storing and summarizing
Made unto me a living file,  
to the deepest reaches of realms.
My repository coded, accessible only to three.

Sleep is where transitions are made.
A contract for insomniacs keeps moon hour mail moving.
Fluctuations of birth, death, love and hate
are surveilled in case of emergency.
Eschatology letters have their own wing
at the headquarters, next to Diviners and Prophecies,
whose cycles of high-frequency never cease.

Far distant oracles rely on me for their wide reach,
people of the fields and factories need so much to know.

A breakdown in service,
none can afford.
Seasons of assassination come and go.
The disruption and seizure of these notes
prevented so far by great measures to alter methods
and moves.
Sweeping deliveries made even under harsh duress.

It’s a great responsibility to intercede for the letters,
syllables and screams that come across my desk,
to get them to their destination alive and well.
To brave against flames and winds or even spears
it is required to assure a secure landing,
keeping the waterways of lucid language afloat,
undammed day after day.

I am that mailman,
that messenger, that winged kite.
As long as there’s words and wishes
I flight to places well hid.
Until that time of words ending,
among the mount of Lords
I then join.

Having done the work
long enough to grow weary for rest
from the ceaseless conversing natures of
a speaking species
with a tendency to self-worry;
but occasional aberrations of brilliant faith
which gave off a bit of light down below to
mirror the stars up here -
both keeping me company these forgiveless nights
when the wind is the only other witness.
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