A deep conversation about life (and coupling vs. “the tribe”) with Frank Moore

There is no complaining in Frank Moore’s world. We are all responsible for creating our own consciousness. That is what makes this rebel “cripple” performance artist, creator, and radical who has had cerebral palsy since birth so compelling—and why I wanted to do this interview. There are many fascinating twists in this conversation, and I recommend you watch the whole two-hour shebang. Your mind will be blown if you give this video your attention.

For me, doing this interview was like going on a trip, with no drugs. The video will challenge your patience as Frank slowly communicates. He “speaks” by using his red headlight on his forehead to point to the colorful keyboard-meets-Ouija board that sits on a tray on his wheelchair. He designed the keyboard with letters and his most commonly used words. He slowly picks out words and letters that Linda, who is sitting next to him on an exercise ball, reads aloud. He uses a tool that emanates from his forehead to paint and type. Frank made that painting that is sitting behind us.

Sasha Cagen (& Michael) – Frank Moore’s Shaman’s Den from Frank Moore on Vimeo.

Here is the backstory behind the interview. The theory is that by pushing ourselves out of comfort zones, we grow. I was afraid to go, and I’m sure this interview will give me inspiration for a long time to come. I hope it does the same for you.

Frank invited me to “talk deeply” with him on his cable-access show The Shaman’s Den after I wrote this blog post reviewing his interactive show, Uncomfortable Zones of Fun. The email came the day after Christmas. To be honest, I was scared. The show promises it “will arouse, inspire, move, threaten you, not with sound bites, but with a two hour (usually longer) feast of live streaming video. You might get an in-studio concert of bands from around the world…or poetry reading…or an in-depth conversation about politics, art, music, and LIFE with extremely dangerous people! But then you may see beautiful women naked dancing erotically. You never know, because you are in The Shaman’s Den with Frank Moore.”

I told my new friend Michael, a science journalist and all-around inquiring mind, about the invitation, and he wanted to come. Emboldened by his company, I said, “Let’s do it.” I felt that it is symbolically important to do this interview; there would be a lot to learn from such a fearless and creative person, who has written books, directed plays, directed, acted in and edited films, regularly gives poetry readings, plays piano, sings in ensemble music jams, and continues to lead bands in hard core punk clubs despite having severe cerebral palsy since birth and never being able to walk or talk.

How can any of possibly complain about obstacles in our lives when there is a human being like Frank who can’t speak or take care of his own basic needs, and has managed to live such a rich life? Frank does nothing for money, and only does the things he truly wants to do, so I knew there would be juice for me (and possibly you) there.

Frank is sharp. His questions often left me stumped. He asked questions like “How did you get started in your life?” (Not your work, but your life. . . )“When did you discover the power of quirky?”

After he interviewed me, I interviewed him, and my questions elicited an oral history of Frank’s beginnings: how he got started on his adventures as a teenager in a wheelchair who could not speak or walk. Totally dependent on others to meet his most basic needs, he set off across the country hitch-hiking to go to communes in Arizona, Massachusetts, and then back to California. Wherever he went he attracted people to him. Despite the “ugliness” of his appearance, and his incredible need, he radiates a powerful freedom from fear and a curiosity about others. He has a way of “seeing” people at their deepest essence level. There were plenty of difficult times along the way, but he kept going with the help of others.

Our conversation focused on the shortcomings of the couple to meet our needs as human beings. One person cannot meet all of our needs. Quirkyalone critiques the tyranny of coupledom as the model to which we must aspire at all times. Michael interjected the question, “What replaces the couple?” and this became in some sense a theme of our conversation. If the couple doesn’t meet all of our needs, what does?

Frank suggested my answer is “a fulfilled person.” I believe in the fulfilled individual—and the process of people being courageously honest enough to ask them what fulfills them. A fulfilled individual needs connections with others even if those connections don’t fit the model of a conventional romantic relationship. I’m going to start researching quirkytogether relationships that offer us more freedom and flexibility to be who we really are (and I will be looking into that more soon for a future book) and I’ve always pointed to our significant others (plural) friendships and important family relationships.

Frank has a clear answer. Each word weighs a lot when it takes a lot of effort to express. For Frank, the replacement for the couple is the tribe: people living communally, or at least nearby, supporting each other, melting into one another. Melting is a big word for Frank.

Frank and Linda live with four others. Over the last four decades, their Berkeley community consisted of five adults raising two children. The children were encouraged to not favor the biological parents and see them all equally as their parents. Some people might call it a commune; they call it a tribe.

When they moved on to their street in North Berkeley, they met Betty, an older religious woman who went to church often but who reached out to them and even wanted to see their sex tapes (a big part of Frank’s work is about exploring what he calls nonlinear sex, or “eroplay”). Betty liked their vibe of love and communal living and they became friendly. She became part of the tribe, though she lives in her own home.

When Betty’s husband died, she was not able to take care of herself. Frank’s gang started to pop in and bring her meals daily. Without their assistance, Betty might be in a nursing home. Living independently in one’s home (as opposed to living with family or in assisted living or worst yet, a nursing home) is almost always the preference for elderly adults. (See my friend Eric Klinenberg’s wonderful new book Going Solo to read about the preference that many seniors have for living independently.) The fact that Frank’s tribe has kept Betty at home is huge: this relationship makes an enormous difference in the quality of her life.

Betty is receiving so much love because she reached out first to Frank’s tribe, even though she is church-going and they are known for sex performances and so incredibly odd. Her reaching out fascinated me. How many of us complain that in modern American society we don’t know our neighbors? That this is a lonely, atomized society?

The responsibility always starts with us to create our own communities and realities. When we act like Betty and reach beyond our individual self-encased bubbles to show interest in others, we never know how much connection we can build. We get to know each other at a much deeper level beyond the surface differences of our costumes and lifestyle choices.

Frank calls it “melting,” an idea that honors our connectness first, that we are not separate. His life has been dedicated to “melting.” I asked him why he had made all this art and done all these performances and he said he did it all in pursuit of this kind of intimacy and depth of connection with other people. I found that fascinating that his “career” was not about the art itself but about the relationship that he has created with others. I can relate, because I always want to tap into others at their depths, to pull away the veils of our exteriors and experience each other in what we are really feeling and thinking.

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Sasha Cagen is the author of Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics and To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. Sign up for Sasha's List to get weekly-ish inspiration for your quirky life, along with news about books, online classes, and in-person events, retreats, and adventures.

Posted in Personal Growth, Quirkytogether
3 comments on “A deep conversation about life (and coupling vs. “the tribe”) with Frank Moore
  1. frank Moore says:

    Hi, Sasha! I just sent out your amazingly clear and deep write-up of your appearance on my SHAMAN’S DEN show Sunday. It is rare to get a write-up that captures what we did together Sunday with such precision!

    But there are two things that could mislead people. If people want to watch “sex tapes”, they will be extremely disappointed in my work. True, there is nudity and eroticism in my work. But these aren’t the focus, but just two elements in happy living, intimacy among many other elements. I use all the elements in my work.

    Now for “ugliness”… Here is a passage from my book ART OF A SHAMAN:

    My first stroke of good luck was I was born spastic, unable to walk or talk. Add to this good fortune the fact that my formative years were in the sixties — my fate was assured!

    When I was born, doctors told my parents that I had no intelligence, that I had no future, that I would be best put into an institution and be forgotten. This was a powerful expectation with all the force of western science and medicine as well as social influences, behind it. It would have been easy for my parents to be swept up into this expectation. Then that expectation would have created my reality. I would have long ago died without any other possibilities.

    Instead, my parents rejected this expectation for the possibility they saw in my eyes, for what for them should have been true. This rejection of the cultural expectation of reality could not be a one-time choice. They had to passionately live their choice everyday, every minute, or the cultural expectation would have sucked them and me into it. It fought them at every new possibility they opened to me. Their passionate commitment to how they thought things should be attracted people to me who kept opening new possibilities for me. Of course, these were in the minority. But I focused on them, making them how people should be, how I wanted to be. So I expected people and myself to be like that. So people were for the most part that way…at least I saw them that way. This opened up to me what is called luck. It also gave me the ability to trust and the ability to use opportunities.

    This is the level that saved me, protected me, guided me. On this level, my parents won over the cultural expectation. By their winning, I won. By my winning, you win.

    But on another level, the cultural expectation had won by shaping reality, making me into a physically ugly cripple, a burden that no woman would want. No matter what I accomplished, no matter how smart or warm or giving I was, I would still be an ugly black hole always taking more than I gave. I was stuck in that piece of the cultural frame that I had accepted. The cultural expectation had won. I and everyone had lost because I bought into it. But there was a point when I was around 28 when one day I decided that I did not want to be in a reality where I was ugly, where I could not give all I needed to give. It simply was not how things should be, not just for me, but for everyone. So I decided to act and think as if I were beautiful. I did not tell anyone of my decision. But within two weeks people started telling me that I had physically changed. I used this feedback, this sign, to deepen the reality shaping. This new reality opened up new possibilities for everyone.

    This is the end of the passage from my book. What I didn’t know when I was growing up was that pretty much everybody has thought they were ugly, didn’t fit the social concept of beauty, were not enough, etc. This turns out to be one of the main false myths which are actively pushed in this society to keep people within isolation, powerlessness, and under control. Moreover people who objectively fit more closely the physical social concept of beauty often believe they are really ugly and they have the hardest time accepting they are beautiful. So it is important to debunk ugliness!

  2. Sasha Cagen says:

    Hi Frank, Thank you for responding. I really wanted to capture some of the depth of what we talked about in text because I don’t know how many people will watch the full two hours, and it was such an extraordinary conversation.

    I am glad that I wrote that bit about “ugliness” and that you took that as a chance to respond. I felt a false note in writing that word, as if there was more to unpack about that concept, and simply saying “ugliness” was too simple, and you did a great job of unraveling our notions of ugliness and beauty. It’s so true that the most conventionally “beautiful” people think themselves ugly, so what do we mean by that term anyway? You challenge me in my thinking and I thank you for that!

  3. frank Moore says:

    Exactly, Sasha! The concept of beauty as a static idealistic state of perfection [along with a similar false myth of perfection of health] is a part of the curse we got from the ancient Greeks. It is really a part of the system that keeps people in control. I wrote the below piece about it.

    CREDIT CARD MORALITY
    Frank Moore

    Do to others as you would want to be done to you. Treat people as yourself. Love your neighbor, your enemy, others as yourself. You will reap what you sow. The law of karma. These are all nice abstractions with the loopholes of individualistic choice and time built into them. That is, they secretly imply that there is a choice about seeing the other as separate from yourself, from your personal body…imply that there is a karmic credit card on which you can in effect charge “wrong” action to be paid, with a certain rate of interest, in either good works or suffering at a later date. This creates a judging, an evaluating, a choosing, a questioning whether a “wrong” action is worth the charge on the credit card, how it effects your credit rating. Worst yet, it like the bank’s Mastercard, tends to hide the real costs of the “wrong” actions, hiding it within the easy payment plan, hiding the wide-ranging resulting effects of the “wrong” actions.

    “Wrong” actions are different both from mistakes and from “bad” action in a morality system. Mistakes are learning tools within life’s evolution. Mistakes are vital, unavoidable, and vulnerable because true mistakes are the result of creative risk-taking. A “mistake” that is repeated over and over is not a mistake at all, but a “wrong” action. A wrong action is an action which harms, does not promote life-affirmations…it is in fact a life-denial, broadcasting life-denials. Morality is an itemized list from the moral visa card…a list of all the possible sins and the form of payment required for each sin. But no where on this list is there any mention of the real results, both personal and dynamic, of the so-called sin.

    This moral/karmic easy payment plan is one of the main means by which the life-denying power-combine abstracts us out of the direct involving experience of life. It puts the results outside of the personal present into an impersonal future. It puts the “payment” result of a sin outside of the personal present into both an impersonal past and impersonal future…that is, in a moral system of payment. You are paying for past sins in the future. This is fragmenting the reality of experience. A credit card makes it much harder to experience the reality of buying something because it fragments the exchange, the relationship, between two people. There is no exchange of what/who you are in the present. So it is very much harder to feel, experience, the real worth or result of the buying experience. It is much harder to feel, experience who you really are. So you spend more than you would if it had been a physical exchange, a physical relationship, between you and another person. Moreover, the medium of the exchange, money, has been abstracted into unreality, put outside the personal reality. This makes spending casually a matter of course. Creating this casualness is a main reason for credit cards, poker chips, and sins.

    But the abstraction does not end at the purchase experience. Without the context of the relationship of exchange, the actual experience of the result of the exchange…for example, the concert which the ticket is for…takes on an unreality to it. Moreover, when it comes time to pay, the experience of the concert has long ago happened, faded into the past. The payment is no longer a personal physical involvement in the actual experience of the concert. The payment is now an involvement with the abstraction, the power system, of the credit card. This involvement with the abstraction is the concept of duty, “should” duty. Because the experience of the concert has been long ago made over into an abstraction before payment time, it is difficult to feel the real effect of the concert. So you dutifully, casually pay the credit card bill.

    This basic credit card dynamic is at the root of all moral systems. All moral systems are systems of power, of abstraction, of fragmentation. A moral system contains a framework of shoulds, should nots, taboos. This moral framework is substituted for the direct experience of life. The reasons for the shoulds, should nots, and taboos are not revealed or explained. Love thy neighbor. Thou shall not kill. But there is not a real sense of why. This is true of the modern anti-moral systems of “going with the flow” and “do your own thing”…these anti-moral systems are just moral systems dressed up in mirrors. The should/taboo framework is a con for power.

    A saint takes on a moral system so completely that he becomes the social system. Living within a moral framework as a saint does limit the personal ability to shape reality, hence transferring this ability in the form of power to the abstract social structure.

    But a life of a saint is not the real goal of any moral system. If everybody lived as saints, the power that was thus generated would not be anywhere near enough to keep an abstract structure in existence. This is why real saints are always in a very tiny minority or a false myth. Saints are decoy models projected in front of people by the abstract power structure.

    The real goal of any moral system is personal failure. This type of failure is different from the failure within evolution or creativity. It is the failure of a victim or a loser. A moral system is set up to be almost impossible, if not in fact impossible, for humans to live within. At the heart of the con of morality is to convince the people that they should do what they are not empowered to do. Convince them by creating a system of rewards and punishments which is based on the fragmentation of time into past and future. Once a person is plugged into this reward/punishment system, he stops shaping his actions by the concrete experience of the results, both linear and nonlinear, of his actions. Instead, he starts focusing on the rewards and punishments within the moral system…starts focusing on the past and/or future…starts doing/not doing based on the promised reward/punishment. This abstracts the person out of the direct present experience of his life action and its resulting effects. This abstraction is the root cause of personal casualness. Once he thus abstracted out of the direct experience, he can be sold whatever prepackaged pictures of reality that the abstract power structures issue, will pay whatever price for forgiveness, protection, for a piece of power (no matter how small). In this way, the person is convinced by the power structure that he needs it, needs to belong to it, to conform to its prepackaged deck of pictures of reality.

    Our modern social world is made up of the combine of moral systems. Each power system…be it political, religious, social, economical, or sexual…issues its own deck of reality pictures and moral credit cards. This moral combine includes power systems that we do not usually think of as moral systems. What I am thinking of are the systems of romance, glamour, and education. A moral system is a system that abstracts reality into mental pictures into the past/future.

    Love others as yourself. Why? If you do, you will be rewarded sometime in the future. If you do, you will be paying back for something bad you did sometime in the past…ore, for that matter, for something bad you will do in the future. This is the logic of morals. It is individualistic ego-centered. It abstracts your dynamic relationship with the other out of reality.

    Deep love can be defined with: treat the other as yourself, love the other as yourself, because the other is in fact yourself, is part of your body. So what you do to/with/for the other, you are doing to yourself within the point of action of now. Deep love goes back to the pre-shamanistic personal awareness of the land, the plants and animals, the others in the tribe, and in fact the whole physical existence as parts of the personal body, and hence within personal responsibility.

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