The State of the Ace Backwords Address

.Ace Backwords, 53, former underground cartoonist who has been homeless for the past 3 years and is nearly blind, stands for a portrait on Wednesday March 17, 2010 in Berkeley, Calif. His friends are worried that he will soon die of exposure. Photo: Mike Kepka, The Chronicle

 Ace Backwords on death:

“I’m afraid of death. Even as I embrace it because I know that death is a return to the Godhead. This living life is more like death, the land of the living dead. Zombies. Sleep-walkers. I think when we die we actually become more alive. Death is probably like waking up from a really weird dream.”

Ace Backwords on sex:

“When I was younger I used to think about sex all the time. Now that I’m more mature I only think about it 90% of the time. So I’ve been able to develop some other interests and become a well-rounded human being. The thing that confuses me the most is when somebody is sexually attracted to me. I can’t help thinking: What’s wrong with you?

Ace Backwords on the streets:

“The streets are hard. They’re mostly made out of cement.”

Ace Backwords on the streets:

“To paraphrase David Letterman, the streets are just like high school except with rattier clothes and less teeth.”

Ace Backwords on God:

“God is everything. God is playing out all the parts. This life is a cosmic drama acted out on God’s own body.”

Ace Backwords on family:

“My whole family is nuts. Most people are, aren’t they? We’re all weirdos in our own special way.”

Ace Backwords on suffering:

“This life can really hurt. You can quote me on that, motherfucker.”

Ace Backwords on drugs:

“I’ve done most of them. Some of the time they work. Which is more than you can expect from most of the shit in this world. But after awhile they all turn on you. What goes up must come down. I always thought “ecstasy” was the greatest name for a product. Who wouldn’t want to score some of that. But then, there seems to be a market for heroin, too, and they call that “junk” and “scag” and “shit.” So people will buy anything, really.

Ace Backwords on drugs:

“I’ve always needed drugs. I always wanted them. I liked turning the channels on the television set in my mind.”

Ace Backwords on sex:

“Am I still thinking about sex?”

Ace Backwords on love:

“I’ve fallen in love 5-and-a-half times. There’s one I’m still not sure about.”

Ace Backwords on unrequited love:

“I’m the patron saint of unrequited love. All my love infatuations ended tragically. So I was obviously doing something wrong. And yet the weird thing is, to this day, I’m still really fond of all 5-and-a-half of them. Thats the sickest thing of all.”

Ace Backwords on art:

“Charles Bukowski and R. Crumb were the two great artists of my era. I was the third. But I was too humble to point it out.”

Ace Backwords on art:

“The art that lives on is the stuff that touches universal archetypes. Race, love, hate, sex, drugs, death, God. Some things never go out of season. They’ll still be smacking you in the face in the year 2247.”

Ace Backwords on cats:

“I have 4 feral cats that live in the hills near my campsight that I feed every morning. Cats are so much easier to relate to than people. All my cats ask of me is that I feed them and don’t bother them. So we’ve developed a relationship. I really like to watch them eat. And I’m not sure why. Maybe its because I can only eat 3 meals a day, but with the cats I get to squeeze in an extra meal vicariously.

Ace Backwords on sitting at a typer and blathering out verbiage:

“Sometimes I amuse myself with this chatter. Thats the best I can hope for.

Ace Backwords on himself:

“I can’t figure out who I am. The only thing I know for sure is that I’m perverse.”

2002_10_16: Genius is pain. Yeah, but what in life ISN’T, you schmuck!

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There have been periods in my life where there was only one profound thought in my head that kept repeating itself over and over:

“I have been hurt almost beyond belief!”

I have gone through periods of almost unbearable agony and suffering. I suspect most people do. Nobody I know has gotten a free pass in this damn life.

But geez! I have gone through intense periods of such inner pain, it was like my soul was being permanently branded by the searing heat of it. I could literally feel my soul, my psyche, being warped out of shape by the pressure of it.

“Life is pain,” said the Buddha, and he was not fukking around. Or maybe he was. You don’t really like to think about it; about pain. Just as you don’t really feel like listening to somebody else bitching and whining about their problems, unless its done in a stylish, cathartic way, like “singing the blues”; or the pie-in-the-face suffering of comedy; or a case of somebody failing in a way that makes you feel successful by comparison (gee, I thought I had it bad, but that poor slob); or if you’re a soap opera junkie/tragedy queen who gets off on weeping and wailing for the suffering of the world….. But most other forms of suffering are dreary to think about. And usually we go out of our way to dodge it; to avoid dealing with it. Gimme a handful of codeines and a fifth of Jack Daniels. I’ll out-flank that damn suffering by hook or by crook.

But suffering has a way of exploding all over your soul in a way that demands: “DEAL WITH THIS, MUTHERFUKKER!!”

My Father was a Methodist minister and one of the perennial questions he had to deal with was the suffering of man; i.e. “Why me?” In fact, many of his parishioners came to him specifically in the hopes that he could heal their suffering or, at the least, give them a prescription from the Heavenly Doctor in the Sky.

One night when I was a kid, I remember my Dad getting a late-night phone call from one of his faithful parishioners. By the grave tone of his conversation, I could tell it was “serious.” My Dad kept repeating over and over: “Tsk! It just doesn’t make any sense! Geez!” It turned out the guy’s 18-year-old daughter had just died on the operating table while they were trying to deliver her baby. The guy kept asking my Dad that one unavoidable question:


What can you say? “Gee, the Lord works in mysterious ways. Take two aspirins and call me in the morning….”

I know some people who get very bitter at God for interjecting the suffering bit into what otherwise was a very wonderful blueprint. “I mean, what’s the deal here, God?! I could be sitting here enjoying nectar and manna and lolling around on fields of golden grain for all of Eternity with nubile virgins with large breasts and endless supplies of Old English Malt Liquor. But no! You had to add this damn ‘suffering’ thing to the mix. Mind you, its not that I’m questioning the wisdom of Your over-all plan, Oh Great Lord, and praises be to You and all the rest of it, etc., etc. But geez Louise! What’s the deal with that suffering thing? I mean, plagues, and locusts, and cancer, and painful rectal itch, and bad TV sit-coms. Talk about over-kill. What were You thinking, Big Guy? And another thing: that death thing. I could have lived without that, too”

I know some people who get so warped by the pain of life, they take the attitude: “There is no God! No God in His right mind would create a world as sick as this!” Others get so pizzed, they refuse to believe in God out of spite: “I don’t care if You are the Heavenly Boss! I ain’t getting down on my knees to You! You can’t break me. You’ll never take me alive! Um….”

The Greeks and the Romans sort of had the attitude that the gods play with mortal man for sport. The Hindus take it one step further by maintaining that God Himself is playing all the roles, that you are God, and He really isn’t doing anything to anybody but Himself.

But one thing’s for sure: It’s mostly pain and suffering that drives us to the spiritual path in the first place. “No atheists in fox-holes,” that bit. I know when I’m sailing along in a fat and happy state, the last thing I want to be bothered with is wrestling with the existential issues of Life. It’s only when I’m driven to my knees in absolute despair that I truly start asking the fundamental spiritual questions. It’s not so much that I’m looking for Heaven. It’s more a matter of: “GET ME OUT OF THIS HELL!”

And maybe that’s part of the answer too: “Why suffer?” If life is basically a game. And the game is basically Get Back to God. Suffering is the prime game rule that keeps us from veering too far off course. Suffering snaps us back to attention right quick.

Also, too, to continue with the Cosmic Sport analogy: Take basketball. Sure, you want to win the game. But you also secretly want to lose, too. I mean; imagine if you won every time. That would get boring. Sure, you could design the hoop so its 100-feet around; every time you threw the ball up you’d get it in. Yes! I’m shooting 100%! But how much fun would that be? Secretly, we want to lose half the time. It’s what makes the game work. Secretly, we WANT a game that’s difficult and full of suffering and frustration. We want to be puzzled by it all; otherwise there’s no fun with figuring out the puzzle.

Maybe this all sounds stupid, but that’s the only “meaning of suffering” that I’ve been able to come up with. And now I’m done with this column. You know what they say: “I’ve suffered for my art; now it’s YOUR turn.”