Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Pal Mac Tonnies

In his element.

Just a few days ago, I wrote an email to a friend about Mac Tonnies' final book. I typed out the word posthumous, and I was struck by how much it looks like the title Posthuman Blues, the name of Mac's blog. My mind can get trapped in an unhealthy compulsion of seeing little coincidences, and thinking there is a deeper meaning.

This is a long posting. It is a rambling bunch of self examination about the loss of my friend. I wrote it in a sort of flurry, it is a string of details I needed to get written down. I may remove it from the blog at some point, but it feels honest.

* * *

I was driving back from a conference in California (Whitley Strieber’s DREAMLAND event in Joshua Tree) in late October of last year. This was a decidedly heady time, with a lot of intense stuff invading my life.

I stopped in Moab Utah to visit a friend, and I camped in the desert at the edge of town. The next morning I had a smoothie at a small breakfast shop, and for some reason I requested bee pollen as an extra, I had never had it before and I figured I would give it a try. Within minutes of finishing the drink, I had a very distressing allergic reaction. My face turned red, my lips puffed up, I was itchy all over and I barfed in the bathroom of the restaurant.

At no point did I feel my airway closing up, but believe me, I was one step away from driving to the emergency room. I took a benedryl, and waited for it to pass.

Right in the throws of this anaphylactic reaction, I went to visit a UFO researcher named Elaine Douglas. We had met once before, and I had spoken to her a few times on the phone. She and I talked about the research she was doing, and my ongoing weirdness. While sitting at her kitchen table, I felt progressively better. After about an hour, I felt perfectly normal. I thought I would just stop by for a short visit, but we ended up talking for multiple hours, and it was late in the afternoon when I finally said goodbye.

At that point I had a long drive in front of me, from Utah to my home in Idaho. I went into a little cafe on the main street to fill up on coffee. I also checked my email on my laptop. It was right then I found out that Mac had died. I was absolutely shocked, and I sat in the back corner of the cafe and cried.

I had talked with Mac just a week or so earlier, it was a typical conversation for us; deep, wide ranging, lots of laughs and it spiraled on late into the night.

I had simply assumed that one day I would sit in a coffee shop with Mac, we would drink espresso and talk, just like we always had. And now he was gone.

Mac had a reverence for espresso, he wrote about it often and lovingly. I went up to the counter, and ordered a double latte short, and I savored every beautiful drop.

At that point nobody really knew how he died, but from what I could glean on-line, it was assumed to be a heart issue. Earlier in the year Mac had told me of an experience where he went to the hospital to get some sort of heart exam. This was after he had a fainting event at work. He was calm and dismissive about the whole thing, and he treated it as a nuisance.

I got in my car and started driving north. The emotional numbness was oppressive and scary. I chose to travel on the two-lane desert highways, avoiding the inhumanity of I-15 and Salt Lake City.

The drive was astounding beautiful. I had a series of podcast interviews with Mac all loaded up on my iPod, and I listened to them as the sun set in a glorious display of reds and orange. The route I took home was empty and desolate, and I would go for as long as an hour without seeing another car.

One of the downloads was a the three hour long Coast to Coast interview. This was particularly beautiful and bittersweet. You could hear George Noory’s voice that he was perfectly charmed and engaged talking with Mac. As silly as this sounds, you could sense his mind expanding trying to keep up with Mac’s big ideas.

During this time, alone in my car, listening to Mac’s calm and wise voice, my chest began to ache. Something was wrong, I was feeling sharp pains right behind my ribs. I have a minimal amount of first aid training, and the symptoms of cardiac arrest are severe “crushing” pain. That wasn’t what I was feeling, it was presenting as something less intense, but it was real nonetheless. I pulled into a gas station, bought an aspirin in a little foil packet, I swallowed it and hoped this wasn’t the big one.

The pain in my chest seemed related to the allergic reaction from that morning, but at the same time, it wasn’t lost on me that it could be some sort of subconscious sympathetic reaction to Mac’s death.

I got back in my car and drove off into the dark and lonely night. When I had listened to all the audio podcasts of Mac’s interviews, I started over and listened to them again.

* * *

It the weeks that followed, there was a lot of talk about the status of his final book. The story came out that there was a printed copy of the manuscript found on his desk. This document had final edits in Mac’s handwriting in the margins.

During my correspondence with Mac throughout 2009, I made it clear that I was eager to do a few illustrations for his book. Mac seemed delighted by my offer. I’ll add that he had been super supportive of my artwork since I started posting some of my drawings on-line. He would consistently comment on the cartoons, and I deeply appreciated his observant compliments.

I contacted Mac’s publisher to ask about the illustrations, it seemed that Mac had mentioned me and my offer to draw for the book, and I set about doing some initial sketches. Having a small role in Mac's book was a profound honor, and I took the responsibility seriously.

* * *

On December first 2009, I got the text of Mac's CRYPTOTERRASTRIALS book sent to me in a word document. I took it to the local copy shop, and they printed it up for me. I punched holes in the paper and put it in a 3-ring binder. At first I was a little intimidated to read it. There was something sacred, or maybe daunting about it.

A few days later I realized I needed to sit down and start reading.

I went through a sort of formal process. I made a cup of tea, got my reading glasses, turned the lamp on and sat on the couch. The binder was on the coffee table facing me. I opened the binder, turned to the very first page and just as I began looking at the opening words - I head a loud "click" from right next to me.

I looked over and my CD player had spontaneously ejected the cassette. It had done this all by itself.

That CD player is well over a decade old, and in all those years this has never happened. It seemed extremely odd. And I'm not kidding, it happened at the EXACT second that I read the very first words.

* * *

When I finally sat down at the desk to start the drawings, I was suddenly hit with that same dull but very real chest pain, just like like the night driving alone in Utah. It was centered behind my ribs and it was very difficult to ignore. It wasn’t the acute crushing pain described by cardiac arrest patients, but it was nonetheless, very real. I managed to dismiss it for over a week, hoping it would go away, but it didn’t, it stayed exactly the same. The only way I can describe it is to say it felt creepy.

I've never had chest pain before, and it happens twice, and both times it was closely associated with Mac. One morning I woke up and the finger tips in my left hand were going numb, and I had a very distressing sensation in my left armpit.

I went to my doctor that day. My pulse and blood pressure were perfect, and I tried to describe the symptoms to the doctor. He listened carefully and was genuinely perplexed, I wasn’t showing any overt symptoms of cardiac trouble.

I also said that I thought it might be psychosomatic, because it so closely matched the death of a young friend, Mac, from heart related issues. He patiently listened, and then he said, “Let’s have a listen.”

I got up on the exam table and he listened to my heart with his stethoscope. I watched as he listened, and after a moment I could see his face make a sort of AH-HA expression. He said he heard a very specific rubbing noise that indicated pericarditis. This is a swelling and irritation of the pericardium, which is the sac that surrounds your heart. (more weirdness HERE)

He said that the treatment for pericarditis is a daily regime of anti-inflammatory medication and if I respond well, there is nothing to worry about. I started taking Aleve, and within 24 hours, all the pain was gone.

The numbness in the fingertips of my left hand continued, and it’s numb right now, as I type this. Presently it's very minor, and neither me or my doctor is concerned. It is presenting like a pinched nerve in my shoulder.

Black and white chapter header for Mac's book, with lots of scratchy "R.Crumb" shadowing.

The process of doing the drawings was deeply emotional. It was, in some way, a very real form of grieving. I simply HAD to immerse myself into the creative process in a way that I usually avoid.

I over worked the drawings. I spent to much time on them, I used too many tiny lines, I got swallowed up in the minute details. I cared about these drawings in a way that felt important to me.

During our last phone call Mac told me about R.Crumb’s latest book. It was a literal interpretation of The Book of Genesis. I hadn’t heard about it, and Mac delighted in describing the funny details, he reveled in the lurid begatting and the violent smiting.

On Thursday October 22nd I saw the book in a bookstore on a tiny Main Street in the middle of Utah. I bought it immediately and I sent my last email to Mac using the wireless in the book store. I later realized later this was the day that they found Mac’s body in his apartment in Kansas City.

Mac and I were both huge fans of R.Crumb, and I made sure to embrace that inky scratchy look as I worked on the illustrations.

Here’s how he introduced me on his Posthuman Blues site: Blog of the day: Little Boing Marks by friend and ufological co-conspirator Mike Clelland. Mike's drawings are delightful: R. Crumb meets Dr. Seuss.

The inspiration for the style and format of the illustrations for Mac’s book was lifted directly from an R.Crumb illustrated edition of THE MONKEY WRENCH GANG. Curiously, I bought this hard to find book a decade earlier, on that same Main Street in Utah.

* * *

I suffer from clinical depression, something that seems all to common with creative types like me. Throughout my life I go through cycles where I walk away from the desk and ignore my skills as an illustrator. 2009 was probably the emptiest time of my life, where I actively rejected drawing, I felt terribly barren and uninspired.

Mac’s book forced me to break through that stuck feeling. The job of sitting at my desk, with pens and pencils and ink felt wonderful. I enjoyed the act of putting little black lines on a clean white sheet of paper. Something that I thought I had lost was back again.

I feel fantastically blessed that I knew Mac Tonnies. The world needed his amazing mind, and his eagerness to look deep into the unknown. It is a profound honor to know he was my friend.


Red Pill Junkie said...


PS: I learned about that Crumb's book later in December, and I immediately thought you might be a great fan of him when I saw that first illustration from Mac's book. I wanted to mention it to you but for some reason I didn't.

David Stewart said...

A perfectly wonderful bit of writing Mike. Thanks for sharing this with all of us, I think Mac was a fortunate fellow to have inspired such eulogizing. I am looking forward to getting my hands on the results of both your efforts on the Cryptoterrestials,

Andre Heath said...

Thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed that. Can't wait to get my hands on his new book.

ToothyGrinMatt said...

I really enjoyed this.

Smh @ thinking about removing it at some point.

For shame.


James said...

Did I miss something... what was the casette that had been trapped in the player?

Mac Tonnies was obviously unique. I wish, well I am in the middle of the Binnall interview with him right now, but I think his voice offered unity and sanity in a time of schism and... strangeness? Something sorely needed and lacking in a lot of converations touching the 'crypto' arena.

Without a doubt you were blessed to know him. And we have been blessed to have heard his voice.

Your post is sincere, touching, perhaps even tender, and thought provoking. I am sure his book is as well.

Mike Clelland! said...

Reply to James:

No the DVD cassette was not stuck. I don't know what happened. There is a button you can push, and it ejects the cassette. But nobody was there to push it. It was the same noise. It just popped out (with a click noise) all by itself.

I was curious if there would be some mystical significance to the CD's that were stacked in the cassette. There were only two discs, one was the HAIRSPRAY soundtrack (the original movie), and the other was a punk-rock mix titled INSTANT GARAGE. No significance I can figure out.

ToothyGrinMatt said...

Mike : You go through a formal process(ritual?) and sit down to read Macs work and the very moment you begin to read the words, the cassette pops open.

If Mac was more technological than you, maybe the cassette represented a step up from a book. A humorous wink of sorts.

Books record an artists work as do cassettes. Now the humor may come in because why would Mac use outdated technology. Maybe because you do. He's speakin' your language but in that instance, still at least one step ahead technologically.

Just some thoughts.


ToothyGrinMatt said...

Waitaminute, I just reread that. It ejected the cd not a cassette?

Well, that's even better.

A greater technological jump, an even more humorous wink.

What were you talking about recently? Mac's laser pointer.

How cd's work : "The fundamental job of the CD player is to FOCUS THE LASER on the track of bumps"....



James said...

First let me apologize for the length of this comment. You may decide not to include... I came across an interesting post re the meaning of the UFO enigma that I think is useful to put alongside this ‘laser pointer’ idea of projection etc.

The article is from UFOMystic and is “UFO’s as Agents of Deconstruction” (http://www.ufomystic.com/2009/10/07/ufos-as-agents-of-deconstruction/).

I think I found this article by following links that originated on your site but I don’t think you have a direct link to this article.

A quote from the article:

“If there is an intelligence or intelligences behind the phenomenon, what it has been doing (probably for millenia) either looks like nonsense or some inscrutable attempt to change human thinking and perception. The very exposure to a UFO or occupant sighting is enough to rearrange one’s concepts of what is real, or even acceptable to our minds and senses. The issue of lasting physical or psychological changes was addressed by Jacques Vallee in his anomalies classification matrix (http://www.plim.org/2vallee.jpg) published in his 1990 Book Confrontations.

Interestingly he quotes a study involving the reading of Kafka to underline the idea he is making:

“An article by Benedict Carey ( http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/06/health/06mind.html?_r=4&8dpc)from the New York Times reports on research into seemingly nonsensical events and how they are useful in deconstructing our endless search for structure and meaning, injecting helpful doses of depatterning. Participants in a study were asked to read an absurdist short story by Franz Kafka and then given a test that analyzed their ability to find hidden patterns in strings of letters:

The test is a standard measure of what researchers call implicit learning: knowledge gained without awareness. The students had no idea what patterns their brain was sensing or how well they were performing.

But perform they did. They chose about 30 percent more of the letter strings, and were almost twice as accurate in their choices, than a comparison group of 20 students who had read a different short story, a coherent one.”

One of his last observations:

“Ostensibly, the UFO question is whether a non-human source is causing sightings, abductions, radar returns and flying saucer religions, but the intricacies of the problem impinge on so many other areas that we redefine them as well. Examples include reported physics of UFO movement, the question of cultural antecedents and perhaps how our society decides what is acceptable as serious study. That last one may be the most deconstructive effect of all. Changes in our mindset, and not any so-called “answers” may be the real reason behind the whole thing, or at least the most meaningful. There may indeed be “knowledge gained without awareness.””

If I can boil this down into a nutshell its that our focus has little or nothing to do with what is really going on. Rather the process it engenders is the real meaning of the phenomenon. The light in the sky, the dot from a laser pointer, an anomalous memory, are all triggers, catalysts, and the real measure and meaning of the phenomenon lies somewhere else, in the changes in our perceptions and expectations of what is real, what is meaningful, and what is possible. I know Mac, just from reading his site, would have been very sympathetic to this idea.

This game of ‘cat and mouse’ with the laser pointer has a mesmerizing quality for us as well as the cats. I have played the game with our cats too. There is something ‘strangely’ compelling in the game.

Last but not least... ToothyGrinMatt’s comment re the CD player and laser etc. seems to me, at first glance, to be one of those stretching the idea of ‘synchronicity’ beyond its breaking point. Still it caused me to wonder for a moment about the idea of projections, how music has that mesmerizing quality of the ‘cat and mouse’ game, what do I make of that?

Mike Clelland! said...


Note the UFOMystic link. GO to it and scroll down. Mac left a comment.

Mac Tonnies Says:
October 7th, 2009 at 2:08 pm

"I’d been contemplating writing a similar piece, but you beat me to the punch. Great job, Greg."

James said...

!!!!!!!! Well... I hadnt gotten to reading all the comments to this piece... It may have been a link from his site that led me there in the first place. Listening to his Binnall interview and his comments about Mars took me back to his site.

Still its a little weird. The post was fascinating. I have to admit the whole thing reminds me of that Sufi 'teaching story' about someone losing their keys.

They were looking hard for them under a streetlight and ran into somebody who of course asked them what they were doing. "I'm looking for my keys." The stranger asked the obvious, "You lost them near here?" The response was a bit ludicrous: "Well no... I lost them at home." "Why are you looking here?" "The light is so much better out here. I may never find them at home..." Well its my translation...


Red Pill Junkie said...

“UFO’s as Agents of Deconstruction” is one of the best UFO-related texts I read last year. Greg Bishop is IMO a rock star in the UFOlogy field —and as such, he's such a procrastinating bastard :-P

Anonymous said...

I noticed the window behind Mac (drinking espresso) says "Red Rock." Kinda coincides with the pictures of Utah etc.

It also reminded me of Eliot's The Wasteland (Come in under the shadow of this red rock) and then to Eliot's intense love of cats. And then Eliot was from St Louis just like William Burroughs... who also loved cats and once spent the night at Whitley Strieber's house. St. Louis also reminds me of Kansas City.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
~ The Four Quartets ~


Chris Butler said...

This was a great article, Mike. I'm really looking forward to seeing Cryptoterrestrials.

I had a few really bizarre synchronicities regarding Mac, too. Once, Mac had tweeted a funny pic of a display in Barnes & Noble of a shelf full of 2012 doomsday books. He was pointing to one in particular: Marie Jones'2 2013. When I saw that picture, I had that particular in my hands at that moment, boning up for an interview with Jones on our podcast. It was also the night that we had decided to finally end the podcast, and I was particularly disappointed because Mac was going to be our next guest and because our format was conversational, I think he seemed pretty psyched.

I still miss the conversations alot, and I don't think twitter, in particular, ever recovered.

Like you said, it seemed inevitable that at some point, we'd sit down at a table in meatspace and drink coffee. It was a kick in the stomach to learn the news. Mac is the only real transhumanist I've ever known.

Dennis Igou said...

I never had any personal affinities to Mac. However your dreamesque travel notes I feel closer to him and you. What fun knowing the dude and his speil. Thank you for your effort. Dennis

Kate Sherrod said...

Mike, this was a lovely post. I had a strange experience with my iPod and the George Noory interview as well. It was only days after the news that we'd lost Mac had surfaced, and I was on a road trip to my home town to get over the blow. I had forgotten that I had the recording on my iPod and on he came. I had to pull over because I was crying, but I was so proud of how wonderfully the interview had gone. I sat in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming and listened.

It was about an hour later, the home stretch of my trip. I turned off the interstate and onto the little two-lane highway that takes me to my old home town. My iPod had just punked me again with David Byrne/Brian Eno's "Everything That Happens," famous among us now as the last song Mac ever blipped. Tears pricked in my eyes again, but cleared up quickly -- there was a huge Mack truck (!) coming at me in my lane. I swerved into the other lane to miss, and it followed me; the same happened again. I remember thinking "Well, I guess I'm going to meet Mac after all". At the last possible minute, the driver looked up from his cell phone -- I think he had been texting -- and got back into his own lane.

It felt as though Mac himself had maybe yelled at the guy. I could just hear it in my mind's ear -- "hey, you jerk, you're about to kill my friend."

Maybe that's what happened, maybe it wasn't, but it's an experience I will take to my own grave.

I'm sipping espresso right now as I make this comment. I cannot look at a machine now without thinking of him and how much I, too, wanted to visit with him in a coffee shop someday and talk our strange sort of shop in person.

Anonymous said...

hello there thanks for your grat post, as usual ((o: