Serenity Now

I am occasionally reminded how tightly tied I am to things over which I have little to no understanding or control. Computers, financial markets, telecommunications hardware, and a score of other sub-headings which I am likely not even aware of.

And in that, I am probably not terribly dissimilar to people of times past. What real grasp of power & geopolitics did the victims of Genghis Khan have? The same level of seismic science possessed by the citizens of Pompeii. The same knowledge of history as teenage WWI army volunteers.

Still, it is at times like this, when watching my mouse float across the screen under the power of some Indian tech support functionary, I am made startlingly aware of how little I understand the devices that control many of my interactions with the world.

Worse, this realization is not accompanied by any resolve to educate myself on these topics. Human knowledge has grown ever more specialized, and knowing someone who has spent his life understanding computer science (and is still occasionally left in the dark), I am acutely aware of how fruitless such an ambition would be for me.

In the end, it all comes back to the serenity prayer. Accept what you must, change what you can, and try not to make the search for the difference drive you completely insane.

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Crossroads

It’s an odd place to be in. To have created some of the best works of your life, and to feel as if maybe, in that arena, that is the best you have to offer, and thus, there is no reason to keep going.

I feel like I have much left to give, but not necessarily in my traditional milieu, unless it’s in some collaborative capacity, in which I have shown a great deal of prowess lately, albeit with scattered bits & pieces from years past finally finding a home.

Is it enough just to create and document? Part of me says yes. Part of me says that if there is anything of value to impart to future generations, it will be carried to them by people who see the value and want to pass it on. But part of me knows that very often, that doesn’t happen. Self-promotion is an uncomfortable suit I must put on periodically, with no knowledge of how much good will come of it.

There is reward in the process itself. Yes. Often visceral, often strong, but almost always fleeting. And then there is also an entire section of my psyche that breathes an enormous sigh of relief in those rare moments when I allow myself to step outside of this creative framework I have built for myself. To create something that is not of that world.

I have watched this happen before. I have watched people at the peak of their powers let go of the sailing ship, the better to anchor somewhere that feels more like home. I have seen them reconnect with those powers at a later time, to find their shining moment in the sun gone forever. But it was never there. It was always out of reach, barring a capitulation to the sort of life that makes such things into careers. And yet, they are not sad. They know they have done their best. They have created and documented. I pass their triumphs on, as do others who know what they have discovered.

I did not understand it then, when first I saw it happen. But I did not know what was at stake. I did not understand the bargain. The trade. The choice that must be made. I have made it, and in the face of that decision, I play my cards as best I can to ensure that the best parts of me are put forth into the world in whatever form that will take. What little middle ground there is has been staked out, and I hover there while I can.

In the face of the fact that people are more important than works, what battle cry can compel me forward unto the breech? Time. Only time, to do what I can in all things while I breathe. Will I die unfulfilled, ultimately? No one can possibly know. But did I try? That is the only question anyone can ask. It is the only question remaining which I continue to apply, not just to myself, but to the world at large.

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The Voyage of Life, Part…

The darkness is not simply darkness.

Something moves in it.

I had cast off such notions at the tail end of my NYC experience, heaving a great sigh of despair and disappointment as I left behind the assumptions and ideas of my youth and early adulthood.

It nearly killed me.

But there is a place, a spot so remote on the map that it is difficult even to make the phone company acknowledge its existence, that keeps drawing me back. A place I have experienced trauma not once, but twice.

And now, I am moving there.

I’m not talking about a city, or even a town. I’m talking about a two-block radius. And already it threatens me with fears of isolation and unnameable anxiety.

Why on earth would I move there?

One word: Sacrifice.

Though I did not know it at the time I agreed to the move, this was to come down to a potential choice between my comfort and my son’s. I hope that I have proven myself a good father by selecting the latter. I hope also that I have not unsettled myself so much in the process that I will become a burden to him.

Such a delicate thing a psyche can be. I fret about the boy idolizing tough guys & villains, and yet some part of me also takes a bit of comfort in the fact that his heroes are not as breakable as mine.

Though not intentionally, it is possible that at some level I avoided immersing him in the idealistic end of the children’s television pool. I was a child of the ‘70s, of course, when the do-gooders had found refuge on the public airwaves. Mister Rogers, Jim Henson, Bob Ross, Carl Sagan, yea even Bill Cosby all did their best to make a peaceful man of me.

The fact that it worked in my case but not for so many of my generation likely speaks more of me and my family than of the zeitgeist of that age. But from early on, my boy never showed an inclination towards the sentimental side. He has always been a pragmatist, eyeing the world suspiciously even as a dubious infant. In my choices of programming for him, I have most often followed his lead, which tends to be in the direction of wall-smashing superheroes and black-&-white dilemmas. Who’s on whose team, and which is the strongest, these are the primary questions he wants answered. Most of all, he just wants answers, which are things I am increasingly disinclined to hope for. I offer shades of gray, and the dubious frown returns.

I was, and am, a painfully empathetic person. The suffering of others distresses me to the point that I block it out. I fear that in some ways I have systematically dulled my empathy to save myself. Once particularly on those two blocks mentioned earlier. And yet here I am, deferring my comfort in the hope that he will find greater happiness than he would elsewhere.

Something moves in the darkness. It always has. I do not know what it is or what it intends. I do not know if it is good or evil. I have no way to prove its nature or its existence. Therefore I do not know if I should hope it knows what it’s doing.

In times past, I spoke with it. Or with something. It seemed to hear me. Perhaps I made deals, agreements now unbreakable even with a greater understanding of their import. Perhaps all I did was talk to myself. But I don’t think so. I also don’t know so. Answers, as I say, are not forthcoming, nor do I expect them to appear anytime soon. If ever.

I have proclaimed aloud to the empty air that I do not make bargains, at least not any longer. With coins airborne above fountains, I have said only that I wish for my son to have a happy life. I know too much and too little about the world to get any more specific.

Nightmares, recurrent fears…are they premonitions? Or simply the lizard-brain reaction to passages in books and movie images that cannot be unseen? I refuse to ask, lest the darkness answer me.

And yet I, too, want answers. In spite of myself. We all do, or think so. Which of us could truly stand to know what our final moments will be? Or when? Would it change anything we did in the meantime? My continual assumption of the worst has certainly hastened my creative activities in recent years, after glimpsing the faintest hint of helplessness and oblivion. But to truly know…that way lies madness.

But there is madness in uncertainty as well. Thomas Cole’s third Voyage of Life painting depicts the terror of being caught in life’s current, buffeted by waves and careening into rocks, any one of which could sink the passenger before he reaches that last, graceful frame. Death is everywhere and nowhere, so long as we know not when or where it lies.

I do not know what it is that waits in the darkness. None of us do. But I am increasingly convinced it is there. Whether for good or ill, it is possible that the day comes for everyone when they meet it. I for one do not claim to know what that would mean for me.

My eyes are open. My feet are moving. Grasp the gunwales. We float, on.

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Exile

Cliches are well-trodden for a reason. Though the hoary old tale of the writer who shuts himself up in a country cabin may seem but a ploy to tickle journalistic fancies, it can also just be a damned good idea.

Thus I return, not to the land of my fathers, but to that of my fathers’ fathers, in the dusty scrub of west Texas. A muse has chased me out here on a mission of its own designs, and I have been given leave to comply, come what may. The novella which has tapped steadily at the back of my brain for the last five years has at last been completed, and I hope it may soon find publication.

On its heels is another story which will take more time in the telling, and in what format I am uncertain. But the piece of myself that has been missing, the space into which my mind goes as I compose an account of events that never occurred, has been restored. It’s hard to say how long it’s been since I last entered that sphere, but I am gratified to find it right more or less where I left it.

Spring in these parts comes and goes without much notice. The brown of winter is briefly replaced with patches of green, which even now are resolving to the brown of summer. Visitors are few, and generally arrive on more than two legs. Twisted cedars frame the edges of the night sky, like an analog Instagram photo. A crude simile, far from Walden Pond, but such is the age in which we live.

Above all, it is quiet. For a former urbanite, sometimes alarmingly so. I know intellectually that the world over, humans clatter along in their noisy way, bulldozing the past to create a future which lasts only as long as it takes the next bulldozer to arrive. But the horizon here shows no sign of encroachment, except perhaps from the point of view of my animal neighbors. A human has come to live among them. They eye me curiously, and have for the moment determined that I am benign. They may be right. And that is what I have come out here to discover.

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Me and H.P., Part Two

Evidence is a confusing thing. Me and H.P. know that well.

Faced with broad public indifference and limited fan retention, an artist might decide that what he is doing is not up to snuff for the long haul.

But based on what we know about art in the long haul, that judgment could just as easily be false. A large number of artists remain obscure until their deaths, and their works live on far longer than those of their contemporaries who were more popular during their lives.

We also know that sometimes an artist does not find their proper milieu until after years of chasing down wrong paths. H.P. Lovecraft, for example, focused on ineffectual verse for most of his life before discovering that prose was his true means of expression.

To complicate matters, I have online followers who have never bought anything I’ve created. If one is popular for the things that one says, but not for the art that one produces, perhaps a change of direction is warranted. Or perhaps an augementation of focus.

This is difficult to do, however, when the art has turned into the sole means of income. I sought this career path in the midst of clinical anxiety and depression, hoping to find paying creative work that would keep me from going insane. It’s still a work in progress, of course, but the farther I go down the original creative route I’ve been charting all these years, the returns have not increased substantially.

And yet I have works yet unreleased whose quality I don’t question, and the only way to get them out is to apply the time available to me when I don’t work meaningless dayjobs 40 hours a week. I don’t feel I can move on to the projects that are less certain until I make sure I’ve gotten the best of my current incarnation out into the world. And that will take some time.

Some of it is time allotment. I used to work later into the night on things rather than unwind with a movie, but that left me sleepless very often as well. A year of self-employment has put me in danger of taking for granted the very fact that I can work on these things instead of finding instant gratification the “normal” ways.

But I have to relax sometime. I tried running 24/7 the first couple of months on my own, and it was plainly unsustainable. Especially when the result of the work is uncertain.

And that’s really the crux. I spent so much time on the first installments of my work, and then upon release, got a lot of enthusiasm, but almost no money. The completion of the projects just doesn’t seem as urgent to me as it did when I believed they would be my sustaining income.

Which brings us to another Lovecraft parallel. After his best work was rejected numerous times, he lost the will to create. I am experiencing a similar conundrum. What’s it for? Posterity, I suppose, but I have to live this life now. Shall I pour all my energies into things which will not bear fruit until I’m no longer around? Perhaps that will be good for my son, but I’m not sure if it’s enough for me.

But if not, then what? Back to the office? Back to mind-deadening tedium? That brings me no closer to my goals either.

I won’t get my ideal situation, which is to take some time off from my current projects and work on the new ideas I’ve got percolating. For all I know, those are the things that will finally bring the best of me out. Perhaps the indifference I’m hearing is justified because I haven’t found my true voice.

Or maybe that voice is speaking right now to ears that won’t hear it until my death has convinced them of my artistic worthiness. Worse, maybe the most receptive ears haven’t even been born yet.

But of course that’s a convenient theory for many artists to explain away their lack of success. Sometimes the truth is far more simple: Close, no cigar.

In any case, what does it mean for me? I’m not really sure. But it worries me.

“It takes a worried man to sing a worried song
I’m worried now, but I won’t be for long…”

- A Worried Man (traditional)

“Could have given up so easily
I was a few cheap shots away from the end of me
Taken for granted
most everything
that I would have died for
Just yesterday…”

- Paramore, Looking Up

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Me and H.P.

Been reading an H.P. Lovecraft bio, and I find that we have a great deal in common when it comes to our aesthetic philosophy and tendencies.

One thing that caught my attention is his attitude towards realism in fiction. His contention is that reality should be the province of philosophers, and that fiction should strive to provide a world that reality does not provide us unfortunate mortals. I’m increasingly drawn to this conclusion myself. Reality does not become more engaging upon closer examination, in my experience. It loses its luster quickly, and the sparkle cannot return.

Perhaps it’s time to put this theory to the test in my own creative work. I’ve spent most of my career focusing on the examination of reality. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with me these days.

On to other worlds?

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M.O.

There are two ways of gaining a group of like-minded friends. One is to seek them out. The other is to alienate everyone else. I’ve been doing both for many years. Wondering if number two is necessary to achieve number one.

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Well…

…I let you in, now where did you go?

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Okay…

…you can come in. Even if I’m not entirely sure who you are.

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Relapsing

Reports of my demise may or may not be substantiated here at a later date. Haven’t given up yet.

Although I will say that I will go to my grave without understanding the popularity of the mediocre arts. People are horrible.

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