Friday, December 30, 2016

Jared's Best Man Speech

In honor of my friend Jared getting married today, I wanted to say a few words on his behalf. The below is a transcript of what I will say at his reception: 

Thank you all for coming today. My name is Stuart, the Best Man, and I wanted to take some time to talk about Jared for a moment.

Some of you might know Jared through Julie, or know him as a friend, co-worker, son, or colleague. I know Jared as a friend. We lived together in college for about a year and I had no idea that I would still know him almost ten years later. I have many stories about Jared, but one of them stands out. I had just moved in with him and was still feeling out my roommates for their quirks and oddities. Jared was the guy that came home late with other women, not to sleep with them mind you, but to do far less raucous things like cuddle and play boardgames. But I sat Jared down and talked to him explaining that what we did at the apartment, which was a complex in Isla Vista leased to exclusively members of Campus Crusade, was sacred. We were out on display for the world to see and I wanted to hold him accountable. To my incredible surprise, Jared listened. He heard me out. And we built on that moment a mutual, sacred trust that has sharped us together, perhaps like iron on iron, or something like that…


We are all told that we are special. That we can do anything. I don’t really believe that now that I’m older, but Jared is one of those people to watch because he is destined for great things. His career as a writer and teacher are already in their infancy and he has distinguished himself as top of his class, par excellence, with his colleagues and fellow members of the Academy. Why? Because Jared is a magnate for discussion, someone that people naturally gather to because they see in him something wonderful and special. He challenges us by his example to question our beliefs and follow in the footsteps of Socratic liberal education, that we may think critically about the information that vies for our affections in a world of increasing ambiguity and obfuscation. And incredibly, as much as Jared challenges us and helps to mold us, the teacher that he is, there is Julie that has drawn Jared to herself. You see, if you knew Jared, you would know his aloof spirit as well as me. “Bear-bear” is always on the run, unmoored by his years of growing up across the oceans in the jungles of Indonesia and urban China. But he has finally, at long last, found someone to tie him down in the boudoir and write a new story about a man and a woman finding each other, seemingly from opposite ends of the world, and starting another generation of rootin-tooting, suspiciously hairy, crawdad catching, Whites.     

  

Friday, December 23, 2016

Four Letter Words

I read lots of posts from various outlets where writers disdain over the chance encounters they have with their family members during the holidays. Usually there’s some mention of a hometown acquaintance, some remnant of pre-adult life that reminds us of the inner-kid (not the good kind that reminds us of innocence and purity but from the harrowing experiences of LIFE). For me it’s the reminder that my family has yet to understand what I do for a living.

I write books and try to understand the nuances of my craft. I try to read books that have things written in them, usually good things, smart things. Who knows? One thing that my mom seems to take issue with is the use of pejorative language, or what she coins as pejorative. (After all language is first experienced by someone, then uttered with some implicit use. (The meaning coming after the experience.) Language evolves and changes. I remember the arguments I had when I was 7 years old about how saying something “sucked” was accurate, that the use of the adjective was justified in whatever prepubescent connotation. Now it seems moot to discuss the worthy use of the four letter words like “fuck” or “shit,” which draw their ire from both social associations and linguistic characteristics that typify them as “harsh” and “dissonant.” (Maybe I’m just writing an angry blog about being slighted? That could also be just as valid.) Anyways, the fact that we are so distracted by language’s oblique usage is frustrating. It illustrates just how chained we are to old paradigms of language and how narrow our views of history are.

My struggle is coming home to encounter another world, one that is disparate from my own. My parents grew up in the midst of great cultural movements of enlightenment. The free-love movement was in full swing, the civil rights movement was being established and validated after decades of disenfranchisement. And yet despite all this, my progenitors have succumbed to the malaise of the 80s and 90s, eschewing the zeitgeist of progressivism for complacency and comfort.


I have the benefit of being born after their confusing and trying upbringing, but I am likely blinded by my own trials prominent in the digital age of misinformation and alt-truth. The adage that we must reference historical setbacks, lest we be doomed to repeat it, is true and valid. I pray and hope that I carry the torch forward with the required bravery to ensure that future generations are spared. Then again that could be wishful thinking. We are possessed by a condition of sinfulness that transcends human history. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Mass Turquoise the Size of the Sea

It's been a very long time since I've done this: write something set to music. I have trouble concentrating without some kind of white noise in the background. This morning while I was writing my book I decided to give it another shot. The following was inspired by Nick Johnson's Latest Album Remarkably Human. Please go and support it. Buy it. Its a phenomenal piece of  progressive instrumental work that has a thematic flow to it. See below for the title track from the album.



In the sea there is a vibrating stone.

I'd seen it as a child, at the beach where my parents were born. In the early morning, when the sand is a pale grey, I would walk out and see it. It would haunt and hover over the waters like a solitary spirit. The hide was leathery like a sea tortoise, ribbed with smooth stone-like mounds the size of seashells. There are no eyes, mouth, anything distinctly denoting an animal or otherwise. But there was a sentience burdening the creature.
I told my therapist a year or two ago that when I saw the creature I never fully convinced myself that it was from another world, that it was some creature come from distant worlds to make contact with another race. It was from Earth, from the waters. I knew it. Standing by the water, I saw that it would try to speak to me on the winds. Whispers and sighs hanging on the air like the flapping wings of a seagull.
Now that I’m older, I’ve come back to the shore hoping to see the creature again. It’s been 40 years since I last saw it. But I’ve lost hope. That’s what happens when we grow older. The wonders of the world diminish and what impressed and amazed slowly becomes rote and familiar, like waves eroding at the proud cliffs above the beachhead. It all comes crashing down as year after year disappointment and reality sets in. My faith in the creature, whatever it was, has waned too much. And it won’t come back for me, take me away from this place that I loathe, that I desire to escape. Take me to the depths, underneath the waves to the center of the earth!
I remember the time when I was 8 years old. I was running on the beach. Once, it was early in the morning. I had gotten up to see the stone that hung in the air. It was floating close to the waves, sprayed with white foam. Birds of the air had gathered on it. Pecking its hide for parasites and other food. I approached, wading in the frigid waters up to my waist. The stinging cold hardly dissuaded me, soaking me to the bone through my pajamas. I reached up and touched it, the stone. A fire burned in it, a warmth that I cannot, to this day, describe rightly. A primal passion of the world, of life in all its wide spectrum, for all history. I wanted to be with it, to love it, to never let go. The creature vibrated at different frequencies attempting to communicate to me something deeper than any philosopher had ever spoken, but it was all lost on me. The creature lifted higher, beyond my reach, and flew away. I wept in the water. I didn’t want it to go. It left and I never saw it again.
I take my family to the same beach now that I’m older. There’s a campsite above it and a trail that runs down to the waters. Sandstone, so brittle and fragile, makes it easy to descend. Easy enough for a child. My son is old enough now to understand the beyond things, and I wonder if the creature has appeared to him yet. But now I can see it in his eyes: the unsettling realization of otherness. One year I resolved to stay up the entire night to watch him. I hid waiting in the darkness sipping coffee, watching my breath steam in the cold night. My son got up once, about 3 AM. I followed him down to the beach, and watched him wait, looking disappointed.
I realized, grasping part of the railing leading down to the beach, that in my selfishness I had deprived my own son of another moment of magic. So I turned around and walked back. It wasn’t until I was back to my tent when I heard my son speaking on the winds. I closed my eyes and began to sob quietly. That night I got little sleep.
It's so clear in my mind, the massive shape of turquoise like a wall of sound, a ward against suffering and discomfort and confusion. As I reflect on it, I grow less certain if I ever knew what it was: the consequence of age, really. Memory is so unreliable. “It must represent some trauma from your youth,” my therapist told me in a session recently. Frankly, she doesn’t understand why I keep bringing it up. She looks at me like I’m crazy sometimes. She doesn’t understand.
I asked for my inheritance early from my father so I could buy a house on the beach last month. Construction on the plot of land begins in two months. I think my wife suspects something but she remains quiet.
As I grow older I’ve considered that the blue-grey mass represents death. The impregnable vale of the unknown. The creature accepted me once, and thoughts of suicide made me consider that I could see it again. Not even the love of my son can hold me back. I must know! I must know…
It’s okay, it’s okay.
Everything will be okay.
The mass is waiting for me, and it will take me away from all of this.
It will vibrate me away, back into the sea, subsumed into the turquoise.

 Everything will be okay, again.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Being Naïve and the Consequences Thereof


 I am a very gullible person by nature. Chances are, if you have met me in person, you have told me something that I had willfully believed without question, or sarcastically made a comment that I mistook for truth. As I get older, the façade of how I perceived the world to be gradually falls away like rusty scales or a deteriorating shingles from a Victorian rooftop. The process, ongoing, brings mixed emotions, some of anger and disillusionment, others of genuine joy and gratitude for my aptitude to learn.
                That’s my most common pastime these days, learning. My wife and I like going to used bookstore and buying esoteric titles. The illusion that they are used and, therefore, inexpensive has set us back several hundred dollars, and produced only an overflowing bookshelf. (I should actually say, “myself.” I’m the one that buys all of them.) Learning is protection in a world of post-modern, post-truth, post-humanity. The act of filling up with knowledge gives me support, a feeling of protection from being exploited by those that are stronger than myself.
                As I said before, I’m naïve. It has caused me lots of grief in my life to be behind, to be told that I was stupid, that I was below average. While my contemporaries in grade school were being advanced through government funded programs for the gifted, I was a year older than all of them but considerably more dull, I was told. I tested twice to enter the GATE program, each time taking logic tests and solving puzzles to approximate my IQ. I somehow managed to keep up, in a system designed to disenfranchise me and others like me that didn’t excel at curriculums structured around boosting state testing scores.
                In AP courses, and parts of college, I did better. Marginally better. I held my own and passed with satisfactory marks, excelling at English. But I didn’t appreciate scholarship for what it was and what it was meant to be. That came after.
                I was in an internship for my church. I told myself that I wanted to be a pastor of the Reformed tradition. So I read, and read, and read. I was reading two books a month, sometimes three. During the fruitless process I learned to absorb knowledge in a way that I had never considered ever in my life. I was driven, and motivated, by a powerful inclination to understand every facet and argument as it applied to the Christian faith. When I became disinterested in becoming a pastor, receiving confirmation from both myself and others that I didn’t possess the proper gifting, my reading proficiency translated to my hobbies.
                But as I read, as I ran from my naiveté, I became unhappy. An aside: one of the prerequisites to being an author is being able to see whole worlds, see how they are made, what they are made of, what people populate them, what histories turn them. My own conception of reality, of the world at present, I breathed it in, and in my eyes began to see through the cracks of our humanity. I grew angry. I am angry that we would be so blind to the forces that press the world forward, and contend ourselves to glut on petty things.
                (Knowledge brings sadness and sobriety to a repugnant world filled with disappointment. Perhaps this is why the Apostle Paul once said “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” My vision is bleak, yes. But it is true and I have the courage to see it for what it is.)
                And yet learning, for what it is, has breathed life into every facet of society since man could reason. There are some admirably and qualitatively “good” things to arise out of education: public sanitation, for instance. A means to wipe and flush, washing ourselves of excrement. This, and many other technologies, distract ourselves from our true natures.
                But I digress. I am still naïve, despite what I’ve learned. It brings clarity to Socrates’ certainty of uncertainty, something that I can appreciate as I stave off my descending spiral into nihilism. Learning has made my life more rich and, myself, a better author, but at the cost of my ignorance, which I consider a worthy trade, despite the sadness it brings to me on occasion. I can scarcely describe the wonder I feel when I read about the exploits of the Romans or experience the mystery of existential comicbooks. The history of medieval Europe, the language of the Norsemen, their epics and traditions, expanded my understanding of what it means to be human. And, in all this, I am somehow a Christian, experiencing the already-but-not-yet Kingdom of Heaven.
                Being naïve has tainted my interactions with others. It’s difficult for me to feel comfortable and at home in a situation because I have been taken advantage of many times for my goodwill and belief in the inherent goodness of others. There are few people I can feel like being myself with, one of them being my good friend Desmond, a fellow scholar of erudite wisdom. When we talk, everything comes forth, like a dam bursting with thoughts and ideas. Our rank commentary, foul words, bring great joy to us, dethroning the world in absurdity like a Samuel Beckett play. My love for him transcends fraternal bonds.
                There is always hope. The washing and cleansing of disappointment helps. It’s good to get things out on “paper” and talk about what we struggle with. I do this occasionally, so forgive my rambling. Some of the books I purchased this weekend are as follows, in case you wondered:

Foucault’s Pendulum and Misreadings by Umberto Eco
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
Odd and the Frost Giants and Signal to Noise by Neil Gaiman (the latter illustrated by Dave Mckean)

Stay dry out there.


XOX

Sunday, November 20, 2016

I Don't Get Snapchat

I only just realized that the Snapchat icon is the weirdest fucking icon I have ever seen. And because I've been really productive this weekend, I decided to draw some things that I seen in my head when I think of Snapchat.

First, an amicable ghost. Mine looks terrified. 

I thought this was a given: the Eternal Lord of Chaos, Cthulhu. Isn't he frightening?


An overweight man riding a cow through a tunnel! Why not?



Lastly two old men back-to-back. They could be doing anything. Preparing for a duel, ascending a chasm, lying in bed distantly preoccupied. Let your mind go wild! 

Also, I bought the first season of Megas XLR, only available via Itunes (and in SD). I tweeted the creator my desire to see it available in HD, so I did my part. If the name sounds unfamiliar, take the time to go watch it. It's hilarious!

XOX


Monday, November 14, 2016

SJWs, Freedom of Speech, and The Revelation of St. John

Second attempt today writing. Here. We. Go!

My friend Trey pointed out earlier this week that my initials spell S.J.W. This is incidental because I also happened to rain on everyone’s parade growing up. I was at the epicenter of the phrase’s inception back in 2014, when I was at Sequart Organization. (At least it was brought to my attention / I noticed it, and others making a scene about it.) SJW stands for “social justice warrior,” a pejorative word that typically hyperbolizes a liberal minded person that takes a stand on a number of social issues, to the effect of making others very aware of systemic disenfranchisement of minorities and the LGTBQ community. My careful wording of this implies that, while I cringe at the small proportion of the general population that such a label applies to, I do not enjoy the term, its use, and practice. It’s very misleading. It supposes that someone who wants to be a part of something but is denied entry to that subculture / practice and voices their very reasonable concern for not gaining entry has sinister motives for doing so.
                As a white male I have yet to assess my privilege. (Many online surveys I have taken suggest it to be “Moderate to High”.) I have been told that it is “very good.” But the issue I have with SJWs is the impact they have on a very moderate population of women and minorities that are trying to be accepted into the fold of popular entertainment. In order to pave the way for change, an open dialogue has to be made with the opposing side. Empathy, to understand the impact that disenfranchisement has on the Other, is key. This is what was revealed in Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s doll experiments during the Civil Rights case, Brown Vs Board of Education. The arguments I’ve seen thus far are artificially divisive where each side regurgitates the company line like a 14 year old using their parent’s arguments for why abortion is right / wrong. I recall one article a colleague of mine wrote where he attempted to engage in dialogue with an Anita Sarkeesian harasser, to no avail. Note: there is no intelligent repartee between Marc and his specimen, just an oddly robotic dialogue.
                The controversy (still ongoing, last time I checked) generally positions one in the camp of Sarkeesian’s following, because who wants to side with misogynistic near-rapists? This is frustrating because there could be something intelligent to say on behalf of the often paranoid doomsayers. There is a real problem today with the creation of safe-spaces at universities, the unchecked postmodern deconstruction of institutions, and the growing sentiment of nihilism, which, in turn, produces similar soldiers that one could term “SJWs.” I was once told by Julian Darius that for every Ku Klux Klan parade held, there is a line of Jewish and Black lawyers willing to defend the KKK’s right to assembly and freedom of speech. To censure a hate group is still censure. America is great because people get to have an opinion, even if it is really fucking stupid, still many college professors have been incorrectly coined racists and bigots because of their failed attempts to explain this caveat to their students. Freedom of speech extends to all, including the multinational corporations that own the tights that Superman wears. People have every right to stop buying comics, organize protests, and initiate and dialogue between the other side. They do not have the right to harass and emotionally harm another person because they believe something different. It’s a two way street people!
                My milquetoast rallying cry to moderation could be extended to many dialogues, including our own recent presidential race. I don’t think for a moment that Trump has anything to offer America, or her people. He is Satan. (Owning most if not all of the biblical titles.) It’s possible that we could have avoided Trump by having these conversations on consensus, say, thirty years ago, but here we are. Now we have to make the best of 2017, which I have money on being an amped up iteration of the Apostle John’s Vision of Revelation.
                I’ve made it a goal to hear someone out this year and next, regardless of their position on life. This is my resolution for the new year. I hope it can be yours too.



XOX

Monday, November 7, 2016

Thoughts on Conservatism and Progressivism

I’ve been reading a new book called Does God Make a Difference? Taking Religion Seriously in our Schools and Universities. Though I’m only halfway through, the message is rather inspiring for the advancement of liberal free education. Initially when I started the book, I was confronted with reservations about Nord’s thesis that religion needs to be taught as live, viable options to cultivate a comprehensive understanding of worldviews around the world.  The book was spurred on by the secularization thesis, which was posited during the 60s, that eventually the idea of “God” would become marginalized to the point of irrelevance. Nord’s thesis contends that the secularization hypothesis has been thoroughly nullified due to the increase in spirituality around the world. You might have noticed my use of the word “liberal free” education. This is in reference to Nord’s distinguishing between two schools of thought that provide the backbone of western education: Liberal Arts education and Liberal Free education.  The two schools underscore the advancement of what we would recognize today as progressive and conservative arts education. Isocrates (I believe this is the man Nord references, though I have had some beers and the book is still at the office) understood the importance of classics and their value to education. This would be reflected in earlier schooling models when students would learn Greek and Latin, girding their education with the cornerstones of Western philosophy and epistemology.  (It would be akin to studying drama and emphasizing the importance of classical acting methodology, replete with Shakespeare and Greek classics over more modern, experimental acting models like method acting.) Liberal Free, the second of the two is emphasized by Socrates, who argued that uncertainty in self-knowledge compels the individual to continually learn and reform their education; hence the progressive tone.  
                All this talk in Nord’s book got me thinking about the difference in conservatism and progressivism.
                The US election this year is very chaotic. Much of the conflict has been poured out on the existential meaning of America. (As in the 50 territories that constitute the United States of America.) The two party system, a broken system in my opinion, has created a cultural divide across the US between two very unrealistic extremes: Conservatism and Progressivism. There are many touting the return to a greatness of America. This is vague and needs definition. What made America great exactly? America is the product of political experimentation. It is constantly changing, reforming to compliment the current state of affairs. The contrarian voice in this is that of Progressivism, which was the zeitgeist of the 1890’s to the 1910s. Teddy Roosevelt ran on a platform of social reform to improve the quality of American lives in the workplace and at home, and bolstered America’s presence on the world scale. (By invading Cuba and building the Panama Canal.) Progressivism works by momentum. (America was sick of the rampant political corruption of the post-Civil War period.) Consequently, it is paralyzed by inactivity and the quagmire of modern American politics. Progressivism only works so far as the freshness of its ideals. Progressivism and Conservatism both lack a full solution to social and political issues in the modern day.
                I covet my identity as a political moderate. I think that it helps me see with steady eyes. When the past is worshiped with such ferocity, impregnated with nostalgic pandering, we are waging a hopeless battle to live in the past and not be forward thinking and anticipatory. It is better to understand the past so that it will inform our future. There are great lessons to learn from classical literature. The foundation of Western Civilization is important and the specters of Classical Learning still haunt us. There is value in understanding where we come from. Humanity is static in its desires. We really haven’t changed much in the last 10,000 years. Men and Women to this day love and kill. They are proud and arrogant. They fight for what they love and appeal to others to join them on crusades against enemies real and ideological. There is still plenty to encounter there.
                My only issue with those that keep looking forward is that they unfairly caricature the past. Fresh ideas promise change but have no baseline to test against. There is also an assumption of positivism, that progressivism is fundamentally idealistic. Idealism lays the path for change, but it does not establish it. Establishing change requires brokering deals and compromise. Change also takes time and thoughtful execution. I am not surprised at all that Obama Care did not do what it intended. A government funded health plan works only so much as the people are willing to pay into it and our reticence to adopt a Northern European healthcare model underscores the painful reality that our economy thrives on selfishness. Consequently, we are also not Northern Europeans, or possess the requisite cultural beliefs that are unique to their Socialist States. Perhaps a slow, continual movement towards that ideology would bring more fruitful changes?
                I am not convinced that voting for Hilary Clinton will bring about the revolutionary Golden Age that we envision. Every hopeful presidency begins with the promise of some form of political activism or Executive strong-arming. But I am certain that voting for Trump will usher in a dangerous new era of politics that will not overthrow the free world, to the extent predicted by the Huffington Post-esque outlets, but initiate a steady erosion of our already waning power. The line between conservatism and progressivism is now thin and collapsing due to the decrease in election ethics of either side. That is what I’ve noticed. Now, each side is an extreme and their proponents, extremists. Our only hope is a return to the fold of reasonable discussion. I would encourage my readers to read the news of foreign nations to gain a holistic and outside perspective of our country’s shenanigans. Even if the news is churned out by propagandists, supposing that we as readers have the acumen for sorting out truth from fiction, it is all worthwhile to ingest, even if we have to hold our noses. Food for thought.  
                Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to read up what I’m going to vote on tomorrow.



XOX

Monday, October 31, 2016

Tales of Horror: The Dark Man


When I was a boy there was a black man that I would see. Out of the corner of my mind, hidden behind trees and corners. He was there in my house, in my life. I would hear him walking up the steps of my father’s house in the dead of night. And I would hide under the covers. I would see him in my dreams. The choker, one that would suffocate me with a stare.
                This man was not black, as in African American, or even a man at all. I should actually refer to him as The Dark Man, because his purposes for me were never clear, but always hidden. I would lie awake at night. I would pray that he would go away. But I would feel my body run cold, even if the blankets were warm. Even now as a man I wrap my arms around me, as if by instinct, grounded by the child-like belief that mere covers could save me from a being dark, ancient, and powerful. How would you know this, some have asked me. I know because it told me so. This dark man was a demon. One that haunted me in the night, a taunting dream that would lie in bed with me, whisper threatening lies in my ears. Words without a voice, ones that echoed in my empty unoccupied mind.  Many of you don’t believe in demons, or manifestations of evil. They are the guilty conscience that hangs over us like dark clouds in the sky, most say. Until this night, I’ve never written about the dark man. I was always afraid of him coming back. I have a family now. Lord forgive me if I were to invite such a thing back into my life. But now that the light is with me, the dark man comes back less and less. The dreams are less real now. If he ever came back, it would never be the same.
                There was a night in July, when I was 10 years old. I had recently come home from an informal reunion in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, where the hills are made of gold and from the earth pours wine. The specters of long dead miners and Chinese rail workers haunted the hills, their legacy paved over with boutiques and high class restaurants. I was lying in my bed at home, my brother sleeping soundly next to me. The Dark Man was there. The night light did not flicker. The air was not frosty or cold. There was no ghostly herald or cultic preamble in cartoonish languages. He was there, lying next to me, heaving rattling, emphysemic  breaths. And what I remember, so clearly, so unequivocally, its words. “Ahh… don’t be like that.”
                I froze. I wanted to cry.
                It rolled over me, on top on me. Every muscle tensed on my body.
                My eyes closed tight, he told me a little about himself.     
                “I’ve been alone, so alone. Sentenced to the depths of Hell, without respite and closure, a soul that asks on those passing through what came of their legacy of my life. I owned a house at once, hidden away in the forests of Bavaria. I had a cart and some sheep, my small cottage. I lived alone, skinning and tanning pelts under a cold distant sun that would pierce the canopies of my grove with shafts of goodness finding me in the depths of my loneliness.
                “A woman, young with fair skin and supple breasts, with fiery red hair and green eyes would come to me, and only me, to sell milk and bread once a month. We would talk for a few hours. I would pay her a little extra for her services and she would go her way. With longing eyes she would look back, but they hid her pity well. Pity for an old man of the forest that knew no one, and none knew him.
                “The clearings would keep the time of year, shading the earth with autumnal foliage or the colorful levity of spring. I would watch through my window built of fine glass that I found on a wrecked carriage near the road overlooking Berchtesgaden. The grass would bend under the weight of the snow, and every morning I would see the tracks of lesser creatures foraging in the night. A fire lit in the corner I made to remind me of older days, when I knew my son, and when he knew me.”
                The creature reached out to me, forcing me to see through its eyes. I shook my head but I was still. I cried out to shout but I was made silent… 
                I saw the old man walking through the clearing, looking with tired lonely eyes at the rabbits. He would lift his hunting bow, aim, and collect his kill. Rabbit stew every night, always. Stringy morsels seasoned with crushed black pepper and salt from the mines near town.
                Again the woman would come on the months end. He would sleep with her, collect her salt, and she would leave without tasting the rabbit he caught.
                “I was unremarkable in death as I was in life, a simple soul with simple needs. When you see me in your dreams, I will suffocate you! Look into my eyes.” I didn’t need to see them again, because I had seen them many times before in my restless nights. Dreaming of dark rings housing sinister, cruel eyes.
“I was not always like this. All souls fall from paradise to the crags of perdition, marred by the tumultuous journey down, striking the rocks of the interior creation, the space between worlds where those long created before man dare to walk. One day, while seeing to my sheep, I looked up from my toil and, across the clearing, a young man with calloused hands and wiry beard watched me. The face so familiar, so precious, masked by the pain of a life bereft of paternal care, I beheld my lost son.
                “That is how all good things start, with such energy that prolongs the period of good feelings. Together we built another room on the cottage. We cut lumber together, sawing with dull tools and fastening with rusty nails. Many times I fell to my knees in exhaustion, no longer young, but my son continued. I saw to it that he was well fed, and inside a feeling, a forgotten sensation of affection warmed me better than my cottage fire. My son, he should stay longer he said, as the snow will fall again and the leaves are withered and falling once more. And with bitter tears I cried aloud ‘I’m sorry, Hanz! I’m sorry for your mother, for everything.’”
                The Dark Man forced its hand across my face. I felt nothing but its emptiness. I squinted under what felt like a hundred pounds of pressure. And it showed me more…              
The woman returned after the snow melted, late but she came eventually in the summer months, driving a cart up the shadowed trail to the cottage. She was weak also, and when he saw her, he saw the rotund belly swathed in red cloth, a leather corset crudely cut in half with a cutlass holding up her bountiful breasts. He knew what it meant and said nothing. In her hands she took his, holding them up to her face. She smiled and told him that she would need another room to stay. He laughed, uncertain of what to say or do. And what was there to say? Long ago, as a young man he remembered the feelings, the prelude to excitement and fear, of anticipation and anxiousness. He thought shallowly then, considering that he would have to go into town to buy milk and bread from then on. Utility possessed him, purpose filled his lungs with the damp air of the forest floor. Across the field, the son came out of the forest carrying over his shoulders pails of water to run the new forge. The father, he looked at his son befuddled and the son nervously beheld the woman.
                “The cottage grew over the winter. That was an early snow. Father and son digging in the ice while she waits inside; we prepared for the long season. I knew that soon the child would come. I did not see her watching through the window. Sweat in the cold winter air steaming off both our backs. We gripped our shovels tightly, revealing our strong rope-like arms. Both tawny, but strong. She coveted him, watching me in my old age, finding me… wanting. It was not long until I found her one night with him in our room, stroking his erection as they lay together in secret. And my fullness, the spirit that lifted me so high, higher than the birds of the sky, poured out of me, into my hands, and gave me strength to kill the boy, with tears in mine own eyes as she watched.
                “She did not get far, so close to the fruit of our labors. She died in the snow as she fled.
                “I could only imagine then how the questions slowly came to be asked, how the forge burned brightly, deep within the trees without orders for steel, how the milk grew sour and the bread stale in wait at the market, how the people came to confront me, how they found me wearing her bones around my neck, and how they came to strike me down. And so my soul was torn down through oblivion to the depths of Hell, to the Second Circle, let to roam the dreams of those that seek light beyond the forest depths.”
                The Dark Man snarled, but I screamed. He floated away, seeping into the ceiling above. My brother awoke next to me in a start and made a face in disgust. “God! Shut up! Mom, what’s wrong with him?”
                That was the first and only time the Dark Man spoke. It would come here and there throughout the years, with diminishing passion at each turn. How he would rake my body with his claws, stop my blood still with spiritual malaise. Taunt me in the morning, terrify me in my youth. I would not lie if I said that I remember hearing the sounds of his steps through my mother’s home. The creaks in the night. The sensation that he was behind me. And yet, in all this, I sensed that its menace had climaxed at the moment of personal disclosure. As I became a man, as I chose my path to go to the university, the Dark Man became less real, and merely a bad dream. But I still remember the first days, before I accepted God’s protection, when I would hide in the fluorescent fountains all around me. Its memory surpassed its presence, which was, in many ways, more terrifying that the genuine reality of the creature.

                In these times, I am not afraid of the Dark Man any more. But I know he is still there, somewhere, praying for death. Should I feel sorry for him? No. What good is the Dark Man to me, but the memories of youthful trepidation? Yet I am thankful. I’m my studies on theology and the demonic I have reasoned that such soul would be allowed to hate me because the Dark Man’s presence teaches me what it means to languish unchallenged in loneliness. For so long I had wrapped melancholy around me like a blanket, to shiver bitterly, to deny the charity of friendship to others and myself. The Dark Man cursed me when I was young with its sadness. I could never curse another to bear mine. And now, in my office, on this word processor, I want you to know what happened to me. Melancholy like a good book, or an engrossing film can be so gratifying. Some revel in it, crushing themselves in a vise. But like a monkey on my back I have worn the Dark Man and put him off, never to wear him again. One day I will forget him, and then he will finally be just another shade in the pit.    

Monday, October 17, 2016

Sequart Memories

I was at the comic book store Saturday picking up a floppy (or single issue, to those who aren't familiar with comic jargon). It's something I've only recently started doing, knowing full well that I would soon have boxes of ad-filled, twenty-something paged, incomplete story arc, relics. It's funny because I actually love reading them. I never thought I would say that. But it occurred to me, walking back to my house, that I was on the cusp of a personal revelation, one that I certainly wasn't expecting then, of all days.

There was a time when I was reading comics very actively. I was working with Sequart Organization as their Webmaster and Managing editor, attempting to build the fame of Sequart and establish it as a reputable place for comics journalism and scholarship. Little did I know, it already was, but it was nice to think I had something to do with it's fame at the time. There were many initiatives and projects I undertook. Why I did them escapes me. My only lasting legacy from Sequart is my anxiety disorder and my moments of complete  mental collapse that still plague me to this day. Somewhere at Desmond's cabin (a friend of mine, one that you should read and follow!) there is a pile of Sequart merch from SDCC 2014. Julian still has a press list I  built of academics, a 6 month project where I cataloged every non-profit academic institution, picked over their English department websites, and had my manager run a web-based info blast. (We got a few responses, certainly not a worthy amount.) I learned a lot from the experience, notably that it's hard to sell comics scholarship. 

I think that here is where I made the connection in my mind about the nature of anything that is creative. In the sea of genres, art-forms, and media types there is a subjective line in the sand between so-so manifestations and quality ones. There are some really shitty comics out there. Many of them don't challenge creativity or convictions. It's just a bunch of shit. But in the quagmire of shit there are vindicating articles of art that are really good. When I was at Sequart I would write articles about the noteworthiness of a series, elevate its form to death-defying heights, when in reality it wasn't worth the paper it was printed on. Like my fascination with beer transitioning to wine, I have moved from comics to novels. Though there are some good stories worth revisiting. 

I think if I could go back and tell myself to avoid Sequart I wouldn't. I wouldn't tell myself about the incoming panic attacks, or the compromising, though valuable, conversations I would have with Julian (who I still love and appreciate to this day), or the slow rift it would create between one of my good friends in part due to the liberal education I  would receive from my contributors and colleagues. Comics have indeed taught me more about art, spirituality, film studies, and myself and what I want to be. I've learned about those that I idolize, their flaws and dreams. I've realized the difference between myself and Neil Gaiman is very little. We are just two creators in different life stages and places. I no longer envy him, but admire him. 

Alan Moore would say, cynically I imagine, that his tenure in comics did nothing for him, that it was all wasted effort. (He lacks the critical distance from his work that is both moving and personal.) But I know that comics have affected me in many ways, mostly good. At the end of the day, are they worthy to pass on to my children? Of course. But are they worthy to be embodied? To draw identity from? I don't believe so....


XOX



PS:
I wrote quite a bit today while I was drinking tea. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

I'm Not a Woman, But Can I Write About Them?

My second book happens to be the first one that will feature a “female” protagonist / antagonist. She isn’t really a woman, but an AI. Still she is supposed to largely reflect what a woman is and what women value. I’ve written before on the difficulty in creating authentic women characters. Frankly, I don’t know how other great authors like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman have done it. Traversing the gender gap, is something I, personally, think is impossible. Rather, we can get close to the other side, maybe within the casting of stones. Who knows? The future holds many possibilities.

I’m sure people have written about this before. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. Women are physiologically different from men and possess abilities that men can never realize. Social history aside, if we look at the here and now, women are doing things today that have never been done before. Currently, Hilary Clinton is running for president, something that 100 years ago was a laughable prospect among the American people. It’s a struggle for me to take that history and experience, the many thousands of years of anthropology, and condense that into a blog post. My meager thoughts on writing them are below.

I’m a big fan when it comes to animated sitcoms. Despite the cliché of the stay-at-home mom, or in the case of King of the Hill, a secondary earner, the women here server a role as a foil of the men. Even though Homer Simpson, Hank Hill, and, only recently, Jerry Smith, have many layers to their characterization, these men are undermined by their stupidity, which is mostly benign, if not occasionally selfish. I think men are pressured to be alphas, or various manifestations of masculine archetypes. Their decisions are made impulsively, citing a certain male intuition that is mostly wrong and self-centered. The women often clean up the resulting and inevitable mess. Why this is the default mode of writing males I can reasonably infer, but how the women act in return I find more interesting.


When I was writing about Mòr in Spirit of Orn, I tried to imagine what it would be like to have a sister. I grew up only with my brother, but in the families that I interacted with I noticed that older sisters tended to be those that people would go to for wisdom or insight. During adolescence, that relationship would become strained with sexual tension and infighting, resolving to a common understanding with mutual affection. (This is in the case of an older sister with a younger brother.) Conversely, in the relationship between a younger sister and an older brother is more martial, with the older brother protecting the younger sister, or feeling concerned for their wellbeing either implicitly or explicitly. In Spirit of Orn, Mòr is Conn’s younger sister. She is an aunt despite being of similar age to Conn’s son. She takes care of Conn and looks out for him in the midst of his grieving for his recently departed wife. The age gaps between each of the characters are far and wide, eschewing the nuclear family model for a non-conventional look of a family dynamic. Spirit of Orn was my first book, so I’m not surprised that my own characters were fraught with this kind of dysfunction. It likely mirrored my own angst I felt towards my family.

I wrote Mòr in a detached way. She is attempting to grieve in her own way and, in doing so, accepts the religion of the people in Orn. She also is firm in her believe that she can take care of Conn, only Conn can only fix himself and come to that conclusion on his own. I felt that Mòr also had her own sexual identity, not conforming to the mores of Skara Brae (which, at the time I wrote Spirit of Orn, were cavalier and hedonistic). She was very independent, trying to prove herself as a child, but also gave up those desires when she accepted the Orn religion because she no longer needed to. I feel that most women in literature are trying to prove themselves (as men also do). But this might be juxtaposing my own masculinity onto female characters.

The difficulty with my latest book is that my main protagonist is an outsider looking in. She chooses to be a woman. (Artificially intelligent machines are not organic and therefore have no gender.) She also chooses her own appearance, a scene that I am writing currently that I’ve labored over for the last month or so. The only experience I can relate to in designing a character from an outsider’s perspective is creating a character in a video game, an experience that is shallow and self-serving most of the time. My character will be doing what no one has done yet: embrace that identity permanently and decisively, while taking with her, the emotional and mental expectations of donning that persona. It makes me wonder if that is what a person undergoing sexual reassignment goes through. Honestly, my guess is limited by third hand knowledge.

I’m hoping though that the experiment bares good fruit. I want to continue to challenge myself as a writer. Expanding my written vocabulary and ability to describe gender are all on my list of things to grow in this year.  We’ll see what happens. There’s only 2 more left!


XOX 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

History in the Making

I've only just started to question my Americanity.

Cleaning out my bookcase has led me to read again. I'm the kind of person to visit bookshops and buy books, only to never read them. My bookcase is a massive 7 foot tall, 6 feet wide hardwood behemoth. Plenty of room has been reduced over the years to an overburdened mortuary of titles. If the existential purpose of a book is to be read, I have read most of them, leaving them to die some kafka-esque death, smothered to death by comic books and my wife's cooking magazines.

One of the many titles I've begun to investigate is Robert Remini's A Short History of the United States, a chronicle of the nation's past and present, from the early settlers of North America to the bustling coast-to-coast megalopolis we are now. I was taught American history in school at the high school level, where I took AP US History, which I then took out of obligation. Only now as I find myself becoming aware of my citizenship do I value the idea of American history. It's important to understand the past victories and defeats of any nation. The United States is prestigious enough, so I've been told, to explore and encounter.

Halfway through I'm struggling. Much evil has come of this country. Though that is the same of any nation. (We are not exempt from fault simply because of the O'Sullivanite principals of Manifest Destiny that implicate and enunciate the divine like a crude incantation.) Germany has done as much wrong as France, or Britain, or Spain. So maybe I'm just coming to terms with my station in the world and position in time. Stricken by "White Guilt" because from a young age I was told I was evil because of the color of my skin. But it really grinds my gears to hear people utter the successes of the nation with no little regard of the skeletons lurking nearby.



Last night I was on Facebook and one of my old christian familiars prompted my viewing of the above picture.

Understanding that I am aware of my limited exposure to American history, its myriad interpretations and subjective deductions, and that I have really only read one of three books that I plan on skimming in the coming months, I feel that I have at least some knowledge of history that forces me to call bullshit on this wildly positivist statement.

I feel capitalism isn't some new invention, though it's identity was defined profoundly during the industrial revolution. My opinion is that the marketplace of ancient Rome operated on the founding principals concerning the exchange of goods for services. Agriculture, skilled-labor, and prostitution are all safeguarded by the passing of money between hands. And all instances are some form of exploitation at one point or another. What makes me mad though, mad enough to weep my righteous tears on digital papyrus-on my day off no less-is that this statement is likely invoking the golden age of American capitalism, which was at the epicenter of the industrial revolution. It also happened to be the most notorious age of corruption in american history. As if the entire House and Senate were populated by Trump disciples, sowing the seeds of conspicuous corruption.

Remini's primary aim of his book is to follow the delicate dance between Federalism (a strong, centralized government) and Republicanism (a loosely constructed confederation of states under a common banner). And in his treatment of the development of American politics, he takes pains to establish the identity of the South as finding its origins in corporate colonies, owned by trading companies and established to run like businesses. Contrast this with the North, which was comprised primarily of Religious and Political refugees of continental Europe, which established colonies to espouse an array of philosophical principals, benefiting from the paternal neglect of Mother England. From the very beginning, the cosmopolitan climate of the north fostered the growth of a common identity that would precipitate the American Revolution. The hubris of the North would punish the South by levying tariffs against foreign exports. The South consequently couldn't export their cotton to England. The North would consolidate its infrastructure because of the increased interstate trade and growing of the domestic economy.

The picture above, in light of the following, so infuriates me because the "capitalism" of the South was borne upon the backs of slaves. Remini is clear to discourage the nostalgic pastoral imagery of antebellum south, with its wide plantations manned by hundreds of slaves. In reality, there were few plantations of this kind, the majority of slave owners being single households, with one slave or two. Pages could be written on the treatment of slaves and the post-Civil War Reconstruction efforts to establish Jim Crow laws to oppress ex-slaves. But even afterwards, our great nation was built on the backs of sweatshop workers exploited by trusts and monopolies. The country was fantastically wealthy, but hardly just, and the resulting opposition to the Gilded Age launched the Progressive Movement. Teddy Roosevelt, a figure enshrined by conservatives for primarily hunting related photos and surviving an assassination attempt (only to deliver a 90 minute speech afterwards), was dedicated to workers rights for women and children, the conservation of national parks and monuments, and thwarting corruption. I hardly think he felt the companies that forced women and children to work 12 hour days, with no respite to speak of, were "serving [their] fellow man."

Clearly my views will change on this over time, as most things do. As I read more American history, my knowledge will solidify into something more than lip service to the author of the week. But let it be known that I have made the attempt to understand our current state of affairs. I am not a sheep! Knowledge and its accrual keeps us from accepting bullshit like this and worshiping ideals without the foundation of experience and learning to stand upon.

Until Next Time

XOX

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Big M Question

I hear people use the word "millennial" to describe an individual every day now it seems. The expression is one of many, demonstrating the increased granularity of our society.

That's what we see more these days: an emphasis of quality, denominations of  culture, gradations that have tremendous weight. I think of, say, the Transgender community, a fraction of a fraction of the wider populous, that leverages so much power through appealing to hardened concepts like Justice, despite the depreciation such weighty concepts endure now that God is dead. 

Millennials have been described in a variety of ways. That demonstrates the wider problem of what to call a millennial definitively. We as a people are pulled in two different directions. On one hand labels are viewed as micro-transgressions. On the other, they are coveted and disseminated. When I listened to Metal I found it very interesting that the anarchist mobs, my brothers and sisters, coveted their genre particulars like they were species. More interesting is the renewed interest is ethnic studies of religion, dying languages, and anthropology. Our world has changed so much in the last two thousand years; our cosmology has changed. What does it mean to be human in the context of the great heat death of the universe? To those that still believe, is God entropy? Our epistemology has changed. at one time knowledge was knowable, then unknowable, now quantifiable, soon to be quantum. Information is volatile, ultimately. To know what a Millennial is, we must trace how we came to this road. A truly postmodern generation, Millennials are burdened with a duplicitous relationship with their world. They both aspire to find meaning in it and grapple with the futility of existence. 

I found it interesting, personally, that I contemplate who I am on a regular basis. I am a Nihilist, a Christian, a Socialist, and an Author. Capitals to emphasize the essence of each, their properties and true form. This makes me very much a Millennial in that regard. Labels, as used by Millennials, connote variety and innovation. Labels in reality imply qualities superficially. When someone who is black says, "I am Black," it could mean much different that when a person, who is white, says, "He is Black." This is why when I say I am a socialist, there are three meanings to the word: what the "world" believes a socialist to be, what a socialist believes a socialist to be, and what I believe a socialist to be. This doesn't even account for nationalism. Obviously, the Dutch may believe different things about socialism than say, an american, or a Brit. In the end each member of the three yearns for a kind of cohesiveness that negates the originating intention of a label, and at worst reintroduces the racism-like equivalent of category, the very state the Millennial was intending to avoid by expressing their uniqueness in the first place.

We live in a mad, rudderless world, that compels me to embrace forms of nihilism that thread through popular culture. On Facebook, there are meme communities that generate more meaningless content than a Dadaist monastery. I'm familiar with a few of them. Popular entertainment, though not as cutting edge, perpetuates what these internet communities call "shit posting" on television. I think its because we crave order that we cannot acquire, and we want the world to be okay with ourselves giving up, and feeling crazy with us. I ask myself, "why is Nihilism so funny?" everyday, and I can't produce a worthy answer. This morning while I was walking my dogs it occurred to me that #YOLO is less of a modern interpretation of the Latin "Carpe Diem," and more an expression of futility. 

"I just had sex with three different partners withing 48 hours. #YOLO" a Twitter feed iterates. Translated from the common vernacular: "Smashed all night. Smashed All day. Sick beats at the club. #fuckyeah #YOLO"

Might as well right? We are all going to die.

I don't mind this world as much as it may seem because it drives people to accept Christ. To defy convention by undertaking one. Nothing is certain anymore, so people yearn for certainty. Half of me writing this is an attempt to talk myself down the ledge, to turn away from the bleak world that was provided me by moderns and post-moderns alike. The other half is just procrastinating from starting my work on the novel.


XOX        

Sunday, April 10, 2016

An Open Letter to My Children

Dear Future Son/Daughter,

Myself, and many others, grow up thinking that moms and dads know what’s best. And the more I grow, the more I realize that parents are people like you and me. They’ve had thrust into their lives this wailing, screaming human that doesn’t know how to eat or sleep. And even though you’ve never done this before in your life, it is your responsibility to care and provide for this little person. Along the way you learn things, likely out of just experiencing the day-to-day, and become familiar with your child and their quirks. And I’m sure that even these words that I write to you today will become obsolete in the coming years. But I wanted to say the following because I love you and feel called to.

I grew up in a tough spot. I didn’t have much to go on living in a home that was unstable and often times changing. Even though I didn’t have it nearly as bad as other kids there were still hard days. Usually I would go to school and come home to play with my toys. Other times I would go over to other kid’s houses and play video games, even the ones my mom told me not to play. All these days I would learn new things. Sometimes what I learned was difficult and it hurt. But each time I learned from my mistakes and from good times I became stronger. And I want you to be strong like I was.

I realize now that what we see, what we hear, challenges us. Some things are too much. (I wouldn’t let you play an M-Rated video game when you turned 6!) But when we face the world and try to understand it, with all its complexity, we become like a stone on the beach: well-rounded. Some people my age think differently. They think that if you hide the badness of the world away that you will be preserved from it. I think people think this way because they remember what it was like growing up. They remember seeing things they shouldn’t have seen or listening to people that they shouldn’t have. Out of love, when they become moms and dads, they want to spare you the trouble they went through themselves by hiding you away.

I grew up watching things that I shouldn’t have. I grew up listening to people I shouldn’t have. But, here I am: the finished person I am today. There are bad things in the world. Evil things. Sooner or later we will have to face them, and be strong. We have Jesus to show us the way. All of us were made by him, including the bad people. Even in the darkest places, his light shines. So when you see something bad, or listen to something that doesn’t sound right, remember that all things have a root in what has been created by Jesus. The world out there is worth it. And when you meet people, watch something on TV, or have a bad day, see the big picture: where things are at and where they will eventually be. The world isn’t perfect, but it still bears the image of God, and all over underneath everything he is there ready to redeem it.

So if you want to watch something on TV, watch it with me. If you want to play a video game, let’s take turns. If someone tells you something at school, let’s talk about it. We can face this world together, and with Jesus we are a threefold cord that can never be broken.

Love,

Daddy


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Dream Poetry

Last night I had a dream that I was in the final days of my high school tenure, and on the last day even. In the room my mind pulled up a variety of people, names, and faces that I had forgotten, old loves, clowns, and friends that I no longer know. Knowing what I know now, seeing my past made we wish that I had done things differently. Maybe I wasn’t intentional enough in my decisions, or I was victim to circumstance and ignorance? I wanted to change it. Then I became compelled, pressed to write down and remind myself that what I was feeling was illusory. There is no such thing as “the other road.” Instead our minds run wild and create for us a life that could have been, distracting from the one at our feet. Call me strange, but this is how I cope.


The Other Road

There are many roads to take
But none appeal more
None are as sweet as
The other road.
                                             
I’ve been daring
I’ve been bold on the other road.
I’ve been in love
I’ve had rather many ways my road should go.

The teacher taught me
That all roads are equal
That all roads lead to Rome
When I know well that
The road I know, I wish never was
That northern roads could yield
What eagle fancy strained to know.

What I know, this is the truth:
The other road is a reel
A projection of fantasy
A periscope above the mud.
To be in the bosom of camaraderie
That the mind so freely architects
Is a prison sweeter than any dream.


The young man that I am
Does not see the road ahead
But wish that more roads could be.
So content I must be until the old man
Loves our road, and sets us free. 


 
This is actually me in High School, the last day, if you can believe it.