Wednesday, June 19, 2019

On Bravery Part 3

I have known a great many writers over the years. I have had friends and colleagues who write one very short story a year. I have had friends and colleagues who'll write a novel every eight weeks and they can continue that pace for years. I have known published writers who do not have a single word written other than the books they've had published. I have known very prolific writers and I have known writers who would be content to write a sentence a week.

I have also known people who wanted to be writers, and are unable to even get started. I have known people who claim to be writers and have never written a single word. I have known people who have every excuse which keeps them from writing. This is not a good thing, these excuses, these claims, and this lack of action.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

On Bravery Part 2

If only being brave was an internal thing. If the only obstacle to overcome was the one within. Of course, the internal struggle is the only one that is truly legitimate, it is not the only obstacle we have. The biggest obstacles are often the ones that we do not need to overcome. The biggest obstacles we have are the ones that ultimately do not matter. We can define these obstacles as those of society. And society whether defined as the overall structure of our families, our communities or our group as a whole, should not have any baring on our decisions to become writers or artists.

I know there are many families and many cultures out there that value the arts. There are many families and cultures that place the arts well above everything else. This is not our society in general here in modern America. This is not the family that I came from. My family, very much like the society in which we live held the highest value on money and material things. My family could easily gauge success on the size of the house over the accomplishments in a published short story. I do not mean to suggest that a person cannot have both, the big house and the published short story. I also do not mean to say that my family ever mistreated me as a writer. I was never encouraged to be a writer. I was blessed to have not been encouraged to do anything. I was also never discouraged from doing anything either.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

On Bravery

I grew up with the notion that bravery was something that people had when faced with dangerous situations. Bravery was reserved for soldiers and Apaches and that it was something I should strive to have. A soldier I could be, but there was no way I could ever be an Apache. Being brave, was the first and most important of attributes to have.

When I was first cutting my teeth as a writer, I had what I considered the normal influences. Although the words I was reading were from Zamyatin and Huxley and Orwell, I began to have very different ideas of what bravery meant. It was becoming clear to me that the most hapless or the most clueless of heroes could and often were, brave. Bravery comes in forms that push along the plot, whether it is the plot in a story or a plot in life.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Of the Merits of Thrift Part 4

I suppose when it comes right down to the heart of the matter, the merits of thrift, it is this: use time wisely. Using time wisely has a certain set of meanings that may be as personal as we are individual. I mean this, there are only so many hours in a day, in a year, in a lifetime. It's a question of what it means to use time wisely.

In our world of ever increasing leisure time and diversions, it really is a question of how we spend our time. It's all around us, all the time, and the distractions are so insidious that there cannot be enough words to forewarn us. There are the numerous screens, yes. There are the many hours that can be freely given to the video games, social media and one short video after another on all the outlets designed for our personalized entertainment. I am not free from these, and after I've spend the small hours of the day blindly staring into the screen, I feel a sense of loss that doesn't feel very good.

It's time that has been spent, time that is gone. And it is time that will be never be gained back.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Of the Merits of Thrift Part 3

I blame Henry David Thoreau for just about all of the existential dilemmas that I have ever had. When I was first introduced to Thoreau, of course, it was Walden. I carried a copy of Walden for a number of months in the early years of college. I was in my early 20s, back from a couple of overseas tours with the US Army, and I was learning that there was much less to life than I had been led to believe.

I can still see the tender blossoms of the cherry trees on campus on the fragile March day when I first read Thoreau's words. I would read a chapter at a time. I would read the chapter and then think about it. I would think about it some more, sometimes until it hurt and then I would think about it more. Then, I would read the chapter again. For years, I could quote Walden the way those charlatan-like people can rapid fire a Bible verse at the slightest small talk.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Of the Merits of Thrift Part 2

Only in retrospect is it a blessing to have been through relative poverty. How easy it would be to romanticize the halcyon days of youth when hopeless poor? Those days when money didn't matter, but what did was the experiences of traveling, or studying at university, or just learning about life. Yes, these are great memories, and many of us have them. But it is not right to glorify the hard times and conclude all discussions with the wistful breaths saying, those were the days.

Rather, it's those gained experiences that shape the way we are, the way we think, and perhaps the way we act. In the impoverished days of my youth, I never once felt poor. I was a college student and I worked my way through school the same way all of my classmates did. I worked all sorts of jobs, many of them at the same time. I worked in retail, restaurants, offices. I did temp work like unloading semi trailers or recycling old files for law firms. I even had a brief stint as a street performer. What I learned was this, especially at that particular time of history and my history, it doesn't take very much money to live.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Of the Merits of Thrift

In the study of classical economics, Adam Smith tells us of unlimited human desires overlaid on very limited resources. In that balance between desires and resources, most of our conflicts and problems arise. Aside from the I want, I want, I want or perhaps in our modern condition, iWant, iWant, iWant, there are other concerns entirely.

I have come to understand my position on prosperity and thrift even more fully with age. Over the years I have seen many of my friends take on absurd amounts of debt, liabilities and stresses because they have either wanted something, been told they want something, or have made the decision that having something is more valuable than the time it would take to pay it off.

It is easy to put money in the center of prosperity and thrift, as money is the most tangible thing we all seem to agree upon. And even the words prosperity and thrift invoke the idea of money. And when it comes down to it, we trade all sorts of things, time, morals and life for money. In this way, we have all learned that time is money. Perhaps time is money, and that is something that I never say, never think, nor have I ever believed. In fact, my ideas are the exact opposite: money is time.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Friendship Part 4

I like to consider friendship in fiction for a better understanding of humanity. This may seem trite, but it is how we make sense of the world. I have always subscribed to the fact that nonfiction may be true, but fiction is the truth. I have met people over the years who claim to hate fiction. Of course anyone who has said that to me, it's the last conversation we have. How could someone possibly say to me that they hate fiction when they find out that that was what I did, what I wrote? It's truth that we find in fiction. A work of fiction is somehow attached to something very real, very universal. In these stories we meet characters who are moving along their own trajectory and finding the truth for themselves.

When I consider the portrayal of friends in fiction there are the predictable books that come to mind. Those books we all grew up with. Books like John Knowles A Separate Peace which was on my reading list in high school. The entire story is really about two young prep school boys shortly before or right at the start of the second world war. Another example would be Ishmael and Queequeg in Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Of course, the greatest friends that I can ever imaged would have to between Huck Finn and Jim in Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. There's hundreds more. Thousands.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Friendship Part 3

In this complex world of human endeavors, I know the way in which we build friendships are every bit as complex. We have shared experiences, we have the opportunity to discuss different experiences. Along with everything else, Aristotle defined friendship. To him there were three types of friendship: of utility, of pleasure and of the good. Being in the business of writing everything down, of course Aristotle would have the inclination to define friendship. In his day, speech and philosophy were the same disciple. And the discussion of what it took to be a good friend was part of the conversation.

The idea that there is a friendship of utility means that you have a friend who is useful to you in some way. I think this is a very common friendship when we consider the people we work with, or the people we see in school. These are certainly friends, and the common plane is the workplace. In all the years I worked restaurants, I always felt like I had a built-in circle of friends, the people I talked with during work hours and the people that I sat shoulder to shoulder with in drinking establishments that the normal people just would visit.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Friendship Part 2

Sometimes I become very disappointed by the way it has all turned out. In a crowded dinning room recently, I noticed first the low volume then I realized why. There were people in groups of twos and threes at individual tables. It seemed like nearly everybody was engaged with their personal device. Nobody spoke, at least not to the heartbeat with whom they shared a table.

This is not a new conundrum. It's been slowly invading our public places for years. I remember the rowdy coffeehouses of my youth where everyone seemed hopped up on caffeine and nicotine and we spoke about all those things you'd imagine to hear. There was fierce political thought. There was anecdotes, there were card games. There was always this allure of love or at least sex. In those days, at the danger of sounding like a sentimental old man, we made fun of the one guy in the corner looking into a computer screen. We made fun of the guy looking into the computer screen and looking into a screen is what I am doing now. In the halcyon days before technology made us instantly connected and instantly compartmentalized, we made fun of anyone who wasn't doing what we were doing: drinking coffee and talking loudly about nothing and everything.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Friendship

Imagine this: we're all in a darkened room, a large room like a sports arena. Everyone gets issued a box. This particular box is like the box you made for grade school valentine's day cards. And then we're set free into this large darkened room. We're tasked with collecting friends. We will collect friends like small valentine's day cards and put them in the box. The first one who has their box overflowed with friends wins the game.

I wonder if this is the way we collect friends, or if this is the perception of the collecting friends. In this way, we take a two dimensional representation of a friends and file it into a box simply called “friend.” In 1842 Russian writer and satirist Nikolai Gogol's book Lost Souls set about describing upper middle class Russian life as defining wealth with the number of serfs one owned. Of course, with the more serfs someone owned, the more taxes that person paid. Gogol's main character Chichikov set about the countryside to buy the souls of dead serfs which he got at a good price. Those who sold him dead souls were free from the taxes they'd otherwise have to pay. And Chichikov? Well, on paper he seemed very rich. We may not collect lost souls, but we do collect friends & followers. I don't see how this is any different from Chichikov collecting souls of dead serfs in order to seem more wealthy or powerful.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Village Part 4

We live in strange times where we are led to believe all sorts of things that have only half truths or alternatively, half lies. We are led to believe that people on the other side of the globe are engaged in awful activities that somehow conflict with our own way of life. We have these thoughts and then we are led to believe that we live in a world community, a world village. Either thought can be silly or trite. If there are people elsewhere in conflict with our own activities, can not the same be said about us? And how can well over seven billion of us agree on anything specifically the way a village can work through some issue together.


I am as patriotic as they come. I love the country I live in even during the times I am critical of it. I love that we have our laws, and out borders and boundaries. I love that we have the freedom of speech. I also love that I do not agree with most of my countrymen, but I will gladly fight to the death to protect their freedom of speech. To further that thought, I love that there are other countries across the globe filled with people who have their own beliefs and laws and systems of doing things. In some cases, I feel like people deserve more, but I cannot judge an entire system adequately with the lens I see through.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Village Part 3

When I think about all the places I've ever lived, I cannot think of a single place that was better and for that matter, worse, than any others. Sure, there are merits to every place you go, there are difficulties in every place too. For instance, I lived in Tucson, Arizona in the summer time once. It was a hot miserable place, dead and abandoned in every way. It was a particularly bad time of life for me. I loath the sun, I hate heat. It was the wrong place for a guy like me. However, I did not feel like that at all. Even though there were all sorts of problems for me both externally and internally, I really dug the place. I met wonderful people there. The experience as a whole was the precedent for everything that followed.

There are those times in life when we learn about ourselves. These times always seem to be times of adversity. The things that we learn about ourselves are generally not very good. This is the idea that what doesn't kill us, makes us stronger. This was certainly the case with me in the days of Tucson, Arizona.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Village Part 2

It was a great many years ago that I came to Longmont, Colorado. I had come because my wife's family lives in Longmont. It seemed like this terrifically exotic place surrounded by the great Rocky Mountains on one side and farmland everywhere else. It was filled with that strange agricultural-industrial ruin you find in small places. There was the defunct and decaying sugar beet refinery. There was still an operational turkey packing plant which did not smell good. There were the rails with the patina of red rust snaking their way through the old warehouses. There was a Main Street, an old neighborhood of stately homes and plenty of open space between.


Longmont, for years captured my imagination. It became this strange fictional backdrop I could reference when I wanted to write a short story. I would put a few people on the streets of my imagined Longmont and give them some sort of missed connection or lost cause to deal with. In my world, I made Longmont to be the quintessential western agricultural center. And since we lived just down the road in Denver, I knew I would be going to Longmont for holidays or parties. Anywhere you go for a party or a holiday is always a great place. Even though Longmont was not a reference point for me and my past, there was something about going to Longmont in those years that made me think of the place as a home or as a sort of home.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Village

It stretches across decades and time zones and continents. All the places where I have lived and for as long or as short as I have lived there are more than I can recount. As a child, my parents sent me back and forth over state lines from California to Utah. I can only guess at the number of moves I made in those early years. And perhaps the uncertainty of younger years led me to live the vagabond life as an adult.

The longer periods of time, for me, I lived in Denver. I lived in Portland. In the shorter periods of time I called Sacramento, Tucson, New Orleans and rural Vermont home. I have had the opportunity to be in Mexico City, Ansbach Germany, Lisbon Portugal and the most exotic of places in rural Colorado and Oregon for extended periods of time.

What I have learned in these places, was that each was populated with the people and things that I knew there. In each of these places there were certainly bookstores and coffeehouses and bars. There were friends and lovers or the illusion of friends and lovers. There were days and nights in these places when I was alone, because I was always mostly alone, and I was able to think and daydream and recoil and smile. I do not have specific memories but rather the memory of memories.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Self Reliance Part 4

Ultimately, listening to the silence of yourself and achieving self reliance, is not a very fashionable thing to do. This sort of behavior is not so easily transmitted via the ether to any give social media platform. This sort of behavior is not the sort of thing that marketers can cater to. It's tough for the outside to get in. And it may be too difficult to define to the outside what is happening on the inside.


In 1841 when Ralph Waldo Emerson published his essay Self Reliance he summed up all of this themes very articulately. He meant to say to the world that each individual needs to avoid conformity and false consistency, and simply obey their own instincts and ideas. Emerson was very critical of society. He was critical of the church despite being an ordained Unitarian minister himself. Self reliance to Emerson is a very personal journey. To Emerson, we all have the capability of self reliance.


I believe in the Emersonian view of self reliance. I'm in it totally, subjected to the thoughts of a man who specifically told me not to let anyone think for me, including Emerson himself. But even following the ideals of Emerson or the greater community of the American Renaissance writers like Thoreau, Hawthorne, Whitman or Melville, can only go so far in our modern times.


I don't suppose that humanity has changed all that much since the beginning of time. I believe that ancient humans were just sophisticated and just as deep thinking as we are today. I believe the human curiosity and human intellect built the pyramids at Gyza and the library at Alexandra. I also believe that it was human intellect and human destruction that destroyed the library at Alexandra or any number of cities from Famen Temple to New York's World Trade Center.


What has changed, I suspect, is how much there is. I mean there is more of everything than Emerson would have imagined. The population of Concord may not have grown much, but think about the population of Boston or Massachusetts or the United States and especially the world.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Self Reliance Part 3


Karma Repair Kit:
Items 1-4
 
by Richard Brautigan
1. Get enough food to eat, and eat it.
2. Find a place to sleep where it is quiet, and sleep there.
3. Reduce intellectual and emotional noise until you arrive at the silence of yourself, and listen to it.
4.


I think about Richard Brautigan a great deal. Outside of his first book Trout Fishing in America I don't think he had a very wide audience. Although I can think of many merits to Trout Fishing in America, of all the books of his that I read, it isn't my favorite. After I began to read Richard Brautigan, I could not stop. Over a period of about a year, I read everything of his I could get my hands on. In those days, in those pre-Amazon, pre-internet shopping days, getting my hands on Richard Brautigan's books took me to every used bookstore from San Francisco to Cincinnati.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Self Reliance Part 2

A warning for our time: do not let anyone or anything take your concentration away.

We've all seen it. We've seen the people who drive their car and they have a cup of coffee in one hand and a phone in the other. They are not focused on any one thing. They are not focused on the coffee, probably not on the phone and certainly not on the road. I am not above it, I have been distracted too. I have had my attention split in many directions and I have had my concentration shattered. I've just tried to keep this at a minimum and not in a chronic state like it would be should I be careless.

The term “multitasking” has become increasing trite in recent years. Multitasking implies that a person can carry on with many things, none related, at once and get everything done. To me, this just creates confusion. Back in the car with the coffee and the phone call and eyes that should be on the road, is it really whole the hassle? I imagine if automobiles did not have any safety features, like seat belts, airbags or crumble bumpers, and if instead had a large sharpened metal spike that stretched from the steering wheel to the driver's face, multitasking would not be reserved for the car. I think if there was a reminder of the immanent outcomes of just one moment of carelessness, everyone would treat the operation of a motor vehicle with a level of mindfulness none of us currently understand.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Self Reliance

I have been blessed. My entire life has been a blessing. I have never felt otherwise. Like many of us, I have gone through those rough times, those dark times, the trouble times. This is what it means to be alive and to be sure, I would fear for anyone who has not seen rough times. These down times in life, whether it is financial, emotional or physical serve only to make a stronger person. When I say that I have been blessed it is for many, many reasons. The biggest reason, perhaps, is that I have been able to do everything that I wanted to do. All I ever wanted to be is a writer and that's really all I've ever been.

Another blessing that has occurred to me recently is one that is seemingly ridiculous. There is a very real and strange sensation that happens in my gut when I am subjected to a television. It happens when I look at a computer screen too, particularly an ad filled web page with flashing and blinking banners and boxes. And unlike most people these days, I do not carry a hand held device that constantly tells me what to do and what to think. It's a blessing that there has never been a television in my house and a blessing that in the these days of smart devices that I do not subscribe to them either. Like I said, this was not a conscious choice, I refuse to have devices that invade my thoughts, but rather a reaction to a physical sensation.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Higher Laws Part 5

In this complex world of making a living and obeying higher laws, I would be naive to suggest that we would all go one way or the other. It would be impossible, or next to impossible for all of us to throw away all confines to modern life and simply make art. It would not work. It just wouldn't. How could it? Who would teach the children? Who would grow the food? Who would fix our teeth? No, if all of us really listened to those higher laws, those driving forces, those things that compel us to make art, and then followed those laws to the letter, not only would the system vanish, we'd all die of starvation.

However, the opposite is nearly as bad. I do not want to make a grim prediction for the future much less the present. However, I think the higher laws are blatantly or at least lazily being ignored by way too many of us. I really do feel like we are bombarded by too much all the time. I feel like there is too much media, too much allure of the next great thing. I feel like the old fashion constrictions like church and state do not seem so bad now in light of pills and screens. Again, this is just my observation, and I am doing my best not to be so grim.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Higher Laws Part 4

Unfortunately, we do not live in a world in which all of us can focus on the intoxication of the day, the day spent in creative tasks. We have to negotiate the practical. We must, most of us on a varying scale of wealth and living expenses, pay the rent. We must earn money and procure the food and cook the food and clean up after the food. We must, all of us, live, make a living, make a life.

This balance between paying bills and living life overlaid on the making of art seems like it is in direct conflict with the path to the higher laws. Perhaps it is. Many years ago, I worked with a very talented and very artistic man. He could play just about any musical instrument he handled. He could paint pictures reasonably well. He could work with metal and made tables, chairs, beautiful structures. His home was a work of art, every nook, every corner. I loved him dearly, and in many ways all these years later, I still do. We had a friend who was an inspired artist. This artist was a printmaker and he engraved copper plates for his relief prints. As for me, I was an aspiring writer. I had, at the time, been writing short fictions and bad poetry rather unsuccessfully for a few years. I had had a handful of publications.

So, enter the welder, the printmaker and the writer.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Higher Laws Part 3

Something that has always dumbfounded me is the lack of time we are led to believe unavailable to us. It's like everything is instant,and instantly we have less time that ever. There are the 24 hour conveniences, the 24 delivery and the world of instant data at our fingertips 24 hours a day. And we are made to think we have no time?

I cannot and will not subscribe to this. I have all the time in the world, and time is all I really have. When we listless or perhaps haplessly float in a sea that pushes us this way and that at the whims of racketeers and marketers, we are too busy torn every which way. Our minds are muddled. We begin to comply with those terrifically organized things that make us a part of a whole. Being a part of a whole, despite sounding comforting, serves to make each of us slower as a group than any part individually.

We become pitted one against the other, at least in this modern age of commercialism. Buy this and be that and you will be happy. Buy more and be more. How does this serve anybody? This serves only to remove the image we hold deep inside and puts us in a state that shows not what we are but what others think we are, or should be.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Higher Laws Part 2

I would define Higher Laws as something that can never be written down, reread by others in authority or teachers. Higher Laws cannot be spread over the whole populace as an unifying theory. Your Higher Laws and mine can never be the same. Like me, you must obey the laws that govern you.

In this modern world of legal ordinances and societal regulations, we all know that the laws of men do protect us as a whole. We know that we must not steal, we must not murder, we must not imbibe in all those things legal or illegal and then drive a stole tank through the streets of Los Angels. I do not find the higher laws of the artist or the writer to be in direct opposition to the laws or morals of modern society. Rather than complementary, the laws of the system the laws of the artist are both parallel and perpendicular.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Higher Laws

The sun came through that famous brown cloud one bright November morning. Lit like it was, complete with the soundtrack of suburban commuters in individual cars, the wash of the morning was at once peaceful and depressing. The dirt worn asphalt seemed like it was a century old, and neglected nearly as long. The errant weeds of summer were dry and in their spiny grasp were the wrappers of fear and consumption: cigarette boxes and butts, beer cans and soda bottles, the waxy wrappers of fast food burgers and tacos. In each car, hermetically sealed from the outside world, animals that resembled human beings moved along this road, insular and cellular.

At the base of it, there seems to be an order. People wake up alone or in small families inside individually wrapped houses. There, they turn on any number of electronic media screens and get the news of the world. The news seems to give off a little more than events, it seems to give off a little of xenophobic fear which can easily be quenched with the purchase of any number of things, mostly data packages, big cars or small pills. Then, when the morning sermon finishes, it's time to seal up in a vehicle and move off, alone, to an institution.

One the bright November morning in question, along that route in the suburbs, there seems to be nothing more than the task at hand: getting from one place to the other. This is the appropriate time, this is the mandate. This is the system: get up and go, get to work and make money and pay it all out to tax, to utilities, to all the things the media said you need. These are the unwritten laws than govern the system. We all know this, some of us minimize it, some of us fight it and some of us glorify it.