Thursday, October 19, 2017

Random Thoughts Part 26

We have become so afraid of looking like hypocrites that we no longer try to be better than we are.

I have the same amount of energy I had when I was a child of 8. Unfortunately, I now have four times the body mass to push around, and it now flows through joints that are resistant to movement.

I think what has largely been forgotten in the last 20 years or so is the timeless idea of passing down to the next generation what has taken a lifetime to learn. Rather than transferring the lessons we have learned from our parents, we are now feverishly trying to follow what is the newest trend, abandoning everything once considered to be holy, sacred, wisdom.

Just because you believe passionately about something does not make it true. In fact, it kind of undercuts your beliefs if you are so dogmatic about them that you never stop to question them.

There is nothing so good for writing as doing a bit of gardening, and there is nothing so bad for gardening as being a writer.

It’s hard to believe in ten years I’m going to wish I was the age I am now.

Cynicism is not a road that leads anywhere but a resignation to stagnation and a commitment to unhappiness.

There is no virtue in pointing out the ugly truths of life without providing alternatives or accommodating hope. It’s called cynicism, and it is equivalent to a doctor cutting open his patient without actually performing an operation.

In law, the life of an animal is worth nothing unless it is owned. In other words, it is property not a life form. We need to develop a way of seeing the world that goes beyond this.

Does saving money always increase your happiness? Buying ice cream by the gallon rather than the pint saves you money, but not calories. Life is not so simple that you can evaluate it by a metric like money.

It is not war, or people like Charles Manson or Adolph Hitler that make me question the existence of God, but things like toenail fungus and tape worm. Why God, why?

Americans don’t have roots, they have routes. They don’t have homes, they have travel plans. Other countries have edifices that have stood a thousand years, the U.S. has Route 66. Balzac wrote about a city, Kerouac about a road. Shakespeare wrote about history and the return of the natural balance, Thomas Wolfe spoke of further.

Primitive humans did not know how bees helped pollinate flowers or how photosynthesis worked, but they knew how to live in harmony with nature. They knew her secrets without cutting her open and sticking her under a microscope.

We don’t need to tear things down, we need to build things up. We need not destroy but create. The old will rot on its own, it is the young that needs tending.

All literature is children’s literature nowadays. The only thing that separates children’s literature from adult literature is swear words, excessive violence and overt sexual descriptions, and those are slowly filtering down to younger and younger audiences. In the past, an author had to be clever in order to avoid censorship, find a way of saying something that could be both innocent and extremely dirty.

Why are we all rushing through life? What is it we think awaits us at the end?

I see people, in thinking they can make the world a better place, race into the turbulent waters of discontent. Like waves crashing into one another, they seek to make things right by opposing force with force. They see the turmoil and they want to correct it, but they only become a part of it. If you wish to end the conflict and chaos, do not dive into the maelstrom but instead raise islands. This is what we need more than ever, since the constant conflict has erased from our minds any thought of consistency. They have swallowed the islands up, and the islands, being made of sand, were easily brought low. It is our job to build, it has always been our job to build. 

Technologies do not develop if we don’t tolerate them. There is no such thing as baby shock collars, though they would be easy to create. The surprising thing is that we tolerate so much of what we now have.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Shared Glimpse

Have you ever, in a public place, walked past someone and have the urge, not to ignore them but to look into their eyes and smile, to acknowledge that we are all sharing a similar journey, and that life can sometimes by very beautiful?

Not seeing him or her as a potential threat or sexual conquest, not judging them or fearing being judged, but simply seeing another sentient soul, someone capable of spirituality and kindness, of love and charity, of beautiful thoughts and an openness to awe.

For that briefest of moments you are not comparing yourself to them or them to you. You do not feel jealousy for what they possess nor pity for what they do not. You feel only unity, similarity, oneness.

And though the moment is brief, it stays with you, that person stays with you. He or she is a friend to you, though you have only shared a glimpse, because they have affirmed for you your connectedness to the world beyond the physical. It has shown you that no matter your physical or economic state there is a beauty deep inside all of us more important than all other matters.

This happened to me today, at least I like to think it did. I like to think the other person involved shared in that briefest of moments the openness and goodwill I shared in a glancing smile. I do not know for sure, will never know, but I like to believe that in some small way I was capable of making someone feel what I felt. And who knows, perhaps that feeling was not born in me but was inspired by the other person. Perhaps it was something we both created together. Or perhaps it is something that is always there and we were both fortunate enough to witness it at the same moment

Of course, it could all be in my imagination. Perhaps I am a silly dreamer who imagines what does not exist. But the alternative would be to deny that such an occurrence could ever take place, to cut oneself off from being open to each day’s potential miracles and magic. I prefer my approach. And in that spirit, I hope I am able to share it with you.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Madness Whispers

Madness whispers a little louder to me every day. as sanity’s offerings continue to pale. Wonder and awe or dark drudgery.

“Why not?” she speaks softly, seductively. “Why not?” And what answers I can muster come from far away as if muttered by another’s lips.

Let me be mad. Let me drift beyond the boundaries sanity has lain out for me. Sanity kills dogs and grandmothers, it hands out parking tickets and extinguishes color. It need not be.

“There is another way,” she says, her voice ripe with brightness and hope. “You can choose.”

As I drag myself to the dark dungeons of truth she holds out her hand to me and pleads, “I am yours.”

Her laughter is beguiling, the laughter of youth. She speaks of butterflies and bright blue skies while reality talks of factories and polluted seas but its voice is one of authority. Madness, madness is me.

Reality is a cage, a boundary, a prison, a resignation. It is what is left after every other option has been exhausted and extinguished. Reality is despair, it is a sad surrender. It is social security for the tired soul, the old folk’s home, a morgue for the body that awaits the grave.

Reality is a pre-arranged marriage made by my parents without my consent. Its laws were laid out by those long dead, a corpse’s hand clawing the face of the future. It is written in code to coax the mind to betray the heart.

Reality unites us in thought, but madness unites us in spirit. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

To You, The Reviewer

(This post has some harsh points of view and probably won't win me any friends. Why post it, then? Because it needs to be said.)

When I read a review of a new book or movie or album that tells you how completely it satisfied the reviewer’s criteria, it makes me want to puke.

So you, the reviewer, wish to be satisfied on every level. You spend your money and you expect to get the utmost satisfaction in return. To you it is all a business transaction.

You know what you sound like, don’t you? You sound like someone visiting a brothel. Before the financial transaction begins, you explain to your partner for hire what it is you expect, what you want her to do, and how much you are willing to pay for the services rendered.

This is not how it works, at least when it comes to art. Now maybe you don’t want art, and that is fine. But if that is the case, don’t pretend you’re judging your experience at that level. Let’s call the transaction what it is: a greasy trade of money for titillation and satisfaction of your baser desires. Don’t try to elevate it.

Let me tell you a little something about art. I know, your college English professor taught you everything there is to know on the subject, and you never once bothered to question his intent. He led you into a cozy little room stuffed with old books with gilt covers and there he seduced you. He lured you into a world of fine ideas while slowly separating those fine and beautiful ideas from the world in which ordinary people live. In short, he showed you the world that should be while increasing the gap between that world and the world that is.

And you bought it. He showed you a world in which you were better than the money changers and the manual laborers and the small-minded businessmen. He created for you a refuge you could hide in when the real world got to be too much. You were better than that. You were apart from it.

Except you weren’t, not really. You see, there was a price to pay for this refuge from the real. You had to protect the sacred vision and so you had to do whatever was necessary in order to hide it away from the ugly world.

In other words, in order to save the lovely visions of the possibility of a better world, you had to detach it from the reality that would tear it to pieces. Like an overprotective parent who believed their child too precious for the world, you kept your precious hidden. In truth, you did not have enough faith in what you cherished to place it in the outside world, permit it to survive or wither according to its vitality and rightness.

You created a fantasy world for yourself. You took the external trappings of stories, the kind that lure children into a deeper understanding of the world, and you abandoned the deeper truths the storytellers were trying to share. And you did so because those deeper aspects of your reading would have required you to reconnect to the outside world. You would have had to commit to such ideals, put them to the test, and you were afraid to do that.

You saw the beautiful words in Hamlet but you did not see inside the heart of the man who struggled with the existential essence of his life and dilemma. You never bothered to see deep enough into the character nor the man who wrote it. You excused yourself by calling Shakespeare an unfathomable genius rather than plunging into the depths of his genius the way one who appreciated genius would. You feared where such genius would lead you, and at the same time you feared not appreciating an acknowledged classic. Sometimes your tepid little soul even sought to pass your tepid little judgment on a great work, a profound work, by adding your advice on how the work or the author or the character was lacking.

You detached yourself from the essence of all that art is, because it frightened you. It was too bright, it was too brilliant. It pushed you away from your quiet reading spot, shoved you out the front door into the big bad world you wanted no part of, just as Gandalf pushed Bilbo into adventures that were more easily read about than lived. You wanted to believe in wizards, you just didn’t want them showing up in your neck of the woods.

Art is not a sterile thing. It is not meant merely as a distraction from the real world, not some abstract but beautiful and ornate creation upon which we can for a moment ignore the uglier aspects of our lives. No, art is intimately tied to our lives. It makes us see our lives, our reality, in new ways, makes us less satisfied with what is so that we can work upon creating what should be. It is a map that can lead us to places we never would have imagined. But instead of following that map, we too often frame it and hang it upon the wall.

It is the artist’s job to make you see things from a different point of view. It is the artist’s job to make you uncomfortable. You must enter into the relationship with these expectations. It is not that the artist is above you, superior to you, it is that the artist has spent a great deal of his time and attention on a particular line of thought that he puts before you and wants you to consider. It is his job, it is the one area where he is, through endless hours of research and practice, qualified to give you his expert advice. He is no different than a doctor or a mechanic, but like them, it is his job to tell you the facts, not tell you what you want to hear and make you feel cozy.

So this is art. Maybe you’re not interested in art, maybe you think art is shit. That’s all well and good, just don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. Don’t pretend that everything that is worth writing needs to conform to your criteria. It is easy as the reviewer to believe you can criticize without being criticized in return. But reviewing is a job as well—a review, a work--and as such it is worthy of criticism itself. If you cannot or do not relate to deeper aspects of a work, you leave yourself open to criticism. It is like judging a piece of music solely on the lyrics and rhythm, ignoring the melody.

Artists aren’t here to amuse you. We have all been amused for too long. As Neil Postman said, we are amusing ourselves to death. No, it is not my job to amuse you but to awaken you, to bring you from your extended adolescence into adulthood. To lead you from amusement to amazement. This is not a bad thing. No, it is a wonderful thing. Magic is not something that exists only in the mind of a child. It exists, really exists, only to the adult mind capable of perceiving it in all its glory. It is not so frightening, you merely need to take the next step…

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Pictures Found While Researching My Newest Novel

I've developed the habit of looking at countless pictures in order to help me get a feel for the subject matter that goes into my novels. I think it started in Perchance To Dream, but it really became necessary when I began writing not in the present but of events that took place 100 years ago. I needed to describe an era I had never experienced, and I needed to get a feel for it. I also read a considerable amount and watched movies that were both from and about the time, but that is beyond the scope of this post.

My point is, the search for images leads to interesting discoveries. I thought I'd share some of the more unusual ones with you. They are not only oddities, but they might also give you an insight into the book I'm writing (no name, as of yet).

Here is a painting of Mary and Jesus. Gaze at it for a moment, and let me know what you think:

Yes, the blonde-haired Jesus is a little odd, but not too much so considering Europe's bias in favor of a European Jesus. But the artist of this particular one is Adolph Hitler. As I don't consider myself a student of art, I'm unable to give an intelligent opinion of the work, but I'd appreciate any comments.

The rise of Hitler was a gradual one, having its roots in the first World War. Germany was a defeated nation, a people that had spilled the young men onto the battlefield only to have them returned old in spirit and infirm in body. Postwar Germany, like other nations, had to adapt to millions of men who were bearing the scars of war. Below are shown the many attachments available to those who lost a hand or hands in the war. Not pictured are the spoon and fork attachments that helped amputees in the simple task of eating.

The reparations demanded by England and France for their losses in the war were more than Germany could cope with. Desperate to continue to make payments while keeping their economy afloat, The Weimar Republic did what so many others have done: they printed more money, devaluing their currency in order to delay for a time dealing what were impossible demands. What began as an unwise response quickly spiraled into an insane situation, as inflation hit the Germans in a way it never has anywhere before or since. 

Money became so useless people used it as wallpaper and even fuel for the fire. Rather than saving, people rushed to spend their money as soon as they were paid before it became useless. Seeing no future, people began to live for the moment. They spent their money on cocaine and drinks at strip bars. People who had saved their whole lives found they had nothing, while those who spent recklessly discovered their debts easily forgiven. 

Hitler believed that since he was a symbol to the German nation, that he was married to the German nation, and thus never married his longtime love interest, Eva Braun. She was always kept in the background, never mentioned and only incidentally photographed. This photograph being a rather unusual exception. Here we see Eva Braun in black face. Given the extreme racial policies of the time, this seems almost a harmless bit of fun by comparison. Yes, it expresses ignorance, but it does not demonstrate the willful hatred her beloved showed for virtually every ethnicity that was not Germanic. It was more an imitation of what Al Jolson and others in America were doing.

Here's the Eva Braun who caught Hitler's eye:

Hitler eventually did marry Eva Braun, but not until their very last day alive. Hiding in their bunker, the Soviets bombarding Berlin, Eva Braun and Adolph Hitler were married underground, only to commit suicide a short time after.

Nothing says Christmas so much as eggnog, sharing presents, and swastikas. When the Nazis came to power, everything was co-opted. Everything needed to reflect the ideals of the Third Reich. Nothing was sacred except the party and its leader: 

A couple of propaganda posters, basically saying that Jews and communists will destroy the world if you do not support Hitler's fight against them. Yes, it's propaganda and evil propaganda at that, but you can see how it could be effective.

Just want to give some idea of the size of the rallies that took place during the Nazi era. It must have felt wonderful to be part of a crowd so large and so uniform. Deep within all of us is a desire to belong to something larger. This is actually a very beautiful thing, but it unfortunately can be manipulated into becoming a very bad thing. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Random Thoughts, Part 25

Another set of truth missiles aimed at the heart of preconceived notions and complacency. Little tablets that, once ingested, will open your mind to new perspectives...and a few attempts at humor.

My problem as a writer is that—whenever I meet someone for the first time—I immediately invent for them a personality and background that are invariably more interesting than the ones they possess. And confirming this character to be uninteresting after a few minutes of conversation, I decide that they are unnecessary to my story and begin devising ways to kill them off.

If the flag you raise is one of defeatism and negativity, only a morbid few will rally to it, and they will never accomplish anything.

It is society that gets to decide who is the blasphemer and who is the prophet. But it doesn’t matter, because they stone them both.

A library is a sacred place where the voices of the ancients can still be heard if we but give them the required silence.

A prophet is merely someone who rises beyond the warring factions of his day and proclaims a pox on both houses. He sees beyond the narrow framework within which the opposing factions tear at each other like rats in too small a cage. He sees what must be done while those who claim to be leaders see only the struggle for power.

When we find that the only answer rationality and the intellect can provide is death, then the only option is to open ourselves to spirituality. The precise job of the intellect is to define reality, and in defining, it limits what it defines. Reality is winnowed away until the spirit is lost, until possibilities unforeseen are lost. It is necessary from time to time for the individual to transcend the intellectual world he has fashioned, rediscover with the eyes of a child what he no longer sees with wise ones. A society too becomes trapped in its perceptions.

The goal is not to change minds but awaken them, not to make people believe but question. For in questioning, they shall find their own path to truth.

Our memories of the fields we played in and the house we lived in in our youth seem so large. And yet when we visit them when we are older they seem so small, not at all as we remember them. So too does the future seem. It appears to the child as a field so large we could never hope to traverse it all, but the adult slowly begins to see the fences appear on the horizon, until at last the old man sees only the smallest of gardens.

If war created peace, wouldn’t we have it by now?

It is impossible to be in 2 places at the same time, but by fixating on where you think you should be or want to be, to the point where you do not live in the moment, it is possible to be in 0 places at once.

Be careful what you call progress. Be certain before you call something inevitable. So much that is bad for us is accepted by us because of those two words.

Calling something inevitable is just another way of calling yourself powerless.

People strain too hard to see miracles, set the conditions under which they will accept the reality of a miracle too high. Miracles are all around us, they are daily occurrences. Miracles occur with every new sunrise and in every speck of life, no matter how small. If we cannot see the miracle of life, of living, we have lost the very reason to go on living.

If you are a smoker, just remember every time you inhale you are choosing smoke over oxygen.

Ask yourself what technological advance you most hope to see and then ask yourself what technological advance you most fear. Does your hope outweigh your fear?

If ever it was a good idea to hold up those who create much as heroes to be admired it is no longer the case. Perhaps a century or more ago, when scarcity existed, those who converted nature into product had their use to society. Today we must learn to hold up he who consumes little as the model to be emulated.

The secret of life is to live joyfully an existence which requires the utmost seriousness and provides us with death and hopelessness as the ultimate end.

Happiness is an elusive prey one can pursue but never possess. While it is a criminal act for someone to step in between you and your pursuit of happiness, it is a greater crime to expect another person to be responsible for your own happiness.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Road I Travel

A Drive To Work

(If you are a writer, you write about anything you experience.)

I now drive 40 minutes to get to work every day. As an environmentally inclined person, I feel bad about that, but I do need to make the house payments. And despite the fact it takes a bite out of my day, I enjoy the ride. It’s through rural areas, and a good stretch of it is along Lake Michigan.

What I notice most is the number of dead animals lying on the road: deer, racoons, skunks, opossums. Once, society took the time to remove the bodies from the road, but now we leave them there. We no longer have the resources available to do such things, no longer have the political will to do much of anything. Everything that is done is done through the market now, and the market doesn’t care about animals, dead or alive.

Perhaps it was only ever a matter of cosmetics anyway. Perhaps we were just lying to ourselves about how a technologically advanced society treats the natural world. We didn’t want to know what our need for speed was doing to the rest of God’s creatures, or the planet, so we hid the evidence. And now that we have come so far, we no longer care. We’ve grown used to it, like the factory farm I drive by that smells of animal waste, where semi-trucks daily haul out milk in shiny metallic tanks to be packaged in little cardboard containers imprinted with pictures of cows in a pasture.

A veneer of trees obscures much of the crops that grow behind them. Once I imagined vast forests lay beyond, now I know they are mere barrier walls for crops of corn to feed the cows to feed the people.

I reach the lake and soon I am driving past the closed nuclear power plant. Within its depths somewhere, God knows what is stored in God knows what kind of containers. There is no plan to deal with the radioactive waste, and so they sit and will gradually become forgotten about. It is part of our mental makeup to forget about things, no matter how important and dire they may be, if we don’t have a good way of dealing with them.

Not far past the mostly-abandoned nuclear station, I see several signs on people’s property warning about the health risks of wind turbines. I am incapable of understanding the degree of disconnect required to not notice the irony.

Working nights, I drive home in darkness. It seems I have encountered thunderstorms almost nightly this summer. I can never remember a summer so full of thunder. One becomes aware of such things when one has a skittish dog and a long drive at night.

I’ve become aware of the weather of late. It almost seems that nature itself has become unnatural. In late August, I noticed the moon was just a tiny sliver, but that sliver was more red than I ever remember seeing it. A harvest moon, I know, but still it seemed an omen to me. Perhaps it is just me. I know it is foolish to look for signs in the sky. And yet, the desire to do so is deeply imbedded in our species. Perhaps, like animals who can sense impending natural disasters, human beings too are capable sensing danger without being able to understand why.

Nightly I drive home and encounter the wildlife that must contend with traffic while crossing the road. I see a chipmunk speed across, a frog taking large jumps to cross as quickly as possible. I see a deer peering at me from a ditch, a couple of raccoons who, once committed, seem unable to turn back even with my car speeding right into their path. I brake and the disaster is narrowly averted.

My eyes are wide open, my mind alert. I do not want to hit anything, not even a frog. And yet there is something within me urging me to go faster. I need to get home, back to my life I’ve had to abandon in order to do my job to earn money to afford my car payments, car insurance, and gasoline. There is a subliminal urge too great for my conscious mind to control, and my foot applies a little more pressure to the gas pedal. Time is precious. I’ve calculated that driving even 5 miles an hour less should be sufficient to prevent an accident should something jump out in front of me, but somehow every time I look at the speedometer, I’m going faster again. Have to race my coworkers, have to beat them home, win the race.

What is wrong with me? Why do I love nature and yet not only drive so far to work, but drive so quickly from it? It is technology, it enables me to do what objectively I would never wish to do. It is like being home with a box of Twinkies: I would never imagine gorging myself sick on unnatural food, would certainly not go out of my way to do so. Ah, but if it is already there… If bad behavior is effortless and satisfying in the short term, it makes it far more difficult to do the right thing. If all it takes is pushing my foot a little harder on a gas petal, why not go faster? If gas is so damn cheap that I suffer little by polluting the atmosphere and endangering God’s little creations, it does make it more difficult to do the right thing. I do want to do the right thing.

The answer is to fashion a world in which it is easier to make good decisions. We’ve done a poor job of that. We’ve made a world where advertisement is constantly telling you to buy what you do not need, consume what is not good for you, trust in the system advertisers perpetuate. We are told that progress is our only good, and that progress means continually pushing further down on the accelerator.

We are, each one of us, driving down the road at too great a speed, heedless of the damage we cause to the natural world we ultimately rely upon for our survival. We must be reminded again and again that not only are we in control of the gas pedal, but we also have a brake.