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I collect details.

When I was in college, I took a single (ONE) creative writing course. I have always vaguely wished I’d taken more, naturally, in the way that one does–I wish I had had time to study four or five different degrees (and now, as I am older and realizing more and more that the “rules” you think are immutable in life, the things that define when you can do things, I am beginning to think that perhaps I will take the time to go back and do just that), but I remember that single creative writing course very vividly.

We had an exercise, one weekend, which centered on details. Every student was to take a notebook, cell phone, laptop, or other writing implement and go somewhere, and collect as many details about the place as possible. Whoever got the most details would win a limited-edition mixtape hand-made by the professor, and she made sure to forewarn us that it would include a lot of Steely Dan.

Naturally, being young and precocious and edgy in the autumn of 2013, I went to a graveyard.

You can do this exercise anywhere. It’s something between a writing drill and an exercise in mindfulness–look out the window, or look around the room, or look at a person (PLEASE do NOT BE CREEPY ABOUT IT THOUGH); go to a park or a freeway overpass or a Tim Hortons’ and just see things. Look at the things which are discrete Details About The Place.

Immediately after graduation, I worked at a store which had a sort of jumbled, disorganized, dragon’s hoard sort of aesthetic, if the dragon in question had only been able to plunder the merchandise of several hundred Cracker Barrels and a museum of kitchenware. By far the most common request I received from customers was along the lines of, “Please sir, I am here for a Spirelli vegetable slicer, and every time I look at the kitchen gadget wall my eyes explode, could you kindly direct me to wherever the fuck it is kept?”

In time, one developed a sort of technique for letting your eyes glaze over as you walked along the wall, and once your brain knew the products well enough, the outline of the Thing You Were Looking For would eventually separate itself from the massive wall of Things That Were Not What You Were Looking For. It felt like the same sensation that came with recognizing that a given object in the vicinity was in fact An Animal, and not a rock, plant, or sandwich board sign; the brain picking up something in the environment and going “Aha, this right here, this is a Thing Unto Itself.”

You have to do that. Let’s walk into our hypothetical cafe; to make sure everyone can hum along with this thought experiment, I’ll pick a Starbucks. There used to be one in San Juan Capistrano, CA, right across the street from the Mission, so well-placed on the corner that you could walk right out of the front door, cross the street (if some Newport Beach jackass in a C300 didn’t try to mow you down), and reach the train station in only a block of walking.

It’s fine to go into a place and only see as much of it as you need to. In fact, brains are very good at this. But there’s a kind of secret joy in spotting details in a place. Walking into the Starbucks and noting that through the windows you can see bougainvillea blooming on the walls of the Mission next door. Observing how the north-facing position of the cafe means that it is always cool and calm inside, the light blue-cast and softened by black tiles and Starbucks’ ubiquitous black and off-hipster colored furniture. It feels not unlike a cave, especially with the air conditioning on, cool and dry like a wine cellar. See how there is a sticker in the lower right corner of one of the windows? The contractors never took it off when the glass was installed, and none of the staff who came in after have dared to do so in their place. But all the rest of the windows lack one. Perhaps in the future some enterprising passerby will scrape it off with a credit card, and allow an extra 2×4 inches of light into the place.

In Blank Slate, the web serial I wrote over the last year (sequel coming soon!), there are dozens of details plucked straight from the forests of northern New England. I draw from a wide variety of influences, but one of my oldest and strongest north stars is ecology. I think about life and living things in every stage of a book–not only when I am designing Cool Monsters and considering which trophic level a dragon might occupy (and what kind of Opinions a hyperintelligent apex predator would have about the concept of trophic levels), but during the creation of the world. And the world of Blank Slate is…well, ecologically speaking, it’s North America.

Blank Slate is set in Frydain, a dark-fantasy kingdom. That’s wonderful. Sure. Who doesn’t like a nice dark fantasy kingdom? But that isn’t a biome. Blank Slate is set in a region not unlike New Hampshire/Vermont/Maine; the mountains are old, and long worn down by erosion. The summers are brutal, wild with life, as the plants try to cram one year’s growth into three months; the air is so humid that insects grow to truly unsettling size, and all that vibrant foliage turns brilliant colors when the seasons change. The first big storm of autumn rips those lovely leaves off the trees, reducing the landscape to a barren, skeletal forest marked only by mosses, lichens, a few pines, and the ferns that survive until first frost.

These are ecological facts. They have nothing to do with fantasy–and in fact, nothing to do with story. But at the same time, in a story which is (in part) about beauty, and about possession by the wild, driving muse who ignites the everyday, the ability to isolate and reiterate these details is intimately intermingled with the themes and arcs of the story. It’s an aspect of the work which wouldn’t be possible if not for the time I’d spent cultivating this skill–and, I maintain, it is a skill, like so much else connected with writing. There’s no magical gift to it; only the call, and the practice.

If you write–and even if you don’t–collect some details. Try it. Go to a place you know, a place you love or hate or even a place that makes no impact on you at all. Look around. And ask yourself, what stands out? What does your mind see as a Thing Unto Itself?

What is broken? The little chips and dents and half-repaired scratches of well-worn objects are fantastic details; they lend life and sympathy to a space, make it feel lived-in, used, and, if some pains have been taken to restore things to working order, they suggest care, investment, and pride.

How is this place illuminated? Light conveys one of our senses, makes it possible for living things to survive, and can create any one of a thousand moods. There are so many kinds of light–the warm fire of a hearth, the austere glow of clinic light bars, the daring intimacy of a candle, the erratic, ear-challenging flash of a resonant electrical transformer.

What is alive? Living things add interest and a sense of continuity to a space. Animals, plants, and fungi do not exist all of a sudden, and they are not variable conditions like light or smoke or the smell of violets. If there are plants in an area, it is because there is water, soil, and sometimes light (and sometimes nitrogen, phosphorus, etc., etc.). If the life is scavenging–if it is roaches, or mushrooms–that too is a continuity, the continuity of decay, of solitude, perhaps of neglect.

What is the air like? Air conveys sound, but also scent; the smell of mold or death can cue our brains in to danger far before we see anything to cause us fear, and there are even odorless hazards that can lurk in still places; nitrogen, methane, carbon monoxide. Air can magnify context; still air in a crypt might almost be tranquil, but a steady breeze suggests (gulp!) that some hidden door is near…a door which could admit visitors, or release inhabitants. Conversely, the quiet, radiator-heated air of a public office might almost be stifling in a moment of stress.

By existing, you learn things. I’ve said as much before. We all acquire knowledge almost by accident, across fields so wildly varied that they can never fully overlap. We learn by the bare and simple fact of embodied reality, learn things about chapstick and screwdrivers, tire irons and spaghetti straps. And with that comes details. As you look around the world, as you explore the place where you are, think about what you know. What can you learn about where you are, based on where you’ve been? That, too, is a detail, and one which perhaps only you can uncover.

“The Devil is in the details,” the expression says. Maybe. There are angels there too.

Hi. I love talking. This is just a real fact about me. I love all kinds of communication, in fact; writing, rhetoric, texting, tumblr shitposts, emails, phone calls, handwritten letters. I love language, and I pay a lot of attention to the way that people use language, as a result.

I’ve already talked about how the aesthetic and vibe of Blank Slate (my web serial) are based on, in, and around Irish mythology and folklore. How the naming conventions are largely Irish, with a splash of Welsh in a few places. But despite this, Dermot himself doesn’t have an Irish accent, though he could be read as having one. I’m getting ahead of the game here.

Today we’re going to talk about three things: one is the point of, inspirations and motivations, talking about the actual serial. One is the role of dialogue in a story.

But before we get to those, we’re going to talk about the actual WAY I find character Voice. Or the way I found it.

It might not shock you to know that I didn’t get out a lot when I was a kid. Long story short, I spent a lot of time writing for my own entertainment. I had many original characters (OCs, if you will) often knockoffs from various intellectual properties (i was like fifteen, we all do it, it’s fine). And I liked to make them talk to each other–the cerebral version of playing with action figures. But I noticed something that annoyed and dissatisfied me: Despite the fact that my Earthsea OC, my Young Wizards OC, and my Digimon OC were all from very different worlds, they all talked the same. Which was glaringly obvious, because I wrote out this dialogue in screenplay format–so there was no room to hide the fact that the conversations looked like this:

Rettag: Hi! Sure is a shame about this evil wizard!

Darius: Hi to you too–I think this is a man we need to stop. What do you guys think?

Tisrok: “Guys?”

Kellidrana: I think you need to use a word that includes dragons, Darius.

Darius: Okay. What do we think?

Rettag: Nailed it.

Maybe you can see the problem; all these characters have the same speech pattern. They all talk in the same way, which also happens to be the way that I talked, as a 15 year old. They use the same words to convey the same sentiments–greetings are all “Hi!”, they use casual midwest/californian slang and sentence construction, and they reiterate phrases like “I think / need to” to express opinions and necessity.

This really harshed my vibe, as a kid. I found it super irritating that these characters ‘sounded wrong,’ so I tried to change things. These characters should talk differently! A mercenary, an immortal sorcerer, a dragon, and an apprentice wizard should not talk the same way, because they didn’t all learn to SPEAK in the same way, don’t all think in the same way, and don’t even feel the same way about being in a room together. So I would rewrite the dialogue.

I did this a lot. I did this over and over again, created page after page of dialogue, until eventually my dialogues stopped looking like the above and started looking like this:

Rettag: Wizard’s going to be a problem.

Darius: Perhaps would be a problem for you, were you to face this trial unchampioned. But you have brave men at your side with which to face the danger.

Tisrok: Men?

Kellidrana: I-I don’t think he meant offense, just–I think he meant it to be inclusive.

Darius: Forgive me, cielo, sir dragon. Sir mercenary; you do not stand alone. Our numbers and our valor will carry the field.

Rettag: Not convinced.

I didn’t realize it at the time–I was just having fun–but this actually is absolutely a writing exercise; exploring how character is expressed by changing the variables which make up their speech. If you are a writer and you want to beef up this side of character, I recommend spending time playing around with lines of dialogue. Write dialogue unmoored from speech tags or description as best you can.

And speak your dialogue. Oh my god. Read it out loud. Deliver it like an actor trying to sell their lines. Feel how you would talk in that moment, and try to think from that to how the character would talk.

That’s a lot of information about how I make character voice different, and why. I could tell you more details, more facts about the writing process; Dermot (and by extension, Grannine) has a way of speaking that is most similar to Glaswegian English, which has some great turns of phrase and a really awesome cadence, while Aidan and Mariead share a kind of cold RP (midlands) and Eris…has oscillated, actually; sometimes she uses speech patterns from Irish, and other times from New Zealand English. These are things that have come into my head while writing, and thinking about those accents, the way people from different places talk, helps inform the words I choose, the sound the dialogue takes, the number of words used to make a point. But this isn’t, really, helpful; if you speak a language (and if you don’t…how are you reading this?), you already know that people sound different, and you can probably practice and think through people sounding different.

What’s dialogue for?

One way to look at it is to say, dialogue is action. Dialogue is how a character makes their beliefs and themes apparent in the world. The connotations and implications of their declarations provide delineations between interpretations of their conversations. Each word a character utters, and each context in which they speak, can be seen as further building this elaborate impression of a way-of-being, because what we say, is what we think, is who we are. (if I can steal an Irigaray title here, ‘to speak is never neutral,’ aha)

Another thing to note here is that dialogue is a tool of exposition. If “dialogue is action” prioritizes the agency of characters, “dialogue is a tool” emphasizes the role of the author; by having a character say something, anything, I tell the reader something about the world. (we’ll get more into description and worldbuilding when I write about details, but)

Let’s take our example in Blank Slate, then. We know we have different ways of speaking–even if I never articulate during the course of the book that Dermot speaks like fucking, Frankie Boyle, the way he talks is different from Aidan and Mariead, which sets their floral, stereotypically-courtly speech apart from his, which sets him and Grannine apart from Eris with her lighter, less rigidly-defined dialect, more fluid and more easily influenced by the people around her. These differences tell us something about the character; the gradual shift in Dermot’s language, from brutal to increasingly poetic, affects the mood and the tone of the story.

And art, as we know, is all, (arguably only,) about creating a mood.

This is more a meditation than an essay, but there will be more soon! Stay tuned!

Listen. Reader. I’m not going to lie to you. The inspiration for my protagonist was that I really fucking loved Fate/Zero in 2012. But before we get into that.

This post is part of my Blanking Slate series, meaning that it’s going to be about my web serial, Blank Slate. If you haven’t read the serial, well, I’m slightly confused about how you ended up here, but, hey! Welcome! You might find this post a little confusing, but you’re smart. You can pick things up from context.

How are names chosen?

Aidan and Mariead have Irish first names. I liked how they sounded, liked the shape of them on the page. Mariead’s name in particular is so lovely. As for Eris Malarin, her name is picked HEAVILY for the Cool Factor. Her surname isn’t far from MacLaren, but her first name is Greek as FUCK, which sets her apart from the rest of the cast with their Irish names, and even alienates her from the world, with its mostly-Welsh naming conventions.

They were not the root of the story, though. They all emerged at the same time, once I knew what the story was about, but in order to know what the story was about, I had to know the protagonist. I had to know who Dermot Slate was. And to explain how I learned who Dermot Slate was, I have to tell you about how I write fantasy.

I grew up reading fantasy. I fucking love fantasy. There’s nothing wrong with reading fantasy. I read fantasy. But imagine you wanted to learn how to paint a person. And you studied manhwa or some other genre of drawing in order to learn how people were drawn. The pictures you’d end up drawing wouldn’t, necessarily, be bad, in and of themselves–and in fact, the more innate talent you had, the better your creation would be. But it wouldn’t be a picture of a person, it would be a picture of a picture of a person. And if you were someone who didn’t have as much talent–one of the writers who has to really grind to improve–that setback might end up preventing you from drawing a realistic picture of a person for years.

In visual arts, this distinction between primary, secondary, tertiary sources is readily available. We can tell that the actual whole person Brie Larson is not the same thing as the role she plays in Captain Marvel, which is not the same thing as the comic book character, which is not the same thing as an anime-style fanart of the comic book character. I don’t mean to sound snobbish when I say this, and I want to stress that if you learn to draw manga by reading manga, there’s nothing wrong with that. It is simply different, and in my opinion the sources you use for inspiration are an important factor in developing an individual style. If you like the art you create, then you’re doing it correctly, whatever the process is.

For me, I have always believed in drawing from primary sources. I grew up reading Lord Of The Rings, and I remember my parents having a copy of some incredibly dry book about the writing process of Lord Of The Rings. I was struck by the rigor, the passion of Tolkien’s pursuit of knowledge. Tolkien wanted to write about legends, so he read legends. It became my creative instinct when undertaking a new project to search for a primary source–in historical fiction, to look for actual historical events in the era. In fantasy, to look for mythology, history, cultural studies in the field in question. I love crawling through books and websites searching for original research; it’s an integral part of my enjoyment of writing.

Fast forward. I was inspired by a character in Fate/Zero, an anime I saw in 2012. The anime, for those of you who don’t know, is about heroes of legend who fail to help Hot King Arthur win a Murder/Death/Kill competition. Many of the characters are based on actual folklore, which was great for ME, because I saw an anime character based on Diarmuid Ua Duibhine and liked his hair and immediately dove into the primary sources.

There’s a lot of primary sources on Dermot O’Dyna. Turns out, there’s quite a fucking story about Diarmuid Ua Duibhine and the Fate placed on him–a story which bears a striking resemblance to Tristan and Isolde, which of course was part of the foundation for Tolkien’s Beren and Luthien. Dermot O’Dyna was one of the Fianna, one of the knights of Finn MacCool, and played the Lancelot to Finn’s Arthur in a similar fashion.

I think it’s funny, that the root of the character’s name was here. The final character bears almost no resemblance to the inspiration; hardly an elegant, soft-spoken knight blessed with a face so beautiful that it enchanted every woman he saw (Irish mythology is WACK, y’all). The closest two similarities are the sense of Doom over him, and the fact that he has a sword named Fury (Moralltach, in the original legend). So why is Dermot an asshole?

In 2012-14 I was also really into the Dresden Files, which is a noir/urban fantasy series about a grim, misogynistic wizard who solves crimes. At one point, said wizard becomes possessed by a hot demon lady, who simultaneously entices him to sell his soul and also calls him out on occasional bullshit. I thought that this was by far the best part of the entire series, and I really liked the dynamic of the sleek, intellectual demon and the blue-collar host, but there is, still, more missing before we get to this point. Two points, specifically.

Blank Slate is, aesthetically, Irish and a bit Welsh in origin. But the sensibility of it? A haunted, dark, rural world, permeated by the memories of historical atrocities? A misogynistic, theocratic, homophobic dictatorship? There is more than a little southern gothic in the bedrock of the series, and it helps to unify the tone into something suitably Grim.

Southern Gothic also fits neatly into the last missing piece of Dermot’s character, which is, actually, not about Dermot at all–because the last piece of Dermot’s character is Le Sucube, the Duende, the Leannann sidhe. These stories are often about magic women who seduce men, drive them mad, and leave them dead, soulless, or destitute. But I don’t think these are stories about sex. I think that it’s easier to pass them off as being about sex; it fits more into the pantheon of Christianity, and into our fear of the body. I think these stories are about art and imagination. To have a work of art is to have a Terrible Purpose, one which does not release you until you either give voice to its demands or cut away some part of yourself.

We’re back, at this point, to Tristan and Isolde, as well. Tristan and Isolde is the story of Dermot and Grainne (yes, I changed her name, no, I have no regrets), is the story of Lancelot and Guenivere–two lovers who ruin their own lives, and shatter the fate of a kingdom, in the pursuit of their romance. For them, love was a terrible, inexorable purpose that could not be denied, despite their best efforts.

Further, having this theme of Imagination and diabolic inspiration fits so, so well into the Southern Gothic tone. “Sinful thoughts” are the way that a Church can institute reflexive control even within the minds of its victims. Demonize imagination, and you crush resistance. Even THINKING the wrong thing can be a sin.

Putting all these pieces of research together took a few years. I probably wrote the first draft of the story sometime in the winter of 2013. Blank Slate was always a winter story; I wrote large sections of it while living in a very rural part of the northeast, and the natural landscape of Frydain is heavily inspired by the autumn and winter of New England–especially during “stick season,” once the color has gone.

The point of all of this is not to trumpet how unachievably complex my writing process is. I don’t want you to take that thought away. I want to be quite clear in fact, that this was not necessarily a process, in the sense of, I did not watch Fate/Zero in 2012 and think “I want to write a southern gothic fantasy web serial about a grim man of color who fights an accountant.” Rather, the story developed organically, over the course of me just living my life. I wrote several drafts of it–at least three, I think–before I felt I had enough of a handle on the themes to put it into the world, but I lay out the whole process here in the hopes that if you are out there and you want to create a story, and you feel daunted by the Task, you can come away from this realizing it was really quite simple after all.

I had an inspiration. I sought out primary texts related to the source of that inspiration–in this case, because what inspired me was a Ufotable animation of a light novel depicting a stylized version of an Irish legend, I went back to Irish legend. I let that idea mix and mingle with other stories, aesthetics, dynamics, and themes that I found compelling, including combining it with other research I’d been doing into the legend of the succubus and Leannan sidhe, and with the Southern Gothic sensibility. Other elements that I love made it into the story as well–the overlap between Elmore Leonard stories, cowboy movies, and samurai lore comes to mind, because it’s in that triple-overlap that we get eloquent, one-liner spouting swordsmen who wander from town to town laying down the law.

Everyone has a different process for writing. A different pipeline from inspiration to final draft. I think it’s important to demystify that process. Everything humans do is natural capacity augmented by Practice. If you have the capacity to create and you Practice it, you get better. If you don’t have a natural talent for creating and you Practice it, you also get better. You do well what you do repeatedly. So figure out what your process is, and do it over and over, and let the leannan sidhe take you where you want to go.

Thanks for reading.

Hi readers, if you’re coming over here from my web serial, Blank Slate, welcome to my “main” blog; this is where I’ll be posting some content about writing, the fantasy genre, and the first book of the serial in the coming weeks. If you’re NOT coming here from my web serial, and you followed this blog before, you can check out the first complete book of the story at fireandslate.com!

Either way, check back here each weekend for more Content throughout the spooky month of October! See you then!

Hello reader,

First of all, if you’re reading this today, and you read my blog post in January 2020, congratulations to both of us. First of all, to you, for still reading all my posts, thanks mom. ❤ Second of all, and of course, to me, for writing a blog post almost every week for a year.

Things have somewhat disintegrated toward the end of the year, but I find that having to write SOMETHING every week was VERY helpful. That’s been the theme of the year, in fact; me, personally, disproving once and for all that deeply-held belief that somehow, slowing down will make it better.

As a matter of fact, it’s never once in my life been the case that waiting to figure out what I want to do is a better decision. In writing, in relationships, in my career, action is the order of the day, and it’s always worked out better than passivity.

Just like Montaigne says it’s easier to judge the goodness of a life after it is over, I think it’s best to determine the theme of a year looking backwards–a belief concordant with Hillman’s admonishment that life, itself, is best understood reading from the end to the beginning. With that in mind, while I look back at 2020 and see that it was dark, and bleak, and lonely, and while we struggled alone in each of our billions of unique ways, I see too that there was connection.

Connection is something I think about on a daily basis–not only because we are now “blah blah more connected then ever,” boak ,fucking gross–but because we share more than ever. There is a piece of cheese next to me on the table as I write this. When I finish this paragraph, I’m going to take a picture of it, and send it to a friend of mine with whom I was discussing raclette last night, along with the caption, “IT’S RACLETTE SEASON!!!?!?”

My work this year–though it’s been, admittedly, sporadic and stressful and insecurity-inducingly-poorly compensated, has been intensely rewarding too, because I’ve been able to speak to and work with people from around the world. I don’t know these people, but I know their faces, I know their stories, and I have seen some of them survive the same year I have. I think about them, when I read news about events happening elsewhere, and we always take time aside from our work to have those moments of sharing–hello, how are you, are you well? isn’t this terrible? aren’t we all sad? at least we’re all together here.

I think a lot about what humans are. As a scifi/fantasy writer by passion, I am fascinated by the human experience and what it means to tease and deform it along different dimensions. When we travel, we look at a world which is unfamiliar to us through eyes that don’t understand what they see. Travel makes us open and excited and receptive, and when you come home from travelling in this state, you see your home in the light shed by the places you’ve left behind. Writing can do that. A story about another world can be a universe you can step into and use to look back at the world outside in a new way.

But, thing is, I can already do that. I can imagine myself into another world and never come out–there’s a reason A Wizard Alone is my favorite Diane Duane novel and maybe my favorite YA novel of all time. I could just write these stories for myself, and never tell any of you motherfuckers about it.

But that would be inhuman. Because the point of writing isn’t the ability to create something. It’s the ability to create something you can then share with others. The ability to put something into the world for people to connect with. Because that’s human. Humans are connection–we are majestic, wonderful, silly, naked little monkeys holding angelfire in our hands, seeking to share our light and warmth with one another. We are little groups and families that take care of each other, even in the sacred night before civilization. We are living things, and all living things must exist in connection to other forms of life–life cannot survive in isolation.

Happy New Year, reader. It is 2021, and you are not alone, and neither am I. Be well. See you next week.

nothingiwanttobeapartof

Shitposts That Make Me Think About Depth Psychology is a series of posts which–well, look, if you can’t figure out what it’s about, then I don’t know why you’re here, really. What do you want from me? What explanation can I possibly offer you?

THIS BLOG has been on hiatus now for entirely too long, because I’ve been pretending that I’m working on something else too hard to work on this. I do think that there are times in life when you have to choose and reallocate your energy.

The world is by nature finite, which means that we as finite creatures are limited in the suite of options we can pursue. When I was six, I wanted to be about ninety different things; fighter pilot, spy, marine biologist, teacher, wizard, businessman, etc., etc. But since I was maybe eleven or twelve, I knew I wanted one thing among all the other things: to write.

Now, it’s not exactly easy to make a living as a writer. I don’t know if you know this. In fact, in my whole life I have made almost zero money from any writing that I do–and I do a lot of writing. I don’t know that there has been a single day since 2004 where I haven’t written at least five hundred words. That’s a lot of time that I’m not getting paid for.

The other thing that I would like is to not die of starvation, so, like, there are things we want out of our soul, and things that we want out of hierarchy-of-needs reasons.

This isn’t to say that I don’t still want to be a fighter pilot, spy, marine biologist, teacher, wizard, and businessman. And there are aspects of my life where all of those elements come through. But first, foremost, and primarily, I am driven by that desire to write. To give voice to something that is larger than me, speaks through me.

And not just that. To give voice to other people. Helping other people to speak and write and express themselves is, in my opinion, a high and holy calling. Hillman said “words are soul” and by that measure, as you increase the eloquence, the confidence, the aptitude with which an individual can express themselves, you are narrowing the gap between their soul and their world.

But I’m getting off topic. Limitations, those are the topic of the day, and this story is related to that, I swear. See, pursuing this want that I have requires the elimination of other options. I will not ever be an Olympic high diver, for example. Mostly because dive caps aren’t good for my face shape. So unflattering. But also because the hundreds of hours of passion and practice that teenage Olympic high divers put into their sport, I have spent writing very bad novel drafts that no one will ever read.

Sometimes, in order to pursue things, we have to give up other things. That’s just a fact of embodied existence. But it’s one I’ve always found contained an asterisk. Because I myself, personally, find I am happiest when I am pursuing multiple threads at once in my life; when I feel my life is growing and advancing in multiple directions simultaneously, linked by a united vision of what I want to be. And the times when I stall, spin out, crash and burn, are always the times when I cut too many of those threads for the sake of focusing.

So, yes. I’ll tell you now, reader, if you’ve made it this far; I was putting this blog on hiatus because I thought I needed the extra time and energy to devote to launching a wordpress-hosted work of serial fiction. I now realize I was wrong. I don’t need the extra time and energy. That time and energy went into procrastination, although now I do have a sick Warframe loadout and some really impressive Spotify playlists. (side note: check me out on Spotify if you want I guess, fuck)

I’m no longer on hiatus. I started this blog in December 2019, and god fucking dammit, I’m going to finish it in December 2020. I have to write over 2000 words per day for the next 23 days in order to hit my launch date and you know the fuck what? I’m going to do it, and do everything else I have to do, and I’m going to have precisely zero time apart from that and it’s going to be amazing.

Stay tuned, reader. I’ll see you next week!

Working on a project this week, hopefully I’ll have something for you all soon! :3

Hello, reader.

It is very nearly election time in the U.S.A., and while I try not to talk about politics here on the blog, it’s a difficult and unsuccessful policy, because politics is simply the natural extension of ethics into broader society, and thus inextricable from who we are as individuals and, from how we think about the world.

This is, of course, part of the problem. We tend to talk about “politics” in the USA as if it were something we could separate out from everything else. There are two sides to this coin, and I’d like to come to grips with them quickly before we move on to the main thrust of this post.

Problem one: The fucking Puritans.

We COULD just stop the post here, comma, semicolon, period, and be done, but I say “UGH the FUCKING Puritans” so often that once in a while I ought to explain it. When I say this, especially here on this website, I am shorthanding a whole lot of stuff (I should do a Toolbox on this…hmm, stay tuned for next week) into the idea that maybe people from the U.S. tend to categorize and make moral judgments very quickly.

Problem two: Politics IS not something that you can separate from daily life. I don’t understand how to say this more explicitly. If you think your brother should be able to go to school without thousands of dollars of debt, you should be in favor of free or low-cost college. If you like the independently owned coffee shop on the corner and don’t want them to go out of business, you should be in favor of legislation that actually protects small businesses. If you think your child should make more than $12.50 an hour, you should be in favor of raising the minimum wage. If you think your health insurance should cost less, you should be in favor of universal health care.  Hypocrisy is bad. Don’t do that.

BUT THAT iSN’T WHAT WE’RE GOING TO TALK ABOUT TODAY, and I’m becoming DISTRACTED by my RAGE.

What I want to talk about is the day, whenever that day actually ends up being in this year of CONTINUAL fuckery, when we actually know for sure what the state of our political system will be in the next two to four years. Because now, and then, we have some work to do.

Because, you see, when we get done with the current president, and when the country finally has a substantive Left that isn’t just three women willing to admit that yes, they are kinda socialist, but in that gentle way where they just want people to not starve to death? if that’s ok?, THEN we are STILL going to have the following problem:

This country is FULL of Nazis.

Let me rephrase this in a slightly less polemic way.

Consider, for a moment, how many people in the United States must have extreme, disconnected-from-reality, hardcore threaten-a-public-official white supremacist ethnonationalist neo-nazi third reich two electric boogaloo views. What percentage of the population are you willing to believe that might be? 2%? 10%? 15%? Fine. Now think about all the people who nod along when those people get started on a rant in a bar, and who if you corner them will say, “sure, he’s a little extreme, but he’s making a lot of good points.” What percentage of the population is that? What percentage of the population is content to live in a Fahrenheit 451 haze while drone strikes are ordered and asylum seekers are held in prison cells, so long as they don’t have to think about the yucky parts of living in a very active imperial power? How many family members do you have, who have voted for the current president, or for one of his supporters, and who you are now ready to cut ties with?

This is the problem.

A problem, I should mention, which doesn’t exist for the Right. Nazis are playing politics on Easy Mode: just listen to your leader. The answer to “what do you do with the part of the population which finds your politics incompatible with their ideal state?” is “genocide them.”  Shoot them, force them to flee the country, lock them out of healthcare until they die. Boom, done, ethnic cleansing accomplished, time to have a huge party where nobody can fucking dance.

But for the left, for us bleeding heart AOC simp snowflake socialist liberals who just want evweywone to be happy, UwUniversal Heawf Cawwe, MinUwUmum Wage Inkwease, we have the following MASSIVE problem: when we’re done, and the GDP is through the fucking roof, and the cost of living is $20 per year, and everyone has free health care, and college is $1, and we’ve nationalized Amazon’s logistical network to carry food through the entire continental United States, entirely eliminating food deserts and shortages, we are still going to have Nazis in this country. 

The next time we have a Democratic president and House and Senate and Supreme Court, we are still going to have a substantial vocal minority of people in this country who want to burn it to the fucking ground. And we are going to have to reckon with this.

Re-integrating these people into society is going to be WORK. It is going to be work from EVERY SINGLE FUCKING ONE of us. Yes, this means people who have baggage. People who have trauma. People who by all fucking rights should not have to do this, are going to have to reach out. Yes, this isn’t fair. Fairness is a luxury for people who don’t live in a post-authoritarian state.

What comes after this presidency is not utopia. Maybe we will live long enough to see a kind, fair, just country. But first comes the grimy, slimy, dirty work of reaching back out and rebuilding some semblance of unity across a political divide that goes back decades. Because it’s simply not possible to run a country well when less than half of its population is on board.

Goodbye for now, reader. Stay safe this Election Day. Good luck.

Hello reader! In these uncertain times, I’m happy to announce that we’re back on our bullshit today with another post about life, death, aesthetics, and angels.

The question on the docket today is none other than the old standard: the meaning of life. We have previously talked about the ideas of, respectively, James Hillman and Oscar Wilde–now it’s time to bring one of my favorite French essayists into the conversation. Actually, I suppose we should call him The French Essayist–Michel De Montaigne. 

Brief overview for the lucky few new readers who haven’t seen me write about this zany French author; Montaigne was a French noble who in 1571 decided to lock himself up in his personal library and write a series of elaborations on the subject of “anything he could possibly fucking think up.”  

I highly recommend reading one or two of Montaigne’s Essais, chosen not by some schmuck on the internet but entirely at random; he has a delightfully chatty style which even four centuries later makes his essays sound like a rambling, self-deprecating monologue you could hear from a drunk undergraduate majoring in political science and philosophy. 

As you might suspect from reading this description, I take Montaigne to be something of a personal idol, and I am very much of the hopes that today I can share a little bit of my enthusiasm for this dude. 

Today, keeping our other thinkers in the wings, we’re going to spend a little time with his pleasantly unfocused essay, “That To Study Philosophy Is To Learn to Die.” Social media coordinators take note: the man knows how to title a thought piece.  

As someone who references Aristotle with insufferable frequency, I am personally quite pleased with Montaigne’s opener in this piece. His argument in this essay is simple and stated right out in the title, thesis statements be damned. The thing we want from life is happiness, not only the positive presence of joy but the absence of fear and suffering, and one of the great fears in life is the fear of death. Thus, becoming wise is the same as reconciling yourself to death.  

“All the opinions of the world agree in this, that pleasure is
our end, though we make use of divers means to attain it: they would,
otherwise, be rejected at the first motion; for who would give ear to him
that should propose affliction and misery for his end?”

Michel is a well-read French intellectual, and one of the hallmarks of his personal style is a laconic, casual integration of dozens of disparate thinkers and sources, so closely entangled that it takes an equally erudite reader to decipher and annotate the original text for consumption. In this essay in particular, this lovely tendency is on full display, as Montaigne gives us a casual survey of a dozen different authors writing on the subject of death, musing on the fragility of life and the importance of cherishing it. 

Montaigne, in his early thirties at the time of writing this essay, speaks of death with familiarity, and calls on his readers to do the same:  

“Let us disarm him of his novelty and strangeness, let us converse and be familiar with him, and have nothing so frequent in our thoughts as death. “

I have to confess, too, that when I originally conceived of this blog post back in January of 2020, I did not imagine that I would be rereading this specific essay now, in the midst of a world-altering pandemic, half a globe away from where I had started. My relationship to death has changed so much since I first read Montaigne sometime in 2011, and now I am quite moved by his simple but INCREDIBLY goth attitude towards the end of this piece: 

“A friend of mine the other day turning over my tablets, found therein a
memorandum of something I would have done after my decease, whereupon I told him, as it was really true, that though I was no more than a league’s distance only from my own house, and merry and well, yet when
that thing came into my head, I made haste to write it down there,
because I was not certain to live till I came home. As a man that am
eternally brooding over my own thoughts, and confine them to my own
particular concerns, I am at all hours as well prepared as I am ever like
to be, and death, whenever he shall come, can bring nothing along with
him I did not expect long before.”

Toward the end of autumn here in the northern hemisphere, it is the season of coming death, and the natural end and transformation of life is not far from my mind. I see it in the bare and browning trees, and it is all around us now in the time of the pandemic, our new plague, represented by cold statistics and bright red info-boxes on CNN.

I wonder if Montaigne would have liked Blue Oyster Cult.