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Category Archives: Reflecting On The World

This is just me following in the footsteps of Montaigne. This will be train-of-thought, and it will be subjective.

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.

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.

Hello reader,

We are now halfway through October in the year two thousand and twenty, and here, the leaves are starting to turn. When I sit at my computer and write this blog post with electronic music in my ears, I feel like an anime background on a 10-hour youtube video someone might study/chill out to.

Fall is the season of creature comforts. Chunky sweaters, pumpkin spice, hot cocoa, apple cider–the treats and trimmings of a harvest season that is now largely unmoored from most of our daily labors. This is, possibly, the one season where our culture most encourages us to just be cozy.

That’s important, because being comfortable and self-indulgent is in my opinion fundamental to a good life. This is a thread I see in other cultures, and one which is gathering traction in at least one of the countercultures in the U.S., but it needs to be stronger. We put so much stock in function and willpower that we often fail to recognize that the quickest and easiest cure for a stressful life is just, not to have one.

To do the little things which bring us joy–to put weight and solemn priority behind things like, making sure to get that bowl of hot soup, light those little candles, heat up a cup of tea–this should be as dreadfully important as the all-consuming American obsession with Productivity. And yet, it is only in this time of year, the rainy midpoint of autumn, that we feel empowered by the culture to follow those needs.

What if we just…did things we liked, all year round, though? Isn’ that worth it? I had trouble putting my finger on this when I traveled in Spain, but something about being there felt like I had time-travelled from the early Paleolithic–and it was, in part, the creature comforts. Everything in every public and private space was engineered to be more considerate of a life where a little bit of extra time is something worth trading for a little bit more pleasure.

This is an idea that folds easily into my ever-evolving stance on art and creation; sometimes it is necessary simply to do things because you like them. American culture has a very strong tendency to want to apply moral judgment to everything, but frankly, that’s those god damn protestants at it again; there are things in life (most of life, honestly) which are just, amoral, in the very specific clear sense of “having no real moral content.” And I don’t care how long of a list of complaints you nail to the door about that, I’m going to stick to it.

On that note, have a good weekend, reader. Find yourself a creature comfort. You are, after all, mostly a monkey in need of care and enrichment.

Hello, reader. It’s October first!

Where I currently live, this is a transitional time, and one of my favorite times of year, as it brings a kind of melancholy vitality. All the trees are changing color, preparing for a long winter ahead, but at the same time the moss is exploding, growing rapidly, intensely. The rain makes the colors more vivid, and as much as the growing cold suggests winter is close, I always associate this first part of fall with life, more than death. It’s only after, when the leaves are gone and the frost begins to hit harder, that the winter begins.

When I lived in other places, the seasons were different. This is so obvious as to be just stupid rather than profound; but let’s put in the time to make it profound. When I lived in other places, the way that the external world changed affected my daily life in different ways. When I lived in California, fall was the time of year when the hot summers relented, but the rain hadn’t yet come, making it perfect for outdoor activity.

I’ve talked before about sacred time and continuity; something I think about often as a human rather than as a writer is continuity or, to use the word I prefer, concordance. It’s important to me, personally, that every moment of my life be concordant with every other; something in each action I take connects not only to the rest of my life, but down, into the world around me, and up, into infinity.

There’s an intentional aspect to this. I’m trying to live in a way which is constantly, eternally spiritual. Always tied to the world. It’s not, always, successful; there are days where I struggle to see the eternal in the things I am supposed to do, but I think that inconsistency is actually a hallmark of humanity. Only theories are perfect. Real things can never be so.

Imperfection. Being content with the uncompleted, to live in completeness? Hmm. You can track my mental state by how meditative these posts are. This week is a more esoteric one. And that’s…it, really.

Dear reader,

I want you, if you can, to imagine a grassy green park, somewhere in the heart of Southern California. Not (tempting as it may be) Griffith Park (though I do have some fond memories there); no, this is a younger memory and a FAR more interesting one.

At or around the age of 12 or 13, I had just become aware of two things: one, the Harry Potter book series, of which I was an avid reader (the tendency for enthusiastic obsession over book series started young), and something called…Dungeons and Dragons?

For me this was an ideal time to come to this realization, because I was already interested in writing stories as a hobby and maybe as a…career? I knew very well the strengths and weaknesses of dementors and bodaks, but I had only the vaguest idea of what a career actually might consist of. But now here was Dungeons and Dragons, a word which I did not at first associate with dice, or tables, or nerds, but with storytelling.

My first experience with Dungeons and Dragons as an idea was not, actually, a tabletop game. I and the other kids who talked about it had no idea that dice were even involved, or that there were rules, or books! What we did know, was that we were on book 3 of Harry Potter, and we wanted very badly to imagine ourselves into this fantasy world. So we did.

The ensuing game–somewhere between a good old fashioned “let’s pretend” and an extended improvisational writing exercise–was, like many of the other rich inner lives of children in the Harry Potter heyday, an exploration of Hogwarts long after the (then unknown) events of Harry’s school years 4-7. We were, obviously, all descendants of the previous cast, one generation later, back causing trouble.

There were no rules. We would play for hours at a time, and the only product (aside from fanart and entire notebooks full of correspondence) was the interaction itself, the entertainment we received. And yet, I consider that game to be integral to my understanding of art, of writing, of actual Dungeons and Dragons, and even acting and direction.

Why do I still think about that game, now, almost twenty years later? Because it was fucking awesome, that’s why. We played just for the sake of playing, and, as animals do when they play, we learned. Just existing in the world teaches you something. Playing at someone else’s experience can teach you something quite different from anything you’d ever encounter in your own life.

Maybe most importantly, playing “Dungeons and Dragons” as a sketchy, loosely defined mutual storytelling/trust/fun exercise taught me something absolutely essential: it taught me that my ability to write, my imagination, my drive for creativity, could be used for fun, on my own motive, of my own volition, any time I want. Which has informed my entire life since–and now, that I am able to state it in a more sophisticated manner, and take this little hope and pitch it into the giant pokemon tournament of ideas, is still my fundamental reasoning for everything.

Why do I write? Because I like to. Why do I create? Because it’s fun. Enjoyment is creative. Creativity is enjoyable. I need nothing more than that. I will refuse to feel like time is a finite thing which can be wasted. If I work side jobs forever and publish no novels and never top 5 readers on my blog, I will still write, every goddamn week, because it’s what I do.

Do something fun.

What does it mean, exactly, to have a talisman?

We humans, as creatures of image and symbol, and also, at least for now, creatures of property–we all have things that are special to us. Necklaces, rings, bracelets. Favorite pens or pocketknives. Coats and shoes and hats. These objects become part of the myths of our lives, the events of a particular journey or a relationship. When we stumble across them again later, they evoke not only the ideas tied to them, but the whole piece of life that they were a part of, dragging up all the old memories.

As a writer, prized possessions like this are fantastic. I think about them every time I attempt to evoke a character–because the things we choose as talismans, as the artifacts we carry which convey our personality to the world, say so much about us as individuals.

Like any other character trait, the absence of this says something, too. Someone who has no meaningful possessions is saying something about themselves by that quality. Maybe it’s because I’ve moved so often, but I couldn’t imagine living without a small system of prized objects in orbit around me, even though individual pieces might swap in and out of that particular cast.

Right now as I look across my desk, I see a perfect example; the beat-up pocket flashlight I’ve carried for three years, worn down by jean pockets and the occasional drop onto gravel or asphalt.  It was matte black when I bought it, but now its edges are worn away, silver underneath. It’s brighter and quicker on the draw than a cellphone flash, and I still keep it in my pocket when I leave the house, even though I don’t work as a handyman any more. I look at that and I see part of myself in it, the hours of digging through attics and grubbing around in crawlspaces, pumping out basements and throwing breakers.

What’s more, even though I might (let’s be realistic: probably will) lose, break, or accidentally launder this little flashlight, if I buy another one, it won’t be the same. It will be a new flashlight, which acquires new memories…but it will always be connected to the first. Looking at the one will, occasionally, remind me of the other.

I’ve talked before about the importance of visions, of being able to see yourself doing something. I think having things around you which constellate with your vision of yourself is critical–a life full of the things which belong to your ideal you, is a life in which you are constantly drawn forward, encouraged, empowered, even by the objects around you.

For me, personally, that forward momentum is important. Completing little things every day. Using the little objects around me for the purposes that elevate me. Making sure that every morning, noon, and night contains something that “moves the needle,” as a friend of mine puts it.

Short post today. Gotta keep that momentum. More later, reader, but until then, thanks for reading.

The first time I decided I wanted to be a writer, I was probably about ten. I think I’ve mentioned this before, so we’ll gloss over the how and where; more importantly, I want to talk about why. 

I’d always liked stories. I wrote them occasionally, for school or just for fun. My dad was a writer, has always been writing in various formats, was always talking about writing. I was an avid reader of fantasy and maybe a little sci-fi, and sometime around when I was ten, I began to realize that the books my dad was talking about writing could possibly be the same kinds of books which I enjoyed reading.

I saw him working on his writing around the house, on an early-2000s laptop or by hand, and so it was easy to see myself doing the same thing. I did, first by hand and then later on the family laptop, when I was able. And I haven’t stopped since.

Obviously, lots of things happened when I was ten. Almost a whole year of them, in fact. The years started coming, and, well. You know what they say. It would be impossible to trace a strict causal line from this blog post back to one specific element of my childhood, not least because causation is a fake and shitty idea.

But something remains true; I at least in part, I became a writer because I saw someone doing it, and I wanted to try. I know this because later on, when my dad’s interest in screenwriting became more pronounced, I gave that a try as well–and after about six months, I realized I didn’t find that kind of writing nearly as personally satisfying as novels, and I let it go. But the spark was the same. Monkey see, monkey do.

Vision boards are something I never fully understood until I tried. I still don’t entirely love the idea. But, fuck, I only made a vision board once, and after seeing pictures and looking for the perfect representation of what I wanted, it was suddenly much easier to see myself reaching my goals, and it was easier to do the thing once I had an image in mind.

You might now at this point be asking, hey, what the fuck is Psycho-Cybernetics? Great question, reader, I can always count on you to ask the exact right thing just in time for me to segue into a new rhetorical point. Never change.

Cybernetics, for those of you who haven’t yet given up on this blog post and googled the word in frustration, is a …discipline? an approach? to studying the way complex systems communicate and self-regulate. “Psycho-cybernetics” is the name of a self-help book from 1960, written by a plastic surgeon who wanted to know why people’s success in life seemed so tied to how they thought of themselves. It was one of many pop psych books about self image, but the author, one Maxwell Maltz, wasn’t entirely talking about that. One of the elements of the text was vision, the ability people have, in varying degrees, to see themselves doing things. Max asserted that our success–our ability to take advantage of and pursue opportunities–was tied to our ability to envision ourselves taking those opportunities–because what we see defines what we think we are capable of doing.

I threatened a few weeks ago that I was going to talk about representation, and now it’s time to pay the piper! Listen. You’re smart. You don’t need me to draw you a picture. I started the post off talking about how a visible and present role model in my life inspired me to take on something which has become a constant part of my day. Some cursory mention of the power of being able to visualize goals, and a nod to Maltz’s sexy mod packaging of what is, essentially, Aristotle’s ethics.

More than a nod, in fact. The Nicomachean Ethics–a set of lecture notes taken by some ABSOLUTELY HUGE NERD listening to Aristotle lecture on morality–is in some ways limited in scope. What I want to do here is the same thing I do every week, Pinky–I want to get this idea into a big open space and take the ropes off.

What does it mean, if vision is so closely related to achievement? Last month, we talked about images–about the power and force of them, the way we move through images like a fish through water. But it’s more than that. We are fueled by images, sustained by them. We need to be mindful of that–not just in the sense that we need to surround ourselves with beautiful things, things which bring us joy, though I do believe that is true–but in the sense that we need to think about the images around us in the way that we think about nutrition.

What nourishes the soul?

See you next week, reader.

 

Humans have at their disposal a very powerful capacity: the ability to put ourselves into the place of someone else. Metaphors, as mentioned in my erstwhile Toolbox post on the subject, are a fantastic extension of this ability; they are how we take one thing and put it into the place of something else. This is how humans are able to empathize with just about anything, no matter how insensate or simple a form of life or object, and why we can become invested in stories about cars, bugs, furbies, forest animals, R2D2, and Elon Musk.

Today we’re going to talk about that capacity for empathy and metaphor (metaphy? empafor? hmm. don’t like those), while I take an idea that’s been chewing at me for a while and chew it right back. See how it likes that. Stupid idea.

We don’t all have the same experiences. I don’t think by now I really need to take the time to establish this statement in a rigorously philosophical sense; anyone who might have challenged this idea gave up reading the blog around the time that I made that weird post about Eachness back in fucking February. But I think I speak for one of us when I say that our experiences as individuals are often different from the experiences of other individuals.

Of course, are they too different to empathize with and analogize to? Obviously not. We can empathize with a goddamn animate rubiks cube (@Wall-E). Furries exist, and, at the risk of making a controversial statement, the differences between the different (species? races? fuck, this is worse than Redwall) types of furries, and normies, are greater than the differences among physical humans.  We are clearly capable of understanding, empathizing with, and drawing lessons from the experiences of people with very different lives.

We can do the same thing in the other direction, too. It’s possible for someone to create a story about a very different kind of life, and to so in such a believable and vivid fashion that it feels real. That’s sort of the entire idea of novels.

Because, here’s the thing. Any given story has some kind of, analogy distance, let’s call it. The “jump” from you, the reader, and your circumstances, to the circumstances in a book. Even if I am a precocious young lady reading a Jane Austen novel in the English countryside circa 1813, my life is still going to be in many ways quite different from the life of Lizzie Bennett. But I can make that leap of analogy and experience the events of the story as if they were happening to me.

That analogy distance is greater or lesser if the story you’re reading is more or less like your actual life circumstances. And maybe you want a certain minimum analogy distance; maybe you don’t want to read about your life right now. That’s valid as hell. But I want to talk about the other direction, because we talk about representation a lot, magnifying minority voices, etc., etc., and I thought, fuck it, why don’t I make an ass of myself by talking about this subject instead?

See, a question emerges, in the debate about minority representation in literature (which we’re going to dive more into SOON), which is; so. There are more stories about one type of experience than about the others. Some kinds of stories are under-represented. We ought to help balance the scales by uplifting the voices of those who create less-common stories. (I’m in agreement with this point, for the record. I’m going somewhere else with it, though).

Let’s put it this way. Imagine there are 100 writers (who have access to publishing houses which will publish their work, editors who will help them, role models who show them it is possible to make a living as a writer, economic circumstances that allow them to write, etc., etc), and 93 of them are white heterosexual upper-middle-class able-bodied neurotypical men and women (if you REALLY want to get into it we can say that 69 of them are men and 24 are women).

By the way, the stats I just made up for this example are at least tenuously based in reality: both in the dimension of race, and of gender, the publishing industry remains a little uh. Monolithic. So this is sort of a mini-version of the status quo, and now we go, “hey! we need to listen to more minority voices!” Great. But it isn’t, can’t, won’t be, simply enough to add more people, at least not at first. These 100 people have access to publication now. The publishing industry (or film industry, comic book, video game, etc., etc.) is an established fact.

My question, the thing I’ve been boggling over, is: Given the frankly one-sided set of stories we have access to (my dad likes to sing a fun song called “White Male Rage” as he flips through the action movie section on Netflix. I think it’s from SNL), and the apparent structural problems of getting diverse voices into mainstream publishing, we have a long-term problem about minority representation among authors. But shouldn’t it be the case that more of our 93 privileged authors need to take a crack at including a more varied cast? Because unlike in other areas where demographics are one-sided, authors have the critical advantage that they can just, create representation out of thin air.

I mean, sure. If you invite 70 white men to start writing stories about latinos and gays and disabled people, they’re going to create a lot of shitty content. Absolutely will concede this point without hesitation. The question is; would that shitty content be worse than its absence is now? My white hetero friends (all 4 of them, lmao) have a TREMENDOUS amount of shitty content to choose from when they want to watch a movie. Shouldn’t the rest of us have the same luxury?

That’s all the words I have space for today, reader. Tune in next week as I continue with representation–and why it matters.

I showed a gift for the culinary arts from a young age, when I first learned how to make blue-box macaroni and cheese, that most traditional of american dishes. But I credit no small part of my cooking ability to the time I spent working in a cluttered little hotel kitchen, running (of all things) a Spanish bar in the heart of rural New England.

Like every European-themed bar in rural New England, it was a rock of sincerity upon which all the cumbersome theories of authenticity could be shattered like glass. Run by a Californian and a South American, the bar served Spanish wine and traditional tapas, free plates of simple peasant food, to a constantly bemused audience of American ski enthusiasts and foliage-chasing flatlanders, and although once we did play host to a Spanish national who loved the food and the wine and the little plastic Spanish flags hanging on the wall, he was from the far northwest of Spain, a region culturally removed from the bull-fighting, sun-baked, high plains American idea of Spain.

I promise you this has a point. The point is: I had to cook a lot of food every week, enough to last a hungry weekend. At the beginning, it was tough; I would overcook the potatoes, or undercook the couscous. I threw out some food, and I was constantly questioning whether I actually was good at cooking, though it wasn’t for lack of compliments.

After that job, I had another one. I lived on my own, and I used a lot of cooking tricks I’d learned to make life a little easier. I cooked some of the classic Spanish recipes I now knew by heart. I tried new dishes I’d never cooked before, and found that my old skills carried them. And at some point, on a rainy night alone in my apartment, on a week when I had a little more pocket money to spend on some nicer ingredients, I threw together a gourmet pasta dinner for myself for absolutely no reason, and I realized when I sat down alone at the table that I hadn’t worried about my cooking ability even once.

It wasn’t only that I was alone. Despite being alone, I can manage to worry about all kinds of things. There is a nervous monkey in the corner of my brain which constantly brings up possible dangers, so far removed from its natural environment where normal, healthy things like getting mauled by a tiger are possible that it has to come up with new and more esoteric dangers to be terrified about, like whether or not I’m going to be able to retire, or what’s happening to the ice caps right now. Occasionally, it makes a valid point about something I’ve forgotten to bring with me, or someone acting strangely in my immediate vicinity, but for the most part, it’s remarkably prolific when it comes to creating absolutely useless warnings.

Yet, when I was cooking, something I did as part of a job and received significant compensation (and acclaim) for, something which I did every day, the monkey was silent.

This has happened with a lot of things. The more I thought about it, the more I thought the constant practice could be extended to other spheres; phone calls, for example. I worked various incarnations of customer service for almost three years, and I hate phone calls just as much now as I did when I started; but I no longer fear them.

Now, the idea that being exposed to something makes you less afraid of it isn’t exactly breaking news. It’s only remarkable in the sense that it reiterates an idea I’ve often voiced: you get better at life just by being alive.

There are so many areas where that’s true. Where else does hidden talent lie? I’m very good at typing, for example, because a day very seldom goes by where I don’t write at least 1000 words, some of which is even occasionally creative. I didn’t set out to become good at that, but I did, because I did it over and over.

In a way, it’s reassuring. This every-day little reinforcement of the idea that you really do just get better at things by doing them. It’s taught me to try and spend more time lingering on those things. To observe where I’ve learned more. And to maybe consider the idea that maybe, I’ve gotten better at the things I’m not so confident about, even if I think I am still terrible at them, just by being terrible at it for a long time.

…nahhhh.

Join us next week, when I’ll free-associate wildly about something else and probably quote at least one psychologist!

Hey there reader.

Last week, we talked about joy, and as usual, by the time I hit my unofficial word limit, I was just starting to realize what the post was about. So let’s jump right back in with a humdinger of a quote from James Hillman:

“Suppose we are being harmed as much by the form of things as by their material, where form means their aesthetic quality. For instance: styrofoam cups, fluorescent lights, bad doorknobs, unpleasant chairs, K-Mart fabrics and their colors, the hollow loud clack of objects set down on fake wood tabletops. Enough. The soul, which has classically been defined as the form of living bodies, could be affected by the form of other bodies (design, shape, color, innate idea or “image”) in the same way as the matter of our bodies is affected by the matter of other bodies (pesticides, additives, preservatives).”

[…]

“…our culture just can’t accept aesthetics as essential to the daily round. The prejudices against beauty expose our culture’s actual preference for ugliness disguised as the useful, the practical, the moral, the new, and the quick. The reason for this repression of beauty, in therapy too–for beauty doesn’t come into therapy any more than it comes into the mall or the workplace–is nothing less than the taproot of all American culture: puritanism.”

Now, Hillman here is talking about the broad disease of modernism. I’ve yelled insults at that particular ogre before and I’ll do it again, but for now I want to be smaller scale, because miracles never happen in the abstract. But first, we obviously cannot possibly have a conversation about aesthetics on this blog without bringing up Wilde.

“‘Beauty is a form of genius — is higher, indeed, than genius, as it needs no explanation. It is of the great facts of the world, like sunlight, or spring-time, or the reflection in dark waters of that silver shell we call the moon. It cannot be questioned.”

Wilde puts this quote in the mouth of Lord Henry, an obliviously sensationalist socialite from The Picture of Dorian Gray, but I find it interesting to look at Wilde’s bigger picture of beauty and art in comparison with Hillman’s depth psychology–because they are the same damn thing.

To snatch a better encapsulation of Wilde from the same book, “Life has been your art. You have set yourself to music. Your days are your sonnets.” As much as Oscar loved to play with his audience through paradox and surprise, he seems to reiterate this idea over and over: The artist’s greatest work is always their life, or as Hillman puts it:

“The job of life becomes one of making its moments accord with the image, or what might once have been called ‘being guided by your genius.'”

So what the fuck does this have to do with my PENCIL?

Remember that weird detour about self-image? We’re back on that road, now, and taking it a little further. Wilde puts it so beautifully–I find he can often be a little too glib, a little too self-centered for me, but he puts it so well: Your days are your sonnets. Our days are our art, and our days are not composed of only ourselves. Each day is a unique constellation of the world around us–a scattering of tea leaves, a pile of thrown knucklebones, an assortment of images in which our life is reflected.

When we look at the reflection of our life, what looks back?

peintre

So I looked for the image in my life. I asked, what was the work of art I was creating? What flourish could I add to my days, that someone could look back in time and see me and think, “ah yes, of course, how could he do anything else?” Even if that historian’s viewpoint never looks back–and in a bleak kind of way, isn’t that pure? A work of art, and the love of art, seen by no one, undertaken only to make the world more beautiful?

Anyway, so I bought a pencil. Because I loved to write with it, and it was nice to look at, and it added something tangible to connect every single thing I wrote back to that image, to that joy. Whether I write “GET MORE MILK” on a post-it or outline an entire novel on a drafting pad, there is joy in the action, and a kind of playful performance of the role that I have chosen.

The crux of this post, coming one week later for you, but half a liter of coffee later for me, is that we need more beauty in our lives. And by beauty I don’t just mean airbrushed sleek chrome, the bleak sterility of an Iphone or the chic minimalism of a modern apartment. I mean something beautiful in the sense that it makes you feel JOY. We uncover the image of our lives in our moments of exuberance, and beauty isn’t limited to beauty purely of appearance; beautiful moments can come in dingy bars and cluttered apartments, feelings of joy can spring from your favorite mug or a certain hairstyle.

Fuck, dude. That’s why I started this post a week ago talking about Marie Kondo: By the time we’re looking at the stuff we already own, it’s too late! Life is so big and so much of the world is given to us as it is. We have to find the joy in it where we can, and surround ourselves with things that do so. The universe is the canvas for our one, only, and biggest work of art. You only get to pick a few things to help set the scene. Choose wisely.