What I am Failing to Remember

from The Thing (1982), by Drew Struzan

I keep feeling like I’m on the cusp of remembering something, and everything I do in a given day contains bits and pieces of an overarching design that I need to recover. It’s like the feeling of a recurring dream, lost in the course of waking. I can’t tell whether or not these wisps of memory will resolve into anything concrete—whether it’s even a real thing I’ve forgotten. It might just turn out to be some old dream, something that was never important enough to rise to the surface and inform my life. A rewarding story hidden from view for a while, full of recollection and significance but not attached to anything real. Remembrance for its own sake.

I keep encountering little things that seem like the forking branches of a creek, but never find the headwaters. The trinkets washed downstream are always individual memories, things I’ve reminded myself of before or things I’ve done. If everything informs everything else, as I believe it does, then these larger patterns of thought, laid out like the framework of a skeleton, are more valuable than the smaller things that prove them real. They could be the key to it all.

Each recollection contains a whispered strategy for reaching a goal that I yearn for deeply. The goals themselves, the obscure objects of my desire, are all pressed together indistinguishably and reside in a dark, internal place. And the strategies themselves, the things I remember over the course of an afternoon, aren’t that much clearer. At their most specific they represent a niche situation in reality: how to run far; how to endure moments of extreme effort or intensity. 

This is maybe why I’m so invested. I’m hoping that whatever I find will be some theory of everything, a unified way to live which will render any goal of mine attainable. And even if there’s nothing there behind the veil, and I can’t ever figure it out, the act of looking seems significant because it’s a search for my personality. It’s an affirmation: there are designs hidden within me that seek manifestation, and the inklings that point towards them are important because they prove that I am a man with the capacity for value.

It could also be possible, in a depressing way, that there’s nothing really there—that each of these moments of déjà vu are truly random, and I’ve fabricated a subconscious lattice to hold it all together. Are all these meaningful connections simply so many neurons tied together? Perhaps the only purpose of a potential grand design is to keep my life moving along the exact same track, ensuring that I’m able to competently do all the things I’ve done before.

But even in this case, the smallest flashes point back to my psyche, and it’s hard to imagine that there’s nothing there. These recollections paint a picture of me as someone who wants to know—to master, and to deeply know.

I’ve accepted the role of simple, tiny variations in the pursuit of mastery and experience; they’re part of the process of coming to a complete understanding. Things that are similar in one distinct way to something that I like, I also like, because they contribute to the broader picture. As perception increases, we can appreciate small commonalities on their own merits, even apart from the things they reference. It’s the similarity itself that you love—the similarity that exists only when it serves as a bridge between two things that are anchored to reality.

I’m hoping that all these synchronized flashes of recall will point to something that’s really there, something that I’ve already built, a palace waiting in a dream. At the same time, even if my mind has fabricated this whole story—has created all the little similarities, and even imagined the nonexistent centerpoint between them all—I think it must be valuable. Because these things, even if they’re unreal, propel me forward and posit an image of myself, unified, in the future. It’s good even if it’s a ghost chase.

But oh, my god, I hope there’s something waiting for me there.

And I’ll go crazy when I find it.

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The Fast and the Furious 9: A Critical Review, or, How to Retcon Absolutely Anything

After finishing a long-term freelance assignment, it felt like the pressure had been lifted off my shoulders. I’ve had more time to relax and more attention to direct towards whatever project I might want to pursue. A little more time to recalibrate and move towards things that feel important.

What better way to celebrate than to go watch the latest installment in a campy movie franchise from my adolescence?

I had a brief weird moment while watching F9. (Was there ever a plan for naming these movies?) Of all places, I started feeling depressed while watching a scene of one of the characters stealing an expensive necklace from a fancy party. I thought to myself, “People don’t really live like this, do they? This is clearly just in the movies.” But they surely do live like this. Caviar, hors d’oeuvres, high fashion. Maybe only assholes live this way. Am I justifying?

I thought to myself, “I will never experience this kind of lifestyle,” never step foot in the closest real experiences of opulence they base these movies on. And maybe I wouldn’t even want it anyway. But I felt my time slipping away. The interval between now and the last Fast movie I saw is plainly lacking in emeralds, exploding cars, or a family to rival Dom Toretto’s.

After so long, I was back in the movie theater, checking in on the pulse of this enormous stupid thing. There is some artistry in the movies and some value, but not much. The things that are deemed entertaining by our culture, franchised, and seen through to lucrative completion are confusing and often repugnant. Built around the tropes that have worked in the past, they cash in on repetition. Nobody wants to see a movie that is completely new, one that makes them feel as if they don’t know what to expect.

After seeing the same film with a new coat of paint—where every character who had died was brought back to life, where all the subtitles and set pieces were presented just as before—I drove my car two blocks back home. Under the popular spell and obeying the traffic laws, I felt some of the old satisfied, ignorant vibes that I had associated with my previous life here before the pandemic. The same carelessness, the same left-hand turn. Culture shock. Back to the old shitty.

The movies have been ruined by this idea, a gigantic conglomerated mill spewing out so much regurgitated crap. As the credits rolled, I concluded that I hadn’t really missed it. With a huge haltering pause in the middle of it all, I’d wondered if people would come to their senses and enact some changes to distance themselves from the machine. Then again, maybe they never really wanted to. This, the present day, could end up being the period of re-hypnotization after the hiatus.

I watched the film self-consciously, one eye turned back towards myself while things both unimportant and incomprehensible flashed on the screen ahead of me, feeling damned—feeling like I will go along inside this hamster wheel forever, life seeping away while shallowly comforted by tropes of unkillable and familiar characters. Recurring fragments of my own psyche, by this point, that are haunting and unavoidable. Unless I do this, that is: unless I make the time to come back to myself and check in, like I do, for some unfathomable reason, with the movies.

Do we truly have the power to change our practices—and by doing so, do we have the power to change our personalities? To reinvent ourselves and eliminate the self-loathing that comes from stasis and complacency?

Do we have the power to control this thing? Or shall we just watch?

This is why the future rings of darkness: the projection forward, mechanistically, of the same sordid past, with no chance for retribution or real significance. The simplest answer is a self-satisfied laugh—but this is the same as giving up. Laughing is the easy way out of things. If you’re honest you know this response is another piece of the nightmare, part of who you told yourself you would not become—a tool, a clown. You know it’s easier to grope for a witty remark than it is to change things and be genuine. It’s easier to watch the movie and laugh about the fact that it’s bad.

So today we strive for the authenticity that’s easier to keep on the sidelines instead of bringing to the forefront; the quality we all agree is so important and that most of us have but cannot seem to focus on, or make the driving force of our actions. To isolate it and use it to grow, to inform us and change us; to build a future that we don’t just want to cringe at and tolerate. One that is guffaw-proof.

I cannot believe there are nine of these fucking movies.

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Staring at the End (Prose)

Mostly my frame of reference is at the edge of some yawning precipice, open throat of the Earth, and any spell of vertigo might send me tumbling off into the depths. There is a constant gravity in the off-kilter pull.

We search for the end. The end of all things, the end of times; an armed insurrection, globe seizing in its girdle, heart attack — we’re fixated, with only chaos in the foreground and the future, staring down misery and death for all.

The world either ends in cataclysm, or it doesn’t. We want the comfort of the end, the end of man, because there exists a crueller fate when hope does not die.

The vast swinging round of all things.

Life pushes thoughtlessly forward, the Judge; chance-like, uncaring, careening evolutionary randomness sweeps us carelessly away — loosely appendaged machinewheel rotating forward, multifaceted, geared trillionfold, will win. The chance for happiness included in the chance for anything. Death and sickness strung up on iron fractals; love and sex and body fluids, crying souls and laughing fools gummed up in the lurching planetsized conglomerate assaulting our imaginary human timeline.

We think things will die a human death, but there is no empathy in the eternal progression of things. There is no doom in reality and so no meaning of doom for us to cling to. Oblivion is a human concept, and organic matter a messy sidenote in the happenstance, combinatorial fate of the universe.

And man, in the face of it all.

Our world spins at a thousand miles an hour around its axis, tracing endless ribbons round the sun through ever vaster space, lost within the revolving push of our galactic spiral arm. Our universe is prokaryote, without a center — so there’s no order to our motion, no true direction used to pin the mechanism of it all.

. . .As the body heals in sleep, perhaps with enough space and tranquility all our mental damage might recede. Maybe it would all slow down and we could reclaim the pitied fate of humans — or reconcile our human death — or even halt the brutal juggernaut of the universe, advancing, advancing.

With enough focus and quiet maybe our point of perception could become the absolute reference again, in a plane of coordinates with no axes — in a field of merciless and incoherent energy — calm, contented, out of time. Descartes’ thinker, eternal upon observation. Motionless and silent. The center.

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Staring at the End

Mostly my frame of reference is
at the edge of some yawning precipice,
open throat of the Earth,
and any spell of vertigo might send me
tumbling off into the depths.
A spinning tunnel, haunted house;
constant feel of the off-kilter pull.

We search for the end.
The end of all things, the end of times—
armed insurrection, globe seizing in its girdle, heart attack—
we’re fixated, with only chaos in the foreground and the future,
and misery or death for all.

The world either ends in cataclysm, or it doesn’t.
We want the comfort of the end, the end of man, because there exists
a crueller fate when hope does not die.

The vast swinging round of all things.

Life pushes thoughtlessly forward, the Judge:
chance-like, uncaring,
careening evolving randomness trampling
sweeps us carelessly away.

Loosely appendaged machinewheel rotating forward,
multifaceted, geared trillionfold, will win—
the chance for happiness included in the chance for anything.
Death and sickness impaled in iron fractals,
love and sex and body fluids, crying souls and laughing fools
gummed up in the lurching planetsized conglomerate
assaulting our imaginary human timeline.

We think it will hurt when things die a human death,
but there’s no empathy in the eternal progression of things.
There is no doom in reality and so no meaning of doom for us to cling to,
oblivion a human concept,
organic matter a messy sidenote in the happenstance,
combinatorial fate of the universe.

And man, in the face of it all.

Our world spins at a thousand miles an hour around its axis,
tracing endless ribbons round the sun through ever vaster space,
lost in the revolving push of our galactic spiral arm.
Our universe is prokaryote, without a center—
so there’s no order to our motion,
no true direction used to pin
the mechanism of it all.

. . .As the body heals in sleep perhaps with enough
space and silence our mental damage could recede,
and earth be still beneath us.
We could perhaps reclaim the pitied fate of humans,
or reconcile our human death, or even halt
the brutal juggernaut of the universe,
advancing, advancing.

With enough focus and quiet maybe it could all slow down,
our point of perception become the absolute reference again,
in a plane of coordinates with no axes—
in a field of merciless and incoherent energy—
calm, contented, out of time,
Descartes’ thinker, eternal upon observation,

motionless.
The center.

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Wasting Your Life

It’s not your life that you’re wasting. When someone tells you “you’re wasting your life” they’re wrong, or at least they’ve mislabeled something. There’s no essence to waste in your physical life; your biology is inconsequential on its own, an autonomous process that carries on largely whether you like it or not. Of course, the mind always maintains the power to grab the reins and truncate physical life, but this is seldom done.

The material processes of life are in themselves devoid of meaning; they’re just a consequence of the vaster will of the universe enacting itself. What’s the point of a volcano erupting? It’s just pressure, forces enacted through time, an equation already in perfect balance being executed. And sure, these phenomena are beautiful when we look into them with detail and a mind to uncover the axioms which make them go—but so is everything. The currents of the ocean, the behavior of bugs, the wind—all little physics experiments, puzzles which reward you when you find the similarity.

But this is not the life you’ve been accused of wasting. You waste life staring endlessly at screens, inhabiting a compromised malaise, enduring needless pain, and repeatedly  surrendering the chance to capture something that would make you enjoy yourself. Your physical life is hardly yours to waste; mostly a lifetime of misery and neglect will shave a scant twenty years off the total timeline. Things will go on without your consent, an emissary of the galactic mind.

Better said is that you waste your experience within the framework of life: accepting misery, ignoring truth, settling for less. And along with the squandering of your subjective experience comes the forfeiture of any sense of fate or purpose, mission, duty or meaning, which might just be called the things that make you feel good, after all. Awareness cannot revel in the abolition of the physical laws which engendered it; but it can take perverse enjoyment in watching, with a small sliver of itself, the fact that it’s been mostly turned off.

Wasting your experience is a valid criticism. I don’t want to argue against the philosophical meaning of existence. We’re a teenager that’s been given a fast car by a generous uncle. Why not have some fun?

What’s the opposite of wasting your life? As for me, I’m dumb. The things which make me feel alive tend to be aligned with the biological programming that’s already there. For some it’s an intricate dance, a sublime awareness, a soft harmonious humming. I like being reminded that I’m in a car.

Intensity, speed, stimulation. The things I like rev the engine and provide a tangible link to my physicality. Here’s why I was given this; this is what it’s for. I crave powerful feeling because then I can intuit the points at which I was riveted into my body, feel the scaffold the universe has built out of my matter as the chassis is tested, girders stressed but holding.

There’s no excuse for a lack of participation. It’s hard to get on the horse each and every day, but it’s critical. If awareness is a gift, granted by the delicate machinations of the universe, then this is what you waste. The opportunity to do something with it, the ability to choose—the chance to do something you love within the medium of life, which you may never have again.

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Stonelike

Fears.

With eyes shut tight the heart rides waves of tension in my chest,
squeeze of electric impulses. Tides of resistance swell and recede.

My hero’s gone, and in his place stands but a cheerleader
whose words remind me that his strength is mine, that I am my own bulwark,
symbol of integrity and power. But they feel hollow.

I dive into the resistance, wave of sick hopelessness submerging me.
What if it all stays bad?
What if I look out on the sun and wind one glorious day
and it is still there, inside of me?

What if this never heals.

Then I am damned—so what.
Then I am truly worthless; I will be destroyed.
I will be crushed to thin uncaring dust and all the better for it,
for ever was I pilfering time, pointless, insignificant.

. . . My skull, my teeth, my crushed and decomposing bones.
My countenance, which never really lasted constantly in time,
and my identity will blow away—
this “I,” a piece of earth.

And so as Earth the forces act on me:
the tectonics which raise mountains,
the whipping wind that sweeps their faces raw and bare,
the formless water slowly rushing leaving runnels,

and gravity, forming and cohering all—
contractive, compressing and cementing all,
including me. In my core I feel the sureness of the pull,
and finally relax in comfort.

But the heart, resistant driver, beats again.
My stress, and then my hopeless worries, too,
are surely opposition to this law.
Leaping, fighting, loving, yet constrained,
the fire of life is bound to Earth in obligation and in comfort.
Towards the dark center of the globe, a body;
Towards the soft cushions of my bed, a being.

The role of struggle and of testing nature
is to place one’s self inside this order.
Swimming breathless under ice,
the inner screaming and the pushing
makes you strong.

Here’s the axis—here’s the pillar.
The balance of your fears
and the insistent beating of your heart
will find you whole
when you push through.

Soon I’ll have a sunny windy day wherein
the warmth inside me shines unhindered,
but knowing now the shaping’s to my benefit,
that the struggle makes the man,
helps me place myself inside the mandala;
waking captive in the birdcage of perception—
small home within this spiral arm.

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Isolation, Artifacts

bottles_cropped_adjusted

Sometimes it takes the whole world stopping to rediscover what you love.

When things come to a grinding halt maybe you first glut yourself on the vices you’d used to distract yourself from misery. Maybe the very things you’d framed yourself with, the girders and beams used to build your days and life, were in themselves distractions.

As the world comes to a slowing stop like a carnival ride that’s lost power, speech and music slurring slowing down, a space has opened up. And honestly, I’ve never felt quite so alive.

Well——

Before it was alive in spite of, in the face of things. Alive in stark opposition. But with the circus come to a stop there seems to be so much more room, and time, and empty space in which to grow. After the recoil, eyes blink in new light, and there is just silence.

I keep expecting to feel guilty, as if I miss the whole system or I am supposed to miss it, but there’s just no way. The obligations that had seemed the best are grudgingly forgotten. Only space stands in its stead, and in that space a clearer picture of myself. The clarity afforded by leisure. The intellectuals see themselves as fortunate to have the time for thought, and me too. In the dearth of obligations, things begin to grow.

I turn over my old artifacts like a farmer turning loam, and there is value. I had saved them for this purpose. In the current age where things have begun to drop away all the parts I’d named most relevant to me come surging back, and here I am alight again and hot on their tail with no hint of pretension. Did it have to take this long? I ask myself. Maybe it did. And there is no shame. There is only progress, only momentum, and each step forward seems ensured and irreversible.

Everything I’d laid in place so long ago is ready for me still. It feels like coming home—except to home as a process, home as long rails stretching to the horizon.

There is only sureness in me in the midst of these times labelled uncertain and chaotic. Each day as the sordid past falls away I recover more and better parts of myself in what seems like a perverse vacation. I know as an adult, with my conscience, that the gears of civilization will start turning again and I should welcome this with open arms the way that each adult must welcome evil and tragedy in the world. But the perverse wish, the immature part of me, wishes that maybe this would not end, that I would feel no more shame in my lifetime and no more compromise, and that my spirit should go on unhindered and childlike forever.

This is maybe not “the happiest I’ve ever been,” but it’s damn close. So many of the pictures, words, and trinkets I’ve saved are straight from heaven—but again, the concrete etchings from this time, which point to still more solid states of mind, were just lights amidst the overwhelming darkness. The constructions of this time were my salvation, everything—because indeed I dreaded all, and that dread redoubled my clasping and reinforced the clamor in my heart.

This was the immaturity in my perspective. The current year feels different, like this is reality and last time was the child obstinately holding fast to dream, waking life informed by the recent passing of that fantasy. This year upon waking I come to learn of myself more and more, and reality itself seems the more palatable. What I had feared before is nullified and tempered by my life thus far, the good and bad experiences lived in the interim. What I had defied is disarmed by an enhanced understanding—for what we fear is made safer by understanding.

Again I am grateful for those structures I had set up for myself, the bookmarks. “You’ll need all this again someday,” said past to future me, and here we are—satisfied, expectant; in repose, awake.

Is this salvation? Does this change not contain some traces of perfection such as I’d imagined? No, this can’t be it—this is not it, it is not perfect—and there has been no work done. My change will be greater, and it will be earned. No chance or circumstance ever allowed a man exactly what he wanted. Chance only dictates that we adjust and acquiesce, provides the canvas for our becoming.

So maybe this isn’t it—the same perfection which was surveyed only instantaneously in the past may have yet to wait—but maybe, with enough work done now, I can capture this time in a bottle, mold another signpost hinting at the presence of an ever-concrete emotion, and produce another artifact.

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Boulders

 

Tawmbout belief, gratitude, visualization. Buzzwords that I’ve typically spent a lot of time avoiding!

Two days ago, while walking up to the Happies with Alex and Mae, I said in conversation how I’d like to focus on being a more positive climber. It doesn’t do you any good to artificially adopt a negative attitude! This is something I’ve been guilty of buying into, for whatever reason — a desire to appear humble in other people’s eyes, or the idea that a higher standard (needlessly high) will affect performance positively. It doesn’t.

The puzzle pieces started falling into place after it got dark. I was getting fed up, just a little bit; I sensed myself going into diva mode. I remember thinking that, as you continue the process of climbing, you lose sensitivity to the sensations happening in your body (fingers, hands, shoulders). The whole experience then becomes streamlined and condensed into a series of ideas — “I hit that hold well this time,” “I was strong in this position,” “I was fast through the bottom.” These ideas are further condensed into a good or a bad “go.”

These ideas, this knowledge (of “I did it good” or “that was kinda bad”) corresponds to the imagery of being in a certain sequence: the beta. (As a side note, compare first-person visualization to third-person visualization. The most useful rehearsal seem to be the one where you’re inside the experience.)

I realized I’d dialed in the bottom of the Hulk so much that it felt almost like a dream — the dissociation from sensory input while climbing it, the hopefully coherent stream of ideas and events, and the way I could recall and recreate its imagery. I could “dream” about it before taking a go. And if it’s a dream — maybe a lucid dream — then why not make it a good one? Why not just dream your way to the top?

Before each go, just sitting down, I reminded myself to stay excited and stay happy. I reminded myself to be grateful for the opportunity to dream. And, wouldn’t you know it, it worked. I realized what I needed to do for the crux, I did it, and then I held on. From that point on it was a victory lap to the top. A celebration.

As I struggle in daily life — in the midst of all the routines I’ve developed — to stay motivated and stay full of belief, I’d like to remember to keep this experience in mind. Through climbing, I aim at ever more climactic and ecstatic, jubilant, triumphant, and dream-like experiences. In other areas of life, too, let that mindset prevail.

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kaleidoscopes

the feelings that move in me like slow kaleidoscopes
or the impressions of perfection that pierce my chest
and make me melt like taffy,
a bug tumbling in thick amber
or a child who’s jumped into a pool

shift all into perspective.
maybe it’s because of all my new perspective:
the admittance that the self is first
that pursuance of the perfect love is primary
and the brain, that smoothing operator
will construct a model to explain the way things are, whichever way.

and this is why, in every case
the right interpretation
is the one that makes you feel the best,
the one that sets you free
the one that speaks directly to your heart
that coats you in slow molasses
sends vast constellations rotating into place
and lulls you fast to sleep like a cat in sunbeam.

relief is palpable
when you again come to the truth,
the individual truth which dances
only for your eyes
and only in your mind
for you alone.

the waiting for companionship has held me back.
falsely i thought companionship was rightness
but now i see the process works the other way:
companionship comes from the soul
arises from adherence to the self
and this i had forgotten, stored away in plain abstraction
from that time so long ago when i had done it last;

when i sent out my radio signals to the universe,
when i aligned the world around me into fields of iron filings,
when in tranquility of mind and power of the spirit
i summoned up the one whose recollection
even now
can soak me through
like sweet molasses.

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Perched

Do I love you because I am melancholy?
Is it simply due to hours expended
that I am expectant,
waiting, entitled in my way,
and you oblivious, or else unwilling—
the cliff ahead we face yet you
are turned away, blind to the abyss—

But I, in all my fatalism,
am ready to jump, and
seeking death, can look ahead
cross-canyon, to faroff potential picturesque spires
and valleys of golden swaying calm,
but also down,
straight down.

And whose perspective here is wrong?
—The anticipatory and the blind.
Maybe this vertiginous feeling I’ve mislabeled love
occurs only because you stand beside me cliffside,
but there’s more: our separate long and strange familiar journeys,
individual bodies bending space in countless separations,
embodied entities seeking solace in shared spaces—
maturation of slow fruit.

Has it in truth, then, led us to this chasm?
Or is it merely me,
ever-woeful me,
who stops to tarry on a depthful new perspective?

When I emerge again from the reverie,
the view shifts upwards—realism—
taking in all things.
Do I still feel the urge
to go canyoneering with no rope?
To leave you looking down at me before I fall,
to let you watch me turn into a corpse?
For then my eyes,
confined within my quickly fading body,
would fall upon you finally
with the look of what could’ve been,
pallid perspective of pure beauty—
and see you as the one who could have been my love—
but it would kill me,
necessarily,
to see it so.

And then, the last image
to float before my quickly dimming eyes would be
of you
in shock, bewilderment and pity,
regarding me, the fallen,
in my tragically beautiful moment of martyrdom;
but stupid, so stupid,
and such a waste.

When I avert my gaze
from grim realities that may have come to pass;
when I raise my eyes aloft and let
the dreams of death and falling fall away,
the color starts returning to the world,
and you,
my friend,
stand once again beside me.

I’ll never know just what inspires you to stay,
you who are constantly looking towards something else;
I’ll never know how much you read
into the darkest caverns of my mind;
if that’s the very thing that makes you stick around,
or if it’s just me, after all, who stays looking at you,
because I’m fixated—I’m a fixater—I’m fixed—
But either way, I’m happy.
Happy to have you here,
to make you laugh and watch you smile,
and talk about the sun when it is shining bright and warm,
but seldom else.

I wonder if this thing is real.
I wonder if the passing of the times
will lead us once again to fairer lands,
away from here, this temporary precipice.
In the meantime I will stop myself from looking down,
at least for long,
and savor all this gaiety and charm.
I’ll overlook where we now stand,
and all the distant places we could go,
at least for me,
at least for now—

perched.

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Vision/Winter

She said I had a “distinct lack of vision for the future.” Maybe I had imagined “distinct,” channeling some ancient jargon on my elementary school report card, a long-lasting impression of shame I’d applied to myself as a functional adult. This was my friend who told me this, my best friend—who suffers from no lack of vision for the future—and it’s telling that I took her words and turned them motherly, matronly, the words of a disciplinarian.

There’s been a lack of discipline in my life, too, and a lack of authority figures—in the end, though, the blame falls on me. Self-sufficiency has taken on a new form in our generation, or maybe just a new form here: barely self-sufficient, barely getting by. But people seem to know to leave well enough alone. The real adults keep an arm’s length because they can see too closely the melancholy of their recent past, and the bums like me stay in their barely functional places: aloof from society, skating by. It could be because of my lack of initiative; because I am an automaton, a toy train to be placed on a track and chug along. It’s my worst fault: dependability.

It’s winter time in the mountains, and I am sick. I had looked forward to this time forever; my first real winter, my first snow. I had visions of myself raging with a fire combusting within, sitting in pools of icy water for fortification, cheeks frosty red because I was flushed with life. But my body and my mind seem to be at odds; the things that I’ve fancied good for myself, those things beckoning towards a type of “vision,” are destroying me. Though I cling to an ideal of inner strength, any action arising from that space will inevitably shut me down. All the days I’ve spent fulfilling myself in the mountains bring me reeling to the ground the next day, frail from overexertion and incapable of recovery. I work and I work because it is the ostensible right thing to do, but the soullessness of it all and the persistent symptoms of my sickness constitute almost an outright rejection. The best step toward the future, at times, seems to be to just quit—all the reasons why I came here in the first place totally dropped; all the things that make me happy, all the noble work, just gone.

The body and the mind, that thing which analyzes the faint impressions of the soul, at odds. Since a contradiction can’t be the basis of a decision, I’ll keep chugging, locked into my void of a track, until something more convincing comes along. When she says I have a lack of vision for the future, she’s right. Nothing makes sense; only the contradictions, which say that the best thing for my future is to abolish it.

There are two mountains that I look at every day. Mt. Tom is enormous, prominent, dominating the mountain range in which it sits. Basin is also enormous, but it sits next to and behind Mt. Tom, second fiddle. My eye, from the very first time I visited the boulderfields splayed out at its feet, was immediately drawn to Basin. My gaze traced the jagged ridgeline; it meandered up the immense glacial plain and found its home in the vast hollow from which the mountain draws its name. Basin is completely covered in snow, now. Its character lies in its empty space, and it is very, very cold.

My ultimate survival depends on warmth and substance, but in this season—compared to the paragons of vision and character that I admire—I am hollow, and inside I am cold. Visions of the future, movement and motivation, are for fiery animals made of flesh and blood. But the beauty of natural phenomena is that their final shape is a reflection of nature; the forces and processes that have created them comprise the entirety of their substance. Eventually, I will return to clarity and warmth. But for now, I will persist and I will endure the storms of winter; my final form will be dictated by the wind and rain.

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How to Fall in Love Completely

The first step is to invest in yourself. Become your own best friend, then your own boss, then your own stockbroker. Take risks. Risk it all—be silly, do stupid things, do everything. Do it with the desperation and conviction that says you will die if you don’t. Don’t worry about fucking it all up, because you won’t. Fuck yourself up, instead. All those fragile things you were scared of losing, if they can’t weather the storm, weren’t meant to be anyway. They have no part in what’s to come.

Laugh loudly, and be impulsive, but do too those grudging chore-like things you know you ought to do. Do those daring things that rage within you like a fire of disgust and indignation. Do it all—do absolutely everything—do all the things that you know, incontrovertibly, that you have to do.

Leave everything. Leave the old you. Leave your family. Tell your friends you’ll see them later. (They’ll be happy for you.) Strike out alone, completely alone, in your quest to come to terms with this thing roaring louder and louder inside of you; this voice that commands you to live the best life possible for yourself. Set out on your own, with no noise to interfere with its voice, with no ghosts to block its vision, with only you and it inside filtering the brand new world before you.

And when you arrive, breathe it in. Awaken to the vast glorious world of oh my god, there’s so fucking much and engage with it using every fiber of your physical being. The world is made for you, my friend—it is big enough and wide enough to handle your quirkiness, your outbursts, your joy, your screams, your emotions, your running, your shouts, your tears. It will respond to all of this nicely, and you will feel phenomenal, for you are a wet sponge in need of squeezing.

Forget about what you thought you knew, damn it, because there’s living out there, and much to your surprise it’s even better than you’d ever dreamed about—more wonderful than your most elaborate fantasies—more immediate than you could’ve ever imagined—and real, so real—and so, so good. In the midst of this living, somewhere shortly after tapping the live wire, she will appear, brought forth out of nowhere, out of somewhere, by each consecutive step you’ve taken in bravery, chiseled out of thin air by your beating heart. Holy image out of time—and then everything stops.

The rest, in a way, is history, for this love is indescribable and incomparable. What begins to open up, as you continue to pay attention, is an intimate, tender, ever-growing cleft which nurtures honesty, total honesty: the cleansing of our conscience and our sins. The deliverance, in waves of penetrating realization, of our souls. As you probe how deeply down this soft fold goes, every tingling neuron in your body gets saturated with utter knowledge and achievement, each atom validated. You were totally right all along, you son of a bitch! There was a reason for every single feeling in your life before, and it was to lead you to this moment—that moment when, walking in the rain with her, you realize with heavy wordless understanding just what is happening.

And then, of course, you’ve done it—you’re there! You get your gorgeous moments at the top, your perfect moments where everything is sunshine. And maybe it will fade, because everything fades, but not before it permeates down into every part of your being, saved on the hard drive forever, the immediate next benchmark for every other thing you’ll do in your life: How far you’ve come.

And this is all I know, to be honest. This is all I’ve got. That’s better than most, I’m assuming, and perfect for me, because it was mine. But there’s more, obviously there’s more, because you’re a human being on planet earth; because you’re an eternal soul on a cosmic journey. There’s always more, and always deeper, no finish line and no end to the adventure. But this is all I know, for now—this is how far I’ve come. And that is how you fall in love, completely.

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Do I Dare Dream Again?

Do I dare start to dream again?
Is it time to put all these woes and all these trivialities behind me?
Do I once again sweep away all of the presumed things of importance
to open up that space, crepuscular space,
where dreams grow?

The creeping vines of dreams have been active inside me once again—
reaching, growing, bioluminescent ideas coming to life, in their time—
a multitude of slowly dawning suns,
filling me up, inside out, with light.
Do I dare start to dream again?

Thinking back, as always, to a time
when everything was perfect—
Or else, to a time where everything was close enough to perfect that I could make it so,
by squinting my eyes, by a willful act of perception—
and basking, basking in that memory and all of the feelings that came along
within that blessed time.

And inevitably, thinking of you—
Catalyst of all that growth, harbinger of love and
muse to my wistful soul—
Do I dare start dreaming again?
And am I foolish to think
of dreaming of you again?

The perfection of a person and the perfection of an ideal
are one in the same, though one appears the greater in the mind—
your temporary moments of perfection,
their import to me,
have crystallized in your personality, perfect forever
in your imperfect personhood.
Making you perfect. Making you
a perfect person.

But it has been so long!
So long—relatively.
And I wonder, perfect person that you are,
if my perfect ideal will ever match your excellence again.
When last we spoke I was awash in the mire,
in the mediocrities, suffering on my own accord.
What had even happened?
What happened between us?
Am I foolish for dreaming of you again?
No, I don’t think so—for you were, and still are,
the signpost of my soul. The greatest hits.

Ich denke an dir—I’m thinking on you—
Pensando en ti—you are the substrate and the context
in which I frame all of my thoughts and all my dreams, you angel—
Whether or not my ideal matches the extent of your perfection,
I am no fool for dreaming in you.

I do dare. I am no fool. It is time to begin dreaming again.
It is time to dream, dream big, dream astronomical and infinite—
and you are my chart, my road map to the stars.

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Geometry of Dreams

The things that I’ve dreamt about before are no longer relevant, no longer show up in my dreams—all the myriad places and happenings and locations portrayed in shimmering detail, my brain building tiny simulations geographic and geometric in its quest to find out their real significance to me.

I miss it all. I miss it all, and it makes me sick to have a dearth of newness such as this in my life. I yearn for it again, more now than ever as the years strike me faster and faster and it feels like I’ve been longer and longer without.

Things have to get worse before they get better, and I stare out into my future anticipating loss; anticipating loss, and expecting fear and conflict. Reason tells me that these feelings won’t be as bad as the regret I live with now—the regret that appreciates interest every single day, growing each time the sun sets on another day unfulfilled.

And I know that one day soon the sun will shine on me and the trumpets will sound and things will all hold promise and show fulfillment again—and I know that it will take work to get back there, all the way back there—but for now it’s something to dream about, for my brain to sort out on its own as best it can. For now I’ll let my bleary eyes close, fighting back tears and a flood of anguished emotion, and I will drift off into surreal dreams where I’ll configure something, anything, just a little bit better.

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Alienation of the Self

As I get older, I find myself regarding my body with disbelief and incredulity. It seems that every time I see myself in the mirror I get further and further away from the mental image of myself that I hold inside. It can be in various different contexts, too: I look at my arms and feel like they don’t belong to me, see the veins bulging in my feet, smell some part of myself that is revolting and seems to come from a process that is wholly different than the set of impressions that I’ve labeled “me.” All of the things I used to think were gross about men now belong to me. They came along without my permission, and it’s weird.

Really weird.

Children seem to have an incredible amount of belief and sweetness invested in themselves, an innocence that stems from how closely they adhere to their inner beliefs when it comes to acting out their behavior. Everything they do shows through in their countenance and their physicality, because they are always acting out the impulses that rage within them. Noble children; they are the flagships of their own fleet.

By contrast, I wake up (or have an otherwise jarring lucid moment) and see a whole sea of circumstances that have just happened to me. In some respect of course I have “created” all of these things—I have created my life, I have created my room, I have chosen to live in the place I’ve chosen to live in, and I have in one way or another decided to live the life that I find myself swimming inside of. But I feel myself more than not just going along with these things; tolerating them, outlasting them, gritting my teeth in the face of these grievances. Maybe it’s the compromise that separates me from the children; maybe the compromise is the reason why I don’t identify with the face that I see in the mirror. Maybe it’s the pain that I’m withstanding in my body that causes me to distance myself from my own appendages. Maybe if I was only a little more honest and fierce and temperamental about what I believed in, I’d feel more like the idea that comes into my mind when I think of my own name.

I feel like injury happens when you are so far removed from yourself that you no longer care what happens to your body, your mind, your soul. The pilot in the cockpit is no longer there. When you withdraw far enough from yourself that you barely feel yourself down there at all, things happen to you out of carelessness that will cause you to fall down, to break things, to make tragic mistakes, to die. If only you were more careful. This is the reason why I’ve gotten injured in the past—carelessness, and a distinct lack of self-care. I think it’s possible to extrapolate this curve as far as you want to go: to find out truly what it means to be blind to consequences. I want to stop this behavior in my life.

By reasoning the other way, the path back towards childishness and youth is complete self-identification. Yes, you are rad as hell, you handsome cool funny stud, you. I strive every day to see myself as the kid that I once thought I was. I want to pick out about four things every morning that are going right; four things I believe in that are about me, in me, or around me; four things that are right on. As we become adults the causal link between behavior and consequence becomes clearer—this should give us more to believe in, not less. We should be working towards those things we think will do us better, no? It’s not our parents’ fault any more. It’s not public school that’s making you tired. But I guess we do enough searching around to find something to put the blame on, anyways.

I really, really want to get back there. It should just be a matter of doing it, a matter of following the laws that we better know work as an adult. I won’t wake up and have the years slid by and look at myself in a mild shocking contempt to find that I’ve lost myself, to find that I’ve gone. I don’t want to behold the alien—the unfamiliar, the foreigner. I am building the life outside of me the corresponds with the spirit inside; I am building a life I recognize.

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Sandcastles/Spinning my wheels

If only they could see that none of these things scratch the surface, that all of the things I’ve done and all of the stories that I tell about myself are just hollow excuses, and they don’t really mean anything to me.

If only I could share with one pointed glance or one deadened word all that I feel inside, all of the despondency and all of the disbelief, that I know deep down it’s nothing but a comic ruse and a zoo of absurdities that we put up for one another’s benefit so we can hide ourselves from our shame. If only I could share this feeling with someone else, and then maybe create a real connection and make some real progress against this onslaught. Then the real work could maybe begin.

As it stands now I’m a hamster spinning his wheels, hoping desperately for some kind of traction to work its way into the ground and deliver me some motive power. I’ll keep going and going in the hope that something sticks.

It’s two sides of the same heavy coin, I keep telling myself—the tragedy of loss and the dark realization of impermanence, and the lightness and satisfaction that comes from building something on real, established, holy ground.

I want my temple and my monastery more than anything, and I’ll sacrifice whatever’s necessary to get it. Because I know that if I can’t have it—can’t start the building process or ever start laying the foundations—then my life is really worthless, and there’s no point in living at all.

Thinking back to all my castles built on sand—how they sway in the wind and crumble and erode, all just fucking empty memories and me too, these old-looking hands so familiar and this set of insignificant circumstances and people who’ve affected me so just more grains arranged in neat ordinance for now but fated to be blown away again, gone, gone. How soon will these false edifices currently safeguarding my heart fall, and leave me hopeless once again, with nothing to show for my entire life, except for maybe one sweet story.

It could be worse. At least I have my story, though it ended. And if I have one story that was real, then reason, pesky reason consoles my abandoned heart—why can’t you have another? And then, another? And another still? So, weary and disgusted, and glum like a boy who’s learned the error of his ways, I pick myself back up, and start slowly, slowly, one bucket at a time, to build again.

Spinning my wheels. Even if I only get to keep a single grain, once it has all been washed away. Even if I only get to keep a single grain. Spinning my wheels.

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Time is on my Side

Time is on my side.

The buds of spring appear before my very eyes;
the leaves spread open in the sun for me to watch.
They say the moment rests upon a razor’s edge,
the past behind, the future gone—
I know now I can carefully divide my gaze,
bring it to rest on that which came before,
and that which lies ahead.

A moment past the tight-furled buds held shut against the cold,
But now the leaves have spread, and green is all I see—
all vibrance heralding the spring.
A turning point.
Wherever you look,
whenever you choose to place one.
The sun is out now, and I have made it so.

Too many people fly from time,
or cling to thoughts impressed on them when they were young.
They fancy time a bulldozer which leaves nothing pretty in its wake.
But time is on your side:
Time is the medium of change;
Time always points in the direction of growth;
And all love exists in time.

The seasons and the days will spread themselves out for you;
Make of me what you will, for I am yours.
How cruelly we’ve misnomered time,
when all it wants to do is give us space to be ourselves.

And yet we run from time, and castigate our time because
it cannot change the way it flows.
If only I’d reclaim my youth, we say,
because now I’m getting older and the totality of things is surely
worse now than it was back then.

And time sits idly by, and maybe smiles like a mother—
All it wants to do is see you grow.
Our basic error lies in our perception of the truth:
Maybe all those coveted youthful bodies
just allowed us to fuck up
and fall out of trees
and live to tell the tale—
How nice us old folks have it, not to have to fall.

If only I was where I’ve already been, we say,
and damn ourselves.
Of course that cherished territory then was new;
of course you cannot have the same thing twice.
To try is to disservice you.

Time is on our side.
Its one-way flow ensuring that we never have to live
the same mistakes again, enact those
same dull memories, learn the
same lesson over, suffer the
same heartbreak twice,
if only we so choose.

Our attitude towards time is ever ranging;
The leaves of spring are here, and my life is about to change—
my life is changing.

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The Immersion of Memory

It’s dumping down outside, mazes of pockmarked rainwater running everywhere on the ground. My life is made up of memories—this shirt I got from a different place, reminding me of this person—every piece of clothing on my body is linked indelibly to a given impression left on me by a friend, a lover, an acquaintance, an experience. My life is a ship sailing on into the seas of time yet to come and I am a patchwork of tar and lumber, each board set in place by a different sailor with his own motives and mode of action.

Outside it rains down, running in mazes, and sometimes the wind blows hard, bringing it down in sweeping curtains belting across the ground.

When the winds blow, my experiences sweep across me too, rippling through the surface and superseding the patterns and channels of thought that had been operational in me moments earlier. For just a little bit there is nothing else, and I get washed away in what has been.

Just as suddenly as it came on it stops, and there I stand in control, in the present moment again. I check myself and regain my bearings; the reverie is over.

In the next necessary event in the course of things I will step outside back into the rain again, and in spite of all the wetness and the immersion of memory I will be in control again, navigating my way through the chaos that is the gestalt of all my life experiences. And in future times, unimaginable in the now, the sun will re-emerge and bring me into stark selfconscious clarity and self-awareness—maybe in that instant an unobscured path will appear, and I will know—but for now, back I go laughing into the joyful embrace, the wetness of the storm.

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Rags to Riches; Belief

There’s no running from this anymore:

My name is Joseph Clifford, and I am a king.

There’s a lot I want to talk about in this post. Writing, life circumstances, dreams, commitments, wealth, finances, personal responsibility, and the difference between personal and public.

I’m going to start out by saying that sharing this will be hard for me. I am introverted, and for the longest time I have struggled over the boundary between sharing my soul and cashing out, so to speak. Writing is a personal outlet for me, it is the most holy thing I’m capable of doing; it seems to be my talent, one of the most potent things I can share with the world. It heals me, and it is extremely hard to share it sometimes: when the subject matter is personal, having it ignored or discounted feels the same as rejection. At the same time, it’s impossible to write anything of quality without dipping into the well of inspiration within. As such, a lot of the finished pieces I put up here are initially personal in nature, but come out on the other side processed and with a few extra coats of paint; veneers and masks attached so as not to give me away. I know that not everybody wants to wallow in my heartbreaks and existentialism. The really good essays are like loaves of bread made with just a few drops of holy water.

So this won’t be a personal post, a bleeding-heart kind of thing, because sharing that kind of thing all the time makes me resent writing and resent my process; my most important skill and niche in the world. That’s no good.

It will, however, come from a personal place, and I want the message to remain as distilled as possible so that it may penetrate the layers of each of your respective veneers and have a spiritual impact. That is my message and my methodology; that is what I hope to accomplish by writing this.

So I will start with a bit of personal background. If you’ve been following this website for awhile and reading my writing with any sort of regularity, it’s very possible and in fact easy to read into my emotional states projected by the pieces of writing themselves. To make a long story short, I’ve gone through a few different stages: romantic optimism, delivered by exceptional life circumstances and personal achievement some years ago; intense deliberation, caused by the collapse of that potential dream and the uncovering of darker sides of myself; and deep episodes of depression, caused by feelings of stagnation presented by my fixed environment clashing against the great personal liberation I have felt in the past. To make a short story ever-so-slightly longer, these stages were all related to women. (Ain’t that always the case?) And I am forever, eternally grateful and loving towards all of the people who have played a role in my life. You are incredible. You are important to me. I owe you everything.

Through all my relationships and life experiences I have learned a lot about my own patterns. I have learned about my clinginess, about my seriousness, and about my proclivity to romanticize the past—really, my tendency to romanticize in general, and to hold on to things tightly, for too long. I am sorry if I ever did any of those things to you. It’s just who I am—based on things that happened in my youth, patterns of trauma, and things that I feel to be emotionally difficult. But I am learning. I am growing.

Recently, as in really recently, I have entered into a phase of great abundance and confidence. Over the course of these years, I have slowly realized that I must do things for myself to build, brick by brick, the life that I want so feverishly and constantly dream about. It’s been a long time coming, and I didn’t want to see the truth. I really didn’t. I didn’t want to grow, I didn’t want to accept the responsibility that this placed upon myself, and I was afraid that it would diminish my capacity to love if I was not rapacious and fanatically devoted to my partner; moreso than myself, moreso than anything. Like a werewolf shot with a silver bullet, howling over the luminous madness and inspiration presented by the full moon, I’ve been cured in a sense, and brought back to normal life through transformatory pain and anguish. If you read into the poetic meaning of this piece, here is the bullet in the bullet hole.

It took someone coming into my life who I admire greatly, who I cherish like a little sister, and whose example I look to as one that I can model myself after. It took me falling in love with her (that part came very easily, actually), and it took her moving on, away from me and my desire to cling and hold tight out of fear, in order to pursue her own path of greatness for me to finally wake up and smell the coffee and realize that I have to get out there and pursue mine. This was the tipping point.

It also took a damn good book.

You Are a Badass at Making Money is an awesome, awesome book. Before I go any further, it’s worth noting that this influential person is Christian—very, very Christian, which is something I definitely am not, and which was probably a sticking point in our relationship. Which is fine. Although I disagree with religion—or maybe I just can’t wrap my head around it—there are certain tenets and principles that I think are absolutely effective and objective in terms of the achievement of one’s individual dreams. Prayer: the envisioning of a desired outcome; mentally placing yourself in the situation so as to strengthen your ability to make it real. Practicing gratitude and love; love thy neighbor. What’s not to be gained by this practice? Most importantly, the principle of faith: the ability to dream of a perfect, delicious, completely amazing life that exceeds your wildest expectations. One that is simply tailored to you, where every last wish and desire of your innermost soul is fulfilled. I have struggled with this. If you look at my writing, you will see that my faith comes and goes, capriciously, as I fall in and out of cycles of depression. (Perhaps this is why I fall into those cycles of depression.) Although religion irks me in a lot of ways, and there are things I disagree with or don’t understand—the concept of an afterlife, the acceptance of something as truth based on feeling and the way you have been in the past instead of ways you might be in the future; the lack of broadening of horizons—faith is a concept that is actually central and indispensable in my own life. To me, it is the belief in the self. Rather than the jargon and terminology of Jesus, or God, or “The Universe”—all, to me, religious terms—I believe in the power of the self to actualize and execute that life that delivers on every level imaginable. My influential person’s belief was astounding; it had brought her to a new state to live, to impressive levels of fierce badassery, and to the fruition (and continuous fruition-ing) of her dreams. It brought her path into contact with mine, and this happened to be exactly what I needed.

You are a Badass at Making Money presents a platform of beliefs based on the Law of Attraction. (I’m sure you’ve heard of it.) Initially, upon reading, I was quick to dismiss this line of reasoning as bullshit. That’s the cynic in me talking; the person who I have been in the past two years or so. That was the response that I was conditioned to give based on my personality and the beliefs I’ve had about myself and the way I operate. However, I realized that my cynicism—the picture of me as someone who rejects any sort of belief in an external vision—was, in fact, a belief in its own right. Here I was, holding myself back, because I was afraid to be attached to anything anymore. It makes sense, in a way; hadn’t I suffered great losses? And yet, after going through the same routines and same machinations and seeing no potential improvement in my future, I realized I’d thrown the baby out with the bathwater. I was my own enemy; I had been standing in my own way. Although I haven’t pinned down my own definition about the way that belief works, e.g. “prayer” or “attraction” or “manifesting” or “achievement,” this book helped me believe in the process a little more. On a practical level, Jen Sincero provides tools and exercises for the removal of limiting beliefs about yourself, and goes into detail about the different ways these beliefs hold you back from committing to making more money.

One of the most important things she outlines is taking bold, decisive action in the direction of your dreams. So there I was, full of a newfound sense of responsibility, my own new-best-friend, committed to digging myself out of a financial and emotional hole, and I thought: “Fuck it. I am going to pay off all of my credit card debt by April 1st.” This was an outstanding balance of over $2,000 dollars. Historically, I have overdrafted my bank account every month during the process of paying rent. This commitment was something that scared me shitless, but it was the old me; the me that couldn’t hold onto money, who would spend it all on coffee and burritos and immediate provisions of comfort because I couldn’t accept the burden of responsibility that came with the idea of becoming rich. I have committed to this change, as it is part of the ideal life that I have envisioned for myself—the life that we all secretly envision for ourselves every single day—and because being jaded and being a cynic is lame. If this is you, snap out of it! Life is too short to waste. If you’re not on the way to getting where you really want to be, you’re doing it wrong. There’s nothing more worthwhile  than crafting the life of your dreams.

It feels good to get these thoughts out in the open. These are things I’ve held inside for a long, long time. I hope you’re liking them.

What’s scary—again, what I was probably running from—is ownership, is personal responsibility. If you want to get rich, you need to own it; you need to put in the work to change your life around, which seems frankly unappealing to our reptilian brain. You need to wake up and kick ass every morning, and you have to risk other people not liking you because they want your life to serve them in one way or another—and it can’t if you’re really serving yourself. This is another thing I was, and still am, deeply afraid of. But I know it will work out: the reward is too great, and the opportunity cost is too painful.

I said that the other morning I woke up feeling like a king. I was hungover, but those words popped into my head. “My name is Joseph Clifford, and I am a king.” They drove me out of bed. I walked to the store to treat myself to a healthy breakfast which would drive the alcohol out of my system—everybody makes bad decisions once in awhile, but a king spends the money to put himself back in regal standing. I felt all of the affirmations I had been practicing flowing through me; I was relaxing into myself, letting my energy out, and “attracting” (whatever that means) new experiences to myself. I ordered my juice, and the cashier at New Leaf (who I have immense respect and admiration for) asked, “Wanna see how powerful I am?”

I said “Fuck yeah, of course!”

. . .Well, not really, but based on my state of mind at the time, that might as well have been my response.

“Large Works!!” she said, and the woman behind the juice bar handed my juice to me.

***

I have my credit card down to $1300 dollars right now. It will be zero by April 1st, 2018. I have made some changes that scare me in order to make more money; I will be doing new things and reaping the benefits. The life that grows out of this uncomfortable metamorphosis will be more aligned with that perfect vision within. I have other goals—move out of my current house into a better living situation, get a dog that will run around town with me, find love, and buy a lot of really, really comfortable pants—and I believe, truly, that they will happen. I am changing to meet their demands. In fact, they must happen, because without the belief in your goals, life is bleak. You must pursue your goals, with crazy, unrelenting, balls-to-the-wall belief and determination. That’s where I’m at right now, and with that I have brought you mainly up to speed. If you too have these inner goals, you must pursue them. This is imperative! The purpose behind me writing is to reach through the air-waves of the internet and, with my content, unscrew your brain and plant a few really awesome, inspiring ideas inside. I’m hoping to make your life better, and in doing so begin supporting myself and building that lush, lucrative life of my dreams.

If you found this post inspiring and worthwhile, remember that you can DONATE to me through this link, and I will be forever grateful to you and that much more likely to continue sharing my life experience with you via words. I have other financial goals, too, most notably to finance a car to increase my independence and freedom, and to completely pay off my student loans by the end of this year; December 31st, 2018. This one in particular has me close to shitting myself. But it’s gotta happen, sooner or later, and the more I set my mind to it the closer it will come to reality. As Jen Sincero said, what you focus on, you create. “If you want to change your life, change your life.”

I’m doing it—you do it, too.

If you think that this book would improve the quality of your life, like it has mine, I’d highly recommend buying it using either this affiliate link, or the one above in the post. 🙂

Here it is for Kindle: http://amzn.to/2CMORtG
Here it is in paperback: http://amzn.to/2EY3DE7

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Do I Not Have This Same Love Still Within?

Do I not have this same love still within?

This sweet pain of the heart—fledgling bird that once I
fought for, bled for, as it flew into the outer world—
is dead, a tragedy, for its
enduring memory and my persistent inaction make me
a fraud, a nothing, no one.

How do I explain away the torturous inconsistency?
That once I held her and I saw the heavens mirrored in two eyes—
That once I glimpsed the meaning of my life, and strove for it—
That once I knew with certainty what drove me out of bed each day, what I was chasing down in people;
and knew that I could draw it out, if only I would try.
If only I had kept so steadfast and so pure,
and went about it with my heart the sacrificial lamb,
then I could draw it out, then I could try.

And now it’s been a year since I so glimpsed that holy ghost,
pure-hearted inspiration which had driven me—
The summer past I saw its dissolution start,
The months before the last to show the holy part.

And I shall suffer noble heart again, or so it seems,
if ever more the parts of life worth all I should regain.
Perhaps that’s it—the plan—
the weakling timid course of action I resign to take.
A plan as bad as any, I should think;
a plan is merely recourse to the known, when things are bleak.

In times of blindness, when the clouds obscure the sun,
it might be best to sit in darkness, talk to none.
And when the beams peek out behind the vapors of the cloud,
then warmed you’ll be, and moving towards the warmth,
but til then, maybe find contentment in the shroud.

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Falling

Falling in love is like autumn. Small, perceptible changes begin to take place—veins of color slowly changing shade—and one at a time the leaves begin to fall. The feeling, the anticipation of the event comes first; in crisp individual moments you inhale and think Yes, this is about to happen. As you savor the change it has already begun. You are already inside of it.

Before you know the leaves are all cascading to the ground fiery orange—like a shower of cold sparks you stand in the fall and notice the electric feeling of commencement, maybe from the cold or maybe coming from inside, and then you too are swept away, wet in the arid swirl of the wind and just another particle enjoying the ride.

The transition taking place before your eyes is the sweetest part—noticing the cold change and welcoming it, glimpsing the shape of things to come, feeling in advance the future in one moment of emotional clairvoyance. To exist temporally in this moment as the world stops to turn on a dime: that is contentment. For the winter will come and go, that delicious frosty Christmastime, and you will sit in warmth and eat up those holy moments with your loves; and then the thaw, that moist harsh time when you are already sick of cold and tolerate the slush and dirty ice, looking forward again to the change and the chaos of spring—its natural asymmetric growth which is messy and liberating. And all these things, all these seasons, are in a way the heralds of death while you’re in them, proof of the world and the universe’s immutable laws of change, incomprehensibly vast rotating wheel—but as you stand in fixed vantage point to observe the seasons change you have now become eternal, on the axle and out of time. The summer is coming, the winter is coming, and autumn and spring are coming too—as you watch the wheel spin and observe your own place, for now in the center, your body is swept away, another grateful cog present in the clockwork of the universe, another happy leaf riding in the wind.

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Reinvention

I woke up in a rage.

The feeling of disgust as I saw everything around me arranged in exactly the same way. The old objects splayed around my room in their respective posts, the sun tilting through the windows as it had done so many times before. The realization that I have become a part of these fixed proceedings.

I don’t want any of this!

The permanence of objects is really of little concern to me; what’s infuriating is becoming trapped by these objects, knowing that their rigidity has settled down into your soul—that your habits and the way thoughts interact in your mind have become another piece of furniture. The fact that you’re saddled with these things makes you detest them—what would be commonplace feels like shackles, intolerable because they’re yours. Everything—your appearance, your relationships, the basic tenets of your personality—begins to stink. What have I done to deserve this? Why do I sit and watch the tides of my own anguish number the years?

Reinvention. Reinvention is the answer. The need for reinvention is one we all have, and it’s not a response to a problem, either. It’s an extension of the yearning for growth. This is why we cut our hair, buy new clothes, try new workouts to watch our bodies grow and morph in novel ways. Sometimes I fantasize about reinventing myself in degrees of varying intensity: selling all my clothes, moving to a different city, state or continent, changing my lifestyle to become a bum or materialist chasing wealth, deleting myself and choosing a new starting point at random, transplanting into a new culture and a new language. It’s the urge for growth and the frantic clamor for life experience that moves me so.

As I reach new plateaus I look ever outward for new feelings to drive me on. Which instances of the shared universal can I achieve in my limited body, in the narrow window of human consciousness? What is it like to speak a different language? What’s it like to exist as a member of the opposite sex? What does it feel like to fly? How much of this can I really achieve, and what are the obstacles that would prevent me from doing so?

The undermining of this appetite is what makes me curse all my worldly possessions and loathe myself. There’s nothing wrong with this, really. The fault lies in the blinders of culture and custom, which cause us to view such curiosity as alien. We’ve limited ourselves to a small slice of existence; this is mine, and everything else is wrong. Really, we deserve the whole pie.

I love my isolation, and I cherish my perspective as an outsider of sorts. It’s a badge I would proudly bear in defense of my current position—my search for something grander, while all these people walk back and forth, back and forth, desperately trying to convince themselves that they know, truly, what is important and what is good in their straightforward, unblinking existence.

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Media & Inspiration

dali

Soft Construction with Boiled Beans, Salvador Dali 1936

I am trying very hard.

They say that one only rises to the level of his or her expectations. That you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with. That you are what you eat. I am trying very hard to keep my head out of the muck, because I know that doing so is the only way to envision an elevated future.

Where does inspiration come from? How do ideas form? What strikes a human being and spurs them into action? Empirical philosophy says that all arises from sensory data, that there is no truly new idea created in the mind. A child may have seen a red ball, and yet can envision a blue ball without ever having held one, but this blue ball is nothing but a combination of other impressions—the concept of “ball” taken from the red one, the experience of “blue” taken from the blue of the sky, or a blue tablecloth. Even fantasy creatures, the chimera or the griffin, are amalgamations of other animals. Every invention, every dreamed-up notion in this sense is a sort of re-hashing or blending.

I think of strikingly creative images, the artwork of H.R. Giger or Salvador Dali, those works which are so well-constructed that they seem to us to be totally original. The subconscious minds of these men are master assemblers of nightmares and surreal dreams, of horses and reptiles and machines, so finely kneaded and combined that they stop us cold. Here appears to be something completely new—but of course, every artist has his inspirations. Perhaps the most creative individuals are merely the most eclectic.

giger

Birth Machine, H.R. Giger

I’ve found, unquestionably, that whatever I expose myself to is what I’ll want to do. I watch Youtube videos on my downtime: videogames, gymnastics, diving, extreme sports, calisthenics, cooking, rock climbing, spearfishing, racing, music, weightlifting, travelling, piano. . . .  Without fail, as I watch these videos, I will gravitate towards one specific topic and end up wanting to do that thing. Who could stare at a plate of food and not want to taste? Curiosity implores us to seek out inspiration; once we find those objects, the beating heart demands we take action. All media, in fact, works over us in this way. Whatever we surround ourselves with, we become.

It’s worth noting that technology has made instantly accessible and unbelievably vivid those images which catalyze the search for inspiration. It just jumps straight to the finished product: here is a video of an enormous whale. Not pictured is the search for the whale, the diving techniques which require mastering, the wetness of the ocean and all the times you jumped in but didn’t wind up in the middle of an orca pod. The anticipation is removed, the puzzle-piecing carried out by the subconscious, the processing and daydreaming and effort that makes us want it more every step along the way. There’s no sense of “I wonder what this would be like.” After watching the video, all we can do is compare real life to a preconceived expectation.

And this is a best-case scenario of sorts, assuming that we turn towards our smartphones entirely and exclusively when we want some new joie de vivre. More likely and infinitely more common we will fill our heads up with drivel, think about drivel, fabricate cheap dreams out of recycled parts. How can you build a skyscraper out of scrap metal? How to cook a three-star meal out of rotten ingredients? It’s impossible. These things that are so easily accessible, these are other people’s dreams. If you want to construct your own, you can’t go digging where everyone else is digging, just because they’re digging there.

I can only speak from experience, and my voice only represents itself. My dreams have long been lofty, and as of late the edifices built on landfill have come crashing precipitously down. I have been avoiding all things that seem hollow, and this feels right. No comment, no justification is necessary. There are expenses, but it’s worth it. I’ve tried before to build my towers out of sand and driftwood, and I’ve been amazed by my efforts, but by and large it didn’t shake me when they fell; I knew I’d not gone out of my way to gather the best materials.

I am trying really, really hard to be meticulous about the sort of media I ingest—the kind of thinking and behavior that enters my life, because there is a faint vision of the future forming inside my mind. The temperament, the passion, the comportment; the daily ablutions, the rituals. I look around for something to match the depth I feel in myself and see mostly movie-sets, paper thin and unreal. . . or green screens, to be filled entirely with the most recent manufactured content, those already-stale and anachronistic reformulations that serve to nourish only those without taste.

I am trying to make books my main form of media consumption, those expanders of imagination and champions of lateral thinking. A book will expose you to a thousand new experiences, a dozen new paradigms of thought, and a totality of experience integrated into your own which is infinitely more nuanced and rewarding than that which you can build from the sordid pieces scattered about your social media presence.

I am trying really hard to do this. Time will be the one who approves my efforts—vindicates me, or not.

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Meditations on Death

The time before you hold your breath, the time leading up to the dive, is the most important part. You breathe with intention, in and out, a steady rhythm. The goal is to achieve absolute physiological calm, and this takes sustained self-awareness. Any resistance to stress and inner conflict must be released. To deal with negativity, you must let it temporarily sink in and conquer you. As you float suspended in these dread emotions, death peeks in quietly from around the corner—for death is the culmination of all these grim emotions. When you acknowledge this, there is nothing more to fear. Accepting the idea of death, of embracing the physical feeling of death, is a natural process. It is freeing, and it will give you true peace.

Then, plunging under the water, the challenge is to maintain this peace for as long as possible. The image of drowning becomes clearer and clearer; fighting it creates panic, brings it rushing in. Self-monitoring becomes crucial—detachedly you watch, judging the distance between your current state and your projected demise.

I’ve stopped being such an optimist. I used to try to pick out the constellations reflected in puddles of piss; now, I turn my head upwards and look at the stars. I have historically been terrified of loss, of not living up to some ideal I’d established for myself, and in the flight from consequences that would disprove me I would thrash and kick desperately, struggling away from a core of anxiety within me, of rot and dread. “Dread” is the best way to describe it—the feeling that would come about only immediately upon waking, before my brain had a chance to jam a lid on the subconscious. It was confusion, angst, and total loss—the emotion of death. This is what I had railed against for so long, and I couldn’t let it into my life. In running I would propel myself, like one pole of a magnet repulsed by the other negative pole, far, far away.

The qualities that we are attracted to in other people, the things that make us want to spend time with them, are things that we want to take into ourselves. One of my best friends now is grim, unpretentious. He’ll laugh when he feels good, but when things are bad he doesn’t really try to hide it. He gets a muzzle like a dog, a scowl. It’s easy to see the dread is there, and I love it. I can tell he’s suffered loss, and he has equalized. Before I had verbalized this train of thought to myself, I was attracted to this quality. A serious man.

I am trying to equalize too, after so many years of running. Becoming accustomed to the darker side of life is a cornerstone of getting older; experience is coping with loss and coming to accept reality. I am coming to terms with this more complete picture of myself—one who can be both bright and grim at the same time; a knower of life and death.

Is life precious? I have posed this question to myself recently and repeated it often. Is the whole world precious? Every tree, every person, every fly? It depends on your perspective. Our life is precious to the solar system: sentient life, some say, is the miracle of all creation, the winning lottery ticket in the elemental chaos of outer space. If we set the boundaries of our perspective to include endless light-years of void, then yes, life is clearly precious. But realistically, we are inundated by life. It is all we know. Residing within our bodies which are life incarnate we look outwards and see nothing but life: the changing of the seasons, rust appearing on metal, babies and highschoolers and funerals. Life is easy to take for granted because it’s all there is. For me, this is a more realistic perspective. Life is precious if you make it precious; life matters if you behold it and find it significant.

In the vast tornado of life we come to be and we are cut down again. This is the way things are. When I begin having this conversation with people, I warn them that it may sound fatalistic. Really, it’s just me coming to grips with the world. Equalizing, like the inner ear: coming to rest within the matrix of forces that runs through our environment. When I let this pressure come inside of me and surrender to it, that’s when I find real quiet. That’s where peace resides—in the morbid calm, sweet in its weight and finality.

This equilibrium is the way that things really are, and from its acceptance springs clear consciousness and real emotional understanding. I can hold my breath longer when I simply let things be, let my heart go to stone within my chest. I’m guessing that I can live better, too, whenever I take the time to feel the weight of my flesh and bones, my blood and emotions, pulling me back down towards the earth, down towards the ground from whence they came.

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The Stone Within My Self

When I hold you, like a looking glass I bring your ghost to life.
I condense your spirit into something tangible; it sparkles in the sun in my eye.

When I hold you close I make you real, and take
All your thoughts and hollow perceptions of your body,
which to you, as mine is to me, is an X-ray viewed from inside out—
I make you opaque, a boulder, golden and weighty inhabiting your flesh, as if
the neurons normally reserved for all this thought and angst and astral projection rush
to that spot on your arm, like pain signals,
or to your shoulder, as it circumambulates your spine,
or to your breasts, weighed down with sudden purpose;
to your feet, as they flex like fans in the wind;
along your arching back as you stretch catlike upon waking,
gossamer fibers gently breaking, muscle bellies yawning
in the morning sun and livening air.

You make me real too, my love. You give this hollow body
filled with bullshit
reason to exist, to move and activate;
a ballast point in all these storms of delusion,
a respite from all this garbage.

I am the ape trapped in the money machine,
game show audience of inner mind all keen to see me whirl and grab at all this floating cash,
and they and I both see the joke, the irony,
the fact that soon the air will stop spinning,
and that the cash means nothing anyway.

And yet we all do the fucking dance, and clutch it to our breasts like pigs,
whirling ever harder for the ratings, spinning away the revelation
that soon the producer will press the red button,
and the air will die, and the cash will fall,
and the lights will go off,
and we will walk out of the dark empty room.

When I have you I seem to forget about all this shit,
at least I think;
Because you have brought me out of the dark,
you really have,
And you bring me back into the world,
the warm world;
Because I bask in you like a lizard in the sun.

I’m hoping, heart entire, that you can do it again,
that your light still shines condensed like gold for me,
that your image still focuses crystal clear,
realer in the real;
that with your diamond you can catch my light
and make me whole again,
unite my fragmentary mind.

And if your love rings false and surface-deep, then I’ll go back,
for now, into my cash machine and clutch at straws, money signs in my eyes
like an idiot, a fucking idiot, and
won’t I know it, too,
til I can bring myself again to look upon that wound you couldn’t heal,
to find the bullet in the bullet hole,
the depth, the substance that I couldn’t see,
or else accept my
ever futile, ever hollow body.

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Seedlings

 

How can I look back on you with anything but reverence? How to cast the eye of memory back to any of the times we shared and not be humbled, have my heart melt and the coil within my chest unwind a little bit? For the things that were growth then are still growth now; occasions that bade me grow into a more compassionate heart still open up space to grow into—though not the same space, not that same soil. But my direction, my growth is the same—my tenderness, upon recalling you—and in that way our love shall be forever.

There is no contradiction, then, in moving gently away. To hold these reverent memories captive and demand their re-enactment from the present moment would be to do them wrong, to demand the wilder field grow corn when it’s already borne a wealth of life since its initial sowing—wild blackberries, and weeds, and mountain flowers blown in from some arid realm above, and foxes, groundhogs, deer, and rabbits that play within its convolutions. No, I would not go back to my furrowed rows; my neat, meticulous rows, so plowed when I presumed to see the shape of growth ahead.

Every artifact of my time with you is a token of a better day, each object that recalls a time a tattoo on my soul. I gladly make you a part of myself, to carry on in my identity and wear on my face and countenance; to let you shine when someone asks about the worthwhile things I’ve done in life; to have you saved in me forever.

And I hope the same is true with you too, that whenever someone lights you up I can smile out from within you; that you take me forth piecemeal into the world; that you share me using the discretion of your sweet soul. I conferred to you this responsibility with full faith—I did so when first our bodies met—I gave permission when my eyes first fell upon you with a magic glance.

Again the themes of softly spreading growth, again of non-possession. It seems the force of time has blown our dandelion to the wind, and it cannot be unblown. Looking forward reason says these parachuting seeds will go their course, land where they may—these memories each sprouting forth, a new experience will soon emerge, and that in time will be dispelled, to grow anew.

But oh, to look back on that time when fate brought my motive force together with your fully blooming flower and blew; when, shuddering, we launched our thousand pieces forth into the world.

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Adventure Club Manifesto

Our bodies are grossly capable. The human form, physical and spiritual, is incredible. We are equipped to deal with any possible hardship the world can throw at us: climbing a mountain, swimming in a flood, fighting off predators, running a hundred miles at a time. We can adapt to new stressors unheard of in nature: manipulating space on a trampoline, interpreting gravitational forces to drive a car or pilot a fighter jet, defying death bungee-jumping, or playing weightlessly in a zero-G environment. We can love, hate, worship, build, hunt, establish empires and religions, sway the minds of the masses, and experience ecstasy or despair. The human being is the most adaptive and pliant creature in all existence; and yet, on a given day, we tap into none of this potential.

Society has offered us a compromise. It promises comfort in exchange for following a certain process and adhering to different sets of rules, and in our self-interest and shortsightedness we have bought into it lock, stock and barrel. All the cold nights, broken bones, splinters, bruises, and loss of loved ones inherent in the wilderness—these hardships disappear, forever. Here is a nice tram-ride of a life, laid out neatly on rails, and it will carry you softly to a painless death at eighty-five years old. Is this not to be desired?

What we have forgotten in our infatuation with our comforts and our gadgets is that those very things which would kill us in high doses are in fact nourishing in moderation, are the catalysts of growth. Tearing makes the muscle stronger; impact makes the bones harder and the joints more elastic. Frigid water makes us better thermoregulators, and emotional turbulence stabilizes the inner gyroscope. Yet day after day we fall asleep in our beds, a comfortable 72 degrees, utterly disconnected from our bodies and from any sense of inner adventure. We bemoan our backaches, burdened by a chronic depression that comes from neglecting our most basic human needs: the need for challenge and stimulation, the need to assert one’s self, to love with a fearless heart and play like a child in springtime. We have been taught timidity, to look before we leap, to doubt ourselves, to think twice and anticipate negative outcomes and reasons why it it won’t work. We are experts at following to a T the unspoken guidelines that have been wordlessly laid out before us. We are living other people’s lives, and it is killing us.

I won’t accept this. Starting with the physical body, I seek to defy the status quo and reject it in every possible way it would do me injustice. The body is our innate territory, our immediate kingdom. Gaining autonomy over the body is the first step in liberation; a primed and conditioned body betokens control over the impulses, the ability to adapt to stress, the true expression of the individual. The body is our most powerful tool in the pursuit of freedom.

This is what we seek, after all. Life’s variety is immense; every day we spend ignoring that variety life slaps us in the face and tells us to wake up. Shame, regret, lethargy, and restlessness are the symptoms of our modern disease.

I am ready to jump, to run, lift things, climb, flip, swim, get dirty, explore, play, dance, and make sure each precious second of this life doesn’t slip by unacknowledged and unexplored, this perfect body of mine underutilized and undeveloped. I am ready to do these things on the daily, and I want to build a tribe of people to connect with who share these same beliefs. I want a band of fearless explorers to plumb these depths with me, because I know that eventually I will die, and to die knowing there was more that you could’ve done out there is unacceptable. Let’s burn, while we still can, and burn brightly.

 

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The Call to Life, Pt. 2

Trying hard ain’t everything.

When it comes to answering life’s call, there’s only one response: I will do it. I will be better, I will try harder. The immediacy of the call warrants this response. There is palpable tension that resides in the solar plexus. It radiates continuously into the rest of the body. Based on our actions this tension either decreases or increases, is expressed or repressed. This is our power source: the base drive. By virtue of being alive, it has been built into us, and it will generate energy until the day we die. The anxiety of influence. The mating drive.

Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

We carry the yoke of mortality in our mouths. We are shackled. I have felt the drive beating eternally within my chest; here is the burden. Achieve. We must come to terms with this demand. We must seek to understand the things we resist and the way our impulses manifest themselves. Our generation has yet to see a holy man, so this is a modern interpretation. I think it fits us well. The man who is in touch with his own mortality—his yoke is easy. Thriving in reality relies on accepting our innate drive and being able to laugh at it, too.

There’s only one correct response to the call of life: I will get this. I will try harder. The only obvious response to failure is a redoubling of efforts. Did you try something important and fall off the horse? Did you miss the mark? Get back up with that fire in your eyes. Refuse to accept defeat. Steel yourself and try again—try and try again, until you achieve.

I think this response is evolutionary, and is correct in nearly every instance. It always works. In matters of the soul, there is no instance where failure won’t make you want to try harder. You know that your first experience has only made you better. You are smarter, stronger, wiser. You are closer to that thing.

And you sure as fuck won’t take no for an answer. Taking permanent failure as the outcome means that your whole world is off kilter. Your dreams are false, impossible to achieve. You had no business with them in the first place! Your drive, that fundamental life force, has pointed you in the wrong direction. It has betrayed you. You might as well be dead!

If you have anything to live for at all, it’s your fantasies, your goals, your ideals. So the knee jerk reaction is to burn, burn brighter and brighter. Set yourself aflame and be consumed in the process. Burn until there’s no fuel left and you’re a shaking mess, then go home and sleep and come back the next day to do it all over again. This is called dedication. It’s easy to see in others, and it is beautiful. The truly dedicated will suffer. They will hurt themselves, walk headlong into bad situations, and keep going anyway. It is a self-destructive reaction. It is irrational, self-sacrificing, even stupid, but it always works. Here is an individual’s power plant. It is nuclear fusion.

“The power of the sun. . . .”

“. . . . in the palm of my hand.”

 

Eventually, we learn to control this response. As we live with ourselves and continue in the pursuit of our inner goals, we figure out when to amp up and when to power down. The initial burning love matures into a steady commitment, a measured give-and-take. And even as time takes certain passions out of the spotlight, and we grow in and out of certain personalities as the seasons change, the core of the passion remains, maybe dormant but ready for reignition—the reaction at the core of the red giant, slowly burning out but retaining always its explosive potential, maybe one day at the end of its life to go supernova, maybe to be born again.

 

“Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.”

Walt Whitman had it right. The drive to create and achieve is borne in us all. The human mechanism to try hard and to sacrifice one’s self at the altar of desire is well in place, exactly as it should be. An awareness of this mechanism and acceptance of its place in life can help protect you from obsession, self-harm, or explosions of repressed passion. For me it helps contextualize desire, grounds me and keeps me sane. This understanding is the furthest I’ve gotten in knowing what it means to be human on a strictly individual level. I can see no way around the burden of consciousness, but in the meantime it helps me deal with the pressure of being alive.

My yoke is easing up.

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The Call to Life

When all else is taken away, there remains only the basic urge, the never-ending summons, the constant pull towards the unknown and the insane excitement of new potential just coming into focus on the horizon. There is only the adventure sprawling ahead.

Beneath the doubt there is tremulant anticipation, leeching out from your physical core into the rest of the body to be embraced, to be felt, breathed, excreted into the atmosphere where its rightful purpose is to engage and play with the essence of others. The physical sensation of “what may be” impacting the body is what motivates, drives, energizes, animates.

For how long have I gone without this sensation, this signpost, blind to all its amperage and purposefully obscuring its message? How did I convince myself that all it had been was a ghost, when in fact it lived inside of me, always pounding or waiting patiently til my resistance dissolved and I acknowledged the truth of its existence? Through all the doldrums, the conformity and dullness more insipid than spasmodic death, it waited, like a mother at the foot of her inconsolate child’s bed. Through all that time it swaddled me.

Like resolute father it waited for its turn to guide, to show the joys of the world and life to my timid eyes, and pierce my petulant guise. My moody child—oh, my darling child.

And now I listen, listen deep, because the alternatives of boredom and melancholy have proven worse by far to deal with than the terror of new things. With near a grim resolve I’ll confront the haggard face of fate and say “Go on then, do your worst,” because I’ve seen it all and coped with all the trifling hardships of my nascent sphere, and I want more.

I gladly reach my fists towards heaven and beckon down the thunder come, to fry me if it may but show me unequivocally the power of the elements, the raw materials of God.

I’ve slept throughout the dawning of my life, and now it’s day. The sun is creeping through the sky and sure enough my youth which once felt infinite begins decaying.

The call to life resounds for you and I. It grips as does a wrench and turns the bolts inside.

The bell within so steady tolls—
it rings, it sounds, it chimes.

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How To Live (in this Shitshow)—Introduction

I. Living with Yourself

II. Living in Society

III. Living with Others

The purpose of this book and the purpose of my life have long been one in the same. For the longest time I’ve been obsessed with the idea of finding the perfect plan to run my life, executing it for myself, then sharing the blueprint with others to help them towards their own vision of fulfillment. Any dryness or analytical style comes from the attempt to condense a huge amount of ideas, which have been floating around in my head for the better part of six years now, into a finite process. The refinement and final product of these ideas I take to be both my inspiration during good times and my salvation in times of distress. It may require a little dryness, at least in the beginning.

In the good times, the longer periods of well-being and the blissful moments of perfect love, I wish to relay my message—this is how to live. In the bad times, the spells of malaise and brief moments of crisis and desperation, I want to alleviate—this is how to live… in the shit show. How to weather the shit-storm. How to survive it all.

Though this seems depressing, by recognizing and defining some shitty things first I hope to essentially solve them, and later swing back around to the positive side of things. Above all, I want to instill an indestructible ideal of faith, virtue, and goodness in the reader. This is what I truly believe in; this is my driving force and consolation. You just have to be a little careful, because this thing can be a delicate instrument at times, and every once in awhile use a couple tricks to keep it out of the mud.

It is my firm belief that establishing a solid set of personal ethics which guides the self, manifests in your interactions with others, and helps to offset the rigors of society—or which may even initiate change in the power structures that define this system—will help to create a more palatable world.

Let’s get to it.

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Top-Down Perspective

clouds

It’s helpful to keep a bird’s eye view on things.

When I flew into Europe for the first time, after an entire year of fantasy and anticipation, I was amazed at how familiar it looked. “Temperate” was the word that came to mind—thick soft clouds blanketed the green hills below, and I envisioned the whole tale of Western history as nourished by this healthy rainfall. Even as I came into Frankfurt in a downpour, and was subsequently dumped on, I was able to take it lightly because I had seen the clouds from above.

It was a very long flight—physically, the longest day of my life. I flew through heaven to get to Iceland and somehow skipped a night; the longest late-afternoon of all time was magically early morning when we touched down and the captain said the words “6 A.M.” over the loudspeaker. After the persistent, dazzling light of the Empyrean, the clouds and the weather of Germany seemed quaint by comparison, a distinctly earthly behavior.

There was a dazzling sunrise this morning, too, only I didn’t see it; all I saw were the clouds signalling towards the sun, the aftermath. During the turbulent birth of the sun, before the light fades into uniform day, the colors and the clouds recall the chaotic interactions of youth: the dances which shine with ripeness and possibility because they have not yet matured into a single definition; the events that can mean many things at once for their ambiguity and explosiveness. Walking along my dirty street to work I saw the hormonality of the clouds boiling over, and in my mind I envisioned the bigger picture, sky above, sun slunk over to some corner, embarrassed by what he’d done. I took my steps under the weather, in the low sphere of the dawn’s burgeoning fuchsia, cyan, and tangerine, and the cauldron of clouds roiling behind silhouettes of buildings.

Even when the rainclouds are pitch black and pouring, I suppose it’s comforting to imagine the sun above, shining bright. But that’s not the whole picture, because our human beauty is born of contrast, and high vistas of pure sunshine and blanched blue sky burn us and bore us, and we lose our mind with more than 20 hours of daylight at a time. The interplay of light and atmosphere does us the most good, so although the idea of top-down perspective can alleviate some of our worldly problems, it also serves to remember that the moisture of the troposphere and the darkness of earth can color and enliven the high, arid realms above.

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Think Pretty Thoughts

20161024_013449

I’ve been occupied recently with the question of the soul—is there more to the human being than raw materials? Do we live in a strictly materialist universe? Is there a soul hiding out in your body, or is it just blood and guts, all particles bouncing around?

I’ve come to believe that there must be a soul inhabiting the body, a spirit that animates, a current which electrifies, and that the satisfaction or expression of this soul is what makes it all worthwhile. I would have a hard time explaining why I believe this, if you asked me; and all of the spiritual questions like reincarnation or a higher design inherent in the universe are things I have not thought about. What I can say with certainty is that the notion of a materialistic universe, with nothing but entropy as its guiding principle, strikes me as morbidly depressing. To me, the best beliefs are those which serve you the best—the most “functional” in the sense that they align with and validate your experience, empowering you and spurring you towards action. (And just so I don’t seem like a jihadist, that doesn’t mean “believe whatever you want,” or whatever’s easiest for you. I believe in a universal good, and I have never felt empowered by hurting someone.)

The idea of “atoms and the void” is only ever used as justification. If there’s no order in the universe, then why should I even bother?

What, have you given up?

This idea has never spoken to me nor served me, and whenever someone mentions it I feel them coming from a place of weakness—explaining away a loss, or justifying an addiction, or rationalizing laziness. Their eyes glaze over, and they become resigned. I have never seen someone surrender their agency and individualism to the laws of physics and then become promptly inspired, watched their eyes alight after recognizing the ultimate futility of any mortal effort.

I reject that.

No, there must be something more. And that is the soul: that thing which, when it is satisfied, makes it all worthwhile.

But what is the soul? Where does it exist, and what is it made out of? I can’t say for sure. Maybe it is the interface, the collected neurons and interconnections within the body, and only this gestalt is the soul. It is a process, an operation, an emergent behavior.

The soul is that higher function whose fulfilling results in the highest quality of life. And what, then, satisfies the soul? Naturally, it differs for everybody, and everybody must find out their own answer to this question. Individualism excavates the soul. This process starts from within, and knowledge of the self is won only through introspection and honesty. Moreover, the fuel is for the soul is ever-changing; it may be different one day to the next. And this makes sense: satisfaction is progress; love, progress—intangible and out of time, these things are the instantaneous direction of change, rather than trophies or items on a checklist.

So what do you like to do, and why do you like to do it? One needs no justification for his actions, only that he likes to do something, that it is fulfilling. Why do people create? Why does art exist in the world? Simply because it must. In whatever form it takes—painting, music, dance, writing—it pleases the artist, and provides the nourishment for their soul.

This is also where I draw the distinction between true and false satisfaction, and why murder is not permissible under the grounds that it satisfies you. (Even if you “feel like it,” even though this whole thing is different for everybody.) Art, alone, is the food for the soul.

Art is the food for the soul.

And I’ve learned that you must claim this art for yourself, often at other people’s expense. But this is not to blame, because claiming your own life is a necessary act, and maybe the most worthy and hardest act of all.

This is our weapon, our respite and comfort against the extant chaos of the universe: the ability to please ourselves, to go our own way, to fulfill the deepest longings imaginable to our soul, and then to go out and dream up some more for the next thing, which was impossible to foresee before arriving there. This is our purpose and our paradise, indivisible from us as long as we draw breath: to look deeply within and fulfill the longings of the soul.

And now we’ve come full circle, and starting way up from the top worked our way back down to the bottom. I originally set out to write this one early Saturday morning bus ride, after finding inspiration in the tendrils of mountain clouds curling themselves around sunbeams, and also finding inspiration in being exhausted, because I had to. “Think Pretty Thoughts” came to me, the title of this loose collection of ideas, after I realized the most satisfying thing to me was reading heavy literature like Steppenwolf—trying to read it in German and failing, because that shit is hard, but finishing the rest of it in English and finding my way through the dark crazy pathways of Hesse and seeing the light of eternity bouncing around on the mirrors of my own subconscious funhouse too, and trying to get out some rage and cope with some self-denial sitting at a Starbucks at 7:30 in the morning, one hour before work, where my job is essentially to laugh with children.

“Humor is always gallows-humor,” says Hesse, and the point of life is to laugh your fullest and loudest in the face of these gallows, and let your laughter become pure and ethereal as you detach from and allow yourself to become entertained by the struggle, by the big contradiction. Just as a radio “strips this music of its sensuous beauty, spoils and scratches and beslimes it and yet cannot altogether destroy its spirit, just so does life, the so-called reality, deal with the sublime picture-play of the world and make a hurley-burley of it.”

“All life is so, my child,” he says, “and we must let it be so; and, if we are not asses, laugh at it.”

I realized that I love the struggle in my life, and that the minuscule gains become enormous and the constant frustrations just make me want to try harder, and in the meantime I turn to art because it is self-validating and perfect. The pursuits of literature, of German, of athleticism and aestheticism and asceticism are perfect whenever I chase them, because they help me laugh in the face of chaos and despair, and allow me to think these pretty thoughts.

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Words from a Friend

Life that life man.
Be your self man.
Do those things man.
Don’t be scared man.

Climb those rocks man.
Read those books man.
Get that girl man.
Write those words man.

Do your best man.
Try it all man.
Be your self man.
Don’t be scared, man.

Climb that cliff man.
Jump that bridge man.
Kiss your girl man.
Get your fill man.

Take a swim man.
Join a gym man.
Get some sun man.
Get some sleep man.

Climb that tree man.
Scratch that itch man.
Be your self man.
Live your life, man.

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Walls of Resistance

“Your success is on the other side of the wall.
Can’t jump over it, or go around it.
You know what to do.”
—The Rock

Where does your success lie?

Through the wall.

Where do your dreams reside? Where is the life you’ve always wanted? Where is the proof that you’re getting somewhere, that your hard work actually has results?

It’s right through this wall. This wall that you’re facing, nose against it, right now.

I downloaded the Rock Clock awhile ago—a cool alarm clock that lets you wake up to the soothing voice of The Rock, as well as delivering motivational messages to you first thing in the morning. Although I’ve stopped using it for now, this particular quote stuck with me. Your success lies on the other side of this wall, and you have to go through it.

What does this look like functionally, on a day-to-day basis? Say you wake up early, five minutes before your alarm goes off. Reason tells you just to get up and start getting ready, but the voice in the back of your head starts bitching and moaning, looking for ways to languish in the sleepy haze of the morning. It offers seductive alternatives. “I don’t need to shave today. . . that way I could sleep an extra fifteen minutes. I could eat a faster breakfast, which would give me more time. . . .” There’s the wall—those things that you really don’t wanna do, if you can help it; those things you always could do, but it would be really hard; the things that you instinctively shy away from because they are uncomfortable and difficult. There’s your wall, the wall of resistance—and you must break through it.

This way of framing things has been especially helpful for me because it feels so literal; the wall is palpable, a transparent curtain hanging right in front of your face. It is that lurching, heavy feeling right before you drag yourself to your feet each morning. So what do you do? You go through it. Step through it. Break through it, smash through it, drill a hole in it and blast it with dynamite, depending on how big it is. Usually such drastic measures aren’t necessary. We build these barriers for ourselves, which guide our behavior on a daily basis—turn here, look there—and we abide by our craftsmanship, but often these walls are flimsy, paper thin, even two-dimensional, like that old Windows screensaver with the maze.

You’re better than that maze.

Go through it. Usually it’s a dull pain, if there’s any pain at all. And keep going through with it. Know that when something comes up that seems like a real hassle, or something that kind of scares you, or something you just don’t wanna do (but know you ought to), that’s just another wall, and you are good at dealing with those things now. 🙂

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Doubt and the Butcher

Lay me to the bone, oh Lord,
and vivisect me whole, should you exist.
Cut through these layers of monotony,
this sense of ought and should and duty,
and let me know there lies, beneath the flesh,
some metaphysics I can’t comprehend,
magic beyond measure, particles of stars
that would kill me should they ever see the light of day.
Slice down through the fat
and cut me deep, and tell me that
this rage and all this searching is for naught,
because there lies within a universe
so bright and clear and devastating too
that just a glance would set me straight,
if only it were visible.

Assure me this is so, and that the cost
is surgery with needless complication,
and I’ll be on my way, content enough.
I’ll walk away with thoughts of other things.
Else pound my bones to flour,
and keep me in the thresher, too,
so I can watch my mortal stuff uncoil and disappear.

I think back upon the rolling hills and misty evenings
where I laid the adolescent burden of my proof.
At least I felt there something in my doubt,
some roadsign’s shadow hidden in the negative.

For now I feel, although these hills lie scant miles away,
that I’ve forever lost that selfsame doubt, that it’s been whittled down;
what once I felt as tingling satisfaction yet unlived,
I now dismiss as mystic magic, permanently lost in youth.
Because I’m old, I’m rational, I work now,
and so I see that causes have effects,
and so I know that moderate results will follow easy effort.
But this is not OK, to think that
just because I have the causes licked I know the outcomes, too;
and to infer that all of life therefore is nothing
but deliverance of things that I expect.

So butcher me, oh God, and cleave me into tiny rounds.
Show to me the marrow of my sections, and bid me look.
Ask unto me: “How could you be so blind?”
and say it to my face.
Humiliate me, kill me, wipe me off
the face of this green earth for having hubris such
to think that I could ever hold this life in my control.

Show me the proof—that’s what I want.
She me the proof that I am aught but heaven’s fool.

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Individualism

Better and more helpful than adopting any set of rules or particular ideology is to come to the realization that you are your own person; that your decisions and your desires are all in your best interest, that your own personal praxis and the work invested in making your imaginings become reality are the things that will save you, and not the adherence to others’ doctrines.

In trusting that this is so you start to open up a powerful state of mind wherein you own yourself and all your decisions, fully embrace their consequences, and learn the quicker from those actions and the circumstances that befall you as a result.

You also acknowledge the truth of your subjectivity, the fact that no one knows the idiosyncrasies and the feeling of your own life like you do, and in doing so uncover wonderful opportunities to nourish yourself, engage with the world around you, and undergo richness and authentic experience.

Your perceptions garner validity, your observations become more piercing and astute. This is due to the weight you’ve placed upon them as the basis for your unique actions. Your judgments become trustworthy, because you are in fact learning to trust yourself.

Make the jump from adherent, role-player, to experiencer, liver. Immersing yourself in your own personhood provides an avenue of fulfillment that nobody in the world can close off. Alignment with your style, your preferences—doing things simply because you want to—is intrinsically fulfilling. With no one’s expectations to validate other than your own, you will be amazed once you reap the fruit your actions have sown.

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Based on a True Story

An angel graced me from above,
and filled my life with love and light.
She shone as fierce as any sun;
I saw her star within so bright.

The calm of many days has passed
since she enmeshed herself with love.
The earth has turned, the lands below
been warmed by radiant light above.

I’m now alone, for she has had
to answer heaven’s drab recall.
Suppose she there, as happy be,
as when we made an earthly all?

She told me Joe, despair you not;
within you light is to be found.
I to my lot must now return.
I’ll see you soon—next time around.

She made a sun within my soul,
ignited first celestial spark.
Those atoms smash within my mind—
their stress illuminates the dark.

She told me now to happy be,
await no Earth-return so meek;
Keep working on yourself, she said,
and I in heaven will you meet.

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Winds of Change

Winds of change,
take me far away from here.

When you blow across my skin,
bearing scents of far-off isles,
I tingle too, thinking of your possibilities,
dreaming, looking ahead
to untold adventure,
the promise of the unknown,
the ecstasy of pleasures yet unlived.

Things are good now here, on my porch;
a girl is just a girl, and I a man;
But your call speaks of birds in flight,
tropical air under wing,
or pumas on a mountain prowl.
These are the pleasures which I seek—
the universal, transcendental, supra-human.

I want to be a dolphin in your seas, oh World,
a bug in your garden,
a snail in your soft grass.

And when your vapors crawl across my skin,
I catch
the current of the world,
the truth that all is motion,
the dynamo of inner electricity.

You winds of change, desert me not,
and blow me far, far,
far away from here.

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Habituation

I’ve long fancied the idea that, since we are all products of our environment, were our environment ever to change radically, we could become completely different people overnight.

As you go about your day, think that you always open the door to your bedroom with your left hand, always bend the right elbow at a fifty-five degree angle to lift your backpack up and manipulate it with your other hand, grabbing things from the same pockets you put them in, day in, day out. That you take the stairs in your house up in exactly the same learned fashion, over and over, finishing with the same foot on top; how you get into your car by bending down, swinging your head in and closing the door at the same time, every single day, or that you are inclined to sit on the same seats on the bus without even realizing it consciously, and that for this reason your life becomes one eerie re-enactment of deja vu. You sleep in the same spot on your bed, every night, and every morning you wake up looking at the same drab corner of your room.

Owing to this repetition, our bodies have become trained, or imbalanced, favoring certain parts for certain actions. You hold the heavy pan with your left hand, and give it a shake, while finely controlling the spatula with your right hand to turn the food. Your back is slumped in a dozen ways to fit into the hollows of your computer chair and the cushions of your couch. Each action you perform has trained your body, and now you do it perfectly, with as little thought and effort as possible.

So, pick a man up out of South Africa and plop him down in Australia, and all of this changes. He is no longer calibrated to his surroundings. None of the keys on his belt will open any doors, and once he gets new ones made he will fumble at the lock. He will trip on the porch-step, and hit his head on the car door, and toss and turn in bed. He’ll be a klutz, and he’ll be stressed out by having so many minor changes thrown at him all at once, and he’ll think himself a fool. But I maintain that he’ll be better for it. In two months he’ll look back and laugh that he ever thought this new place so scary.

And then we think bigger: what if a man’s environment were to change about him constantly, continuously? Might he have the perfect physique, devoid of any habituation, utterly aligned and symmetrical? We consider the concept of the “ever-changing horizon,” and we wonder, in spite of obvious difficulty, how rich life would be as a drifter, a rogue, an adventurer—for theirs is a life totally unpredictable, completely fresh and unrehearsed each day. Is that life then one of perpetual learning and adaptation, an ever-renewing fount? Consider their existence: perfectly variegated. Think of their bodies—totally rounded from use.

We could consider a man who hunts his own food, builds shelter, and finds new wood for his fire every night as he traverses the wilder landscapes. But here’s where the pattern fails: the “caveman argument.” Though Paleolithic man may have been more physically fit than us, he was by no means more healthy. Extreme stressors in his environment created a short, brutish existence: cold, disease, rampaging woolly mammoths. An infection for him would spell demise, whereas for us the cure is as easy as taking an antibiotic. There’s got to be a line drawn somewhere. Eventually, change in our environment effects too much stress and becomes a detriment to our well-being.

So that leaves us here in the middle, with an achy back from the office chair, but also unable to walk more than a mile barefoot for fear of horrendous blisters. How far shall we regress—how much change to insert into our lives?

Of course everyone’s answer varies, but I say as much as you can handle without losing your mind. Fuck poor posture. I hate the fact that I can count the steps up to my room in the dark from having taken them so many times, because it means I don’t have to do any looking any more. Part of me would rather grope blindly—at least then I would be learning something. I would sleep somewhere different each night, if I could. I say shake things up as much as possible.

We worry about the stress of homelessness, or instability, inherent in the introduction (and continued pursuit) of variety, but the uncertainty is worth it. These are my thoughts on change in general: though odd, though scary, even though potentially disastrous, out there in the unknown lies the possibility of perfection. What is perfect, anyway? What is better, even? One thing’s for sure—“better” is something that you don’t have right now, and “perfect,” should it exist at all, does not exist in your current reality. “Perfect” is not the way you turn the ignition in your car. It’s out there, somewhere, beyond your present understanding. Get going.

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HARD MODE++

I’ve often dreamed of the “hard levels.” Unlocked after beating the game, they are so difficult that they are a lifelong endeavor to complete. Bordering on impossible, they provide a precise balance of frustration and reward, obstacle and progression, pushing ever onward at the edge of your skill level.

Oftentimes they are radically different from the original game, taking the skills you’ve mastered far outside their normal setting, creating total reformulations: Crash Bandicoot transforming into a sea monster, collecting fields of underwater gems in sunken caves; StarFox levels with new mechs and monsters, scripted with impossibly deep and personal narrative; Smash Bros versions from other countries with abstract geometrical characters to unlock, outlandish mechanics and detailed statistics saved of everything ever done, period.

It’s strange to apply the niche skills of videogames to broader scopes, and take them places where they don’t belong, to live this virtual life in the physical world, but it’s eerily beautiful too. There’s nothing I crave more than the fulfillment of this fantasy; it is the reward, after mastering and demolishing the game within the confines of the console, the natural next step—expansion.

I’m lovesick over this because it’s an increase in opportunity. This is me, the set consisting of these skill sets, breaking out and coming to fruition. In these dreams, my mastery is transported into alien realms, new proving grounds; essentially, this is what I crave in waking life.

But the truly legendary expansions, any such greater than this, involve leaving it all behind. All my imagery, gone. All my virtuality erased. My personality so far transmuted as to be destroyed. Ultimately I know that this paradigm of game & skills must be left behind, with only bravery facing down the vastness of the unknown.

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Delirium

Life is absurd. The connections within are sometimes so deep and so abundant that they start to become meaningless. The patently absurd becomes profound—watching The Expendables in a taqueria at 10PM. A white boy laughing at an explosion on a screen, surrounded by people he has positively no connection to, seems somehow lovelier than all the stories of Joe and his friends, glimmers of “the old days,” or any plans of recapturing that past in the future.

What’s real tonight? It’s cold. The stars are out, and every once in awhile I pass by a homeless man in a wheelchair and wonder where the hell he’s going to sleep tonight. I feel a gust of wind that is preternaturally cold, which reminds me that I am alive and, somehow, taking part in this whole thing.

The best expression comes out at wit’s end, when exhaustion or panic has set in and you’re honestly just too confused to do anything but tell the truth. It’s no act of initiative, at any rate; it’s just that the castle walls have been battered down and the keep is showing through the holes.

The world is changing and I am my only constant companion; or rather, my confusion is, my incredulity. I look around and things are foreign, funhouse mirrors twisted even in real-time out of recognition. Only the past, our memories of comfort, seem concrete and tangible, and then they too fade.

I am a ship whose compass has been scrambled in the storm, bearings lost.

Now, lost is all we seem to know. The only signifier of location: lost.

Bold, uncharted territory. We’re en route to the Indies now; no maps will show the way.

Bon voyage.

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On Veganism and Doing No Harm

Recently I’ve become vegan. It was a gradual change, starting with the desire to eat less meat, fueled by a discomfort towards opaque corporate practices; more specifically, towards the lack of transparency regarding food. I found out one of my friends had gone vegan, too. His passion spoke loudly to me. He was willing to change his life around, wasn’t afraid of hurting people’s feelings for expressing himself. I thought that was awesome.

So after three weeks or so, it’s become official. After fleshing out my own feelings about veganism, I’ve found it aligns with a new rule I’ve been trying to live by, a new perspective: the mandate to “do no harm.” This is the mindset and attitude I am currently exploring, and I want to share my thoughts on it with you and talk a little philosophy regarding my motivations.

What does it mean to “do no harm?” Simply: never act on an impulse or intention that arises within you that is a desire to do harm to another being. When someone sets you off with a particular insult, and have the perfect jab in mind to get them back, when you know just the right thing to say—don’t do it. When you get angry with someone, check yourself before you act. This is the same path, these the same impulses towards action, that lead to violent behavior. Nip it in the bud; do no harm.

I’m not saying you have to be dishonest with your feelings. Honesty is important, even in a scenario when “the truth hurts,” but first you have to divest your emotions from a situation. Share that burning truth without including harmful personal emotions. There are some tough examples, like if someone you love is addicted to drugs, when it is actually beneficial to express your rage, or shame to someone; you have to get through, in a way, and sharing your hurt and anger may actually be beneficial in the long run. You must weigh these things out depending on the individual situation. The guiding rule: choose the path of least harm.

Doing no harm means not being intentionally violent, or destroying things out of malevolent intent (animate or inanimate), or contributing to or encouraging violent behavior, or systematic practices based on violent behavior. To me, this means not killing animals. This means not supporting the meat or dairy industries.

As it stands today the meat industry is a violent and wasteful entity, a clandestine operation engendered by the societally-induced desire for comfort and commodity. The meat industry, for our convenience, hides and downplays the suffering of other sentient beings in order to extort us and take advantage of our desire for comfort and satisfaction. Their reward is profit, and we are being duped.

They “do harm.”

This clashes with my ideals, and there is no way around it. This is a practice that deserves to be changed.

There are some common arguments I’ve heard, and I’d like to run through them and offer my response.

The first: “It is impossible to exist without doing harm. The very act of existence necessitates some level of violence and selfishness. By being alive, I take up resources that others could use, I emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and I breathe air that others could be breathing right now. Someone else could live in my home. The way to do the least possible amount of harm would be to kill myself. It’s not an overextension that some animals must die in order to nourish me.”

The first problem with this argument is that it neglects the possibility of doing actual good in the world, that you can offset the cost of your basic needs by virtuous acts. You can build someone a home, if you’d like. You can establish a commune that showcases what you perceive to be the ideal way of living and co-existing. Your actions and your example both have the power to overcome the harm of your footprint. More good than bad; the path of least harm. This actually necessitates a paradigm shift; you must actively pursue good instead of seeking to mitigate bad, but I will further discuss this later.

The second problem with this argument is in its implication that since it is technically impossible to do no harm whatsoever, it is therefore useless to try to reduce the amount of harm you bring into the world. In vegan terms, this is the argument: “Well, you’re still killing animals when insects fly into the harvesting machines for corn or soy, so isn’t that the same thing?” And I think this is completely asinine; of course it isn’t the same thing, you ass. There are huge payoffs to trying to reduce the amount of suffering you cause going through life.

If a bear were to attack you in the forest, and if it was truly a life-or-death situation, you would be justified in killing the bear to preserve yourself. But that doesn’t mean that you should go into the forest with a gun and kill every bear you can find. Or, for a more practical example, it’s not unreasonable to slap at a mosquito that’s bitten you, but it would seem awfully weird to know a guy who pulls the wings off of and dismembers every single insect he comes across, right? These moral arguments towards violence exist on a spectrum; shades of grey, because black-and-white is unattainable for us. Although the complete elimination of violence is impossible, the minimization of its effects is still a very practical, admirable, and attainable goal.

But there are definitely problems with this attitude, with being vegan too. They too tend to line up.

The first: it takes a lot of effort, and requires personal sacrifice. It’s harder to be vegan; it’s less convenient to come by vegan food, at least for now. It seems to be less nourishing, because plant-based foods are less calorically dense than meat or other food with animal products. For the overweight this may be a godsend; for me, it entails simply eating more. Eating more often means more effort.

My energy levels have felt substantially lower, and I’m hoping that this won’t be the case forever. I’ve heard that people generally feel better, full of energy after the period of initial adjustment. I want this to happen to me, already, so I’m sticking it out; presumably, as I learn more recipes and “get better” at this thing, I’ll have a better time.

In the sense of everyday ethics, “do no harm” means that you have to swallow your emotions a lot, and this sucks. You have to take the piss every once in awhile. If someone insults you, you have to hold that L in yo chest. In the end, this becomes a minor thing, but it is a hassle. This attitude has become so far ingrained in the way that I deal with people, after customer service jobs and just trying to be nicer in general, that I hardly notice it anymore. And really, I think it’s for the best. Overall, it’s the extension of this ideal into your own behavior that really kills; I have a guilty conscience about animal products now, and that does feel like a legitimate burden. I’ve had dreams about eating tacos with meat in them, and then I get pissed off in my dream. Damn.

A bigger problem in my opinion is that “do no harm” doesn’t always equate to “do good,” if you follow the strictest reading. “Do no harm” can often leave you just slightly above neutral with a lot of people, and you watching events and opportunities pass you by. Hey, you didn’t hurt them after all, did you?

There’s a kind of spiritual dullness that I’ve come to associate with the bare-minimum approach of not inflicting hurt on other people. Ultimately, spiritual enrichment does involve actively doing good, and putting in superhuman amounts of effort when an opportunity to enrich your life or the lives of others presents itself—NOT just avoiding a knee-jerk reaction when someone calls you a dickwad. And this, as I was alluding to earlier, has got to be the biggest issue with “do no harm” as a behavioral law; a particular self-denial, a passing-over of your own power and enthusiasm, replaced with benevolent meekness. But I’m sure, too, that this can change. I think it’s always better to have a positive (additive or affirmative) way of thinking and perceiving, as opposed to a negative (prescriptive/critical) way of thinking. That’s the shift.

Radical enrichment is the goal, but in the meantime, I think “do no harm” provides a great baseline. For its part, it does a lot of good.

***
I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this. I am exploring veganism as well as this new mindset in the attempts to evaluate it; I’m a mutable creature and as new evidence comes along, I’m open to it as well. So please, leave me with your thoughts and any info you think I’d like to know about.

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Life Update

After lots of pining away and wishing that things were just a little bit different in my life, I started to make some of those “big changes” I’ve been alluding to. In the beginning of June, I quit my job at Verve and found a sublet for my room. I managed to get a pretty good amount of money to travel around with, and from June 16th up until about 3 days ago I was gone from my native scene of Santa Cruz.

I went back to my mom’s house to see family and old friends and amass camping gear, which was a struggle in its own right. I get very anxious about spending money as it is, and when something is important to me (like this trip) I tend to obsess about it, so deciding between different types of camping gear was like pulling teeth at times.

After getting everything set up, and watching countless youtube videos on backpacking (for the record, the youtube training regimen works for any subject), I was finally ready to go, and took the train out all the way up to Seattle.

Well, not quite. Make that the Olympia Amtrak station.

Wait, what’s that? The Olympia-Lacey station, rather? Oh, it’s not even close to downtown Lacey, is it? IT’S A 5-MILE WALK TO GET FROM THE TRAIN STATION TO DOWNTOWN LACEY, HUH??

So after 34 hours aboard the train, during which I’d fallen into something like a coma, I had to pull on my monstrous backpack, get out Google Maps, and walk myself 5 miles in the heat to get to my hotel. On the plus side, I got some encouragement from random people—two Jehovah’s witness guys and someone who yelled out “Go Traveller!” at me. The sun also didn’t set until 9:30; I was walking around until 10pm and still enjoying the light by the time I got into my hotel.

Breakfast with my Aunt and Uncle the next day. The afternoon spent slacklining in a park in Seattle. Some people who’d stopped by happened to be staying at the hostel I’d booked for the night. Success!

I spent several lovely days in Seattle. There’s nothing in the world that’s so exquisite as the feeling of exploring a new city, with like-minded people, and being in a completely new place, completely free. You can do whatever you want. You will find out new things about yourself. You will see beautiful things. You will be stoked out of your mind because every single thing you do is totally, 100% fresh and unexpected. I met with 2 people who were just as stoked as I was, the day before I left Seattle, and we had one of these crazy, amazing days of unbridled exploration and enthusiasm. “I didn’t want the day to end” actually happened to all three of us, as we just sat in Jake’s rental car playing cards until 3 in the morning.

I went to Canada after that. There’s a ferry that goes from Seattle to Victoria, B.C. I knew friends that I’d met at a music festival in May. (The wanderlust has been getting stronger and stronger. Sasquatch [the festival] was a preamble to this trip.)

I got to their house and spent many days biking around on a borrowed mountain bike many sizes too small for me, drinking beer in the evening and coffee in the morning, eating monstrous and delicious food portions and getting a dose of the local culture. We went on a hike, and went to a lake and jumped off a tree. I met friends-of-friends who took me rock climbing. Rocky beaches. Peacocks. Nights out. Dinner parties.

There are a few moments that, as you are experiencing them, you can almost feel the memory of the event being formed; when the significance of a moment starts to sink into you, the setting around you gets impressed into your mind, and you record the sense data, the particular friends you were with, and the purpose of your adventure, whatever you were doing. For me this was first biking around Victoria, with no clue where I was going at all, as the sun was setting with the clouds all around, with a huge train of my friends hollering and laughing at each other in one massive bike caravan. We got to the liquor store and everything was CHEAP—Canadian dollars! Here I was the traveller, the odd one out; all the beer was from breweries and places I’d never heard of, and I was the one with the weird money, the weird ID from another place that the clerk had to examine scrupulously. But it was great. We must have cycled a few kilometers back home to go and celebrate. (It must have been a good number of degrees celsius outside, too.)

More travel after that. I had come to a good understanding of my hosts; I got a ride back to the ferry station and had a respectful goodbye. The ferry sucked less than it did on the way there. Seattle was still hot. I walked from the pier to the train station. Canada had put a dent in my wallet.

The train was long, an overnighter, but not as long as the first one. And then, holy shit, I got off of it and I was in Montana. The sun shone and it was morning time.

I spent that first day kind of getting my legs under me. I was dropped off at the East Glacier Lodge, and got a shuttle into Two Medicine campground. Glacier National Park is mountainous, rugged. Everything is plus-sized. Mountain, lake, pass, mountain, lake, pass, plain, forest, mountain. Mountains going up every direction you look, blocking the horizon from view. You can only climb some of them.

So I set up camp once I got in, and planned my trip for the next day. Before I knew it, the next morning, I was actually out there, “back-packing,” whatever that meant, doing it on my own. (“We’re really doing it, you guys!”) Singing for bears. Copying the safety video they showed me in the ranger station. Freaking out a little bit mentally, but also feeling in control of myself. I was ready for this, after all. Nothing will happen to me that’s outside of my control.

Backpacking is one of the harshest things I’ve ever done. The isolation from other people brings you to strange mental places. You are totally, utterly self-dependent. This means that, in a worst-case scenario, you can fall and die, and depending on the isolation of the trail you might not be found. But by that same token, every single step you take is empowering, because YOU put yourself there, and each additional step you take is one step closer to a goal, something that you thought was impossible, that you might never have attempted before, and something that is unquestionably one of the toughest things you can ever do. It hurts pretty bad sometimes. It’s exhausting. But fuck it, just keep trudging along, because it all adds up. And eventually, you’ll arrive, like I did, and you’ll sit down on a bench and look up at the clouds and cry and call your mother because you simply can’t believe it.

I saw a runner coming down from a pass during my hardest day-hike with my backpack on. He was rail thin and bronze as a statue, wearing only shorts and shoes. I heard him say to himself, “You’ve made it this far,” and I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs “DAMN RIGHT YOU HAVE! KEEP GOING!”, because it was exactly the kind of thing I’d been telling myself.

There was a lot of self-talk for me, which served to both alert the (potential) bears of my presence and work through the despair, whenever I felt it. I started speaking about the difference between your own goals, which work in the direction of yourself —> outwards, and things you receive from other people, which come from the world —> back in to you. And I realized there has to be a balance. Being out in the park alone was a totally individualistic goal I set for myself, which had come from an idea inside and manifested outwardly. And as such, I felt myself imbalanced, and missing other people dearly. And by other people, I mean everybody. It must have been literally everybody in my life that ran through my head on the last day of my three-day trip. And I love you guys. Seriously.

Thinking back on the happiest parts of my life, I believe there was a balance between the goals I had set for myself, and their execution, vs. the companionship that I felt with others. Through them I became more of my own person, and started achieving some of my dearest personal goals, but I also received their energy and learned from it. I was nourished and inspired by them. I also realized that my input, in these magical sorts of situations, does the same to the other people around me, that they achieve the same balance. That’s when the best paths start to open up. That, in a nutshell, is “what I learned.”

I spent lots more time in the park, actually, going on day-hikes and scurrying to and from various campgrounds. I read a lot, and wrote a lot, and I got ferociously rained on during a thunderstorm and had to go and huddle up in my tent. Then I found out that I was 100% broke. Eventually I flew back home.

Enter culture shock! Right back into the concrete jungle of downtown Los Angeles. My mom and her boyfriend, whose faces I knew so well, seemed to be so uncanny to me. Being back in a house was weird. What do you mean I don’t have to “do anything?” Everything was familiar but changed, and initially this was deeply strange.

It has all continued to be, actually. The awareness I’ve gained of “who I am,” or who I’ve been in the past in any given setting, tends to weird me out—the knowledge is jarring. Oh, I went about and did this? It feels that way? Have I always put up with this? Did I feel this way when I was younger? . . . .Weird.

I’ve felt each change of place totally and completely since coming back from Montana, and I’ve noticed myself change my patterns and behavior based on where I was, fitting into old molds, so to speak. Having familiar hangout sessions back in the 805, reminiscing about old times with my longest-running friends. Feeling depressed and unhealthy around my dad, as I am prone to doing. After a fairly miserable car ride back up here, I set foot in my house in Santa Cruz again and felt my energy change instantly. The effect of the setting: “Here is where my work lies.” Here, everything is how I’ve set it up to be. Nothing will happen unless I get out there and make it happen, as opposed to sitting around on my parents’ dime and being towed around. This is “my life” I’m living now, and it’s time to resume building it. There are habits and personas I’ve adopted from living here, sure, but it seems to fit better than any other place I’ve tried. . . for now. 😉

Travelling around provided the peaks of my experience. These memories are things I’ll take around with me and use as a rubric to judge the regular, daily experience. They show you what is possible. They’ve reaffirmed in me my belief that there ARE wonderful, insane things out there, magical experiences that are possible to have. My goals are actually the same as they’ve been; my wants are at the same place I left ’em. Be a healthy guy, have lots of fun, write for a living, and spread a message of self-empowerment to others. But now, I suppose, from getting out of the bubble, I know that these things are totally alive and well, and in fact I know that there is nothing else worth pursuing.

***

How do we get there? By doing these juicy things every day. Every day, every day, every day.

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Big Changes and The Grind

If you want something, then give it time.

It might not come to you as soon as you want it—this night, next week, this year. But it will come. Those who persist will win out. This is the long-distance run, the long haul. The grind.

I believe in the grind more than anything else. Time works its magic on all things, and human beings will always adapt to consistent environmental pressure. If you are subjected to the same things over and over, you will take on certain characteristics in order to thrive in this environment. It is a survival skill.

Predictably, this mechanism is the strongest at work in our lives. Habit shapes behavior more than passion; repetition wins out at the end of the day. I have felt the contours of time begin to work on my life. My patterns are familiar, intimate, worn. They fit like a second skin moreso than a glove.

In some cases, this is great. I am, and continue to be, and will continue to be until I die, a healthy individual. Health is my number one priority. I’ll say it again and again. Yesterday I saw an old woman trip on the stairs of the post office, and go flying backwards through the air. She hit the ground with a crunch, that sickening sound that you feel more than you hear. She started bleeding from her head, and I called 911 in disbelief. This will not happen to me. I will not take the gift of my life for granted, ever.

The health grind, like any other kind of grind, can be miserable. I don’t feel good unless I exercise. I’ll be stiff and sore from inactivity, and I’ll get mad at myself because I know it could be better. There is pain to confront, on the daily: the shock of taking a cold shower, the pain and failure of exercise, the effort of doing my dishes every single day because I know it’s better to cook my own food…. Above all, the worst thing is realizing that it will never end. But I know that, in the long run, it’s absolutely worth it. And besides, the pain abates after awhile. The aversion to effort, the psychological pain, is the worst of it, and when habit is exercised enough it is nearly forgotten.

The blessing and the curse of the grind is that its results are predictable. Want to do a pull-up one day? First, work the negatives. Start doing exercises which target and strengthen the muscles you’ll need to do it. Work progressively towards your goal. You will increase slowly, incrementally, and eventually achieve.

But working towards a pull-up will never teach you how to do a backflip. You’ll never land a good job just by doing pull-ups. You’ll never fall in love, learn to fly a plane, or travel to the moon. You will, however, get slowly, incrementally better at doing pull-ups, for as long as you continue to do them. And if your whole scope is pull-ups, then congratulations, you’re all set.

I’ve felt my life sliding into one long grind. I do largely the same things, day in and day out. It’s fairly comfortable. By virtue of having a narrow scope, I will improve at these daily things by default, as a linear function relating to the time invested in them. But no other areas of my life will improve. I will make coffee. I will do pull ups. I will climb at the gym, and roam around Santa Cruz, and think “Ahh, gee, this is nice.” But FUCK me if I haven’t thought that this monotony was enough to make me kill myself! I will keep waking up, thinking “another day, another day,” and wondering when my actual life will start. Where’s the meat and potatoes? Where’s something I can sink my teeth into, which will make me feel vulnerable and afraid, but whose triumphs will make it all delicious, and unquestionably worth it at the end of the day?

This won’t come from the grind. This is going to take something bigger.

There are precisely two things I’m proud of at this moment in my life. One is my health. The other is my budding social life, those precious few relationships where I actually feel comfortable expressing myself, where I can share my concerns and throw caution to the wind a little bit. I feel like being vulnerable is the only thing getting me somewhere. The only things that are worth having are those things that happen while you’re being yourself.

Everything else? Honestly, I could take it or leave it. There are different things that make me feel different degrees of happy on any given day, but among these are a lot of things that feel simply extraneous. Work is comfortable, and difficult, and worthwhile; it does the trick some of the time. But I honestly feel like it’s just a businesslike expression of a human need, that being the need to find some sort of worthy pursuit and adhere to it. This is the basest expression of that drive, a placeholder which is also very fun because some of the people I work with happen to be my best friends.

But isn’t there more?

Edward (my coworker and recent actual friend) brought up the idea of big changes to me. “I remember when I drove up to the city, and I first laid eyes on it, and I realized that this thing was so powerful and the feelings I had were so exciting that I wanted to live there. I saw everything with a fresh pair of eyes.” Everything was imbued with a sense of excitement, that excitement that comes from seeing a sure purpose and the unfurling and possible fulfillment of a dream.

Where is my dream? When will it happen? I’m sick of waiting for it to show up. I’m done wasting my time and being indirect with people. I won’t be a barista when I’m 37. It’s not happening.

So what are the big changes? What needs to be done? …Shit. All I have are ideas. No drinking alcohol? No refined sugar? These things are draconian, but I know they don’t cut to the heart of the matter. “Be more expressive in your relationships?” Too wishy-washy! It’s easy to find some shit like this and become a bleeding heart, parroting mantras in your internal monologue which are really just soundclips recycled from a self-help guru on youtube, or a yoga class, or that one book you read which everyone else holds in such high regard.

It’s gotta be things that scare the hell out of you. The things that you’re scared to say or do because it means that you will change, regardless of the outcome. This is what’s missing in my life of comfort, conformity and routine, which will lead me like chutes and ladders to a calcified existence of mediocrity. Retire to Millionaire Estates. Congratu-fucking-lations.

It can’t be this way. It won’t be this way. I’m on my journey. One phrase at a time. One compliment at a time. One instance of being true to myself at a time. One “no” at a time. Cut out the bullshit, go for the gusto, and for Christ’s sake, stop selling yourself short.

What the hell is my life about anyways? It’s about being healthy, having fun, inspiring myself and others to do their best. It’s about burning brightly and creating a better world. At least for now.

The nostalgia is gone. We’re moving forward.

I truly believe that everything has its right place. Somehow, something gets in the way of this; maybe conflict from other people, our own desires or egos, the constraints and laws of society, or whatever else. But it’s gotta end. This is the way in which I want to change the world. These are my big changes.

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Recognition, Recollection

I work downtown in a relatively small area. I see hundreds of faces on any given day. I live in the same town I went to college in, and there are old faces everywhere: anyone I recognize could be someone I shared a class with, someone from the climbing gym, a friend of a friend. My brain can’t remember any more names. After a certain point, there’s just a vague, uncanny familiarity: I simply “recognize” someone. They fit, somewhere or other, into the vast jigsaw puzzle of my past experience.

To be honest, I think this phenomenon of recognition is a fiction, or at the very least irrelevant. When neither person can remember where they know each other from, it’s just an excuse to start a new a conversation. Like recognizing a phantom in a dream, the fulfillment of this recognition is meaningless. Two people settle on a shared understanding of a history—namely, that there was some sort of history—and then promptly move on.

Today I had a long talk with an old man who lives out of his van and sells his artwork to support himself. This description, although realistic, sells him short; I love this man for his charm, his eccentricity and sense of humor. As we spoke, the story of his past came out. His wife divorced him the day before finals in art school; he once worked pouring and casting stainless steel; he protested the Vietnam war; he directly or indirectly led to the creation of many art exhibits. As I watched his face, taking in his words like I took in the wind and the soft colors of the autumn morning around me, it occurred to me that I would have enjoyed his story even if it was completely made up. How could I have known? It wasn’t the accuracy of historical details which was important—he could have told me anything. His story was a context I could use to place his person, an excuse to get to know him. It was the sincerity in his words that I found beautiful.

Is the recollection of my life or yours fictitious too? Is it important? Just like the recognition phenomenon, like those craters of meaning which we fill with images of people come and gone, I think that recollection’s only real purpose is to foreground the place where we find ourselves today.

We acknowledge that there was a past, some kind of story. But that story could be anything—the details don’t seem to matter very much.

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Higher Passions and the Commodification of Everything

There are times when I feel like I’m sleepwalking; during these times there’s an undercurrent of doubt, dread, and remorse. At any moment I worry that some circumstances will bring all of this underlying tension to the surface, causing a major freak-out. I’ll begin to question and doubt everything. “My life has been a waste,” I’ll think. “There’s nothing left for me on this earth.” “Will I ever be happy?” Pressure builds up over time and then boils over. Underneath it all, there’s a voice, a revulsion, screaming, pounding: “This is not what I want.”

But right now is not one of those times. I’m on an upswing, because I have dedicated myself to it. No matter what the cost, I’m going to do what I want.

There’s a dichotomy we live out every day between what society wants from you and what you know is best for yourself. We live in a time where technology has made all facets of existence marketable; as a result, there’s nowhere to turn without being bombarded by images of a prefabricated lifestyle—that’s the lifestyle that Bud Light wants you to live, the lifestyle that Pitbull sings about, the lifestyle that you think those cool people from high school have when you lurk around their Facebook page. There’s a disconnect between real life and this lifestyle of opulence. “How come I’m not in a club with Shakira right now??” We might envy that celebrity lifestyle and attempt to chase it down, spending our money on the illusory ideal which has been marketed to us. What’s worse, though, is when we actually find ourselves on that path of cultural acquisition, gettin’ it—with a girlfriend, a new phone, and a group of friends who love to go out drinking—and then find out the lifestyle doesn’t make us happy. What the hell? Is there something wrong with me?

I’m here to say don’t worry about it. It’s all trash, after all. Living the life you see in commercials is not the final rubric of happiness; in the end, it all depends on YOU. Life is what you make it, of course. Are you living up to your own expectations? Are you doing the things that make you feel good? Your own inner law is the only judge you must answer to.

But before we get all inspirational, more about how everything sucks. I’d like to examine the ways in which the average person is marketed to these days, and discuss why it’s bad. My dad said, a long time ago, that he deleted his Facebook when it became impossible to “like” something without subscribing to their page. At first I thought that wasn’t a big deal, since only silly things got left out anyways. If you were all about “putting three pea-sized drops of mustard on a ham sandwich,” then that’s too bad, because there’s no page for something as silly as that. But I could still “like” cool things like rock climbing, Futurama, or even “Being Weird.” But the making of these pages, I think, was a huge step in the agenda of Facebook: the commodification of human experience. Each part of the huge, indistinguishable continuum of human experience had now been chopped up into tiny bite-sized parts. Sleeping, eating chicken, and friendship were now on the same level as Family Guy, Star Wars, iPhones. And now that experience had become a product, individual experiences were now marketable. Facebook has instilled in us the desire to obtain life experiences in a capitalistic way, in the same way that one buys a new couch or piece of artwork and shows it off at a party. Admit that you don’t think of “being in a new relationship” as a milestone—here’s 934 likes, tiny internet currency. Don’t you feel special?

If I sound jaded, it’s because I am. There is no feeling quite like the exquisite absurdity when, while searching for music in a spell of depression, one is bombarded by the unfettered optimism of a Michelob Light commercial.

Excuse me while I go out and live in the woods for awhile.

I am trying to purge as much of this shit from my life as possible. I know for a fact that drinking Michelob Ultra isn’t the key to a rewarding life. The powers that be are trying to take control of my habits, desires, and yearning for something more substantial and turn it all into profit. They are swindling us. So why should I continue wanting the idealized Facebook life when I know it’s false?

This is where the inspirational stuff comes in. If Time-Warner or Coca-Cola isn’t the judge of a rewarding life, then who is? That’s right—it’s YOU, my friend. It’s alllllllll you. More than Oprah, more than the latest spiritual guru, more than Jesus. You decide what’s worth going after in life, how you’ll spend your time and money, and what kind of attitude, which perspectives, what kind of love you’re going to bring to the table.

I want to inspire a wave of individualism across the world, and make people realize that they’re so much more than a cog in a money-making machine. Life is staggeringly beautiful; we have so much freedom and so many opportunities in front of us at any given time it’s mind-boggling. But it’s hard to see this when we are constantly annoyed by media which keep our minds focused on credit card debt, on the false idea of the life we are supposed to want. Instead of watching the inner vision come into focus, we only see a white picket fence.

So here’ s my manifesto: anything unhealthy, anything that undermines my sense of freedom, goes. I am the one who chooses how I live. Facebook? Gone. Drugs? Gone. TV? …What’s TV? I have signed up for scuba classes, to make a long-term dream of mine into a reality. The ocean has been near me my whole life, and I’ve never ventured in. I’m going home to see my family, and as soon as scuba classes are over in October, I’d like to quit my job and move somewhere else. Drastic? Maybe. But the bottom line is that I don’t feel satisfied in the place I am now. Should I stay in Santa Cruz, the lifestyle I see stretching out before me into the future is not the path I want.

I turned 24 two days ago. My Facebook account was deactivated, and I kept it that way. I only got calls and texts from the people who are the absolute most dearest to me. I missed all of the congratulatory messages and the “miss you homie”s that would have come with a proper birthday celebration, but that’s OK. That’s just where I am right now. It’s not worth polluting my mind with a thousand Ice Bucket Challenge videos or R.I.P. Robin Williams posts. I don’t care about that shit. That ain’t my life.

I’m a man now, and the difference between a man and a boy is that a man is sure of himself. A man knows his own power, and where a boy would get frustrated at the circumstances around him, wondering “whatever shall I do” and blaming the system, a man sets out to change it. A man prioritizes, and spends his time and energy where he sees fit. A man is honest with himself, where a boy is confused.

Sometimes when I’m evaluating a course of action, I ask which part of myself wants a particular thing. High or low—what part of yourself are you acting with? I want to look at porn and jack off, yeah, but more often than not that’s the lowest part of myself I’m acting with. That’s the reptilian brain. Being in a fulfilling relationship, where sexual desire is integrated with spiritual union, is the highest activation of this faculty. I am committed to a life of higher passions; that is to say, a life consisting of the highest manifestation of my desires.

I figure that the life offered by the powers-that-be is the easiest way out. They offer you a promise of a life that will be effortless, lovely, and fulfilling in every way. It’s the American Idol narrative: after enough hard work and following your heart, and after you pay your dues and find a mentor, you can eventually achieve your dreams and have everything you want. After this climax and fame comes the easy retirement: here are people to take care of you, to drive you around, take care of your finances, make sure you don’t get too drunk, and a perfect lover to look after your heart so you won’t have to. We are a nation of lotus-eaters at this point in time: we buy into this vision lock, stock, and barrel, and work the 9-5 for decades in order to ensure this carefree, dreamy vacation for ourselves and the ones around us, trying ever harder to maintain the delusion as death comes knocking at our door with the final revelation.

This is the easy life. This is the lowest possible culmination. It is not to be had—it is trash. Having all of your shitty desires instantly gratified will turn you into Kim Kardashian, and you don’t want that.

My ideal life is hard. My ideal life takes everything I want—grace, athleticism, love, artistry—and drives these virtues all the way up into the sky, into the stratosphere, where they become rarefied and beautiful. I will not have liposuction done; I will sweat and cry and eat like my body is a power plant until I achieve the physique I want, and I will know that it has been my doing, and that I didn’t cop out, cut corners, or sell myself short at any point during the process. The results will speak for themselves; I know that the only trophies worth having are the ones that must be fought for. And in order to do this, in order to fight this fight, there has to be an utter rejection of all the easy-outs that would seduce you along the way.

***

I’ve revisited this after initially writing it, and now it’s two months later. As it stands, I’ve made good on some of the promises laid forth. Some I figure were too harsh. Facebook is a mixed bag. I hate finding myself checking it twenty times a day, or whatever, but it’s also great to reach out to all my friends. I reactivated because it felt like I was hiding from people; and anyway, what good is a message that nobody reads?

The main reason why I neglected to post this is because I thought that the rejection of all these silly things would be alienating. Now I know that it’s not—I don’t have to be a hermit in order to speak out against the system. Don’t have to abandon all my friends in order to acknowledge that some relationships aren’t worth having. Don’t have to leave my town just because I know I want to travel…. I don’t have to reject myself just because I know some things are worth rejecting.

The time felt right to share; this has been weighing on my mind for forever now. Here’s something I know I must do, and so here we are, doing it.

Thanks as always.

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Dioramas

I’ve wanted to preserve the past
in tiny little dioramas,
the curator of some mental museum,
impeccably aligned artifacts depicting experiences pristine,
preserved out of time,
so when I’d access them
(later, always later)
I could say yes, people have loved me;
not all has been for naught.

But this preservation is painful, though it is not quite killing.
Embalming your experiences in formaldehyde,
crunching up splints through beetle bones to make them stand erect,
is an affront to nature, who would recycle all your organic matter,
take it all and rot away, to later build anew.

I’d think to one day come back to it all,
with a grey beard, able to appreciate the longings,
the fun times, the bewilderment, the heartbreak,
scientifically, like some wistful connoisseur,
and read the expertly written placards and sigh, and say
“Ahh, yes. This is what it was.”

But your life is a garden, an ever-green experiment in mess and photosynthesis.
Blow out the dusty hallways of your cloistered past,
smash the glassy cabinets built of time, and
let the roof cave in on your sordid exhibition,
so that the sun may shine in once more—
so you may grow again.

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Object Identity

They say that every seven years, the cells in your body undergo a complete replacement. That is, compared to you seven years ago, there are none of the same cells in you that used to be there. By this logic, your memories, and whatever mysterious particles that comprise them, are only maintained by a continuous process of renewal by recollection, like throwing so much plaster on a statue to cover up its blemishes and rebuild it. The features of your face change, too—definitely. The thing that we think is “us” morphs and contorts over time, as your nose and ears grow unceasingly and your features change. There are some outlines which you keep, which help guide the process of refilling, but as they are pressed on like the banks of a river they begin to deform and change.

And they say you never step in the same river twice, either. Philosophers have long argued whether or not an object retains its identity over time, considering that things are always being rebuilt and destroyed. I think it’s just the name that stays, personally, just our idea of the thing. They last as long as we make them last. . . and this thought is comforting to me; it eases the pain of loss.

I thought to myself; is there any one thing I’ve had for more than seven years? What is it that has really stayed with me, keeping its identity? The old teddy bears and blankets from my childhood have all been mangled and thrown away; my face has changed shape, gaining a severe look over the years, and my hair has begun to thin. I suppose I still have my yearbooks from high school—though these artifacts, immediately stored away and frozen for the significance of their identity, I don’t know if these count.

I got my backpack in tenth or eleventh grade, so that would make the seven-year mark. I remember how springy and resilient the straps were at first, and how excited I was when I saw Bear Grylls carrying my black Jansport through the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains. I have stuffed it full of books, clothes, water bottles, Gamecube controllers, journals and notebooks, food, and climbing gear. I know every pocket intimately, can sense the proper configuration for an array of objects intuitively, making arrangements unconsciously, in seconds. The straps have worn down by now, the black exterior has faded to a greyish red from exposure to the sun, one zipper has frayed, and a small hole has opened up in the bottom of one side. But it seems to be in a relatively stable state, for now. I still use it every day. It is still my backpack.

Hands, too. Even though one’s hands are the most-used part of the body, and they retain the most damage (in the form of calluses, dings, cuts, splinters, arthritis, tendonitis, and so on), and even though they are constantly, quickly regenerating, I feel like I have had the same pair of hands all my life. When I wake up every morning, disbelieving reality, the first thing I see are my hands. They are more me than my butt, dick, elbows, feet, shoulders, zits, knees, or hairy legs. They are the means by which my will enters the world, and as such, they exemplify me. Their identity is solid, despite changing a lot physically.

So what about other people? How about this ghost I am trying to shake? Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you’re blessed), I think that the things others have done to you stay with you longer than any physical object. Even the big events, though they may have happened more than seven years ago, the neurons comprising the memory being long switched out—the big events go right down to the core of you, changing the outlines, the river banks, altering the subconscious rules by which you rebuild yourself. These memories are re-lived, reincorporated. They shoot up anew like a fountain. The mutable re-tellings which we keep in storage affect us still, dodging the physical time limit of seven years.

I don’t know how to run from the past, and it feels like I don’t know how to incorporate it, either. I want to be more than a damaged thing with plaster thrown over my cracks. I want to be my own entity. I want to grow, and yet I don’t know how.

Eventually I know that the people who have given me love and pain will change, following the mandate of time, and then even if I went to see them again they wouldn’t be the same person I remembered. The slice of the person I knew, from 2013-2014, would be buried amongst countless other hours, years, experiences. They would have grown, aged, changed. But these feelings within me, that fountain ever-fresh, seem to last longer than the physical reality of my ex-girlfriend, my mom. They are a portrait, unchanged and unchanging, that I am forced to look at every day—the real Mona Lisa, stored behind closed curtains underneath the Louvre. In this way, memories are more enduring than the people who caused them.

And with time, even these memories will fade, whether they take seven years or twenty. For now, while I endure and suffer their effects—their sweet intolerable longing, their grief and vulnerability—I suppose it’s up to me to prove myself more real, more secure in my identity than anything which would undo me, and find significance in the great things that I do, and say “Yes, that is me. That is my purpose.” Just like my backpack carries things as my companion, and just as my hands make real the imaginary, I purpose myself to be an instrument of love and understanding. And this identity is eternal.

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My Love like the Sun

My love like the sun
shines from within,
chemical compounds reacting, rebounding;
the warmth spreads outwards and
touches all of those who choose
to venture out of doors.

To love like a taser, cables spitting snakelike outwards,
electric pitons piercing two people, digging in,
is to do damage to that
which should shine easy, nonjudgment.

My love is internal, irrepressible energy expanding outwards,
not the sum of some equation needing balance,
x equals, y equals.

Would that I could touch all, embrace all,
and shine that golden evening light inside of me, and out,
and pierce the hearts of all, and pick them up and hold them like a father,
eternal in the fading light.

My love is the sun, calling
“Step out, step out.”

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Fever Dream

Wake up from this fever dream,
and set the caged bird free.
I thought I had a dream to live—
But it was someone else’s dream!

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