To Make an Assay
Shawn Michel de Montaigne
Copyright 2017 by Shawn Michel de Montaigne
Thank you for supporting me and for respecting my hard work.
The manuscript to
To Make an Assay
has been time-stamped
All rights reserved.
Cover designed by Shawn Michel de Montaigne
All photographs and artwork are by Shawn Michel de Montaigne
and are copyrighted to same.
[Dedicated to my spiritual and philosophical touchstone,
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne.]
To Make an Assay
Thank you for the tremble and weave,
For osprey tracing high the pine-scented air,
For silver sheets of rainfall fair;
Where orange rays of draining daylight conceive
These verdant hills and tumbling creeks which sound
As through fluffs of cotton,
Through which this lonesome road winds forgotten;
Quiet walks remembered, and remembered I was found.
Thank you for this morning scene,
And fingers of fog lacing between,
For sudden bursts of golden finches, here now and then unseen;
For the life of my spirit which refutes the mean.
I want to thank you for my pounding heart
And the urge to strengthen it,
For the courage to fight my sloth and recommit
To living this life not apart
From the grace of your love,
The warmth of which
These seconds enrich
And rain down from above.
Thank you, dear Lord,
For these sterling moments of peace
Amidst the cackle of the insane,
Their corrupting, deafening grain;
These pauses that cease
The unremitting insults of the day
Carried beyond the pale,
Varied but dull, and brittle like shale;
Each step as it may
A cry, a supplication all its own,
Offered with and over the swirl and roar so pure;
The susurration, the crossroad, the cure
Here at last! At last be shown
The glory be, unsayable!
These certain steps between uncertain novations prayable!
Thank you for the courage of my convictions
In this deluded and dangerous age;
For the friendship of the insistent Sage
And her reassuring valediction:
It isn’t so bad, she says—
This time, this space,
This darkness so many embrace.
They live in pieces,
But the glory of God is one.
Truth cannot forever be denied,
And those who lied
The commonwealth will someday shun.
Thank you, Lord,
For the constant urge to create,
For the insatiable desire to mate
The contradictions. Lo the sword
Proclaims its own art,
Deeper than desire, more intense than pain,
The blank numbness against which I refrain
Any measure of victory; in this I impart
The whole of my soul.
Never to death or dust
Shall it give; nor to rust
And the unworthy jewels it stole.
So to you, dear Lord, I offer this,
What meager and gritty quarry
Is mine to give; the words in the story
So imperfect, so imprecise, but sure as a kiss.
They’re mine but also not:
They’re yours, truly, like this day, this moment, only mine by gift.
Thus is my wish to uplift,
But back to you, in the end, goes the entire lot.
In them and by them I have soared,
Through them and with them my heart has at last come alive.
So long afraid, so long merely to survive …
Alive again, and so it sings: Thank you, dear Lord.
**]Posted February 2016[
[Apropos, I think, for all of us, who now must
stand against a vile Trump presidency]
I WAS fifteen years old when I became a Denver Broncos fan.
54 – 15 = 39. Years.
That’s an astonishing amount of time to be a fan of anything. But it’s true. For almost forty years I have faithfully followed that team and their fortunes and misfortunes. I have jumped for joy at their triumphs and have been crushed by their defeats.
Just this last weekend the Denver Broncos defeated the New England Patriots to advance to Super Bowl 50, their eighth trip to the biggest stage in American sports. They have won twice while on it. The last time they went, which was just two years ago, they were humiliated by the Seattle Seahawks 43 – 8. I stopped watching sometime in the third quarter.
The pundits are predicting an equal or greater butt-kicking this go-round at the hands of the Carolina Panthers, whose 17 – 1 record has everybody convinced that they’re virtually unbeatable.
Maybe they are. I don’t know.
The Broncos were supposed to be crushed by the New England Patriots too. Instead they did the crushing, harassing and dominating the Patriots’ offense and its stellar quarterback the entire day. The pundits, instead of admitting their horrible predictions and analyses, immediately jumped on the Panthers’ bandwagon and are now saying the same things they were saying last week. “The Panthers are unstoppable.” “The Broncos stand no chance for reasons x, y, and z.” And so on.
The Broncos might as well not even show up to the game!
I guess what I’m getting at here is that when the chips are down, that few who claim to stand for the very qualities that got the Broncos to the greatest stage in American sports—camaraderie, playing for something greater than themselves, belief in each other, sacrifice, devotion, friendship, faith, perseverance, loyalty, teamwork—actually do. Most people abandon them wholesale. Even worse, they deride those who continue to cling to them as “naive” or “foolish” or for “wearing rose-colored glasses.”
The thing is, though, a life worth living—a life worth a damn—is only possible for those who actually stand up for those qualities, especially come hell or high water. Spout doom-laden statistics all you want, cough up nasty probabilities, declare your team totally screwed, chunter on that your dreams are “unrealistic,” refuse to stand and face the fire, divest yourself of your fandom, detach your emotions and spirit from the outcome because you believe it to be hopeless and fear failure, turn your back on the possibility of the great victory, and you will join that long, gray line of human mediocrity, to paraphrase Colonel Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman. As a bonus, you will do great and lasting damage to your spirit.
The Denver Broncos stand no chance against a vastly superior foe on February 7.
I stand no chance to be a recognized and popular author.
Your dream of becoming whatever your heart truly wants you to be is silly and should be ignored.
At bottom, there is no significant difference between those three statements. I can choose to believe them, citing statistics and probabilities until the cows come home; or I can ignore the pundits and predictors and prognosticators and press on. So can you.
That’s what the Denver Broncos are doing; and that’s what I’ve been doing for thirteen years now, and what I’ll continue doing.
What are you doing to prepare for victory at your “Super Bowl”?
I refuse to join that awful gray line where so many reside. No matter what.
And go you!
(For a hero)
In that moment the light will gray.
Beyond it you will see an arch.
Fear it not.
There is nothing past it you need cower before.
It is yours to use as you see fit.
Once an instrument of supreme evil,
you may employ it for the supreme good.
Beyond it is your destiny.
But do not confuse what I am telling you.
“Beyond” and “destiny” are traps.
See them as so, and you are free to redefine them any way you please.
That is your gift.
There is no need to feint.
Besides, it is not your way.
You once cried for an angel.
See that she is you, and the tears will cease.
The light will gray.
Tell me of your moments. Share them with me.
How? ‘Tis easy, my song.
Just let them change you.
In the changing I will hear your Voice,
and you mine.
And in the changing you will become,
each moment from the next,
more and more who you truly are.
That’s how you’ll know I’m there with you.
There are spaces in your spirit:
fragrant open meadows in which I can breathe.
There are spaces I can run free and lie down
and stare up at the open sky.
You have no idea how rare that is.
I have known many in this odd, odd life.
Most are industrial parks: crowded and polluted
and utilitarian. They exist only to seek profit;
they live only to fill their empty days
with empty activities that their so-called
family and so-called friends say are normal and sane.
They seek approval, and they seek fame, and they seek
to be first among their polluted neighbors.
You are different. You are unique.
I can breathe …
**]Posted September 2016[
PEOPLE FEAR change. I do too many times. It can be very scary.
I started writing full-time in 2004. I split time writing with trying to build a tutoring business, one that ultimately failed in 2010. I had no desire to work for anyone ever again. I wanted to call my own shots and make my own name for myself.
As it turns out, I couldn’t have picked a worse market than San Diego, California, to start a tutoring business. Despite having the highest number of Ph.D.s per capita of any large city on Earth, the city is virulently anti-education. The dropout rate back then was seventy-five percent. You read that right: three out of four kids who entered high school in the San Diego metropolitan area in 2004 didn’t make it to graduation their senior year. I don’t remember the statistics for later years, but it doesn’t matter. The business went belly up, as I said, in 2010. It was barely surviving as it was, but the recession finally, mercifully put a bullet in the back of its head, and that was that.
Change has often been like that for me. It appears as a horrendous calamity. I’ve had to fight to keep from seeing it as such, because, as in this case, it really wasn’t as negative as I originally believed.
“Every cloud has a silver lining.” Perhaps not when you look up at them at first, certainly. But in my case, at least, I can say that, eventually, every cloud gets a silver lining. It’s just a question of when, and also if, I decide to look up and see them. That doesn’t always happen.
I went to the eye doctor this past week. I hadn’t been to one in many years. They have this newfangled machine, one that eliminates the need for drops to dilate pupils in order to check for cataracts and glaucoma. You press your nose up against this pliable plastic barrier while gawking into a lens with your left eye, then your right. A bright light makes it painful. If you press hard enough, your eye gets right up against the lens without touching it, and the painful light turns green, which is the machine’s way of saying you’re pressing hard enough. At that point the nurse takes a picture of your eye, which involves an even more painful bright yellow light passing quickly by.
It turns out I’m developing a cataract in my right eye. I’ve got pigment floating around in places it shouldn’t in both, and old scar tissue around the edges of both, cause or causes unknown.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. I suffer from clinical depression. Over the course of the last decade and a half I have learned how to manage it to a degree that, though I’m certainly not satisfied with it, I can live with it as I learn how better to take care of myself.
In the past, news like the one the eye doctor gave me would have been very difficult to get around. I would have fallen into the Black Swamp, as I call it. I would have refused to look up for those silver linings.
Instead, this time I shrugged. Both externally and internally.
Is it depressing that I’m more than half a century old now, that the days seem to be sniffing cocaine, that my eyesight is potentially failing, at least in one eye, that my body looks nothing like it did even in 2010, that I have two partially frozen shoulders from overtraining as a young athlete, that bending over to touch my toes seems a harder task than jogging up Mt. Hood, that I have hair growing out of spots that God never intended, that my chin’s antigravity is definitely failing, that I no longer have freckles but liver spots?
Damn straight it is.
Still, for the most part I have managed to avoid the Black Swamp. I think I know the reason why.
In 1998 I was still teaching high school kids. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. In fact, I hated it. The stress was overwhelming, the hours more so. It didn’t help that Loveland Public Schools paid me less than fifteen thousand dollars a year. That’s not a typo. And that was for a full-time position. I was putting in eighty hours a week and making less money than the night janitors, who weren’t full time and paid by the hour.
I knew what quitting ultimately meant. I knew I was going to struggle like hell for a long time. I still am eighteen years later.
Struggling doesn’t exacerbate depression if what you’re struggling for is what you have always wanted to do with your life. Does that make sense? If you look forward to getting out of bed in the morning to do the work you know in your heart you were meant to do, no matter what is facing you, no matter how insurmountable it appears, depression has a much harder time gaining a foothold. I speak from stark experience.
I still experience bouts of depression, most definitely. When they come, I deal with them as sanely as I can. My life circumstances provide plenty of fodder for a quick hop, skip, and jump into the Swamp, despite the fact that I have been hugely blessed with the chance to write full time. Sometimes, without even knowing I’m doing it, I take the dive. Splash. I’m a ball of goo in bed, and the days and nights ooze by like they have sandpaper on them, and I’ve just been skinned alive and had lemon juice poured on me.
Psychologists claim that depression is anger turned inward. I don’t buy it, especially these days. Depression is depression. For some there may be a component of inwardly turned anger; but not for me. The inexorable march of time … the dreams of youth long since gone … the abandoned goals, the futile strivings, the grinding failures … those are my triggers. They don’t inspire self-anger or judgment; they inspire profound sadness. I know myself well enough to say that with complete confidence.
Art picks me up: a good movie, or a well-written essay, or an inspiring song or video. So does connecting with my readers.
It isn’t a guarantee, of course. Sometimes I’m so low it takes multiple immersions in them.
Nature works well too, especially here in southwestern Oregon, where she makes a grand show of herself no matter which way you turn to look. My affliction comes with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD—wouldn’t you know it?), which exacerbates my condition as daylight wanes through fall and winter. I endeavor to be even more vigilant after September 21.
The one constant in life is change. It powers the universe. Nothing is ever the same. Heraclitus said it best: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” The full realization of that has freed me somewhat of the tangles of the Black Swamp, for this too, said the ancient Sufi poets, shall pass. Even the Black Swamp.
For now, I endeavor to look up.
**]Posted spring 2016[
THE JEDI don’t pee.
At least, I bet that you can’t imagine them peeing. Think of it: Obi Wan Kenobi standing over a dirty toilet in Mos Eisley or hurrying around a big boulder to keep those little glowing-eyed dudes in the cloaks from whisper-croaking-spitting their amusement.
Jedi don’t poo either. Try to imagine Windu Filteredbeer—or whatever Samuel L. Jackson’s Jedi character’s name was—say, “Damn, man, I need to take a righteous dump! The Force be with my bloated colon! It’s losing structural integrity!”
Imagine Palpatine—Darth Sidious—biting his nails or popping a zit. Does he wear regular underwear, or are there some special and particularly evil briefs he puts on each morning when he gets up? They’d be black (of course), but would they be made of cozy, comfortable cotton? Do Sith Lords like cozy, comfortable cotton skivvies? Does he ever sit on his throne and squirm on it, thinking, Infernal hemorrhoids! Does he ever get jock itch? Does he examine the evil hairs in his evil ears and try to cut them with an evil pair of scissors?
Does Darth Vader ever take a breath (koooooooo-keeeeeeeeeee!) and say, frustrated, “Now my indigestion is com-plete … buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurrrrrp!”
One of the great weaknesses of fantasy heroes and villains is that their authors do almost everything they can to remove their humanity from them in order to make them appear unreachable and invincible. Even JK Rowling did this with Lord Voldemort. You didn’t see him cutting farts just after coalescing back to his nasty, pasty little snaky body after Wormtail cut his own hand off into the cauldron and dropped in a dirty bone from Tommy’s dad’s grave and dripped in a bit of Harry’s fresh young blood. If nothing else gives you gas, I don’t know what will. A more accurate portrayal of his re-introduction into the world would have featured him walking amid his Death Eaters and saying: “Welcome!”—fffffft! “It’s been thirteen—” bubblezzzzzoooofffffffgurgle!—“years!” “Harry! There you are, standing on the bones of myfffffffffffffffffffffffffftzzz-ather!”
Heroes also get the same treatment, as I just mentioned. What would happen if the Incredible Hulk suddenly developed an erection while tearing down yet another skyscraper? His pants seems infinitely stretchable no matter if he’s Bruce Banner or his fearsome alter-ego, but can they accommodate that? If you’re Iron Man and have a sudden bout of diarrhea while burning through the atmosphere, do you need to land in some forest somewhere and hurriedly strip off all that high-tech fighting armor, or has Tony Stark engineered a solution to such a potential problem? If so, has he accounted for the extra thrust generated once he releases his pent-up bowels? Genius, after all, can carry you only so far. Past that, one must rely on one’s humanity and hope that anything dripping down your leg won’t cause all that electricity humming around you to short circuit.
Too often fictional heroes have their humanity utterly excised. They aren’t human; and for many, perhaps most, that is a plus, not a minus. What a shame. And how telling. We hold our physical beings in great contempt, and it shows in these stories. It isn’t a coincidence that the Jedi don’t pee or poo. It isn’t a matter of “budgetary constraints” among producers and directors that we don’t see Voldemort shedding a tear or Vader struggling to pull chopsticks out of his facemask after taking an unwieldy bite of alien sushi. Epic fictional heroes and villains aren’t human—and yet, at least for the heroes, we are encouraged to be just like them. We are encouraged not to be human.
Clark Kent has to poo. That makes him a wimp. It makes him weak. Peter Parker is left smashing cockroaches in his dank apartment, and so he’s deserving of condescension and contempt. It’s only their heroic alter egos that are celebrated and looked up to.
With one notable exception—Necrolius Anaxagorius—my heroes and villains all pee and poo. Even the vile Prince Trajan and his hated cohort Lord Pios pee and poo. Conor Kieran, Melody, Yaeko, Maggie, Luis … these great heroes are human beings, and so I have proudly retained their humanity. Calliel Hiccum is an angel, and so is Ray Wilms. Both still have to pee and poo.
And Necrolius? He doesn’t have to do either by virtue of his unbeingness. But let’s be clear: it doesn’t make him greater than those he consumes and enslaves; it makes him infinitely less. Perhaps, in the end, that’s the point.
They exist loudly.
They shriek into their cell phones,
shrieking for attention any way they can get it.
She was doing that today, right behind the car.
She wore a bright purple velour sweatsuit
with sparkly-pink writing on the back,
She stood in the middle of the parking lot,
the borg phone attached to her right ear,
and she wanted the world to know
that she existed, that she was IMPORTANT.
Others buy the splashiest truck or car.
They spam the Internet with trash, spamspamblam.
They march about like they’re Rambo or the terminator,
like they’re invincible, like they’re God.
They want you to notice their coolness, their hard gaze,
their tough-as-nails black T-shirt, their painted-on pants,
their cool do.
The louder they try to exist,
the less they actually do.
**]Posted March 2016[
THE LAST full week of April, Kyla and I will travel to San Diego to collect the rest of my (our, really, but most of it is mine) stuff from a storage facility in El Cajon, which is a suburb of that city. The storage is running almost $100 a month—a ridiculous, borderline criminal, amount.
There isn’t much to move. It’s mostly small knickknacks and other personal effects I’ve brought along during an increasingly long life. Really, as I said, it isn’t much at all, nothing a five-by-ten locker couldn’t handle.
That’s astonishing. The sum total of my life—all fifty-four-plus years of it—can be measured by the contents in a five-by-ten space, along with the space in this thirty-four-foot motorhome.
Not much at all.
I’ve never owned much. I’ve never “owned” a “real” home, for example. (I put owned in quotes because, truthfully, almost no one in the modern era owns a home. The bank or mortgage company does. The same is true for “one’s” cars.) I’ve never “owned” property, as in real estate. I’ve never “owned” a boat, jet skis, diamond jewelry, a cabin in the woods, a condo, fancy cookware, or even fancy clothes. Of clothes, I have two pairs of pants, both jeans, and maybe a dozen shirts, almost all bought from thrift stores. I wear one pair of shoes—tennis shoes—and a pair of sandals, both worn out to the point that they need to be replaced. I use the same hair brush that I did three decades ago (yes, it’s clean); and I own several plants, including a ball cactus that will be thirty next year.
There are other knickknacks, not many, and a few cherished plushies, one of which has been with me since I was five. His name is Ralphie. You may know him from Sesame Street or The Muppets.
I could literally put my entire life’s worth of belongings in the average suburban garage and have plenty of room to spare, probably well more than half. I think of that sometimes and it blows my mind.
I never had children, and don’t plan on starting.
I don’t have a pension. I am, at the time of this writing, virtually penniless. Since I’m fifty-four, I’m considered even more useless than the world judged me at thirty, which means that getting a “regular” job, should I need to, would be very difficult if not next to impossible. Employers aren’t legally allowed to be ageist, but we live in a society that habitually ignores such strictures and gets away with it.*
I came from a moderately wealthy home that was thrust almost overnight into poverty when [+ my father+] left. He was the sole breadwinner and proceeded to sue my mother successfully over the course of the next eight years with his teams of dead-eyed attorneys until she and we, her five children, were bereft. She was dying at the time from a horrible disease, which made his cruelty even more barbaric. I have never been able to escape the impoverishment he sentenced me to.
I went homeless for a month in January of 2002. Most of the meager possessions I owned I had to throw away. It was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do. I had enough cash to store the rest in a tiny locker; I retrieved them when my natural mother (I’m adopted) grudgingly offered to help me out. The little U-Haul she funded to get me to San Diego was literally running on fumes by the time I got to her place. My entire life was in that tiny truck, all of it, top to bottom. As a lesson in humility, such a fact has few equals.
I’ve made less than half a million dollars through the course of my life. You might think that sum large. It isn’t. Divided by fifty-four years (my age), it comes out to less than ninety-three hundred dollars a year. If you ignore the first eighteen years of my life and recalculate, the figure falls just short of fourteen thousand dollars. The most money I ever made in a single year came in 2002-2003 when, working as the lead mathematics teacher at Job Corps in San Diego, I pulled in forty-six thousand (before taxes; and yes, the irony of getting the highest-paid gig of my life scant months after being homeless isn’t lost on me).
But the job was killing me. A doctor looked at my blood pressure one day and listened to my tale of woe about eighty-hour weeks and hateful administrators and gave me a dire warning. “You’re well on the way to a full-blown heart attack,” he declared. “You’ve got a choice.” When I complained that I really didn’t have one, thinking of my month on the streets, he patted my shoulder and said, “We’ve all got a choice.”
He was right.
I quit six months later. With it went my income, of which I was saving over half each month.
My apartment was virtually empty. The living room was empty save for a couple of plants and a coffee table my birth mother gave me before I moved out. I had nothing in the kitchen nook save my ancient desk and computer and books I managed to save before I hit the streets. I had my bed—no frame, just mattress and box spring—the single largest thing I owned. The clothes I still owned could easily fit in one side of the small closet. I put my dresser, also ancient and falling apart, into the extra space. That was it.
I got around by walking or taking the bus. I became an expert with the San Diego Metro Transit System. The money I’d saved was fast draining away despite my spartan existence. To survive I started privately tutoring kids. The Great Recession eventually killed my struggling little venture.
Before leaving San Diego for this area in 2012, I walked to the summit of a nearby hill in El Cajon, where we were living at the time, and looked around.
It wasn’t properly the country, but close enough that I wouldn’t argue with you if you insisted that it was.
The sun was setting. It was quite beautiful. To the northwest was a new development. They were all custom-built status castles, freshly minted.
I was fifty, which meant that my same-aged peers probably “owned” those McCastles. They had spent probably thirty years fighting for the privilege of having the wealth necessary to put such wood-and-mortal boils up and pay the bank absurd payments on them indefinitely.
They, like me, had chosen.
I didn’t have that wealth. Even if I did I would never build such a thing. As I gazed around, a powerful realization overcame me. I didn’t want that wealth, not if in its attainment I could not have what I already did: less than half a garage of items … along with the stories and characters and worlds that present themselves to me each and every day, and which hold a value infinitesimally close to zero for the rest of the world.
I know when I go back to San Diego I’ll be thinking a lot about that. Because I’m convinced, and was while standing up there on that hill, that I made the right choice, despite the sometimes intense struggle simply to survive.
*_With Trump as president now, even more of those strictures are going to disappear, most notably the ones that prescribe decency or morality where others are concerned_.
**]Posted April 2016[
LATE SUNDAY night Kyla and I will be sitting on the Coast Starlight as it makes its way south towards San Diego. We should arrive Tuesday in the very early A.M. We’ll grab a cab to Imperial Beach, where we have a reservation at a budget motel. Sometime later that day, after working our tails off to clean out a storage locker (the reason we’re going), we’ll visit the Imperial Beach Pier.
I haven’t seen it in four years. I’m looking forward to walking on it again.
If we remember to take our camera, we’ll take some photos. I’ll include a few of them in a future post if any turn out and I feel the inspiration to.
Many times in 2003, as I walked on the beach next to the Pier, I desperately tried to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I was forty-one, and remember thinking that at present course I’d be lucky to see forty-two. I was making plenty of money, but the job I was doing to make it was killing me.
The Pier always seemed to take my attention off my problems and pull it to itself. It’s fifteen hundred feet long and often looks perched on the very lip of eternity, as it did that day.
I had just started tutoring a girl at the time named Melody. As I walked up the stairs from the beach to the plaza at the foot of the Pier to meet her and her mother for a session, Melody and the Pier to Forever came to me. Her name was the catalyst.
(I have credited her appropriately, if you’re wondering. She didn’t like me all that much, no doubt because her mother was ultimately paranoid of a male tutor working with her daughter and unhappy that I wasn’t a member of the cult she and her family belonged to. The relationship I had with Melody and her family has long since ended.)
JK Rowling has spoken about how Harry Potter came to her. As the legend goes, she was riding a train. The story came to her “fully formed,” as she put it. That was how Melody and the Pier to Forever came to me: “fully formed.”
That isn’t to say there weren’t many unknown details that needed to be filled in. There were. “Fully formed” does not mean “fully revealed.” I knew almost nothing about Yaeko Mitsaki, for example. When I sat down to continue writing the story months later, her story instead came out of me in a flash flood of sudden, stunning inspiration. One minute my hands were hovering completely unsurely over the keys; the next I was typing as furiously as I could (which isn’t all that furious, truthfully. I’m a slow typist).
There is so much we don’t know about how the human brain works. Much of it may be, ultimately, unknowable. What is consciousness? Why can’t we see it? Does the human brain differ from the human mind?
I’ve been watching lectures by , who taught at Oxford University and is an Anglican priest. I very highly recommend his work. He confronts some of those questions and asks more that will give you lots of pauses for thought. I have since adopted him as a philosophical hero.
There is much about Melody and my other stories I know doesn’t come from me, but through me. For a long time I thought I’d be judged as crazy for saying as much. But then I listened to , world-famous author, and then Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam, who basically, and in their own ways, said just that: that their stories or music don’t come from them, but through them.
I’m certain there are others throughout history, perhaps many others, who have said the same thing, and not just in writing or music, but in science, business, medicine, politics, and a thousand other fields.
In this materialistic age, I find the general indifference to such statements astonishing.
In just a few days I’m going back to the Pier where my first “transmission,” as I call them, came to me. It isn’t that I’m expecting more, because that makes no sense. They come when they come. If I don’t receive any, I won’t be disappointed. Most of the story of Melody and the Pier to Forever takes place very far away from the Imperial Beach Pier. Still, the Pier and the story are inextricably linked.
I’ve focused on that story now for twelve years. There isn’t a day that goes by, not one, when I don’t think of it multiple times. I dream of it occasionally; when I take a walk or shower or drift off to sleep, I often find my consciousness—the same state of mind or being or spirit that science cannot grasp, and even denies—trying to push the boundaries of the story as it currently stands. It’s looking for something—more transmissions? I don’t know.
Before 2003, if you’d approached me and told me that the 2016 me would talk about “transmissions” and the like, I would have laughed in your face. I was a dying soul, and had bought into the materialistic and harmful nonsense that rules the planet today. I’ve changed, and that change saved me.
If I do anything next Tuesday as I stand on the Pier, it will be to give simple thanks to whatever agency that has chosen me for that story, and all the others I have written since.
**]Posted May 2016[
THERE ARE people—many, from all the negative comments I see online—who hate traveling by train. I suspect, as is often the case with people and their anecdotes and the Internet, that many are simply false: they have never even been on a train, especially one like the Coast Starlight, which runs from Seattle, Washington, to Los Angeles, California.
I took it Christmas 2003 to Seattle, then hopped on a bus to Vancouver, BC. To that point I too had never been on a genuine train. The experience changed my life.
I was by myself. I’d never done anything like that before—taken a big trip, let alone by myself, let alone by train.
The Starlight’s terminus is Union Station in central Los Angeles. To get from San Diego to LA, one must take the Pacific Surfliner, which, as its title suggests, runs along the coast. It’s a lovely ride. But it’s not the Coast Starlight.
Fast forward thirteen years. After a somewhat eventful bus ride from Medford to Klamath Falls, which featured a potentially psychotic individual looking to do real harm to the other passengers, to a grossly obese man who sat across from us and who peed himself, we were dropped off for a three-hour layover.
Klamath Falls is butt-ugly, which is sad, because it’s in the middle of stunning mountain country. It sits on the shore of a shallow but large lake and reminded me of Lago, the tiny town Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name set fire to in High Plains Drifter. It isn’t that small, but the urge to take a torch to it is just the same. It feels very unfriendly, just like Lago; and in fact the bus driver, who had lived in Klamath Falls for twenty years, by her admission, remarked without being prompted just how mean-spirited the town was. There you go.
The station smelled like mold, coffee, and urine (the huge dude was waiting with us) and had a television propped up by the ceiling. We watched it vacantly while waiting. The sun was setting, and the temperature had dipped below freezing.
A little after 9 the old woman at the desk instructed us to follow her. We went out a back door to the actual train station, which was across a bus yard. This one was much nicer (the big dude who leaked pee had since called a taxi and left).
I checked us in with the Amtrak folks, then sat and munched trail mix. We were informed that the Starlight was well ahead of schedule and would be arriving just after 9:30.
I was very excited. The Starlight! My earthbound starship! It had been too long. Way too long.
It was big, long, taller than you might guess, and gleaming silver in the train station lights and moonlight. The conductor assigned us seats in the last car. We got on, noting that most people were already asleep. They’d reclined their chairs and covered themselves. We got to our seats, stowed our packs, and sat.
It’s a very smooth ride. It’s difficult to know you’re moving until you look outside and see that you are. The night deepened, and the Coast Starlight wound its way into it. Soon we could see only the outlines of trees whipping by, lighted only by the moon.
No one is awake. No one is watching. The Starlight at such times feels like a starship gliding through space. The world without was ethereal, painted heavenly silver, and fleeting.
Time passed without a fuss.
Trains aren’t planes, which is why I take them. Planes freak me out. Flying freaks me out. I don’t do it. I haven’t boarded a plane since 1993. If all goes according to plan, that was the final time.
Everything I’ve read about plane travel tells of how it has devolved into a cramped, smelly, angry, poorly serviced misadventure one overpays for, for the privilege of getting quickly from Point A to Point B.
None for me, thanks. You go ahead.
The Coast Starlight probably gets up into the eighty-mile-an-hour range on straightaways. That’s enough for me. It isn’t cramped; there is plenty of room to spread out. It isn’t smelly, even with smelly passengers across the aisle. There is the regular sheaf of surly folks, but they’re the norm in modern American society, certainly not just on the train.
Kye had fallen asleep. I got up, stretched, then made my way to the bathrooms, which were on the floor (deck?) below.
Train bathrooms are like plane bathrooms: small, cramped, and, generally, of immediate need of cleaning. I found the cleanest one and did my business, thoroughly washed my hands and went back upstairs to our seats. Kye hadn’t stirred. I sat and stared out the window.
California. We were probably in it by now, in the mountains north of [+ Mount Shasta+]. We wouldn’t get to see that beautiful dormant volcano; we’d be long past it before sunrise.
Northern California is the best part of the state bar none. There are [+ redwoods+] and deep canyons with swift, serpentine-colored rivers, and, perhaps best of all, very few people. Of those who live up here, a significant percentage are, sadly, meth addicts and alcoholics. Also tragic is the fact that Northern California, especially Del Norte County, has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the entire state, which makes it one of the highest in the entire nation. Crime and homelessness are rampant. The area is massively depressed with no end in sight. We’ve lived amidst all this going on five years now and it’s always unsettling, because the natural beauty surrounding it is so compelling. It’s difficult to square.
Our ultimate destination was our old stomping grounds in San Diego, in deep, deep southern California, just a hot coal’s throw from the Ninth Circle of Hell. There was a storage unit there that we’d rented for five years. We wanted to clean it out and bring our (mostly my) possessions home, to finally be free of San Diego and the Slum-like unexistence of Southern California.
I consider San Francisco part of “SoCal,” even though, geographically, it’s in north-central California (“NorCal”?). The Southern California mindset is just as prevalent there as it is in Los Angeles and San Diego. We got to Sacramento by seven the following morning, and after a long stop, pressed on. San Francisco rolled into view several hours later.
It’s an ugly city by my account, no prettier than its giant sisters to the south. When you ride the Starlight, you get to see the “real” bits of it: endless slums and gang-tagged warehouses and heaps of tent cities under overpasses, populated by the homeless and hidden away by all save those taking the train. San Francisco is no better than Los Angeles or San Diego in that regard, even though openly proclaiming progressive values. The true take on it is this: it’s a highly gentrified metropolis that would rather hide its homeless problem than actually do anything constructive or humane about it, or them.
We were glad when it and its sterile, sprawling neighbor to the immediate south, San Jose, finally gave way to the San Joaquin Valley, the breadbasket of the world.
It’s farmland for as far as you can see in every direction. Hot farmland, especially in the summer. Since it was late April, the temperature wasn’t quite 80, according to the conductor.
Vineyards are everywhere. So are tremendous fields of walnut and almond groves, endless rows of broccoli and kale, lemon groves, strawberries forever and ever, amen, and just about every other form of produce you can name. Migrant workers—“illegals” according to Donald Trump and his caustic followers—populate the fields.
The farmers out here, judging by the endless political rage displayed on large red-lettered signs and billboards that appear every three miles or so, are a very surly lot. The battle for water rights, waged endlessly against the thirsty cities, has made them that way. What’s mind-blowing is that the farmers have taken the conservative side of the argument, blaming people like Nancy Pelosi and Senator Barbara Boxer (since retired) for their predicament, [+ when in fact it’s rich conservative elitists who keep screwing them+]. But one thing I’ve noticed about people is this: you’ll never convince them that they’re backing the wrong side of things, especially in politics. It’s sad. And these days, disastrous.
We got through the valley around 4, pulling into [+ San Luis Obispo+], a very pleasant city a few hours north of LA, half past the hour. The photo at the top of this edition was taken just before we got there.
San Luis Obispo is a very special place for me, because it’s where in 2003 (a very significant year in my life) I decided I was going to be a writer. I stayed at a beautiful, intimate, French-style B&B in the center of town and contemplated quitting my career as a teacher. Seven months later I finished The Candle and put the first words down on the Prologue of Book One of Melody and the Pier to Forever.
We blew into LA as the last light of the day drained away.
Los Angeles. Ugh. That’s pretty much all I’ve got to say about it.
We pulled into Union Station around 10 p.m., got a bite to eat at a Starbucks adjacent to the Amtrak terminal before it closed, and went on a hunt for seats to plop down in. Kye shot this photo of one of the lights above as a skinny kid played random nonsensical melodies on a piano in the far corner. The sound echoed hollowly above the constant low hum of activity. Everybody looked very tired and irascible. I’m sure we did, too.
The Pacific Surfliner waited. We boarded it an hour later and off we went for San Diego.
**]Posted April 2016[
THAT’S ME on the Imperial Beach Pier April 27. I hadn’t stepped on it in nearly five years. I’m looking towards the North Coronados Island, which is hidden by fog—a common occurrence in April. If you’ve read Melody, you know that the North Coronados Island is where the Kathlin Rory Carrick Castle is.
I haven’t missed San Diego—at all. But I have missed the Pier. It means more to me than I can tell you. In many ways it saved me. It gave me something to wonder about, write about, and dream about during a time when it seemed all hope for my life seemed lost.
I tried multiple times to introduce Melody and the Pier to Forever to Imperial Beach, to its citizens, but no one was interested. My name, after all, isn’t James Patterson or John Grisham or Stephen King. I’m a nobody, and so it does not matter how good a story Melody is. Nobody authors and their stories don’t matter.
Imperial Beach and San Diego taught me that: that I was a nobody, and that I would always be a nobody. They taught me that my life doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, perhaps especially because I had taken the audacious step to claim it as my own and live it precisely as I pleased.
The apathy, desolation, and desiccation of that metropolis are overwhelming. The people there are grossly mean-spirited and self-absorbed to the point of lunacy. There is absolutely nothing of community that holds it together. It’s a vast desert city with no anchor, moral, communal, or otherwise. It’s beyond me how so many believe it to be beautiful and worth visiting.
I was there a full decade. When I left, it felt as though I had been paroled, and I cried. I was free to unlearn San Diego’s hateful lessons. I was free to be somebody.
I couldn’t get to the end of the Pier on the 27th, because construction of some sort was taking place there. Like Melody, like Yaeko, I spent countless hours at Pier’s end contemplating life and looking out at that beautiful blue ocean. It was torture leaving it—every single time. I knew what I was going home to. More indifference. More abandonment. More skintness. More isolation. More struggles simply to be able to afford Ramen once a day.
I did a stupid thing. I tried opening a tutoring practice in a city that despises education. What’s ironic about that is this: San Diego boasts more Ph.Ds per capita than any other big city on Earth. And yet it despises education. The dropout rate is commonly over 75 percent. The one high school in IB, Mar Vista High School, had at the time an 80 percent dropout rate. Think about that. Four out of every five students who came in as freshman didn’t make it to graduation.
I spent money I didn’t have and made piles of brightly colored fliers and walked them through every neighborhood accessible by bus, trolley, or bike. I walked until I couldn’t walk anymore, then walked farther. I tried talking to school admins and teachers. Nobody would listen to me. Nobody took me seriously. I was, after all, a nobody.
I did eventually manage to gain some clients. But it was never enough to pay the bills. The 30-day rent notices began piling up. I had to ask people for cash. I took a job putting costume jewelry together for rich Hari Krishnas. They paid me minimum wage and treated me like dirt.
I continued writing Melody. I visited the Pier almost daily. Often I would write there, or draw. I’d print a chapter and take it there and edit it. I escaped in those pages. I survived in those pages. I’d walk the Pier afterward and with all my heart and soul picture this:
Does it matter that no one else can see it? Does it matter that no one else, even if they read Melody, would bother doing what I do, which is to believe in it, to let it have its own life inside them? This is a culture that hates . Want proof? Look around. Look at these big cities and the degradation and despair. Look at how people live their lives: by the amount of cash they have; by the square footage of their houses and yards; by who they can order around. Imagination for adults is truncated to plodding, drooling idiocy: “Think outside the box!”
We didn’t stay long. I wanted to get on the road. The trip ahead was a big one. The Budget truck was packed and ready to go. We hopped in it and minutes later got on I-5 for Los Angeles.
No matter how long it may take to get back to the Pier—and it will likely be years again—I will always hold it near and dear to my heart. There is no way I could ever do any differently.
I wanted to get home to Gold Beach in three days. According to Google Maps, that would require a minimum of 550 miles a day each day. The car was still in [+ Medford+]. We had to pick it up and then return the Budget truck. By chance, I discovered that if I didn’t take it out of the state we’d save over $600! The northernmost Budget franchise was in Eureka.
We left the Pier at exactly 10:36 a.m. We endured the spirit-sucking hell that is Los Angeles hours later; a few hours after that we were once more in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley. A couple hours out from San Francisco we drove into a beautiful thunderstorm.
As the sun set we got to San Francisco. Just south of it is a tremendous wind farm.
The photos don’t show it, but the blades on those turbines are tremendous—as in at least a hundred feet tall. Up close they are intimidating and mesmerizing to watch.
Like San Diego, like LA, San Francisco is a nightmare to drive through. We escaped it around 9, got on Highway 101, which goes all the way up the coast to Canada, and pressed on. Almost exactly twelve hours after leaving the Pier, we stopped for the night at a in [+ Healdsburg+], well into wine country.
Wine country. It’s better labeled “Snooty Rich California Yuppie” country. Giant castle-boils half-hidden by snooty trees on snooty hills. Lots and lots of Mercedes Benz, Porches, BMWs, and what had to be a million-dollar Ferrari that zoomed by.
People in these parts don’t have time for little people—like us. Like anyone who doesn’t make at least $200K a year. Like anyone who would think of traveling in anything that announces in big bold letters: BUDGET.
That’s probably not you, either. It’s gorgeous country, no doubt about it. But Lord … is it really worth it, and does living in it automatically make you some sort of cash deity worthy of animal sacrifices and brie cheese served to you with golden forks by ten dancing virgins? I don’t think so.
Speaking of food (no, not brie), we ate some fabulous scones made by the motel’s owner in the morning, then hit the road.
Northern California. Home of the coast redwoods.
[+ Photos+] do them absolutely no justice. They commonly top 350 feet (107 meters). There isn’t a taller tree on Earth. It’s likely that, with all due respect to their amazing cousins, the sequoias, there aren’t any grander either.
The highway is lined with them at points. If you’re not careful, your perspective gets shot to hell, and you begin to think of them, by dint of their numbers, as common trees. But then you pull focus on the highway and that big semi way up there does seem awfully tiny next to them, and you shake your head to clear it.
They are so magnificent that they create their own microclimates. Walking among them feels like walking among genuine earth-bound gods.
Skip friggin’ San Diego. Forget Hell A. Stop believing the propaganda put out by the tourism industry about unlivable and heinously expensive San Francisco. If you want to see something truly magnificent, truly worthy of awe and even worship, journey to northern California and stand amid the mighty redwoods.
We drove through Gold Beach on our way up to Bandon, our stop for the night. It was damn weird passing the crossroad that could take us back home inside fifteen minutes.
Bandon is where a new storage unit waited. It’s fifty miles north of Gold Beach along some of the most beautiful coastline on God’s green (on the right; blue on the left) Earth. We got there as the sun was setting, unloaded the truck, then went for a search for a place to stay. As a treat (we assumed it would be one because it had an ocean view and looked very nice) we stopped at the .
It was a treat. What a great place, and for what you get there, a great value, too.
The biggest driving day was the last one.
We left Bandon around 9 a.m. after grabbing some bagels and coffee in the lobby and checking out the motel’s nice little gift shop. The trip ahead involved going all the way to Medford to pick up the car. From there we would have to go all the way back to Eureka (not a pretty town), which we’d gone through just yesterday, and where we’d drop off the truck. That done, we’d head home, back along Highway 101, which we’d taken yesterday as well. Again, by doing that we saved $600 on the truck rental. Definitely worth it.
We dropped the truck off as the sun was setting. Home was 160 miles north. We were starving, so we stopped for some Thai food on the way out of town. The restaurant we chose was excellent, so much so that we will likely go back sooner than later simply to partake once again.
It was past 11 when we finally got back to the TARDIS. It took several days for us to recover. We had driven 1,650 miles in three days. Since Sunday five days earlier, we’d traveled 2,750 miles. Our guts were unhappy, probably because of all the fast food we subsisted on all that time.
But it was well worth it. We were, and will be forevermore, free of San Diego, the city that taught us that we were nobodies, and did its level best to kill us.
THE AECXIS for this highest of martial arts is carved in the great double doors leading into the training facilities deep inside the Kathlin Rory Carrick Castle.
Like all aecxes, the Daen-Cer-Tain evolves, changes, moves. This is just one representation of it. If you successfully complete the training, known as the Daen-Cer-Dain (with a d), you become a member of the super-elite XVI Angeli Magna Coronados, otherwise known as the Kumiyaay, and may have this aecxis tattooed upon your person if you so wish, and will receive two swords with it inscribed in the blades.
Above the great doors themselves is another inscription, this one written in the warrior dialect of Pyrrho:
Eld’ana è Tale Ror Honory Vilylvye
which translates to:
There are no guards posted here
The song on Melody’s Musicscape that makes me think of the Kumiyaay most is by Henry Jackman. Have a listen. It’ll make you feel like going out and taking on the world, which, in every sense, is what the Kumiyaay are tasked to do.
Imagination is for children, so the dead claim.
Playtime is for kids. Sterility of spirit is the hallowed
domain of adults; it’s the longed-for goal of all who aspire
and enthuse about things and matters the gods had no hand in creating
for the simple reason that they were not necessary.
Time is a whore, doll her up as you will.
It all depends on your income, and your status, and your drive
to be first among the dolts and bolts of a social order covered in
pustules and which quivers at the sight of starched ties and stiff,
hurried gaits. She’s no more important than your priorities,
which belong in the gutter, though you envision them in the clouds.
Your cookie-cutter life suits you: it requires nothing from you,
certainly nothing so onerous as growth and longing,
certainly nothing that holds up a mirror and forces you to look,
certainly nothing that laments over your children, who someday
will be as faceless as you.
The starry sky isn’t yours. So don’t look up. You sully it when you do.
Why believe when all I need is to open my eyes?
Why argue with the world? Why even acknowledge it?
The world has never and will never care about me, about my life,
about anything I have to say or will say.
Each day is a broken egg. Each day is a twig snapping from a tree.
Each day is habit and routine like liquid pages by which I sail the
Imagination Ocean. The illusion of sameness I reject. I am different today,
even if what I do today is, for all intents and purposes, the same as
yesterday, the same as the day before that and the day before that.
I reject desolation. I reject the crushing years where I tried to be like everybody else.
That was the true death. That was the true rot. Look! The sky opens, and the stars
wheel soundlessly and silently, and the rain comes and everything drips like an open
**]Posted May 2016[
MATERIALISM IS the philosophy that, in a simplistic nutshell, says that there is nothing but material in the universe. There is no God or gods; there isn’t anything spiritual; the soul doesn’t exist; the mind doesn’t exist; imagination doesn’t exist; consciousness is an illusion. It’s a philosophy that, self-contradictorily, declares that philosophy is dead. Science and science alone rules.
It is my belief that we are living in the most materialistic period in human history. It is also the most atheistic.
It isn’t a surprise if you look at it. We have become slaves to technology, and believe that it will save us from ourselves. We have embraced suburbanism, of which materialism is an outgrowth, and believe it will enrich us and keep us safe. Though we are now living in the so-called Connection Economy, we have been trained as factory cogs, and so view the world in mechanistic, cold, clockwork terms. We refuse to think for ourselves, and so people like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, both eminent scientists and blaring materialists, “blind us with science.” By means of their intelligence, no doubt daunting, they cow us into doubting ourselves, our beliefs, and our experiences.
Most of my writing is centered on repudiating materialism and declaring that the soul exists and that God exists. I am devoted to writing about characters who discover themselves, their spirits, the spirits of others, and the holy and numinous suffusing and maintaining all reality.
I can’t tell you where such a desire came from. It may predate my mother’s death; it may not. When she passed, I struggled for many years with the idea of God, with the notion that we have souls, that we live on in an afterlife. I certainly wanted Mom to, but I just couldn’t see how anything like a soul or God or an afterlife were remotely possible.
Scientism, another cancerous outgrowth of materialism, is the totalitarian notion that all worthy disciplines, at core, subscribe to materialistic and scientific principles and definitions. Theology isn’t a worthy definition or even worth defining, and so anyone who subscribes to the notion of God is derided as a nutjob and treated quite unkindly.
The problem was, in my desperate search to find answers, I couldn’t accept it as a working philosophy.
Nobody I respected wanted to talk, or help me along, or guide me.
Christian fundamentalism—hell, any kind of fundamentalism, including scientism, suburbanism, and materialism—is yet another disease outgrowth of industrialization and suburbanization. It’s the insane desire, as materialism is, to slot reality into neat little holes and contain it. It’s the assembly line brought to matters that can’t be put on one. But damn if so many don’t try!
I was trained as a mathematician and scientist. I was a class short of a philosophy minor when I graduated university. In the decades since, I have researched and read on these topics extensively. I have read everything from Christian fundamentalist texts to books written by materialists. I read J. Krishnamurti and Erich Fromm. I did everything I could to understand some of the biggest questions in life: Is there a God? Why is there evil in the world if God exists? Is the mind different from the brain? What is consciousness? Do we have a soul? If so, how is it different than the mind? What do the greats think of these things?
Notice that I didn’t delve into more mathematics. As much as I love that discipline—and I very much do—the subject was never my primary focus, even when I was knee-deep completing my major. I’ll have to write someday on why I got a degree in it.
I have recently discovered the works of and John Lennox, both emeritus professors from Oxford University. Both are Christians. Lennox is a bit more heavy-handed than I prefer, but still quite brilliant and spot-on. Ward has become something of a philosophical hero to me. I very highly recommend both of them.
I strongly believe that if the human species is to survive the next hundred years, it won’t be because of science or materialism, but by a resurgence of nonfundamentalistic, nondenominational spirituality, one that necessarily dumps the diseases of suburbanism and corporatism. We are all far more than mere flesh and bones. We are, indeed, spiritual beings having a human experience.
**]Posted June 2016[
[(Written before Facebook and Twitter
both colluded to get Donald J. Trump into the White House,
where he absolutely does not belong)]
I’M ONE of those rare folks who maintains an active account on Google Plus.* Even worse: I don't try to hide from that fact, as so many apparently do. Google Plus, if you read what critics have to say about it (and they are legion), is for losers who can't make friends on Facebook or Twitter. It's for outcasts whose social leprosy rates 11 on a scale of 1 to 10. That's apparently me.
I’ve tried both Facebook and Twitter. Facebook is, without a doubt, one of the most depressing sites on the Internet, if not the most depressing site. It is the digital equivalent of LA’s Metro Transit Authority, which features prominently in one our favorite films, Collateral. In it Tom Cruise’s character, a sociopathic killer-for-hire named Vincent, dies on an MTA trolley. Before he does he asks the hero, Max (Jamie Foxx): “A man dies on the MTA. Think anybody’ll notice?” Earlier in the film, and shortly after meeting Max, he shared the story of how a man did in fact die on the MTA and nobody noticed. People sat next to the corpse as the trolley did laps around Los Angeles.
It’s also Twitter.
It’s also Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, SnapChat, and a hundred other hip-sounding social media websites, all of which are probably more popular than G+.
I quit Facebook in 2010 and didn’t look back. I quit Twitter not long after. I tried Tumblr twice before giving it up. They’re all crap. Social media is, in a word, crap. It’s high school all over again, with an extra helping of terminal narcissism and ennui.
Google Plus was supposed to fold last year. It didn't. The demigods at Google re-did the site and scaled it back. The enemies of G+ howled with delight: that was a sure sign that the demigods were going to pull the plug on it.
It never happened.
The site is now arranged around “Communities” and “Collections.” I don’t like the word “community” in such a context, for it is almost never true. The term “Internet community” is an oxymoron. True Internet communities probably number one in every million or more so declared as such. In effect, they don’t exist. The Internet is people, and people, for the most part, suck. Facebook is popular because it caters to that suckage. It’s popular because it caters to those who never matured psychologically or spiritually beyond junior high or high school. It’s the world’s biggest social media site because it promotes and promulgates spiritual diseases like ennui, indifference, greed, sloth, dishonesty, disconnect, disaffection, minimizing, propaganda, herdthink, us-versus-them thinking, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses thinking, and conceit. It’s a giant digital McDonald’s or Wal-Mart or ConAgra: it’s proudly corporate and serves only its stockholders, who concern themselves only with profits. And the way to make those profits? Give the great sludge of humanity who frequent the site exactly what they want. Simple. Ch-Ching!
Twitter is no different; neither is Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, SnapChat, or the rest of them. They’re no different precisely because they, like the good corporate lemmings they are, follow Facebook’s noxious model. It’s all about cash, not creating a site that encourages and nourishes true communities. True communities don’t make money, or at least do not exist to as their primary reason for existing. Ennui sells. Indifference makes the stock reports tick up. Greed is just another name for suburbia, and suburbia rules the planet. They know that and couldn’t care less about people like me, rare as it seems we are, who seek substance, art, beauty, and real and lasting connection.
The nice thing about Google Plus is they gave up the Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/etc. model and set out to do something a little different.
Parenthetically, when they did that the number of followers of my fractals went from twenty to over a hundred within a week.
It needs to be stated again, just to be clear. Facebook is popular … Twitter is popular … Tumblr is popular … Pinterest is popular … yaddayaddayadda-whatever is popular because they’re what people want. They’re sites for suburbans. And suburbia, by a variety of factors, most considered and purposeful, some not, is the last place true community can be found.
On any given posted fractal I'll get a two-percent response, meaning that maybe two people will "+1" or share it. I've been a member since G+ launched; only recently did I make it possible for viewers of my fractals to comment on them. I held off for so long because I know how it goes: hours and hours of hard work merit a two-second, two-word response, if that. It's all a bit surreal to me, not to mention hurtful and insensitive. I'd rather not receive any comments at all.
So why am I allowing them now? The only reason is this: if two percent “+1” or share a post, then only two percent of two percent of two percent will ever bother commenting on it. In other words, they’re quite rare, which means it’s very unlikely I’ll have to suffer getting one.
(And yes, I do suffer.)
Any given post that I send subscribers is probably read by, at most, three people. Those three people are: myself, Kyla, and, maybe, a lone subscriber. I know how the game is played. When folks sign up for a free download of one of my works, they make sure to list their spam addresses. These posts go out and are immediately junked. The subscriber wanted a free ebook (one that took hundreds of hours of very hard work to create); he or she got it; that’s it. My blog—and therefore the chance to connect with me and possibly others—isn’t given even a glance. I’m not important. I provided a product, which they received. I don’t count beyond that, and then barely that.
Why is Facebook the world’s biggest social media website?
The answers to both are far more similar than you might be tempted to believe.
I am done with social media. You should be, too. It’s noxious. And I now include Google Plus in that judgment.
**]Posted July 2016[
[+ MELODY AND THE PIER TO FOREVER+] has her own playlist, what I call a “Musicscape.” Since 2004, when I began writing her, and today, Melody’s Musicscape has evolved dramatically.
These days I rarely add to it. From the beginning, when it had 157 songs, to today, I have pared it down to 60 songs for a total of about five hours of listening time.
I’ve re-added songs only to take them off again. I’ve put on new ones, then removed them a few weeks or months later. Over time the playlist stabilized.
When I wrote Angel, I took the time to think hard about a playlist for that story and Ray Wilms, as well as for Calliel, his friend and angelic benefactor. When I wrote Random Chance and the Paradise that is Earth, the Musicscape for it was ready-made, since the songs were already in the story.
They’re all on Spotify, which as an online music provider suffers from all sorts of problems.* Recently they announced that they’re “going public,” which is corporatespeak for becoming a publicly traded corporation. For listeners like myself, that is almost certainly bad news. I don’t have a paid subscription, but a free one, which, I fear, will disappear once the company “goes public.”
Spotify’s problems are, relevantly, centered on their continued bloodletting of cash. Coupled with a scandalous payment plan for artists who contribute to the platform, and the writing is pretty damn clear and in ten-foot-tall black letters.
But I’m not interested in talking about Spotify, but about my Musicscapes. I’d like to offer a small sample of each playlist, along with a short explanation for why each song has been included.
(Spoiler alert: if you haven’t read the series, or the other two novels, be forewarned!)
For Melody and the Pier to Forever (which has its , if you didn’t know), I’ve included the following songs.
From Angels & Airwaves (a group made for Melody and the Pier to Forever): This is an epic piece that takes me straight to a book you haven’t read before: Book III, which I’ll be starting late this year or early next. I can’t say much about the scene in my head save that the song is Meant For It and for Melody (did you really think she’d die—and stay dead? C’mon!) and a moment of intense joy and glory that she experiences.
From Asia, a stanza of which is offered at the very beginning of Sole Survivor: The Story of Kaza of Theseus, the second book in the series. This song has always inspired me. When I was first learning about Kaza, I realized it was for him.
The Beach Boys’ is for Yaeko and Ruing (Book II). This classic is, in my opinion, one of the greatest songs ever written.
Triumph’s is, to me, Melody’s theme song. “I’m young, I’m wild, and I’m free …” Yep. She’s also awesome.
For Yaeko, U2’s was hers before I even started writing about her or knowing where it belonged in her story.
When the Saeire Insu leave for Aquanus (Book II), the sight is amazing. A fleet larger than the Spanish Armada crosses the Tangent as thousands of Earthbound Saeire Insu, standing on the beach, cheer. When I think of that moment, which is from the Stardust soundtrack (a great movie, by the way), comes immediately to mind.
Here’s the symphony that introduced Yaeko to the world and brought her and Melody together for the first time: . Truly, it’s one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever composed.
I struggled for a long time to come up with something that fits Otoro Queril. “Civil War,” by Guns N’ Roses, is at the beginning of his story, but it doesn’t belong to him, only to his dark time. His song finally came to me when I heard the lyricless version of at the end credits of 300: Rise of an Empire. Now that’s Otoro. Whenever I hear that piece I think of his confrontation with Lord Pios at the end of the novel. It’s him: a ramrod of determination, courage, and rage.
Angel’s playlist was a tough one to put together. I wanted it to focus on Ray, of course, but also on Calliel. I wanted to find songs that fit both of them in their own way. For the most part, I think I did that.
The playlist has 19 songs for a total of 85 minutes of listening pleasure.
Pink Floyd’s timeless was an easy choice. It’s for Ray, but also applies just as forcefully to the rest of us.
A song for both Ray and Calliel is Molly Hatchet’s Growing up, it was one of my all-time favorite songs.
Clint Black is my favorite country singer. His single, has a great message. I can imagine Calliel tapping his foot to it.
16 Horsepower’s is a great, great song. It’s a passionate call to God, one in which the petitioner begs to be “smited,” to get biblical about it. It’s also a hard-nosed take on a world that wants to exist consequence-free. I included my favorite stanza at the beginning of the novel. It’s for both Calliel and Ray.
A Musicscape created for a novel whose theme is redemption simply wouldn’t be complete without Cat Stevens’
The Piano Guys’ version of Taylor Swift’s is amazing. If you’ve read Angel, you’ll know exactly where it belongs.
Random Chance’s Musicscape includes 16 songs clocking in at just over an hour. All 16 appear in the text, or are referenced somewhere in it.
Random’s spaceship is named The Pompatus of Love. Steve Miller’s is where that nonsensical term first appears.
The first time I heard Three Dog Night’s I was nine years old. I remember the day. I was with my mother in our stationwagon. We were at the teller window at the bank.
T. Rex’s stands even today, forty years from its release, as one of the silliest and yet sexiest songs ever written. Many have covered it; no one has ever done it justice. It’s just great.
Led Zeppelin set the high bar, one that only a handful of rockers have ever touched. It’s arguable if anyone has ever eclipsed it. There’s no way a 35th century hippie wouldn’t know about them. happens to be one of his favorite songs. Then again, it would be, wouldn’t it? His home is his spaceship!
Random and his love, Mia, must part. I couldn’t think of a better way to send them on their separate ways than Frank Sinatra’s
Enjoy my Musicscapes! I’d love to hear your comments or suggestions for any or all of them!
**]Posted August 2017[
All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes to make them possible.
WE WATCHED Lawrence of Arabia this past week. If you’ve never seen it, do. I rank it as a film that should be in every household.
The story is of epic scope, which is very popular these days, but I’m convinced that it would never get made by modern producers, at least not the way it was made in 1962. The reason is this: despite being epic, the focus is very much on the character of T..E. Lawrence, not the broader action of World War One. Modern epics throw out the characters for the sake of action, which comes at you from all directions and never at any speed less than reckless, to the point that the characters, at least to me, become blurred and undifferentiated.
The Hobbit started out so well, I thought. But the second movie, The Desolation of Smaug, was, in my opinion, awful. It devolved from the characters, which it focused on in the first, to mindless and explosive CG porn. I clearly remember mentally checking out of the story and wondering when it was all going to end, and feeling intense disappointment at Peter Jackson, who directed it. But I doubt it was his fault, at least not entirely. I can only imagine the pressure the studio put on him to “bitch it up.” The goal, after all, is never to tell a great story by a great author (Tolkien, in this case), but to get asses in seats. They wanted a blockbuster, which meant dumbing it down in every way possible, thereby making it accessible to the great bulging middle of the bell curve.
I can’t imagine what Tolkien’s reaction would have been had he been alive. I am absolutely certain it would have been something akin to horror mixed liberally with disgust. I know that’s what I would’ve felt!
The average—the mediocre—is the enemy of the great and epic. But the average represents, by definition, the bulk of anything. In this case I’m referring to humanity. Ironically, to earn the title of “blockbuster,” it’s the average—the mediocre—that producers and directors feel they must cater to. , so be it.
It happened to a minor degree as well with Lawrence of Arabia, but unless you actually read The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (which Kyla and I have), which was Lawrence’s first-person account of his time as a liaison officer in the Sahara and Sinai Deserts during World War One, you wouldn’t know. He’s far more flamboyant than he came off in his own words, and some of the events are misrepresented as well. Still, the producers and directors largely retained the focus on his character rather than the action, and the movie, which has since become iconic, is now widely considered a classic and one of the greatest films ever made. Peter O’ Toole’s portrayal of Lawrence, while not entirely accurate, set him apart as one of the world’s greatest actors.
Here’s a depressing thought: I wonder how many of the world’s bulging average have ever watched Lawrence of Arabia? An even more depressing thought: What tiny, tiny fraction of those have ever bothered reading The Seven Pillars of Wisdom? Not even a century ago this man was embarking on a truly great adventure. He wasn’t fictional; he was real! He actually existed! A true hero! A true example!
Not good enough, I can hear the great bulging average say. He didn’t have superpowers. He didn’t fly around with a blazing jet pack. He didn’t shoot webbing out of his hand. He didn’t have a nasty ride that could fire rockets. He was just a man.
I don’t mean to sound condemnatory. After all, there are many great epic stories and novels that I haven’t read. That certainly doesn’t plop me in the middle of the great bulging average, and it doesn’t do the same to you. I’ve never read Moby Dick, for example, or The Great Gatsby. And I threw Atlas Shrugged into the trash after two hundred pages (what sane person wouldn’t?).
I’m getting away from my point, which is that the emphasis on character-based epic stories has gone largely diminished in today’s world, always at the expense of the story itself. The greatest stories have the greatest characters, and focus on those characters and not on the epic battles or challenges they face. I don’t need 3-D glasses; I need to feel the hero’s spirit! If they had 3-D glasses for that, I’d happily wear them! Luckily, you don’t need them if the director is skilled and resolutely refuses to focus anywhere else besides the characters.
**]Posted September 2016[
OVER THIRTY years ago I started having visions. That’s what I call them. If it makes you more comfortable, you can call them dreams. Dreams are something sane people have. Visions … well, those are reserved for prophets and loony-bins, right? (And who, honestly, can tell the difference?)
My mother had just died of a horrible, long-lasting disease. Her death was a true blessing, but it wounded me as deeply as her suffering had. She was, in truth, the only family I ever had, and a true angel in every way that’s meaningful.
The visions weren’t of her, but of a place—a city. For many years I didn’t give it a name. But after going back time and again, I chose to call it Slum. I suppose others, perhaps most, would call it Hell.
Why call them visions instead of dreams? Well, the quality of them differs significantly from dreams. There’s a realness to Slum, a focus in it and to it that regular dreams don’t possess. Dreams are disjointed and often nonsensical. My visits to Slum, while sometimes disjointed, aren’t nonsensical. The disjointedness differs as well. It isn’t diaphanous, if that makes sense; and it isn’t disconnected. I know that doesn’t sound logical, but there is a difference.
Slum is a terrible place. It is where hopelessness has taken intractable root, as well as indifference, rage, and hatred. To that end it differs very little from most “real” cities that I’ve lived in: San Diego, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Bakersfield, Denver, Fort Collins, Albuquerque … The only difference, really, comes in the absurd and obvious degree those residing miseries are acted upon, meted out, or experienced.
There isn’t a Devil in Slum, just as there isn’t a Devil anywhere else. The evil people perpetrate upon one another makes Beelzebub unnecessary both here and there.
There isn’t a lake of fire, or levels (bolgias, as Dante called the canyons peopled with the damned in The Inferno), or anyone standing in judgment. Slum’s singularity of evil is entirely self-contained and self-consuming.
I wasn’t going to write about my visits there, but Kye convinced me to change my mind, so I wrote them down and published them. I thought that by doing so I would be free of them. I have been back since, however, multiple times. I wrote those visits down as well, and have included them.
Please be forewarned: there is plenty of harsh language in them, as well as graphic gore and violence. If that isn’t your cup o’ tea, then don’t bother reading.
The freedom of emptiness. The expanse of solitude,
true and formless. A distant sun. Cool air.
This is a different kind of asphalt. This is another path.
It can’t be seen except for those truly looking for it.
But there are hints, even for the blind.
Surely you can sense it, even where you are,
enabled and entrapped by suburbia. It’s our birthright.
Creation isn’t out there, but between our ears and surging with
every beat of our heart. A moment in a day, a second of sensing
movement, a longing, even a tear. The clouds part
and you spy it. Your blinders can’t stop it,
because they can’t keep your soul
from yearning and looking around the walls
you erect to keep it ignorant and subservient.
If there’s a will, there’s another day. So many times I didn’t even feel it.
But it was there.
I’m forgotten. I was a month later. A blending of blood and spit
and blank loss. What was time then? It rewrote itself, and then it
I’m always amazed how little I meant to somebody. That’s been my main
issue all these years: how I let people change me, but how they don’t let me
change them. But isn’t that what actual love does?
What they professed may have shared the same word, but it was anything but.
It’s always been hard to accept that. I reckon it always will be.
A quarter century: a toss of a coin. Where are the anguished cries or
the colorless days curled in a gloomy corner, or sitting at the stadium,
or the midnight drives, or the endless walks?
I was rewritten. And those words are unerasable.
**]Posted October 2016[
THERE’S A terrific article in The Guardian from January 30: [+ “The long, hard road to rock n’ roll success: ‘We’re essentially skint.’ “+] It’s definitely worth the read. As you might expect, the struggles musicians go through to make a living apply directly to writers too. I’ll give you a quote:
“… Playing in a band, performing of any type really, is a calling, not a career, clearly. It can be hyper-successful, but for most people it involves sacrificing security and comfort for a lifestyle that is as frightening as it is exciting. To some it must seem like a baffling choice – my Dad is constantly bewildered that I give up all my free time for something I basically don’t get paid for – and it’s tough admitting to my girlfriend that every bit of my annual leave that year is going on recording and touring… again. But then, standing onstage at Glastonbury with a crammed tent of 300 people singing along to a song I wrote in my bedroom – that’s when it feels more than worth it….”
The Internet removed the gatekeepers from art, but as a consequence made it exponentially more difficult to make a living from it. When anybody can publish a book or produce a music CD, the glut pushes the market value of that hard work down, not up. Luck plays an exponentially larger role the higher you want to reach. JK Rowling is a fabulous writer, probably my all-time favorite. But I know her—you know her—the kid in Malaysia knows her—almost completely by luck, not by her prodigious and formidable skills. She got incredibly lucky—as in one-in-a-billion-chance lucky. So then did we.
Earnest artists deserve more than your derision and disdain. We live on the edge willingly, and often give our hard work away completely free. The world spins because of us. Imagine a world without song, without poetry, without compelling stories or the inspiration in the skying lines of an original bit of architecture or sculpture. Hate on us at your peril. The choice, as always, is yours. You can be, as I said in an earlier post, a consumer, or you can be an appreciator. Choose to be the latter. The survival of our world depends on it—artistically and literally.
Thank you for reading!
"The unexamined life is not worth living." So said Socrates, or so the legend goes. Well, he was right. In these short essays, I look at the big L, Life. Since no one lives in a vacuum, there is much inside these pages for everyone, from health and happiness to pursuing one's purpose to imagination to poetry. There are thoughts on transcendence and philosophy, on living happily versus living for the herd, on living modestly as opposed to thoughtlessly or greedily.