At Thirty: How I’ve Shaped my Disposition

I turned thirty Saturday.

The last time I felt this much psychic shock and bewilderment was after my first time making the angel with four wings. I was fairly young, but I remember feeling more alive, more at one with humanity, as if I had somehow deepened my sense of belonging.

Now a new chapter of life has begun, and I again feel markedly different. My twenties have been put to rest and all the fears they contained have been allayed by the reality that, like all fears, most never came true.

Of the fears that came to pass, I was – and am – no worse off, but, rather, better, stronger for having passed through the crucibles fate placed before me.

Some of the things I went through in my twenties hurt terribly and I scarcely felt I possessed the resources to survive, but I know better today – for I see the world through eyes that have seen much, and I know the depth of my soul as only one who has suffered does.

I have survived heartbreak and its aftermath. I have been scared and alone, and in times dimmer than I’d care to recollect – but I’ve never forgotten my dreams. I’ve kept faith in something bigger and brighter than my world when its felt small, and this has kept me whole, but I was not always this surefooted.

If I could pass on a message to my younger self, it would be:

Look inside.

You spend your twenties looking outside for answers, defining yourself based on the world around you, but eventually you learn the world has no answer equal to the silent, still voice of G-d rustling in the quietude of your soul. You are everything you have been looking for, and it is you. No one can complete you. They might help teach you how to love yourself, but ultimately the responsibility is yours.

I would be lying if I said my experience was limited to my own mistakes; my growth was seeded by those who left me breadcrumbs, people like Marcus Aurelius, Carl Jung, and Alan Watts. These spiritual grandfathers taught me that my world could be born of my disposition – rather than the inverse, which is the case for most people living today.

Disposition could be the defining word of my turning thirty. For at thirty the cement has begun to harden. Not to say you are stuck – but, in large, you possess a definite outlook at thirty, a defined character. The notion of disposition as something unique and inherent to all living beings (for even a dog has a disposition) is something I’ve only become cognizant of this past year. At thirty I am naturally mindful of my own disposition, and acutely aware of the disposition of others.

My Websters Dictionary defines disposition as, “The predominant or prevailing tendency of ones spirits; a characteristic attitude.”

I think of disposition as, the quality of baseline anxiety or peace a person has, resulting from their beliefs about the world. Maybe this belief-centered basis is why little outside love, the spiritual, and psychedelics has the power to alter our disposition. Perhaps Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – but even then, ones disposition is difficult to become aware of, much less alter.

Merriam-Websters defines disposition as, “The usual attitude or mood of a person or animal”. Viewed in this light, you can see how paramount disposition is in determining your happiness and wellbeing.

As Martha Washington stated: “I’ve learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our disposition and not on our circumstances”.

My disposition changed greatly in the course of my twenties, specifically the second half, and, naturally, there were times when it was clouded by a fog of transitory emotions. Times when my entire being was disrupted through loss and adversity, but, ultimately, I returned to my default set point, just as the sea finds it’s level between the ebb and flow of the changing tides, for change is constant and the future unclear, unwritten.

Aside from accepting that flux is guaranteed, studying Stoic philosophy (a passion of mine) and adhering to Stoic principles and practices has not only altered my disposition but insulated it from the forces of change.

Note: if you’re not familiar with Stoicism, do explore: here and here.

Beyond the ancient and timeless wisdom of the Stoics, I’ve altered my disposition through mindfulness and meditation.

And of course, if you are so bold and so desire to alter the beliefs your disposition is founded upon, there is always the two trips of love and psychedelics – the latter of which I cannot in good conscience recommend – for obvious reasons, but I have heard when done in a safe setting and in a non-recreational context (i.e., you are at home, have done all your research, have someone sober nearby, have meditated and set your intention beforehand, have a candle and incense lit, comfy clothes on, water, and a journal to write in after) psychedelics can provide an expansive and therapeutic space, in which you can shift your perception, for the better, in ways that wouldn’t be possible without first altering it.

Of course, that’s not at all necessary but I’d feel dishonest had I omitted it. Just beware: psychedelics are a double edged sword and the dangers of their abuse, specifically from a mental health perspective, can far outweigh their purported benefits. Don’t think you can just go drop acid and you’ll be happy afterwards. It’s not that simple; although, if you are going to explore your inner world, I recommend you do all your research and approach it with the same reverence a shaman would. G-d help me if someone reads this and does something stupid or dangerous – please don’t. I do not view psychedelics as recreational fodder and I’ve partaken no more than a handful of times – beginning in my teens. At thirty, I feel no desire to use them again – but who knows, something major could change that, so, knowing their power, they remain in the far reaches of my toolkit – the day-to-day tools being: mindfulness, meditation, Stoicism – and spirituality.

At thirty, having a belief in G-d is one of my greatest assets. I won’t get into a theological dissertation, beyond stating that you can conceive of G-d in any manner you wish and in doing so you will give yourself a great gift – a gift modern, mainstream society increasingly denies its followers in favor of more vapid and commercialized idols. We all worship something. For some it’s money, looks, status, and other things bound to decay in time. For me, it’s the mysterious; the possibility; the unknown; serendipity; chance; the magic in my soul and the sacredness of my connection to it.

Finally, the habit of reading and writing has changed my disposition. I’ve published over two-hundred entries in the four years I’ve been writing on 7Saturdays, some quite transformative. Writing is therapeutic and beyond that I’ve written the things I needed to read, the things that allowed me to choose a stance true to myself.

In regards to reading, I read constantly. For most of my twenties, I read only non-fiction and only insofar as I hoped to better myself with the best pop-self-help books; however, today the non-fiction I read is primarily comprised of ancient religious and philosophical texts, and more modern books on psychology and literature – with an occasional biography of someone whom I greatly admire thrown in, so as to remind me of my duty to make my life count.

Given my passion and plans as a novelist, fiction accounts for the majority of my reading – thankfully, I love it. The best [fiction] always being that which alters or heals me.

Of the books I read this year, the most life altering and healing have been:

Another Country, James Baldwin
Home, Toni Morrison
The Death of Ivan Illyich, Leo Tolstoy
Fountainhead, Ayn Rand

But at the end of the day, you don’t need to read books to be whole. You don’t need to do a damn thing to try and change yourself. Simply taking control of the conversation in your head will do wonders for you. Learn more: here, and here. Books are, however, wonderful tools for helping you become aware of your own inner narration and dialogue.

Ultimately, you have to follow your own inner voice. My message in setting forth the methods I’ve used to alter my disposition is that you can change your relationship with the world if you change your relationship with yourself. I may have royally scrambled a few good eggs in my twenties, but I got the right things right: I took my own path.

I leave you with a current favorite quote of mine from Jung:

“My path is not your path therefore I cannot teach you. The way is within us, but not in Gods, nor in teachings, nor in laws. Within us is the way, the truth, and the life. Woe betide those who live by way of examples! Life is not with them. If you live according to an example, you thus live the life of that example, but who should live your own life if not yourself. So live yourselves. The signposts have fallen, unblazed trails lie before us.” – C.G. Jung

The Souls Journey

I’m 1 day, 20 hours and 18 minutes away from my thirtieth birthday and it’s not so much the birthday that matters, but the milestone; as a man hits thirty he realizes: there is no stopping this train.

I realize I am in time.

As Albert Camus writes in his 1942 philosophical essay on Absurdism and the human condition, The Myth of Sisyphus,

We live on the future: “tomorrow,” “later on,” “when you have made your way,” “you will understand when you are old enough.”…Yet a day comes when a man notices or says that he is thirty. Thus he asserts his youth. But simultaneously he situates himself in relation to time. He takes his place in it. He admits that he stands at a certain point on a curve that he acknowledges having to travel to its end….Tomorrow, he was longing for tomorrow, whereas everything in him ought to reject it.

So, here I am, taking my place on the curve, looking out to the end, yet living in today – and no – this is not the same as the idiotic notion of YOLO, I’m merely accepting my place in a mortal life and thus accepting the power I have over it; the power to acknowledge – yet revolt against – what Camus calls The Absurd, that is, the contradiction that exists between man’s search for meaning and his place in a seemingly meaningless universe.

In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus suggests that man’s only real option is to become completely free, leveraging “…a humans natural ability and opportunity to create their own meaning and purpose; to decide (or think) for him – or herself,” as opposed to the alternatives, which are essentially to kill yourself or to believe in G-d as a means to give your life meaning, which, the latter, Camus sees as “philosophical suicide,” since, in doing so, man is rejecting absolutes and evading the truth by resorting to a supernatural solution to a human problem.

Life, Camus says, can “be lived all the better if it has no meaning.”

How can that be? Because, according to Camus, everything is permitted. Not that the free man, who creates his own meaning, is immoral, but, instead, amoral; he lives according to his own integrity, this is part of what makes him free: he creates his own code to live by.

I agree largely with Camus – we all search for meaning – most of us either placing our meaning in a predetermined solution [the church] and then going on to live fairly meaningless lives, or we choose to reject the church but nonetheless adopt banal answers to the question of life’s meaning that rationalize the decisions we have made: the meaning of life is family, or – if you are particularly young – the meaning of life is to enjoy yourself, and, of course, these stock answers change with our life story. To someone for whom the meaning of life is love, once their heart is broken: their world is shattered; life has ceased to hold meaning – thus, they can either kill themselves or they can choose a new answer.

In choosing to create my own meaning and purpose I am by no means stating that there is no G-d, but, rather, I am deciding to conceive G-d as part of my meaning – instead of the meaning. I personally believe in ones personal mythology as a means to the sacred and a life lived according to my meaning and purpose as a means to the holy – originating from the word, whole.

Thus far this has been a sort of stream of consciousness, but this is my blog and I want to document the evolution of my inner world, which, to me, holds the key to the outer world.

Per Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung: Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.

In this same thread, Jung wrote something in The Red Book, which I find complimentary to the views put forth by Camus, as well as my own:

My path is not your path therefore I cannot teach you. The way is within us, but not in Gods, nor in teachings, nor in laws. Within us is the way, the truth, and the life. Woe betide those who live by way of examples! Life is not with them. If you live according to an example, you thus live the life of that example, but who should live your own life if not yourself. So live yourselves. The signposts have fallen, unblazed trails lie before us. 

My path is not your path therefore I cannot teach you. The way is within us, but not in Gods, nor in teachings

Putting this all together – along with the work of Joseph Campbell and others – I’m gaining a sense of my soul’s journey: my life as a product of the myths I have lived. These myths have often corresponded to archetypes, i.e., The Hero, or The Puer, according to my surroundings (In those cases, the military and a codependent relationship, respectively) but we all have one central, core myth; although, it too may correspond with an archetype, such as The Martyr (many of our mothers); however, 99% of us are unaware of our core myth – our personal mythology; our inner story.

To quote Jung again, “Until you make the unconscious conscious it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Our personal mythology is almost always unconscious, and, as such, our lives are a product of the (often bullshit) stories we tell ourselves. Thankfully there are many good books on personal mythology, my two favorites being, Change Your Story, Change Your Life: Using Shamanic and Jungian Tools to Achieve Personal Transformation, and Carol S. Pearson’s The Hero Within. While I’ve finished the latter, I’m still doing the story work within the former, but as I become aware that my myth controls my purpose(s) and my meaning, I’m increasingly compelled to discover my personal myth – a question Jung referred to as: “The task of tasks”.

My purpose and my meaning are the key to me living a meaningful life – and while I essentially know the two, I must ensure I am living a myth that is congruent with them, as, to fail to do so would be to live a completely inauthentic life. It would be akin to a mother who knew her purpose was to write therapeutic children’s books; although, subconsciously, her guiding myth was that she was a martyr who had to work to put her son through school, and, thus, never lived a life true to herself (Most people realize this kind of thing right before they die.)

That’s what we really want, right? We want to live our soul’s purpose. However, so few of us ever take the soul’s journey – opting instead to live a very outwardly centered life.

Awhile back I wrote something here about only publishing my journal entries thereafter, but as of my last post (a poem) – and now this – I have contradicted that intention; however, I’m totally okay with that. If you read My Purpose (see menu), you will understand why. I don’t just want to write fiction and I don’t want to write spiritual fiction. I want to write fiction that serves as myth and philosophy. To do that, I need to live and breathe my own.

I’m one of the lucky ones. Last year, I neared the limits of my mortality when I got blood poisoning while on a business trip. After a very scary ten days and three hospitals, I pressed pause on my life. I stopped living and I began to live. Through fate, serendipity, kismet, G-d, synchronicity, a lot of meditation, and a couple inward journeys, I discovered who I was. I wasn’t a lot of the things I had been – despite being them, or at least pretending to (And believing it). Thankfully – my soul, my subconscious; the unconscious forces that guided my life fucked everything up for me. The wrong career, the wrong relationships, the wrong road.

This is the first time I have written about what happened [my blood poisoning]. Few outside my family know. When the nurse told me, “Just so you know, G-d is real,” I knew I was I was in peril. But today it’s nine months later, and although my life was completely changed by it, I’m still processing it.

On that note, good morning. I’m going to publish this (unedited) and go meditate on my souls journey. It’s been a long road to find this path.

Reflection

Alone in my kitchen,
Liking; tapping, scrolling; swiping,
Unable to simply set my phone down and enjoy my coffee –
For no reason, I lean forward:
Catching a glimpse of my reflection;
“Who is this tired man I see?,”
Asks the forever boy inside of me
And so, I write this; to invent an answer,
Knowing in five minutes:
I’ll jump in the shower,
And try to look young again –
Hoping my reflection pleases the boy then

El Lay

I’ve seen the lives of miserable, asleep people, lives spent running around for naught – and they think the dream is real.

I did too. At times, I look back and wish I had taken a different course, wish I hadn’t played the game so long; but alas, I loved the game: I loved every squarefoot of hardwood floor and every dollar of premium fuel I burned. I loved chasing a life judged as successful by others and I enjoyed the approval – until it was gone and I was alone again without so much as that sweet, tenderhearted girl with perfect, Nymphet’s feet looking after me. Good riddance, she surely felt. Sour, hard, bitter candy of the heart. The salty, dejected, lonely scorn of love departed so tough to forget.

I suppose mourning comes in stages; however, I’m no Young Werther; I’m moving on: The City of Angels lures me forth with the siren’s promise of immortality and the potential to fulfill my infantile (born yet not realized) dreams – dreams, which ignored would cause me a more sorrowful demise than a thousand lost loves.

Thankfully, I’m fairly unconcerned with love – that itch having been perfectly scratched in my twenties, and the scars still healing – besides, love is nothing compared to the promise art offers. Love offers fleeting joy between two persons. Art offers the artist and the world a solace that can never be taken away.

A book wants nothing. A beautiful painting demands nothing. Artists give the public a bit of their souls – whether troubled or pure, wise or foolish; either way, we look upon art and – intentionally or not – we learn about life: art as mirror for the ego. Of the forty or so books I’ve read this year, I regret none; although, a few I could not get into – but having given myself a literary education of sorts, I at least know quite precisely why. Let’s just hope this all makes sense. All this sacrifice. All this love. All this passion made way for.

I am turning thirty in four days. I want to wear all black and have a wake for my twenties. Frankly, I don’t really care to do much. I just want to leave ——— soon and return to LA. I left there three years ago after nine months in Milwaukee, but I was only six months in LA (Koreatown and Hollywood) before I fell in love on vacation down here. Three years later: the girl gone, the vacation over.

Technically I’ve been back – living for a time in Hermosa, but it wasn’t real LA; Hermosa is like San Diego North, and for that reason I hated it. I miss real El Lay: taco trucks, Piano Bar, 24 Hour Fitness on ——–, Runyon, Larchmont, K-Town, hell, I even miss The Grove.

I can’t wait to go back and to stay for as long as it takes. It feels so good knowing I am.

Being in my hometown is too much. There’s too much psychic baggage inherent to a place you grew up. The other day I went to Joe’s Crab Shack just to go somewhere anonymous – just to feel anonymous. I can’t even find a good restaurant here I haven’t taken an ex to. I like a life of newness. I’m all for routine, but I’m done here.

El Lay, I miss you more than I miss my first love. Please embrace me as you did before, as she did again. Do so, and I will give you my art. I will love you. My home. My muse.

Tops

I don’t like everything I write; some of it I loathe mildly.

This is what happens when you funnel thoughts into prose: no distillation, no fermentation – no editing – just the facts ma’am; however, some of these facts are beautiful; stuff that keeps me buoyant and effervescent at three in the morning: the realization that love has the power to change one’s disposition (as probably only meditation and the spiritual use of psychedelics can).

It’s been said that we believe in the G-d we deserve. Like Carl Jung, I believe the nature of the psyche to be innately religious, although without this sense of profound possibility (my own definition of religion), the psyche is just as easily agnostic/atheist and magicless (Footnote 1).

Serendipity – zemblanity, oh how I have traversed these two poles.

I wish to stay a denizen of the former for the remainder of my years and I’m once again shooting for the moon to do so. I suspect having my sights raised and my heart light is in large part what it requires to live a religious life, that is to say, no more and no less than to live a life of profound possibility.

Because why not you?  If it’s not impossible then it’s possible, and if it’s possible then you can do it, and if you can’t do it then it can’t be done.

If it’s not impossible then it’s possible, and if it’s possible then you can do it, and if you can’t do it then it can’t be done.

When you die what will you wish you had done? More importantly, who will you wish you had become?

Kanye West said he was a G-d. If G-d is serendipity, you too can be a magician, you too can be who you were born to be – as grand and as limitless as your very soul.

Start with these questions:

Are you going to leave nothing behind other than the invisible echo of your shadow? Are you going to do no more than be a cog in this broken society? Are you going to roll down a blind path, never going around the briers (Footnote 2)? Be honest with yourself: where is today taking you? Where are you? Where do you want to be? And what is between the two? This path, this is the journey you must take: what you can be you must.

I’ll be back. A Couple weeks, a couple months, tops.

Footnote 1: I use a slash, rather than a comma or “or”, because having for a time called myself “agnostic” – in hindsight – I realized that materially, there is no difference in the world for the agnostic or the atheist: both amount to zemblanity. Per the second paragraph of this entry, I define religious as, “A sense of profound possibility”. G-d, I define as the result of this sense: serendipity. There are inherent limits to language, and for words such as “religious”, or “G-d”, words deeply personal and equally convoluted by society’s judgement, I find personal metaphor to be the best paradigm.

Footnote 2:

“A cucumber is bitter. – Throw it away. –
There briers in the road? – Turn aside from them.
This is enough. Do not add, And why were such things made in the world?”

Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180 AD)

Bathwater

Note: I lost the first half of this entry, within a seventy-cent notebook, and am publishing the remainder as follows.

I read Goethe’s The Sufferings of Young Werther this morning, and while the story’s ending was a forgone conclusion, I understood it psychoanalytically given my own (and Goethe’s) experiences in love.

Thankfully for Goethe, unlike his many readers who took their own lives with a copy of Werther on their person, his story gave him the catharsis – the le petit mort – he needed to carry on living.

The more literature I read and the more I learn about the lives of writers throughout history (for all writers weave their hopes and dreams and fears into their stories), the more certain I become that I am cut from the same woolen, blood dyed cloth as my kin, who, like me, were born fated to take up the pen and put their souls into prose and verse, so that they, like me, could be a less lonely, more understood, more complete, and more purposeful than they otherwise would have been had they not written; for every writer must write: if they did not, they, like Werther, might borrow their beloved’s lover’s pistols and put a bullet through their own heads, which makes me wonder whether Thompson, Wallace, Hemingway and others merely needed to write their own sufferings into something that could have rendered them less lonely, more complete, purposeful, understood, and ultimately: alive.

It’s difficult to know writers as intimately as only a writer can and not believe in some sort of reincarnation or intertwixtness of the writer’s soul – as if heaven sent some of its fallen angels down here from the place where writers go when they die. Writing is no more a profession than shaman, for a writer’s true duty is to heal himself and others, which, the latter, it may be argued, Goethe’s Young Werther did not [accomplish]; I want to bring my readers to the alter, not the grave.

Given that I believe in serendipity, kismet, synchronicity – G-d, what have you – I cannot help but feel this morning’s read was a solemn reminder of what I wish to give the world; of what I have to give – of what I must.

For here I am, once again, on my blanket, under the cover of the night’s clouds, softly tapping the touchscreen keys on my phone to write this, but I can’t help but feel pregnant with my stories, the little legs I’ve given them kicking about my insides, begging to be let out; my soul praying they are beautiful, healthy gifts to the world.

To quote Tupac: “Somebody has to break out and risk losing everything, and risk being poor, or else we stay like this,” because the real heroes of the arts are those who know their obligation and thus, their power. There have, historically, been books that changed things for people, books like Ivan S. Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, which ignited a revolution, freeing the lowerclass serfs in eighteenth century Russia. But one must remember, there have also been books like Mein Kampf, which ultimately plunged a civilization into an abyss, costing twenty million lives. Sadly, the legacy of the latter is greater and today the most popular arts are songs about fucking bitches and television shows about murder and meth. If that’s your favorite TV show, you, my friend, are a philistine.

To paraphrase John Gardner, there isn’t a lack of great fiction because of the ills of society, but, rather, the ills of society are due in part because there is a lack of great, serious fiction. 

Now, as a writer, a fallen angel, it’s my duty to take my words and paint every television and theater screen in America and across the world with the patina of the human soul as it should be – as it can be – for who will we give our children as heroes?

We can paint death in bathtubs, corroding with all the acid of our hate, or we can paint life coming into the world through those same tubs, porcelain and white and pure.

There’s an irony to it all, a grand fucked up irony, but we can fix it. There is no egg, which scrambled, we cannot throw away. We either eat them or we pay our attention and intention elsewhere.

A wise man once said, we are either kings or pawns in life.

What is a king to you? Someone who is adorned for all the trappings of the modern persona, or someone who redefines it – someone who shows us there is a better way?

There is no noble act in vain, for an emerald shines even if its worth is not spoken of.

I sit here, watching seven juvenile water fowl floating abreast on the cold, black water. They do not kill one another, do not delight in the death of their fellows – real or imagined. Yet, if they possessed our intellect, they would surely think our place in the world mad. We have not changed from the selfish beasts we evolved from, laying waste to the world and the life around us – real and imagined.

I’m not sure what the answers are, but I’ll ask the questions in order to write them, and I’ll take every purchase, every royalty, every single click and view, as a vote of solidarity – and if my worth is not spoken of, I will still shine.

As an afterthought, I am vastly fortunate to possess the kin and kith I do; however, it’s all too easy to discount the rest of the world in light of that; it’s all too easy to follow my human instincts and not care for those in neighboring caves; it’s all too easy to call someone an ex, a stranger; it’s all to easy to hear the siren of an ambulance crying in the distance, as I now do, and not care about them: thinking, I’m glad its not me. Whether you are as staunchly atheist as Steven Hawking or as strict a believer as The Pope, you cannot, nor will they, deny that we are all kin – whether via science or religion – those opposing theologies agree that we all share a common ancestry. We are all interrelated, connected; it’s but our perceived differences that separate us – keeping us from being beholden to one another.

The opposite of love is not apathy, as the learned would claim, but fear. I say fear not. I say throw the eggs out with the bathwater – not the baby.

Gravity

March 23, 2015

I find few things more enchanting or favorable than seeing a beautiful family or a long in love couple. I can feel the harmony radiating from their peaceful, contented hearts.

Just but a minute ago, a song came on my phone that felt like a sad, slow wave coming over me. I wanted to let it take me back, all the way to the pain and anguish of saying goodbye to her this past year. Only I didn’t; I chose not to simply by skipping to the next track.

Of the eight-thousand-odd-songs in my iTunes library, the top fifty played are surely the most melancholy and nostalgic I own. Whether these songs have been effective palliatives, damning up the tides of memory and assuaging the plague that has flooded my mind on its darkest days or whether they have merely the been the salt, mortar and pestle by which I have antagonized my own wounds and indulged in my own sufferings, I know not – but I see no difference in the two. For if it were possible to overdose on ones own sorrows, I would long ago have; I am a glutton: no one minds my pain as I do, I lay crippled to what others pay no mind to. Perhaps a broken heart is really a sort of suicide; perhaps the artist has no greater vice or adversary than his own pain, which minds not whether he seeks to soothe or revive it but only that he doesn’t forget it. For without his wounds, he might be whole and if whole he would not be forgotten any longer by those who don’t love him. Love me, the pain says. She doesn’t, the pain says. But she did, the pain says. His only answer to the sad slowness, being his pen strokes.

How many times I let that sad, slow wave come over me, heaven knows – but there have been entire days passed in a blanketed coma, my only other solace the pain inducing lyrics of songs I dare not quote or cite. There have been days like that. Heaven knows.

Only now, I’m thinking this life of mine needs a new soundtrack. One devoid of the songs whose notes sting like barbed hooks pulling my heart out through my ears, devoid of the songs that entomb me in a dead, cow-eyed sadness.

I return again to the wisdom of John Gardner; the idea from his tour de force, On Moral Fiction, that good art need be life enhancing – that art should seek to enhance life, rather than debase it – and in this light I ask myself whether listening to the proverbial Blues for thousands of hours as I have has done a damn thing to make my life better?

Maybe it was what I needed to get by. Maybe the change of seasons is bringing a new breeze in through my swollen ears to soothe my pickled and pricked heart. Maybe sad songs were the soundtrack of yesteryear. Either way, my music library is getting a spring cleaning tomorrow. No more sad songs.

No more looking to the beautiful family walking by as I listen to songs about needing, losing, wanting, having, hating, or loving love. I try and remind myself that there’s more to life than love as I write this, but who am I kidding; I might be somebody’s fool, but I’m not my own.

Only, I’d like to forget about love for a little bit. Maybe John Mayer was right when he sang, it’s wanting more that’s gonna send me to my knees. Maybe love is my gravity. Maybe staying where the light is means not letting gravity pull me back. Maybe it’s listening to those songs that remind me I’ve got dreams. Maybe it’s reminding myself that my dreams are bigger than love. Maybe it’s swallowing the truth that all unborn dreams die a thousand deaths in the heart of the dreamer.

Sauntering

Some guys are surfers,
And some guys are sailors
Some guys are saints,
And some guys are sinners
It’s by our own vices or devices,
That we’re losers or winners

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March 18, 2015

I’m not even sure how to begin this day’s journal entry; I hope tonight’s words can do today justice. A poem might be better but I’ve been thinking in prose on this day and so in prose I write on this night. Some days I think in poetry but not today, today was a movie, today was a day that needs no reconciling. Today I was at peace with it all, my own flaws included. Reading my entries it’s easy to see that many of them were written in an attempt to accept what unwritten I could not, for there are far too few days like this in my recent memory, far too few days that feel like one long, perfect sunset.

And today wasn’t false, it wasn’t the flattery of being adored, it wasn’t the high of being loved. It was the high of life, my life: alone and happy.

Today gave me an abundance of goodness. Even the imperfect moments were bearable, their imperfections no less perceptible, but somehow made more palatable by the day’s je ne sais quoi.

Yes, I’m not reconciling life, I’m celebrating it, I’m holding onto it, as I should be.

For there was a time when I revelled in life daily, back when I used to take pictures on my beloved Blackberry but I haven’t posted a photo of my own on here since I had that phone, over four years ago. Perhaps owning an Android after far too long spent in iPhone serfdom (footnote 1) has gotten me back into the habit of taking photographs. I hope so.

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The above was my view this evening, but the day was beautiful long before the sun began its westward journey toward the horizon. The day was beautiful sauntering down the avenue, the bliss of unknown possibility in my heart. 

For to saunter, as I, is to follow in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau, who definitively captures the essence – and etymology – of sauntering, or being a saint of the land, within his essay On Walking:

“…sauntering; which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la sainte terre” — to the holy land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a sainte-terrer“, a saunterer — a holy-lander. They who never go to the holy land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds, but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all, but the Saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.

Saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.

And so I sauntered, meandering circuitously like a river, my impromptu course leading me first for coffee (naturally), then to Pennywise Books, where I purchased a 1942 copy of Fathers and Sons, whereafter I met my mom and we ventured to the library’s book sale, where I purchased books too numerous to mention. The day was a roaring success thus far.

After dropping off three grocery bags of books – in a given week I normally borrow a handful from the library and purchase a quarter as many via the typical die hard bibliophile book troves (thrift stores, flea markets, indie book stores), sometimes trading in the unloved at 5th Avenue Books, or taking them to one of the local Little Free Libraries – I once again sought the shortest course to the sea, where I purchased a gorgeous handmade Mexican blanket for ten dollars, having given away its precursor.

Since I often saunter avec (footnote deux) blanket to the beach or park, I like to tote a reusable canvas bag, wherein I carry said blanket, a book or three, my journal (thanks Bunny), pens, a bottle of water, and sometimes medicinal herbs – for you can’t saunter drunk, that’s more of a stumble, but I have it on good word that it’s perfectly safe to saunter high as a kite, provided you have good music to listen to and, of course, headphones because no one wants to hear you sing, but you might sing along regardless; so, go ahead, saunter on, sing along.

Being that I didn’t leave home avec une couverture to read upon, I did not bring a bag to carry one. So, having purchased the new blue and khaki Mexican blanket (a softer, superior textile compared to my previous, overpriced RVCA brand blanket) I simply placed the blanket around my neck, as you would a scarf, letting its ends flank my unbuttoned shirt, under which my T-shirt bore the word Love. Yes, I was full hippie sauntering and my headphones were definitely in.

I was as far west as you can be after following the sun on the shortest course to the sea. I sauntered to the pier, the same ancient wooden pier I once ventured onto with my father during a huge storm, when the pier itself seemed to be sauntering and I hoped it wasn’t on the shortest course to the sea, but alas, the pier survived, we survived.

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While out on the pier sauntering and singing, I paused at the pier’s northern handrail (as pictured above) to admire the gulls in the sky and the surfers in the sea. Whilst there, I struck up a conversion with a fellow saint of the pier, a saintperrier if you will (tongue fully in cheek).

John, as he was named, is one of those people who remind you of the power we have to touch the lives of others, even in passing. I know this because John touched my life today. How so? I’ll let time and my adventures tell, but he gave me the courage to do something I’ve long aspired to – since childhood. John gave me living proof I could do it and make memories that would last a lifetime. He gave me proof I could pull it off. Proof I could do it and be happy and free. This is a game changer, thank you John, dearly.

After passing along my contact info and bidding adieu to John I sauntered on, stopping in a new restaurant and bar to give my regards to a friend, and, as evidenced by my Mexican blanket scarf, I wasn’t concerned with fitting in or standing out, I was just sauntering. For as Thoreau said, feeling equally at home everywhere is the key to successful sauntering.

Leaving the dining and drinking establishment I found myself hungry, as a saunterer often does. Having had the caliber of day I did, I knew it would be a perfect night for dinner out with a loved one, and who better to accompany me than my mom. The wonderful thing about calling to invite my mom to dinner – or to invite her to do anything for that matter – is that I know she will be there if she can and I know a good time will ensue.

To my great satisfaction she was up for grabbing dinner. I’ll spare you the details of how we came to arrive at this particular restaurant (for that is a story perhaps only she and I would find amusing) but it was sublime. I cannot wait to return and I just ate it there less than twelve hours ago.

Apres dinner we ate chocolate protein bars for dessert. Coming home, the night was still young but it didn’t matter, for the day had blessed me and the night could do no wrong, for I would only saunter on, singing along (footnote 3), thinking of what dreams and days may come.

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Footnote 1: Remaining in any kind of relationship beyond its expiration is never wise.

Footnote Deux: Avec – French for with– as in, “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?”, is the opposite of sans– French for without – as in, sans jacket. I am slowly falling in love with French culture. An odd thing for an adult American to say, but perhaps not for a writer; however, I don’t know whether that’s been true for a handful of decades. There is, of course, a rich history of expatriated writers living in Paris, as chronicled within Hemingway’s A Movable Feast, and also in Orwell’s Down and Out in London and Paris; although, what really got me into French culture – beyond the exquisite and hardy cuisine – wasn’t romanticizing the Lost Generation’s romance with France – but, rather, reading James Baldwin’s Another Country and subsequently learning about Baldwin’s life as a French émigré in Paris long after Hemingway, Orwell, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and other denizens of The Lost Generation were gone. Serendipitously, I recently dreamt I was on a flight to France, and despite the aircraft’s precocious flight and being held up in Customs, I nonetheless found it desirous to be there; ironically – or, rather, bizarrely, I began seeing ads on my Facebook and YouTube pages for Air France practically the next day, having not searched for anything French online (other than James Baldwin’s biography, which, even so, is an indirect connection to France.) The ad itself is actually quite beautiful, delightful in fact, with American pop duo Glass Candy’s pulsing synth sounds and soothing female vocals providing the perfect backdrop. Yes, France is in the air. Love is in the air. Bonjour Mesdemoiselles françaises, mon nom est Lawrence Black , oui , l’écrivain. After having mastered así así Espanol con un a veces acento perfecto, Yours Truly is now setting about to learn French! …Ain’t life grand.

Footnote 3: The song I was listening to was a cover of Steve Winwood’s Higher Love, done by James Vincent McMorrow. The James Vincent McMorrow redux feels more like a prayer than a song and the wonderful transcendent feeling I experience listening to it is exactly what I hope to distill from my writing. It’s the same feeling I get reading a great novel. It’s a feeling I want to perfect. It’s a feeling I want to give others, for I don’t know what the world would be like without the arts, but it’s no world I could ever be a part of.

Rabbit

Man I feel like hell; well, not hell: hell is a bad hangover on a worse day (What more separation from Christ consciousness is there than that?). No, I don’t feel like hell; I feel like shit.

Shit is dreaming of a departed lover. Shit is dreaming of looking into her eyes and telling her how much you love her, feeling it in the dream – as you never allow yourself in waking life – only to wake up in your bed alone with a headcold and a fever.

That’s shit.

But not all is forlorn: for despite my waking, and sleeping, circumstances, I took charge of the day; I seized it from the jaws of fate – jaws intent on chewing me up and spitting me out, but not today; for I know that the good outweighs the bad, even on my worst day.

(Thank you Mr. West.)

I think I was empowered largely because I read a damn good novel last night, John Updike’s Rabbit Run.

I always fear discussing authors for worry that critics will have easy targets on me when my works are published, but in actuality a good critic will be able to discern my literary DNA regardless, and a bad critic will try and dispel me as a poor imitation of someone better anyway.

Insecurities and plans of grandeur aside, Rabbit Run is a hell of a novel. The protagonist, while loathed by many readers (see Goodreads or Amazon reviews), is not a cypher; I understand him: he is every young man: imperfect, yet developing into something whole because of it. Now, whether Rabbit actually does [become whole again] will have to be discovered in the next book within the quartet, which I believe is, Rabbit at Rest.

Another reason I liked the book (beyond great character development and story arc) is the fact that Updike manages to write the story in beautiful prose unspoiled by Updike’s realist world view. This is no doubt due largely to Updike’s own philosophy, which, while tucked sparsely into the story’s dialogue, is enough to let the reader make his or her own value judgments.

A shining example occurs on page 140:

“No,” Eccles cries in the same strained voice in which he told his wife to keep her heart open for Grace. “Christianity isn’t looking for a rainbow. If it were what you think it is we’d pass out opium at services. We’re trying to serve God, not be God.”

And, further down the page:

“The truth is,” Eccles tells him in a womanish excitement, in a voice embarrassed but determined, “you’re monstrously selfish. You’re a coward. You don’t care about right or wrong; you worship nothing but your own worst instincts.”

Maybe that’s why I understand Rabbit. Maybe because for a long time I too, like Rabbit, was monstrously selfish.

But I can’t help but believe what Rabbit still seemed to believe at the story’s conclusion, that, “the world can’t touch you once you follow your own instincts.”

Because, as Rabbit said, “If you have the guts to be yourself, other people’ll pay your price.”

This gives me hope Rabbit can make it, but it also gives me something larger; it gives me the hope I need to make it. This sense of hope, I believe – as influenced by the literary philosophies of John Gardner and Ayn Rand – is the life affirming stuff that distinguishes good fiction, such as Dostoyevsky’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, from damn good fiction, which I find Updike’s Rabbit Run to be.

p.s. Remember, damn good, is much better than good, but it’s still short of the best, which, as a reader and a writer, I always hope is still to come.