Bathwater

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

Edit: – I found the notebook – and thus the beginning of this entry, which had been lost. Without further ado:

Carl Jung said something about man needing religion. Having returned from the dark, cold abyss of non-belief, I wholeheartedly concur. I need something beyond myself. Something greater than my mammalian self, which I can place my abiding trust into. Now, this is my personal choice and I’m inclined to think many people have made the decision, not personally, but rather, like most decisions people make, collectively, based upon on the popular opinion of the day, or the opinion of their peer group.

That said, be a freethinker; form your own opinions. Because ultimately, theology is a matter of opinion, not fact. It doesn’t matter to me whether you believe in Yahweh, Jesus, Mohammed, the universe, the sun, or your grandmother’s ashes; you’re allowed to believe what you want, but, like Carl Jung, if queried about my belief in something, deeper, greater, and more mysterious than humanity, I will tell you that I don’t have to believe, I know.

The reason I’m thinking about religion and my relationship with the universe, is because I have been feeling a bit of ennui lately. Feeling like the breakup late last year left me marooned in my hometown. Of course, ascribing to Stoicism, I believe in loving my fate; however, unlike the ancient Stoics, I believe I have some influence over it insofar as I can direct my own thoughts, feelings, and actions. If I wanted to jump off a bridge tonight the hand of the universe would not stop me. Similarly, if I want to write great novels, and pursue my dreams of family and fame, too, the universe will not intervene. Frankly, the universe only cares as much as I do.

And really, this is what I have to ask myself: how much do I care?

How much do I care that, like me, my stories are all works in progress. How much do I care that physically, I’m not taking great care of myself. How much do I care that financially I am as despondent as my heroes were. How much do I care?

I care more than this but the universe isn’t seeing it, and that’s been okay for a time, but it’s no longer sitting well with me that I’m not crushing my dreams. It’s not sitting well with me that I’m not particularly excited to wake up tomorrow; although, one could suppose that at twenty-and-nine years, I am at the juncture when most men get that fire in their bellies, which allows them to hit their thirties with a renewed sense of vigor and passion. And in my ego’s own defense, it’s not like the plane never left the runway; I’ve enjoyed considerable success in my twenties, it’s just that I’ve had a few crash landings. The plane has hit the mountain more than one time.

Now, here I am. On a blanket under the stars. Having come through both blood poisoning and a big breakup this past year. Having examined my life and made the decision that G-ddamnit, a writer must write; I’m a writer, not a tech startup guy. I wasn’t a lot of the things I was. But I am what I am now. My purpose is to write books and stories that change the way people see themselves and the world. My mission is to live my highest self. My vision is to live in abundant peace, love, prosperity, and joy. Yes, I’m not in the business world, but the pragmatism, ambition, and savvy remains. I am the CEO of my motherfucking life. Belie ‘DAT.

This is why I journal. There’s merely no other effective manner in which one can cultivate honest self-awareness.

Like all humans, I’m not fully living my ideals but having come close in my past, I can tell you how smokin’ good it feels to master your life and achieve your goals. I desire that feeling again.
It’s just been a tough transition to accept my identity and to begin living as a writer rather than what the world would have me be: another cog, another brick in the wall – but no, I am not a wallflower, I am Spartacus. My life is I, me, mine.

However to would be writers and artists, you must beware that it can be devilishly alluring to not only be a writer, by virtue of writing as a writer does, but to be a writer by virtue of living as a writer does. As a writer, I will attest: all the cliches are true. Writers are not without their vices. However, my father said that I would be a writer when I had my first story published, so by that logic I’m just another guy living the Hank Moody / Donald Draper lifestyle in southern California, which is great, I am enjoying being single, but the goal is to be wildly successful, not just wild.

I cant help but think of the character Charles Strickland in The Moon and Sixpence (a fictional story written in 1913, based on the life of Painter Paul Gauguin), who at age forty walks away from his family and his life as a London stockbroker to move to France, where in squalor and starving he focuses on virtually nothing but painting – like a fucking BOSS.

To my credit, I do have four stories underway – each compelling and vastly different – but my goal as a writer isn’t just to write page turners, but stories that contain philosophical prose designed to educate and enhance the reader, as my favorite authors have me.

To achieve this I need to take each of my stories and outlay the themes, messages, and lessons I wish to bake into them. I’m not necessarily seeking it write purely moral fiction, but I am, to paraphrase Joseph Campbell, seeking to teach people how to live in this world. As Aristotle said, historically, literature is more important than history, for history shows things as they were, and literature shows them how they should be.

I want to enter the collective consciousness with a books that act as Trojan horses, containing knowledge that can help teach the world how we can be more human than our mistakes. But first, I must be.

Next night, cont’d:

Note: The text below is the entry I had originally published, minus the previously lost portion above.

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.

image

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.

image

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 conscious awareness 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.