Thrills & Chills: The Alchemy of Rocket Sauce and Magic Sprinkles

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Easter Eggs As Such, author image

This post contains an Easter Egg, as such tidbits of advance information, ostensibly titillating, are referred to in movie trailers, these days. Or a tickler. Call it what you will, I’m not kidding, this is special because, well, I’ll just say it: herein you’ll find a very early, preliminary, advance draft of the TC2 cover. Normally I wouldn’t see anything from R.V. for another week or so and then we’d work over some tweaks but, well, shit happens. I’m not including it on the website proper, it is for your eyes only, dear readers.

Meanwhile, a funny thing, the book cover experience. I suppose some folks don’t find it anything but boring. But you read and write your way through life, all down through the years as it were, and how many book covers do you get to experience for the first time? Let alone how many demos or drafts of book covers. It goes without saying, not many. Likewise, that the book cover is not the writing. And the writing is not the story. Yet, somehow it has to all work together and on a good day, something new and worth experiencing happens. And then the dynamic changes, time passes, and things aren’t new anymore and that’s another thing entirely, not necessarily bad. And some people don’t want to know until it’s done and that’s okay, too. We don’t all get a charge out of the incomplete and the early iteration, I get it.

Otherwise, as I’ve oftentimes lamented, writing and rewriting and editing is the life of the long game, of endurance and functioning off and on within a parallel or alternative world that mostly seems determined to undermine itself in favor of daily life. A mind-blowing wooden sculpture cranked out by three mind-melded art-crafters in ten days and then they go on to the next one? Gosh.

Or Crafsman, devoting a show to riffing on his favorite G.I. Joe figure, maybe spending a couple weeks on it and it works, he communicates the zeal and the personal mythology and it’s all good and essential – we need these things, I love this stuff, so be it.

But writing? Crafting words into a manuscript into a novel, the adventure of it, as I heard a cookbook author once describe it, more like an illness than anything. It’s a retreat from real life that you seek to someday recover from. It sounds negative but resolving yourself to working within the idea of bliss-as-fulfillment (rather than pleasure or happiness), of being properly alive within the practice that sustains but seemingly (this is the experience) on such meager fair is perhaps what makes for the difference between those with writerly minds, writers who get the words down and authors. The author embraces the absurd, mostly ridiculous pretension that their words ought to be published. And on a good day, somehow read by a reader they don’t know. By the time you’re an author whatever glamor you may have imagined experiencing about being such has fled somewhere long ago during your encounter with your first lousy sentence and hackneyed plot thread.

Then comes the book cover. Namely, the lunatic idea of rendering 100,000 words or so into a single image. That has anything compelling to do with the story. I say “lunatic” yet as with all things, there is a job for everybody and I wouldn’t trade my book designer for all the tea in China. Or India. Or Japan. I get my tea, by the way, from a great place in Kyoto: https://www.hibiki-an.com/

There are so many book covers. So many interpretations of what was written let alone how to communicate it. How many book covers grab you? How many manage to escape an idiosyncratic niche market and grab lots of people, even people beyond fans of the genre? Or even people who don’t normally read books?

It’s all so weird. And for me, incredibly important. Perhaps ridiculously. But there it is: one’s personal mythology in action. What we care deeply about is who we are, so be it. We indeed judge books by their covers despite how accurate and legitimate and wise the metaphor is in relation to life. In life, we ought not to judge by appearances, especially when there may be so much we don’t know about what is behind or further within appearances. Appearances can be misleading. This is the lesson. The story is what matters. The story stands the test of time or it doesn’t. The book cover at worst is a mere advertisement – it is Joycean pornographic art at its most, well, pornographic because it’s designed to get us to do something: namely, like it or be compelled enough by it to buy the book. Or at least read the book.

How does this work? I don’t know. I just know it when I see it. So that I dump a wheelbarrow full of ideation, let’s call it, upon my book designer – all the 100,000 words of content and all my dreams and visions – the affecting imagery I’ve been functioning off of all these days, weeks, months and years and now I need you to render all that intangible tangible-ness with rocket sauce and magic sprinkles. Yes, take my writing and render it into a single image that communicates… what?

The mythology. That’s the only word for it. As usual.

***

The latest issue of Locus arrived and I was impressed with the covers for a trilogy of books advertised full-page on the back of the magazine. Specifically, their unified nature, snappy graphics, typography and compellingly sci-fi intellectual remove that combined into a snazzy, martini-style professionalism distinguished by the color palette and each book’s subtitle.

Hmm, subtitles. I sent the image to R.V., assuring her that I understood that Time Crime, if we’re in the barroom, rather has to do with high balls – strong spirits combined with carbonated mixers, that type of thing. And that my concern was rather to do with subtitles, whether she thought they were worthy or worthless. Also, how to handle the nomenclature of the series – ought we to use Arabic or roman numerals – “Book 2,” vs. “Book II,” for example, or text: “Book Two.”

She responded in favor of subtitles and “Book 2” and, surprisingly, her first draft, as it were, of the cover. WHAT…? Thrills & chills, that’s what!

TC2 Book Cover, Early Draft, by Robin Vuchnich

This is a riff, a place to begin and a way forward. But I’d say it’s more than that. I had supplied R.V. with a lot of imagery, including (as the devoted reader will recall) my own very humble mock-up, the thumbnail synopsis and let her run with it. And she gets this right, transforming my notions, inevitably hinged not only to the manuscript but to my existing images of gripping horror, the thrill of the chase and claustrophobic entanglement into something appropriately other, in this case, seduction, which I consider perhaps a more exotic expression, nay, syncretization of all the aforementioned psychological and mythological conditions, you might say. There is a magic, too, within the alluring, dreamy hand that both cups the chin, evoking contemplation and its other aspect of not quite cradling the ball, as if everything is happening and then not quite, either. It’s a deft combination of intelligence and intuition. Conscious vs. unconscious. Future is the past. Mythology as true fiction. The wonderment of horror. The seduction of mystery and paradox. I obsess on images, but images are all that matters.

Yes, it’s more than a riff. I was prepared for a riff. And then the hard work of rendering the vision of us both, of coming to a compromise. I had a boss that liked to regard compromise, for better or worse, as the thing that happens when everybody agrees to not be happy. Alternatively, a shared vision can sometimes behave as if it isn’t; that is, it can transcend compromise and, to borrow from something Campbell wrote somewhere (I’m paraphrasing), effectively place its fingers upon the toes of the god. In more down to earth terms, I think it was Jack Black who called it “rocket sauce.” HWG calls it “magic sprinkles.” Whatever you call it, it has to be there. The lightning strike. Or just call it having good bones. Within the context of an early draft, I think, the gods be praised, we have it here.

And it helps me with the manuscript. How so? Well, as I’ve tried to communicate, with the second book in the series, things are different. That is, I know too much about the process; too much in the sense that where everything about TC1 was new and a discovery on my part, hence every step forward seemed a certain kind of victory, an overcoming of a trial whereas now I more or less understand the process of getting a first draft into publishable shape and then how to package and market it. It all transforms itself rather into expectation. It’s a different adventure.

I say “more or less” regarding my understanding of the process because of course, inevitably, much of it remains a mystery and has to, otherwise it wouldn’t be any fun, let alone worth doing. In this way, with so much editing still to be done, and different frustrations to endure, likewise different thrills – thrills and chills! – I have to exploit everything about what works so as to keep going. And as I always try to remind myself: if it feels like progress, it is. I guess I’m trying to express a wariness, a fear getting ahead of myself. But now, with the cover off to a flying start, I feel glad for it and energized by it. Hell, I need all the motivation I can get and then some if I’m going to make this happen. It strikes me that, in fact, that having the book cover in hand helps me to transform wariness and fear – feel of failure – into confidence and resolve. Also, expectation, previously a poison the only antidote for which was dogged determination and a fear of the grave, so to say, becomes anticipation and the energy of affirmation.

21st Century Fizzoid Scam. Or, Sticking Your Nose Up the Crotch of the Cosmos.

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Crim Container, author image

I struggled with whether or not to post this blog for it references, as mildly as I could manage, a current affair, let’s say. And I’ve already written about how unproductive it is in art-craft terms to ever concern oneself with what some folks would term “the news.” But my nose for mythology is what it is and, as I’ve also said, when in doubt, stick your nose up the crotch of the cosmos and follow it, come what may.

Maa-alused, small human-shaped mythological creatures…, which live beneath the ground, were mainly known in Northern Estonian folklore. Various skin diseases such as eczema, pimples, swellings, scabs, sometimes bursal and other diseases, have also been called maa-alused because these beings are believed to have caused the diseases. Diseases caused by maa-alused could also be caught by encountering the hostile force of the earth – the wrath of the earth – by sitting, lying, or sleeping on the ground. For example, it was not recommended to sit on the ground before the first spring thunderstorm. It was believed that the spring thunder cleared the land of the impure power that had accumulated there during autumn and winter.

Marju Kōivupuu, “Tradition in Landscape, Landscape in Tradition: Discourse of Natural Sanctuaries in Estonia,” Time & Mind, Vol.13, Issue 3, September 2020, 276.

The mythology of disease or the mythologization of disease, illness or sickness, alongside the mythology of death of course occupies its own, vast landscape within the geography and history of myth. Before doctors and hospitals, after all, there were shamans, seers, medicine men and witch doctors and such – men, women or transgenders who perhaps spent the majority of their time attempting to heal and cure. There still are. How often they were successful, one would assume, would have been hinged to their legitimacy. But one never reads about shamans having been cast out for inefficacy, ineffectiveness or incompetence. Probably because, even to this day, a healer is interpreted as much in subjective as objective or so-called evidence-based medicine (EBM) contexts. EBM, by the way, is a term I’m not making up – it’s described as “the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients.”

Many folks, I’m sure, would consider the current epidemiological silliness, lack of science, misinformation, fear-mongering and active mythologization of a non-fatal strain of influenza that happens to be transmitted, like all influenzas, by contact with infected bodily fluid – hence, why would you wear a dust mask, especially walking down the street? – by tyrannical government organizations, the agenda-laden media and the paranoid wealthy (who happen to own the media) to rather be exemplifying the idea of EBM. No. Sorry. The mythology of disease always has been and always will be a function or phenomenon of what people want to believe. I read somewhere that many people believe there’s a 50% chance that if you contract Covid you’ll end up in the hospital. When the facts say the actual percentage is 0.5% But numbers are generally lost on people unless they happen to bolster their own mostly baseless opinions. Me included.

My wife probably had Covid in December of 2019 and likely caught it at the family Christmas party that she attended and I didn’t. She got over it not by going to the hospital or whining to her doctor about it. Or getting tested. She just toughed it out. I recall a woman at my previous job hacking away for six months before that – she must have had it. It’s a crankily aggressive form of influenza. Trump had it. I may have had a mild version that I may have acquired from my wife that same December but as a lifelong sufferer of allergies and bronchitis and what have you, I’m used to my biology messing with my enjoyment of life and I’ve long since learned that illness is part of life. Deal with it. Get tested for an influenza strain? Why? Take vaccines? Every year in my memory the drug stores have offered flu vaccines. Again, why? It’s not like this thing is Tetanus, or AIDS, or Tuberculosis or whatever the hell. What does a physician typically do anyway besides prescribe something to help ease the discomfort until your own body cures itself? Or not. In which case you continue to suffer or die. So be it. Life will kill you, as they say. Meanwhile, use the common-sense EBM information regarding transmission of viruses that has been available for many decades, namely, wash your hands before you eat, try not to touch your face and keep as clean a house as your sanity allows. Otherwise, it all has to do with risk management. Not the elimination of risk, mind you, but the management of risk. You aren’t walking or driving or taking a jet plane through this life or for that matter getting out of bed in the morning without exposing yourself to risk. But if I need to explain this to you, you’re the type who has already quit reading this post. No worries.

Meanwhile, whatever works. Literally. Don’t sit on the ground until after the first spring thunderstorm if that works for you. One likes to assume that nobody really believed in maa-alused, at least in technical terms; that folks concocted the myth of the wrath-of-the-earth simply to assuage their sense of powerlessness; that they enjoyed suspending their disbelief if nothing else. Do a rain dance for rain. Sometimes it seems like it works. Then again, who’s to say it didn’t? After all, you can’t have faith in mythology and not leave room for the super_natural. I like to believe, for instance, that if I’m as authentic as I can be – if I express my VAPM – and write books that do likewise, I’ll enjoy a sense of being properly alive. And, on a good day, I’ll sell a book or two and my tribe will thrive. I’m here to tell you that, in my experience of this crazy world it tends, in its ultimately mysterious way, to work.

So, get your shot if it makes you feel empowered over something you don’t fully understand. This isn’t a criticism as long as you don’t attempt to force me to get one. Don’t be a Moleman or for that matter a Mothman in this way. Don’t be righteous. In many ways we humans are all alike and in many other glorious ways we differ. Mythology centers all this, that’s all, within and without, at least when we let it do its proper work.

And the best, most reliably affecting mythologies have always been and always will be a refuge and a power corner for outsiders and the exiled among us. A classic mythology empowers freedom. Literal and psychological. Freedom to be who you are. One’s affecting images offer a way back into the world we so often feel exiled from. The answers to your questions are there. The Mystery isn’t solved but rather legitimized – mythologized – first by way of images that affect you for reasons you may find initially baffling and finally by way of a narrative that makes sense to you in your own way. Personal mythology provides access to a cultural mythology. But, again, please, just remember that it’s your mythology, not the mythology.


[1] Marju Kōivupuu, “Tradition in Landscape, Landscape in Tradition: Discourse of Natural Sanctuaries in Estonia,” Time & Mind, Vol.13, Issue 3, September 2020, 276.

Gypped of the G-Force?

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bros & Big G, author image

Above is a rare photo of me and my brother (we are fraternal twins), he of HWG fame but also a painter of Godzilla imagery – that is his work blurrily rendered above our heads. We were having beers and watching some old G flicks on DVD prior to heading off to a matinee of the new film. Like any ritual, it is a form of participating in the myth, I’ll leave it at that.

Meanwhile, the employment is adversely affecting the true work. Six out of seven days on the job at near fulltime hours hardly feels like a part-time goddamn job. I’ve worked to back things off but the schedule nevertheless keeps creeping into twenty-plus hours which perhaps doesn’t sound like much unless you’re like me, a person who finds it difficult to keep the energies in their proper silos. That is, Time Crime is an engine that is continually running and to commit to doing something else at all well is, for me, exhausting and TC2 suffers. I must find a way to manage the energies properly or I don’t know what. Quitting the employment would be a failure; I don’t want to have to do that. However, what’s most important is the book and not enough progress is being made on the editing, it’s that simple.

Just back off, you say? Let it ride, quit making a big deal out of things? It’s just a job, it’s just a novel, it’s just life. Let it go and see what comes back. This is where the truth lies, of course. Nobody needs another novel. And whether I need to publish another one isn’t certain, either. I’m not reading enough, I’m not writing enough, I’m on the job too much and it’s up to me to make the adjustments or not and so be it. Actions have consequences, come what may.

Nevertheless, scheduled work on the TC2 book cover ostensibly begins today – R.V. will be reviewing the information I supplied – the blurb, my comments, the images and all that – and I have a sense that ready or not, I’m going to force this thing forward by any means possible. Even if it means having a cover before I’m even confident I can edit TC2 into a proper book. Well, it’s already a proper novel, I’m perfectly capable of indeed completing the editing and I’m willing to risk it, this juggling of the process, this experiment with perhaps putting the cart before the horse (shouldn’t I have all the editing done before the cover gets addressed?) to keep the fires burning. I’ll mix metaphors and everything else to shove this thing into completion.

Worst case scenario? I fail and the cover is rendered irrelevant. But there is no mythology without an image, hence, I have a sense that my intuition is correct and I need to allow the experience to be as different from that of getting the first novel published as it needs to be to move forward. And I’m confident that it is exactly this struggle against the inertias of expectation, self-awareness and arrival – I will never have another first novel experience – that separates the winners, such as they are in the publishing world, from the losers. It’s a different series of trials, the adventure of the next novel in the series – the next novel, period – isn’t it? So be it. I have the advantage of having written the first draft of TC2 and TC3 and the first fifty pages of TC4. It’s merely the editing I need to focus upon. The story of TC2 is holding. Akin to TC1, it’s not the plot that needs editing; rather, it’s the infusion of detail followed by the removal of excess and finally the polishing of things – a minimum of three drafts beyond the original – that must be done. It seems dreadful and to some extent it is, but any writer will admit they do not enjoy rereading let alone rewriting their work. It comes to the point, eventually, that we can’t bear to look at the manuscript again.

Which is its own form of release, I suppose, because it allows me to send the thing out into the world with its inevitable faults. While my experience proves that resisting the inclination to rush a book into publication pays off with a better book because any writing can always be improved, somehow one also must beware the so-called point of diminishing returns – you can hash anything over too much – hence, it is this delicate holding on and letting go that manufactures both the anxiety over the failure to achieve perfection and the sought-after release from the burden of care.

All this has application or analogy within the context of the new Godzilla film, or at least ought to, except that Godzilla vs Kong seemed mostly a King Kong movie, with Godzilla appearing as a kind of character actor. Kong is an entirely different myth than that of Big G, hence, I’ve always struggled with the film industry’s compulsion to blend these two stories.

I wouldn’t categorize the film as having failed but it certainly failed to properly develop its new human characters, including rendering Mechagodzilla mastermind Walter Simmons almost irrelevant. That is to say, the writers ditched the idea soon after Mechagodzilla’s appearance by way of making the mechanical beast suddenly sentient thereby killing off any sensible plot. It was a weirdly overstretched irony anyway that the antagonist, a mostly too agreeable versus compellingly charismatic villain (his lethally attractive daughter Maya – “Dump the monkey!” – was more interestingly sinister but they unfortunately killed her off) merely sought to establish Man as the ultimate titan by way of building, ironically, a better machine. That is to say, it’s a different story (see, for instance, 2001: A Space Odyssey or read The Moon is a Harsh Witness) where the machine becomes or threatens to become the antagonist itself.

Meanwhile, G, having rightfully conquered Kong is subsequently so manhandled by Mechagodzilla that it left no time or psychological room for even feeling compassion for G – our compassions and identifications were continually shoved Kong’s way throughout the film as it was anyway but the action within this final smackdown left me feeling vaguely gypped. Recall that in the original Mechagodzilla film we see the great G conjuring a natural force (magnetism) that overpowers the manufactured and mechanized failures of, as always, Man and his inherent slavery to his own hubris. But here, G, a pummeled wreck of a monster, “breathes” G-force, of a kind, into Kong’s axe and otherwise only half participates in Mechagodzilla’s destruction, the kill shots delivered by the back-from-the-dead Kong. Writing this it all seems even more problematic than it appeared in the movie.

Myth? Well, the best, most mythologically potent line in the movie, “It’s Godzilla,” isn’t even in it! Crazily, the trailer version apparently didn’t make it into the film itself, the Jane Goodall character, Ilene Andrews, merely utters, “Godzilla.” Huh? Yes, it’s true. And while she mentions “myth” several times early in the film, the whole idea of a hollow Earth ancient future mythology which could have, I suppose, functioned as a mythologically potent tangential plot, drifts into an unwieldly Kong-returns-home appropriation of the film that by the time the final smackdown arrives the energy of G’s unhinged, single-minded attack upon the origins of Mechagodzilla seems beside the point. It is Kong’s movie, emotionally at least, all the way to the end. Furthermore, why is G so mindlessly driven to attack Kong that he diverts his Mechagodzilla-seeking mission to wreck everything in sight on those ships? That G stops at nothing to restore cosmic balance makes sense given the character’s history and the image of G as horrific manifestation resonates throughout the decades. But that he takes time out, as it were, to function as a mortal enemy of Kong? The idea just never rang true to me.

Otherwise, there are too many characters merely walking through this movie (mostly via darkened Death Star style corridors). Mark Russel, for example, had nothing to do or say, his daughter Madison merely coopted the initially engagingly neurotic insight of Bernie Hayes (eventually reducing him to babbling incoherency) in service of an overbold, unappealing forcefulness, Josh Valentine served as not-quite-funny enough comic relief while Jia’s innocent, child-mystic appeal and Nathan Lind’s unintentional hero quality were run over roughshod by the overall death-by-committee trying-to-please everybody dilution of vision and, as expected, the overdose of too much and too glitzy CGI. Except in regard to the hollow Earth transports which seemed ever so nineteen eighties, somehow, with their minivan proportions and Back to the Future neon-blue tendrils of, what, energy? Anyway, the rules of CGI, apparently, forbid the intimation of directional lighting.

Meanwhile, for any of us not up on the intricacies of the backstory this film will be baffling and it didn’t have to be – the best Marvel comics, for example, always took time to reacquaint us (and new readers) with the plot. And did I already mention that Walter Simmons was too likeable? Not charismatically villainous but rather just plain likeable. He had a nice accent, could wear clothes, happily drank whiskey in a tumbler and read books. He was a dreamer more than a tyrant; keen to establish humanity as the alpha titan which, frankly, I could sympathize with. I mean, what’s with all these monsters running around? “Release number ten.” Wait, is this Return of the Jedi? Anyway, even Bernie Hayes expressed disappointment at not getting a chance to hear the man finish his megalomania speech. Oh, and poor Ren Serizawa, the story’s only overt nod to the Japanese origins of G (and if the franchise is being handed back over to Toho, why not use Tokyo instead of Hong Kong as the final battle city?), was relegated to either looking sideways through his hairstyle or sitting motionless with his eyes rolled back in his head. He gets his one good line, something about how Simmons ought to rather heed the risks of going too far too fast with the technology, or something or other, before his function as the brains of Mechagodzilla and his very existence is unceremoniously and fatally short circuited.

I wasn’t going to mention the unintentionally funny (it was unintentional, wasn’t it?) scene where Kong is galloping, ape-style, across the hollow Earth wastelands towards home, trailed by Lind and company, with a shot of Kong’s hairy ass filling the screen and Ilene Andrews says, “He can really move, can’t he?” Yikes.

In short, Godzilla works when “he” (it could be argued that Godzilla is asexual or even possesses, for instance, Tiamat style female goddess power) is a manifestation rather than a flesh-and-blood beast. Yes, perhaps he bleeds and perhaps he can be killed but then again, not. Mostly, and necessarily, he arrives as the balancer within the context of Nature – G is a manifestation perhaps of our human nature as it resides commensurately within the indifferent realm of Nature with a capital “N” and only returns to deep sea slumber, as it were, when cataclysm is averted, when the unwieldly yet eternal play-of-opposites balance is restored. G in fact can be said to not only defend eternity – timelessness – but to symbolize it. And it is we, the humans, in our perpetual folly who inevitably invoke and evoke the god (and the G-Forces) just as the sinners within Occidental religion can be said to do with, say, Yahweh. In other words, without us, the gods don’t exist. And without the gods, we are gypped of the G-force.

That said, it’s not ever quite fair to pick on a G-flick for not demonstrating exemplary filmmaking. Despite all the money involved, if the G-mythology were to take itself too seriously, well, it wouldn’t be any fun and this movie, for all its faults, pulls off its share of thrills, too, especially in the beginning and most especially via the battle at sea. If it so happens that once again the trailers were better than the movie it’s only perhaps the modern problem of this information age. We get too much, too soon, and too much editing in advance of our own.

And in the end, even Gojira isn’t a great film; rather, it’s the idea and the handful of fantastically potent images and our ability to fill in the gaps, such as they are, that make it so. That, and the original, spine-tingling “Skreeonk!” that I swear was lacking in this movie (and other modern versions). Gypped again? Hey, if that sound alone evokes its own unique G-force horror, its own cosmic fright in us, why would anybody be compelled to screw with it? Oh well. Maybe I’ll watch the new movie again tonight, at home, with the wife and reevaluate. Meanwhile, I’ve said enough, I think, and damned if I don’t have my own story to attend to….

The Veil of Virtue & the Devil You Know

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Detail of Saturn, Francisco de Goya

Book sales have tanked this past week. Who knows why? Spring weather in places? The cover putting people off instead of drawing them in, perhaps because the epidemiological nonsense is finally considered passé (devoted readers will recall that the cover of the novel, created in January 2020, was never intended to imply a mask but rather, and rather unintentionally yet effectively, a veil). Or do book sales always plummet in early spring? Again, who knows? Somebody does, perhaps, but not me. And what does it matter, anyway? My task is before me regardless of sales. Write and write and write and let the rest go….

Such is a vocation. One does what one does, in other words, regardless of the world’s reception. Hence, following one’s bliss doesn’t translate necessarily to happiness but rather fulfillment on behalf of personal mythological authenticity and Jungian individuation. Be who you are and you do your proper part and the cosmos is satisfied to apply its play-of-opposites influence to things. It’s your influence against that of the world-of-action, that’s all. Employ it or don’t. If you don’t, you’re in schism and your contribution, in cosmological terms, isn’t. You become a schism, a problem to be overcome by way of the activity of everything else. It’s a shitty way to be and a shitty thing to do and so be it; some folks prefer to be shitty. Or can’t help being shitty. Hell, we’re all shitty at some point. Life contains this aspect.

Alternatively, deploy your proper energies and they empower other proper energies within and without. Things are furthered, in the Daoist sense. Alongside compassion, frugality and humility, the so-called three treasures idea that permeates this ancient Oriental philosophy.

What are the corresponding opposites? What could perhaps be termed the three curses? Heartlessness, extravagance and pride. But we need these, too. For there is no play-of-opposites without opposites. And to seek to transcend this condition of things, arguably the condition or the nature of reality, is to first and foremost, allow it. We’re better than this, you say? No we’re not. And this is where, for example, the world ties itself up in knots of righteousness on behalf of current affairs and agendas, inevitably political but originally personal. We only criticize what we fail to recognize within ourselves. Me included.

The so-called times, then, which differ very little from any other time in human history, merely demonstrate a particularly intense (or at least intensely communicated) example of a strength being transformed into its opposite, namely weakness. So that hyper-liberals, once so compassionate and inclusive, have somehow set themselves upon a path of viscous, selfish, agenda-laden righteousness at all costs. They decry violence, exclusivity, elitism, disempowerment, adjudication, oppression, imprisonment, consolidation of power in the State and what do we witness besides a systematic appropriation of freedoms, widespread censorship and the ruthless tyranny of a single-minded agenda designed to benefit the in-group and the expense of the cancelled and the outcasts? The worst thing about being righteous, in the end, is becoming what you hate.

Meanwhile, the true leaders and the agents of change and the hope for humanity take refuge in the arts, as they always have. For the arts express mythology as a whole, uncensored, bestowing our own reflection before us, uncensored, and at the same time offering a glimpse of the truth available to us in this life. There may or may not be another life. Yet the idea of something transcendent is the sliver of freedom that aggravates and weakens and ultimately serves to split the unholy timber of inhumanity and wrath upon which the crucified Christ, for example, hangs. Purple prose? Or the prairie rose?

I long day yesterday on the job, sore bones, the inevitable period of recovery that consumes too much time and energy but so be it. The home improvement accommodated my request to back down my hours and next week I’ll enjoy a more moderate schedule. Which coincides nicely with my need to surrender to the demands of TC2’s book cover design, the process of which begins April 1st. The book cover image being an example, even a symbol, of something that means everything and nothing, a little version in itself of the play-of-opposites that defines our predicament.

A book cover is everything because for an emerging or struggling or unestablished indie author – call us what you will – it inevitably speaks to the content, to the writing, more than, well, the writing. Which describes exactly why an established author’s name is routinely the prominent feature of a book cover, the artwork upon a Stephen King novel, for instance, being rendered essentially inessential. The name sells it, the imagery doesn’t. For me, it’s the opposite. I get clicks on my ads based exclusively upon the cover design, the imagery – the image symbolizes whatever integrity, vibe, theme, intrigue, energy that the potential reader may be seeking or responding to against the wealth of the competition.

Conversely, to place too much importance upon the cover art, to obsess upon what it communicates or doesn’t is a good way to snuff the potential synergistic life out of it. Which is probably why it’s not only not required for R.V. to read the novel but is instead rather inadvisable. The impressions and intuitions and sleights of hand, as it were, involved in getting the feel of the novel more or less rendered in an intriguing manner, in just the correct balance of evocative and accurate chemistry – the little magic trick – is fascinating in psychological and mythological terms. Mythological especially because a book cover mythologizes the novel. And while a second or third version of a popular book’s cover further mythologizes it, the very first cover (again, on behalf of an unknown author) has to do infinitely more work on behalf of the story. Because for a time, the image is the story. There is no mythology without an image, after all, and for better or worse in the beginning the book cover is it almost despite the writing.

Meanwhile, Easter is in the wind, and the mythology of rebirth. And a powerfully super natural (sic) mythology – conquering death and all that. And it prompts me, as a card carrying member of this screwy human race, to risk a little righteousness on my own behalf, come what may. Namely, for all yea who are so keen to declare your virtue in the form of, say, a yard sign, I would counter that you merely risk communicating its opposite; namely, the same antagonism you seek to dissolve. Perhaps better, then, to keep it to yourself until, well, it was Nietzsche, wasn’t it, who suggested be careful, lest in casting out your demon you exorcise the best thing in you.

Black Pipe, Toadmen and the Mysterious Power of Empowerment.

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Detail from De Dulle Griet, Peter Brueghel, Flemish, 16th century

I spent a day, more or less, installing a new clothes dryer. Well, installing the dryer was the easy part. What took me so long was reconfiguring the natural gas line. Otherwise, free next day delivery and my little ten percent discount from the home improvement made it all good. It was the delivery guy who noted that the previous natural gas line was not to code, something I’d pretty much assumed when I examined the fifteen feet or so of puny quarter inch copper tubing that ran up to the three-quarter inch black iron pipe in the ceiling and connected with a saddle valve of all things. Can it get any more dubious? Who f*cking uses a saddle valve on anything, water or gas? I mean, poking a hole in the side of a pipe and relying on a non-threaded seal to prevent a leak? I would’ve cut the damn thing out and ran a new line from a proper tee-fitting but I can’t reach it; it’s in the ceiling above the home theater build-out some other home owner did. So, this house, built in the mid-fifties, has so many jury rigged, half-assed, fucked up plumbing, electrical, communication and gas line jobs (there was a gas line for an oven, which I tapped to supply the dryer), to say nothing of… well, if you own a house and do at least some of your own improvements, you get it.

By the way, speaking of gas ovens, it is apparently within building code to have one in your house, of any size. Unlike a gas water heater, for example, which requires an exhaust vent. But I can tell you that the way I use an oven and stove top, cooking for hours and hours at a time, sometimes with a pot of stock simmering overnight, it seems impossibly foolish to fill your house with combustion gasses like that. I don’t get it.

The dryer install. Ugh. I’d not worked with gas lines before but having spent fifteen years or more dealing with hazardous materials and having been around the block a few times regarding the do-it-yourself scenario and having access to all the online videos out there, I figured a new gas line with a proper shut-off was doable. Except the lack of shut-off for the appliance meant I would have to shut off the gas main. Which also meant the furnace and water heater would be down while I worked on first getting the shut-off installed and then firing the furnace and water heater back up. If I could. Was there any issue with shutting down your house’s gas main and turning it on again? Likewise the furnace – would it need to be reset somehow by a repairman? And the water heater of course had a reigniting-the-pilot procedure. I did my reading, yanked the cover panels off the furnace and lo, I’d forgotten that the lower panel had a kill switch, so I’d accidentally shut the furnace down mid-operation. But when I put the panel back on and, thank Thor, it started itself up again, everything seemed entirely possible. I bought my piping and fittings and knick knacks – I needed a couple new adjustable wrenches, for instance – and went to work.

The Shut-Off, author image

Well, no I didn’t. Because I got nervous, all of a sudden, right as I was set to go and reviewed some additional information online and otherwise hemmed and hawed and tried to weigh the odds of having gas leaks after fitting the pipe so that I’d have to shut the main off again and then what? What about the furnace (it was forty degrees Fahrenheit) and the hot water? Would I have to call a plumber to fix everything and how long would that take? Would the gas company somehow find out about my having shut the main off (“this meter is owned by [insert gas company here] and tampering with this device…”) and show up and require a permit and inspection and pressure testing…? Then I thought, what the fuck am I worried about? I know what I’m doing. I’ve done more than sufficient due diligence, I have the tools and parts, I understand the hazards and the risks and why can’t I just do it. Otherwise the damn dryer is going to sit there until I schedule a damn plumber and what’s he going to do except everything I can do myself?

I turned the gas off and started at the old oven line with a hack saw. Which sucked because it’s a workout without a saws-all. And what if there was a shitload of natural gas in the line and the heat from my hack saw blade would… Christ. Just cut the motherf*cker. When I got to the interior I heard a quiet “hiss” and that was it. Not much gas. I couldn’t even smell it. So away I went, finished the cutting, twisted out the rest of the pipe from the fitting, replaced the elbow with my new reducer elbow to get down to one-half inch and just kept going, piece by piece, fitting by fitting until I’d installed the shut-off and then I could work to get the gas main on and the furnace and the water heater and leave the dryer for later if necessary. Oh, and check my fittings for leaks, of course. No leaks. Furnace on. Water heater re-fired. This had taken me, I don’t know, a few hours.

Now for the dryer itself. The connection kit made it a breeze. The vent line had been done by a plumber we hired a couple of years ago to fix the drain for the washing machine (which was its own special previous homeowner mess) so that was just a matter of disconnecting and reconnecting. The only thing that sucks about the install at this point is access. Which is to say the lack thereof. Why in f*ck the gas fitting and the vent fitting are at the very bottom of the back of a dryer is beyond me. We can’t design internal components that allow for the connections to be perhaps at least at the top of the machine?

I cross my fingers and turn on the dryer, soapy water bottle at the ready, me sniffing for gas. No leaks! The only thing left was reversing the dryer door and getting a foam pad under the dryer to keep it from sliding around on the shitty basement floor tile (that is popping up all over, yet another doomed, hack job homeowner mistake). And fine tuning the black pipe hangers so they’d actually properly support the gas line. Done.

I feel good having conquered my trepidation over working with gas lines and while it took too long and my body is sore and I’m tired and still have to slog away at a couple of days in a row on the closing shift at the home improvement, I’m glad I did it. The money? It’s just a tool, the dryer was old when we moved in, it had to be replaced, yadda, blah. It’s done and now I can get back to my real job. Which is selling books and writing new ones.

Sales are at nine copies (1 x hardcover, 3 x paperback, 3 x eBook, 2 x audiobook) exactly halfway through the month compared to last March when I only managed a single sale. So that I’ve maintained five months or so averaging four or so sales per week at least which means I often sell two days in row and when I don’t, I only go a day or two, perhaps three, rarely longer, without some action. So that my one-sale-per-month goal has been achieved and even my once-per-week goal has been reliably smashed, so much so that I think perhaps I ought to commit to expressing my next goal: a sale every day. And a stretch goal of more than one sale every day. With my super stretch goal being a sale in a single day of every format: cloth, case laminate, paperback, eBook and audiobook.

My advertising cost, from what I can tell without a detailed analysis, stands at approximately four times my sales revenue, give or take. But I’m happy to endure being in the red as long as I see continual improvement, as long as more potential tribe members are being reached and the adventure roles onward. Additional four or five-star reviews would help but the devoted reader understands that for that we do not ask. Meanwhile, with the book now better copy edited (knowing there will always be something to fix) I’m feeling better about the reader experience and I’m looking forward to that translating into more published enthusiasm. Let’s face it, all this stuff is not only additive but multiplicative and, eventually I hope, exponential in its effect on sales. More buyers and readers create more buyers and readers.

A. is working hard to escape the Poseidon Adventure that her job has become, interviewing multiple times per week and more than once at certain places and we’re frustrated that she can’t get the call from one of these joints and move on. It takes time, yes. But she’s put in the effort and it wears her out and it’s frustrating just like it is for everybody going through it but she’ll get there. It just sucks to endure the lousy position she’s in, mired within completely f*cked up company preparing itself from what I can tell, with my experience, to sell out piece meal to a holding company.

TC2? Well, this past week or, more accurately, ever since Sunday when I worked a ten-hour day and then spent all yesterday and part of another getting the dryer installed and tweaked, it’s been all about employment and household chores. So that I’m happy to be journaling this afternoon before heading off to the job again. Ugh. It’s tough to keep toggling back and forth between my two different lives, between my two different brains, between my obligation to my heart and my obligation to life’s practicalities.

I’ve learned to keep chugging. Because I’ve learned it’s mostly persistence that separates those who get what they want from those who don’t. Talent and timing? Yes, but the third component of the Gladwellian trinity, namely that of drive, is the thing I’m completely in control of and the drive to endure the stop-and-start nature of following my bliss, my VAPM and to keep going back to the journal, the blog and the manuscript no matter how long I’m forced to remain away from those things is all I can reliably contribute to the goal of getting me from where I am to where I want to be.

***

I’m rereading The Power of Myth, a little non-illustrated paperback version of which I purchased recently. I’ve never owned it, ironically perhaps, because it’s not only the most popular of his works but it’s also the first and only of his publications that many who are familiar with Campbell have ever read. Or in the case of the Public Television series from which the book was transcribed, it’s their only exposure to the man and his ideas at all. I rather began, as the devoted reader may recall, with Pathways to Bliss, another transcription (from lectures) and a posthumous one at that.

As such, it always strikes me that Campbell was well spoken enough that he could be transcribed essentially without editing such that his lectures and spontaneous public speaking compares in terms of refinement, let’s call it, with most people’s writing, my own included. In short, he speaks better than most people write. Hence, I think, given the attentive editing the transcriptions of his recorded lectures and interviews received, be it the famous television series or the posthumous publications by the Joseph Campbell foundation, it all stands as essential.

Movement is time, but stillness is eternity. Realizing how this moment of your life is actually a moment of eternity, and experiencing the eternal aspect of what you’re doing in the temporal experience – this is the mythological experience.

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth (with Bill Moyers), Betty Sue Flowers, ed., (New York: Anchor Books, 1991 [1988]), 111.

If someone asked for a so-called elevator speech version or a nutshell encapsulation of what mythology is, I think this would be it. Moreover, if somebody demanded the practical application of the mythological experience, I would point them to this:

The ancient myths were designed to harmonize the mind and the body. The mind can ramble off in strange ways and want things that the body does not want. The myths and rites were means of putting the mind in accord with the body and the way of life in accord with the way that nature dictates.

Ibid., 87.

Now, I don’t think Campbell would argue against the notion that these ideas are sophisticated, existential and Romantic (in reference to Romanticism) interpretations of myth and mythology; that for the connoisseur and the scholar this is what myth and mythology ultimately is and what it does. And when the mythology is fully functional, it indeed works in both personal and cultural terms: it orients the individual within himself and within his culture commensurately. But that the folk interpretation, which is to say the on-the-ground, day-to-day application of mythology is rather very often – I was going to say quirky or messy – best described as incomplete.

What do I mean? Mostly, the affecting images of myth, whether seen or invoked (imagined), do not operate entirely consciously; in fact, rarely do they operate consciously. Hence, their images and effects are unwieldly, oftentimes evocative of the shadowy components of Nature and our nature and reliably weird, spooky and disturbing. Mythology ultimately centers but when encountered by the uninitiated (literally and figuratively) is just as often uncenters, unseats and unsettles. Guides help, timing is imperative (when the student is ready, the teacher appears, as they say) and the myths can eventually transcend their shock-and-awe affect, their invocation of aesthetic arrest and properly work on you as guiding images – metaphors – themselves.

I still often find the reading of myths to be a baffling, frustrating, unsettling, sometimes humorous but mostly challenging experience. Archaic language, contextual lack and the vagaries of translation add to the difficulty. The imagery, to say nothing of the story, such as it is, can seem so transgressive, contrary, obscure, obfuscated and intentionally impenetrable as to be impossible. What in hell are some of these stories trying to communicate? How to unravel their knotty metaphors? Are they metaphors at all? How to bring them forward in time without stripping them of their intention and essential historical otherness? How to apply a legitimate and still relevant hermeneutic? And why? How is the investigation and study worth it?

Campbell himself apparently would have first rather been the artist type – namely, a novelist – who references myth rather than the scholar and gifted interpreter of it that he eventually surrendered to becoming. While an aspect of Arthurian legend was the topic of Masters thesis, he subsequently tried his hand at short stories (and sold one), sought teaching as a kind of compromise to his abandoned academic ambitions and otherwise floundered a bit, akin to so many of the deeply motivated yet perilously uncommitted among us. An easterner, he embarked westward, all the way to California and stumbled, famously, into a brief yet potently affecting camaraderie with the young John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts. When he headed back home to New York, he was still looking for work amidst the Great Depression and finally ended up at Sarah Lawrence, at the time a private, liberal arts oriented women’s college. He published the still well regarded A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake, edited Heinrich Zimmer’s notes into several landmark books and even published The Hero with a Thousand Faces before finally, in his early fifties, amidst a research sponsorship to India and Japan bestowed by the Bollingen Foundation, he declared or more accurately surrendered, as I’ve mentioned, to comparative mythology as his field. In fact, he eventually credited his students at Sarah Lawrence with having steered him from a career as an intellectual dilettante (my phrase) to a commitment to his life’s work.

In a women’s college (at least, of the kind in which I have been teaching), there is, so to say, an open-field situation. We do not have required courses; nor do we have examinations. On the other hand, we do have a strict and very demanding system of education by dialogue and discussion. I see every one of my students individually, in conferences, for at least one half-hour every fortnight. This makes it possible to follow the growth, direction, and dynamics of each student’s individual development.

The instructor in such a situation has to be willing not only to give generously of his time but also to participate in the student’s discovery of interests – even to the point, on occasion, of abandoning his own academic plans and point of view. It was in such a fluid environment as this, then, that the course which I am going to describe came into being – in relation to a context of interests not primarily academic but experimental.

During my first two or three years I taught a survey course in comparative literature, but at the close of the second year, three students came to me, separately, to ask for a course in mythology. Apparently my interest in this subject had become more evident in my teaching than I had supposed.

At the end of that year, four students came to me for such a course. Then the year following, there were seven; and from that time on, this course has been both an established part of our curriculum and one of the great joys of my life. I have given up teaching anything else, and since about 1939, have been busily trimming it here, expanding it there, and keeping it up to date.

Joseph Campbell, The Mythic Dimension, (Novato: New World Library, 2007), 3-4.

Hence, we can see that he lived the example of a synthesized cultural and personal mythology – the departure, trials and return and the abandoning of plans, the being led into the metaphorical woods – that eventually defined his legacy. His was not, in spite of himself, merely an intellectual or academic journey; rather, his life amounted to an authentic mythological adventure.

The mind can ramble off in strange ways and want things that the body does not want. Who hasn’t experienced this schism themselves? I’m convinced it is indeed very few of us. Otherwise, mythology would not remain the fundamental means of expression, insight and the pedagogical crucible – the true fiction as I call it – that it is. Expose yourself to mythology and things inevitably heat up and transform. Mythology would not both describe our predicament and provide a means to endure it if it didn’t work, if it didn’t help, if it wasn’t imbued with epistemological veracity, empirical authenticity and ontological resonance. Mythology, after all, in spite of its seeming otherness, cannot be other. We create the myths and their four functions – (1) a sense of awe, (2) a cosmology that supports that awe, (3) a sociology that establishes ethics and cultural norms, and (4) a pedagogical, supportive psychology – are neither fanciful constructs nor empty embellishments; rather, perhaps since Man first pondered death, hence life, mythos has transcended method and means and described our experience.

Mythology, then, is part of our humanity. And of course one of the themes of Time Crime has to do with the possibility that mythology is part of molemanity and mothmanity and the nature of every other self-aware species across the cosmos. Consider, for example, toadmanity. (TC teaser: Toadmen are introduced later in the series, past TC2). Why should mythology be an exclusively Earthbound phenomenon? Especially if it’s a truth? Truths, arguably by definition, are intended to reference the universal. Within local iterations everywhere – Bastian’s elementary ideas that Campbell references – we ought to encounter the universals, the truth of things that transcends hermeneutic, that transcends interpretation and pivots upon facts, upon reality, upon how things are. Unless it can be said that everything is subjective, that our experience is inevitably, impossibly individual; that by way of our senses and our biology we can never discover a Platonic ideal, a Kantian thing-in-itself, a Jungian archetype or experience a single sliver of unmitigated, untarnished, undistorted reality.

It won’t be the end. Maybe it [an atomic blast] will be the end of life on this planet, but that is not the end of the universe. It is just a bungled explosion in terms of all the explosions that are going on in all the suns of the universe. The universe is a bunch of exploding atomic furnaces like our sun. So this is just a little imitation of the whole big job.

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth…, 22.

Meanwhile, assuming that truth, such as it is, exists somewhere within the play-of-opposites, within whatever still point and glimpse of eternity we’re capable of discerning or unveiling or penetrating or manifesting and that there exists a real that is real enough for each of us to be of use, it strikes me as curious, even a little humorous that Campbell, for all his keen mythic perception grounded in scientific sympathies, when Moyers asked him, “Can you imagine that somewhere else other creatures can be sitting, investing their transient journey with the kind of significance that our myths and great stories do?” responded thus:

No. When you realize that if the temperature goes up fifty degrees and stays there, life will not exist on this Earth, and that if it drops, let’s say, another hundred degrees and stays there, life will not be on this Earth; when you realize how very delicate this balance is, how the quantity of water is so important – well, when you think of all the accidents of the environment that have fostered life, how can you think that the life we know would exist on any other particle of the universe, no matter how many of these satellites around stars there may be?

Ibid.

This doesn’t seem to fit at all with Campbell’s otherwise expanded view of things. He doesn’t claim, akin to many of the world’s origin myths, for instance, that his own planet is the literal center of the universe – that would truly be anathema to his mythological acumen. And his writing includes references to numerology, which implies a certain mathematical readiness, at least, but then numerology is not statistics and probability. The cosmological and astrophysical numbers are so huge, so essentially incomprehensible that to assume this planet’s biology hasn’t been and couldn’t be mirrored elsewhere seems silly. To me at least. I rather view the situation, intuitively of course because I’m no expert, from the opposite end, as it were, so that it would seem to me that the enormity of the cosmos implies nothing if not a guarantee of sameness, somehow, somewhere, just given the numbers. Earth, I would suggest, is not to be regarded as uncanny, as a winning lottery ticket, as being struck by lightning. No. Earth, even as Campbell agrees, is merely one of unfathomable zillions of satellites orbiting unfathomable zillions of stars. Hence, it seems inevitable that intelligent life, even life virtually identical to ours here on Earth, exists elsewhere.

Anyway, we never jive one-hundred percent even with our heroes and guides and this singular cosmological schism, so to say, between myself and Campbell is something, had I been in Moyers’s position, I would have found impossible to reconcile with Campbell’s other views. I might have poked that hornet’s nest a little to see what I could stir up. Joe, what gives with your blind spot with probability? It’s also impossibly ironic given that a large portion of The Power of Myth was filmed at the Lucas ranch and Campbell had recently watched the Star Wars trilogy. Perhaps this is all just my way of maintaining a healthy distance between myself and Campbell so that I can proceed with my own work, the fiction portion of which he might have found entirely fanciful. Despite one of the subtexts of sci-fi being its reference to things that could be whereas fantasy references that which can never be. And despite the unquestionable truth that mythology at its very best is often presented within each.

News flash: I told the home improvement that I need to cut back to the twenty hours or less per week that I requested when I started a year ago – I keep getting scheduled for more hours and next week I’m at thirty or so. No way. It’s bad enough when I’m consuming my time off with chores around the house but anything more than that and I can’t get any writing done. I haven’t posted a blog for I don’t know how long and I’ve only edited a paragraph of TC2 in something like two weeks, ugh! I can’t shop for and cook a decent dinner. I’m overcommitted. I’m doing many things poorly instead of a few things well. So, despite A.’s tenuous position at her job, I’m making the empowerment move, acting as-if and deciding to do less of what I don’t want to do and more of what I do want to do. The money? I’m just not making that much to justify sacrificing my true work. So be it and come what may.

News flash II: A. scored a new job today, hooray! Her persistence and tenacity has paid off! EMPOWERMENT!