All That We Can’t Leave Behind. Or, Horror is the Foreground of Wonder.

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All That We Can’t Leave Behind, author image

Dreams. Visions of greatness. For most of us, not least of all us writers, that’s all our aspirations ever amount to. And of course taking into account the potential reach and marketability of one’s topic, field or genre is an undeniable necessity, an insurmountable reality. Exceptions, that is, indeed merely prove the rule of marketplace practicalities. Meanwhile, it’s always fascinating and remarkable and beyond mysterious how outsized, hyperbolic success actually does happen to people. That is to say, how it manages to happen to anyone at all.

Yet it does. In virtually every field of endeavor. Novelists hit it big, everybody knows it happens (not that most folks comprehend how rarely), and I even stumbled across an example of an author who writes fiction and pursues scholarship seemingly from a similarly mythos centric or at least folkloric perspective akin to my own and manages, somehow, to shatter all aspects of perceived conventional limitations. His name is Kyōgoku Natsuhiko, born in 1963, a man merely two years older than me, which only reinforces, despite the cultural disparities, my sense that shared generational perspectives, let’s call them, oftentimes appear to exist.

Kyōgoku is almost supernaturally prolific. Since his debut novel in 1994, he has written dozens of books and hundreds of short stories and essays. Many of his novels are so long they are easily spotted in the paperback section of a bookstore: bricklike books dwarfing their neighbors. His fiction has been adapted for television, film, manga, and anime. He also publishes research articles, edits academic volumes on yōkai, lectures widely throughout Japan, and appears annually in forums and panel discussions, where he always draws a huge crowd. He is a celebrity in both the literary and yōkai worlds, and his work brings these two worlds together.

Michael Dylan Foster, The Book of Yōkai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore, (Oakland, University of California Press, 2015), 70.

Kyōgoku references, as one would assume he must, Mizuki Shigeru (1922-2015), the renowned manga and anime illustrator and author who, according to Foster, “most transformed the elusive yōkai of folklore into the concrete yōkai characters of contemporary popular culture and mass media” (Foster, 62). This is an art-crafter who has achieved the scale and intensity of mythologization even within his own lifetime that outstrips our typical concepts of fame. Within Mizuki’s hometown of Sakaiminato, bronze statues of his yōkai characters line the street named after him, there is a museum devoted to his work and tens of thousands visit each year (Foster, 64).

But to return to Kyōgoku, the description that inspires me, tentatively at least given my lack of familiarity (I only just encountered his story) appears within Foster’s previously cited The Book of Yokai (Foster, 71):

The Summer of the Ubume is the first work in Kyōgoku’s “Hyakkiyagyō series” of novels, each of which features many of the same characters found in the others and draws on a Sekien1 yōkai for title and motif. The theme of each story reflects the nature of the particular yōkai, resulting in a unique blend of the mystical atmospherics of yōkai fiction and the rational deductive methods of a modern detective novel. Kyōgoku’s writing is famous for its sophisticated use of difficult kanji2 and the books themselves are known for their high production values and stylish design.

1. Referencing Toriyama Sekien (1712-1788), an artist who, according to Foster, “had the most significant influence on how we envision and understand yōkai to this day.” Born in Edo, he was a follower of the Kanō school of painting. Citation: Michael Dylan Foster, The Book of Yōkai…, 48.
2. A system of Japanese writing using Chinese characters.

Within the context of Time Crime, many of the same characters of course appear within the series, particular mythological motifs (in my case cultural and geographical) are drawn upon for each novel and I like to think that a competent blend of mythological atmospherics and rational, deductive, detective story methods are the result. Furthermore, within the wikipedia.org entry for the English translation of The Summer of the Ubume, I find this description of the tale: “Only Kyōgokudō’s knowledge of Japanese folklore – and specifically the legend of the ubume, often associated with death in childbirth – can make sense of the conflicting evidence…” which inevitably evokes Mr. Z.’s own “keenness for cosmic lore” as I describe it on TC1’s back cover blurb; a keenness which he of course uses to help solve time crimes. There is nothing new under the sun.

And my point is that if this guy can do it, publishing 800-page novels with academically robust mythological leanings that somehow readers flock to, then how unrealistic is it to pursue my own, infinitely more modest version of success?

Meanwhile, the molted exoskeleton of a periodical cicada – what entomologists refer to as the exuviae – (a photograph of which appears as the theme image for this post) is something I found on the sidewalk this morning. Here in Ann Arbor our 17-year brood emergence took place a couple of weeks ago but there remain plenty of these remains laying around or stuck to a tree trunk or even adhered to the slats of wooden fences. The little beasts begin as eggs within the bark of trees (inserted there by the adult females), hatch, go underground, attach themselves to suitably juicy tree roots and feed upon the sap for, in this example, seventeen long years until they struggle from the earth, transform and continue the cycle.

Strangely, however, this year I’m not hearing the distinctive drone – that unmistakably alien sounding, crescendo-decrescendo chorus of rasping mating calls that oftentimes provides a loud summertime soundtrack (for me, it evokes the unnatural, grating whine of high-voltage electrical equipment).

Within the context of Time Crime, the exuviae evokes one of the motifs within TC2 that I’m working into the manuscript. Sometime last month it struck me to have the Mothman Empress – preliminary artwork already exists courtesy of HW Guy – desperate as she is to win the war against the Molemen, commit to initiating histogenesis (from the Latin words histo, meaning tissue, and genesis, meaning origin or beginning) otherwise known as the cocooning process appropriate to moths (butterflies produce a chrysalis but moths produce a cocoon).

Within the pupal case, most of the caterpillar body breaks down through a process called histolysis. Special groups of transformative cells, which remained hidden and inert during the larval stage, now become the directors of the body’s reconstruction. These cell groups, called histoblasts, initiate biochemical processes which transform the deconstructed caterpillar into a viable butterfly or moth.

https://www.thoughtco.com/life-cycle-of-butterflies-and-moths-1968208

Why include this motif in the novel? Because the metamorphosis or transformation is intended to endow her with even greater, perhaps unmatched psi-abilities and she’s a little bit cracked off to begin with, after all, succumbing to the pressures of having murdered… wait, SPOILER ALERT! Anyway, histogenesis within the Mothman culture has long since been considered a backwards and primitive and very dangerous relic of their own species and they’ve worked hard as a culture to, as they interpret it, advance beyond their more unsightly and less civilized origins. But what does a culture do whenever it’s undergoing a mythological schism? Or a war? Or anything that strains its sense of identity and perpetuation? Why, of course, revisit their myths!

It’s pretty gross, this histogenesis idea, to say nothing of the visuals (check out the brief cicada brood emergence video above, narrated by David Attenborough, very cool!) and horrible in its psychological and visceral way but it fits in perfectly with the epigraph of TC2, namely, “Horror is the foreground of wonder.”

Moreover, the mythological tie-ins go without saying and I point to an article by Adolf Portmann, one of the early contributors to the Eranos conferences, entitled, “Metamorphosis in Animals: The Transformation of the Individual and the Type” that suggests the following:

It is scarcely possible to witness the transformations of a dragonfly without experiencing an assault of inner images pointing in the same direction as the meditations in which Jan Swammerdam for the first time reverently described the metamorphosis of the May flies as a “copy of human life.”

Adolf Portmann, “Metamorphosis in Animals: The Transformation of the Individual and the Type,” Man and Transformation: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, Joseph Campbell, ed., (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972 [1964]), 297.

Happy Friday, everybody. Sorry I’ve been gone so long from the blog posting. It happens. I wish you all a truly transformative weekend! Thanks for reading.

Living On the Blighted Page

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Limelighted. Author image.

Meanwhile, it’s been more than a few days since my last post. Not that I don’t compose a journal entry almost every day. So why not post them all? I’ve talked about how some journal entries are just too confessional and rambling and mostly just me writing out my tortured thoughts in a manner that, to me, in the context of that inner reader that I’ve mentioned – the ineffable, intangible other reader that somehow isn’t me – is unpublishable autotherapeutic crap. Crap writing has its value in that way, so be it.

Oh, you say, all this stuff you take the time and effort to post is what you’ve somehow deemed worthy of publication? In a word, yes. Well, what’s the criteria, merely your own personal ego-centric predilections? I mean, you indie so-called authors and you bloggers, it’s just hubris and self-flattery to be dumping all your lousy bloviations on us all, isn’t it?

Yes. It is. Such is the nature of the internet. Such is the experience of living on the blighted page. It’s the volcano of shit, as I’ve heard it referred to, all this unedited, unvetted, unevaluated, mostly unread and unwanted writing and writing and more writing that previous to blogs and newsletters and the like remained, as perhaps it ought to, within the deep space nowheresville of oblivion. In a box. In a desk drawer. In a landfill. Pulped and recycled into lower quality paper. As ash in the fireplace. But I’ve already written about how I hate blogs as much as anyone somewhere, I don’t recall exactly, in the journal, perhaps back in 2011 or thereabouts. Who cares? Things change. And here we are, if we are, skateboarding or skating or tripping over the cosmic underground pool rim or across the razor’s edge of the void, what have you, pick your metaphor, together. Hello, out there.

How do I choose what to post and what not to? I have standards, yes. I critique the stuff and pass judgement. I adjudicate as best I can. What are my criteria? It’s intuitive to a large extent – the subject matter has to resonant in mythological terms, first of all, whatever that entails. Which is to say it entails at a minimum a sense of possessing a beginning, middle and end. It has to present at least the intimation of a narrative. It has to be a story. Akin to any myth. That’s what I want to read and I assume it’s all that anyone else really wants to read, too. Stories. Tales. Adventures. It can’t just be a rant. Or a complaint. Or the expression of a neurosis. That would qualify it as nothing but an editorial. Or a diary. Ho hum. No. An acceptable post will inevitably contain elements of all these things to be sure, but I’ve discussed before the difference in my opinion between a journal and a diary: the journal writes for a public and the diary is merely a running internal commentary that mostly feeds on itself. Journals reveal a person’s inner life like diaries and they both can function as self-work, as autotherapy, but with a diary you’re always and very specifically talking to yourself – there is a refuge quality in both formats but the diary’s sacrosanct privacy means that it’s better to burn even a dead person’s diary without ever opening it than violate that pact of secrecy.

Whereas a journal? Hell, if it’s somebody famous or otherwise noteworthy and you think people might get something out of it, publish the f*cking thing. Which is to say, dump it onto the web and see what happens, if anything. Because all the while that guy was writing away in his journal, he had that other reader in his head or on his shoulder or the muse was in his lap and he otherwise had some modicum of ambition or aspiration for the thing. He was writing to be read. Believe me.

All this time this week that I haven’t been posting, then, I’ve been journaling. And ever since I started this blog I’ve felt a pang of obligation and accompanying anxiety when I don’t manage to write anything that I deem worthy of reading. When I don’t post, it’s like so-called dead air on the radio, isn’t it? I have a sense that people are thinking, hey, what the f*ck? – is anybody in there? Did this guy die or something? As if anyone out there would ever go to the trouble to wonder whether I died or not. But allow me my little fantasy, dear reader, please.

Otherwise, I’ve been dutifully editing TC2, giving it my all, putting my new reservoir of time to good use in spite of enduring a heightened sense of futility and nagging intuition that I’m wasting my time and money and everybody else’s too. Life on the blighted page, again. Categorically unglamorous. It’s a struggle. Nonetheless, this morning, I’m compelled to haul this out of yesterday’s mess of an unpublishable journal entry:

Funnily enough, because it somehow didn’t seem at all like a coincidence, a Red Hand Files arrived this morning. The topic? Not even a question. Something utterly not me; rather, one of Nick’s spacier fans riffing on something from one of Nick’s books. Obscure, hyper-intuitive, playfully silly stuff – essentially a demonstration of everything anti-intellectual – with an overt nod to the innocently miraculous imagination of children. Essentially all the things that, say, my question to him was not.

It’s as if (and I know this is crazy talk) Nick himself was trying to tell me, dude, you’re not on the same page as me so stop clogging up the Red Hand Files because it’s never going to happen that I respond because I don’t know what the f*ck you’re talking about and meanwhile you’re wasting my time, thanks but no thanks.

What was my question? What did I submit to the Red Hand Files? Well, it would be rude to discuss it and then not show it. I’m neither fond of it nor embarrassed by it, after all. It just is. In my humble opinion it works as a question. It’s not just me vying for attention. At least I don’t think it is. I worked on it not being merely that. I really am curious about how Nick might respond. Hell, I don’t even use my pen name when I query the Nickster. Anyway:

Greetings, Nick. I was cruising around thevampireswife.com for the first time – “opulent intelligence” may do something to describe the vibe – and I couldn’t help noticing the reference to Falconetti. Then, within “Stuff” I was pleased to discover that Susie digs The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and of course besides the silent film aesthetic it’s a difficult experience to endure in psychological terms – I read somewhere that when it was first screened in New York City a couple of folks died in their seats watching it. Frankly, I can believe this. And if it weren’t based on a true story and therefore tragic and heroic beyond words and a heartbreaking lesson against righteousness it might instead be a great horror flick. Seriously. With all due respect to Joan herself. Otherwise, it contains all that is fine and unsettling about myth, both personal and cultural.

Anyway, film being more or less one of your mediums, I was curious about your take on so-called mystical realism. And the film Ordet, in particular, another Dreyer masterwork. Or perhaps it’s more Susie’s thing. Meanwhile, I’m the guy always going on about advancing mythology, hence, I would rather classify the work of these two films as mythological realism and examples of modern mythology and it strikes me that you may get what I mean. And that your own stuff communicates, likewise, this perspective. That is, if we agree that myth => metaphor (a mostly unidirectional congruence) then mythological realism expresses the experience or encounter of metaphor. Hence, the experience or encounter of myth. In your life. As a tangible intangibility, so to say, versus merely on the page. I would argue that it differs from transcendentalism or mystical realism or even the experience of the Divine because within mythological realism there remains a narrative. Certain songs accomplish this. Hell, I suppose a dress can accomplish it, too.

You’ve no interest, as you say, in making art, nor perhaps intellectualizing your work or anybody else’s for that matter – in being confronted by things in that way (as Susie might put it), in other words. If so, I get it. And categorization never helped anybody in the end. But do you think you may indeed have a thing for mythological realism?

I know. Who in their right mind would respond to this? But people, me included, behave strangely in relation to their guides and inspirations. I read somewhere that Ian Hunter traveled to Graceland once when Elvis was alive and walked up to the front door and knocked on it. And Elvis answered. Hello? What can I do for you? That kind of thing. It seems miraculous that anybody could get past what one would assume was a gated Graceland compound but then maybe it wasn’t gated or guarded at all and perhaps Elvis didn’t feel threatened by fans? Maybe he just hung out at home sometimes and answered the front door? Maybe, too, Ian was just pulling everybody’s chain.

Point being, most of us, whether we’re “stars” in our own right or not, have our fandom moments. Or, perhaps more accurately, our fandom requirements. John Wetton of King Crimson and Asia fame told a story somewhere of his attending a James Taylor show, Taylor (of all people) being one of his heroes and he remembered going backstage and introducing himself and complimenting Taylor on his work and telling him how much it meant to him and all that and that Taylor was gracious enough not knowing who the f*ck he was. Funny and strange to imagine it. And then I just read the other day on Susie Cave’s website her story of meeting Stevie Nicks who she loves and that she had a total “fandom” moment, getting her picture taken with her and all that and so be it, this is how it works. Ex-international model, appeared in an Elton John video, sells her own dress designs to superstar actresses like Kate Blanchett. All goofy over meeting Stevie Nicks. I can’t explain it, fandom, nor exactly the value of it but nevertheless, there it is.

Of course you get a little older and mostly you realize that actually meeting your heroes isn’t the best result because, well, they can’t possibly live up to or even in any sensible way respond to the encounter that, from their perspective involves a complete f*cking stranger. Well, this is the way some folks with fans experience it while others assume a more in-the-context type of perspective, that fans aren’t imbeciles and are rather experiencing something important to them and it has to with your persona which is real versus anything to do with your private personality and personhood and life. You’re an image. You’re a symbol. They are identifying with a part of you, only a part, because that’s how it works. It’s not an invasion or confrontation let alone an insult or a threat to have someone walk up to you in a state of being more or less beside themselves – star struck – and inevitably say something stupid like “I love your work” and even more stupidly ask for an autograph.

Bob Fripp famously and infamously has a kind of second career excoriating and, to his credit, also attempting to explain himself, regarding the insensitivity of such folks, fans (or not) of the music. It is the weird case sometimes, of course, that the star factor makes certain people who aren’t even interested in a particular art-crafter’s or race car driver’s or actor’s work behave ridiculously. I remember, for instance, being in a Tower Records sometime in 1990 or so, when I worked in Manhattan at a Sam Goody and lived in Queens, and somehow word spread in a flash that Ozzy Osbourne was coming into the store. (Back then a big record/CD store in New York City was still occasionally a place to be). The vibe was a little nuts all of a sudden – “Ozzy Osbourne!” – whether he was indeed outside the store or some security force had called ahead, I don’t know – what did I care, I fucking had no interest whatever in Ozzy. I left, mostly relieved that nothing appeared to be going on but nevertheless intrigued in spite of myself regarding what might have been a so-called brush-with-greatness. And for all my self-proclaimed indifference, here I am writing it about it goddamn thirty-one years later. What, indeed, is happening during these brushes with greatness? Or celebrity?

One of two things. The first is simply our natural tendency to attribute unique value to the otherwise famous among us. Fame is fleeting, yes, but then again it isn’t for everybody. Madonna, for example, could probably still waltz into a (I was going to say record store but frankly I don’t think they exist anymore) shopping mall, let’s say, and cause a stir. Perhaps not. But I’m betting yes. Anyway, we attribute a special intensity of existence to these folks. Their proximity is rare, and rarity is compelling, but lots of rare things we encounter don’t affect us at all. But it’s as if the limelight, so-called, that follows the famous around is so bright or somehow so bountiful as to spill over a bit onto us, to bathe us in overflowing rocket sauce (mixing metaphors, sorry) and to endow us with special virtue for a moment. We momentarily become more relevant ourselves, more alive within the presence of celebrity, somehow, I don’t know. I do know some folks seem to seek this experience for its own sake; they follow the limelight anyway or anyhow.

Me? I like to think I respect the phenomenon of the limelight for all its suitably mythologically potent unsettling-ness all around. I’m not in it. It’s not to be sought. But it’s out there, doing its thing all over, and for better or for worse always seeking, it seems, to direct its brilliant beam upon the next victim, as it were. Otherwise, to help explain it, I can only reference Neil Peart’s famous lyric[1] as probably the most concisely wise interpretation out there:

Living on a lighted stage

Approaches the unreal

For those who think and feel

In touch with some reality

Beyond the gilded cage

Cast in this unlikely role

Ill-equipped to act

With insufficient tact

One must put up barriers

To keep oneself intact

Living in the Limelight

The universal dream

For those who wish to seem

For those who wish to be

Must put aside the alienation

Get on with the fascination

The real relation

The underlying theme

Living in a fisheye lens

Caught in the camera eye

I have no heart to lie

I can’t pretend a stranger

Is a long-awaited friend

All the world’s indeed a stage

And we are merely players

Performers and portrayers

Each another’s audience

Outside the gilded cage

***

The words never get old and neither does the music. Here’s to Neil. As it happens, I came across something on the web entitled, “Rush Music Taught Me That I Could Grow, That I Could Change,” on a site that posts worthy posts, I don’t know anything more about it other than it appears to be based in Canada, go figure, hey we know Rush is Canadian. But, clearly, reading the thing, this guy got much more out of Rush music than the idea, worthy as it is on its own, that he could change. Which is to say I could’ve helped him with the title. Rush Changed My Life would’ve worked if nothing else. Nevertheless, I wish this guy would’ve posted the letter.

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/first-person/article-rushs-music-taught-me-that-i-could-grow-that-i-could-change/

Guides within guides. To wrap this up, last week or so I was enjoying the thirty minutes of Distant Sky that is the only portion available to those who missed the Bad Seeds show in Copenhagen in 2018 and the release of the concert film. Five or six songs. One of which is the amazing version of the title track with an appearance by Else Torp – it’s breathtaking and if you can’t do that, listen to it on your favorite streaming service (I use Qobuz because I must have my hi-res!).

Anyway, a guides-within-guides experience isn’t anything I ever expected and frankly it’s nothing I’ve ever even read about. As such, I’ve been struggling with the idea of communicating this or not because it’s intensely personal. The kind of thing that perhaps belongs in a diary or an exclusively private journal. But since I don’t write a diary, and somehow it’s my mission to evaluate the mythological effectiveness of this journal, to let it do its work such as it is, in the world, and what I encountered probably can be said to fall within the topic of mystical realism and definitely mythological realism, well, I think it’s apt and so be it.

Nick Cave was singing, it was a closeup of sorts, him at the edge of the stage as he likes to be, and I suddenly saw not Nick’s face but that of Joe Campbell. Joseph Campbell, that is, of The Hero with a Thousand Faces fame. The guy I’ve spent the last eleven or twelve years referencing more or less regularly in this damn journal. First Nick, then this subtle transformation that became unsubtle and unmistakable and there I was seeing one guide shining or rather projecting from within another. It’s really the best way I can attempt to describe it. And the moment passed and it was Nick again. And I know better than to ask what it means. Because it rather just is. An affecting image. Crazy. Unsettling. In its way sustaining. I don’t know, otherwise. Except that the images are here to do their work on us, come what may. And I’ll never forget it.

Thanks for reading.


[1] Lee, Lifeson, Peart, “Limelight,” from the album Moving Pictures, 1981, rush.com.

Agony Aunts, Eschatology & the Nature of the Beast

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Four horsemen, by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1860. (Image is in the public domain).

The part of theology concerned with death, judgment and the final destiny of the soul and humankind.

“Eschatology”

A fourth review on Amazon U.K., another 3-star. Amazon’s overall ratings, as they explain, are not simple averages – they give added weight to ratings coming from those who bought the book on Amazon, for example, which seems like nonsense until you understand that for Amazon, unlike for us readers and authors, reviews and ratings aren’t there to educate folks and rank the pantheon of books but rather to advertise and therefore SELL books. 3-star, then? So be it. Fair enough. It’s not the end of things. It inspires me to keep at it.

Meanwhile, Amazon rankings. The system, in its entirety, is clearly intended to generate sales in many ways – hyper-dimensionally, if you will – by means both practical and psychological, let’s say. It’s been said that Amazon is far more than a shopping experience – people go to Amazon seeking many things besides the purchase of a particular product. Sure, the highly rated books sell more but when you consider all the other books that aren’t highly rated it might appear that such rankings hurt Amazon’s overall sales. Why rate and review and rank things, whey attempt to separate wheat from chaff when it might be more profitable to let folks figure it out on their own? Well, part of what makes Amazon so successful is their go-to nature. Go-to? Yes, how many people look to Amazon reviews and ratings to evaluate something they don’t even intend to buy there? I discussed this in a previous post. And it’s true. Hell, I use them to research the books I intend to borrow from the library. If for nothing else than to get the ISBN.

So, there you have the nature of the business, which is also the nature of the beast. “Beast” because I’m not happy with the ratings trend in the U.K. Trending towards the middle is not the goal. He treads on the tail of the tiger and it does not bite the man. My I Ching oracle. The thing that helps keep me going. Hmm. But I’m starting to see some fangs.

Fangs. Really? That’s not true. Fangs would be nothing but one and two stars. And savage reviews. What does a 3-star rating mean? It can define anything from “mediocre” to “not bad” to “pretty good” to “I liked it.” As compared to “hated it,” “didn’t like it” or “not for me.” What’s a 4-star mean? It used to mean “really liked it.” A 5-star was reserved for “loved it” or “it was amazing.” But these descriptors are no longer clearly implied. We’re encouraged to simply use the stars in any way we choose – they mean something different for just about everyone and you see this moving target type of regard just by reading the reviews (if you get them). I have the 2-star that I think reads more like a 3-star, for instance. That person must have decided that 3-star signified no complaints. Whereas they had them. And there are people who will not deliver a 5-star rating ever because they feel nothing is perfect and five stars means perfect. Or Shakespeare or something. Others of us bestow a 5-star to anything that jazzes us, despite recognizing that it could always be better.

I don’t know. Why write about this stuff? I’d watched the latest episode of Toyah and Bob’s Agony Aunts and they responded to a question regarding how to handle criticism. King Crimson enjoyed very early success with their first album but also a type of criticism against the genre that hasn’t ceased. The music is often difficult, after all. Uncommercial in the sense that it does not very often appeal or intend to appeal to popular let alone current tastes. Toyah’s oeuvre is even more challenging and I’d venture to call most of it unlistenable. Hers is more a performance art stance and you see this in her manner of driving the little music videos she and Bob contrive. All good in terms of that old original MTV granular DIY anything-goes freshness and vitality. But rather challenging in terms of the music. You have to get the aesthetic. It’s all intensely self-aware, enthusiastically transgressive, hinged to the limits of the medium (DIY home video), permeated with tongue-in-cheek humor, fun-loving irony and a transparent, wholehearted love of the culture of rock that their generation is responsible for propagating. They don’t do Little Richard or Bill Haley or even Elvis Presley, for example. They begin with the later 1960s, all good. Although I can envision some potential hilarity if they did reach further back.

Anyway, Bob Fripp could be said to have nurtured an alternative career, an alter-ego and an oeuvre that both completely ignores and fully engages the intense relevance that results from the polarizing nature of his music, always from the stance that the music is primary. His music has been the oftentimes fraught conversation. Toyah is rather a vaudevillian, keen to express herself in contexts beyond music. Hey, she has looks, for one thing. And she’s a singer. These two things alone skew a career into a different emphasis. Having recently studied guitar she admits straight away that her focus is different within that context, implying that her music over the years may have been different had she played guitar then. I’m critiquing but I’m not intending to be critical in the negative sense. Wikipedia provides a helpful description:

Vaudeville is a theatrical genre of variety entertainment born in France at the end of the 19th century. A vaudeville was originally a comedy without psychological or moral intentions, based on a comical situation: a dramatic composition or light poetry, interspersed with songs or ballets. It became popular in the United States and Canada from the early 1880s until the early 1930s, but the idea of vaudeville’s theatre changed radically from its French antecedent.

In some ways analogous to music hall from Victorian Britain, a typical American vaudeville performance was made up of a series of separate, unrelated acts grouped together on a common bill. Types of acts have included popular and classical musicians, singers, dancers, comedians, trained animals, magicians, ventriloquists, strongmen, female and male impersonators, acrobats, clowns, illustrated songs, jugglers, one-act plays or scenes from plays, athletes, lecturing celebrities, minstrels, and movies. A vaudeville performer is often referred to as a “vaudevillian”.

Vaudeville developed from many sources, also including the concert saloon, minstrelsy, freak shows, dime museums, and literary American burlesque. Called “the heart of American show business”, vaudeville was one of the most popular types of entertainment in North America for several decades.

“Vaudeville,” wikipedia.org, retrieved 5.4.2021

In the end, these two art-crafters have successfully expressed the vocational destiny that I seek. They have lived it. Who they are is what they do. And they are still on the adventure, clearly. We’ve agreed to make our last ten years a party, says Toyah (I’m lightly paraphrasing). Right on. Lightheartedness is essential to balance the dead seriousness of it all, the inescapable vulnerability bestowed by the art-craft life.

Criticism, then. Negativity. What Toyah and Bob refer to as “toxicity.” Bob Fripp seems nevertheless to feed off it to a significant degree; to be fueled in some sense by the intensity of the controversy, by the vitality of the energy. Toyah volunteers her tools to reflect or help ignore the experience – employing psychological “mirrors” and “veils.” I get both perspectives and neither of these people are intentionally confrontational with their work. They would rather be liked. Nor do I get the impression, like a critic might suggest, that there are certain performers that merely seek attention, that in the Joycean pornographic sense of art they are seeking merely to make us do something in response to it: love it, hate it, buy it, burn it, that kind of thing.

We don’t seek simpering praise, Bob tells us. As I’ve said, we don’t want sugar-coated nonsense. We seek authentic evaluation. Hopefully a welcome. But hope is a beggar, indeed. So that one must be keen to go it alone. As long as one doesn’t become a negativity junky, it works to use the energy from criticism. Negativity is intense. Far more intense and psychologically potent than praise. It’s so intense that many of us find it impossible to withstand. Alternatively, it becomes the only thing that matters. The negativity junky ends up only producing that which is disparaged, that which is not liked or impossible to like because, well, only that seems authentic.

This is how receptivity to criticism becomes distorted – it becomes a drug in the sense of being addicted to perceived authenticity. You like it? You must be patronizing me. Or you have no taste. Or you’re a sucker. It all becomes gamesmanship in this way. The work, the art-craft, is relentlessly off-putting and ugly and harsh and confrontational or so impossibly obscure that it overextends itself, it falls off a cliff, beyond the perilous ambitions of the avant-garde into the bald-faced attention-getting gambit that perhaps the person initially sought to avoid. In short, you become what you hate, which is inauthentic and a seeker merely of a response – any response, at all costs. You begin with the perceived authenticity of the public response, in a sense, instead of beginning with the authenticity of your work, of its expression, which must inevitably be personal. Painfully so if it does not please people.

Is a certain measure of public acceptance, of welcome for your work, required to bestow legitimacy to it? If nobody likes it, can it still be considered at all good or worthy work? I would make the case that the answer is No. In the personal mythological sense, that is. If nobody gets it then you’re not properly on the adventure. Wait a minute, you say, what do I mean by “nobody”? I mean to say that in my experience there will always be somebody in possession of their own legitimacy, that has earned the respect of those in the field, as they say, who can speak on behalf of the genre or niche that you are working within who will, given that little bit of fortunate (and too often elusive) timing, praise or at least accept, hence legitimize, what you’re doing. In professional critic terms. Then again, who cares about that? Critical acceptance and public acceptance – too often, it seems, one arrives and the other doesn’t and damned if it’s the version we don’t get that becomes the one we want most. That said, I ought to be content with so far receiving a measure of the popular vote.

Again, we require so very little. That is, the art-crafter requires such modest returns on their investment to keep going, to keep the art-craft fires burning. But we require something. Sometimes, perhaps most times, your only return is the bit of acknowledgement and the rest has to come from within. It helps, then, when your vision is – I was going to say “secure” but that’s not it. I rather mean unwavering. An unwavering vision can sustain a person. It can serve to keep you grounded and centered. I’m having this experience. I know what I’m doing. I understand the dynamics of trying to integrate mythology into a novel, to make a mythologically self-aware story that works the magic trick of being neither too self-aware and “distracting” for its own good (so that the story is a mere contrivance to promote an agenda) nor to ham-handed, amateurish, unscholarly and bungling.

New mythology is my aspiration. New because Time Crime is not a retelling of a myth. It’s retelling the same ‘ol mythological narrative, yes – the hero round within a hero round – but it’s not aping something that already exists. My intention is reinvention in the sense that mythology is always doing this to itself. Yes, we’re retelling what matters, what has always mattered, but in this time, from this personally universalized (on a good day) perspective.

This is my experience of the collective experience. And I’m intentionally, as an experiment in the form of a series of novels, seeking to concretize the un-concretizable – to reflect the affecting images, the classic, existing mythologies, upon themselves, as it were – so as to arrive at something new. We have Vishnu and Shiva, for instance. Put the two together and you get Hari-hara, an image expressing not the combined power of the gods as much as the transformed, unforeseen Third-Thing power that overcomes existing limitations. It’s not additive but rather chemical, or alchemical. It’s rocket sauce and magic sprinkles.

I may fail at this. Which of course merely deputizes my adventure as at least a legitimate one. For if you cannot fail, and fail spectacularly, you are not on the adventure. The risks must approach unreasonable. Error, I say, on the side of unreasonableness whenever you are attempting to negotiate the dynamics, the energies, the potency of your personal mythology and your deliberate practice. Do not play it safe. Hari-hara is a desperate solution to a desperate predicament. I’ve discussed this myth in other posts. It’s an important aspect of Hindu mythology, hence I’m studying it within the context of TC2 – namely, the ancient Khmer culture of Angkor – so I’ll leave it to the interested reader to pursue this as they see fit.

And then there is the challenge of perspective. So what if the novels fail? It’s not the end of the world. They’re just novels. Like every other author, I’m just doing my best. If it’s not good enough, so be it. Perhaps I’m supposed to doing something else? Let it go. See what comes back. Don’t strangle the cat. Don’t put all my eggs in one basket. Have some patience. Don’t allow my other vocations to languish. All these exercises in moderation, the pursuit of the middle way in mythological terms. That unfortunately, inevitably perhaps, only arises by way of its opposite. Everything in moderation, including moderation….

I gave my notice at the home improvement. I discovered, to my surprise and chagrin and disappointment in myself, that I was feeling afraid of committing to TC2. Here I was getting bogged down in the physical and psychological burden of having even a part-time job and not only blaming it for slowing down my work on the novel but beginning to use it as an excuse for not getting it done. The other day, with the opportunity to leave the job and devote myself to the writing, I found myself suddenly hesitating. Well, maybe I’d rather keep the job, I started telling myself. I enjoy the money and the social proof that it provides, after all. I enjoy the engagement and the physical exercise, and what have you.

Then I reminded myself that the social proof was something I’d learned to ignore decades ago, the engagement was a distraction and the physical activity had become a vehicle of exhaustion. I’ve been wanting out of the job and the opportunity to re-immerse in the writing ever since I accomplished the original four months of employment I intended to use to pay for the audiobook. That was eight months ago. Meanwhile, apparently, unconsciously, I’ve been sliding precipitously towards art-craft mediocrity, authorpreneurial indifference and cowardly surrender to norms. My writing was in jeopardy of becoming a hobby. Why not work full time, then? Sound the alarm!

What happened? Fear. Fear of failure. Fear of exile, and the single-minded demand that writing novels – writing with any level of authenticity – requires. Also, complacence. And the pernicious undermining of mastery that it is propagated by a mindless, workaday life. What amounts to a life of habit. I’m not suggesting that employment is to be avoided. I’m not adjudicating against a life on the job. Bills have to be paid, I get it. But there are a handful of folks at the home improvement that I can see are fully functioning in the vocational sense – it is their work, they are individuating themselves. The rest are enduring and coping and staying busy, doing their best to find a way through the day. I seek vocational destiny. Not everybody does nor should they. Akin to J.C., who talked of his experiments working in his father’s hosiery business, I always tend to get wrapped up in exploring the experience of the workday. Mine and others. Are you happy here? What made you take this job? Do you want a different job? What do you like about this job? What do you think ought to be different about it? If you could change something about your job or this company, what would it be? Does this job connect at all with your sense of who you are, of what you want out of life? Are you having the experience of being properly alive? Yes? Why? No? Why not?

All this stuff, I’ve learned, though very valuable from my perspective and for my research – for my true work – is worse than useless when it comes to other folks on the workaday job. It instantly becomes its opposite. That is, while I’m keen to analyze and fix it, change it and make it better, the effect is one of disruption, subversion and anarchy. Anarchy from the angle of freeing the individual to explore their true nature, one which rarely can be recognized as having anything to do with one’s current employment. What ought you to be doing? This may be a helpful question on behalf of personal mythology but it does nothing to enhance the efficiencies and psychological wellbeing of the workplace. Instead of building a team, my investigations fracture it. Life is irony….

Returning to Agony Aunts, it strikes me that an episode of their show might be similar to a blog post. How so? In terms of the intensely timebound nature of commitment to a single, risky idea. That is to say, you Toyah and Bob select the song they want to cover (and its attendant imagery) and, like me doing this post, once begun there is no time for backtracking let alone starting over. Forward progress in linear terms is the only thing even if it turns out a disaster. Because disaster in art-craft is rarely such. Disaster can be the most interesting, hence valuable aspect of an undertaking. At least if you’ve acquired some mastery, that is. How bad could an Agony Aunts episode get? Well, they’ve managed to crank one out every week for something over a year. They’ve never posted, “Sorry, we couldn’t get a video done this week.”

Likewise, to a more modest extent, these posts. As I’ve admitted, some journal entries do not make it to posting. The topic precludes it (too personal, mostly) or there’s no properly discernable bloggy theme. I’m not here to whine or cry or merely confess or puke out my thoughts heedlessly. That’s not a blog post. That is rather pure confession. No. I aspire to somehow always universalize what I’m going through, what I’m experiencing; to transform it from rant to realization; from diary to demonstration; from intuition to investigation. To provide an image that does some practical work in psychological and personal mythological terms. Work that helps me in some way and, mostly mysteriously, in ways that I couldn’t possibly pretend to anticipate or even fully understand, also helps a reader. If by way of nothing else than a sense of shared predicament. Hence, participation and communication. Agony Aunts, Eschatology & the Nature of the Beast, indeed. Meanwhile, more properly, on a good day, it’s the aspiration in the form of the inner reader that motivates me and nothing else, come what may.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You… Crazy.

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“Could have been better.” I’ve been enjoying a modest handful of ratings lately. But, here it is, the inevitable cruddy review. Sort of. I mean, it’s not a categorical thrashing. And at least there is a review. Because to endure merely a two-star rating, sans any explanation, would’ve cast me adrift. Here, I’m fortunate – yes, fortunate! – there’s a context. Anybody who reads this can review the review, as it were, for themselves and make an intelligent decision and not merely write TC off as worthless based on the stars. “The basic story was quite good.” And, “I would have liked the story to have continued….” How this reading experience translates into two-stars I’m not at all sure, but so be it.

Surname inked out to protect the innocent. Otherwise, there are several things that can result from this type of rating:

  • Sales in the U.K. are negatively impacted because this has thrust the average star rating into the realm of apparent mediocrity – that is, the generally positive review itself will be ignored.
  • Sales continue upon their modest trajectory as if nothing ever happened.
  • The social proof that reviews and ratings of any type tend to bestow can help drive more of them, hopefully much more convincingly positive.
  • It can rally tribe members to defend the book (it happens) and the “controversy” can drive sales.
  • Worst case, formerly tentative critics may smell blood and be inspired to pile on, shifting the average rating to overwhelmingly, fatally, poor.

All I can do is keep publishing. With only three widely varying ratings the jury is still out in the U.K. at least. In the USA, I’ve got five ratings at an average of 4.1. What about Goodreads? Four ratings, all five stars. Winning this reader over might happen if they spring for the second book. Or not. Authors who manage hundreds of mostly positive reviews that ultimately neutralize the negatives are fortunate. The goal, as I’ve said, is to achieve a legitimacy and relevance that transcends the type of early critique that cripples an otherwise worthy contribution to the genre. In other words, is the book good enough to be granted entry? Or must it be cast into oblivion by the threshold guardians as a failure and a misfire and something that hasn’t passed the test of authenticity? Ought I to quit and get out of the way?

I’m convinced there are two ways not to appreciate the mythology within TC. Namely, you can recognize, know, and understand it and just have the opinion that it doesn’t belong – you can argue that it doesn’t work as a novel, that it’s perhaps all affection and contrivance, that the execution fails. Or, you can fail to understand the imbedded mythology to being with, find it “confusing,” for instance, and your confusion itself “distracting” within the context of something you otherwise appreciate. I’m negotiating, after all, with unconscious energies to a large extent – attempting to evoke and invoke and activate and express. I’m writing in metaphorical terms while attempting to not get lost within the metaphors. Or to bore a reader with them. It’s a strength – mythology – in a novel that can lead directly, as with all things, into its weakness.

What is an example of a weakness of myth or mythology? The very metaphorical power that it unleashes. It can be overbearing. It can appropriate. It’s image based, after all, hence there is a risk when writing overtly self-aware mythology that it can’t get past itself; that the narrative doesn’t have any room to play out in text, on the page. Here I find myself writing the review of my own novel in a sense: that if it’s flawed, it will be flawed in this way. Besides the writing.

Hey, since publication, I have not had more than these handful of ratings and reviews and perhaps that’s telling: folks either get it and hate it and don’t feel inclined to waste their time criticizing it or they don’t get it and toss it aside, likewise uncompelled to put forth the effort of a rating or a review. This would be the worst case, the not-even-worth-complaining-about version of obscurity and oblivion. It’s got to at least inspire participation or you’ve nothing at all to continue to work with. If you cannot inspire critique perhaps you ought to be doing something else with your energies.

Here, it would have been worse if the reader argued that my subtext ruined an otherwise decent story, replete with examples and analysis. “Could have been better.” Well, how, exactly? In other words, folks ought to strive to provide a thoughtful, proper review versus an opinion. But a well-written review, one that contributes its own measure of creativity and insight, isn’t easy to write. I write them, believe me, I know.

And you cannot ask readers to professionalize their reviews in this way. As long as the thing isn’t abusive – and I imagine Amazon spends quite a bit of time managing this definition – one has to allow it. The system allows for all levels of mindfulness, so to say, and the lack thereof. It used to be on Amazon that you had to write something to get your rating posted. Not anymore. So, again, I’m glad to have a little context provided in this case – it rescues what would have been mere negativity.

Timing is everything, too. Very importantly, if this 2-star would’ve been the first and only form of feedback back in February or March of 2020, say, I would’ve been forced into a very different place. Perhaps a place of no return. I may never have sold another book and been done as an indie novelist before I even started. As it happens, I’ve just barely enough ratings and the nice review, arguably of course, to support sticking with the experiment. Sales limp along but they nevertheless limp along. Compared to the millions of books that aren’t selling at all. In short, I’ve achieved the bare minimum amount of evidence that enough people are interested to keep me motivated to keep going.

Motivation goes hand in hand with the economics. Or rather the resources. Statistically, it’s a money loser to write novels and always will be. I have to be prepared, that is, to complete the entire TCT series (and even more episodes after that) on the family dime. At a loss. A significant loss. I’ve talked about the hard numbers in previous posts. My Amazon advertising bills arrive every month and between the US and UK I’m spending something like $700/month. Tack on Australia, Canada, Germany and France (all exponentially less expensive) and it doesn’t take a genius, as they say, to understand that I’m losing my ass. My advertising cost of sales, the so-called ACOS, sucks.

What to do but tough it out? I allowed my US campaign to tap out a handful of times last month, for a day or two but then guilted myself into upping my budget because I convinced myself that if I’m not going to continue to advertise the book then I may as well quit writing books. Here I’d not had an ad click-through in the US for a month or more (I had sales but they were not directly linked to the ad campaign) so I was losing heart along with the money. I started feeling foolish. But then when I’d boosted the budget, sure enough, the last day of the damn month, an ad click-through and a paperback sale in the US. A sale that never would’ve happened had the ad not been live.

So, it’s that simple: if you are not an author who has achieved a level of public consciousness or awareness, let’s call it, so that your name sells itself and enough readers across the globe are searching out your work, then you’re skirting the edge of oblivion like me and depending upon every possible means to stay visible and viable. You must literally pay to play. There is no way around it. In fact, the first thing I would advise somebody to do who is considering becoming an indie novelist is surrender to the idea of spending $15,000 or more in your first year of getting your authorpreneurial business established. It may cost me less this second time around but frankly, not much less.

Why does it cost so much? There are the production costs, of course, which I’ve discussed at length in other posts: professional editing, professional book cover design, professional interior formatting, professional audiobook narrator. Then, the incidentals like buying ISBNs and gratis copies – the little things that add up to big things. Finally, the marketing costs. Which never end.

The marketing never ends? Huh? Well, and this the second thing a new authorpreneur must surrender to: nobody gives a shit about your book. Not even your mother. You can read a version of this assessment just about anywhere folks are blogging about publishing. It’s crazy because this fact of life runs utterly counter to our intuition as writers and readers. Starting out, I had the impression, crazily, that folks are clamoring for the next new novel and new author and if you’re good, they’ll gobble up your work. The painful, very harsh reality is that nobody cares. Because they don’t have to.

We forget that there is more than enough – exponentially more than enough – to read in a lifetime as it is. It’s not that your new novel is a drop in the bucket. At something like 5 million English language novels available, your little effort is more akin to a drop in the ocean.

The numbers begin to make the whole enterprise of writing and trying to get read seem like an exercise not so much in futility as f*cking lunacy. Recalling the arguable data claiming that “most novels don’t sell more than a hundred copies” the 30 copies/day required to establish yourself as an authorpreneur in the eyes, say, of ALLi, seems an impossible aspiration. And it mostly is. The success stories you read about are statistical outliers. Which is to say they essentially don’t count. Your life, my life, as an indie author is nothing like having a paying a job as an author. No. The long game, as it’s called, doesn’t begin to describe it. Really, it’s no game at all.

Nevertheless, we play at it. With an audiobook sale yesterday (in the USA, yay!) TC1 is at 128 sales after fifteen months in publication. And all the money spent. And I feel in many ways very fortunate to have achieved what most folks may consider an otherwise pitiful number. That’s almost zero, they might say. And sometimes it feels like it, believe me. But those 128 sales are hard won. That is to say, I am not one who sold fifty or more copies to friends and family, for instance. No. My sales are to the public. And at this point I’m averaging something like two sales per week. It adds up. Not as profit. Rather, as tribe. Readership. The fraction of folks who have bought the book and liked it, they are gold to me.

What am I saying? That 128 sales is both psychologically and statistically so far from zero that I can’t begin to explain it. And that TC1 is, for the past several months, selling two copies/week is the most important statistic of all. Because that means it’s active. The audiobook moved up 303,000 spots in sales rank with just a single sale. It hadn’t sold in the USA for five months. (Of late, it was doing better in the UK). Likewise, when I sell a single paperback or an eBook in a day, the novel’s ranking makes a 1.5M leap. From what I can tell looking at the Amazon numbers, if you’ve sold a book within six months or so, you’re bottoming out at the 3M mark – at least that’s as far as TC1 seems to fall even on a bad couple of weeks. Well, what about the other 2M books that are below that? How many copies are they selling? One or two a year, perhaps, or more likely, zero. My Amazon case laminate version of TC1 which has sold a single copy since its introduction a couple of months ago is ranked at 5M+, that’s very near the bottom.

Here’s are my lifetime Amazon sales charts for the format of TC1 that has sold the most copies, namely, the paperback in the USA and UK, respectively:

I aspire to charts like this for a single day’s sales rather than sixteen months. But so be it. Again, this combined data shows at least one sale per month, every month since publication. Which remains my worst-case goal. That I’m doing much better than that, in relative terms, makes me feel blessed.

I always talk about Amazon because that’s where the overwhelming majority of my sales come from. They provide pay-per-click advertising opportunities and access to data that helps track my marketing efforts. Love them or hate them, it’s where the action is. As an indie author, I love them. Because everywhere else? Well, I checked Ingramspark yesterday for the first time in a few days and I find they’ve posted, surprise, three cloth hardcover sales for April, all in the USA! That’s great! Any cloth version will necessarily be manufactured and shipped by them. But the data shows one sale came via Amazon anyway – nobody buys TC1 from Barnes & Noble or a bookstore or anywhere else except perhaps on a handful of occasions. That’s the reality. That somebody somewhere in the USA – two readers – apparently purchased the cloth format somewhere besides Amazon is amazing. It never happens.

After all, it’s Amazon who routinely drops the price of the Ingram hardcover to less than the price of the paperback. Which is to say, Ingramspark never lowers the price. A sale price meanwhile understandably prompts a sale of that format. Amazon tracks a book’s sales timeline in this way and it helps. Meanwhile, with the onset of the sale of their own case laminate hardcovers, Amazon now buries the cloth version deeply within the “see all formats” section of the book’s page. You have to further click on a “down arrow” to see the cloth/Ingram version as available. Such is the nature of the beast. They prioritize their own product, I get it.

What’s the takeaway? That authorpreneurship is not glamorous. Rather, it is a cage fight for survival and legitimacy and relevance. Outside of what it takes to write a good enough book to begin with. One that nurtures an audience. A tribe. I swear I feel as if I’m always a desperate week or two away from never selling another book and getting trashed in the ratings and having to give it all up. Rejection and refusal of one’s boon. These are the risks, the trials to be overcome when you’re on the adventure. We authors require so very little to keep going, to be sure. But we nevertheless require something.

Rate and review books, then, especially books with few ratings and reviews. Because especially in the beginning of a book’s public life, it matters. Be enthusiastic. Be disappointed. Be honest. Be mindful, too. As an author I’m not asking for sugar coated feedback. But know that thoughtful feedback is priceless. Sometimes a rating is all that we have in us, the idea of writing a review seems a bridge too far, so to say, I get it. But reviews, bad or good, tend to humanize things by way of putting things in context. Sometimes I fire off a two-star rating and nothing else. Otherwise, “Could have been better.” Again, I get it. It’s tough out there. But professionals can take it. They have to. I’m a professional. Time Crime 2 is going to be published if it kills me. Perhaps it’ll help transform that 2-star into something more…, well, starry. Perhaps not. Either way, what doesn’t kill you makes you… crazy. Thanks to my reviewers and thanks to all my readers so very much for reading. It means everything.

Lavender Fields Dispatch: Official Review – “God Polaroid”

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Go Ahead, Call Me a Fan Boy, author image

Sometimes I see a pale bird

Wheeling in the sky

But that is just a feeling

A feeling when you die…

Nick Cave, “Lavender Fields”, from the album Carnage, 2021.

The Cave Thing polaroid arrived yesterday, coinciding almost exactly with my posting of the last post. I plucked it from the porch (thank heaven, pun intended, I was home to do so otherwise it would’ve spent the 80F afternoon in the blazing U.V. getting roasted out there) and the whole experience of it, from the unboxing, so-called, to the curious object itself – a Polaroid of all things – and the curiously intimate mythology it evokes, well, it works.

I frankly half expected to be disappointed. I mean, anticipation oftentimes spoils things with expectation. And some things inevitably seem silly to own. But I’m wholeheartedly glad to own this. Perhaps it’s something to do with the little big thing phenomenon – the manner in which something of such close-to-the-heart (again, intimate) and modest proportions renders an image of such unlimited, as it were, dimensions. That, and there is something that Nick obviously gets about the nature of both the medium – the object, the whole package – and of course the subject matter that makes it so impossibly right-sized. It’s personal, but curiously so. All the little affectations (I had initially mistyped “affections” and that fits, too) contribute to itself. That there are iterations, sold out by the way, also works its magic. Further narrating the mythology and the psychology within while leaving room for the rest of us. Nice work.

OFFICIAL REVIEW: God Polaroid

It attracted me or more accurately affected me, by way of its conflicting indications, let’s say. By way of the never quite collateral question it proffers – what is God? – the unashamed answer (in the form of a hermeneutic) that it suggests, and the clash between its hyper-self-awareness (all the glitchy, ticky, tacky, tasty stuff about it). I could have perhaps videoed an unboxing, hoping to communicate the mindfulness of the package, the Oriental awareness, one might say, of the papers, textures, surfaces, inks, colors – the narrative of the packaging as part of the experience, but it’s one of those things that somehow has nothing to do with that, either. Original art-craft ought to always perform this rewardingly. Get one for yourself and see what happens. Oops, sorry, sold out!

Unselfconscious art-craft? Hardly. Borderline kitschy and derivative? Maybe. Too obvious? Absolutely. It all could just as easily have ended up being crummy and trite. Even amateurish. To say nothing of a waste of money. Are you making fun of me, Nick? Are you making fun of religion? Of mysticism? Of spirituality? Of mythology? Of commerce? Of all of us? Are you kidding, a Polaroid entitled “God”? This guy’s work tends to make you wonder. Humor, yes, it has to be there. But is he also an asshole?

Modern art, you know, too much of it seems intended to make you do something – Joyce called it pornographic in that sense. Piss you off. Affront you. Baffle you. Make you want to buy it. Or burn it. Or something. I don’t know. Nick Cave. I’m not an archivist of the man. I haven’t collected Cave stuff with anything like intention. I haven’t watched, listened to, seen or read all of his work by any means. I just really dig a lot of the stuff he does. All these things poked me in the ribs, looking at the iteration of this polaroid. Even as a thumbnail image on the computer screen.

God. Is it sublime? No. Better than that. Evocative. In the manner of evocation. Utterly hand crafted and weirdly manufactured, too. Sea and sky and spiritual light? C’mon, I recall thinking. No, really, it somehow says. Look closer.

It helps, I think, to appreciate something of Nick’s method of playing with all this imagery; namely, the imagery of art house expectation, intellectual criticism and learned connoisseurship that gets perpetually emasculated by unabashed, earnest earnestness. And honesty. That, and his advancing of mythology by way of humanizing its most regal and iconic images. His fearlessness with it all that speaks, somehow, to me at least, of truth. And a way home. That’s all we’re ever really seeking, after all, isn’t it? The way home?

Anyway, nothing and nobody is safe around the Nickster. To his credit. Then again, it seems to me, everyone is.