I liked my last post and enjoyed adding a “Time Crime Update” to the end of it. Again, the idea of copying and pasting the exact iteration of the blog post back into this journal just doesn’t move me. The blog is the blog and this is the field from which it is harvested but then when I skim through the thing prior to posting it usually benefits from some contextual massaging and that’s that, so be it. My idea that the DOP will stand as my massive life’s work, if not exactly a magnum opus then at least the major evidence that I wasn’t sitting on my ass for eleven or twenty or whatever many years watching my life bleed out.
I nevertheless still imagine The World as Personal & Cultural Mythology (WPCM) becoming real because, yes, one of the laws of nature seems to be that writer dudes (because it always seems to be men) must maintain a fantasy of publishing their multi-volume tome of perceived genius that, if it by chance gets started never comes close to completion, let alone publication even as an indie version. It’s a little crazy, this predictably in us male authors with a mind towards non-fiction. It’s a little different than the novelist stereotype where we envision publishing the so-called next great American novel or what have you. With non-fiction, that is, the grand, self-congratulating vision is of the intimidating volume or multi-volumes of dense prose functioning as our version of a unified field theory, the explanation for everything or, akin to me, the new Schopenhauer. The World as Will and Representation and all that.
Regarding Schopenhauer and the variations in the translation of his book title, I’ve discussed at length somewhere in the DOP my preference for this interpretation, namely, identifying a more subtle and I think more interesting and useful sense of it than “idea,” a word I typically despise when it comes to philosophy as it is notoriously overused and functions as a misnomer. So-called Idealism being a strikingly frustrating example: the philosophy of Idealism is not about ideals; rather, it is about ideas. Schopenhauer, then, wasn’t writing about the world as an idea but the world as an experience of representations, a version of phenomenon, similarly, I think to the Hindu idea of samsara (Schopenhauer appreciated Indian philosophy) – as wiki points suggests, everything exists merely as an object in relation to a subject – of things that perhaps existed in some other, truer form behind the representation, an impenetrable mask akin to perhaps the “philosophy” expressed by Ahab in Moby-Dick. The problem I have with Schopenhauer, however, is that he seems just another Kantian, suggesting that we never experience the thing-in-itself, an idea that strikes me as perhaps merely a language problem, a semantic quirk.
That is, akin to the idea that God, say, is something beyond our comprehension, that not just words fail to suffice as description but even any thought we attempt about God fails to encompass or reveal or identify the truer nature of the Divinity or the Atman (to keep things Schopenhauerian), that any thought we can have about God fails, that somehow there exists a thought beyond thought, this strikes me as absurd. We have only our thoughts. Anything else that is supposed to exist beyond our thoughts, beyond our ability to comprehend even a part of it, while perhaps indeed real in its own parallel universe type of manner, is of no use to us, hence why establish the paradox? This is why I describe the God-beyond-our-ability-to-comprehend-God idea as a language problem. The words, that is to say, create a problem where there isn’t one and an idea of nothingness that can’t get past its somethingness. In short, our thoughts, for better or worse, cannot get out of their own way. In this manner it seems to me that I agree with Schopenhauer, even in the sense that we create the world we experience (see the DOP entries on Northrup Frye and the creative imagination), even if it can be said that in doing so, we distort it.
Indeed, this beyond-all-manner-of-thought perspective to me fails at the outset; it is self-contradictory in the sense of simply by stating the non-existence of something you have thereby created an image of it. It seems impossible to me to imagine the absence of anything. Imagining a null space or blank nothingness, for instance, merely establishes an image, hence idea, of null space or nothingness. Though I’m rushing through this and being less than completely rigorous (my impatience!) the reader hopefully grasps something of my argument.
In terms of Schopenhauer’s so-called Will, the ultimately intangibly universal influence or what have you that moves us, I just don’t have any use for the idea. It’s akin to our inferior understanding of gravity as a universal influence – we can use very proficiently the tools we’ve managed to cobble together, the modern physics that does so much fantastic work – regarding how gravity works, but it’s not the whole story. There is intuitively something lacking. WHY gravity? Why do two objects in a vacuum attract each other? Start there. Gravity has yet to be explained by science but there is no legitimate reason why it someday couldn’t be.
But the Will? It merely repackages as atheistic the fundamentally theistic Mind-At-Large. I’m rather for Cosmos or Mystery, capitalized to indicate the currently ineffable, intangible quality of things as perhaps they really are. Note that I don’t claim for these terms a description of what isn’t. I don’t know what isn’t. This is not to be confused, however, with agnosticism, a conviction that I interpret as finally a condition of perpetual doubt; a surrender to being open to new information that may sway the result. One says, I don’t know whether there is a God or not, and I doubt the possibility, given Man’s millennia of struggle with the topic, of experiencing anything capable of solving the riddle, as it were. What answer would suffice? A bolt from the blue? A voice of authority from a burning bush? It’s a pervasive argument against knowing anything for certain.
I used to consider myself agnostic, by the way, being convinced in my middle years that unknowable things like the possibility of divinities were better left alone. I abandoned agnosticism for the very reasons I’ve just attempted to communicate: that in the end, the agnostic insists that which cannot be insisted upon. That is, we do know things by way of the experience of them and to perpetually attach a measure of doubt into every experience is again creating something out of nothing. Nothing begets nothing. If such circular nonsense is not an example of self-delusion, of a language problem, of allowing semantics and the limits of language, of words, to collapse upon itself, of imprisoning oneself behind bars that are merely shadows of bars, then I don’t “know” what is.
Am I arguing, then, for the legitimacy of direct experience? Without spiraling into a grand philosophy of my own, yes. That is, our direct experience is as direct as we can expect. With the caveat that objectivity is always slave to subjectivity. One person’s sense of everyday connectedness is another’s spiritual seizure. We agree upon things. Our shared biology ensures this. Our biological idiosyncrasies also ensure, well, idiosyncrasies. I’ve not gotten very far along with this, I apologize; I’m forever a reluctant philosopher even having majored in philosophy as an undergrad. I resort to philosophy, I suppose. While I immerse myself in mythology. Mythology is something a person can live with. And, again, not because it is a comfortable or even awe-inspiring fabrication – an intentional blindness to things as they perhaps are – but because a fully-functional mythology leaves the door open to all things personal and cosmic at once without the reservations demanded by philosophy or psychology or formal science or any other field on its own. Whew, enough.
Here, perhaps, I’ve spiraled into an explanation for writing sci-fi novels instead of the WPCM. Sci-fi novels are more fun. There is no joy in the process of grinding through the account of my world view in formal, scholarly, non-fiction, philosophy-of-mythology style terms. It is rather the reverse that jazzes me; viz., the mythology of philosophy and damn well everything else, yay!
Perhaps this is all pseudo-intellectual junk? Perhaps it’s mere unacademically vetted nonsense; the exact species unedited, unrefined, unscholarly blabber that clogs the blogosphere to everyone’s exasperated detriment, that pollutes it beyond any utility. Perhaps. Except that this is what I do: namely, write my way through things. I would likely be writing this stuff even if I managed to sell enough books to quit my job and live in luxury. That’s how VAPM (veritelically authentic personal mythology) works. And there’s no getting around it.
Meanwhile, I do not write whatever I want to write. No. Because my intuitions about what I want to write are, once I actually begin writing, appropriated by what can only be termed the muse. This is a creative act. This is, easily as much as my novels, the art-craft, the steady craftin’, the work of my life and that which I must do to have the experience of being properly alive. I continually seek to improve the quality. I seek mastery. I’m forced to settle with the professionalism that seeking mastery can bestow.
In this way I surrender to the blogging that I promised myself I would never surrender to. Life is Irony (another of my never-to-be-written book titles). One must, as Campbell suggested, abandon one’s plans so as to live the life that is waiting for you. When you engage in art-craft it is the same dynamic. We are born to express ourselves, to create the only life we are privileged to experience. Others have perhaps said it better. Coincidentally, (is there any such thing?), Nick Cave’s latest Red Hand Files speaks to it. I leave you with the link as the coda to today’s perhaps knotty post.
P.S. Here’s a lecture I stumbled across that by way of all its limitations and assumptions and steady craftin’ level of DIY granularity, does well to present the questions surrounding gravity in a digestible form.
One could interpret this is as an encapsulation of our predicament. Likewise, of our suffering within the Mystery. Yet to me, it’s an unassuming yet compellingly deft insight, and perhaps the most concise I’ve yet encountered, that succeeds in rendering the experience of mythos that I’m convinced we all, in one way or another, more or less continually encounter.
In this vein, mythos is mostly simply defined, I think, as a thematic narration of intuitions motivated by and residing within an affecting image or images. If empiricism, alternatively, limits the source or acquisition of all knowledge as by way of the senses, of sensory experience (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell) then mythos rather recognizes, in the philosophically romantic sense and the psychologically spiritual sense, experience born of instinct, Jung’s collective unconscious and/or revelation.
Meanwhile, an intuition can be said to be a modest revelation; it is a seizure of sorts but at a level that allows for discernment and contemplation, for participatory cognition. Aesthetic arrest, a phrase successfully employed by Joe Campbell in his discussion of mythological imagery, expresses an amplified form of intuition wherein we retain our faculties of discernment. It differs from mystical seizure, best described as an appropriation of our workaday causal cognition in favor of what those who encounter such a condition describe as direct epistemological and ontological congruence; i.e., knowledge as being and vice versa.
Neither is mythos sufficiently encompassed by definitions of phenomenology per se because while mythic experience is indeed a palpable phenomenon and there is, arguably, a science to it as attempted here, it doesn’t share phenomenology’s emphasis upon establishing a division between sensory experience and so-called reality. Some things can be said to be more real than others but all experience is legitimate as such.
Likewise mysticism, mystic experience and so-called spiritual revelation, all of which fail to sufficiently emphasize the paradoxically entangled and loosed psychological dynamic between transcendence and the experience of everyday connectedness to things or the perceived spirit (Japanese tama) within them.
Once again: Mythos, myth and mythology is a thematic narration of intuitions motivated by and residing within an affecting image or images. Until now, having indulged eleven years of study (indie scholarship) within the contexts of comparative mythology, mythography and the psychology of religion, I’ve not been compelled to define mythos, myth and mythology in terms that I would qualify as my own. Why not? A typical grad student, after all, with many years less experience within their chosen topic wouldn’t hesitate to contrive an opinion and publish it as a thesis, or a book. Otherwise, I don’t know why for certain except to say that the previous definitions and associated theories and extrapolations have all sufficed. And as Joe Campbell was keen to suggest, it’s not me, it’s the myths. Which is to say they speak for themselves.
A thematic narration of intuitions motivated by and residing within an affecting image or images. I’m going to keep reiterating this as a test of its authenticity and substance. Meanwhile, the idea, hardly without precedence, yet perhaps expressing an original hermeneutic, is hinged to Cave’s brilliantly distilled and at the same time evocatively expansive little big thing of an aphorism. How so? Recall my uni-directional congruence: myth => metaphor. Also, its counterpart: symbol => metaphor, which makes its first appearance here.
Cave acknowledges both identities (a metaphor is nothing if not an identification) when he references our metaphorical nature as real; that is to say our nature as biological entities encompasses metaphor and symbol. What are we metaphorical or symbolic of, exactly? Well, I think Cave is right to suggest that we are broken metaphors; otherwise flawed, imperfect, impure, what have you, and therefore merely evocative of the full expression or experience or example of individual mythologies. Art imitates life perhaps but life is also a metaphor, a symbol, of existence past, present and future. Time and the idea of timelessness (eternity) is of course an essential, structuring component of the architecture of mythos, myth, mythology and of course life.
Our sense of the passage of time is entangled with our experience of suffering (e.g., existential angst) and also of peace. This implies paradox. And paradox is also an intrinsic structural component of mythos. Life and the existence of all things interpreted, for instance, as the so-called play-of-opposites.
Where am I going with all this? I frankly don’t know. I’m riffing. Following my nose. And my heart and my heart-mind (in Oriental terms). I’m engaging the process of the heuristic hermeneutic, of following my intuitions within the context of seeking interpretation.
Why interpret? I don’t think it’s a proper question in the sense that we simply do certain things, one of which is interpret. Which is to infuse an otherwise shared or shareable experience with our own influence and perspective. Within a heuristic hermeneutic we acknowledge a core, essential, iconic or archetypal aspect – a certain objectivity – that drives a plastic, intuitive, ineffable and ultimately subjective influence from within and without, a pushing and pulling as it were, on behalf of things we encounter step-by-step and bit-by-exploratory-bit, spontaneously.
The above will have little if any practical use within the world-of-action. It’s the kind of thing that is birthed, concretized in a graduate thesis – or equally obscure (translation: unread) academic journal – and set upon a shelf to disintegrate and die. Or, short of printing, it spirals into the irretrievable depths of archival digital oblivion.
Why did I bother to write it, let alone post it? For my own sake. Writing a thing makes it real in a way a mere idea or thought can never be. Cultures without writing – everything pre-Babylonian and including the rare contemporarily indigenous versions still maintaining only an oral record – both suffer and benefit. They suffer because they are perpetually losing large segments of their intellectual, psychological, historical, hence mythological substance: the reality of their past dies and if not reinvented disappears. In certain cultures there exists an actual or tangible past that is never deeper than that which is present within the memory of one or two generations and a mythical, eternal (timeless) past, a realm accessible directly only by shamans which encompasses stories of origin, sources of spirit, magic and within which a First Mover or deity exists and to which the dead go.
Neither mythology nor religion (a subset of mythology) ought to be defined colloquially as an untruth or embellishment, least of all a lie, but more accurately, appropriately, comprehensively and usefully within the Jena Romantic sense of true fiction. The experience of both, however, oftentimes share aspects of neurosis and in the extreme examples, of psychosis. Neurosis being the self-aware experience of unsettling compulsions and zealous attachments whereas psychosis describes a person existing within and slave to an entirely subjective realm. Neurosis is perceived as such, psychosis renders the interior experience the only one.
“We are the broken metaphors of a cosmos that is beyond our comprehension.”
Mythos, myth and mythology is defined as: a thematic narration of intuitions motivated by and residing within an affecting image or images.
Myth => Metaphor
Symbol => Metaphor
Enjoying the experience of being properly alive within our predicament, within the Mystery, entails:
A sense (any sense) of the first principle.
An intuitive grasp of the second principle.
Surrender to the third principle.
Surrender to the fourth principle.
TIME CRIME update:
The advice regarding an author platform is to categorize one’s various interests and productions into silos, for lack of a better word. Better to present things separately, they say, ignoring any proposed inspiring entanglements on behalf of providing straightforward choices for readers. This assumes one’s readers aren’t reliably interested in authors but rather particular artist-craftsman product classifications from authors.
I challenge this advice. First, because to each his own and, secondly, because emerging authors like myself simply don’t have the published oeuvre to bother segregating our offerings.
Meanwhile, I managed to polish off an entire chapter of TC2 last night – ten pages of 2nd draft editing! – which puts me at page 159 (I’m once again projecting a finished manuscript of 100,000 words or ~400 pages) and I feel, after exactly a year of bear wrestling TC1 into a semblance of an author platform, as if I’m finally rolling; as if the first novel is behind me and TC2 is game on, come what may.
Moreover, regarding my platform, I’m going to call myself arrived and legitimate as an indie sci-fi author and somehow the less sales I enjoy the harder I’m working. So be it. As Joe Campbell suggested, when falling, DIVE!
The final month of my first year as a published indie author – the adventure of it – will end with a dud. No surprise, it’s post-holiday and all that, after all. I consider myself fortunate, then, to have indeed sold my one copy per month each month (including this one) of the first year of publication, thereby realizing my modest minimum goal and, on top of that, achieving an average of 7.5 sales/month.
Is it respectable? No. Is it better than a string of zeros? Yes. Did my sales meet my expectations? Funny, I can’t say that I had any expectations. Besides that of a dreamy, fantastic vision-of-greatness in which I saw TC1 arriving in some tangible manner, mostly to do with at least a legitimate critical reception; namely, some kind of welcome into the field by somebody, at least, already enjoying some manner of a platform or, short of that, by way of a handful of fine reviews from readers. But none of that happened. Outside the handful of copies read by my family, the one person who bestowed a comment about the book on Goodreads, the two ratings on Goodreads and the two ratings on Amazon, I can’t be certain anyone who purchased the book or received a gratis copy ever read it. Or finished it. Which, in the end, is probably the worst part, so far, of this experiment. Which is to say that somehow, foolishly, I expected a response. Why?
I suppose it has to do with my impatience and my yearning to finally escape the sense of exile from myself and the world that has plagued me forever. It’s not about being liked or having my ego stroked. It really isn’t. It’s not me, as Campbell was keen to declare, it’s the myths. Keith, after all, isn’t Carnegie. That is, C.O. is a persona that allows for the expression of K.E.’s personal mythology without the baggage and idiosyncratic psychological nonsense – my unsightly history and fraught visions – of too much identification. What am I saying? Well, I’m convinced I chose to use a pen name, for instance, because I had to. It was an intuitive, otherwise unconscious personal mythological necessity and now I’m glad I did it because it has helped to establish a healthy (or healthier) distance and bestow a sliver of objectivity to the whole crazy enterprise of authorpreneurship.
Which is to say, it could have gone the other way: I could be sitting here lamenting my decision to publish under a pen name. I could be staring at the cover of TC1 and chewing glass or cringing at the sight and sound of Carnegie Olson. To say nothing of my website and blog persona. By now it all could have seemed a contrived mess. But it doesn’t. I’m not in love with my pen name, I must admit, but that in itself – my indifference to it – is mostly what I wanted to achieve by way of it. In other words, the name came to me by way of intuition and neither before nor since has any other name seemed at all conceivably appropriate or even tolerable. The letters themselves contain all the roundness, both by way of their appearance and their pronunciation, that my given name does not. It’s impossible to mispronounce Carnegie Olson. It’s also impossible to be accused of contriving a moniker that is merely all trendy drama or silly, attention-seeking nonsense. I’m not calling myself Leafy Green or Shocking Pink or what have you.
I could have done better. I could have nailed it and I didn’t, I get that. But my pen name sounds like a real name, something that may indeed be a given name. It maintains a certain humility and familiarity while conveying, I think, a modest quirkiness that perhaps lends itself to being more memorable than what I started with, that’s all. And very importantly in a strategic sense, it is (at this point in time at least) unique. My given name, besides being impossible for the uninitiated to pronounce properly, is not unique by any means. To date, by way of the internet, at least, there is no other Carnegie Olson in existence. This is an advantage regarding websites and search engines and all that garbage. And nobody confuses me with any other author. Not that any of this so-called strategy of mine has paid off at all. I’ve discussed pen names elsewhere in the DOP but here, a year down the road from my decision which, for some folks, apparently ends up being interpreted as a disastrous or at least perpetually aggravating mistake, well, let’s just say that I’m happy to report that I don’t feel as if I’ve fucked up that part of the experiment.
Meanwhile, in terms of sales, what else to expect post-holiday season? That is, anyone who’s ever worked in retail of any type understands the inevitable seasonality of sales. For most retailers the holidays inspire perhaps 50%-75% of their annual revenue. So be it. For TC1, November plus December sales comprised 37% of my business. If you can call it that. Christ, this authorpreneur shit is difficult. We know this, all of us trying our hand at it, but living it still hurts. We understand that, statistically, the numbers are all against any kind of success in publishing, let alone indie publishing. We witness the special cases, the statistical anomalies, the exceptions that prove the rule and, while we’re not foolish enough to allow ourselves to get carried away with silly fantasies of being those folks (call them fortunate, call them cursed, say what you will), of being “chosen” as such in this manner (by the world-of-action, by readers, by the cosmos, what have you), we nevertheless struggle to swallow the pill of reality. At least I do.
Orna Ross of ALLi suggests that we ought to measure our success as authorpreneurs in financial terms and, while she apparently suffered a great deal of negative feedback from members I happen to wholeheartedly agree with her. It’s easy to say we write and even indie publish for its own sake, for the sake of the art-craft, on behalf of the muse, yadda, blah. Let’s face it: we all write to get read and publish to get paid. So that we can have the experience of being properly alive, that’s all; so that we can individuate ourselves. So that we can be who we are. Making a living, as good a living as we can, is part of life. I won’t harangue the issue. If you’re the type who likes to consider art-craft as some sort of sacred realm, some divine otherworld that ought to remain free of all economic and otherwise material tarnishes, well, keep it to yourself. If you really write for its own sake and possess no inner voice that seeks to be heard, well, I don’t understand a thing about you. The rest of us wannabe authorpreneurs are meanwhile trying to communicate and connect, to find our tribe, in economically sustainable terms, too, so that we can quit our day jobs and while achieving the legitimization that sustainability naturally bestows. Really and truly, I believe that if you’re trying to convince me that you indie publish without heed to getting paid, without regard for the idea of becoming professional (which by definition means you get paid for your work) then I think your writing probably reflects that. In a bad way. Go ahead and write privately, I do that, and refer to yourself as a private writer (I’ve tried that). But if you intuitively write to an inner reader, like I do, that for all intents and purposes sounds like and amounts to an outer reader (for lack of a better description), you’re in the majority and there is nothing to be ashamed of. Here’s to writers who write to be read. We can’t help it. Enough said.
I’m off the job for a couple of days and frankly, after yesterday, when I discovered to my dismay that my co-worker, whom I was fairly desperately expecting to lend support within our department, had called off so that I was now staring a ten-hour solo shift in the face, well, I don’t know what to say except I was once again wrecked by the effort. Which only expresses the hard fact that, in the end, I’m merely a mediocre employee. A good, let alone great employee,, in my opinion, would respond to the challenge as such. Whereas I merely endure and don’t manage to manage the energy well enough to surpass being overwhelmed, consumed and otherwise used up by what I cannot help but experience in miserable terms. In brief, I allowed myself to skip my hour “lunch” break, only managing two fifteen minute breaks to consume, each time, a bottle of water (the first one thankfully improved by of being infused with a packet of electrolyte powder that I was intelligent enough to bring along in anticipation of the slog) and to get carried away by by the demands, by the demands upon me. When somebody else, a more balanced and ultimately talented employee, would have rolled with the punches and even thrived. And that wasn’t in brief at all, sorry. But I’m convinced I’ll never be capable of properly pacing myself on the job. And it amounts to just another frustration of working outside my VAPM.
I recall Robert Richardson, the biographer, describing Emerson at one point attempting to edit and publish his brother Charles’s journals or writings, posthumously, and finding them all so impossible gloomy and self-defeatingly, unflatteringly – I forget how he described them – pitiful that he couldn’t. Which only points out that some of our journals are indeed merely autotherapy and not meant for readers. Such self-work is, to me, better described, then, as a diary which is almost by definition a private confession.
And I oftentimes have admitted that the DOP fails to achieve the necessary reader-ready journalistic stance I seek to produce. I in fact recall beginning the DOP in Hawaii, during a family vacation financed by, who else, my parents, on their 50th wedding anniversary if I’m getting it right. I had already been writing my way through my struggles post-firing in Texas for six months or so as acknowledged auto-therapy but the trip to Honolulu and Maui inspired me to experiment with literally documenting things in storytelling manner, ostensibly to see if I could produce anything interesting for anybody else to read. I’m not certain of the results. And what transpired was the DOP both for its own sake and somehow also, at the same time, for my inner and outer readership. So be it. Warts and all, as they say.
The most trying aspect of seeking a readership, for me, has become the nagging sense or self-adjudication that I perhaps ought to be indeed keeping all this to myself; that I remain perhaps fundamentally, hopelessly at odds with myself; that despite all my self-work and devoted, deliberate practice, the things I make, the words I manage to get onto the page, suck. And that after eleven years now of seeking and experimenting with and surrender to my perceived VAPM I’ve simply gotten it all wrong. And that when it’s wrong, one’s creations are wrong and we’re all better off without them.
Yet here they are nonetheless, the words. Here it all still burbles forth. Like a mud pot in Yellowstone National Park my chthonic muse (let’s call the damn devilish thing that motivates me) while nevertheless noxiously, sulphurously, humorlessly, perhaps disagreeably, even vilely less than useless, belches. Off gasses. And pukes. Thermally. The mud pots and geysers are doing their thing as we speak out there in Yellowstone, a queer expression of the thermal activity below, of this planet’s wildly incendiary heart, its magma core. Of what use is it all. Are what use are the mud pots of this world? I suppose the question is a moot one: that mud pots simply are and will be until the fire dies. Journal, blog, sci-fi novel, what have you: there’s no use, then, attempting to suppress any of it because the heated gasses will out. Come what may.
And it’s not as if I don’t have any experience with deciding upon the difference between private and public art-craft. The Humble Hogs food cart was the lesson in 2010-11 that encouraged me in no uncertain terms to surrender to what I really was versus what I aspired to be, namely, that I was a private cook – a home cook – and not meant for working in a restaurant or a food production environment even if it was my own business. It’s nothing to do with quality food. In fact, quality tends to lend itself to private cookery because restaurants and food productions enterprises are slave to quantity, a condition that undermines quality at every turn.
The things that stick with us. Two things come to mind and they are both declarations, it occurs to me, from men on the job that serve to define, at least, exactly what I am keen not to become. In general, I agree that it’s not productive or effective to attempt to envision the negative. But as with everything, the exception proves the rule. Once again paraphrasing something from the biography of Samuel Beckett: It was a signpost on the road he had traveled for so long and so blindly with nothing to guide him except the conviction that all other ways were wrong. Such is the nature of a negative projection or a negative form of energy and of the paradox of being the only positive thing we sometimes have available. Knowing what you don’t want doesn’t get you there but it when it’s all you’ve got, well, it’s all you’ve got in comparison to oblivion.
Back to the two things, then.
My high school, to their credit, liked to try to coach kids towards their proper career and one of the things available to us were guided tours of workplaces by an employee who volunteered to suffer the burden. I think I was in tenth grade or so when I availed myself of such an opportunity and it happened to be at a nearby Ford plant that assembled so-called plenums – the plastic baffle configuration that manages the little HVAC systems in the dash of an automobile. Boring as hell, of course. Anyway, I take the tour, guided by a guy who must have been the age I am now and, true to form even in my teens, I have the nerve to ask this guy, “So, is this what you wanted to do for a career?” “It’s a living,” he says, flatly. The dull thud of my heart hitting the bottom of my expectations, whatever they were at the time, was deafening. Gosh, I thought, is that it? Is that what it comes down to for this guy? For anybody? Yikes, was my conclusion; I’m never going to be that way about my job.
Blasco. My last big career job, the one that paid more than I’d ever made. Here I am chatting with this engineering type guy who happened to be one of the go-to manufacturing experts of the type who had routinely been shipped over to China, sometimes literally on a moments notice, to assuage whatever emergency production situation needed to be triaged – there’s always something in the paint/stain/coating finishing business whether it’s to do with cars or kitchen cabinets – and he was yammering about the time some Chinese factory paid something like $63K for his plane ticket so as to overnight him there, as it were, things were apparently so dire. Well, they’re never that dire but I learned that where most businesses don’t possess the proverbial pot to piss in, that they’re indeed going out of business either slowly or quickly, some of these manufacturing companies still enjoy a veritable flood of cash, and it serves to hypnotize all the engineers that feel entitled to it into a nauseating complacence but that’s beside my point. I ask this guy (because I pathologically despise work travel) how he managed to tolerate such things as dropping what he was doing and taking some ungodly long flight to a country where he doesn’t speak the language and never will (let’s just say this guy, whom I liked, looked and sounded as if he’d be more at home on the farm than in a kitchen cabinet manufacturing plant) and never mentions anything about the culture or anything besides how this or that person is an asshole at the plant, yadda, yadda. He shrugs and his tone changes, as if I’ve somehow said something silly. “It’s part of the job.” He stands there sipping his coffee as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world and what the fuck is with me asking such a dumb question.
Well, it wasn’t a dumb question, pal, for those of us who give a shit about what makes us our so-called living. And I’ve learned to acknowledge such vacuous, bourgeoise types for what they are besides vacuous and bourgeoise, which is of course a snarky thing to say about anybody and mostly isn’t true. That is, folks simply inherit different VAPMs. Different in such fundamental magnitudes and dimensions that, well, I was inspired, eventually, in my late middle age, to write a sci-fi novel about it. If for nothing else to explain it to myself. And I’m writing here about it; about two events that communicated the very same fundamentally dismal thing to me, namely, that people can somehow manage to work their lives away with nothing to justify it except a dull sense of obligation and the cash. It’s a living. It’s part of the job. Um, no thanks.
I pounded away at a few pages of TC2 last night; it had been a week since my last efforts. I’ve made it to page 149 or so and it’s always a weird experience working through a manuscript that seems both interminable and remarkably short at once. It was the same with TC1 and it will be the same with TC3 and so on and if the mystery ever reveals itself, well, I’ll be the first to let you know.
What’s it like to edit something you wrote over four years ago? It’s mostly unpleasant. I’m not a brilliant writer. My prose is at best serviceable and my plots likewise. The science comes and goes and my predilection for shifting point of view probably fails as much as it succeeds to energize the text. If pressed, I’d point to character development as my strong suit though a critic might disparage exactly that. I don’t know. I do my best to write things that I imagine enjoying as a reader but the experience of creating the scenes is so different from reading them that I can’t ever feel confident I’m not too close to it all; that what I think works simply doesn’t.
Re-encountering my own prose after such a long time away from it – I literally have not looked at the TC2 manuscript since completing the first draft – allows me to overhaul it without remorse, a good thing in terms of proper editing, but it also fills me with anxiety because none of the writing thrills me. I suppose on balance it never will. I could point to a handful of passages I’m proud of, that I still find evocative and even thrilling but if you’ve created it, chances are your favorites will never be commensurate with anyone else’s, which is merely yet another example of the weirdness of writing a novel versus reading a novel.
I don’t know any novelists. Which is to say I’m not acquainted with any. This may be a good thing. Perhaps it helps set me free. On the other hand, there is never anyone to help assuage the anxieties, to say, yes, that happens to me, too, it’s okay, it’s typical, you’ll get through it, just keep going. Or, try this, it helps. Or, never do this and always do that. But then exile is nature of the experience, come what may. Authors who resort to co-writing novels, for instance, perhaps in an effort to distribute the burden, as it were, or merely to enjoy a version of workplace camaraderie, like a person with a regular job, remain beyond me. I’m not declaring that it can’t be done but I’m suspicious. A novel is a single vision, it’s the nature of the thing, and while an editor can be regarded in some ways as a legitimate contributor – it depends upon how much substantive editing is involved, of course – it simply isn’t the same thing to tweak a style, refine a sentence, suggest an addition or a deletion and to otherwise develop a story’s strengths and diminish its weaknesses as it is to establish the vision in the first place and drive it forward from nothing.
I suppose some successful authors would find all my difficulties and gripes and laments incomprehensible. Perhaps some authors sail through manuscript after manuscript in a pleasant fugue of reliable inspiration. Perhaps they indeed have the experience of having to catch it all in buckets. I read that somewhere in The New Yorker, I think, and the citation is buried somewhere in the DOP, but it’s only to describe the sense of bountiful expression that apparently some gifted folks have enjoyed.
My experience has been reliably similar all along, from the first sentence of the first novel to now – namely, I struggle perpetually against a vague inertia, an energy sapping resistance to each day’s essential, renewed engagement in the vision and the process. I have to recreate the vibe prior to each session and then sort of dive in at full effort, like at the start of a race. And time indeed races along when I’m finally writing – I have never once experienced anything like so-called writer’s block once I’ve started. It’s the starting itself that sucks for me. I’ve resorted to literally pacing the room – pacing the cage – and since I wrote the first drafts of the first three novels and part of the fourth while, as I recall, Angie was still mostly working at the office, I was alone in the house and could avail myself of loud music – imagined Time Crime movie theme music – as inspirational starting fluid. I don’t need the music once I’m rolling; again, it’s the problem of inertia that I struggle against.
Occasionally I’ll experience resistance along the way, in the midst of things – a problematic passage here, an knotty idea there, a shitty sentence that refuses my administrations for hours, that kind of thing. At best I’ve written perhaps ten pages in a day, usually between three and five, sometimes just one or two and on the worst days a single sentence ties up the entire day’s session and I walk away exhausted at the futility of the experience. Even now, in my sixth year of being a wannabe novelist and in the midst of attacking the second draft of the second book in the series I find that, despite all the years of inattention to the story and the characters, I can reinsert myself into things, catch the vibe and plod along. I relish the time I spent working on TC1 with V.M., my editor because then, somehow, I could edit the hell out of at least one chapter per day, sometimes two depending upon the length and the sense of barreling through the book was as thrilling as it was exhausting. But by then I’d self-edited the fucking thing eleven times and when V.M. would submit her edits I was rarely compelled to argue a point. I’d make notes, resist a thing here or there, clarify a why or a wherefore but mostly I recall clicking “accept all changes” and being happy to move on to the next chapter. I’d email stuff and V.M. would process it within twenty-four hours – our progress didn’t so much resemble that of a steamroller (too ponderously slow) as one of those voracious combines that a modern farm uses to harvest wheat or what have you. We consumed acreage as if time itself were running out, as if the crop was ripe and the only thing to do was haul it in.
I suppose TC1 was ripe. And I’m doing my best not to expect to have that thrilling experience ever again. It was all new, for one thing, and now it isn’t. Now I know what to expect; that this second draft is indeed where I try to add everything I forgot, the third will be removing everything that doesn’t belong and the fourth will entail polishing. Then I’m going to hire an editor and get it done. No nine, ten, eleven fucking self-edits this time. Hence, TC2 will likely read differently. It may be a disaster. The book may suffer the sophomore slump whereby every grand complexity and quirky idiosyncrasy of my life that fueled and made its way into the first novel is lacking in the second. There are so many goddamn ways to fail at something, I tell you, it’s maddening.
V.M. she was great, we gelled, we jived, we were both new at it, for one thing, and our energy was in sync from the first. I can’t expect that to happen again. I can’t even anticipate that V.M. will be the editor for TC2. She’s still out there, at least the last time I checked the internet. But our last communications didn’t fill me with confidence that she enjoys editing novels one after the other, nor that she envisions being available for TC2. Hell, she’s a startup and a struggling entrepreneur herself. And from what she said, she seemed to have learned something about how picky she is regarding the manuscripts, that she’s not prepared to invest the energy in just anything that comes her way. I get it. I completely get it. She says she’s proud of TC1 but that doesn’t mean she’s at all looking forward to TC2. It may be that she consumed her novel editing energies and will be on to other things when I finally contact her. I will contact her, of course, but tentatively, in the context of testing the waters. As I said, I’m suspicious that she’s perhaps not going to be the one for TC2.
Without putting the cart before the horse, the idea of having to find a different editor strikes panic in my heart. Yikes. It’s as cold as space out there. Too many so-called professional editors, it seems to me, are either tyrants – frustrated writers themselves who are keen to recast the work of others within the context of their own – or through no fault of their own they don’t jive with my style. It’s all chemistry. And it’s all mostly a crap shoot. Which is to say there’s too much luck involved. It’s a leap of faith, then, and a high-wire act, to try to start afresh. Ugh.
But I will nevertheless make it happen; TC2 as a finished product will come to pass. Because there’s nothing else that makes me want to get up in the morning. Besides perhaps this journal. But this journal has yet to demonstrate, even as a published blog, anything besides a very tenuous and arguable influence within the context of social proof. It drives a little traffic to carnegieolson.com but website traffic is only important if it translates to sales of the book(s).
Unfortunately, TC1 remains neither here nor there in terms of legitimizing my further effort and financial commitment. Economically it’s a categorical flop. Critically, with zero reviews, it’s likewise neither here nor there. I’m mostly driven to keep going by the sense of being too far out to sea to turn back. I’ve long ago lost sight of land. I’d aspired to more encouragement from the world-of-action by way of indie publishing the first book in the series. It’s not forthcoming. This is the typical state of affairs, statistically. Nobody sells books. I’ve come far enough along, then, to have left my naïve expectations far behind, so that when I read on Alli’s Facebook page all the commentary and questions from first-timers I cringe and scratch my head. Was I that naïve? Yes.
There was a new author lamenting, for example, that while they had enjoyed thirty sales soon after publication several months ago (publishing via KDP had been “remarkably easy” they declared), with sales attributed almost exclusively to, as I gathered, their family, friends and the acquaintances they’d managed to cajole into buying a copy (hey, you do what you can), book sales had stalled and they were wondering what to do about it. I was inspired to list everything I’d done as mirrored within the Alli website, from establishing an ecommerce ready website, a consistent blog, giveaways and amazon advertising to publishing an audiobook version and whatever else, which had only resulted in my humble sales of 90 copies and the author responded, “Phew!” He’d “try some of the suggestions” and meanwhile wait until sales picked up. Um, I’m here to tell ya, my friend, sales don’t just “pick up.” Rather, you are staring oblivion in the face. You will not be discovered. Why not? Because, frankly, nobody ever is. Nobody gives a shit about your book. This is the first lesson: absolutely nobody is trolling Amazon KDP releases for stuff to buy. And getting your book on the shelf of a local bookstore, spine out or otherwise, avails you nothing. I’ve been there.
There may have been a very brief window of opportunity eleven or so years ago, circa 2010, from what I’ve read, where utter garbage indie dross was being bought by folks desperate to use their new Kindle and having nothing else to choose from. You run across the occasional early KDP title and it’s shocking, the amateurishness that was tolerated back then. That moment passed like a fart in the wind. Those writers now lament that, for instance, Amazon keeps changing their algorithm and now they don’t sell any books. No, you’re not selling any books because (1) your book sucks and (2) you aren’t paying to advertise it. I didn’t communicate any of this, of course, to our emerging author because it’s harsh and disheartening and a cruel lesson. Hell, it turns out the guy had self-published via KDP only – he was intimidated by having to get his manuscript and book cover formatted into something that would be accepted by Ingramspark. Gods above and below, man, you have much work to do. Beginning with hiring professionals. Unless of course you’re keen to keep it all a bloody hobby.
Me? It’s too much damn work and money spent to indie publish a novel, let alone more than one, and not give it my all to get it read. I don’t know what that means in terms of managing to build a platform – folks will tell you that you need at least three novels out there before you’ll see any legitimate sales, yadda, blah. Well, perhaps. I get it that these days it’s all about social proof. And impatience. Ooh, this guy has nine novels published, if I like his stuff I don’t have to wait for him to write anything else. I don’t know if this is how people are. I’m not. I’m still of the mindset that an artist-craftsman’s sequels or subsequent product, be it record albums, books (fiction or non-fiction) or films, what have you, if they’re reliably any good require a good three years between iterations. Even the gifted don’t ever seem to manage quality production on an annual schedule. That of course has not stopped rock bands an novelists and even filmmakers from rushing the next one to market come hell or high water or utter lack of quality. I point to the seventies when many of my favorite rock bands were releasing more than one record album per year, yikes! Never a good thing.
Nevertheless, it sucks to be staring more than a year in the face between published volumes of Time Crime. All of us get in a hurry. If I don’t get it out soon, we think, I’m going to disappear from the meager public consciousness I’ve managed to conjure from nothing. It’s the fear of nothing that frightens us, to be sure: that I’d have to start over from nothing is the most goddamn terrifying thing I can think of. Carnegie Olson, who? Time Crime what? The fact is, when you put yourself back in the perspective of a listener, reader, consumer of art-craft, the years fly by and you’re on to other things and when some new version of something you liked three years ago comes out, well, you’re just as game for it, on average, as ever. And you appreciate the time spent away from it – absence can indeed make the heart grow fonder. So, I’m advising myself not to sweat the time and rather be certain I’m pouring every iota of quality inspiration I can into these books.
Two years, then, is more reasonable between published volumes of TC. What about the aforementioned three? Well, I’m not starting from scratch. TC2 exists as a complete first draft and now a partial second draft. TC3, however, needs an ending. TC4 is a mere fifty pages of first draft. So, it may turn out that three years between a book or two is indeed what happens. Regardless, it’s not as if I’m getting any pressure – any whatsoever – to produce. The only pressure and expectation and sense of urgency is coming from me. As usual. Impatience being my number one worst, most pernicious, most self-sabotaging attribute. Why I can’t live the life of a confident author, akin to Campbell, say, who seemed keen to allow the time it took to get it right, to write right, is just one of my idiosyncratic burdens. Other folks suffer other predicaments.
There are better writers out there. They’ve written better books. But some of those better writers have yet to write that better book or perhaps they’ve not devoted themselves to marketing it. Talent, timing and drive is the evidence left behind by remarkable success, just as Malcom Gladwell has described. Eighty percent or so of life, according to Woody Allen, is showing up. Persistence, as Robert Fripp suggests, is the door to heaven. I’m paraphrasing these folks. But these aphorisms tend to reflect reality, hence they remain in public discourse. Hence they can add value on the long road to individuation as an author or anything else. Using the tools available, however meager, can mean the difference. I’m aiming, then, to take that position left vacant by some other, better writer who hasn’t done the this or that that I’m doing. If I’m lacking the talent, perhaps I’ll make it up in drive. When my drive slackens, perhaps it will invite a refurbished architecture of timing. Perhaps there’s no hope at all. This is the life, this is how it is, this is the only way through. Conviction. Aspiration. Authenticity. Persistence. Pressure. Time. A lucky break. Rock on.
I arrived home from work one afternoon last week, after two days of modest, midday shifts (8am -2pm), destroyed. Physically spent, that is, and psychologically wrecked. I don’t know what happens except that some days on the job the running around and up-and-down-ladders (literally and figuratively) and customer service challenges combine into a toxic, energy sapping, confidence lashing, consumptive brume that yanks the oxygen from the lungs of my zeal. Life seems a pitiless, heartless exhaustion. It didn’t help that I was working in a different department and struggling to be competent. Add to that a string of five days without selling a book and the monthly advertising invoices pouring in and I was overwhelmed with a sense of utter inauthenticity and foolhardiness. Who am I to think I can write a novel that’s good enough to be worth buying? And what kind of idiot spends $25K on such a project, sees sales of a mere 90 copies in eleven months and thinks, gee, I’m looking forward to doing this again next year? Or the year after that, what have you. Talk about a silly hobby business. Better to refer to it, indeed, as nothing more than vanity publishing. Which is to say, here I am keeping the novel’s head above the waters of oblivion only by way of having the financial resources, modest as they are, to do so. Meanwhile, I’ve learned how publishing houses go broke: if it costs this much to publish a book and most of them won’t ever earn themselves out, let alone immediately: trouble.
Anyway, having crashed – I literally laid down on the floor and slept when I got home from work, something I never do (as a rule I never take naps) – in a kind of defeated heap, resigned to the alternative oblivion of dreamless sleep and indifferent to the idea of ever waking up again because it all seemed so fucking pointless (it was that bad, I’m telling you), I managed awaken at dinner time, shoved down my food and forced myself to read. I never snapped out of the dreary and debilitating grip of depression, however, and after slogging through Richardson’s Emerson and the introduction to Romanticism and Speculative Realism (a collection of academic essays that I’m not yet certain were worth the purchase) I told myself not to check my book sales for once and shuffled off to bed, still hopelessly indifferent to the idea of tomorrow.
The following morning at 6:30am I rose to face the day, come what may. The first thing I did, as always, was check sales and, lo, I’d sold an eBook in Canada, thank Thor! – the first official sale of 2021! Hey, I think many other authorpreneurs will have to admit that it’s the nature of the beast to be obsessed with any scrap of cosmic flesh we can come across to keep going. That’s not an elegant metaphor at all, sorry, but it does capture the desperate keenness of the whole affair: every sale, every rating (heaven help me regarding reviews), any tidbit of connection or intimation of progress means everything to us “emerging” writers. Hey, it’s not pretty. Ask any indie author whose first book didn’t immediately “take off” (which statistically means virtually every indie first timer out there) and odds are they’ll reflect a version of this unsightly neurosis.
Some days, then, are better than others. The “I’ll never sell another book” misery passed. However temporarily. And of course the tricky part is letting go of it all – being anxious for outcomes that is – and resisting the compulsion to call out the cosmos, as it were, to tempt fate and require things to happen within a certain time frame and in a certain manner according to my perceived needs, my desires. As opposed to my more healthy and otherwise proper aspirations. Because, time and again, the cosmos teaches that it isn’t about you: what you are offering to the world is of the world already, in the sense of the block universe, for instance, and is an expression of the humanity you are a part of and the biology and physics that comprise the nature of things both tangible and intangible, both natural and super natural (sic).
Emerson’s urging the young men to hold on to their early visions and romantic expectations had an edge to it. He told them that abandoning those expectations meant death: “Then once more perish the buds of art, and poetry, and science, as they have died already in a thousand thousand men.”
Robert D. Richarson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire, (Berkley: University of California Press, 1995), 295-296
What is it about the life of the artist-craftsman that seems so perilous and ultimately unsustainable? Why do so many of us quit? The money, or lack of it, to be sure: there is, too often, no economic sense to made of it; one’s efforts can never point to any entrepreneurial legitimacy; rather, they are seen by oneself and others as mostly indulgent and ultimately pathetic: you don’t sell your work, nobody is reading, listening, looking at any of it. So why bother? It all seems worse than silly; at best it appears a kind of selfish lunacy and at worst it demands an unreasonable, unacceptable toll upon others. My wife’s career financially supports the both of us, for example, whereas my wannabe career as an authorpreneur merely costs in all manner of ways. It will never be any different, of course. If it were easy, as they say, everyone would be doing it. Well, it sometimes seems as if everyone is doing it, given the DIY legitimacy of everything these days. The traditional threshold guardians (traditional within the context of publishing novels, at least) have been for the most part dismantled
But to return to the idea of holding on to one’s visions and romantic expectations: what is it that Emerson and any of us sympathetic to him (and Thoreau for that matter and in my opinion also Joseph Campbell) are really referring to? Myth? The mythic? Yes. Namely, consciously or unconsciously, the accompanying or otherwise defining four functions (originally Campbell’s) of myth, which I’m keen to keep reiterating: (1) A sense of awe; (2) a cosmology that supports that awe; (3) a sociology that establishes morality & ethics; (4) a pedagogical, supporting psychology. So that, again, I interpret myth and mythology in both cultural and personal terms as the essential thing or first mover which encompasses – as a sheltering sky – all other contemplative iterations or specializations, including all so-called religions. Religion in this context is not diminished; rather, it is in my opinion properly located or right-sized within the broadest contemplative, ontological, empirical and phenomenological contexts. If I’m a phenomenalist, so be it, but I’m not here to split philosophical hairs. As Emerson, Thoreau and Campbell would all agree, the kingdom of God (insert your particular divinity here) is within us. This is blasphemy to the righteously biblical (or choose another so-called divine text or dogma) and Emerson, for instance, endured criticism of the sort, essentially Occidental, that categorically excludes man from Heaven (the angel wielding a flaming sword who guards the gates of Eden) until a final, reorienting judgement day corrects our sinfulness and establishes an eternal paradise. Jesus, after all, was crucified, arguably, only when he was perceived to have identified himself with God.
Romantic vision and expectation, then. It has to do with our fleeting sense of being properly alive – of a sense of everyday connectedness, an idea found within existential Shinto (namely, as it differs from Shrine Shinto – see this remarkable little book by Kasulis for a brilliant extrapolation: https://www.amazon.com/Shinto-Home-Dimensions-Asian-Spirituality/dp/082482850X/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=kasulis+shinto%3A+the+way+home&qid=1610216475&sr=8-1) enhanced by the full expression or engagement of who we are – our experience of so-called individuation. We seek and, as Rumi famously suggests, what we seek is seeking us. Until such an experience of unity or realization is achieved, until the potential energy is transformed into kinetic, as it were, we endure the profound and tantalizing sense of impossible possibility, suspended destiny, profound expectancy, wholehearted yearning and the persistent, push-pull gravity of a parallel world shadowing our own and knock, knock, knocking at the door between; a locked portal for which we have yet to discover the key. Such is the soul crying out. Such is the experience of what is grinding against the knowledge or the vision of what could be. Such is the experience of living within the Mystery.
It’s inevitable, post holiday and retail boom times, that I come to terms with my return to onesie-twosie sales per month of the book, beginning of course with this month, if I can even perpetuate that small goal. So be it. The alternative is to pull all my Amazon advertising, quit posting blog posts, forsake the idea of discovering any new marketing niches to nurture and otherwise fold up my authorpreneurial camp until I can manage to complete the edits of TC2. Which isn’t a realistic alternative. I’m in this thing, full on, all the way to the end, come what may.
There I was, then, practically all day yesterday immersed in doing additional due diligence regarding the idea of me and my HWG brother collaborating on bringing Five out as a vinyl or resin so-called toy (or figure). I thought, is it really required to enlist toy factories, be they overseas or here in the States, at significant financial investment, all the while removing most of the actual art-craft from our own hands? For some folks, after all, coming up with an illustration is all they can manage, that’s fine. But HWG is a professional art-crafter with an interest and some experience in sculpture. So, what else is out there, I asked myself, to make this happen on a more granular, organic, more jazzy scale? There must be a way.
These days, you just “google it.” Which is to say, you avail yourself of the internet. Not everybody tends to do even this little thing, I’ve noticed. So, I typed in, “How to make your own vinyl figure.” And within a few minutes or less of noodling around I plunge directly into the happy realm of the so-called Crafsman and his Steady Craftin’ youtube channel. Specifically, I stumbled upon this video and the two following it which describe the creation and rendering in resin style (as opposed to vinyl) of his Free Range Chicken: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycr9bpO-czI
The Crafsman’s youtube channel also has a store – who knew you could have a youtube channel with a store and all the accoutrements of a damn website? And it likely costs him nothing, versus the monthly fees involved in running my own site. Anyway, I’m hardly youtube material but the Crafsman is a natural and apparently making it all happen sustainably, by way of the DIY, no-cost, Patreon, youtube.com subscriber, Etsy, Teespring, whatever it takes little home-spun, low-volume, nitchie, artisinal services that allow the emerging, solo, self-financed entrepreneur an opportunity to test the waters of their own vision. Without going broke.
Hey, it’s probably another example of the 85/15 rule whereby eighty-five percent of the folks who try to get their little vision of greatness started on the web in whatever form simply don’t make it. Because it takes so many things to go right, doesn’t it? You offer your hard won boon to the world-of-action and you receive one of the three results, as we’ve discussed in a previous post: welcome; rejection; or a sort of open-ended middle ground; a neither here nor there, uncommitted either way thing; the wait-and-see-if-you-can-convince-me situation. Which can take years to transform into anything like a welcome and acceptance and, well, that’s a different discussion, more akin to where I’m at. Crafsman? He succeeds in his element, expressing his incomparably positive, palpably wholehearted personal mythology and, as it always seems to be when you’re having the experience of being properly alive, you not only get out of your own way and everybody else’s, but you find yourself helping and inspiring others to find and express theirs. You lead by example and it’s best when it isn’t even intentional. Which is to say the best leaders don’t regard themselves as such (leadership being a study unto itself).
When it works – personal mythology, that is – it looks so easy. Become a novelist. A painter. Youtube your “steady craftin’.” It appears not only a balm to the world’s miseries but absolutely effortless. And then everybody tries to copy it. And gets it all wrong. Or has zero youtube charisma. I can recall ten or so years ago when I was back in Texas, out of work, again, rebooting the system, again, trying on hats, trying anything to make it better, I tried recording Angie, me and our dog on a typical urban trek using my crappy little flip-phone cell phone. I recorded a little scene of us walking – we’ve been urban trekking, as I refer to it, for a couple of decades – and me doing a voice over of sorts; narrating the thing like so many folks do (Angie works out on the treadmill to a runner, for example, who blabs and blabs continually while the camera over his shoulder records his amazing travel jogging locales and the guy is good at it, it works, which is to say it’s compelling). Anyway, I played back my little documentary riff and almost puked at the sound of my own voice. Yow! And my pathetic, half-baked, uninventive, uninspired video clips. I couldn’t endure a second of it. Everything about the idea was like a stillborn, two-headed calf. Horrible. Intolerably, impossibly wrong.
So, yes, I could’ve gotten better at it – you can learn a skill and become functional. But functional is not what you, me or anybody else is seeking. It’s not what we want, what we need and in the end, it’s not what any of us, when we’re in tune with our personal mythology, has to offer. You see these folks on youtube or wherever with their little 100 subcribers or what have you but the folks who kill it in this medium – from kids to oldsters, it doesn’t even matter if you speak English at all well – it’s akin, I’d say, to movie star dynamics: you either have it or you don’t. Cinematic charisma, let’s call it, is something you’re born with. It’s a talent. What do you do with talent? As we’ve discussed in other posts, you nurture it, deliberately practice it into mastery. Meanwhile, if you aren’t that youtube type of talent, no harm, no foul, there’s some other way to go about it, some other legitimate, authentic way to be who you are.
Hell, the Crafsman: if he someday became convinced to reveal his identity or put his face in front of the camera, to lose the puppet and the gloves and the happy mystery of it all, well would it work? Likely it would be a disaster. Or at best a ho-hum, get-your-ass-back-behind-the-camera thing. When it works, there’s no stopping it. When it doesn’t, there’s nothing that can save it. Meanwhile, folks love the Crafsman like they love Bob Ross and Mister Rogers and the Crafsman mentions these two icons (and somebody else I can’t recall) – folks have told him that he indeed sounds like one or the other and, to his credit, the Crafsman doesn’t appeal to this comparison and mentions that he in fact doesn’t think Bob Ross or Mister Rogers, as voices or, by extension personalities, happen to sound at all alike to begin with (I’m paraphrasing) so, well, how could he sound like all of them or any of them? I think it’s a perception thing, he says, or something to that effect.
There is nothing new under the sun, as our man Ecclesiastes said. Hence, the Crafsman can be said to be riffing on something that is already a part of our pop culture requirement, so to say: he provides something we need that isn’t entirely original because nothing ever is. This is not a criticism. It’s rather a compliment. The Crafsman is bestowing wisdom in his impossibly appealing, groovily humble manner. Without perceptible pedagogy. The vibe of his show is steady craftin’ almost as a lifestyle, except he doesn’t go to pains to at all present it that way. He is not Martha Stewart, let’s put it that way. He never implies (not the Martha did, either – hey, I always liked Martha Stewart) that any of us ought to change anything about ourselves or be more like him. The sages and the shamans of this world, the divinely inspired and the otherwise cosmically connected don’t do this. Crafsman will occasionally suggest that we do something today to build somebody up or help them out, what have you. And if I said (or wrote) such a thing it would fall flat and be boring as hell. Because that isn’t my job, exactly. When the Crafsman says it, however, it’s as real and as right as rain, as they say.
And I’d suggest that his youtube channel is yet another example of the Little Big Thing: the Crafsman communicates nothing more complicated or intentionally weighty than what his interests are, what his zeal is, all by way of the things and gizmos he loves. He narrates his world, communicates his personal mythology, is interesting because he’s interested. And when you’re true to yourself, you are groovy in your own way and we can’t take our eyes off you. Or your nitrile-gloved hands.
The practical lesson? The takeaway? Now I know, courtesy of the groovy knowledge and DIY fearlessness bestowed by the Crafsman, that Five as an art-craft toy, in resin, is an entirely doable little project. Art-craft. Handmade. Homemade. Uber low production. No need to drop ten or twenty grand and enlist a battalion of Chinese factory workers to manufacture and paint them. At my level, still treading so close to the precipice of oblivion as an authorpreneur, I feel heartened and emboldened, as HWG does, by the Crafsman’s so-called Free Range Chicken story, or toy-making method, for example. Do ten or twenty copies or however many feels right. Sculpt and paint them all by hand. So that HWG does the “sculpt” (art-toy industry lingo) to his liking, I offer a handful of copies to interested readers of Time Crime on this website and we see if the idea has legs. Maybe, maybe not, you only know by way of trying.
Meanwhile, HWG includes a version (or two or three) of Five or the Moleman (however he wants to present it because it’s his image) as part of his gallery show this coming summer and he sells them there. Or takes orders. Perhaps that’s where the “sculpt” of Five belongs? Perhaps not, either. But the experiment is all good. Imbibe the vibe and test the flame of your personal zeal. Surrender to your personal mythology. It won’t be easy. But it will be, in its way, groovy. That’s all there is.
Because the waters of the unconscious are deep and dark and full of…, well, who knows what? I’ve been pining for reviews. While trying to remain cognizant of the idea that we all ought to be careful what we wish for. Because, as they say, we just might get it.
Well, I haven’t received any reviews for Time Crime. Yet. And when the latest Locus Magazine arrived yesterday and I found myself encountering a review by Katharine Coldiron (great name) of a book I’ve been following (without having read it), namely, The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis, because her book had appeared beside mine in a Goodreads giveaway and we competed neck and neck for a time for entrants, and I sort of liked the cover and appreciated her nod towards mythology (in her case religion) as an oblique theme, and I assumed she was a debut indie author like me, besides her being queer and half my age and writing in the first person (none of which appeal to me), well, I was intrigued and jealous. Again. Because, as I’ve discussed here before (and posted as a blog), she somehow seemed connected in a big way that I am not – garnering a mention in the NPR Book Concierge and having her book cover appear in Locus’s Books Received when I can’t pay people to read my novel. What is she managing to do that I can’t? Does she know somebody in the business? Is she an insider? Is she connected? Is she adept at spinning her female/queer diversity angle? Is her book good? Is it hitting a zeitgeist? Is she just a better writer than me?
Let’s just say that Coldiron’s review was evocative of her name: cold iron. Sharpened to a lethal edge. “I genuinely wanted to like and to root for Linden A. Lewis’s debut….” Uh oh. “As I read, though, the book dissolved more and more of my goodwill, until, by the conclusion, I had very very few positive things left to say.” Can it get any worse? Remarkably, yes. Indeed, relentlessly, artfully, ruthlessly and intelligently worse.
Lewis presents a new science fiction universe but she’s a poor historian of that universe, leaving the reader confused about important aspects of its origin. She invents diverse characters in difficult, conflict-ridden situations but their personalities are almost blank, their narrative voices interchangeable.
Katharine Coldiron, “Locus Looks at Books,” Locus: The Magazine of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Field, Issue 720, Vol. 86, No. 1, p.19.
Ouch. These are creative writing workshop callouts. Not that I’ve ever attended a creative writing workshop. Within that context or perhaps some other classroom such lethal frankness might be intended to snap a wannabe out of complacence or indicate to a beginner that they might do better to point themselves towards a different vocation entirely. Here, however, within the pages of a well-regarded flagship of the SFF trade, the accusation is one of inauthenticity and, unforgivably, amateurishness.
Near the end of the review Coldiron is still slugging at the corpse. “But because Lewis’s characterization and the historical aspects of her world building are weak, I felt sure I was in the hands of a writer who didn’t know what she was doing….” Then the final, irreconcilable dispensation: “Truly, I hope that Lewis’s craft improves, because there’s always room on the shelf for a science fiction newcomer with interest in gender issues and power struggles, but The First Sister is an unready book, a novel with fewer merits than demerits, and an unfortunate start to a new author’s career.”
It strikes me that while I had assumed Lewis to be an indie author the fact that she isn’t may have further worked against her. I found her author page on Simon & Schuster’s website. Along with an image, already (The First Sister was published in August of last year) of her new book. Such a pedigree implies accomplishment. Such subtle yet significant marketing penetration implies substance. Or merely smacks of corporate gamesmanship.
Whether or not Lewis’s visibility and Big Four backing provoked an unhindered antagonism on behalf of the influential but tenuously situated Locus – they are a registered non-profit openly struggling to survive – who knows? And if Coldiron had so adeptly and boldly savaged Stephen King or Blake Crouch it may have only inspired more sales – the fans have spoken over the years in regard to such critically bulletproof writers. Meanwhile, unready; an unfortunate start to a new author’s career. Yikes.
The review literally left me shaken. I thought, Christ, what if that were me? I’m new at this, too, after all. And I’m too often earnest and passionate beyond anything to do with my curriculum vitae. If it were a customer review on Amazon, say, I could perhaps shake it off, nevertheless with difficulty, as an unreasonable, neurotic rant from a disgruntled wannabe. Or something. But this? I’d frankly consider suicide. I’m not kidding. I don’t know how a new author comes back from such a thrashing.
Yes, as artist-craftsmen we’re to cultivate a thick skin. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, that kind of thing. Not everyone is going to like your work. But, whew, I don’t know. Here I am grasping at reviews in the hope they’ll be good ones, that they’ll eventually help thrust me from oblivion into arrival and legitimacy as an author. But to be so categorically dismissed. On the very first of the New Year. With one’s brand new sequel just arrived. Be careful what you wish for, Keith, old man. Be very careful, indeed.
Best to focus instead upon making TC2 the best it can be. I’m reminded to maintain an inside out perspective, as it were; to stay within, be true and to write from the heart. All the while honing my craft, never surrendering to my impatience and my too often pernicious sense of urgency. I need to write and rewrite ruthlessly, taking the time the manuscript needs until I’m confident I’ve done all I can. I believe in the tetralogy but then all writers believe in their work. Lewis believes in hers, I’m sure. Yet somehow, sometimes, our earnestness and passion can make us blind to things. Even great artist-craftsmen sometimes can’t see when their talent has left them. They sometimes refer to an author’s books or a songwriter’s songs or a painter’s paintings as their children. Because, perhaps, we love our works like children, namely, in spite of themselves and all their otherwise obvious faults and failings.
Such love inspires faith. But faith is a tricky thing when it comes to art-craft intended for public consumption. Write for yourself, sure, and keep it to yourself and then no harm, no foul, the work is for its own sake. Regard it as a boon, however, something fought for and won and worthy of bringing across the threshold of dream and vision into the hard, cruel brilliance of the world-of-action and we’ve got to prepare ourselves for one of each of the three receptions as Campbell himself defined them: (1) welcome, (2) refusal, or (3) tentative indifference. The first two remain entirely outside our control while the last result responds, in the best case, to influence, be it our own or that of others, but it demands pedagogy. The world has to learn to appreciate, let alone require, our gift.
It may take years. It certainly, meanwhile, takes courage to face and endure the risk of rejection to begin with and, should a person encounter the third response, it takes an iron will and a life of lean, eating-one’s-own-white-guts patience. Do we know when our work is good enough? I’d say, yes, we do, when we’ve done our homework, honed our scholarship, sought and followed as much advice as we can stomach and won through to a finished product; something with a beginning, middle and end; something expressing conflict and character development. Something with a resonant vision if only to us. This is the rub. And the misery of it. It has to matter to us regardless of its reception. Welcome would seem the easiest and best reception. But knowing how life is and how difficult arrivals can be, I would guess that in the end the best, most fortunate outcome for a person’s boon is that of the slow acceptance. Within one’s lifetime to be sure, but to have one’s book “take off” as I’ve heard some authors describe it, well, I don’t know if that doesn’t bring with it another version of the genie-in-the-bottle lesson: your wish is granted and you get everything else that comes with it. For better or worse.
Sunday, January 3, 2021. Boy. Was I ever misguided about Linden A. Lewis. One-hundred seventeen Amazon reviews at 4.5 stars. So-called Amazon “Editor’s Pick” for “Best Science Fiction.” Her Kindle version is delivered via Simon & Schuster, which just proves that if she was ever indie (silly to assume that) she certainly ‘ain’t now. Editorial reviews posted by Publisher’s Weekly – “solid LGBTQ and multicultural representation” – NPR, Library Journal, all glowing. Her second in the series isn’t out now, I was incorrect, it’s merely all over Amazon and probably everywhere else as “release in August.” Gads, eight-month advance hype. Well, now I see why poor little ‘ol Locus magazine was a bit testy with this golden girl. That is, I get the impression, again, that while the magazine apparently goes to great lengths to promote its own version of diversity, it also cultivates the historiography of science fiction and respects legacy and earning one’s stripes. I could be wrong, but that’s my take.
Meanwhile, given Lewis’s bulletproof status, Coldiron’s scathing review will likely be reduced to a quirky anomaly, the kind of snarky lashing out that gets perceived as jealousy instead of perspicacity and only fuels the fire of Lewis’s legitimization – after all, having enemies is the surest sign of success. But time will tell if Lewis’s measure of ability is a talent or not and if her on-the-nose diversity gambit won’t go the way of all other flavor-of-the-month trends in publishing. Otherwise, it’s an example of being uncannily right on top of the zeitgeist and irrepressibly connected, a true chosen one. It happens. “Well,” said Angie, “at least now you know she’s not your competition.” Wow, I guess not.
I don’t know. I certainly feel a fool for having cultivated any sense that this woman, clearly leveraged by an industry insider (her mother, father, cousin, lover?), had anything in common with me. Cripes, there couldn’t be a debut sci-fi author less similar to me. And now I get to watch her career “take off” while my own… well, I’m frankly ashamed to refer to my own meager inroads as anything akin to a career at all. I pay to play, in a very, very minor way, that’s all.
What must it be like to be chosen? To get it all when you’re young, before you’ve been tarnished by age and failure and desperation. All of us try to imagine it. And we know all the stories surrounding such successes; namely, how some of the chosen never sought it, in fact have other ambitions or would prefer to be doing something else and others who did seek it, end up resenting it and regarding their fame and fortune as a curse. Then there are the handful who relish it and thrive within the big time. And so on. The big time. I wonder what Linden A. Lewis herself has to say about it all? She’s probably already had interviews and if I dug deep enough I’d likely find her whole story online. But reading it will only make me feel worthless. And then of course there will be the movie franchise, probably being inked as we speak.
Getting on with things – one’s own personal mythology – is of course the only answer to the anxiety induced by comparing oneself to others who appear to have more of what you want than you do. We lose our place within the principle of eternity when we become anxious for the outcome of our deeds. I’ve quoted and paraphrased this wisdom from the Bhagavad Gita many times, always by way of where I first encountered it which is within The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Our place within the principle of eternity. Our place, period. If it’s a bitter pill then I think one’s life is a tragedy. So, somehow, in some way, we must purge ourselves of the poison of comparison and soldier onwards with the work that has been given us and what we have to offer, come what may.
I’ve been grinding my way through Robert Richardson’s Emerson: The Mind On Fire. I’ve discussed my admiration for and brief correspondence with Richardson who died last year. But somehow I just cannot connect with anything to do with Emerson. Unlike within Richardson’s biographies of Thoreau and William James, where the men came alive as compelling, timelessly relevant icons of inspiration, Emerson remains cast in amber to me, as it were, as if he’s too much a part of a lost, alien time and perspective. His writing, at least as Richardson communicates it, seems loopy, convoluted, imprecise, bafflingly diffusive and perpetually tangent to the plot of my own interests. In short, I find him not only overrated but tiresome. And, frankly, dated. His thought is of its time, his supposed idealism, which is better described as “idea-ism” is, for me, a dull road that leads nowhere. I have no interest in the “idea” of the so-called mind-at-large and all that mumbo jumbo. I’ll shut up. Here I am criticizing as if my own work in fiction and non-fiction isn’t entirely lacking. Again, as Fripp suggests in so many words: if you’ve got no regard for your soul then be a critic.
Yet, some of us are natural critics and it’s a form of art-craft in its own right. As long as critique is delivered within the context of sincerity. Critique has its uses, its value. At it’s best, it contextualizes many things, even functioning as a secondary source of sorts in its own right. Read a well rendered review and you not only learn something and expose yourself to new vistas but oftentimes gain a context and therefore an insight into something that you may in fact like when you had convinced yourself you didn’t. But it doesn’t happen often. Which is to say it’s more likely that we read reviews merely to reinforce our own opinions – it’s too often a fraught, occasionally ugly form of gamesmanship in this way, so be it, it’s no use to defend the field against its inevitably parasitic component.
Nevertheless, I write reviews. Hence, I’m a parasite in this way. Not that I get paid to write reviews and therefore literally feed off the work of others. No. My god, no. I not paid to write goddamn anything at least in terms of a profit. Yes, I’m a professional novelist because I’ve sold a book or two, but that’s all it takes to get your pro-card. Otherwise, I’m writing reviews like I write journal entries; namely, as a method and a practice and a way of writing my way through things. So that I was heartened to hear back from T.S.:
I trust you have had a peaceful and joyous festive season. Here, in my Bavarian village (still marked, by the way, by myths and superstition), all was tranquil, not least because of the curfew (9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.) decided by our government.
Already in December, I have read your gracious words about my books (The Second Birth, The Figure of Modernity) that you put on the pages of Amazon and Goodreads. Your praise is generous, your sensitivity for the content (message?) of the books remarkable. I am grateful and greatly obliged to you.
Your text on the Figure of Modernity includes this sentence: “Hence, perhaps we need a third volume, one that expresses full-on Schabert’s ideas of mythos or spirituality or mystic vitality or what may be termed the Cosmos of Nature.” Well, in a way, both books you reviewed imply the third volume. But, then, I may refer also to my lengthy book on “The Architecture of the World: A Cosmological Reading of Architectonic Forms”, published in 1997, in German though. A French translation is available, but no English one (yet …). This book certainly corresponds to your wish for a “third volume”, partially at least. You can get an idea of it, though, by an article that I published on the subject – in English. You find it attached to this message.
I am very glad that Wherefrom Does History Emerge? has caught your attention. I hope you will find the essays that this book presents helpful and inspiring indeed. I may add, that five of the contributors – Davíd Carrasco, Antonio Panaino, Eiko Hanaoka, Dieter Fuchs, John von Heyking – are former Eranos Speakers.
It`s not too late to wish you: Happy New Year! May 2021 be for you full of good things, health, divine inspiration, good work, unexpected but then welcome experiences….
I write the reviews as a form of supporting the cause, to fuel dialogue and continued investigation and because they help, in their modest way, to help folks sell books that I like. These poor goddamn academics with their books priced at $99.00 or more and nobody reading them but their students and colleagues. I recall Richardson lamenting that early on in his publishing career, having witnessed a couple of his scholarly books struggle to reach his sought after general readers and instead functioning as merely printed versions of memorandums to colleagues, he’d become motivated to write biographies. As a way to connect to a significant readership. Anyway, I’m glad to do my thing – novels, journaling, blogging, reviews – both for the intellectual camaraderie and on behalf of whatever marketing support I can bestow.
Meanwhile, back to work tomorrow at the home improvement and while I’d never planned on working there more than the four months it took to earn the money to pay for the audiobook (a nice experience and something I’m very proud of but a categorical disappointment in sales, as it stands) somehow I’m still there another four months down the road. So be it, I can’t stomach taking a job in my old career, no matter what it pays and for now at least I’m still game to slog away at this indie novelist gig, come what may. It makes no financial sense whatsoever. It makes very little vocational sense because, hey, it’s been almost a year and I’m clearly not a Linden A. Lewis. Where will the money and the motivation come from to keep at it? I don’t know for certain. The wife would rather I “hit it big” so that she can quit her career which has its own challenges. For now, we’re holding the line and not making any drastic changes. I’m going to keep blogging, editing, paying for advertising and otherwise acting-as-if I’m a legitimate authorpreneur. If you’re a member of the tribe – a reader and a follower in any way, shape or form – thank you, and may your own endeavors bestow commensurate riches of all types, rock on, welcome to 2021.