The Way Home

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020. Wow, no takers on the second try at the giveaway. Best, then, to let the idea go. It’s funny, the thing with obscurity, namely, that it’s always there, patiently waiting to reclaim the helm. So that my fleeting sense of getting a little bit of traction in the marketplace as an author, of building something of a platform is always just that: fleeting. Who said that fame is fleeting? All that matters is that it’s nonetheless a truism. And all things must pass, which may be a Hindu thing.

Anyway, it’s also funny how long some types and levels of fame or notoriety or success, what have you, persist. As if the giant delete button that is time itself somehow skips over some things. Everybody has heard of Socrates (even though Plato may have made him up) and George Washington and Jimi Hendrix. And Luke Skywalker. Zillions of actors and athletes tend to enjoy historical longevity. Who cares?

Well, one of my preferred vocations is that of entrepreneur. I don’t enjoy working for the man. In fact I can’t stand it. It’s not the people, it’s being told what to do. I have plenty to do, I don’t need anyone telling me, whether it’s to get me paid or otherwise. I can remember my mother saying, “Why don’t you go outside and play?” Or, “Why don’t you go visit what’s his name?” Or, “I got you a job mowing the neighbor’s lawn this summer; and shoveling their driveway come winter, isn’t that great?” And I remember thinking, in so many words, What in hell, mom, I’m perfectly happy and perfectly busy. And, Who asked you?

It’s hardly laziness because I work at least as hard as anyone I’ve ever known. Too often I work too hard, so that I’ve found it a lifelong challenge to back off, to loosen my grip and to allow things to come to me of their own accord, in line with who I am, with my talents and what I really want to do. I’m driven like so many others to realize my dreams, somehow, some way, at almost all costs, come what may. And that in itself – the intense focus and relentless, perhaps compulsive or obsessive drive – oftentimes causes me to get in my own way.

What am I on about? Who in hell cares? Hey, this is just a journal entry, which is my way of writing myself into the day and through my own anxieties with the aspiration of getting from where I am to where I want to be. I have visions of greatness. I want to change it, fix it and make it better. I’m not alone. But not selling any copies of TC1 makes me feel alone. It makes me feel ineffectual and painfully obscure and that all my work and who I am is of no value to anyone. A private writer is an unread writer. And an unread writer is a tragedy. Because writing, no matter how self-oriented or even intentionally private is a form of communication. If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? A silly idea, of course, because it amounts to a trick question – that is, it requires at least two answers: (1) when a tree falls it creates sound waves; (2) to be heard, as such, requires an ear to receive those sound waves. Furthermore, it requires cognition to interpret the sound as that of a tree falling in a forest (identifying the crash, boom, bang of it all).

It has to do with perception, of course, and the nature of reality. Epistemology (the study of knowledge), Ontology (the study of being) and Empiricism (the practical aspects of experience), if you want to get officially philosophical about it. Apparently Einstein (now there’s an example of persistent fame!) was skeptical that Niels Bohr didn’t really believe that the moon failed to exist when nobody was looking at it. To which Niels replied in so many words, apparently, that it didn’t matter; that it was a riddle, a so-called infallible conjecture, which could neither be proved nor disproved. And of course the idea of infallible conjecture – that which can neither be proved nor disproved – includes everything from the existence of God (or the gods), to the idea of an afterlife to, I don’t know, everybody’s assumption that the sun will rise again tomorrow. Hence, atheists, in my opinion, are just as silly as religious zealots: committing to an unquestionable absence of something (the idea that something isn’t) is just as hardheaded and closeminded as committing to the unquestionable presence of something. From either perspective, one can explain away, as they say, any contrary idea.

Am I therefore agnostic? No. I used to consider myself such. I took refuge in the idea that, well, I simply didn’t know one way or the other about anything to do with the Mystery, let’s call it. And that that was okay. Letting the mystery or Mystery be seemed the prudent choice, at least in psychological terms; it was the one that relieved most of the anxiety over the question of the nature of reality. Or seemed to. Except that I finally had to acknowledge that the Mystery deserved to be capitalized. Which is to say there is an undeniable sense of the Other about life. So that it looms as a nagging predicament or opportunity, take your pick. It begs to be resolved, this mystery of the Mystery of life (and death) yet steadfastly resists all efforts at unraveling the ball of string, as it were. Or the so-called Gordian Knot, choose your metaphor.

How to move forward? I say focus on the how and let the why take care of itself. This is the essence of personal mythology, of veritelos, of being who you are. You belong in this world because you are made of it – we are all stardust, it has been said. You have a home in the cosmos and work to do within it. It’s only a matter of discovering the details, as much as we can, and getting on with things. It sounds oh so simple and it isn’t, I know. Such is the bite of irony that we endure. Life is irony. So much so, it oftentimes seems, that The Mythology of Irony is the title of a book I like to thing that I’ll get around to writing someday. In an effort to tease apart the details if nothing else.

Writing. Novels. Obscurity. Hugh MacLeod, whom I’ve quoted for years, wrote a little book called Ignore Everybody where suggests, “Enjoy obscurity while it lasts; as long as it doesn’t last forever.” Right on, Hugh.

Meanwhile, with Amazon being the only reasonably priced marketplace for advertising to any serious number of potential readers and so far performing as my only reliable marketplace (with nobody reading the blog, nobody will be visiting the website…) I’m struggling to discover more avenues for marketing the book. Barnes & Noble isn’t worth discussing, though eventually I’ll post my journal entry about my experience or lack thereof with their customer service. Meanwhile, B&N: who shops there besides adamant Amazon haters? B&N is typically more expensive than Amazon (my hardcover is less than half the price on Amazon at this writing), they don’t match pricing like Amazon does, they don’t allow for an author page unless you have three published books (anti-indie!) and their advertising platform seems from a different era. They don’t even allow a person to search for a book title, which seems crazy and I frankly don’t believe them. Though when I complained that searching for Time Crime generates nothing they responded, “Our search engine does not work that way.” Huh? But I’ve journaled earlier in the year about the non-starter nature of B&N, now more or less Waterstones, so I’ll shut up.

There are the little sci-fi review sites, one of which I again tried to contact today – SFBook Reviews at sfbook.com, for example, a group that has been doing their thing for some twenty years. It would be great to get them to agree to give the novel a shot at being reviewed. Brick and mortar bookshops? Ack. Again, I’ve journaled about my lousy experiences with brick and mortar bookshops, how if they agree to stock your title, they don’t have the means to sell any worthwhile number of copies. Mostly because they can’t help burying it in the stacks, spine out. Libraries? Forget it. I sound like a crank but it’s only because my idealism balloon has been burst from firsthand experience. Niche thyself, I get it. But it’s easier said than done. I’m trying. Which is to say I’m doing my best to stay positive, be creative in my efforts, to leave no stone unturned, to keep otherwise working on publishing TC2. For that may be my best advertising: having more than one novel out there, that is. ALLi has suggested as much. I suppose it’s another aspect of social proof. What kind of novelist, a reader might say, only has one novel? Well, I’m working on it. I’m working on balancing the marketing of TC1 with the demands of publishing TC2 and keeping my job at the home improvement and finding the energy and inspiration to do it all. It’s the same challenge for any wannabe writer, I know.

In the end, enjoying obscurity means enjoying the freedom of it. So, at this point, when I question whether my journal entry is worth posting I ought to just say, fuck it, post it; who’s it hurting? That’s freedom.

***

DOP1 (2012) Vintage Post:

Tuesday, December 04, 2012. I’m excited to be engaged in three new books:

  • Shinto: The Way Home by Thomas P. Kasulis
  • Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller & Sabastien Rouxel
  • The Yoga Tradition by Georg Feuerstein, PhD.

Campbell’s retelling of the Amaterasu myth in Hero (pp. 180-183) including his brief footnote, introduced me to Shinto, and I was compelled to explore it further. Kasulis’s slender book seems to be a great point at which to start, depart, enter or return – a torii gate if you will.

Like the shimenawa, the torii or Shinto gate is another sacred marker. The torii functions as a bookmark for connecting people to awe-inspiring power. It marks where one left off and where one will want to return. It is a tangible gateway to an intimacy with the world, one’s people, and oneself. When people get lost in the details of everyday life, when they disconnect from their capacity for awe, they often feel homeless. The torii shows the way home…. To “get lost” in Japanese is “michi o machigaeru,” literally, “to mistake one’s path.” Shinto is the kami path and when people deviate too far from it, they lose part of what they are and become lost. Disoriented, they seek a marker to show the way back to the kami-filled, tama-empowered world. The torii serves that purpose. Passing through it, one is on the way to being once again empowered.[1]

I’m drawn to “the overlap of materiality and spirituality,” the “everyday connectedness” of the “kami-filled” world, the idea of treasuring (versus trying to explain) the mystery within the sense of awe, the integration of nature and the appreciation of simplicity.[2] Also, the concept of “makoto no kokoro” elided simply into “magokoro” and translated as “pure mindful heart” seems to encompass much of what I’ve been writing about. I’m not looking for my religion so to say but I’m very much interested in learning how Shinto may have already expressed my own intuitive spirituality. They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear and this is just another example of tuning in and becoming aware of who I am. It’s all been done before, there’s nothing new under the sun, etc. Colloquialisms aside and as a bonus, it may be that Shinto has provided me with the word “magokoro” as an elegant and historically robust replacement for my clumsy “biophycomythology.” I don’t want to misappropriate the word however, so I’ll keep studying and test-drive the concept awhile.

Bouchon Bakery is another remarkably approachable book by Thomas Keller and his crew. Like Ad Hoc, which I happen to be cooking dinner out of right now, it’s as thorough as a textbook and as attractive as a coffee table book. Also like Ad Hoc, the precision of instruction blends into approachable warmth – I’ve never been to any of Keller’s restaurants but if they’re as unpretentious as these two books I’d be glad to experience them someday. I’ve been looking for a bread book for years, but have never felt comfortable with any of them. This book is compelling because it combines bread baking with pastry and confections and now I’m energized to see what I can create at home instead of buying from zcob. I’ve got some experience with a walnut bread I used to make from a somewhat disappointing Williams-Sonoma recipe, TK’s own delicious brioche and flatbread from Ad Hoc, and a nice Irish soda bread from Saveur but for the most part, I’ve relied on Zingerman’s Bake house – I’ve never felt confident that a home oven can produce great bread. My cookie repertoire has long been in need of expansion, I’ve only dabbled in other pastries and I’ve never made confections. This book has me jazzed to get going on all of it – it’s like a one-stop-shop technically and the artfulness of the publication is inspiring.

First, I’m pleased to have attempted my own pre-ferment, a.k.a. sourdough starter, mother, or sponge. I learned from zcob, and it’s verified by Matthew McDonald who wrote Bouchon Bakery’s chapter, that a pre-ferment is “the secret to great-tasting bread.” There’s two types: a poolish and a levain, both of which are made up of equal parts flour and water. The poolish contains a small amount of instant yeast whereas the levain relies on the “wild” yeast bacteria – the “flora” – that are present in the flour and the air in your kitchen. I assume I’ve got some good kitchen air for creating a levain, but we’ll see, I just started it this morning and its first “feeding” is 9am tomorrow. If I have bubbles, then my levain is alive.

Secondly, I’m motivated to accomplish a great bread crust. McDonald goes to some length to help you set up your home oven – with a baking stone, river rocks and a metal chain in a pan sheet pan, and a super-soaker water gun – to generate the steam required for a great crust. I remember reading in My Life in France how Julia Child’s struggled to develop a similar technique. The steam, which you generate immediately after putting the dough on the stone, apparently condenses uniformly on the surface of the cool dough, coating it with a thin layer of water and preventing the crust from forming too quickly.

The crust of a dough that doesn’t get steam will set quickly and become thick and hard as it bakes. It will also become dull and chalky. The shiny, caramelized crust of bread treated with steam is thinner than on breads that haven’t been steam-treated, and has the crispy, chewy texture of great bread.[3]

If I can bake bread that rivals Zingerman’s, which I consider to be breads with the best crumb and crust I’ve ever tasted, it’ll prove that McDonald knows his shit. I’m skeptical of the home-spun “technology” but I’m going for it.

[1] Thomas P. Kasulis, Shinto: The Way Home, (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004), 18.

[2] Ibid., 10, 26, 38.

[3] Keller, Thomas, Bouchon Bakery, (New York: Artisan, 2012), 266.