Black Pipe, Toadmen and the Mysterious Power of Empowerment.

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

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

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

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

The Shut-Off, author image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ibid., 87.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth…, 22.

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

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

Ibid.

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

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

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

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