In it to Win it

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Monday, June 15, 2020. Life at the home improvement store has inspired or more accurately “guilted” me into taking care of the handful of little projects I’ve been putting off for years. So that last week I replaced the downstairs bathroom sink faucet, installed a shower fixture access panel in the upstairs bathroom (to cover the opening I’d cut in the drywall for potential repairs) and replaced the electrical toggle switch for the stairwell light that I’d broken when I’d slipped on the steps and my flailing arm snapped off the tip of the toggle (I was crazily fortunate not to have broken my damn back falling like I did on the steps!).

It’s a Pfister, Karci model. It it looks nice, no leaks, two hours install time not counting the two extra trips to the hardware down the street to get the proper supply lines and a drain extension. Anyway, anyone who owns a home understands that the projects are endless. Next? The kitchen faucet that arrives today (I didn’t like the ones in stock at the store). The “old” fixture was installed only three years ago and already the pull-down sprayer, which I can’t replace (don’t ask) is shot. Then, the sillcock at the front of the house – it’s been inoperable since we moved in and I find that it’s not that it leaks from freezing but that it’s completely plugged due to corrosion – the shut-off is open and not a drop of water has leaked from it in the six years we’ve lived here (the house was built in the 1950s). After that, perhaps a new toilet in the downstairs bath for looks and functionality – the existing fixture is probably twenty years old, it’s the old standard height, round configuration and although I’ve replaced the toilet seat and flapper assembly the handle remains troublesome and the thing uses a ton of water so, it’s time has come.

You might assume that my employee discount has something to do with things but no, the ten percent savings is usually irrelevant since we can’t stack the discount on top of existing sale prices which are usually better. Who cares? What’s an author doing writing about home improvement projects? Especially since I’d told myself I’d retired from any and all but the most basic handyman tasks? Life doesn’t go as planned, the work offers a certain sense of practical engagement with life – working with one’s hands and the bit of learning that is required is a simple pleasure – and it’s something else to spend my meager earnings on besides advertising for the novel, which too often feels like money down the drain, pun intended. There is Ruby, too, who is five weeks old today according to Angie. Here she is a few days ago:

The four other pups in her litter are all the colors of the Aussie rainbow, as it were, (you can see another pup in the background) and Ruby’s face, if she were being held to the strictures of “proper” (American Kennel Club, say) coloring, would show the brown mask. But she isn’t being held to those standards – her white face is fine with us. It may be another few weeks, too, before her eye color becomes apparent; brown being most common of course but with this breed blue is not out of the question. We’re told all the pups have blue eyes at first, hence Ruby’s ocean blue peepers. Her mother, a very pretty animal, has striking blue eyes and stand-up ears while her father, handsome indeed, is the classic black, brown and white tri-color with dark eyes and floppy ears. Ruby, to this point, obviously much more resembles her mother.

Ruby will remain with the breeder for at least another four weeks, perhaps longer, but I’m guessing somewhere around nine or ten weeks we’ll bring her home. Will she blossom into a version of her mother or gain some visual attributes of her father? And what of her personality? The breeder described her as “sweet.” Chase (our Canaan) was stand-offish as a puppy and when sexual maturity hit, his otherwise agreeable mellowness transformed into a fear aggression and pervasive anxiety that essentially prevented us from being able to enjoy a neighborhood walk with him. Being anywhere but inside the house or within his own yard made him completely unreliable – we never knew how he would respond and no amount of training, behavioral or otherwise, would help. But that’s another, unfortunately unhappy story. For now, a couple years now down the road from that, our hopes are with the future of Miss Ruby Tuesday.

It all has to do with the proper movement or flow of energy; the energy of one’s personal mythology or destiny, however you prefer the idea described. It comes down to your place, your home, within the cosmos; ordained as it is by way of the dynamic between your biology (which may or more not come down to physics) and the physics of the cosmos of which you are a part, from which you, or your you-ness, emerged and into which, in both the mystical and physical sense, you will return. It’s that vital combination of talent, timing and drive and the Gladwellian (referencing Malcolm Gladwell) sense of autonomy, complexity and commensurate reward (which is hardly ever financial) that allows for the experience of being properly alive. As J.C. suggested, this is indeed what I believe we are seeking. It’s not meaning, per se, a vague, flabby, indefinable term. No, it’s aliveness, an engagement with the vitality of who you are. And that only happens when we are properly on the adventure that is unique (but not entirely unique, of course) to each of us.

The adventure? Of life? Yes. But it can be broken down into component parts. Those things, that is, that we must do to be who we are. I’m convinced it is our life work, our work of creativity, that resides at the core of who we are. It’s not the work of getting paid – that merely defines your professional work which may or may not be your true work. The DOP is all about this idea but in a nutshell, we all have our true work, what I refer to as our vocations, not necessarily paid, which are the things (and there is always more than one thing) that we must do or, if nothing else, that we find ourselves doing no matter the outward conditions of our life. For the purposes of a review and an example in the form of a list, I happen to have five vocations:

  1. Writing
  2. Cooking
  3. Walking
  4. Music Appreciation
  5. Authorpreneurship

Writing includes reading and scholarship. Authorpreneurship is new. And I class it separately from writing because I’m convinced I’ll write in spite of everything, in spite of the outcome of my efforts at actualizing a self-sustaining indie publishing life. You can remain a writer, after all, a private writer as it has been referred to, aside from any publishing aspirations.

Ten years ago, when I began considering all this in a systematic manner, I claimed six vocations, the first four being what they are now and the fifth and sixth comprising gastro-farming (an entrepreneurial experiment that didn’t get far) and what I used to term biophycomythologizing (combining my interests in philosophy, psychology and mythology) but now include within the sub-vocation of writing. The point being, one’s veritelically[1] authentic vocations, though probably the most reliably stable thing in our lives, may change. Hence, a routine reevaluation or reassessment of one’s vocations is well advised. There is an eternal quality to both cultural and personal mythology and if you find yourself very often struggling to either create a list of your veritelically authentic vocations or to maintain it – to have a confident, wholehearted, convincing sense of your own work and place in this world – then it merely means you have some self-work ahead of you. I didn’t arrive at an understanding, still developing of course, of my own true nature without all of the suffering and struggle that is expressed within the nine annual volumes (and counting) of the DOP. Whomever and wherever you are, you can find yourself. People have gone before who can help. You are not alone.

Time Crime. The novel isn’t selling and I endure despair. But then it’s summertime and the publishing industry, at least the traditional publishing industry, goes dormant in the summer with literary agents not accepting manuscripts and book productions dropping off. Do reader sales likewise tank? I haven’t researched the possible seasonality of book buying (there is data to be had for every damn thing). In my indie situation, perhaps folks in Europe and North America are taking vacations and they’re not looking to buy books, perhaps not, I don’t know. Perhaps I’ve tapped out the interest? And with a breakthrough review still pending, I may have to set my aspirations for TC1 aside until I complete the audiobook and then get TC2 on the market, if ever. I can only keep at it. And try not to spend every last dime on advertising, ugh.

Meanwhile, the Goodreads giveaway ends in thirteen hours or so and it has blown past 1775 requests here in the early afternoon EST – it goes to show that folks pay attention to the “Ending Soon” category, I know I do when I’m looking for giveaways to enter. Without a doubt it lends a certain fun sense of countdown urgency to things – and who doesn’t enjoy the thought of winning a free book?

I’m looking forward, then, to shipping the winner’s copies. (KDP printing is back up to speed at two days or less, it seems, to ship, so the readers won’t have to wait long). And I feel bad for all those who really have a devoted interest in the book, something beyond a cursory, oh-what-the-hell type of curiosity, and don’t win. Perhaps, as I’ve said before, I can come up with another, more intimate, tribe oriented giveaway, discount code or what have you. Nevertheless, without trying to sound  like I’m doing a hard sell (I only feel comfortable even mentioning it here deep within today’s post) the hardcover is now at $11.62 on Amazon, an incredible bargain, 64% off, a savings of $20, for the version that I personally think is the most attractive – the novel presents very well, if I do say so myself, in the hardback format. But so be it, the work continues and I want to thank everyone who has shown interest in the giveaway – thank you so very much!

[1] “Veritelos” is my neologism, combining the Latin veritas and the Greek telos, for “true nature.” The idea of which is established and elaborated upon throughout the DOP volumes.

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DOP1 (2012) – VINTAGE POST:

Sunday, November 11, 2012. The Russian borscht recipe I discovered online was a good one. Often it’s pretty easy to recognize a fine recipe just by reading through it, but with this dish, with all the cooked veg – beets (of course) but also turnip, parsnip, celeriac, onion and carrot – I was unable to imagine how it would taste. I feared overwhelming “beet-ness” or an otherwise vegetal finish which would be a waste of two quarts of my hard-earned beef stock. To my joy, the soup is memorably beefy and at the same time pleasantly earthy, neither too sweet nor with any overtly vegetal flavor. It’s also beautiful to look at: a glistening, deeply-colored purplish, ruby red, and it’s an example of a recipe that emerges as much more than the sum of its ingredients, with a remarkable personality and unique presence that justifies its well-known status as a classic. In short, like all great recipes, it takes like nothing else and is impossible for anyone to half-ass. This version is served hot, but I can see how it might excel as a cold soup, with beef or as a vegetarian version.

Monday, November 12, 2012. I wrote poetry, at one point earnestly, mostly while unemployed in Queens in 1992. I unsuccessfully submitted a handful of poems to the New Yorker and Poetry, along with a few other journals I think, receiving the usual rejections, one from the New Yorker being unique because the reader had circled, with ink pen, and in an apparent gesture towards something more than indifference, the phrase “thank you.” I dated the rejection slip (it’s about 5” x 7”) “July 8th, 1992:

 

I was also pleasantly encouraged, at one point at least, by Poetry, who sent me one personalized rejection for a group of probably several poems, signed by the editor, Joseph Parisi (it’s a real signature, not a stamp!):

 

I remember a poem entitled “Indian Summer” that I particularly liked (not that Parisi did) that was part of the above submission. All those poems are gone; I’d kept them for some considerable amount of time but at some point, even after keeping them in a computer file, I let them go. My last creative gasp culminated one or two years after my return to Michigan, when I submitted my group of poems to an annual poetry competition (open to all academic departments) at Wayne State University, where I was studying for an M.S. in hazardous waste management in 1994. I won second prize. When I received the first of two telephone calls, I was informed that I had “won” the competition, and so was surprised and somewhat disappointed to receive a second call specifying that I had indeed placed second. Who knows what errors, oversights, or political machinations take place among the committees of such competitions? I like to imagine that I did win, at least initially, until the beleaguered judges were convinced to change their minds and redirect first prize to a close-finishing English major, avoiding the political controversy of a victory by an academic outsider. Or, more likely, they simply bungled the communication. But here it is, my only financial achievement to date from my writing:

 

That I’ve kept such an undistinguished set of “accomplishments” (in a hard copy file entitled “Rejections, etc.”) for some eighteen years, reveals the pride I took in them. I’ve thrown so much else away and gladly, that it’s important to acknowledge them now I think. It’s a slim biophycomythological thread that connects me to my vocations back through time, but going forward, I hope to strengthen the ties or break them once and for all. Yes, I wonder how far along I might have been with my writing now had I remained committed to it from 1992 onward. Even farther back, which is one of my earliest memories, is a “award” of some type I received in first grade (I think) for writing stories in a writing competition of which I no longer no the name or circumstances. But I remember being escorted by my teacher to a reception of sorts for what I had written, attended by other very young writers. As always, I remember being baffled by and somewhat ambivalent to the attention – I’ve never known until now how to go about being a writer or even that it was within my means to do so. It never seemed important and I never had the experience of being called, or of feeling at home within writing until now, as strange and perhaps unfortunate as that may be. I only mention these things in an attempt to piece together what the “patterns” have been (to borrow Campbell’s terminology) in my life that may reveal the myth that I’m to live by.

Like many, I’m not enamored of the necessarily solitary nature of writing. The empty office, the blank page, the imposing typewriter or keyboard, the long hours, days, weeks, months and years spent plunging into yourself, panning for whatever creative gold might provide a discernible glint against the endless wash of muddy drudgery and disappointment. My brother, a visual artist (sculpture, painting, illustration) has struggled in a similar fashion over a much longer period, having been more committed and only slightly more guided along his vocational path from a far earlier age. Like me, I think he finds much of the process and many of the potential rewards unappetizing at least compared to more socially dynamic pursuits that we fantasized about as kids, viz. that of athlete or rock musician. Neither of us has ever surrendered, let alone embraced, the inherent oddness of our interests, focusing instead on ways to merge our sometimes difficult creative passions into a life that is more readily palatable by our families and friends. In that way, it’s more palatable to ourselves. I don’t know why. Arguments regarding nature and nurture are entertaining over rounds of beers on the weekend, but during mid-week afternoons they don’t help the vocational work get done. Or the self-work. We understand probably intuitively, the nature of the artistic life and we enjoy examining the lives of those that have pursued such routes, but I think we’d prefer a balance in our own lives that’s destined to elude most creatives. So be it. I’m not much interested in writing as a hobby or a pastime – I’ve gone to great lengths to describe my desire to make a living at my vocations and it’s just the way it is. The more I attempt to meditate my way past the idea of material rewards, the more the idea seems to embed itself like a tree stump in the middle of the footpath. What to do besides accept it in the hope that I either attain it or finally become able to discard it. Campbell from Myths of Light:

This is absolute affirmation of the world as it is. And the problem is to put yourself into accord with the world not as it ought to be but as it is.[1]

He goes on to describe yoga as what he calls “the basic tradition of Oriental mysticism and asks, “What is the point in making the mind stand still?”

The notion is that you yourself are identical with that form of forms, Brahman, but you identify yourself wrongly with the broken images that flicker on the surface. Just think: there are those wonderful forms there; here are these reflections always changing, and you identify yourself with the reflection instead of with the true, underlying form. As the wave ripples along, you think, Oh, here I come; oh, there I go. Yet all the time you are the substantial thing that is being reflected here in broken image. So, when we engage in yoga, we are trying to make the pond stand still.[2]

It strikes me as disingenuous to describe this year of retirement from the world of work as “my writing year.” After all, it’s my year to engage in all my vocations, in all my work, remaining as unattached as I can and seeing where we end up after the effort. (Remaining aware of course that “effort” involves “doing” and it’s more important to focus on “being”). I consider yoga and weight training as support activities for my vocations because I wouldn’t be doing them as an end in themselves. My vocations, as I’ve said, are things I can’t not do. In any case, this is clearly a year of writing, but also of cooking, walking, biophycomythologizing, audiophiling and thinking as an entrepreneur. Despite my commitment, I struggle to imagine how the world could come calling in any way, like it did for Campbell with his teaching job at Sara Lawrence. How would my vocations, as insular and personal as they’ve now become, fit in with the world or otherwise function as a boon that people are willing to pay for? Have I finally thought my way out of a life that would in any way resemble something familiar to me? Such worry will only bring more delay, and worry, somebody once said, is praying for what you don’t want.

So what is it that I do? In the weekday mornings, just as Angie has left for work, I finish my coffee, usually in my seat on the couch by the window, staring into the east and hoping to see the sun. I have thoughts that urge me to write them down or convince me to pick up one of my books or magazines and read, my mind free to follow its intuitions. Except I very rarely experience any kind of psychological or intellectual freedom – there is always something weighing on my mind – I’m fortunate most mornings to not be curiously anxious over just the simple prospect of the coming day, as if I was late for one of my dreaded former jobs, or had some troubling presentation to deliver in front of a challenging and disagreeable group of co-workers and bosses. Yes, I’ve been there too often and too often misjudged the importance and weight of it all as something to be concerned over, to be fretted about. I turn my music on and begin writing. The work I do takes over. If I’m writing, time passes so quickly that when I look up it’s 11:30 or even past noon, and I’m hungry and in need of a break. Most days, if the weather’s suitable, which is to say it’s not raining or bitter cold, I’ll take a walk – at least an hour-long excursion that takes me around the northern neighborhoods, towards the big open fields prepped for development that I once earnestly contemplated as a potential site for Humble Hogs Slaughter & Butchery, and back again. Sometimes I take a detour through Oakwood park, an enjoyable stand of trees between a condominium complex and within site of a neighborhood of houses. I spent some time trying to envision pigs grazing in the big open fields at the eastern edge of my walk, and I now refer them, by way of Angie’s description, as the “pig meditation fields.” It was my way of attempting to forge a new entrepreneurial direction, hoping to remain in touch with the pigs, which have remained a mysteriously powerful symbol for me.

I realize that this exploratory writing is something I should’ve “taken care of” and otherwise gotten out of my system at least eighteen and more appropriately twenty-eight years ago. I’ve yet to find my voice and it’s because I’m still trying voices on. One day I’m Campbell, the next Thoreau, the next Neil Young, so to say, and with all humility. I’m plain-spoken then verbose, telling it like it is, expletives flying, bile boiling, ranting in therapeutic outpourings and then just as diligently, I’m carefully layering my ambitious philosophies and intricate vocabularies into pedantic constructs meant for academic journals. One has to start somewhere, suspending self-criticism enough to at least begin. It’s by no means a pleasant thing to reinvent oneself, especially when a long list of failures and fiascoes have left their mark, and the years required to wholeheartedly devote oneself to the process begin to seem more and more preciously limited. I’m not convinced I’ll make it through this transformation, from failed entrepreneur and failed work-a-day careerist to writer, but I’m determined to give this part of me a chance.

[1] Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light, (Novato: New World Library, 2003), 22.

[2] Ibid., 26-27.