The Moon, the Stars and the Limits of Humanity

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The untold want by life and land ne’er granted,

Now, voyager, sail thou forth to seek and find.

Walt Whitman, “The Untold Want,” from the section “Songs of Parting” within Leaves of Grass, 1855.

The blurriness of aspiration. The messiness of life. How things never turn out according to plan. How our predicament is never really anything but. And how the experience of being properly alive is perhaps the only reliable thing in this world.

It was a difficult week of part-time turned fulltime employment, enduring a Christmas Eve shift, then two unpaid overtime days following the holiday. A day off, then another full shift (almost) and now five days in a row off. It comes as a blessing because as much as anyone spending the kind of money I’m spending on trying to be an authorpreneur needs cash to cover it all, I’m frankly too old for this shit. Not to say I can’t hack it. But the body tends to rebel. And the psychology becomes tenuous; which is to say, one begins to lose oneself in the paying work at the expense of the… well, the dream, let’s call it. A house divided eventually isn’t one.

So I did my best to keep up at work and to keep the writing alive in my heart. How I wish sometimes that I was the type of gifted talent that writes through their paying work, balancing things, doing it all, making it happen rather than continually skirting the shores of ruin and despair. It’s not that bad, I must admit. I’ve had far worse, far more demanding jobs. Which is a crazy thought because the home improvement can be demanding enough. But I’ve learned the hard lesson over the years and the careers that for me at least, it’s better to keep moving both physically and psychologically – to have a job that’s on the ground, in the mix, at the front lines, as it were – than be relegated to a desk and a computer screen and the chores of management. To say nothing of business travel, ugh. So, again, if it feels like progress, it is and that’s what I’m going with.

And after a few days of no sales and the inevitable angst that accompanies it, whereby entrepreneurship seems a senseless folly and my sales an insignificant and irrelevant asterisk within the annals of authorship, I discovered this morning a paperback sale in Canada, yay! An Amazon ad click-through, only the second in Canada but, again, anything beyond zero is to be regarded in the indie-publishing universe (or any publishing universe) as a heartening achievement, a worthy measure of beachfront secured. Because a sale is a sale and a reader is perhaps a reader for life and an influencer and if nothing else a connection, hence something special and a treasure that feels like a gift. Every time.

Why? It just is. It’s a feeling of wholeness, selling a book, just a single copy of a book to a stranger. And if you’re like me, it cannot be competed with by way of any other so-called success or achievement in any other endeavor, any other avenue of life. So that a little victory like winning a bronze service star award yesterday – a badge – while it’s a good thing (honestly, I believe it is) and offers a measure of vocational legitimacy and in a word helps to keep me going on all fronts, remains tangent to the plot, let’s say. For as much as I oftentimes feel as if I’d be better off surrendering (or, more accurately, re-surrendering) to a workaday life and committing once again to fulltime employment either here or there (another recruiter contacted me about a $100K EHS job yesterday), well, I just can’t. It’s a success that belongs to somebody else, somebody like my father, say, or anyone seeking the conventional, otherwise bourgeois comforts. We all enjoy the comforts of a good, steady paycheck, I get it. But enjoyment is not fulfillment just as bliss is not pleasure.

Meanwhile, the idea that one may be making a mistake, a tragic one and a mistake that snubs its nose at the achievements and aspirations of others and thereby tempts fate and ultimately makes its own deserved mess of things never quite leaves a person. Perhaps I’m really just another silly dreamer and I ought to know my place and stay within my means and tow the line and shut up about it all, too. Perhaps I’m one of those sorry souls who are best at things they don’t like and terrible at the work in which they seek to succeed. It happens. But I’m convinced it only happens when we fail to discover and then fail to surrender to who we are. Hence the underlying theme of Time Crime: be who you are.

The organizer of the latest Bookfunnel promotion I entered – the theme was strong female protagonists – queried me prior to accepting Time Crime:

Is Vixy a proper protagonist in her own right, or more of a sidekick of Mr. Z? If she’s a sidekick, does she have a will, agency and agenda or her own?

I was completely on board with being questioned because I think too many book promotions amount to worthless giveaways – there is a readership, it seems to me, that seeks freebies for their own sake and the marketing value is zilch – and frankly any opportunity to discuss the novel with an interested party is worthwhile to me.

Mr. Z. and Vixy are more co-protagonists (though he is her official mentor) and it is her transformation from stubborn, impatient, overly ambitious and self-determining youth to selfless, world-wise, self-determining woman that is a major character arc in the book and forthcoming series. Case in point: she is overpowered in an attempted rape, is saved by an alien and finishes the brute off with a knife in an emotional catharsis. She’s tough and capable but not a cliche so-called badass or overbearing feminist. Rather, the limits and humanity she learns are the limits and humanity we all learn: “be who you are” is an underlying theme. Thanks for asking.

I didn’t generate any sales on carnegieolson.com out of the promotion but then I never have; again, only when I offer a giveaway does anyone avail themselves of “purchasing” an eBook on my website but I’m convinced there is a marketing value to getting the novel in front of folks in as many contexts as possible. Bookfunnel does drive a handful of folks to my website, I track the data, and because you never know who might be compelled to seek it out a copy, electronic or print, on Amazon or elsewhere it seems a worthy experiment.

Why all this talk about sales and marketing? Why not just write and indie publish and devote all my energies to my art-craft? If I really wrote authentic prose from the heart and I was a real artist-craftsman then I ought not care about the money, right? Right. And wrong. Right, that is to say correct, because I indeed write and pay to publish anyway, despite the challenges and the relative obscurity. So that Time Crime represents everything I have to give, unselfishly; for its own sake. But for some of us the idea of vocational destiny to say nothing of vocational sustainability is a natural, intuitive and entirely authentic personal vision. I am one for whom a book sale does not dimmish the experience of authenticity and valid expression; of wholehearted communication.

I rather find authorpreneurial success intriguing in its own right. First, because it is rare and all rare things are inherently interesting. Secondly, because I intuitively identify with the art-craft lifestyle; with its entrepreneurial aspect as well as its creative autonomy. Autonomy, complexity and commensurate reward, the Gladwellian trinity as I call it, is for me only attainable by way of my proper work, the work I have come to understand as my calling. We have a calling and it doesn’t have to go against the grain, so-called. It just so happens that to write novels and publish them is a calling that millions of other people have and they express this calling by way of millions of books being published every year and the market is appropriately tough. Some authors don’t give a damn about making a buck. Or even selling a book. Publication is an end in itself. For me? No. Being unread is a disappointment that borders on disapproval.

Yes, validation is part of it but there is much more to it: when people buy a copy of the novel, as I’ve said before, I feel as if I’m encountering a member of my tribe. It’s a sense of belonging; of community. We all need it, we all seek it in our own ways. Success is a curse and fame is fleeting, yes, blah, blah. I’ve no interest in fame. (It’s not about me, remember, it’s the myths). Success to me is merely economic sustainability; namely, quitting my day job. Because I’m just  a guy who can’t write worth a shit when I’m busy earning a paycheck for its own sake. It makes all the editing take two or three or four times longer than it has to. Not that getting out of the house and moving my ass and getting out of my own head on a regular basis doesn’t help. It does. But I’m keen to keep things truly part-time in 2021.

I write all this out and risk boring people to tears or coming off as a self-involved prick because, well, it’s my story and I’m convinced my story is akin to somebody else’s story and we like to read about ourselves and also read about who we are endeavoring to become. Because we’re all endeavoring to become like somebody or a combination of somebodies we admire or with whom we identify, however experimentally. Such are our guides, such are the hats we try on and such is the way of the world. If any of this helps, even if it only helps me, I’ve done my work. Otherwise, I expect this is the last journal entry in the DOP and the last blog post on the website for 2020. Heck of a year, as usual. Meanwhile, here’s to the tribe. Happy reading and writing, happy New Year, pass it on. See you in 2021.

P.S. And if you get a chance to see Now, Voyager, the 1942 film starring Bette Davis… well, it’s worth it.

Eating My Own White Guts

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Masset, Haida Gwaii, Harbor to Inlet, Vixy’s Home

Extraneous to the novel itself, but not irrelevant to its fate, is the seven-figure advance that is said to have resulted from a ten-bidder auction before last year’s London Book Fair. That makes Homegoing what publishers call a “big book,” the object of promotion and marketing campaigns designed to present it as the glorious flowering of a precocious talent. It isn’t. For all the enthusiasm that regularly attends literary debuts, more often than not it isn’t the first book that realizes the extent and the depth of a writer’s talent; it’s the third or fourth.

Laura Miller, “Descendants: A Sprawling Tale of a Family Split between Africa and America,” The New Yorker, May 30, 2016, 77.

This from the closing portion of The New Yorker’s review of the book which I wouldn’t have any interest in reading regardless of its visibility simply because I’ve no interest in the type of story it is. I won’t mention the author, why bother? – the book will have flown or flopped by the time anyone reads this, if ever, and if it does neither, landing somewhere in the vast middle ground that resides between the published-and-out-of-print and the published-to-increasing-renown only time will tell. I didn’t realize publishers anywhere where still delivering million-dollar advances to anyone. From everyone’s perspective besides the handful of persons who are expecting (or praying) to make a mint off the thing, including the author herself more than likely, it would seem a curse for a young artist in any field to get it all right out of the gate. What’s left but the burden of living up to the hype? It speaks once again to the irony of having one’s dreams come true or falling into a life that other’s dream of even if you haven’t. The genie-in-the-bottle myth whereby (as I’ve learned the hard way myself and have lamented here, of course) your dream comes true and you get everything else with it that you didn’t expect.

I am failing as an Oprah author, and the team and I are finishing up some final strolling footage, well into our third hour in Webster Woods, when I complete the failure. Five words come bursting from my chest like a hideous juvenile alien. I say: “This is so fundamentally bogus!”

From the bookstore [signing] I head straight for the airport. I’m due to take the evening’s last flight to Chicago, where, in the morning, Alice and I will tape ninety minutes of interview for Oprah. Earlier today, while I was doing my best to look contemplative for the camera, Winfrey publicly announced her selection of my book and praised it in terms that would have made me blush if I’d been lucky enough to hear them. One of my friends will report that Winfrey said the author had poured so much into the book that “he must not have a thought left in his head.” This will prove to be an oddly apt description. Beginning the next night, in Chicago, I’ll encounter two kinds of readers in signing lines and in interviews. One kind will say to me, “I like your book and I think it’s wonderful that Oprah picked it”; the other kind will say, “I like your book and I’m so sorry that Oprah picked it.” And because I’m a person who instantly acquires a Texas accent in Texas, I’ll respond in kind to each kind of reader.

Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002), 269-70, 271-72.

And here, with these two accounts of preternatural and otherwise precocious writerly success, one author a black female whose budding talent has apparently been preempted by an absurd oversell and the other a white male who struggled to swallow, unsuccessfully, the pill of the world’s embrace that he couldn’t recognize for what it was (the reception to his boon in a form happily irrelevant to his vision of it) we encounter the peril of the return threshold. It describes the transformation that must occur by way of the crossing; how, that is to say, to remain who you were (the part that excelled at and attained its character by pushing against the trials of the adventure) while being who you are now, the person who has arrived.

We want our victories to arrive – we want to arrive – in a prescribed condition of splendor and rejuvenating welcome that doesn’t also require the discarding of any the good things that got us there. When one feels disappointed or deflated with one’s success isn’t this what’s happening? I’m just speculating. It’s never happened to me. My little victories never brought with them, as far as I can recall, a sense of disappointment. Any disappointment seemed to have come much later, down the road when I’d tried to unsuccessfully inhabit the world that I’d entered, or thought I’d entered. That’s the thing: just as Jim Carrey told us we can fail at what we don’t want we can also win at what we don’t want or win at what we think, by way of constructing one’s own personal mythological state of schism, we want. And it seems, for some of us like me, to be the living with the getting that eventually reveals the ruse, the lie, the self-deception. That is to say, none of it can be maintained.

And it’s so often one’s body that reacts in what seem at the time weird ways. Robert Fripp suggests that, “when in doubt, reference tradition; if still in doubt, reference experience; if still in doubt reference the body.” Well, Jonathan Franzen mentions being afflicted by an unholy rash during his Oprah experience. We ignore such symptoms, forging ahead regardless until we end up flat on our back. Diseased. Otherwise ill. It all happened to me on a tiny scale in comparison but nonetheless I learned the lesson.

So these days I rationalize things by telling myself I’d betrayed my heart and convinced myself I wanted something I really didn’t and therefore got something that wasn’t me. And that I’m not going to ever do that again. My VAPM is known to me. I’m deliberately practicing it. Except there’s always that chance, isn’t there, that I’ve got it wrong again. So be it. The other thing that struck me about the Homegoing review are the glaring and I would assume embarrassing technical criticisms, the little mistakes authors – so-called professionals – aren’t supposed to be making:

It’s never a good sign when a novelist feels obligated to begin a bit of dialogue with “As you know by now, Quey….” The short story [Miller argues that the novel is a series of short-stories strung together] is always in danger of reducing people to types, and Gyasi succumbs to this more than once. [And here I’ve spilled the author’s name!]. She also has a bad habit of forcing an interpretation that any intelligent reader is perfectly capable of picking up on her own: “Marjorie reached for the stone at her neck. Her ancestor’s gift.” Gyasi’s prose, too, is largely undistinguished

Laura Miller, “Descendants…,” 76, 77.

These are glitches and oversights that perhaps an editor, in the old days when publishers had them, may have helped the author clean up. As far as the undistinguished prose, I don’t know, I haven’t read it. I venture to say that distinguished prose literally speaks for itself. But in any case, here the so-called emerging author gets otherwise treated like a queen. And not a hack like the rest of us who slave under the burden of our un-brilliance. It goes to show how correct John Gardner was in advising us to do our absolute best to be our best just in case we do someday manage to get into print; because once that happens, there you are: exposed.

Contrast all this miserable vocational success with being truly miserable and not only not being in possession of one’s true vocation but being mired in an otherwise tortuous day-to-day hell of non-living-wage servitude. Cronin’s Father Francis as a twelve-year-old boy endures the waking nightmare of being a so-called rivet boy in a Scotland shipyard and like many fictional representations of life it strikes true to the intolerable, facinorous, base conditions of tenuously maintained survival some of us have experienced by way of a job.

At five next morning, while all was still dark, the shipyard hooter sounded, long and dolorous, over the cowering dreariness of Darrow. Half-senseless with sleep, Francis tumbled out of bed and into his dungarees, stumbled downstairs. The frigid morning, pale yet murky, met him like a blow as he joined the march of silent shivering figures, hurrying with bent head and huddled shoulders toward the shipyard gates.

Over the weigh bridge, past the checker’s window, inside the gates… Gaunt specters of ships rose dimly in their stocks around him. Beside the half-formed skeleton of a new ironclad, Joe Moir’s squad was mustering: Joe and the assistant plater, the holders-on, the two other rivet boys, and himself.

He lit the charcoal fire, blew the bellows beneath the forge. Silently, unwillingly, as in a dream, the squad set itself to work. Moir lifted his sledge, the hammers rang, swelled and strengthened, throughout the shipyard.

Holding the rivets, white-hot from the brazier, Francis shinned up the ladder and thrust them quickly through the bolt holes in the frame, where they were hammered flat and tight, annealing the great sheets of metal that formed the ship’s hull. The work was fierce: blistering by the brazier, freezing on the ladders. The men were paid by piece work. They wanted rivets fast, faster than the boys could give them. And the rivets must be heated to the proper incandescence. If they were not malleable the men threw them back at the boys. Up and down the ladder, to and from the fires, scorched, smoky, with inflamed eyes, panting, perspiring, Francis fed the platers all day long.

In the afternoon the work went faster: the men seemed careless, straining every nerve, unsparing of their bodies. The closing hour passed in a swimming daze with eardrums tense for the final hooter.

At last, at last it sounded. What blessed relief! Francis stood still, moistening his cracked lips, deafened by the cessation of all sound. On the way home, grimed and sweaty, through his tiredness, he thought: Tomorrow…tomorrow.

A.J. Cronin, The Keys of the Kingdom, (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2006 [1941]), 10-11.

***

In regard to the title of this post, some of you who write may recognize John Gardner’s book (who also composed the fantastic Grendel) from whence it came.

A novelist is not likely to develop authority by success after success. In his apprenticeship years he succeeds, like Jack o’ the Green, by eating his own white guts. He cannot help being a little irascible: some of his school friends are now rich, perhaps bemused by the fact that one of their smartest classmates is still struggling, getting nowhere, so far as anyone can see.

John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1983), 69.

Otherwise, I don’t know what else to say, today except that somehow this phrase came to mind and I dug through my old journal entries to find it and found something else and, well, so it goes. The muse does her thing and I’m just here to play it out as best I can. Perhaps it helps somebody, that would be nice.

***

Meanwhile, personally, I never enjoy a writer’s old blog or post or diary entry unless I’m reading old stuff intentionally, as part of a collected works or what have you. Even if it’s a reworked version like this. I rather prefer the brand new entry. Dunno, it’s just that way. I therefore feel compelled to offer up something new as a value add and it’s a just a scene from TC2 that I spent all day working on. A little scene. Perhaps a scene that gets further editing or goddamn edited out in the end. But I doubt it. Anyway….

“Amen,” said her parents, together.

Vixy watched them open their eyes and unclasp their hands, her father reaching for the ladle, her mother pensive, possessed of the lingering piousness that seemed so much a part of her. They struck Vixy as innocent and naïve and wise all at once and she sensed somehow for the first time the span of years that had comprised their lives together. And each of their lives apart from each other, as well; as individuals, struggling along with nothing certain. She suddenly felt hard and grown up, her parents seemingly older, more vulnerable, more precious than she ever could have imagined. It struck her, in fact, that one day they would die and…. She tried forcing the idea from her mind but it only made her newfound sense of time and place, and time’s passing, more intense.

“Wouldn’t you know,” said Eleanor. She used her spoon to dab at her chili. “I saw Daniel Cramer at Church this week.”

Her mother’s patronizing manner with these things always made Vixy cringe. Even when, like now, the cringing came as a relief from her own newfound sentimentality. But even Mr. Z.’s presence, which had them all on their best behavior, couldn’t inspire her to look up from her meal.

“He’s that young man who graduated from the University at the same time you did, isn’t he?”

Vixy sprinkled more shredded cheese on her chili, shook the tiny bottle of hot sauce vigorously and tipped a few drops into her bowl. She stirred, the spoon clattering against her bowl as if it were the only sound in the room. “I don’t know, mom. I mean, I don’t remember any Daniel Cramer.”

“Well, he said he remembered you. The Cramer’s are the ones who moved to Vancouver and Daniel’s father, he was the coach of the high school soccer team. Wasn’t he, Victor? Anyway, Daniel seemed very nice and, if nothing else, dear -”

“I know, mom. You’re going to tell me that church is a good place to meet people.” She spread more butter on her cornbread. “Because you met dad there.” She fidgeted in her chair, sensing Mr. Z.’s eyes upon all of them but when she looked he was merely clutching his soup bowl with one hand and spooning at the dregs of his chili with the other.

“It’s true, Vixy,” said Victor.

“But, dad -”

“I’m not a church goer, Mr. Z. Anybody will tell you that. And Vixy isn’t either. We get our religion out of doors, I guess you could say.” He glanced at his daughter and tore at his hunk of bread. “It was, I don’t know, a zillion years ago. And I just happened to be in the church for a couple of weeks working on the pews – some basic carpentry they needed done. And as I was young and penniless and the church was paying and feeding me lunch, well, there I was for two weeks with this job to do and there they were. The pretty girls in the choir, that is. Practicing a few days a week. And Ellie here, besides having a nice singing voice as far as I was concerned, she used to clean up around the place, I guess, didn’t you Ellie, and she was there when the other choir girls weren’t. In fact most days it was just us and that old, rugged cross together in that little church. Isn’t that what it’s called in that hymn you girls sang? Old Rugged Cross?” He shrugged and chomped into his bread. “So we got to know each other from a distance, as it happens, and she didn’t think I was too uncouth or anything, I suppose, in those days at least and the rest is history.”

“Uncouth,” said Eleanor, shaking her head at him. “Victor.” She sat staring into the distance for a moment, one hand in her lap and the other holding her spoon. “I’d forgotten all about it.”

“Nobody sings that anymore over there? Old Rugged Cross? At church?” Victor went about his meal, reaching for more chili and tearing at the bread again as if having completed his duty to them all. “Well, they ought to. But then nobody keeps up on the ancient Haida songs, either, I suppose. The good old songs. It all gets forgotten. Until somebody like Vixy at a university goes digging after it. Let me see.” He chomped away for a moment, frowning as if trying to remember. Then he broke into song, his careful, quiet, tuneless baritone somehow evocative of his theme:

On a hill far away, stood an old, rugged Cross

The emblem of suff’ring and shame

And I love that old Cross where the dearest and best

For a world of lost sinners was slain

Victor cleared his throat, beaming mildly, and sipped at his ale.

Eleanor blushed and got up from the table with her plate. She ambled into the kitchen.

“What do you think, Ellie? Are you ready for me to sing in your choir?” He winked at Mr. Z.

“Victor, I’ve nothing to say about you joining the choir. But that’s a beautiful hymn. You never told me you liked it.”

“Hmm, well, I don’t know about liking it or whatever. I just remember you and me and the church and that music somehow. Weird, huh? You don’t remember singing it?”

“I do, dear.”

“My point was only that it shows how you never know in this world. I mean, how things will work themselves out. Right Vixy?”

Vixy hunched her shoulders, placed her hands in her lap and nodded politely. “Yes, dad.” It was as if she suddenly had nothing to hide about herself or her nutty family, least of all from Mr. Z.

“You know? Vixy?” said her mother. “Speaking of church. I saw Daniel Cramer. That young man who graduated from the University at the same time you did. He was at church on Sunday.”

Vixy sprinkled more cheese on her chili, twisted the cap off the tiny bottle of hot sauce, shook it vigorously, frowning at it, and tipped a few drops fall into her bowl. “I know, mom, church is a good place to meet people. Except you know I never had any interest in Daniel Cramer.” She spread butter on her cornbread.

“You never used to dislike going to church. Not until you went away to University.”

Vixy resisted the urge to roll her eyes and instead sat with a spoonful of chili in her mouth and glared at her father.

“Eleanor,” he said. He only referred to her as Eleanor when he was being demonstrative.

Vixy swallowed her food. “It’s okay, dad. I know mom is only trying to be helpful. Trying to marry me off or something. Right, mom?”

Her mother pursed her lips. “There’s blueberry pie. Mr. Z., will you have e a piece? Of course you will.” Eleanor began slicing it. “Anyone for ice cream with it? Mr. Z., I’m sure you’ll enjoy our ice cream. It’s local milk. Lionel?”

“I’ll get it.” Her father got up to rummage through the kitchen storage cabinets “I’m going to have some, too, Ellie. With my pie.” He patted his belly.

“None for me, dad, said Vixy.

“Oh come on, girl,” said her father.

“No, dad. I don’t want to have to run it off tomorrow.”

Her mother doled out the plates. This one’s for our guest, Lionel. “Vixy, how was it in the woods today?”

“Well, I found something. I think. A face.” She got up and hurried into her bedroom/office at the back of the house and they listened to her rummaging through her things. Her voice boomed from down the hall, “Actually, it was Duff who found it.”

Duff looked up at the sound of his name, blinked in Vixy’s direction, blinked at all of them, lowered his head and promptly went back to sleep.

Carnegie Olson, Time Crime: Book 2, (Ann Arbor: Humble Hogs Press, 2020), 7-10.

“The Old Rugged Cross”, composed by George Bennard in 1912, is a famous Methodist hymn and country gospel song first made popular by Ernest Tubbs in the early 1950’s. And don’t fret, dear readers, for I’m much further along in editing TC2 than the above, it just so happens that I came upon that section and got lost in spontaneous editing. Hey, it all counts.

Art-Toys Ahoy! Innocence, Terror & the Unholy Manifestation of the Unforeseen Third Thing

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Kevin Ewing, “Moleman” 2014, a.k.a. “Five”, used by permission.

An item from an eBay auction I came across initiated a long, very intense email discussion with my brother, HWG (Hot Wheels Guy):

“I don’t get it,” I’d declared. “Why in hell would I seek to own this?” HWG proceeded to get me up to speed on his previous interest in this type of so-called fan art (where art-crafters juxtapose and appropriate parts and pieces from their favorite imagery) and the now very old craft of anime, originally a Japanese style but probably as early as the nineteen sixties when animated series such as Kimba the White Lion and Speed Racer were initially broadcast, established itself globally.

Anyway, clearly there is a market for this stuff, these figures – $300? – which is not huge but significant in its mythological reality, as it were: that is, there is one and it’s fully functional: awe, cosmology, sociology, pedagogical psychology is present. In my opinion it’s a weak functionality because the imagery, the art-craft itself is too childlike, too forced in its juxtaposition so that it mostly does not achieve metaphor. It rather gets stuck within whimsy, curiosity, arch inventiveness and a kind of off-putting (in my opinion) wimpy irreverence and childish wit. Of course it’s all one step away from kitsch – tacky, artistically naïve, soft-hearted imagery devoted to cuteness and gross lack of substance – and it knows this. It’s all part of the play of it – this vinyl toy culture is devoted to playing with images and the image of images as an end in itself. And to identify its childishness, as I see it, is not to regard it in exclusively pejorative terms. Art-craft, after all, continually seeks to reference the innocence, terror and intuitive subversion of childhood.

I availed myself of some online videos to further catch myself up on the vinyl toy business, both in its mass produced and art-toy iterations:

Certainly the art-toy culture is vibrant – plenty of creative zeal exists what with their conventions and the celebrity of many of the creators of this stuff. And there is some legitimate scholarship, as I’d describe it: there is a mature market and a mature, adult analysis of all this – there is legitimate connoisseurship. It’s not junk. It just mostly seems like junk to me. HWG refers to it as “a hunk of broom handle.” The camo, pseudo Mickey Mouse above is an example of how to take things too far, in my opinion. Yet, taking things too far is also part of it, right? It’s just that monetizing things is a different consideration. To walk past this in a gallery, say, I might scratch my head and mumble to myself, “Hmm, huh….” No rules, no expectations, nothing is sacred, it’s one duty of art-craft to shatter convention. So be it.

But is it mythologically functional? Mostly, as I said, very weakly and naively and best. I’ve been on about Nick Cave lately and damned if I didn’t get an email this morning informing me of some new Cave Things https://cavethings.com/ – his Dread Tiles series and the “Up Jumped the Devil” milk jug:

My subsequent email to HWG:

More of it. Nick in his mid-sixties, compelled to render dread, cuteness, dreadful cuteness and the tossed off doodle on the permanence and determined craft of a tile. All these so-called juxtapositions and subversions. But nick is the guy who said, “We are the broken metaphors of a cosmos that is beyond our comprehension.” This is closer to it. Me? I tend to regard these tiles as junky and of course they are intended to be so but I don’t see why I would need to own them. I would regard them in a gallery setting, “Oh, hmm, tossed off anime-ish riffing.” But the milk jug? OH YEAH THAT IS MYTHOLOGY. The goat as the devil and the drawing NOT a doodle but a clumsy spook fest. I HAVE considered owning that. But I’m just not good with curating THINGS. That’s your job.

But I wanted to ask: what’s the difference between the tiles and the milk jug images? I mean, I can see why these kids choose to regard the world as animated because it’s a little bit like a drug, or an intentionally twisted happiness. And I’ve noticed several generations now of appreciation for acute, wimpy irreverence. Wimpy humor. Wimpy music. Pink bear with bloody maw. wimpy. with a cavalier fright and horror. I get it. It’s mythic imagery but it’s not compelling. why not? I regard the world as mythologized, hence, I’m convinced I can recognize any iteration of myth. But clown-killer stuff is weak in the end. Horror as a genre is weak in this way yet it is a legitimate genre and Godzilla would march all over this area. Funny to me, then, that i think the plastic art-toy dude is right about the child’s perspective of this does that and that does this and then they’ll smash their toys together and rip their heads off. I believe this is active participation in the myths but unconsciously. ritual is the conscious version.

Best example of consciously rendered metaphor and symbol has to be Northwest Coast symbology. Especially Tlingit and Haida. The density of the 2-D entanglement and in the 1800’s the complete realization of the forms is incredible, to me. He is not iike the raven, the bear, the dogfish; he IS the raven, the bear, the dogfish. like many indigenous, they regarded animals as sometimes superior to humans and sometimes not; that we transform into animals and they into us. “I’m transforming.” Nick, like a kid, engages this stuff intuitively. he does not intellectualize it as far as I can tell. Or he intentionally takes a left turn instead. his art shows, his publications, his lyrics, he is literate but he does not DISCUSS, he is not a scholar of it. We all have our jobs.

What got me started on all this? Why did I research the vinyl toy business? Because I’m compelled to render Five as a vinyl art-toy someday. The cost for a minimum run of 2,000 toys at the only American vinyl toy manufacturer I could find, Symbiote https://www.symbiotestudios.com/plastic-toys , including the prototype cost begins at $25,000 or so. And something tells me that doesn’t completely cover it. Other factories mention the costs of the mold as something like $10K. So be it, it’s akin to any small business start-up, which is to say somehow it always ends up at a $25K investment. My failed food cart, that’s how much we lost. The novel, that’s how much it has cost so far. It is what it is, as they say and it takes money to make money and if it weren’t a sphincter-tightening risk then everybody would be doing it.

Crowdfunding? Perhaps. But effective crowd funding takes either a significant, preexisting marketing presence or connections that allow for developing one in advance of putting your hat in your hand. As HWG suggests, oftentimes these vinyl figures are requested by fans of a cartoon series, comic book series or film. A novel like mine that has sold a mere 100 copies? Yay, we want a vinyl version of Five! I’m thinking if the 85/15 rule holds true as it seems to with everything, it amounts to a projected market of fifteen buyers. And there are art-toys that are indeed one-offs or very low quantity handcrafted runs of ten, fifteen, twenty-five iterations. And while vinyl art-toys are the pinnacle because of the funky appearance the moveable arms and legs and heads there is the option of resin versions which supposedly cost a lot less to manufacture. So, we’ll see.

HWG agrees that Five, as a character, possesses all the desirable vinyl toy collectability attributes and I agree – the juxtaposition and appropriation are there and in my opinion, as the image was pure inspiration on behalf of HWG when he created it (he wasn’t consciously referencing vinyl toy culture seven or eight years ago when he first rendered the image) it remains fresh and authentic: it’s not bound to art-toy culture. Rather, it is fully functional mythology, at least to me, hence it empowered me to write an entire sci-fi series around it.

What about the idea of a Five art-toy, then? How to proceed? I discovered an example of what doing a one-off, personal use prototype involves: https://medium.com/@bhyde7/outsourcing-a-vinyl-toy-part-1-concept-and-prototyping-b7ba617bbe36. So, it’s not impossible and perhaps this guy would agree to spill the beans on who he used and how much it cost him if I asked.

Meanwhile, HWG has a gallery show scheduled at a university for next year, somewhere in Missouri, I think (it’s a reschedule from a cancelled show this year) and he’s thinking it’s an opportunity to carve or otherwise render a version of Five, either full-size (I imagine Five as up to Vixy’s chin, hence he stands no taller than five feet?) or miniaturized, we’ll see. And of course HWG is free to re-appropriate the image out of the context of Five; in other words, he can reclaim his original artwork for his own purposes, so that somebody might walk up to the sculpture, should it come to be, and say, “Is this Five from the Time Crime?” And HWG could legitimately respond, “Well, what do you think?” Because it may well be and then again, not. I’m convinced the cosmos has to be allowed to have its way with such images; that is, if they’re truly fully functional as mythologically potent symbols, as metaphors, they must be allowed to become what they are.

Art-toys ahoy! What do you think, dear reader? Perhaps some of you have enjoyed (or disliked) Time Crime. Do you have an opinion on a vinyl Five art-toy? If nothing else, it’s a fun thing, in my opinion – anything to do with Five is fun, despite his fraught nature. And whether an art-toy would nurture and perhaps expand the Time Crime tribe I don’t know. Or would Time Crime nurture and grow the HWG visual art-craft tribe? Perhaps both, perhaps neither. Meanwhile, inasmuch as I’ve drilled into things pretty deeply today, I don’t intend to overthink it, either. “Decide,” suggests Bob Fripp, “to undertake the inevitable.” Right on.

Update:

  • As the year comes to an end and the novel’s one year publishing anniversary looms at the end of January 2021, I made a point to decipher my Ingramspark sales (a little tricky compared to Amazon) and it turns out I’d been underestimating things: the hardcover and paperback have sold a combined 17 copies in the USA and 5 in the U.K. Yay!
  • The eBook is again for sale directly here on the website. Which is to say, I dumped my ecommerce vendor in favor of a Shopify version and e-sales are tested and operational. Not that anyone gives a shit. But, hey, I’ve priced the thing at a discounted $4.99, exclusive to the site.

Un-Fainthearted: the Bold Faith of the Faithless

Blog
https://www.theredhandfiles.com/cancelled-tour-noooooo/

Nick: The Red Hand Files Issue #128: fantastic, evocative, magical image. It seems now like a different world. You endure, likely, accusations of seeking adulation. I know that you are rather invoking ritual in the mythological sense – namely, invoking participation in the myth. Which keeps us going. J. Campbell said, “It’s not me, it’s the myths.” Otherwise, condolences on the cancelled tours – a loss all around, you must have been so amped to communicate the wonderful GHOSTEEN and the rest of it. I read this in a biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson by Robert Richardson, recently deceased:

“Goethe teaches courage, Emerson wrote, and the equivalence of all times: that the disadvantages of any epoch exist only to the faint-hearted.”

Robert D. Richardson Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 222.

Lately people that I otherwise esteem have seemed to become faint-hearted. Folks hoarding toilet paper. Folks walking down the street with a mask on their face. Sham politics and bald-faced, heartless agendas. Old people afraid to die and lies, lies, lies all around. But when you responded to cancelling your U.K. tour with “It’s time to make a record – see you next year”, it was a thrilling example of resolve and stirred my heart. Even if you make a shitty record. Har. I know you’ve signed off for now. But may the muse bestow her grace upon you. Head high and fuck ’em all, right on.

Indeed I submitted this to Cave’s question & answer forum, despite it not being a question and knowing that, well – what does Nick Cave give a shit about yet another fan’s blatherings? Nevertheless, I’m convinced it does no harm to reach out. Tribe. We seek it.

This after skimming through an eBook I purchased, the obviously rather hastily written but otherwise apt Scamdemic – The COVID-19 Agenda: The Liberal’s Plot To Win The White House, by John Iovine. I’ll say no more on my opinion of current affairs except that it’s probably the only topical book I’ve ever bought and ever will – I passionately despise anything to do with so-called “news” when it comes to writing because, well, I’ve always intuitively despised journalism of any type. Even when it’s not written by a journalist. As such, while it’s tempting to describe all the miserable misinformation that has unfortunately described 2020 I realize my opinions ought to be kept close. Heaven forbid I contribute even by way of my miniscule contributions to the crippling atmosphere of polarization, disappointment and dread that has damaged us all.

Meanwhile, journalism inevitably strikes me as false and pandering and inauthentic. It somehow always reads, first, as utterly tossed-off, utilitarian, generate-the-wordcount, sensationalistic dross (who can believe anything a journalist writes?) and, secondly, journalism is simply fucking painfully boring. It’s the truly misguided journalist that believes in his or her mission as one of influence and communication of the truth. It’s just the selling of the news. It’s just commerce. A person clicks on a story (a more accurate term to be sure) and the advertisers get paid. Otherwise, the writing is not intended to evoke or invoke anything but anxiety and to appeal to our compulsions. It’s either politics (which boils down to military conflict and the economy), natural disasters, murders and other unsightly forms of criminal inhumanity or sex. In short, it plays on our fears and shameless desires, as if to distract our attention from anything with substance.

And what does any of it matter as time goes by? Oh, Carnegie Olson, I’d like his novels if he wasn’t always rattling on against political agendas and sham-demics and blah, blah, blah. Nobody wants to hear it. I don’t even want to hear myself go on about it. But the exception indeed proves the rule and this one thing, namely the global institutional poison that this sham-demic has revealed – the agenda laden corruption, greed and unhindered fear mongering propagated by those in power – along with the embarrassingly naïve response by too large a portion of the general public who frankly seems to have not advance beyond a medieval level of superstition and gullibility… I don’t know, it just makes me crazy that common sense and basic epidemiological science has flown the coop.

Goethe teaches courage… and the equivalence of all times: that the disadvantages of any epoch exist only to the faint-hearted. This to me expresses the backbone of mythology. Myth does not trip itself up in the present. Rather, at its best, it exists in a kind of rarefied timelessness, drawing equally from the past and the future and vitalizing the present beyond daily cares. Within mythology our nameless and shameless shadow aspects – the worst of us – is redeemed by confrontation with its opposite, with the boundlessness of the human spirit at its most aspirational, faithful and true. This is romanticism, I know, but it’s how I regard it, so be it. Why else would myth sustain us through the ages, oftentimes in spite of ourselves, if it weren’t somehow an expression of who we are and how things are beyond the pedestrian affectations of an otherwise hopelessly dull, workaday utility? We do not live to work. Rather, I’m convinced, we work to have the experience of being properly alive. Anything else is mere ambition and ambition, rather than aspiration, is a taker and feeds on appropriation and tyranny.

Should I post this? Nobody reads it anyway, you say, so who cares? And we’ve all got opinions so what of it? Blog your heart out, it matters not in the end. I get it. And it’s not as if blogging, having surrendered to it this past year, has somehow become to me anything less unsavory. It seems a sordid manner of communication, this effusive, shamelessly unedited yammering. Blogging is desperately, unpleasantly similar to journalism. It is journaling if not officially journalism, after all – there is a relationship or connection or shared agenda between them, is there not? Yes. I journal and blog in this way to say my piece and, while I’ve never been keen to convince others of anything – it’s not me it’s the myths – nor do I consciously engage in stroking my own ego, as unpleasant as that sounds. Anyone who reads any quantity of the DOP must, if they’re reading at all closely, agree that I’m merely the type who needs to write their way through things – some of us write our way through life. My brother for one despises this type of confessional auto-therapy and he’s not alone – Campbell himself, as I’ve often reiterated, suggested that nobody needs a confession besides a priest. Again, I get it. But this is part of what I do. There would be no fiction, no novels, no Time Crime without it, so be it.

Keep it to yourself, then. Believe me, I’ve struggled with this. And the only thing that seems to justify my publishing this stuff in any form is my own interest in the journaling of others. I value reading what goes on in somebody else’s head, so long as it communicates a certain mostly unintentional pedagogy, so to speak. I’m one who appreciates guides. In the sense that I’m convinced that nothing I’m experiencing is without precedent. Hence, the mistakes of the past need not, at least not entirely, be repeated. It can’t come as advice, of course, because none of us heed advice (a study in itself why this ought to be the case). But we are capable of following that  which strikes us as authentic and true. True to ourselves and, even when it conflicts with our immediate intuitions, true to how things ought to be.

Which is to say it’s not all relative. If everything, every experience and interpretation were subjective there would exist no humanity whatever. We’d be on our own, doomed to travail against the predicament of life as individuals and advancing, in the end, not a jot towards what is good and fine and best. Well, you argue, we don’t. Clearly we don’t advance for we are cursed with struggling against the same travails throughout the millennia. The so-called human potential movement and its adherents conducting their research, such as it is, within, say, Esalen? One could regard it all as impossible idealism. I would argue this myself. Better to observe, examine, intellectualize and apply rigorous scholarship, in the vein rather of Eranos (but unbeholden to academia) than seek to literally transform. Quit striving against the cosmic impossibilities, I say, and surrender to what is, namely, the dynamic between dark and light and the living of our lives in between it all, mired, such as we are, within the play of opposites. No need to choose sides; rather, our only chance of success in life is to choose emphasis or influence. Towards the good. Mencius, the fourth century B.C. Chinese philosopher of Confucian bent, argued that men are innately good. At our best, yes, this is intuitively undeniable. Good is within all of us. But philosophy (and I was a philosophy major) inevitably is a single perspective, hence flawed in its application. Philosophy, as history demonstrates, promotes an agenda. Whereas mythology, as symbol and metaphor, contains and, at its best, communicates all things at once. And this is exactly what we cherish, in the end. Because truth, in all its aspects, evokes this sense of a cosmic home, as it were. The affecting image transcends the limits of subjectivity and strikes to the heart of all things, hence to the heart of each us, hence it resonates intuitively, philosophically, aesthetically, psychologically, biologically. Melville, via Ahab, within the chapter entitled “Surmises” comes closer than Mencius to capturing the entire revelation:

In times of strong emotion mankind disdain all base considerations; but such times are evanescent. The permanent constitutional condition of the manufactured man, thought Ahab, is sordidness.

And let’s face it: the sordid part is oftentimes the most, well, fun. Or at least the most interesting on the face of things. Cue the news media. But I rather suggest that we emphasize, or better yet merely seek, the best in us. Apply one’s influence towards that end. That’s all. No heaven on Earth. No one fine day of judgement. Likewise no escape – there is no successful refusal of this life. Endure our sordidness and seek to rise above it. What else is there?

Un-fainthearted. And the bold faith of the faithless. Oftentimes to me life appears to consist of nothing but irony. In fact, I’ve pondered the idea for a book: The Mythology of Irony. And perhaps the biggest irony of all is our intuition – zealously mythological at that – of believing in things that, as Nick Cave himself has described in a lyric to “Ghosteen”, cannot even stand.