Post Post Refractory Period and Thoughts on Writing

Not sure if I’ve ever actually said anything about this IN a post before.

I sit here and eventually get the engines of my fingers going and it just feels good to do. Frankly it really doesn’t make MUCH of a difference what I’m typing about, so long as my fingers are going back and forth over the keyboard and the funny amber word things are coming out.

But I encounter this perhaps not-so-weird phenomenon where I’ll finish something (or, more typically just…kinda stop), do some proofreading then hit ‘publish’ after which my brain goes completely blank.

It’s what I call my post-post refractory period. There’s this strange dead air in my head immediately after I get something out the door where the compulsion leaves me a bit and I scramble around for the next idea or topic.

Usually I’ll dick around on twitter and reddit a bit until something strikes me. Maybe I’ll look through the half-baked documents in my working folder. But truth be told I rarely go back to an in-progress piece. I think it’s a weakness in my writing process really.

So there’s this period of about a half hour or so where I’m in absolute limbo. If I weren’t pathologically incapable of relaxation it would be a nice time. Instead my brain starts almost immediately scrambling about for the next thing to blast out in a stream of consciousness.

I even have a “post ideas” page I keep in a OneNote document that I can add to from my phone and is automatically synced online and is accessible throughout the known universe.

I thought I was awfully clever setting that up and…maybe it’s a good solid step in the right direction. The problem is I’m victim of my own success in that…well…there’s never anything in there. I pull it up when I sit down here, grab the top idea and write about that so it’s always empty. It’s not nearly the Brian Eno deck of ideas (or whateverthepretentiouscrap he called that deck of cards) I hoped it would be.

Even this just started because I wanted to just keep typing SOMEthing even if it was just for the love of doing it.

I really want to teach myself (therein lies the rub) how to compose longer more cohesive pieces. Yeah these blog posts are fun. The process is really helping me get my thoughts in order, which is something I desperately need.

I’m just not sure how to get from here to there since I really don’t know what ‘there’ looks like. Post longer stuff? Outline first? Start Mind Mapping? (ugh. I mean yeah, but ugh.)

These are the problems the wiki is supposed to solve; allowing me to write a bunch of small pieces that I can seamlessly integrate so that I can create a corpus from which to draw for a larger piece. But it’s not really working out that way.

It’s something I’m going to have to attack far more intentionally than I have over the last…err…several…uhm…decades.

But it’s not enough. These are still just the pithy ramblings of an intentional if largely inadequate thinker.

Good Joke. Everybody Laugh. Roll on snare drums. Curtains.

I think an awful lot about humor. That’s not to say I really understand much about the mechanics of it. There’ve been endless smart people who’ve compared humor and comedy, understand the depths of telling jokes or Twainian short stories, dissected them and come up with formulae involving the violation of expectations, etc.

It’s all really quite fascinating.

But something I never quite see is people telling smart jokes to smart people.

It seems a damned shame to me that telling jokes includes punch lines.

I’m not sure if it’s always been true. I don’t know, if it hasn’t always been true, if it’s an outgrowth of the industry of comedy and its need to appeal to the broadest possible audience base.

It just seems a damned shame.

Here’s how the perfect joke works, by my estimation:

You’re in a room with a dozen or two people and have the floor. You set up the joke in the middle of a paragraph, then keep talking, not giving the slightest visual clue as to what you’ve done. It’s acceptable to give a person or two a conspiratorial glance. But that’s IT! A pause after the paragraph in which the setup is buried and someone across the room crinkles their brow, looks up, and starts chuckling. MAYbe a couple more reparse the paragraph and get it.

But then people will laugh along at they don’t know what. Invariably someone will come in late and ask if you knew what you said. Le Sigh. Even that is a part of the ego boost, truth be told.

A great joke should tell the way an IN joke should, where you know a couple people are going to catch the reference, draw the conclusion, and realize what you’ve done, and laugh along.

“In jokes” are the next best thing I suppose. But it’s still a devolution of the idea. You’ve got guaranteed context with a few other people so you have the near guarantee that the reference will be caught, removing the need to spell it all out for everyone.

Now that’s not going to work on stage, where you have an audience paying you to make them laugh, and alls the more shame for it.

A few weeks ago I met a guy here at the cigar lounge. He sat down in a chair a couple down from me and…I’m not sure how the hell he picked up on it. Maybe he is just constantly slinging a certain type of humor. He’s certainly got a couple extra IQ points to his name. But we were talking about food and he made a subtle show of mispronouncing Italian food names.

It took about 3 for me to realize he was fucking with me. No one else SEEMED to see what was going on. Hell, I’ve no reason not to think it was just standard schtick.

At one point I brought up the book “Outwitting the Devil” by Napoleon Hill. He’d directed that it not be published until some number of decades after he died. Nate looked up and said “He should’ve published it posthumously.” And he just caught me.

“That’s what he di…shit.” And we laughed.

I suppose that’s a different category. But it’s still “The Joke you don’t realize is supposed to be a joke.” A slight level higher than the standard low-level fare.

Contrast that with the way my mother tells jokes. You’ll know if my mother’s going to tell a joke because she starts laughing the second she thinks of it. She ends up laughing herself to tears, completely destroying her ability to get the damned thing out, half the time leading to her spitting out the punchline then saying “No…wait…” and fumbling her way through it. It’s really quite endearing, and hilarious to watch. But if you’re actually waiting on the joke itself, well…you’re going to have a bad time.

Any jackass can tell a joke with a punch line, and I can’t begrudge anyone trying to make people laugh. But it’s the comedic equivalent of slapstick humor, leading the audience right to the oasis and jamming their head in the water.

I went to Gotham Comedy Club with one of my more insane and intelligent ex girlfriends. She was a trial lawyer. (Just…never again. NEVER again. No trial attorneys.)

One of the warmup acts said:

“Two muffins are in an oven.”

I was sitting to my girlfriend’s right with my arm around her and I leaned in and whispered in her ear “it’s hot in here.”

The commedian(ne) said “One turns to the other and says…” and she snapped to me wide-eyed and smiled. “Damn it’s hot in here.”

I leaned back in and said ‘holy shit a talking muffin.’

And…well…you know. “Good Joke. Everybody laughs.” – Rorschach.

Now…I hadn’t recalled having heard that joke before. But I must have. It was just too damned obvious.

That was 14-15 years ago and it just seemed so damned sloppy.

I haven’t been to a comedy show since.

Maybe it was the girl.

Logjam

I’m typing this right in the WordPress editor, rather than using Q10 to write, then proofread, and post.

I DID open Q10 to write, but the words really didn’t come. I know I know, the easiest thing to overcome is writer’s block. You start with “I don’t know what to write” then write about what you’d be writing about if you COULD write, then it’s over. “Writer’s Block” doesn’t exist and anyone who tells you otherwise is fucking lying. Lying. “But it’s a real…” Lying.

This was different only in that I write here at the cigar lounge “with intent to post” and I just couldn’t come up with anything for about a half hour/45 minutes. It finally struck me.

I’ve got a LOT on my mind. A bunch of shit has happened in the last 5 days or so. Lots good. Lots bad. None of it can I post. Too many other people involved.

So what happened is those topics kept coming up and I kept trying to stomp them back down in favor of something else with the fervor of Daffy Duck.

But it…doesn’t work that way. Yeah there are other things I could write about. Sure a couple other things have come up even as I write this. But my mind is absolutely dominated by the four events that took place since my post from last Thursday. So I’ve really got little option but to write them out.

I know. People are going to be curious. But I can’t (read: won’t) discuss that here.

I just found it curious that the structure of the problem highlighted itself so clearly. Two years ago…hell, maybe even so little as three months ago, if this had happened I’d have just dicked around online and not written a word.

Let People Pay

I’m in the very fortunate position that I really don’t want for much in terms of material things. I can’t and don’t just pull the trigger on everything that strikes my fancy. But let’s say that more than my basic material needs are met.

I’ve realized recently how badly I play certain kinds of social interactions with people.

Let’s take the brewing hobby, so as not to highlight the somewhat more poignant and potentially sensitive example that actually triggered the realization.

For about a decade I used to brew meads, fruit wines, cider, rice wine, hard lemonade (which is much better than the “Mike’s Hard Lemonade” garbage that’s just zima with some lemon flavoring) and other stuff. I tried my hand at Apple Jack (don’t do this. The result will make you feel like someone drove an ice pick into the side of your skull.) Then there’s the whole hot sauce thing.

I’ve settled down with most of that to the point where I’m really just doing the rice wine now. Though…I might take another crack at hard lemonade. That shit was good. (Look up “skeeter pee” online for the recipe. It’s dead easy.)

Now, I don’t drink all this stuff. I make it partially because it’s fun to understand where things come from, partially because of the wide-eyed “wait, you MADE this?” response I get from people.

The general principle is this: I have a surplus of generally desirable material things that have much less value to me than they do to others.

I bring a bottle or two of something I made to either Johnathan’s or the cigar lounge or wherever. About one out of every three or four times someone asks if they can buy a bottle.

It makes me flinch every time. “Nah man I’ll just give you a bottle.”

I don’t expect anything from it. I don’t demand they treat me differently afterwards. I’m not looking for any kind of indebtedness. Sure I like the gratitude. That feels nice.

Most of the time the reaction is “Are you sure? Thanks man. I appreciate it.” Shading up and down from there in a pretty narrow band. But that’s the end of it.

Well…that’s not ALways the reaction. As I mentioned in a post that….I just realized I never posted…sometimes people twitch a little. “No man, let me buy it from you.” Or “I can’t do that.” When this happens you can read the discomfort quite visibly in their body language.

They make something close to a disgust face. It’s interesting because I wouldn’t normally associate that with the actual reaction.

It’s visibly painful for them to accept whatever it is as a gift.

What’s funny about this is that that’s how I react when someone tries to give me something. I’ve got a complete double standard about it. If someone’s trying to give me something I absolutely feel a debt hanging around my neck which eats at my soul until I clear it from the books, preferably with interest.

Now, that’s not ALways true. I’ve got a couple friends where none of this is a factor. It’s not a race to pick up the check for lunch. But we go back and forth. A cigar or two here, a soda there. “hey I bought this piece of electronic gadgetry but I’m not gonna use it, here…” etc. That works because we know we’re on the exact same wavelength about these things. There isn’t really incurred debt. Of course, it also never gets very unbalanced.

But that’s an extreme exception.

In the normal case when someone starts getting insistent on paying for something I’m trying to make a gift of I handle it QUITE poorly. I tend to lean on it and get more and more insistent. It’s because I don’t see enough value in the bottle of wine to warrant payment. In that case the payment the other person insists on therefore BECOMES the gift, which throws the scales out of whack in my head.

It’s the wrong way to think about it, entirely.

I currently have the opportunity to do something for a guy I know who’s in rough straights. It’s a simple matter for me and is of no practical (monetary) value. The item in question is no more than a bit of clutter in my basement.

I don’t want the guy’s money. I really don’t. I don’t need it. But I saw it written all over his face. He needs to have paid for it and I backed off before fucking up too badly.

IF I’d leaned on it and insisted “no man really, it’s fine. You can just have it.” then it would have been (seen as) patronizing, for lack of a better word. It’s a power play.

SO…

What I’m thinking is this: Maybe I tell him to buy me a cigar or a drink or two or something. I’d much prefer a bartering arrangement (generally true. Maybe more on that later.) Now in my head that’s about perfect. I’m more interested in whatever thought he’d put in to it, even if it’s him going into a cigar shop and saying “I need a cigar of X value. Whatcha got?”

I think that’s probably fine. Now… the hyper-neurotic in me immediately asks “Would that put undue pressure on him to come up with an effective valuation?” But no. I think that’s actually okay.

You need to understand people, what they need, what makes up their head in order to deal with them appropriately. Sure, you can demand people meet you on your plane, and some people will. Hell, that’s actually the appropriate way to deal with a lot of people. But as a strategy it will only ever take you so far.

Understand when you’re projecting your needs on others. Of course that’s basically impossible. But you can move forward at least a little bit on that dimension. It helps clarify your own motivations, where they come from, and why.

A subtle shift can be all it takes to move from putting someone down to lifting them up, and making that shift does the same for you.

Daemons: An Interlude

Aristotle’s Daemon
Carl Yung’s Eudaemonia
Napoleon Hill’s Imaginary Council
Every Ventroliquist (esp. Nina Conti)
The Holy Ghost
The Machine Elves
The Conscience

Books:

Napoleon Hill: Outwitting The Devil
Neil Donald Walsh: Conversations With God

I will add to this as I find more examples.

This is something that’s been on my mind an awful lot since I first read Think and Grow Rich. Hill was the first person that drew the line forward in time from Aristotle for me. Since then I’ve tripped over a lot of examples and it’s always tickled something in the back of my mind.

But I’m not yet quite sure what.

There’s something there.

Something fascinating.

Climbing the Dominance Hierarchy

I spend more time and energy working to improve myself than many people think is strictly healthy. Well that’s fine, they can go fuck themselves. I know what I am. Besides, it’s not your opinion of me that matters.

For instance: I weigh myself every morning.

Every morning. Then I write the morning’s weight on a whiteboard that I take a picture of at the end of the month before keying it all in.

When people hear this I get a pretty narrow band of reactions:

  • Are you out of your MIND? (The shock on people’s faces is absolutely precious.)
  • What are you, a woman? (a particularly entertaining take.)

The answer to all of that is: “It’s what I need to do.”

It’s how I keep on top of myself, It’s how I’ve lost the weight I have in the last few months. It’s how I stop myself (when I do) from heading to the kitchen cabinets and what gets me (when I do) to drink another mug of tea. If I were to weigh myself once a week it’d just be depressing and it wouldn’t be on my mind enough throughout the day. I’d have no chance against backsliding. None.

So it’s fine. It’s a part of what I do every morning, which feels good all on its own, repercussions aside.

The hardest part of the process for me is getting that process of examination itself right. As someone who’s breathtakingly neurotic I worry about damn near everything, whether it’s a problem or not. So of course I worry about whether or not I’m worrying about the right things. Second order metacognition is a dizzying pursuit. But it’s the best way I know to keep myself in between the lines and moving forward.

As I progress through the process of self-examination and rectification I find it quite interesting how things I’d never considered are suddenly problems. Once I started noticing this habit I, of course, worried myself overmuch that it was just a byproduct of my inclination to look for things to get angsty about. While there’s technically some truth to that, it masks what’s actually going on.

The thing about pursuing low hanging fruit is that over time the definition changes. Once you’ve cleaned out the lower level, there’s always “low hanging” fruit, it’s just a bit higher. And, until you’re at the top of the tree it’s always true. Not that I’m ever going to run out of things. Yggdrasil has no practical top.

If you lose sight of what you’re actually doing then it just seems like there are more and more issues and problems.

But I don’t worry about what I don’t worry about, as such it loses short-term visibility. So the things that concerned me a few months ago, a year ago, a decade ago, or more, just aren’t there. It’s one of the reasons these writings are so absolutely vital to me. I can (and frequently do) go back and look at the things I was concerned about in the past and it reaffirms the path I’ve set myself on. Sure, sometimes I lose track and then it serves to help me course correct.

Now…all of that was supposed to be context for what I’d intended to write about, but it just got a little windy (who ME….Nooooo eyeroll.)

Something else has been emerging through the fog as I’ve cleared enough garbage out of the way to see it. It’s interesting because it’s something that’s been bothering me for a while, I just hadn’t been able to see it clearly.

In my quest to keep tighter reign on myself (…err…interesting quandary: You control a horse with its reins, but a sovereign reigns, so…which is it? I’ll go with reigns, since that’s rather more what it feels like) I’ve noticed an increased underlying frustration in dealing with people. I don’t let it surface if I can avoid it.

Unfortunately the problem with that is that you can’t really stop yourself from having a lower-circuit reaction to something by sheer force of will. You’re constituent sub-personalities are far too clever for that kind of crap, so it’s something I have to deal with.

I can track the flare-up to the last couple years, though it’s certianly far older than that.

The problem stems from the fact that there are very few people with whom I interact that have the background I’ve got, particularly now since I’ve moved to Tennessee and retired.

At the risk of pissing off a bunch of people, I just find programmers near universally dull once they’re conversationally outside their field. So I really just don’t interact with them, aside from a couple buddies from the office.

I’ve spent my whole life working in a very specific field and now…it’s just gone. I’ve departed the world where my expertise means anything at all, having cashed in my chips in a sense.

I have a bunch of friends in my age bracket and they’re all quite successful in their own fields, real estate, golf, management, entrepreneurs, all kinds of things. Even those that aren’t particularly so have families which, to a single man, certainly looks like success. All kinds of things that are generally accessible to most people.

It’s not like I can offer a story about hand-rolling a multi version autoswitching FIX processor, dark liquidity trading algos, or a multi-platform reactor based protocol agnostic server from scratch in raw C++ 98. Unless I’m trying to cure insomnia I’ve pretty much got to keep my mouth shut.

If they find out my background is in software engineering they’ll ask about websites, which is fair enough. But, yeah I can’t build your website. It’d be like asking a metalurgist or tool and die maker to fix your transmission. My work is…different.

So I’ll sit with these guys and…well… “have nothing to say” would just be hilarious. But my professional experience has no bearing on the assembly.

Add to that the fact that I’m still single at 51 and it’s pretty tough not to feel like the low man on the totem pole.

It…could be some kind of twisted Imposter Syndrome I suppose.

Peterson’s commentary on dominance hierarchies comes to mind pretty starkly. I’ve really got no position in the group of friends in which I find myself. Now I suspect they wouldn’t say so. But I’d chalk that largely up to Southern Politeness, which may certainly have more to do with me than them as I’m disinclined to praise myself overmuch. That’s really neither here nor there.

Even if my understanding of the phenomenon misses the mark, i.e. if I’m just projecting, which seems at least partially likely, there IS something that I’m projecting. I’m simply, unarguably not making effective use of my time in a pursuit of depth.

It led me to the conclusion a day or two ago that it’s time to knuckle down on a serious pursuit, independent of my myriad hobbies. This story gets a little old in the frequent retelling in my head. But there’s some new life to it.

Giving myself this particular frustration/anxiety (and yes I recall my own admonishment that anxiety is not a reaction) as a source of motivation seems like a great tool since it’s something that bothers the everloving fuck out of me.

So last night I started working through one of the hundreds of free udemy courses I’ve accumulated (as an aside: the old.reddit.com/r/udemyfreebies subreddit posts dozens of “free as in beer” courses every day. Sign up for a free udemy account and browse through there every few days and sign up for ones you find interesting. The quality can be shaky, sure. But free is free.) on full stack javascript development.

Between that and my writing projects I should be able to have something to say when someone says: So, what are you working on?

It’s a strange place to find purpose, which has always been my absolute greatest difficulty. But if it works, then its utility is immeasurably great. That’s what makes it different than previous iterations of endless circling ruminations on the topic.

Improving social standing really IS a sufficient purpose.

I can hear it now: Oh, we love you dude. You know you don’t have to do anything to impress us.

Yeah, but at the risk of being indelicate: It’s not your opinion of me that matters after all.

It’s mine.

The Back Stairs

I just posted a couple of the BarNotes stories. It doesn’t REALLY feel like I’ve written anything since I put a header and a footer on them and, some token editing aside, posted them largely as is.

So what now? Tough to tell.

Turning around fast enough to catch yourself.

On Tuesday, while I was here writing away I received my new desktop computer and some parts for my cyberdeck build. I got home took some unboxing pics and set the thing up. By the time Cigargoyle’s stream started (10:00 my time) I was absolutely giddy.

At first I’d written it off as New Toy Excitement. But as the evening rolled on (and it was an absolutely hilarious stream) I realized that it was something else.

My brain went over the writing I’d done over that day, the “The Price of Growth” post, about falling off the wagon, slipping and sliding and such, and I realized that I’d wound up so much frustration and angst in my failing desktop that it had affected my mood to a far deeper extent than I’d realized.

That had me feeling a little hopeless and making bad decisions (the great Frozen Pizza incident of Saturday comes to mind) which of course exacerbated the problem.

Now that I have the benefit of hindsight it’s pretty damned frustrating. And it highlights the conclusions of my Tuesday afternoon post much more strongly.

To have something like that sneak up on me like that, highlighting so clearly how I’m misapplying metacognition is just…well, frustrating really is just the word. Especially when I know that if my attention was pointed in the right direction I’d have figured it out, worked through it, compartmentalized the frustration and been, on the whole, fine about it all.

A long time ago I wrote a cute little Java application. It would sit in the background and on a random timer between 15 and 45 minutes long (so I couldn’t QUITE predict it), it would pop up a window and ask “How do you feel?” and give me a little text box where I could write something and hit enter. It would save a timestamp and whatever it was I wrote as a line in a file.

Then at the end of the day/week I could go back and look through the file and get a bit of a profile of my moods over time.

It was a really useful little tool. But I only had the thing running for about six months.

I wonder if something like that wouldn’t be in order. I’m not sure I need the periodic interruption (though I may.) But a tool that would force me to self-examine in a bit more of a focused way that I’d be able to catch myself before this shit got out of hand.

Granted it doesn’t happen all the time and I am in every way that can be expressed in language better off now than I’ve been in fucking decades.

But again, as I mentioned in that post from Tuesday: Spending energy to take up the slack when you’re treading water isn’t enough. How much better off would I be if I applied that relentless self-examination to which I’m so prone when I didn’t NEED it?

It’s the problem of “The Gentleman’s C” that afflicts smart yet largely unmotivated people. You do enough work to get by because that’s so damned easy, that you never really get going on what you’re atually capable of. You never really see how that would all pan out.

And there’s really no excuse for it.

Unfortunately I don’t have any huge conclusions other than “yeah, more of that” and it’s 3:30. The guys from Bible Study have started to arrive, so I’m going to post this and shut down for the day.

I’ll figure it out.

BarNotes: I, Asshole…?

I’m not sure where I mentioned it and where I haven’t, because conversation, twitter, blog posts, and me talking to myself while walking around my house all bleed together in a way that I’m not sure anyone really wants to know.

I’ve been working for the last few weeks on merging everything I’ve written. And…I mean EVERYthing I’ve EVER written into a set of text files organized by a Year/Month/Day in advance of a larger project.

That’s all my bar notes, blog posts, twitter posts, facebook, substantive emails, personal journal entries (both electronic and long-hand.)

There’s a LOT of text there. There are a LOT of stories from the last 35-40 years. Yeah I have just about everything going back that far. Hell some of them are even worth telling.

I’d been looking forward to going back to some of my old bar Glory Days posts. Indeed Cigargoyle read one on his live stream a couple weeks ago that I ended up deciding NOT to actually post. I may yet. But…eh.

As such I’ve been rereading a lot of them, with hopes of cannibalizing them if not lifting them out wholesale.

I noticed something as I read a couple of my old favorites..

Here. Let me do something goofy and post this one AS IS. This is from a night during 2006 which for reasons I may explore out loud some day, was my best year up until about 2015.

Here goes:

——-

A couple weeks ago, for instance, I went in to Slate on my traditional Wednesday night.

The bouncer (the crabby one who won’t acknowledge that he sees me every Wednesday he’s working) asked “what party are you with?”

“Uhm… none.” Same as always dopey doodle.

“Ok, go right ahead.”

I’m the guy who shows up at 7:12 on Wednesday nights. Every Wednesday night, and I have for something close to 9 months. Really? Ya don’t know who I am?

At least he recognizes me enough not to actually bother asking for id, so I know right off he’s just fucking with me. Hell, it costs me nothing so I just play along politely. Let him serve whatever part of his psyche needs feeding.

I shrug, push open the door and walk in to a ghastly sight.

There are people, dressed with fair formality, sipping out of martini glasses… EVERYWHERE. Immediately to the simpleton driving my attention I notice the compelling ratio of gorgeous girls. I mean gorgeous, not “pretty little anorexic skanks wearing their nice dress hoping to pick up a broker.”

That actually doesn’t happen in NYC as much as you’d think. The truth of the matter is that, with the standard 90/10 exceptions, traders are 24 year old power hungry jackasses who spend more on their clothes than they can afford to on their rents in order to look the part they are supposed to play, while not quite understanding why they’re strangely ill-equipped. But if you’re interested in seeing that dynamic in action, go to Southwest New York, a nice little establishment down in the World Financial Center. It’s an awesome little place with hit and miss food, but good frozen drinks, some even with enough tequila and about as delightful a setting as you can get in Manhattan, overlooking the bay. But I wouldn’t recommend going there to relax during the after-work primetime of 4-8. It’s just… yeah, no. avoid it.

No, these girls were… mmm… curvy. Nicely curvy, wearing strapless black dresses (which is dangerous for the curvy, so I appreciate the achievement.) Unfortunately the only other difference between them and the aforementioned husband-hunting SOHO denizen is that they’re not looking to hook up with a money man. They’re looking for something far more sinister.

An Artist.

And a particular artist they were here to find. Covering the walls were three foot by three foot paintings (I later found out they were on masonite, not canvas. Go figure.)

They were what you would call… “abstract” and what I would call “talentless paint splattering.” One in three or so had some dotted lines drawn on them creating every effectively the look of some architect’s worksheet that had been used as a drop cloth by a house painter doing trim work in a twelve year old girl’s bedroom. This is where I’d love to say “But I digress.” But no. This was really quite sadly central to these people and their reasons for traveling this far uptown (21st between 5th and 6th.) Joan Miro this guy will never be, try though he might.

Of course the girls weren’t the only people in attendance. Otherwise I may very well have lost control of myself, and just stage-dived into the horde and hoped for the best. No no. Aside from the 22 year old art groupies, there were all sorts of “iusedtobehot, iusedtobehot, iusedtobehot” women standing around with their faces dragged back unnaturally, masked quite liberally in some orange confection that I can only assume was supposed to give the impression of a natural tan; perhaps without the ill-effects of actual exposure to the sun. Having met neither of these goals their only hope left was to be careful the way they smiled (such as they did) so as not to exacerbate their wrinkles, which would have been fine if they’d have just pulled the flagpoles our of their asses.

Sprinkled around there were a few benefactorly old men as well.

These various subspecies of the common metropolitan open-bar freeloaders created a fairly fascinating little social ecosystem. The artist wanted to relieve bored insecure rich people of their money and in return grant them a borrowed sense of aesthetics by masking as an artist instead of a painter. The potential benefactors were here for the young girls and wouldn’t perhaps consider a quick $8500 purchase too much of an imposition if it were to suitably impress. The girls were looking for artist types and to generally seem important enough to have a reason to be at an “art party” even if they weren’t quite sure what it was that makes that a good thing, as it doesn’t. Amidst all this, I’m sure there were a couple people who were just having a good time. I don’t think I ran in to them. But I’m sure they were there.

It was a lot to take in, just standing there at the door, my bag around my shoulder, per usual. Plus, I was blocking the door.

A long time ago I read some book, which quite escapes me now (chase it throughout the apartment as I do.) It said that one important thing to making a good first impression is to actually MAKE an impression. The only thing of substance I retain from the book (even it’s title is lost in the cobwebs of my mind) was this:

When you enter a room containing other people, such as a bar, a club, a party, a meeting, cafeteria, etc. walk in the door, move in a few feet (so as not to block others) then stop. Stop and let your eyes pan deliberately and blatantly around the room, taking stock evenly (evenly is important) of every person whose face you can actually see. (I’d be lying if I didn’t add that, as a heterosexual male, I take a damn bit better stock of girls, whether I can see their faces or not.)

I’ve been doing this for years and I can’t tell you how much it’s changed my interactions with people, because I have no idea. Okay, some humor aside, it really does make a difference. It’s a fairly subtle difference, but people don’t realize they notice it. It’s the difference between entering a room and making an entrance into a room. But, unless you do something ridiculous like swish your hair around or wave your arms and say “my public!” Nobody quite notices why they notice you. They just sorta become aware of your presence.

So there ya have it. Now I can safely say “But I digress.”

But I digress.

I walked up the couple stairs to the bar. It was packed. I walked the length, looking for my seat near but not on top of the service bar; less than gracefully moving between martini-ites and back, by which time a seat had vacated.

I’d caught Jennifer’s eye and we snickered wordlessly about the state of the place.

Sitting down on one of the familiar square cushioned backless bar stools, I heard the clink of a bottle-top and an Original Sin appeared in front of me. Apparently I’d taken her seat. Turning back around there was also a bottle of cider. Sorry, I don’t drink beer. Can’t stand it. Yes I’ve tried that too. Yep. And that. Nope. Turns out I actually don’t like it. For now I’ll work with my gateway drug, cider.

I reached down into my bag, shuffled through it a bit (it’s contents are rather unkempt, what with all the empty journals and the laptop and all) and emerged with one of those moleskine notebooks that everybody seems to be so hot and bothered about. Yes yes, nice binding. Paper quality is mediocre though (far too much bleed) and the little elastic strap just comes off after any real use anyway. So I don’t use it all the time. But at $10 a pop, I feel sorta obligated to give it an honest shot.

I figured the first thing I ought to do was get down some observations of the evening; especially since the business of bartending was clearly going to occupy my friend’s attention, leaving me to entertain myself for a change (as it turns out, there were far more than enough volunteers.)

There are a few televisions in Slate and one really large projector screen that pulls down in front of the huge bar mirror covered with really really bad pick up lines. You know the ones: “Does my tongue taste funny…” etc. You usually chuckle at the first couple you read, then they just start making people wince, because they’ve heard them.

Usually I take little notice of the TV contents, as I have a chronic disinterest in sporting events. This makes me a fairly tough person to make smalltalk with. But I’ve learned to fake it pretty well and, in the course of my training in how to fit in with the culture here on your quaint little planet, I’ve learned to occasionally shout at the screen “Holy shit my MOTHER knows not to swing at that!” Unfortunately it seems that this is only relevant in particular sports.

Who knew?

Instead, tonight there was what looked like some home movie playing on the screens. It seemed to be taking place in a gallery of some sort. There was a featured personage walking around, being led by the camera.

On the video, he was… 35, almost stocky in build. He had some kind of black jacket on with a white shirt, pointed collar protruding all the way from 1972, and he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. One, because he was babbling away merrily to the extras who really really weren’t going to buy any of his art, babbling away to the camera, and smacking gum like his life depended on it.

Every once in a while someone would come into frame, play the air kiss game and pose for a picture with their arm around him, before retreating with their martini glass half-full of some suspiciously green liquid, Before too long I recognized some of the paint splatters on the walls in the video and came to the belated conclusion that it was the artist (oh ok, I’ll throw him a bone “The Artist”.)

It seemed as though the video was an hour or so long, on loop. All night.

I caught Jennifer for a second and eyed one of the paintings and rolled my eyes. She chuckled, held up a finger and went to a drawer under the register and pulled out a laminated sheet of paper. It was the price list.

$5400 for the square ones (3×3 feet) and $8500 for the tall ones (3×5 feet?) We just broke up laughing and she put the thing away.

My anthropological reverie was interrupted by a pair of girls who were futzing with something at the bar. One leaned in “Ooh, are you left handed?” (she asks the man sitting at the bar writing in a notebook with his left hand.)

“Yep.”

“You’re sure?”

“Absolutely.”

“Ok. Good. Just checking.” Never ask a question you don’t really want the answer to.”

“So what do you think of the art?”

“I think it sucks. I think this whole evening is a bunch of self indulgent crap. It’s actually very entertaining.”

“Uhm… Entertaining?” I got the “ewh….mah….gahd…” look of disgust and pause right out of 1982. I couldn’t possibly be saying that out loud right?

“Yep. Entertaining. Told you you didn’t want to know.”

They walked away. I just smiled and wrote it all down.

On my way back from a men’s room trip (let’s face it, I was ripping through ciders at an impressive rate) Jennifer caught my eye and said “Hey, I had to move you down a few.” Apparently a little clusterlet of groupies had jumped claim.

I went over and sat down in my new seat, closer to the end of the bar, and didn’t really notice a difference. My notebook, pen, and bottle of Original Sin had all been flawlessly reinstalled.

I took a sip of my cider and heard…

“Can I have more olives? Bartender. BARTENDER!”

The next occupied seat, two to my right, was filled with a 63 year old woman of about 220 pounds at five foot four. Bleached perm and the outfit I’d expect to see on a cute 22 year old. Short skirt, three inch pumps, coat over a white billowy blouse of some kind.

“Hi. I’m Ariel. I’m a gossip columnist.” I figured hell. If anybody looked the part, it was her. This could actually prove to be an interesting conversation.

“Hya Ariel. Mike. I’m just Norm in this particular bar on Wednesdays.”

“So what do you think of the art?” Ugh. I suppose it was inevitable.

“I really don’t like it. It lacks cohesion. Frankly, it looks like someone else’s drop-cloths.”

“It’s very spiritual. I’m getting something to eat. Do you want to get something to eat?” A bartender plunked a toothpick with a few olives in her empty martini glass. Frankly, I was hoping for one of those cute mini plastic rapiers. Some ancient warning against eating the faerie queen’s food came to mind for some reason.

“Uhm… No thanks.”

“You have to hear him exPLAIN it. I came all the way down from Scarsdale to see this. Really. It would make sense if you listened to him explain it. It’s all about his process. He’s very spiritual.”

Pagan. Gotta be a pagan. Pagans are obSESSED with their “PROCESS”. It’s the only thing that keeps the focus off the fact that their ACHIEVEMENTS aren’t worth measuring.

“So what you’re saying is the paintings don’t really stand on their own merit?”

“Well, they do once you know what they are about. CAN I HAVE MORE OLIVES PLEASE!?! It’s a very spiritual process. What was your name again?” I was amazed that she was really going to take the bait on this one.

“Mike. Okay. Let me just understand what you’re saying here: It sounds like his description is what you get something out of, and the paintings just remind you of that, so you really only like them by proxy.”

“Well…” Diego came and put down her pizza.

“Ooh, pizza. You want some pizza?”

“No thank you. I ate.”

“You sure? There’s too much for me.” Doubt it.

“No. Thank you. I’m fine.” She shrugged.

“Ok. By the way, I didn’t catch your name.”

“Mike.”

“Hi Mike, I’m Ariel.”

“Hi. In order for it to be Art, shouldn’t the paintings stand on their own merit?” She started shaking her head emphatically. “Shouldn’t I be able to walk up to them out of the blue and, if I know anything at all, shouldn’t this spirituality you keep talking about actually come through?”

“No. You really… It’s not like that.”

“From what you’re saying, it really just sounds like the paintings aren’t important.”

blink blink

“So why doesn’t he just stand up with a microphone and talk about it? Why bring the paintings at all? Maybe he should be an orator instead of a painter. Or wouldn’t he make any money that way?”

“Excuse me. Bartender! Can I have more olives please? Jeez. The bartenders here…”

“Are really good and swamped by the madhouse this place has become tonight! He’ll be down here in a second.” Do NOT fuck with the bartenders Mr. Magee.

“You should really hear him explain it. Hold on. I can get him.” She started craning her neck and hunting about the room for Le Artiste.

“No no. That’s really a bad idea.” I can be snarky to the sycophantic hangers on all night. But I wasn’t about to try my hand at decimating the overinflated ego of He Who Would Be King on his Night Of Glory (part deux, judging from the animated idolatry on the video screens.) Besides, it’s not really him I have any interest in messing with.

This guy, intolerable as all signs point to him being, has a bunch of paintings in a club and is selling them at $8500 a piece and has packed the club, having generated sufficient interest (Let’s pretend to ignore the fact that if he wasn’t paying for all their drinks that they wouldn’t be there.) More power to HIM. Hell, I don’t have anything to put on the line like that.

But don’t tell me:

a) it’s art
b) it’s “important”
c) it has “meaning”

Because that’s a bunch of disingenuous crap. Sure, he has to say that because he’s playing the role of artist and it’s a part of the marketing. All the more unfortunate for him if he believes his own bullshit. But that’s not something I’ve any interest in exploring.

Yet.

So I stood up to go to the men’s room, just to break up the conversation. On my way there…

“I just need cigarettes.”
“Yeah, there’s got to be a place around here to buy cigarettes.”
“Sure.” I interjected. ” Right around the corner. Go out the door, turn…”
“HHEEEYYYY!!!! It’s the left-haaannded guyyyy!” slurred the mind-numbingly drunk chicklet.
“Yep. That’s me.”
“So where do we go around here to get cigarettes?”
“Walk out the door, turn left Go to the corner, turn left and you’ll…”
“It’s the left handed guy Ashley!”

twitch

“Hey, do you know where we can go get cigarettes?”
“Nope. Not around here. Sorry.”

I spent the next half hour or so just absorbing the scenery and grabbing snippets of conversation here and there, not one line of which did anything but reinforce my opinion of this artist, his paintings, and the crowd he drew. I knew I was in a bad mood by that time. Hell. I hadn’t started out at my most chipper. I had been looking for a nice bite to eat, some of my favorite conversation and to put a light buzz on.

I’d been musing on this and how “my god these people are REALLY REALLY like that.” This wasn’t some contrived Sex & The City episode. These were real people, trying to figure this stuff all out. It was scary. Which was one of those A HA moments similar to the one I had when I was doing the internet dating thing in 2002 and girls would say “WOW I’ll bet you’re really $ucce$$ful!”

You look at a room like that, and you see a vast array of cardboard cut-outs. You know what they’re going to say next. You know what they’re going to do, and the more you interact with them the less surprised you are by their total lack of character, individuality and fundamental identity. Then they (of course) get mad when you roll your eyes as you mouth the words that are about to come out of their mouths. I just want to grab them and shake them, give them a good smack and shout “YOU’RE IN THERE! I KNOW YOU ARE. JUST KNOCK THIS SHIT OFF! DON’T WORRY ABOUT THEM, THEY’LL FOLLOW YOUR LEAD.”

A girl walked up to the bar on my right side, 5’7″. She was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a leather vest. She had leather boots of indeterminate height with sufficient heels, and had some nice recent ink, both in the form of a ubiquitous lower-back tattoo and on her left arm.

Totally out of place, she was an absolute breath of fresh air.

“Hey. What’s up?” She opened. Knight to King’s Bishop 3.

“Ah, not much. What’s going on with you?”

“Nuthin. Hey, do you mind if I ask you a really personal question?” Oh here it comes.

“Usually I’d say yes.” (lie) “But you don’t look like you fit in here so no, not at all. Fire away. I may even answer it.”

She kept looking down at my notebook (where I had just finished writing “leather vest…” in that particular dialect of cuneiform that leaves me totally secure about leaving this notebook out in strange places. UNLIKE my real personal journal.)

“So, are you one of those people who writes because you’re obsessive and it makes the pain go away or are you just taking down notes about the room here tonight?”

“Damn nice question. I’m…”

“Yeah, got an answer?” Full point.

“Both. Hell, I’m just here ’cause it’s Wednesday and I’m here every Wednesday. Tonight I came in and all this shit was going on, so I thought I should start taking down some raw material and snippets of conversation for the files.”

“Writer?”

“Getting there. Programmer who loves to write more than program.”

“Cool. Cool. I’m here with a friend of mine, who invited me along. Not really my thing.” She looked around at it all. “So what do you think?”

I was ready to bang my head on the 3″ thick glass bar. But I didn’t want to break it.

“I don’t really like it so much. Not my thing either.” I don’t have to be a raving shithead ALL the time. But I ain’t gonna lie about it. “I just don’t think it’s art. Hey. If he can get $8500 for one of these, more power to him. But he ain’t gonna get it from me.”

“So do you live around here?”

“Nope. Brooklyn Heights. I just come here on Wednesdays.”

“Work near here?”

“Nope. Not any more. But the place and people are worth the trip.”

“Cool. You should really come to my bar.”

What IS it about bartenders? I always pick them out of a crowd, usually without knowing what it is about them that I’m picking out. Frequently they pick me as well. I’ve got a couple theories. But they’re pretty damn pretentious.

“Should I?” What the hell.

“Yeah. You definitely should.”

“When?”

“Monday. I work Mondays. Yeah, you should definitely come to my bar. It’s on First ave between second and third streets. Called DBA. Check out the website. We got webcams and everything so you can check if it’s busy before you come in. drinkgoodstuff.com. Definitely come in.”

“I will.”

“You gonna be here a few minutes? I have to go talk to my friend.” Another one bites the dust. “I promise I’ll be right back, okay? I promise.” Unnecessary, but warming.

So she skampered off, leaving me to go through another cider or two and sidebar some of my notes with conversational fragments.

Believe it or not, she came back.

With a Wookie.

“Hey. I didn’t get your name.” She asked, bringing me back to my senses.

“Mike.”

“Mike, Armando. Armando, Mike.”

Armando looks to be 6’3″. He’s Brazilian and what’s more is I have absolutely no idea how I know that. But it’s absolutely true. And no, he didn’t look like a Wookie. He was just a bit dark skinned, big and entirely unexpected. Tends to leave a very particular kind of impression.

“Hi Mike.” He held out his hand, which looked like he had broken it at the wrist. Ah. I see.

“Hey Armando.”

“So, what do you think of all this?”

Kill me now.

He leaned in a bit closer than I’d have liked, “Ithn’t this the most pretentious thing you’ve ever theen?” His voice managed to raise at least a full octave in the midst of his sentence. Imagine Serge from Beverly Hills Cop and you’ll get the idea.

“Oh thank GOD! Armando, you’re a man after my own heart.” Oops! Lit him RIGHT the hell up.

“Oh my god I know. It’s such a bunch of crap! I’ve known him on and off for years. This is actually…. you know what? It’s actually just self-indulgent.” I was writing furiously now. Armando was shaking his head, looking at the paintings. He had a thought and his head shot back around to me.

“Plus he wants to get MORE work done!”

“Work?”

“Ohmygod. I know, can you believe it? Have you SEEN him?”

“I’m not sure I would recognize him if I had. I doubt it though.”

“Well, take a look at the video. He looks great….. sigh ….. there.” He turned around and started scanning the room.

“There! See?” He pointed off into the mob. Nope. I didn’t see. I’m neither 6’3″ nor motivated to look for the guy.

“I’ll take your word for it I think.”

“Well, he has hair now. But whatever. He looks AWFUL! And on top of THAT the first thing he said to me tonight was ‘uch, Armando, I think I’m going to get my nose done.'”

I looked up at the screen for traces of nose breakage. shrug

“Uhm… you’re not like… gonna use my name or anything, right?” He seemed to take the first notice of the fact that I was writing down every. single. word.

“Nope.” I hoped I’d remember to change it. Newly reassured he started rattling off things about the artist’s past that … yeesh … that I’m not even gonna put in here.

The two of them soaked in the room a bit before wordlessly negotiating their departure.

“Well, it was a pleasure meeting you Mike.” He held out his hand.

“You too Armando.”

The two of them started for the door when she turned half way around.

“Monday?” She asked.

“Yeah. Hey! I never got your name.”

“Nope. Let’s keep it that way. I’ll just be ‘That Girl’ for a while.” She smiled.

“Ha! Deal.”

“See ya Monday.”

I just turned back to the bar and laughed for a few minutes, putting some finishing touches on my notes before closing the notebook for a little while.

Thankfully it was thinning out. I think the open bar for these people had closed (I run my own tab, so I don’t notice these things but through the eyes of bartenders.)

The rest of the evening passed relatively uneventfully, with a couple exceptions that are too personal to the people I spoke with to put down in so crass a forum as this.

But I was absolutely amazed at the number of characters I had met. Right out of central casting. It really defied all imagination. What’s more is that there was an additional two hours after all this during which I met a couple really interesting people.

Sam, one of the… managers? owners? of the bar.

Lauren Gibbs: A girl I will NOT soon forget for many high and low reasons (though she carries a tragic air about her), all positive, and several others. But those conversations aren’t for you, I’m sorry. Once my mood cracked I resumed my role as “The World’s Confidant” and while there is no END to the number of people who will rightly testify that I couldn’t keep a secret if I was the last person on earth, there are exceptions.

When I got home I looked up the “gossip columnist”s url and found a defunct blog with sporadic entries every 3-6 months or so. Hmmpf.

And the next Monday I did go to DBA, where there was a Whiskey 101 class starting, so I attended. And, the “nameless” girl? Married. Still nameless. Totally bewildered at how I could’ve got the impression she had been flirty.

Stuff like this doesn’t always happen. In fact, it very rarely happens. Oh, SOMEthing always happens. But nothing like that night. And never all at once like this. I could shaggy dog this out to 150 pages; filling it with rich anecdotes that would keep you laughing a lot, thinking a little. Then I could put a cover on it and call it “A Night At Slate” and who knows? It might even sell. But I’m nowhere near ready for that. Not yet.

Instead I’ll just hit post.

——-

So…two days ago I set up the framework of this post but hadn’t found the actual embedded story on my laptop. I’d run through it in my head though and as I did I recalled myself being a gold plated asshole through most of it. So I set this post up as a framework in which I discussed not noticing changes in my personality over time, along with the realization that maybe my writing wasn’t quite as good as I remember it.

But you know what? I’ve reread this a few times, doing some token formatting and changing a word here or there and I realized that it’s the assumptions of what I was like that are actually the problem.

Of course, I’m no hero in that story. I walked in to that room nothing short of defensive at the invasion, admittedly bitter and resentful that I’d never date girls like that, and I sat down and played “unassailable judgemental jackass” for a few hours.

So yeah, maybe my original thesis was dead on.

Maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe I should give myself a break for past behavior.

But I’m not going to be dishonest about it.

BarNotes: Never ask a question you don’t really want the answer to

This is a little something I keep using as a side bar. It’s a bar notes vignette from about….2004. I figure instead of pasting the thing wholesale into other posts over and over, I’ll just drop it here as is so I can reference it elsewhere:

——

I had gone out for a couple with people from work on a Friday night and had more than a couple. Afterwards I was bound for a party with a social club to which I used to belong, Social Circles. I arrived at the place and was greeted by a group of girls, all but one of whom I know.

One friend of mine said “ooh, good. You’re here. We’re all trying to guess her age.” They pointed to the girl I didn’t know.

Now look. I know what you’re sayin’. I could hear all objections raised from every time I told this story in the future come back in time through the years at that moment. But I still had enough wits about me to do the right thing. But I ain’t gonna lie. You also know that I wouldn’t have bothered to put this little vignette down if it didn’t have a particular conclusion.

“I’m sorry. I don’t go anywhere near that game. No thanks.”

“Oh…. c’mon.” She said, hand on hip.

“Nope. Sorry.”

“They all tried.” (‘they tried and failed?’ ‘they tried and died.’ was all I could think of.)

“No thank you.”

“Oh come on. You couldn’t guess my age within five years.” Hmmpf.

“Stop. What would you do if I guessed right?”

“There’s no chance.”

“I’m not going to do it.”

“Whadareya, chicken?” I think I actually growled.

“Ok, fine. That’s three times you asked and three times I turned you down. Now I’m gonna guess your age.” Hell. I was going to hell. I looked her up and down pretty good, paused, tapped my lips with my forefinger and said “You sure?”

“enough already!”

“You’re 41.” The horrified and astonished inhales from the assembled group sucked the air out of the room so effectively that you could hear the ears of everybody in the bar pop at once at the sudden decompression. She, of course, was mortified.

“What makes me look over forty?”

“Am I right?”

“What makes me look OVER FORTY?”

“AM I RIGHT?” She was hyperventilating now.

“Yes, you’re exactly right.”

“I KNOW! I actually tend to date women about 40-41. I’m really good at that.” Leave it to her to figure out if I meant dating 40 year old women or guessing their ages. “Now come on, let me buy you a drink.”

She walked out. I turned to the assembled council of the fairer sex and they all jumped in “No no. stop. You’re good. You said no again and again and she just wouldn’t let it go.”

Over the following few months I’d see her at an event here and there. But she wouldn’t make eye contact, much less return a wave or a greeting.

Careful what you ask for.

Wait…YOU? A story in two parts

A few years ago the President of the company I worked for came out with a G.K. Chesterton reference I’ve long since forgotten.

He and I ended up trading Chesterton and Lewis quips for a couple years, the odd discussion here and there.

Well, one day in…2019 I think, my last year on the job, I got a lunch invitation from him.

Almost immediately afterwards I got an IM from a friend of mine saying “Watch out, Bill’s going to invite you out to lunch to talk about God.”

“Too late.” I said.

We went to Five Guys and he just straight up asked me where I was with God. It was a frank and forthright couple hour conversation about Luther and Calvin, the quandary of free will and such. It was a lot of fun.

As we packed up he leaned in smiling, pointed a finger at me and said “God is stalking you. I can feel it.” Which was about as high a compliment as he could pay me I think.

It’s a turn of phrase you don’t soon forget.

If I’m being honest with myself, always the fucking trick, I can tell.

———

Go back something like two months. Maybe a little less. Maybe it doesn’t fucking matter.

I was sitting at my high-top in the cigar lounge in the back room on a Thursday afternoon, plugging away at who the hell knows what. I could probably find the post if I were so inclined.

A bunch of guys started filtering in to the back room just…being loud. It was kinda obnoxious as I had my headphones in and was bopping my head to my writing playlist when nature called.

On my way back I noticed the assembled crowd had quieted somewhat and were engaged in actual conversation. Strange how strange that seems when you see it. Maybe 6-8 guys talking intently.

I sat in my chair, put my headphones in and…paused the music. I’ve made a major pursuit in this life of observing and listening to people. I’ve nowhere near the aptitude that my buddy Tanner has at seeing through certain kinds of things. Seriously, the kid is an enviable fucking prodigy at seeing through the masks people present to what’s behind them. The only real advantage I have when we sit at a bar and go head to head is a couple decades more at it. So my library of indexed behaviors is significantly larger.

“Jesus drank wine!” one said. “Oh for fuck’s sake, HERE we go.” I thought.

They spent a few minutes discussing the whys and hows and what that meant for them. One guy said he’d been purged of the impulse, but that it had really been one of his demons before he came to the church. I nodded.

But as time went on their discussion deepened. Someone would read a passage and they’d discuss it a bit.

Well…I don’t have the good sense God gave a horse so before TOO long I was butting in and answering or asking a question here and there. They talked about Calvinism and the paradox of free will and predestination and how that did or didn’t resolve depending on your understanding of the Bible.

It was interesting.

It got to about 4:30 and I’d planned on heading across the street to Johnathan’s for a couple when one of the guys, Ed, came over and said “Hey man, feel free to join us. We’re here every Thursday from four to six.”

“Thanks man, but I can’t now. I’ve got someplace to be.” I was kinda blindsided and initially interpreted it as a Southern “Oh sorry, are we bothering you?” bit of sarcasm. But I shook that off pretty quickly as it was clearly something in my head not wanting to admit what was going on.

I spent a LOT of the next week thinking about it and getting more and more excited, QUITE despite myself.

I’m not going to go too deeply in to my relationship with Christianity over the last 45 years. Suffice it to say it’s been almost wholly unpleasant.

The next Thursday I picked one of my King James editions off the shelf, put it in my bag and came in. I spent my first few hours writing, per usual. As the guys started coming together and arranging chairs I closed down my computer, bagged all my stuff up (it’s…quite the task. I’ve quite a bunch of crap surrounding me when I’m here.) Ed came in and asked if I was joining them. I nodded “Absolutely.”

I took a seat in the back, dropped my bag, lit a cigar and sat down to listen. They were working through Matthew 13 and, despite my inability to find it in my bible (I couldn’t read the damned thing given the low light and small print, and made an audible ‘ugh’ noise as I realized what that meant I was going to have to do) I had a great time.

As before, they picked a passage, someone read and they discussed it. It always comes slow at first, then someone ventures an idea on what it means and that would trigger the discussion which would bounce between different passages and gospels to individual life experiences and eventually to what lessons they could take from those passages.

Two hours went by in an absolute flash. I chimed in a couple times, trying hard to ask questions that didn’t have some kind of scoffing dismissal embedded in them. That’s harder for me to do than I’d thought and it got me to thinking how often I actually engage in that kind of shitty behavior. By the end of the night it was no longer an issue.

At 6:00 they went around asking if there were prayer requests. One guy had a relative who was in the hospital, another had…well, you get the point. Then someone ‘prayed us out.’ A couple guys got up and went over to their lockers in the cigar lounge and grabbed bottles and glasses and they set to knocking a few back and talking about whatever came to mind.

Not having known anyone past seeing them in the cigar lounge from time to time I didn’t have much to say or add to the casual conversation afterwards. But it was good to sit there.

The next few days I spent a lot of time thinking about it all, as is my wont.

I thought: At the VERY WORST here was a group of guys studying the gospels, trying to bring the lessons of the bible into their lives to be better Christians and, arguably more importantly, to be better men. Even if the whole thing was utter nonsense (again, in the worst possible case) it was only to the good.

So I resolved to keep coming. That Saturday morning I went to Barnes & Noble and picked up ugh a Large Print edition. Just to be sure I’d checked my normal King James at home and realized I could read it fine in normal light.

And I have. They actually used to have them only on Tuesday nights but it go so large, having upwards of 25-30 people, that the propriator of the cigar lounge asked them to split it up since it was just packing the whole room.

A couple weeks in Kevin or Ed said “You should come on a Tuesday. It’s a…different crowd. But our Pastor comes on Tuesdays. You’d like him. He’s…yeah, you’d like him.”

And so I have. There’s about a 40% overlap. Some guys switching off. A couple coming on both days. Two days a week for a couple hours at the end of my cigar lounge sessions I’ve been engaging in Bible study.

It seems I’ve been pretty well received. I have a nickname I’m…just not going to repeat here. But it’s intended as a compliment.

I make NO secret about not being a believer. So I’ll ask all the “stupid questions” and sometimes it leads to an interesting discussion.

A gentleman last Tuesday night who holds some position in the church (They all go to the same church) said “I’m interested in what you’ve got to say about this, as an outsider.” He might not have used the word “outsider” but it’s what he meant and one that I use, with a nod to Colin Wilson.

A few weeks ago one of the regulars, a younger guy, was talking about how he’d let his bible studies slide a bunch, but “When I come here and I see people getting back into it, especially Mike here, coming as an outsider, it…it’s really gotten me motivated to start in again.” Which was about as humbling a thing as I could hear. (He actually DID say ‘outsider’.)

I’m not going to write about what we’ve been discussing. That’s just not a nut I want to crack here of all places.

My routine is usually to head to the cigar lounge a bit before noon, then write all day and then join them. By the end of the evening I’m usually tapped out. I don’t generally eat anything when I go since the cigars and my Diet Dr. Pepper tend to relieve my appetite quite thoroughly.

So I’ll head over to Johnathan’s for a salad and a drink.

A couple weeks in I decided to try an experiment.

“You’re here late. You usually get here around five.”

“Yeah I’m coming from Bible Study over at the cigar lounge.”

There have been a few reactions and it’s been fascinating. They fall in to three categories:

  • “Really? That’s awesome. I wish more people were doing things like that around here.” One waitress said.
  • “Huh. Well good for you.” Another said…not QUITE knowing what to make of it.
  • “Pff…You? Really?” A third said, with a chuckle.

It’s absolutely fascinating what happens when you tell people in this age that you’re taking part in Bible Study. People try to tear it down. Some are happy. Some get a little wistful. And some…crinkle their brow a bit as you watch them ingest the new information.

I think it’s high time I invited Bill out to lunch again. He’d be absolutely tickled I’m sure.

The Price of Growth

I can’t imagine there are more than about two people paying close enough attention, but “those of you who have been paying close enough attention” will notice that I pulled down the last two posts I’d put up last Thursday.

I’ve gotten into this rut where I immediately consider everything I write to be something that ought to be posted. Yay fun, right? Well…no.

The problem with that is that I don’t write nearly as frequently as a result, even though when I DO sit down I end up a bit more wordy.

But that’s not so large a part of what’s on my mind today.

I’ve been backsliding a bit on several fronts. On Saturday I made the truly rookie mistake of going to the supermarket while hungry. I was okay until I got to the frozen pizza isle. Sure, I could’ve walked right past it. I certainly SHOULD have walked right past it. But instead my brain just set to work with the “I should be able to eat pizza once a week” horseshit.

What did I do? I bought the biggest one they had. Something called “Wild Mike’s Super-Sized Uncured Pepperoni Pizza” which advertises that it’s over 2 pounds! (It’s actually pretty good, if I’m being honest.)

Well, I’m pretty sure y’all can guess wtf happened next. I didn’t feel ALL that bad about doing it WHILE I was doing it. But by the time there were two slices left I couldn’t hold back the wave of regret.

Got on the scale Sunday morning, as I do EVERY morning and I was up something goofy like 4-5 pounds. Well that was it. I ended up just sulking about it in full “well, whatever” mode.

I tell ya, it’s tough shit to get out of, that slow swirl. Indeed it took another day for me to realize what was going on. If I’d realized it I’d have known to grab the pen and just blast it out of my head and on to the page.

At the risk of treading old ground my sense of purposelessness has been getting under my skin, and it’s not unrelated to the pizza itself, my “why bother”ness having contributed more then subtly to my cave.

The fact of the matter is that the things I’ve been pursuing enthusiastically have really just been on hold and that’s taken more of a toll on me than I realized until…well…now. For the last few weeks I’ve been waiting on parts for my cyberdeck and internet radio builds, but delivery networks have been well and truly fucked for the last month or more (to say nothing of the Kung Flu effect.) So I was ripping with enthusiasm about all these projects then suddenly they all just ground to an immediate and unceremonious halt.

Problem is I didn’t really notice what was going on. Things were just taking…longer to ship. Then they weren’t coming at all. So all of these things I had given a tremendous amount of value in my mind were suddenly left to twist in the fucking wind.

I’m surprised, writing this now (because, duh) that I didn’t see what was going on while it was happening. I’d pushed myself into these projects and become inexorably tied to their success, as I hang my self evaluation on What I Create. Now…I’m not at ALL sure the projects themselves are going to succeed. But I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it.

Yeah I’d noticed my enthusiasm in general flagging a bit. It was bolstered somewhat by hitting my all time low weight on…Friday I think. 207.2. A far fucking cry from the 242.2 I started at. Though it’s less of a miraculous journey than it feels like. But I’ve admittedly been phoning it in. Yeah I could do a dramatic week long fast and lose 20 pounds. But that wouldn’t do me any good. Changing your behavior isn’t done by a single exhausting sprint. You have to be mindful of your momentary impulses…eh, that’s another post, or maybe the whole point of this site. Six of one.

Remaining vigilant to the state of my own mind is a pretty tough thing to do. I start of course with the best of intentions. But when push comes to shove, I don’t find anything worth examining when things are going well. It’s much like cathartive writing: If I’m not in a bad mood I don’t see any real reason to do it. So my writing, much like my own maintenance, mental, spiritual, and physical falls by the wayside.

Well, if that’s the only reason to do these things then maybe that’s okay, But it’s not. My ability with the written word will never progress if I use it only as a tool with which to tread water. It’s only going to improve if I get beyond that and engage in the practice when I’m not feeling compelled to react to negative stimuli.

It takes the proactive impulse to improve beyond a literally mediocre baseline.

Be consciously mindful of where your sense of self worth comes from and monitor that more closely than you are. Understand when and why it flags and give yourself some tips and tricks for dealing with it when it does.

Shit. There’s a lot of tangents ripping through my head about this and it’s only 1:25. I’ve got a clean 5 hours left before Bible Study starts.

So let me hit post on this and kick off a new one about all of that.

Time Warps

Something strange is happening.

Well, I suppose all things considered it’s not THAT strange.

So come here to the cigar lounge at least two days a week, sometimes three. I sit here (today’s adventures excepted) from about 11:30 until closing at 8:00. I generally put out a post of about 1500 or so words on iwilson.net (which you MAY be reading now. I’m never sure if I’m going to post something when I start writing. But of course I kinda always do)

I blast into this fun little word processor for a bit then hit ‘post’ and lean back for a few minutes, dick around on twitter and reddit for maybe 15-30 minutes, then set in again and just start typing on a new document. Or I’ll write some code. Or…whatever. Well, no. There’s only two. I don’t generally waste the rest of the day. I’m at SOMEthing.

In The Beginning, back in September 2020, when I started coming here somewhat cough religiously, I would just agonize over just about every word. I’d keep my eyes on the clock and on my wordcount.

A 500 word hour was an absolute triumph.

Eventually a 1000 word hour was trivial, getting to the point where I’d clock in at about 1200-1500 without breaking a sweat, as long as I had a topic at hand and didn’t spend an hour whining about having nothing to write.

But I’ve started noticing something, now most of the way through February.

Time is absolutely vaporizing. I can sit here for 8-9 hours and the day just…disappears. I absolutely lack the words for the feeling of it all.

Today, for instance.

I didn’t get here until about 2:30, which of course exhaserbated the issue. But I wrote that “Gratitude for a Purple Duck” post, hit ‘publish’ and it was 4:45.

I’m generally used to time doing things like that and I didn’t really think about it much at all at first. But I kept blinking at the screen, wondering what the hell felt wrong.

Hours. HOURS had passed. Like something out of a science fiction movie there was a blur and it was almost 5:00 and I was done with it.

I made a quick joke on twitter about wondering where the time went, chuckled to myself and wrote “It’s just a jump to the left…”, opened Q10 and hit control-n for a new document.

And now…410 words in I’m finding the absolute reverse is true. I’m typing at my normal speed and only about 10 minutes has elapsed.

The way time is moving when I engage in this kind of task is really quite something. Seeing as how the result of the time spent is actually of pretty high quality, all things considered. My writing is growing a bit more cohesive and I find it flows an awful lot better as time goes on.

Indeed I’ve been gathering, as I’ve mentioned, everything I’ve ever written into a single repository that I’m going to mine for a pretty big project I’ve got coming up and, in re-reading some of the pieces that stick out in my memory I’m finding myself cringing more than a little, for a couple reasons really:

First, my writing was, by my current estimation (not a fair comparison, I’ll grant) fucking abysmal. Just a giant stuttering mess. I’m actually not sure, when push comes to shove, if I’m going to be able to use any of it at all without complete rewrites. That would even be okay if…

Second, I used to be a holy shit gold plated asshole. My observational bar notes are just some of the most snarky rude horseshit I could imagine. It’s positively embarrassing. I’m going to have to come to some kind of decision about whether I can take those old stories and vignettes and rip them out of emotional context and rewrite them from my current perspective or not.

Hell maybe there’s some way I can include them with my old attitude and actually use them to demonstrate a prior way of thinking.

That might actually be interesting, assuming I can come to some kind of understanding about what…changed, when and why.

Because that all eludes me, at first blush at least.

The past 15 years has flown by at a truly extrordinary rate, much like the macrocosm of the cigar lounge writing periods of the last four or five months.

I didn’t notice myself changing all that much. Learning, sure. But did my time in New York eventually temper me? Is it just age? Tough to tell.

I’m going to have to figure out how the hell this all happened or is continuing to happen. After all, I’ve no reason at all other that the myopia granted by the illusory perception of the current moment as eternity to think that it’s not an ongoing process, rather than some pivotal event in my past at some point.

It’s 5:30 and time for me to close up and head to the back room for the more interesting couple hours of my cigar lounge day.

It’s just a jump to the left…

Gratitude for a Purple Duck

I woke up this morning pretty excited to get back to the cigar lounge with my laptop. Do some writing, hang out and other stuff I haven’t talked about here yet because while I have no trouble with the grief I’d get, the patronizing approval makes me fucking nauseous.

Knowing that my day was going to be spent there (here) I kinda dicked around for a couple hours. Got the day’s administrivia dealt with early, since there wasn’t much of it.

10:45 came around and I packed up the bag and tossed it in the truck, realizing the driver’s side door was open a bit. Whatever.

click

Not whatever.

Apparently I’d closed the seat belt in the door and the cab light stayed on…for days, and the battery was dead.

Well that’s all well and good, Just charge it, right?

Yeah I’m a new homeowner and…didn’t have a charger. I have cables, sure. But… no charger.

“Welp, I’m not going anywhere for the next couple days.” I slung my bag back around my shoulder and went back to the computer to order a car battery charger. Walmart has 2day shipping and that works well enough for me.

I spent a few minutes screwing around with which one was ACTUALLY from Walmart and which ones were 3rd party resellers that were gonna drop ship from the mountains of China.

I ordered it, and a couple other things and my mind rolled a bit.

Back downstairs I figured “Well, it’s a gorgeous day out. I can drag out the welder, the forge, or the smelter. Yeah, time to melt some cans.” I’ve been saving aluminum cans and have amassed…QUITE a bunch. It’s long past time I cleaned up by turning them in to ingots. I opened the garage door and started tracking everything I’d need.

Wait…Dollar General couldn’t be more than two miles away could it? It was in the mid 60s after all. The first bright sunny day after a week of weather commonly defined as “miserable.”

Screw it. I grabbed my jacket, a lighter, and some of those little Tatuaje cigars and went outside.

Shit garage door. I grabbed the remote from the truck and hit the button…nothing.

Really?

Well, sometimes I’ve gotta be real close. So I stalked up to the thing, brandishing the ancient remote, repeatedly hitting the button. The base unit would light up, indicating it was getting a signal. But the thing wouldn’t actuate at all.

Really.

Being some kind of lunatic, I just stood in my driveway and cackled like some kind of lunatic.

Okay, so it’s time to play THIS game.

Obstructions? Nope.

Okay fine. Have it your way. I went in the garage, pulled the release, dragged the door down, and set out down my driveway.

Birds EVERYwhere. The sun felt nice and…admittedly strange. I wondered how long it’d been since I’d been outside doing something other than going to and from a vehicle. Jessica’s birthday party last summer? Not okay.

The barking of dogs marked my passage along the dead-end street in a 200-300 yard radius around me.

It was a little shocking how much my legs hurt as I hit the main road and turned towards Dollar General. But so what. Physical pain isn’t really that big a deal until it’s interfering with concentrating on something else.

Besides, it was just too lovely out for me to care.

The change in context to what I could only call The Real World hit me about half way down my road. I thought of how I’d spent my morning and why. I’d been taking up space, taking up time sitting in front of my computer, where I’ve been sitting for about 40 years. I recall the sun hitting my face and realizing that nothing short of some kind of weird catastrophe could have gotten me to get out of my chair.

Yeah, without a doubt that the dead battery was probably the best thing to happen to me in a few days at the very least. Even if all it did was get me out the door for a nice walk. It’s something that bears thinking on. There was far more to it than that and I find myself unable to draw the line between the idea and the words as easily as I’d assumed I would.

Heading in to Dollar General I said “y’all wouldn’t happen to have a car battery charger, wouldja?”

“A..what?”

I…don’t know how else to say that.

“You know, a charger for your car battery in case, oh I don’t know, your car won’t start and you have to walk a mile and a half to Dollar General to get a charger. That kind.”

She laughed and the older woman, now brought into attention said “Nope. Nothing like that. We’ve got all the fluids. But nothing like that.”

blink blink

Now…I could have called. I thought about it. But calling ahead in this case is something like going to google immediately to answer a question, it’s a clamoring to avoid the unknown. But…there’s really nothing wrong with the unknown. There are other ways to learn things. If I’d called I’d have just stayed home.

Besides…it was a really nice walk.

“There’s the NAPA store just down the way though.”

“Yeah, there’s the NAPA store just down the way though.” I chuckled.

I ran through some images in my head of the road and found one with a NAPA store, but really had NO sense of how far it was. What’s “just down the way” to people who are thinking in terms of a drive? Well? What did it matter?

I set off that way. Turns out it was a little less than half a mile further. They had a little one, a big one, and one on a dolly. I grabbed the big one, presuming it was sufficiently skookum for the task.

My legs were getting to me a bit on the way home. But again, whatever.

Just past Dollar General something on the road caught my eye right in front of me.

It looked for all the world like…a rubber duck.

I stopped, processed the image a bit, and walked a couple steps back.

Yep. Purple rubber duck with black spots.

I was really pretty surprised I’d missed it on the way out. I must’ve stepped right over the thing.

I smiled, bent down, picked it up, turned it over a couple times, put it in my pocket, and continued home.

The return trip is always shorter than the trip out. I’ve found that to be true in just about every case. My holiday drives to New York, just about any walk or drive just about anywhere. I’m not all that sure I understand it. Sure, going from known to the unknown always seems longer. But even on an established route it seems shorter. It’s just one of those things.

I was on my road when a big white truck came my way and slowed down, a 60ish woman driving.

“Stephen?”
“Huh?”
“Are you Stephen?”
“I…don’t think so, no.” I smiled.
“Oh, I’m sorry. You look just like my neighbor.”
“All good.”

Then she pulled off the road, turned around and went back the way she came, as if she had driven out to ask me that. Very strange.

I got home and finally fiddled around with the thing and got it plugged in to the truck.

Glad I got the ‘big’ one since it had a trickle, charge, and a start mode.

A couple aborted attempts and I thought “wouldn’t it be a bitch if it wasn’t the battery?” and laughed a bit.

I let it sit, went upstairs, washed off my little duck, dicked around on twitter a bit before coming back down and turning the key.

Started right up.

I did a little happy dance, unplugged everything and tossed it in the truck, then just stared at it a few minutes to be sure it wasn’t going to stall out or something awesome like that, then drove down here.

Now hopefully the half hour or so drive down the hill was enough to charge the battery. But if not I’ve got cables, the charger, and all kinds of goofy nonsense in the truck.

So what I’d, for a brief moment, thought of as a week-destroying inconvenience became a really nice walk on a gorgeous day. I spent $90 on something I’d be hard pressed to consider less than a critical piece of gear, and got a cool little purple duck with black spots.

Plots, Peterson, and Avengers, oh my

A couple/few weeks ago I set up a raspberry pi as a home media pc. I generally only watch stuff I have locally available. I don’t have cable tv. I don’t have Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, or any other such nonsense. I just refuse to pay for services with dubious licensing of content that goes away when I stop paying. I’ll happily pay for dvds, drm free downloads and such. But no spotify, youtube music or any of that crap.

Well, I got the thing set up and the video bled off the edges of the screen. I got frustrated and walked away from the thing until…I think this past Tuesday or so, when I wired up the laptop downstairs where the TV was and started looking in to the proper solutions to such things.

There was some back and forth as I figured out what the hell I was really looking at, then spent a few mintues doing the real calibration required to get it all up and running correctly, finally. I think I watched a couple episodes of Archer to prove to myself that it was working.

Last night I was tired of looking at the computer and the workshop was just too damned cold to go farting around in, so down to the TV I went. I paged through what I had available and settled on The Avengers…again.

Now I must have watched The Avengers…I don’t know, a few dozen times by now and I will no doubt watch it a few dozen more. I can pretty much recite the dialog. Hell I could probably do a scene by scene treatment of it without actually watching the movie at this point.

There’s clearly something in there I keep going back for. It absolutely pulls me in. The whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe does.

As of the end of Avengers: Endgame, pretty much the entirety of the MCU is the Tony Stark story. Sure, there’s a lot more going on. The show must go on after all. But it’s really all about him.

Cut to my writing. I’ve been allowing myself to get more and more frustrated by the unfocused nature of my writing projects as time has gone on. For all the millions (and it really is millions) of words I’ve put down, there is a truly astounding lack of fiction. All of it, by any reasonable estimation, has been this kind of stream of consciousness thinking on to the page. It’s absolutely vital for my life that I do this and arguably do more of it.

When I’ve worked on what little fiction vignettes I have they’ve been pretty universally well received and I want very much to continue and expand on the form. Sure at the beginning I was perhaps overly prone to take compliments as fundamentally dishonest. But I don’t think anyone who’s read more than a post or two of mine could come away with the slightest bit of confusion about that at all, though it really is something I need to explore in some depth.

I’ve always had a very hard time writing…well…stories. I can blast out a vignette or scene just fine. There are a bunch of things I have trouble with, like action scenes for instance. I find those particularly opaque. Overarching structure though, the large scale scope of story has really eluded me since the very first time I was asked to write one.

I was a kid, maybe in 7th or 8th grade (12/13 years old) and I was in…someone’s office. School councelor maybe? It wasn’t a classroom. The details are a bit fuzzy through 40 years of memory. But it was me, one of my bullies (oddly) and one of his buddies. The councelor asked us to write a story. Any story. About anything at all. Just…anything. They wrote for a few minutes each. One waited for the other, they looked up when they were done and left.

I absolutely locked up. The absolute horror of the blank page just stared at me accusingly. I didn’t have a flood of “what if it’s not good?” Not consciously anyway. Sure the “I can’t write anything if it’s not perfect” excuse comes to mind. I’m not sure if that’s not just parroting what people say about that kind of writers block or if it’s an actual reason. Pretty tough to tell. Hell, I can still feel it as strong as that day when I broach the topic in my head while writing this sentnece. It’s an absolute sense of panic. I just started sweating and gripping my goofy little pencil tightly enough that the school psych noticed my fingers were red with the pressure.

Having waited him out, he finally let me off the hook. I have a vague memory of him, me and maybe just my mother, maybe both my parents sitting in a room as he related the scene. “You should see how hard he gripped the pencil.” It was fucking humiliating.

One of the problems, as I see it (which may or may not have anything to do with the actual problem, but I’ve got to start with what I’ve got) is that I don’t have far-sighted motivations for my characters. Sure there are a couple of immediate seeming concerns. But what happens after the scene I’ve got in my head? What led them to these places and these events? How does their interaction with the events of the scene/event/world on the small scale contribute to their goals (successfully or not?)

I’ve looked at the various story structure graphs, turning point this, conflict number that, yadda yadda resolution, blah blah, turning point, etc. But it all just seems like so much noise to me really. Yeah, I understand it well enough. It’s not like it’s that difficult a concept. But there’s a line between that structure and what I write that’s entirely broken.

So last night when I went down to the tv room in the basement I brought a pad and a couple pens (getting down there and seeing a bunch of pads and a pile of pens already on the ottoman I had a good chuckle.)

Usually when I’m reading or listening to a book or watching a movie or a show I get a barrage of “what if” flashes. They’re fun, but they go as fast as they come.

While I didn’t have a deep agenda I was determined to take some notes to see if I could get some insight into, if not to the bottom of, the reason I keep going back to the same material over and over again, even through I absolutely know it through and through.

I’d watched some Peterson yesterday morning, as is my wont (a determined follow through a copule of his online courses is on my extremely long short list) and he said (butchery incoming) that stories of sufficient mythological and symbolic significance are essentially bottomless, that they can be explored and examined almost infinitely since we don’t consciously KNOW what they “really mean”, that these things speak to us on a level beneath (or aside) language.

It’s a fascinating notion that, having heard him (and Jung, and Campbell, etc) say it over and over again over the past 20 or so years of my explorations into their writing, is starting to really grow legs in my head.

One example from the lecture I watched yesterday went something like this:

“If I asked you if you believed in vampires you’d say no, of course not. But you’re perfectly willing to watch hours of vampire movies and have no problem with it at all. Yeah, tell me again what it is you actually believe.”

On one hand it sounds like a ‘reducto ad absurdam’. But…I think a large part of his point was that it wasn’t, not at all. While we don’t “consciously” think that there are supernatural undead that survive on the blood of the living, there’s a part of us that those stories speak to strongly enough that we accept the notion fully.

The idea that we’re not simply what we think we are and that that aspect of us might actually be a very small part of us indeed is one that causes some initial fright, but is insanely enticing, perhaps literally.

So I laid on the couch with a couple blankets (I keep the heat off downstairs since I’m so rarely down there. Besides that’s cozy as fuck) and had my pen handy as I watched, determined to keep a closer eye on things than usual, interested to see what it was I’d notice.

I did take some notes I thought about a bit, but by the end of the movie I was more or less on auto-pilot. But I did watch a couple “Agents of SHIELD” episodes afterwards that got me back on track.

Today as I left for the cigar lounge I passed by the pad, ripped off the top page, folded it in half and stuffed it in my pocket.

Just for fun I haven’t looked at it and going to unfold it and type out my notes here. It says…

  • Character spends too much time in the other/under-world and is driven mad while being granted great insight.
  • Enlisting forces beyond their control and losing that control
  • Omens and Heralds
  • The villain understands far more about the world than the hero (at least at the outset.)
  • A weapon fed by blood [I think this was just something that occurred to me along the way. Not sure what specifically triggered it.]
  • Travis McGee [Coulson fantasizes about TAHITI (it’s a magical place) where he read a bunch of Traivs McGee novels. I didn’t know who that was so I wrote it down.]

And that’s it. Clearly what I did was not write down the ideas from the movie itself but ripped something out of those ideas and saw them as inspiration.

But the theme (Travis McGee aside ;)) is clear.

The idea that the villain (in this particular case Loki) is driven mad by deep knowledge that is simply inaccessible to the heroes, who spend an awful lot of the movie (and indeed the franchise) trying to figure out what the hell is REALLY going on.

Both Loki and SHIELD are dealing with things utterly beyond them. Loki was “given knowledge” of the Tesseract and SHIELD had the benefit of decades of study by Howard Stark and Hydra.

They have some success but are still clearly outmatched by what’s really going on. The short-sighted task of the Avengers is really just to thwart Loki, and as such they succeed.

I don’t mean to rip the whole thing to pieces. Geekier minds than mine have almost certainly done that to absolute death, and I’ll leave all that to them.

That trope though shows up all over the place. In the Bethesda franchise, reading an Elder Scroll grants tremendous insight but literally blinds the reader over time, if not driving him out of his mind with truths too large for a normal mind to hold.

I fear I’ve become a victim of my own meandering on this one. It leaves me with more questions and thoughts than it resolves.

The issue of overarching plot continues to frustrate me. I…suppose I could pepper my setting with characters and, if I make them rich enough, just pit them against each other (by which I mean only bringing them together and forcing them to interact) and see what they do in response.

Tapping in to that kind of symbolic/mythological understanding as a source for material instead of “merely” as a tool for understanding what I’m consuming is an idea that seems to have the promise of a little tuning fork resonating in my head.

Yeah, log jam broken.

There’s so much more here that I just don’t QUITE know how to get to, which I suppose is the entire point of this little (checks his word count) or…medium-sized rant.

If there’s ONE thing that’s clear it’s that I absolutely need more blackboards in my office and may need to cover the walls in cork board as well. Then I could get some string and push pins, print out a bunch of nonsense and pull lines between them all.

“My God, it’ll be beautiful.” – Judge Doom