Three-measure time

Lately I've been fascinated by the intersectionality of poetry & song lyrics.  During my music theory classes in college, I learned that [some important person, probably a dude, knowing history, whose name I forget] was strongly opinionated towards lyrics never belonging in music.  One potential reason given for this strong, arts-dividing objection is ostensibly because it was so hard for words to actually have scansion good enough to not fuck up the music (especially complex instrumental music, which is still often wordless, to be fair).  With study, I came to sort of understood the truth of that, even though it was antithetical to my heavy-metal musical leanings and near-fanatical memorization of and enjoyment of good lyrics.  (I memorize poems too, but at nowhere near the rate of lyrics, cuz duh, the music makes it easier.)

So this is a post about all of those things:  poetry, song-lyrics, heavy metal, and music theory. 

…I'm sorry?

I'm fascinated by song lyrics that were clearly poetry first, probably because for a long time in teenagerhood, I wrote tons of poetry that I imagined would make good lyrics, but really didn't.  Anyway, System of a Down and Rob Zombie (especially White Zombie's first few albums) are great examples of this:  That's poetry, you can hear it; and yes, there's confirmation out there that both of those song-writers were/are poetry-writers.  Good on them!  — But it makes for weird song-lyrics.  Good!  But weird.

Another fun case is Slipknot, whose lyrics seem close enough to the music that they probably weren't poetry (or if they were, were deliberately made very simple and 4/4-friendly in their scansion) — but damn, they're powerful, compared to a lot of lyrics.  Everybody (I think) knows Wait and Bleed, which has really good verses; but the ones to Before I Forget really dropped my jaw when I first heard them:

I am a world before I am a man
I was a creature before I could stand
I will remember before I forget
Before I forget this

OooOOOOo.  Up till I heard that, I'm pretty sure I was only listening to SK for the drums.  (I'm a drums-junkie.)  But daaaang.

I should add that whoever the doubtless-a-dude who was against all lyrics in music (Palestrina?  Maybe?), he wound up conceding that lyrics which were already famous poems would be maybe ok, if we had to have lyrics.  Was he just being stuffy, and resistant to changing the Established Arts?  …Probably, I think.  He definitely was all about the religiosity of "proper" music, and can therefore go F himself on at least that front.  Though maybe he did have a point about poetry…I do tend to like the poetic (whether poetry-first or poetry-seeming) ones myself.  This is art, though, so there really isn't any defending the things you like as "better".  Even if they are more complex, took more skill to string together, or are more evocative…some people are always going to prefer (or be spoken to by) things that are less complex or less evocative, making those things just as valuable as art.

And as we've said, there was at least that one famous dude (and I'm really kind of ok just lumping together "famous dudes" at this point; I'd feel bad if it was an underrepresented person, but dudes from The Classics have earned a little smudging and name-forgetting by now) who argued that music with any lyrics was sacrilege to the art.  That bit is clearly wrong, yeah?

Here, I'll end this (several hours late!  I fell asleep on the couch after a long day :/) post with some excellent rock lyrics that strike me as very poetic, though I have no idea if they were poetry first (probably not?  If anybody knows Clutch personally, please ask them? :P).  Regardless of origin, in fusion with the music they've found, these words have attained a great power as art, at least for me.

The song these are from is called Drink to the Dead.

Oh, and fascinatingly, the first of these two verses is actually sung in 3/4 (actually probably 6/8, but they count the same) time, which is a cool music trick!  To give Palestrina (or whoever) the finger a bit more, I love when the fusion of words and music makes a nifty point that way.  \o/

So

May you go marching in three-measure time
Dressed up as asses, drunk to the nines
Swing from the rafters, shouting those songs
Gone unsung for far too long

[switch back to 4/4 cut-time]

Drink to the dead, all you still alive!
We shall join them in good time
Should you go crossing that silvery brook,
It's best to leap before you look!

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Sometimes a guest house is pooped and demoralized

Hoo boy, it's been a long, tough day and I am, I think, unable to grasp hold of any really great ideas to write about.  (Yes, I have a list…but as we both know, the hard part isn't having one, it's using it.  :P). 

I mean, I knew this would happen at some point, over a whole month of daily stuff.  One day there was bound to just be…::crickets::

It's fine though. There are lessons in today too, and in everything that's currently being difficult.  I may be too pooped and demoralized to list them right now, or even to argue pointless semantics about the nature of how that works — but tomorrow I'll be less so, and I'll be able to see more of it as a challenge and an opportunity.  …Just not tonight.  :)

(Anybody know what "pooped and demoralized" is from?  Mad props if you do!)

Oo, hey, instead of explaining my point / lesson / metalesson / whatever, I can just quote someone smarter than me who already did!  That's handy!

This is by Rumi; it's called "The Guest House":

 

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

 

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The Temple

Your body (from which your mind is not separate) is a temple — literally, a "house of god".  Whatever "god" is — consciousness, life, energy, awareness, everything — your body is where it lives, and from whence it emanates into this world.  It's like your stronghold:  the stronghold of life, of you.

Your body is a temple — so how often do you go there?  When was the last time you — your attention — just arrived and sat in it and quietly observed?  Maybe even pondered a bit that a holy thing, something far bigger than you that is also central to the definition of you, lives there — but even aside from that, just sat and existed there?

Nevermind all those construction projects and beautification drives and whatnot that you're doing to the building — how often do you actually go there, inside, just, you know, to worship?  To appreciate?  To be aware?

If the temple feels like a mess, if we've let it get run down and neglected, going there can be amazingly sad.  But there is no fix for a messy temple that doesn't involve getting familiar with being there again.  It puts the difficult step of accepting that it's a mess in here in front of making any improvements — but again, there can't *be* any improvements without that.  Without just looking around and letting the reality of it, of this holy place and the state of it — mentally, emotionally, and physically — sink in.

I was given an interesting exercise lately:  Three times a day, and additionally whenever you're having a rough time, set a timer for THREE WHOLE MINUTES and visit your inner body.  Sit still and just feel your breathing.  Let your thoughts go — they'll be there still in 180 seconds, promise — and just pay attention.  Sit there and be in yourself.  Don't change a thing, or make plans to change it; suspend all judgment and simply observe; just let what it is sink in.

It is STUPENDOUSLY HARD to do this, at least for me.  Can you do it?  Just pay attention to your breath and what it feels like to sit there in your body, for three minutes?  Can you do it three times in one day?

I find it difficult af, so of course I've been trying and trying it, because WTF why is this such a hard thing?  Why does it feel so…profound, so real, so DUH MEANINGFUL, and yet for as much as it calms and irons out my thinking, it also seems to poke me in all the softest places, and make my brain whisper constantly that this is an impossible ask, this sitting in the temple for three minutes?  And I won't even get into what happens when I try it for 30 minutes — which I've been doing once or twice a week — sure I can *do* it, but it's gobsmackingly tricky. 

I've read enough to recognize that without actually spending some time in your body, in that temple, you can't make any meaningful change.  Oh sure, you can enact all kinds of "self improvement" programs, but without observation, without seeing and accepting what it is first, you're like a home-improvement enthusiast who puts on a blindfold and runs through the house swinging a wrecking ball and throwing paint. 

When you imagine someone who is "at peace", don't you figure they are able to sit in their own temple, to rest in their own mindbody, comfortably?  That they're used to being there, that they go there all the time; hell, isn't it definitionally "home base"? 

But mine is filled with rubble, and noise, and old crap strewn everywhere.  And learning to simply look at it, as a necessary precursor to being able to ever do anything about it, is one shockingly tough education. 

I'm tickled on a deep level by things that seem easy and are amazingly tricky — I feel like there are big truths there.  I certainly learned more from, say, learning to walk, and breathe, in advanced ways — taking the "simple" acts of moving or holding air and really trying to do them fully and well — than I did from anything in a school or job. 

So I'm keeping on this, trying over and over again, and most days not even able to do it more than once, just three minutes…

Just sitting.  Just paying attention to what it's like "in here". 

And you know what, I can't say much about what it IS like yet, but I can say that the "temple" metaphor is superbly apt.  If I've learned nothing else from practicing this for a month so far, I am clear on one thing, and that's that sitting here is powerful and necessary.  Who knows what other truths it may reveal, but the first one, the basic fact that one must go in the temple as a precursor to finding any kind of peace, is pretty glaring already.

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Some surprises about writing

I had some really interesting conversations about writing yesterday, so I thought I'd use today's post to collect some of the ideas that came out of it, as well as some that I've just had kicking around for a while (and so, for reasons that are now satisfyingly meta, I wanted to write them down :)).

Writing helps you organize your thoughts:  It holds a mirror up to some of your hidden assumptions, and lets you "go back over" your internal processes and smooth out or correct things, in ways that just thinking or talking don't do.  When thinking or ralking, the "ticker-tape" of your ideas burns away as soon as you're past it, leaving just a whiff of it in the air; but when you write it down, it sticks around, and many truths can be learned by holding up what you're thinking now with what you thought before, even five minutes ago.  So, in a group of other constant-writers-who've-published-little, I realized with some surprise that it's not just me who finds immense value in writing even when it isn't and never becomes communication.  It gains more utility when you bring others into it, arguably; but as a single mind's attempt to think more clearly, writing on napkins and in never-opened-again files and such is actually a powerful tool all on its own.

When writing fiction, there are usually two layers of writing going on:  The story itself, which you're crafting out of plots, characters, and carefully-chosen words (such as engrossing descriptions and meaningful metaphors); and the "organization/thinking" writing that most (not all, but most) writers need to do "on the side" to create the world, give the characters background, iron out the plot points, etc.  You can see how, in stories where the writer either feels rushed, or feels very comfortable that they already have an audience (i.e. the sequel-books in a successful series), they often wind up publishing the latter — their notes, essentially; lots of infodump about what the world and the characters and the plots are, and much less actual story.  For every excellent, tight, engaging story out there, you can be pretty sure there's an equal amount of written material that never made it into the story / was never part of it, but rather is writing about it that the author had to do to get it organized.

Writing in poetic form is often "easier" for people than writing stories, because they're shorter and there's less there to edit, so you can "feel done" sooner.  But the depth of editing required to write a GOOD poem is much more than what's needed for a good story — a story can still be good if it says "and then" in one place when it shouldn't, or says "dark" when "dim" would be a better word — but those mistakes could ruin a poem.  The other occasional-poet I was talking with and I were forced to leave open the questions of whether poetry is actually easier to write or not, and whether writing "bad poetry" (i.e. most poetry; poetry that's ok in places but didn't get the machined-precise editing really good poetry needs) constitutes a useful writing exercise, or just laziness (failure to finish either a whole story or a proper poem).

* Editing is both the strength and the weakness of writing.  The potential to edit, to iterate and improve, makes writing potentially way more powerful than slung-out thoughts in other forms; but the difficulty of editing as a mental exercise means that writing often won't be able to take advantage of that strength, and will instead just wind up being only as good as most/other thoughts, but also nailed down and critiquable in ways that, say, the spoken word usually escapes.

*  On one level, editing your thoughts feels "less  honest" than simply writing/saying/expressing them; but seen another way, it feels MORE honest.  It's not like we don't edit ourselves anyway — we do, almost all the time, even without knowing it.  And when we edit as little as we possibly can — say, when we blurt "straight from the heart" — it may be more "honest" in the technical sense of coming more directly from the (perceived) source, but it's not always better — not even in the sense of being more accurately what we really think/feel/believe.  Unedited(-as-possible) ideas may be the results of our real feelings at that moment, but a good bit of the time, our awareness of those feelings isn't complete, fair, accurate or realistic — so do we really gain anything from presenting them more quickly and with less thought?  …At first our answer to this was something like, "ok, editing yourself is still honest, but if other people are editing your words…" –but then we quickly realized that no, all of this is communication, and having another person, another point of view, review and suggest ways to make what you're trying to say more clear, is way more often helpful than harmful (particularly if the editor is a pro at it).  The end result / idea, that actually, edited thoughts are quite possibly more honest ones, surprised us all!

*  Of the writers I was chatting with, one is doing NaNoWriMo (which I've done before, a few times), and I'm doing this, and the other two weren't currently doing anything particular to make themselves write every day.  I expected us to conclude that Mz NaNoWriMo was getting the most skill-benefit, I the second most, and the others none…but that turned out not to be true!  Since "writing" is a skill that encompasses many other, smaller skills (I guess like any art-form), there's lots there to practice…and what I'm practicing is arguably the part that I'm worst at:  finishing and publishing.  Kungfu and the killer book on learning skills, "The Inner Game of Tennis", both agree that to master a skill, you need to focus your practice where you need it, not where you're already comfortable.  The person doing NaNoWriMo and I are both getting daily writing in for a month, which all of us agreed is helpful — but one of the people-doing-nothing already has a good daily writing-habit, so didn't need that.  And is the NNWM writer just spewing more of the same stuff they're already comfortable with for a month, in greater volume; or is it being used to hone story-telling skills they need?  …I didn't get a chance to ask that bit, but it's a fascinating angle.  Really hammers home that effective skills-practice can't be codified, and looks different for everyone at different times in their development.

 

So those are today's thoughts, and hey, appropriately enough, they're better than they otherwise would be, thanks to bouncing them off of a couple other brains, and then organizing them into sentences (maybe not great sentences, but…improvement continues :P) here.

 

A NOTE ON THE LINK:  I linked to The Inner Game Of Tennis on GoodReads, where I do occasionally, not often but sometimes, rate and review books.  Most of my dead cold favorites are there.  Feel free to follow me / share books & ideas with me over there, if you like.

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Your most important sex organ is your mouth

…And nope, I'm not referring to oral sex.

CW:  Living in a puritanicalish society, this is one of the cool Life Truths I don't get to discuss very often, but screw it (heh), I'm here and I've gotta post something today.  This is knowledge I've earned through hard work and deliberate experimentation and long thought, so here it is.  And yes, to be explicit (lol), as the title indicates, this post contains information about sex.

If you hate reading about sex, then by all means skip this (there'll be another post tomorrow!)

…But if you hate reading about sex because you feel like it should be "automatic", a thing that just flowers out of a crush or a date and then, y'know, happens, be aware that in this post, I'm declaring that you're BAD AT SEX.

I'll keep the backstory short here so as not to embarrass either of us, but it's relevant to know that I've put two decades of conscious experimentation into sex — at least as much work, writing, and trying things as I've put into sleep.  And I had reasons for this — I was really screwed up initially, given SO much bad information and some early non-consentual encounters that messed me up about it badly.  And when I determined to "fix it" by figuring it out on my own, I found that I had to change and challenge a lot in order to find what "good sex" even was. 

And what I found is what's in the title:  You can absolutely gauge whether anyone, yourself included, is good at sex based on how well they use their mouths — or hands, if they use ASL — i.e. how comfortable and willing and experienced they are at communicating about sex with someone they'd like to have (or are having or have had) it with.

I've reached an age where sometimes teenagers ask me about sex — I probably make a good target because there's grey in my hair and I'm not afraid of swear-words, nor has a sex question from a kid ever shocked me.  In truth, I'm way more shocked at how many adults can't summon the wherewithal to answer simple questions you'd think they know by now.  Questions like "how do I do this right / avoid doing it wrong?"  That your standard adult answer sounds something like "don't do it" or "stop thinking about it" strikes me as violently absurd, and also harmful, since avoiding thinking about sex is one of the real fast roads towards being awful at it, and potentially hurting yourself or others.

Sex is not an emotionally safe activity, just like rock-climbing isn't a physically safe activity.  That's why we have safety gear, and why smart people require that you have a basic amount of training and awareness of what you're doing in order to participate in it.  We don't want children to have sex because they're too young to do it safely, but once their bodies are ready and they've developed an interest in it, you'd think we'd give them the tools to do it right and as much advice as we could.  But we suck at this.

Rather than talk about why, though, I want to just go ahead and give the advice — yes, the advice I give to teenagers and adults alike, and which, by the way, kids are perfectly capable of understanding.  (The adults are too, but many of them really don't like knowing that they're doing this wrong and need to work harder at it.  There's a myth out there that adults magically get their Sex Card sometime in college and from then on out get to claim to be good at it.  Yeah well, HA to that.)

THE BASIC SKILL of sex — for you tabletop fans, the stat you roll for it — is COMMUNICATION.  It happens and matters first, and during, and also after and in-between.  Being good at it gets you laid, makes you better during the act, and makes you a better lover to have, and to have had.  Here are some (just some!) of the ways this manifests:

 

1. You let people know that you're interested in sex, and ready for it.  (I tell teenagers, "If you aren't sure if you're ready for sex yet, imagine being naked in a room with this person and talking to them about sex — what you want to do and don't, what your body's needs and desires are — and if you can't stomach the embarrassment and vulnerability of that conversation, you're definitely not ready.") 

Also, I'll say this here but it applies to all these points:  Doing this is sexy.  It turns people on.  If you don't have as much sex as you'd like…have you tried fucking communicating about it??

2.  You seek and listen to information from the other party(ies) about what they're interested in and ready for, then you confirm for both of you that activities X and Y are things you both have overlapping interest in and readiness for.  (Note that this requires being aware of what you're ready for and interested in!  Knowing this about yourself is a prerequisite, though it's true that maybe you don't know the details until you're right there contemplating it with someone — our interests definitely change by circumstance.  So not only do you need to know your basic yes-and-no's; you also should, especially by the time you're an adult, be able to feel what they are on the fly, at that moment.  And if you have the slightest worry about your ability to do this, never, ever have sex drunk/high, because drugs inhibit this part of your brain.)

3.  Once you're touching each other, you feed data back and forth, through words, noises, muscle-tension, facial expression, etc. about what is pleasurable and "working" for you, and what isn't.  If the more subtle communication methods are confusing (common when someone's new to you, but happens all the time), you back up to using words to make sure.  You do this because you know that going slowly and taking communication-breaks is FAR preferable to (and sexier than!) hurting or squicking each other. 

4.  After Stuff has been Done, you check in — at least once, more if you're awesome — and share thoughts about how it went, how it felt, and what you both might be interested in doing later/again. 

It's astonishing to me how many people — sometimes people who've been having, or trying to have, sex for years — think these steps are somehow optional or unimportant.  That's like saying your ropes are unimportant in climbing!  It IS the cultural narrative, I get it — in the movies (romantic or porn or anything in-between), you rarely see these parts happen.  The "ideal sexual encounter" we're fed involves some kind of telepathy or accident that makes everyone magically consent to and express their enjoyment of things; total strangers are assumed to have completely understood each others' needs based on a single glance and a tiny moan.  (And I won't harp on this, but so as not to skip acknowledging it:  The root of that icultural story is in misogyny; it almost always goes badly for the woman — whose job in that automatic script is to "give in" to what the man wants — and it's one hair away from real rape, though which gender(s) are taken advantage of can change in any particular circumstance.  Seriously though?  The opposite of rape is consent.  And the basic requirement of consent is communication!  THIS ISN'T HARD. :P)

The idea that good sex will happen automatically, without clear communication, is just about as smart and realistic as how guns in movies never need reloading, never make anybody standing next to them go deaf, and kill you instantly only if you're a bad guy.

The above four things are SKILLS, yes — you need to do them and pay attention to them, and as you do so more, you'll get better and faster and more artistic about their execution.  (And oh man, th higher / artistic levels are FUN, I assure you.) 

They do NOT happen automatically, or as a magical result of your pheromones.  I don't care how good your phereomones are, or how attractive your face or whatever is.  Those things do not produce good sex — good communication, and that alone, does.

And by the way, like anybody new at a skill, I used to get super nervous and kinda hate the experience of doing them — it was scary, especially when it didn't go great.  But after a while, I got comfortable with them, and now, I love doing them — I even love doing them first — because they tell me immediately if the person I'm considering bonking with is going to be any good at it.  By cultivating those skills, I not only made myself into a universally-lauded Good Lay (what; it's my blog; if I can't brag about that here then where can I), but it also gave me an iron-clad system for knowing when it'd be better to just politely say no and avoid an unpleasant experience with someone:

If they can't overcome their embarrassment to talk with me about sex, they 100% cannot have good sex with me.  OMG the amount of bad sex I've avoided just by making "you must be able to talk about it" my rule!  \o/

If they keep looking for an "automatic progression" of things instead of checking in with me about what we're both into, ::BUZZER NOISE::

If they're clearly not watching for or interpreting my reactions (and pausing to ask me if they aren't sure what they mean), hell to the nope.

If they refuse to tell me what they want (yup, this happens), there's the door.  (I'm not going to sully my excellent pants-reputation with sub-par encounters with people who clearly can't dance. :P)

Sex sometimes happens according to an unspoken social script, sure.  You both have some drinks…you lean in…you kiss…you grope…you fondle…you remove clothing…etc etc…but I will stand by my assertion that GOOD sex almost NEVER happens this way — especially not more than once!  (If you have enough drinks or don't have much experience with really good sex, you could interpret that automatic BS as "good enough", sure.  But you'll get sick af of it, if repeated, precisely because it isn't involving what you actually want at all.)

In closing, it's amazing to me that people of all ages will buy books and read articles and ask eager questions about, like, what specific geometric shape they should make with their tongues at what speed for what duration in order to "please their partner", but when told that the answer is talk to, pay attention to, and check in after with your partner, they screech like vampires given a garlic sandwich.  Dude, that IS sex.  Asking and noticing and clarifying and responding to another person's body IS SEX. 

If that's too difficult or embarrassing for you, for all our sakes, don't have sex.  If you do, you'll just be awful at it.

If you're lucky enough to be trying it with me or someone like me, you'll at least know you're awful at it, and probably not get very far before you get told to go home — and that's a huge boon for both parties, believe me.  What's really saddening is when "you", whoever you are, try it with someone else who doesn't know about this, and who thinks the way to do it is to let you fumble around and use them to get off on, and then they have to deal with that suuuuuuuper gross feeling the next day of having had really terrible, impersonal, uncommunicative genital-play (I won't even call it sex, frankly) … that makes me upset just to contemplate.  So if this rather revealing post does nothing but save one person from that experience, it was worth it!

Happy f****** !  :D

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The middle, child

The "Middle Way".  The in-between spaces.  The liminal, numinous, and unexplored.  The dark depths and unimaginable distances.  Binah, the third-eye chakra.  The fuzzy, the uncertain, the places where there is no choice but to embrace our own ignorance.

This is where ALL the answers lie.

Which is so obvious when you think about it — where else could any answer, to any question which isn't stupidly obvious, live, but in the unmapped areas, the places where we haven't looked yet?  Duh, one has to go to unknown places to learn things.  To refuse to do so is like saying "I've read this book thoroughly and I have a question it doesn't answer…but I'm scared of reading any other books, so I'll just look in this one again."

Er…actually, now that I put it that way, I suppose there is a whole category of social organizations devoted to exactly that…but I won't harp on that angle, because there's a more meaningful point to be made here (and I'm under the gun to post something today, aaaah).

Having the courage to look in the middle, to peer into the dark between knowns, is a huge deal.  And it's a thing that seems either so easy and obvious, or so impossible and scary, depending on your mindset when you think about it, that it's probably one of the most easily-avoided truths in the whole world.  All answers are in the middle.  The only real way forward is the Middle Way.

In this context, the idea probably seems more obvious than scary.  But if you're thinking "duh" right now, this is a great opportunity to look at current events, and the many MANY missed opportunities for finding real solutions due to everyone — you, me, the media, all of us — doggedly refusing to even admit that the Middle Space exists, nevermind that it might hold the answers. 

The "excluded middle" is a well-known logical error — but I mean "well known" in the academic sense, emphatically not that it's "well-known" to anybody actually looking for an answer.  Unless you really devote yourself to looking for and delving into middles, your tendency as a human is always going to be to claim there isn't one.  It's like we've charted two islands and someone says "we need more land" and everyone looks around the two islands and then says "Nope, there is no more land!" 

Only an explorer — someone comfortable admitting that there are places we haven't looked, and then going there — can ever find another island.

Now, an exercise:  Think of a question that seems to have no answer, or no good answer.  Think about the possible answers you're considering — those are the islands.  Now tear your eyes away from what you already know, and look for the dark sea, the place that hasn't been explored, or explored well or fully.  Can you admit that such a space exists?  Could you imagine yourself going there (or if you're an explorer-type, actually do it) to look for answers?

Here, I'll do the exercise with you.  Here's a question without a good answer:  Bigotry, intolerance and dehumanization is on the rise in our society.  I want to fight those things.  But being violent — "punching Nazis" to use a shorthand — is morally questionable and potentially ineffective, and/or I don't like violence, so I don't want to do that. 

(And to say it early, I'm 100% aware that we're not mostly talking about literal Nazis here — but we are talking about people who share similar philosophies and disgustingly corrupt morals with Nazis, and it's easy to write, so let's go with it for now, as a metaphor/constructed label.)

The logical fallacy of the "excluded middle" (great name, innit) leaves you with two bad answers — punch people / shoot back / be violent, or do nothing (or not much, or nothing effective).  And since neither of those answers really works to accomplish more tolerance/less hate, people throw up their hands and claim there is no good answer.  I see this handwringing, over this exact question, almost daily, for what it's worth; if you're American and have a soul, you probably do too.  And you can probably think of a hundred more big important questions that people throw their hands up and claim are unanswerable because the few answers we can think of at first don't work

But where didn't we look?  Where's the Middle Path?

I mean, it seems obvious when you look for it, doesn't it?  It's kindergarten logic to claim that "letting the bad guys win" or "hitting people" are your only options.  Adults know that there are zillions of options in-between those — but they're scary, because for most of us, especially when it comes to big social movements and stuff, they're unknowns.  So we throw them all away…?!

Yes, we do.  All the time.  We will literally pretend to be forced to do one of the two visible options, rather than face the fact that there are other options, we just have to explore to find them

Exploring means sitting fully with your ignorance.  Walking into the dark, and leaving your mind open to what you might find there.  I'm not sure anything in this world scares humans more than their own ignorance — even though that darkness is, as we've been saying here, precisely where all the good / new / big / best answers have to live.  If they didn't live in the dark places, we'd know them already, and they wouldn't be "answers"!

Here's a short (very short!) list of some of the many possible middle-way answers to "punch Nazis y/n?".  I'm sure you can think of more, but just to prove that I looked:

– yelling at Nazis
– arguing with Nazis
– shaming / outing Nazis (often the same with these people, for good reason)
– ostracizing (refusing to do business with, or be friends with, or share space with) Nazis
– attending Nazi events, bringing nice cookies, listening, and staring disapprovingly at everyone (a shorter phrase for this type of silent warfare is "bearing witness", and it's very powerful, because it holds a mirror up to what people are saying — it's a lot easier to shout bigoted things at people who already agree with you, and way harder to stand there and speak them while those who don't are silently watching and clearly paying attention to what you're saying, and that it's you saying it)
– writing fiction, poetry, songs, plays, tv shows, etc where bigots get their comeuppance
– stealing from Nazis / interrupting their supply-chain
– hacking / harassing Nazis
– making Nazis the butt of every joke you can

…etc.  Some of those are similar — you could probably group them into categories like "bearing witness", "theft", "publicity", "cultural attack" — and there's a ton more specific ideas in-between and around them that I didn't even get to. 

Once you look in the Middle, wander into the dark — which requires admitting that you can't see, and being willing to just feel around and see what you encounter — there are a bazillion answers to everything.  And that's not all of them!  Because even if I had iron guts and fifty years to contemplate it, *I*, by virtue of having my own limited point of view, can't wander into all the darkness.

If we want answers — personally or as a group — we need more, many, lots of us to be willing to set aside what we do know and go looking for what we don't. 

 

 

 

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Three Days of Grace

Day one of Blogpostvember. 

As anybody knows who's tried to build a new habit, sleep or otherwise, Day One is actually the easiest.  You've got all the momentum you built up thinking about the thing*, so you aren't having to struggle uphill yet.  You'll run out of that energy store sometime on day two or day three, plus you'll be a bit lulled by your early success by then — and that's when things will really get tough.

Which is to say, don't take my Day One success here to mean anything.  Hopefully this is an interesting post and all, but come back on Day Ten and see if I've managed to fight my demons for that long, before you judge anything.  :P

Look, "what to write about" is never a problem for me.  Leave me anywhere with a napkin and a pen and I'll start gushing ideas in five seconds; my life is festooned with ideas begging to be Done Something With.  I took like five minutes out of my life to make a list of possible blog-post ideas for the 30 days of this month, and I came up with 44.  (This may be a gift, but I've only experienced it as a curse, generally.)

And the writing itself is easy too:  When actually writing, it's just me and the page, mostly; and the page and I get along just fine.  The words flow.  And though it takes effort to trim and constrain them into something readable, that just feels like a fun exercise while it's happening.  Oo, is that the best word?  Would this be clearer if I added a comma?  Those thoughts are a virtual lullaby for me; I feel nothing but calm and easy while I'm crafting sentences.

Anyway, Chinese Philosophy has a really cool method for forging new habits, and it speaks directly to this Day One Vs. Later Days phenomena, so I figured I'd make that my post today.  Here's the advice from the I Ching (hey Westerners, it's pronounced yijing):

1.  Take THREE DAYS BEFORE your desired change, to think about it and plan it out.  Indulge all your anxiety by making ALL the lists, ALL the plans.  Be as prepared as you want to be.  Think about it constantly — go ahead; run it all through your mind a billion times if you want.  Just don't pull the trigger for three days.

2.  Then pull that trigger, and for THREE DAYS, live in it, DEVOTE your entire major chunk of awareness to the change you're making — do the shit out of it.  It's helpful if you can reduce the number of Normal Things you're doing during this time and really "retreat" into it, but even just doing this mentally, letting your new thing be the focus of your regular and deep attention for three days, is enough.

3.  Then for the next THREE DAYS, REVIEW everything you've learned — keep doing the thing, but also look hard at what your life has been like since you started doing it.  Notice changes in your actions and your thinking.  I know what you're thinking — might doing this not make you decide to abandon the change?  It's true, it might — but the Chinese are masters of the idea that "that which can be killed by the truth should be" — and something you've been doing for six days that has a negative effect on you is probably worth throwing away, is the idea.

That part's fascinating, I know — we think of ourselves as living embodiments of Short Attention Span Theatre here in the modern west, but here the ancients of China are, telling us to toss anything that doesn't pass muster in six-to-nine days.  And yet, in reality, when you think about it, we as Generalized Westerners usually give things much less time and thought than that — if you don't believe me, try the Nine Day Thing outlined above and see if you don't feel postively inundated with information about the new change.  The first time I did it, it felt like a whole research study of information, compared to my usual methods (which were, though I only knew this after retrospecting, basically Zero Days Planning, 1-2 Days Doing, and probably shoving the Review days into those 1-2 first days too).  And on the flipside, sometimes we — without much planning or review, usually — switch to and hold onto behaviors for months or years — often, if not usually, behaviors we'd be better off without.

So yeah, as usual, the Kungfu Way here is both reasonable and difficult as hell.  I also think it's funny af that it's Nine Days, since my family is Catholic and there's a big-ass Catholic ritual for when you're really desperate for something that involves nine days of prayer.  It's called a Novena — great word, right? 

Hey, Catholocism sucks in such a vast breadth of ways that I like to give it its cool words — and the stuff about demons, which is great — as consolation prizes when I can.

…I don't usually give "informational links" in posts, figuring my readers can hit CTRL-T and search for a thing if they wanna, but if you're interested in the I Ching and don't know where to start, I highly recommend this abridged westernization for beginners — it suffers a little from the woo-language that's all we've figured out to translate these ideas into, yes, but it's got the right meaning behind it, and it makes a good introduction (to a book you can start reading today and not be halfway to understanding by the time you're 80, trust me).  If you want to go deeper/more scholarly, this translation is very "accurate", meaning it reads like 50% impenetrable poetry and 50% electronics setup manual; but if you've got some familiarity with what translating from Chinese entails, it contains a lot of additional information that's very useful.  …Unhelpfully, I think I got the Nine Days Thing above from a third translation / commentary, very authentic in its source but not very useful to anyone who isn't errrrr obsessed with this book like I am.  I also, weirdly, can't find that third translation on Amazon; I confess it came to me as a surprise find that called to me in a used bookstore.  Let that diminish your faith in the message here if you like, but remember that more broadly, all Kungfu is about trying things on your own and contemplating the results with as much clarity as you can muster — so whatever you think of this (amazing) book and its various translations (many of which are stupid, I won't lie; but what do you expect after 3,000 years?) — all you're being asked for here is the scientific method, plain and simple.

And that's where I'll wrap up:  With the scientific method, and a mandate to myself to keep going, dammit, even if only for a Novena of days.  Three and three and three — all the best of math and witchery combined. 

Let's handmade-ritual the hell out of this shit.  No-one is my patron saint if not Granny Weatherwax, after all.

Peace, love, and here's to making it to Day Ten with a clean conscience!

 

 

*unless you're scared of it, in which case you'll have built up fear.  But even then, the act of finally facing that fear on Day One gives you a boost — for a minute.

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It’s Halloween and I am proper terrified

I am a horror fan:  i.e. I see value in being scared.  Occasionally I enjoy it, but for me it's not about enjoyment; it's about poking and becoming more consciously aware of what fear is for me, how it drives me, and how it really feels — not just to contemplate it, but to experience it.

I seek good fictional horror all year round, but like many people, I use this holiday as an excuse/reason to dig deeper, and to find, if I can, more profound realizations in this area. 

Mostly that just means watching more terror-centric television and reading or re-reading some good horror stories; so mostly, the outcome of the holiday is a slightly better understanding of what horror fiction does for us humans, and how and why.  And I declare that worthy on its own, mostly because I'm fine with being a creature largely devoted to understanding fiction as a means to understanding reality; sure, fine.

But this one's been a bit different.  I went back to therapy a few months ago; I, like many people, ingest some news daily.  So this year's horrors are bound up in real trauma, and real tragedy — nonfictional demons, and the damn sobering realization of their impacts.

I gotta say, and this isn't a new-new realization but it's certainly terribly clear this year, that the fictional demons are super preferable.  And maybe that's just the plain fact of fictional demons:  We create them, we think about them and let them scare us, because hot damn are they easier to look at than the real ones.

Tomorrow starts my attempt to Hit Post Once Per Day for a whole month — blogpostvember.  And that's TERRIFYING. 

Marilyn Manson's dad famously once said, "I'm not surprised he had [his art] in him — but I am surprised he let it out."  I've always thought that remark was about courage, the staggering courage it takes to do more with what you experience than just experience it (if even that) — to share it, to admit it in ways you can't retract, and to open yourself to the reactions it causes in people…that's a whole other ball of wax.  Going to therapy means opening and looking in a bunch of terrifying boxes in the company of one other person, who also happens to be a trusted professional you're paying who isn't allowed to ever tell anyone — and that's scary enough.  But writing, however much I love it, is, again, a whole other ball o' wax:  It means (and doing it well can't mean other than) opening yourself, your attic storage, the trauma you may have Beeblebrox'd from your own awareness even, to potentially anyone, and then leaving it there, exposed, with your name on it.

I'm half-anonymous here, both due to the silly nickname and the fact that in the grand scheme, nobody gives a shit about this old blog…but it's still terrifying.  Writing fiction is even more terrifying, because I know damn well that to write a good story, I must spelunk parts of myself that even I'm not sure I understand — but hitting post on anything lately is a hell of a trial.  And that, make no mistake, is precisely why I chose it for my end-of-year challenge.

It's gonna teach me things about writing, I'm sure.  About bounding things in communicable boxes; about letting there be "an ending", however fictional, in the minds of others, while knowing there never will be one for me (except for the completely fictional endings I place on other stories…oh god); about judgment and truth-facing and all that.  And I love writing, the way I've loved few other things — but maybe that's why it's where the real horror lies.  Could one write a scarier demonic-possession story than one where it takes over your closest loved one, where you're condemned not even to suffer it directly, but to stay awake and have to watch it eat your best friend?  One could not.  So naturally, what other tale would I task myself with this Halloween?

This season I re-explored Frankenstein and discovered that it's terrible, so terrible, through any modern lens — did you know the red-pill assholes & incel-bots are spouting quotes from it now?  And it's not surprising; the original leans right into that trap SO hard.  I loved that classic tale when I read it ages ago and had little understanding of misogyny; on re-read, I threw it across the room more than once.  I also caved, last week, to critics' ravings and watched the latest season of American Horror Story (Apocalypse), in spite of having hated everything from the 3rd season on — and discovered that holy cow, it's really good.

So this is clearly a holiday season of unexpected outcomes.

Are you ready?  I feel like a non-virgin with a dead phone and no flashlight sneaking around a dark corner, myself.

Let's see what happens!

 

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Forty-four?!

So I started being more careful about writing in a list when I had ideas that might make good blog-posts — the list is titled "Things I Care About", because, well, obviously that makes both the best and the most useful writing.

Today, November 1 being immanent, I went in and numbered the list, to see how many ideas I was on the hook for coming up with to cover a whole month of posts.  And the answer is…negative thirteen.  I have 44 solid ideas already.  Fortunately, some are less good and can be painlessly dropped; but they're all, like, viable.

So there's that excuse gone, not that "lack of ideas" was really an excuse to begin with.

Another thing that's been of prepatory use this week is conversations I've been having about bounding / ending ideas, boxing them into deliverable packages.  A friend pointed out that I use more parenthetical statements than just about anybody, which is true, and something I have to edit out of my writing constantly.  My brain follows quite a lot of tracks at once, and it's really REALLY hard to keep it narrowed to something that feels…finishable.  There's just such a huge blank canvas, and I suck at coloring inside even (maybe especially) self-imposed lines, I guess.

BUT.  The practical use of this is that I'm going to try facing the "challenge of hitting Post" by framing my ideas more carefully, if I can.  Writing to a topic and only having a day to finish, to polish, to "find the done" (and get over the ache of knowing it's so arbitrary) should be helpful in this regard…though probably also it's gonna suck to experience, lol. 

I hate endings.  So naturally I've committed myself to writing 30 of them in quick succession. 

Naturally.

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TIL

Today I realized that part of my problem with saying (/publishing) things may be that I have so much to say.

I have so much to say that, consistently, I either can't start or can't finish.  I craft some sentences, and then they're either not enough or too much, and I poke at them and then, inevitably, abandon them.

(Please, PLEASE do not ask me how many unpublished drafts of posts live on this site.  Zillions.  Megayotts.  It's gone beyond "depressing" and is now slightly disturbing…I keep having flashes of the diary in Red Dragon.  And — more seriously — such a thing feels very strongly like it could fester, could become unhelpful or even evil, if left in the dark.  The drive to drag those words into the light is, I think, meaningful.  Dare I say, it may even be healthy.)

And yet — I have things to say.  That's a fact, and it's not always true or true for everyone, so, much as I might want to avoid it, it matters.  Moreover, saying the things I have to say makes me feel whole. 

I'll grant that I deserve to feel whole.  So do you.  Why the fuck else are we staggering through this veil of tears, right?

So, here's my latest idea:  I'm gonna do Blog Post November, in lieu of Nanowrimo or NanoWriMo (one is a novel, the other is flash fiction; I've done both) — This next month, I'm going to focus on actually sharing my thoughts with you, whoever you are. 

Exactly who you are doesn't matter for the purpose of my sharing, but it does matter to me, of course; you're an intrinsic and vital part of this process.  I am, especially given my years of failure to really share much that's meaningful, insanely grateful for your existence.  THANK YOU.

And tune in starting November 1, because there'll be A POST A DAY for the whole month.  I'll be experimenting a lot, so I extra welcome your comments & thoughts, too! 

…But if all it gives you is 30 days of happy bullshit to surf on the toilet, hey, I'm totally OK with that too.  I suspect it will give ME a lot, regardless.  I need–for reasons simultaneously personal and universal–to kick this funk.  And I've kicked many a funk in my life, but never, at least to my knowledge, have I kicked a single one without at some point learning to speak, to share, to be-in-concert. 

Oh man, I could say a lot just about that phrase.  But instead, let me quit AND HIT POST, and hopefully start a tradition of finishing and sharing that can continue at least through November, if not further.

LOVE AND PEACE,

PD

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