Monthly Archives: January 2014

Heartbreak in the Rockies

Back in the bar where I first bumped into her there is no sign of life, it’s like an abandoned building overtaken by overexcited drunks who try to sing their own songs over the lone guitar man playing a bastard cover of Your Time Is Gonna Come. Well maybe his time, but not mine.

– from ‘Sorry (Sayonara)’

It’s always exciting to be published. I’m not proud of it, but the recognition, even if it is by a single person, gets my dopamine flowing. I am sure it is the same feeling the first poet had, when (s)he uttered the first verse and a fellow tribe member raised their head to hear.

Typehouse Literary Magazine is a new publication out of Portland that’s based around The People’s Ink writer’s community. They just published their inaugural issue, and I got to be a part of it with my short story, “Sorry (Sayonara)”. Read it, and other jive works, here.

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Pre-Drinking Over-Thinking

Sometimes, when I’m frustrated with work and feel aimless in career-mode, I fantasize that someday (when I am old enough to grow a salt-and-pepper beard) I will have the balls to shirk my workday—and I will live out my fantasy as a catharsis counsellor.

Because everyone needs catharsis. If you think you don’t, then you’ve either already unwittingly experienced a catharsis recently, or are so fucked that you don’t realize how badly you need it. I, for one, thrive on catharsis (or, perhaps, abreaction). It’s where my pursuit of art began, and it’ll probabaly be the only place it ever ends up. My proverbial emotional testicles just get so bloated with stress sperm that they need to shoot out all over life’s face. 

Before you leave in utter disgust…or to search for free porn…let me cut to the point: 

I just found out one of my stories (more of a prose poem), “Post-teen After-thoughts” made it into the second volume of Apocrypha & Abstractions Literary Journal’s anthology.

I never thought this piece would get picked up anywhere, mostly because I realize—trying as hard as I can to be an outsider reader (impossible, really)—that the story isn’t much of a story in the traditional sense. It’s a pastiche. A flash jumble of images, like threading beach garbage onto a hemp necklace. And you, the poor sober reader who approaches like a serene individual on a sunset stroll along the coast to clear your mind, you come across this fucking fool wearing beach garbage around his neck and wonder if the gusting wind is strong enough to carry your dying screams to the nearest beach house.

Now, if you were me, “Post-teen After-thoughts” is a story (you’re missing out!). The story is a common one. One I’ve made the mistake of repeating too many times: Googling someone you used to know. 

My mistake was ———, the post-punk, pre-indie girl I could never approach, who has since become such a fruitful muse (iterated as Lucy Sparrow, for example, in Onwards & Outwards—so self-referential, aren’t I?). 

It’s terrible. Sartre said, “The Other is hell”, and surely he was a clairvoyant foreseeing the nightmare qualities that come along with Googling someone you haven’t seen in years. There is the dread brought on by the cognitive dissonance between the person you have idealized in your head, and the person in reality. It doesn’t matter that a part of you knows that people self-mythologize themselves on the internet. It doesn’t matter that maybe all those fun party pics on Tumblr are from the only night off that person had in months.

They have changed. They have a mature wardrobe. They’re working a cool job. They have tattoos and funky asymmetrical haircuts. They have that look in their eye that tells you, “I’ve lived so much more than you, you pathetic piece of self-loathing shit.” 

What good does this feeling do? Does this serve an evolutionary function, to have this angst of seeing someone you adored become even better than you thought they were? 

Humanities’ greatest gift and mightiest curse (besides consciousness and humour) is our sociality. We are wholly social creatures. It’s such common knowledge, I won’t even reference that fact. Literally, we breed and grow under the pretense of our social nature. It’s no wonder that the internet’s most recent deluge of advancement has been in ‘social media’. People want to communicate. In my situation, it probably doesn’t help that Google and social media platforms are the major link I have to seeing any of my friends, associates, and other characters of my past due to my self-induced isolation. You may know the feeling: trying to communicate with any profundity over social media platforms (esp. Twitter) is like fucking through a straw.

Jung said, “Loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate what seems important to you.” If I could only be so lucky. All I have is my pastiche story; my madness on display for strangers in an internet anthology, under a pseudonym, about a person I used to but never could know now. So it goes.

Anyway, lots of cool stuff in the anthology. And if you happen to read mine, just don’t think about it so goddamn much.

Imagination & Ice Fishing

It is -21⁰C with the windchill and I am sitting in four layers over a six-inch hole cut into two feet of ice. I am dangling fishing line through my gloved fingers, waiting for that distinctive tug that lets me know something is on the other end of the line.

I am ice-fishing for the first time in my life. As an adult living in the prairies, this is disreputable. I am probably a degenerate. I am probably an invalid who has been kept from the slimmest chance of drowning all my life. These are somewhat true assumptions, because I am an urbanite who went fishing maybe a handful of times with my Dad in the Muskokas before I hit puberty and spent the rest of my time in a disengaged pacifism that would have me do no harm to another sentient creature.

But I’ve come to realize I’m an animal—and just as the bear has no shame about sticking its jaws into a waterfall to pluck out a salmon, and cows don’t think twice about tearing away at grass, I have no qualms about feeding myself. (Moderately and respectfully, of course.)

So I took the opportunity to put the fishing rod back in my hand and try my luck with humanity’s 40,000 year-old activity.

As my feet begin to freeze, I stare into the hole, getting deeper and deeper into a meditative state. Two hours pass and I haven’t caught a damn thing. I could switch bait to go for perch, which my fellow ice fishers are catching (mostly little unkeepable three or four inch things), but I want splake. I just know they are the bigger and more elusive fish and, therefore, the bigger prize.

As I stare into the hole, something begins to happen. I don’t realize it at first, and really only start to understand it the day after. But as I stare into the hole, I can see my line go into the water. A few centimetres below the water, it is too dark to see. So I picture my line, jigging spoon, and hook dangling near the lake bed. As time goes by, I try to imagine fish coming to the line, attracted by my clever jigging. When I feel a tug, I reel in expecting to see a hooked splake, but instead see the minnow’s body chewed off; I bait the hook and start the process again.

By the time I am too cold to bait anymore minnows, I switch to maggots and try for perch. This time the biting comes quicker. I can feel the perch nibbling on the bait. I can imagine them crowding around the hook, trying to decide how to get the maggot without getting caught. If I pull up at the right time and catch their lip, I could bring them above the ice. I use my imaginary underwater mind-camera to tell myself how to jig the line just so, to get a good bite.

It was this process, which must have ancient derivations, that was fascinating in retrospect—it was, in essence, the foundation for imagination. It begins with me, the fisher, observing patterns: when I put the hook into the water, I could pull a fish out. This almost seamlessly leads into anticipation: if I put a hook in, I should pull a fish out. This anticipation, in some amazing evolutionary feat, opens the gates to imagination. I can picture—outside of material reality—in the so-called ‘mind’s eye’—below the ice, removed from my sense perceptions—what might have been happening between the cause and the consequence.

There are lots of treatises on imagination. A lot of work has been done to comprehend it. Einstein famously used his teenage imagination to envision light as both waves and particles—he said, in the bluntest quote on the subject, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Throughout humanity’s history, imagination has played a fundamental role in shaping social and cultural behaviour, whether through myths, assumptions, or hypotheses. And as much as we idolize the ‘greats’ and tell ourselves their imagination is a superior form of genius, I would argue that imagination is a natural function of the mammalian brain that is born out of something as simple as fishing.

And for some anglers, imagination is all they go away with (we all know the cliché ‘fish-this-big’ story). Fortunately for me, it was two decent-sized perch that I filleted and pan-fried to enjoy with some warming wine and pasta.

Artifice

Other echoes

Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?

T.S. Eliot

 

The day before yesterday morning I woke repeating a word in my head: Vestal. I have a wide vocabulary that I can’t account for, so often I get these ‘word worms’ (similar to ‘ear worms’) slithering through my consciousness. If I’m feeling up for it, I will ponder these words; why they strike me when they do, and what meaning I can gather from them. I am profound like that at times. But most of the time I do everything I can to forget the word, bury the meaning, excise the demon worm.

Vestal is from the Greek for ‘fire’, and in its most significant derivative, represents the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family, Vesta (and the corresponding order of priestesses, the Vestal Virgins). In Rome, there were temples that burned sacred fires to Vesta. Ever faithful to the gods, the Romans believed a central temple to Vesta, which burned a never-ending hearth, was an ongoing offering to the goddess for success. When the fire went out, so would the Roman empire. So when Emperor Theodosius I carried the Christian tradition from Constantine and forbade public pagan worship in 391 CE, the Roman Empire was already on its way out.

Ovid had an interesting rumination on Vesta: “Vesta is the Earth itself, both have the perennial fire, the Earth and the sacred fire show their see”—which is a dense, cumbersome sentence only open to my weak interpretation—but speaks to many ancient cultures’ fire worship. Fire is ephemeral, temperamental, coming and going, requiring work, effort, care, and symbiosis between living and elemental, all culminating in a transformation from one chemical to another.

Which echoes to the Indus Valley’s Hinduism, a removed culture from the Romans that shared some of the ‘coincidental’ subconscious symbology (Jung, anyone?). Fire in Hinduism, and Buddhism which evolved from it, carries similar properties—magical but real, temporary but ubiquitous, essential but destroying. The god Shiva is encircled by flames, representing destruction and enlightening rebirth. Shiva dances, within the flames, simultaneously destroying and laying the groundwork for the illusion of the world. In Sanskrit: Lila, or the theatrical, illusory state of the material world.

There are a handful of Sanskrit words that also seem to strike me at different times as ‘worms’. It is of some wonder then that the night after my Vestal dream, in the midst of a psilocybin excursion, the word ‘artifice’ and Lila became the only way to describe my environment. Walls shifted, grew and shrunk. Kaleidoscope phosphenes danced over my eyes, and music filled the room spatially. Artifice—that is how reality appears on hallucinogens, or really any altered state where your senses are affected, be it fever, exhaustion, or emotional distress.

The world is illusion, Hindus and Buddhists say. “Look at the world, glittering like a golden chariot,” the Dhammapada reads in my favorite passage, “The wise do not touch it, but the foolish are immersed in it.” Judeo-Christians see the material world as a temporary state between the everlasting soul’s existence in heaven. Even scientists—mostly physicists and chemists—have come to see reality as a sort of quantum illusion, a multi-dimensional expression of energy, to which humans are only evolved to perceive a certain spectrum. In the minutest sense, modern physics tell us there are atoms, which are mostly negative space occupied by energetic forces that can only be determined, spatially and temporally, by perception. In religion first (probably from shamanic explorations of our reality), and now in science, we get the sense that reality is in the eye of the perceiver.

But the psychedelic truffles told me more. Like most good psychedelic trysts, there is an interesting thought to explore that you find tucked away in a nook—to open, peruse, and read like a weird book stashed away in your house from a previous owner.

And that weird thought was not so elaborate or elegant, but simple and profound—that the artifice—that Lila—that the illusory reality around us—is not illusion at all. Reality exists as it is, in its myriad forms that we may or may not perceive. The only illusion is in the way we perceive reality. It is our perception that is like our fire symbology, and not the world itself—it is our perception that is ephemeral, temperamental, coming and going, requiring work, effort, care. Our perception is a symbiosis between living and elemental—between chemical expressions of energy.

This is some heavy, sticky stuff to wade through. Sorry to put you through it. But the day after turning all your senses up to eleven, you often drift into the metaphysical.

And that’s where I leave you now.

L’Etincelle

Am I really doing this? Am I really starting a blog with an entry on blogs? Am I really starting that initial meta-blog with a series of overdramatic questions?

I tend to easily disappoint myself, which is probably a central reason why I have been so reluctant to start a blog. I am a split human being (which you may read more about as we traverse time and kilobytes), and part of that split resonates in my reasons for writing—really, the writer’s eternal struggle between writing for writing’s sake, and writing to be read.

In a completely unstatistical analysis, I believe I have a 10% chance of being read by anyone, and an approximately 0.001% chance of being read by someone I don’t know. That is a small chance that extends beyond this blog. The chance that the thousands of poems I’ve scribbled, or hundreds of short stories I’ve penned, or half-dozen novels I’ve written will ever be read is so minute that I often wonder why I bother at all. That’s when the <<l’art pour l’art>> side of Jack’s mind comes into play.

But communication is meant to be heard—art is meant to be experienced. Sometimes, that experience is deeply personal. Which begs the question: is that art or therapy? Not a question I will tread on right now. What I mean to say is that even the babbling homeless man on the corner of Yonge and Dundas is heard, even if no one is listening. His expression becomes a part of the landscape. Blogging may be a similar method of communication. Similar to Twitter, I feel like most of my communication on the internet is to no one; it is there to populate the landscape.

There is something deeper to the written word, though. Unlike visual or acoustical art, the written word is meant to traverse time in a more fundamental way. A song fades away quickly, and pigments fade over decades, but manuscripts are as good as the paper or fabric they are written on. If you have read my novel, Onwards & Outwards (I know you haven’t), you might remember Henryk Zdicz relay a story about archaeologists who found ancient Buddhist manuscripts in Tibet (which is a true story, of course). A short discussion follows, which you’ll have to read yourself. But what is key to my point here is that there were monks, hundreds of years ago, who wrote manuscripts in caves and hid them there. That’s it. They weren’t meant to make money, or to become famous, or anything else. The act of writing was sacred in itself (which echoes back to l’art pour l’art)—but what was written was meant to be read as a sacrament. This duality should be what a writer strikes for, and not a competition between the two extremes.

Easier said than done. But I say it nonetheless.

Didn’t Hemingway say something like the only way to kill the writing habit is death? That’s probably true. It is absolutely true in my case. And I harbour a not-so-unique idealism that after my death some living relative or maybe adoring grad student will find my work and want to bring it to the world, just like those Buddhist manuscripts. I call myself ‘histomanic’ for this reason—the time I spend writing is justified by my manic stages where I see my art mean something to history (I made the term up, don’t bother verifying it).

And so it’s in a manic stage that I am starting this blog. I dare to populate the internet landscape with my thoughts, to babble on a busy urban corner, to write secret manifestos to some future archaeologist. And if you are reading this, well, I guess you have just enabled my mania. Thanks.