tHIS mORNING

This morning I am so tired I can’t even think straight.

I feel like I am swimming through pudding: I can move, but everything is slower and takes more effort. And I have absolutely no strength, as if all of my bones and muscles have been replaced by down pillows, and the only thing that lets me move is momentum and weight: I need to pause and set myself before I do anything, like I’m rolling myself to the top of a hill, pausing at the edge, and then — down I go. And then when I do it, since I’m still moving through pudding, I do it so slowly that my mind actually wanders in the middle of it — mostly just to say, “Man, I’m tired.” I’m drinking coffee, and I think the exhaustion beast that is prowling and growling and slouching around inside of me is laughing at the caffeine. Laughing at it. It’s like throwing water balloons at a five-alarm fire. Poor useless coffee.

It doesn’t feel terrible, actually. It feels like I’m just a little bit drunk, or just a little bit high. I think I probably should not drive at the moment. But I don’t plan to. Nor operate heavy machinery.

Nor lift up a heavy topic like the Second Amendment. Sorry about that. I did start to write about it last night, and hit a snag that I need to think about: my utter lack of respect for Antonin Scalia. See, Scalia wrote the 5-4 majority opinion in the D.C. v. Heller case, which is the one that establishes the individual right to own firearms under the Second Amendment, and the second I see that (though I do agree in some ways, as I’ll get into it when it doesn’t take me a couple of seconds to remember where the “c” key is) I just think, “Well, of course that’s bullshit, it’s Scalia.” But that’s not fair, because even partisan bastards like the former “Justice” are sometimes right in their thinking. So there are things I need to think about regarding the Second Amendment before I write about it, and this is not a good morning to start.

So instead, I’ll just see how much coffee I can mainline, see if I can wake up at least enough to do my job (Which first means I need to wake up enough to get to my job. And remember where my job is.), and then I’ll try to take another crack at the big issue tonight and write about it tomorrow morning. It may have to wait for a weekend, though. I hope the people reading this don’t mind a few posts about nonsense; I don’t have a lot else in me right now. Goosefeathers and pudding.

And this song. Which is a perfect song.

 

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This Morning

This morning I realized that giving up doesn’t hurt any less than fighting.

This morning I realized that I’ve been giving up.

This morning I realized that the world is a mouth, and we are all being chewed into a thin paste so we can be swallowed: some of us are soft and plump, full of juice and flavor, and we burst easily and quickly; and some of us are hard as nuts, would crack the tooth of the world if it bit down too hard and so it grinds at us and grinds at us and grinds at us and grrrrrrrrrrriiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnddsssssss at us until we, too, are reduced to little more than dry powder: and then down the hatch we go.

This morning I realized that the world-mouth metaphor is a lot of fun, but it doesn’t go anywhere useful; like I could get into meat, and have some of us be tender and chewy and some of us be tough as gristle — but if in the end we all get chewed and all get swallowed, what’s the point? Do I say that we have to enjoy our time in the mouth, getting chewed up, getting destroyed? It would be fun to try to talk about flavors mixing, and maybe those tough nuts can bathe in the juice of the soft plump fruits — but that’s either too gross, or too intimate. Bathing in someone else’s juices is either sex or murder, and neither is empowering. Or actually maybe both are empowering.

This morning I realized that not every thought, not every idea, needs to be pursued — but the ones that go somewhere need to be nurtured and loved, and even the ones that don’t work out should be sat with for a little while, because they may then get added to one of the better ones.

This morning I realized that I haven’t been writing, and I’ve missed it. I’ve missed me.

This morning I realized that fucking Candy Crush repeats fucking levels, and that my dream of living out the meme I saw and conquering every level and thus beating the game is a stupid one; that I should spend that time writing instead. That even if I can’t find it in me to continue working on my enormous book project, and I can’t craft a single clear idea into one crystalline pillar of perfection before I even start writing a blog, I SHOULD WRITE ANYWAY. And I should post my thoughts.

This morning I realized that I probably haven’t lost my audience, at least not completely, but I’ve let them down– I’ve let you down. And I shouldn’t have done that. I shouldn’t have given up. I shouldn’t have laid down.

This morning I realized that I can write short things that are worth writing, and therefore worth reading.

This morning, I came back to myself.

This morning, I stood up. I fought. I wrote.

This morning I decided to do it again tomorrow morning.

Love

A student of mine wrote an essay defining “love.” Actually, a number of my students wrote essays defining “love,” because my assignment was to give a concrete definition of an abstract term, and “love” is a term I suggested as a possibility, and which a number of them felt like they had a reasonable grasp on and good cause to want to define. I don’t think most of them did a great job on it, though, for one simple reason: they’ve never been in love. I have – I am – and because of that, I believe that I have a better understanding of love than anyone who has never felt something like what I feel. I’ve always been one of those people who argues against the casual use of the word “love,” always been annoyed by my teenaged students yelling “I love you!” to their friends, often grumbled to myself – generally out loud, though not loudly – “No, you don’t,” when I hear one of them do that. I have always wanted “love” to be a word we reserved for the strongest connections, the most meaningful bonds. I still think that, and so after reading so many essays explaining that love could be used in any circumstance to describe anything at all pleasant, which was the prevailing view, I wanted to write my own to try to clarify what they all are getting wrong, and what I am getting right when I hold my wife in my arms and tell her, “I love you.”

I’ll tell you, though: this one student – one of my best, one of the brightest young people I’ve taught in 20 years – made me think harder about this. Because she said, “If words were seasonings, love would be garlic. Fits well in almost any dish, easily peppered in, improves whatever its included in.” And, well – I love that. I love this, too:

I don’t know if I’ve gone one day since I started speaking without saying the word “love.” If it is able to be overused, I overused it. I still do. I hang up the phone “I love you!” regardless of who I’m calling. I sign professional emails with it. I yell it at random strangers when I try to compliment them. When people who I hardly know share any opinion with me, I usually sum up my feelings towards them with: “Dude! I love you!” I use the word so much because it’s a great word. It means exactly what I’m trying to say. And what I’m usually trying to say is: “this thing or person or idea makes me feel happy and good.” That takes too long to say when someone my age on the street is wearing a Bikini Kill shirt and walking by me and I want them to know that i also like Bikini Kill but I can’t muster up a coherent statement. “I love you (or your shirt, or your outfit or that thing you’re holding)” works just fine. Perfectly non-specific. Perfectly over-intimate.

 

It felt very much like she was speaking directly to this prejudice of mine against the casual overuse of “love,” but in this opening paragraph, and in the rest of the essay, I was confronted with a simple fact: I overuse “love,” too. Because love is not just what I say to my wife; love is also what I say when I think about Cheez-Its, or coffee, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I say it when I see something that makes me feel happy and good. And that makes me a hypocrite.

Now, I don’t really mind being a hypocrite, if by “hypocrite” we mean someone who changes their standards from day to day. This is how my students frequently use the word; they apply it to, for instance, parents who partied in their youth and then tell their kids they shouldn’t party in theirs. (This is a new meaning of the word, I think, and a bad one; if what we mean by “hypocrite” is what I understand the word to really mean, that is someone who betrays their own standard while still holding other people to it, a liar who castigates people for lying, a thief who punishes thieves, then I do not want to be that thing.) Another sentiment I love, this one from Ralph Waldo Emerson, is:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.

People can change. We can learn new things, we can have new ideas, and if those ideas contradict everything we said today, then so be it. This applies to the current subject of love in two ways: one, my understanding of love can change – and change frequently, and then change back again – and two, the meaning of the word “love” can change as society’s general understanding of the word changes. And that is also fine: I don’t feel the need to have one and only one understanding of the word “love.” The meaning of the word doesn’t have to be consistent; it can change according to the circumstances. Context changes the meaning of many words, as it changes the connotations and associations; that’s what makes language so beautiful and so complex. It’s kind of why I still have a job.

I can be inconsistent in my understanding of “love.” It can change according to the circumstances. And within that, there can still be a right and wrong meaning of the word, because someone could use the wrong meaning in the wrong context. So I can happily tell my wife I love her and only her, and then shout to a crowd that I love Ralph Waldo Emerson, and then throw dirty looks at students who say “Goodbye, I love you!” to their friends – but only if I can be clear in my understanding of these three contexts, and say that my students are misusing it in theirs.

Spoiler: they’re probably not. I am writing this to show myself why I am wrong, much more than I mean to show my students why they are wrong. But they’re wrong, too, and I’m right; I’ll get to that.

My instinct is that there are two feelings here. They are two different feelings, though related; we use the same word for them, though perhaps we shouldn’t. This is where language gets tangled (Which is better, tanguage? Or langled? Mmmmmm – neither.), and though that tanguage (See? That’s awful.), that langling (That’s not better! SO WHY DO I KEEP DOING IT! Because I love portmanteaus, that’s why. Love ’em.), means I still have a job, it’s not worth the pain it causes. This is my objection to English as a language: it has so many words, and so many shades of meaning for those words, and because the meanings of words can change according to context, we can’t all agree on what the words mean; because of that, I think, we avoid the words that are ambiguous, or the ones that are complex. We lose the nuances of our language, and force each other to create and learn new meanings of old words, instead. Honestly, I don’t know if that’s a problem with English exclusively, but I know that English could avoid most of these issues if we’d just take advantage of what English can offer, and that is: many, many words.

Look up “love” in a thesaurus. Mine has multiple columns of synonyms for love because love falls into at least four categories, desire, courtesy, affection, and favorite; and that’s not including God’s love, make love, love affair, and love of country, each of which has its own entry, as well. Even the Great Democratizer Google offers these:

love

/ləv

noun

an intense feeling of deep affection.

synonyms: deep affection, fondness, tenderness, warmth, intimacy, attachment, endearment;

devotion, adoration, doting, idolization, worship;

passion, ardor, desire, lust, yearning, infatuation, besottedness

compassion, care, caring, regard, solicitude, concern, friendliness, friendship, kindness, charity, goodwill, sympathy, kindliness, altruism, unselfishness, philanthropy, benevolence, fellow feeling, humanity

relationship, love affair, romance, liaison, affair of the heart, amour

   

*   a deep romantic or sexual attachment to someone.

synonyms: become infatuated with, give/lose one’s heart to;

fall for, be bowled over by, be swept off one’s feet by, develop a crush on

infatuated with, besotted with, enamored of, smitten with, consumed with desire for;

captivated by, bewitched by, enthralled by, entranced by, moonstruck by;

devoted to, doting on;

informal mad/crazy/nuts/wild about

 

If we could just use these words, and agree on specific words in specific situations, and not change them all the damn time, then this would all be solved: I adore my dogs, I am besotted with my wife – my inamorata – I am devoted to my mother, I care for my students, I am wild about Cheez-Its. See how easy that is?

But nooooooo, no, that’s too many words to remember, and too many meanings to negotiate and agree on. We’d rather use one word for every one of those feelings, and then try to figure out what someone means when they say “I love you.”

That’s actually where my concern lies, with regards to how my students use the word, with how my bright essayist defined it:

The proper definition of love is supremely vague and exists on a spectrum. Love can be intense or delicate, long-lived or fleeting, romantic or platonic, emotional or physical. It is possible to love so many things in so many ways and for so many reasons, that it’s stupid and almost impossible to pinpoint the specifics. It thrives when left as a nebulous idea or concept. It doesn’t hurt anyone to love things. Why force someone to determine if something is worthy of the title of love? I think it can and should be thrown around as much as possible. It doesn’t need boundaries.

 

I agree with this; love can be all of these things. I don’t agree that the inconstant, ever-changing nature of love means that it’s “stupid and almost impossible to pinpoint the specifics.” I believe it is quite important: because there is one situation, and only one, where saying “love” and meaning it, and knowing that you mean it, and ensuring that the one who hears you say it knows that you mean it, is absolutely necessary. That is romance.

When I tell my wife that I love her, I mean something different than what I mean when I say it to anyone else, in any other situation whatsoever. This relationship is unlike every other connection I have in my life: this one, and only this one, is unique. I love my mother just like I love my father; I love my students (some of them) just like I love my coworkers (some of them); I love my dog Samwise just like I love my dog Roxie. I love Cheez-Its like I love Boston creme doughnuts.

But I love my wife like nobody else.

I want to explain, because this is the root of this essay, of this discussion for me; this is why I don’t like it when people use the word “love” for something other than what I feel for my wife. But at the same time, I don’t want to explain, because the life we have together is ours and nobody else’s, and I don’t want to share. Let me see if I can thread this needle at least a little bit.

I trust my wife. Completely, and absolutely. There is no one else to whom I would share as much as I share with her. I can’t say I share everything, as there are some parts of me that can’t ever be expressed, as there are with every human being; but everything that I can share, is hers. No question, no doubt. She is the only person whom I would trust to do anything as well if not better than I can. That’s not meant to sound arrogant, there are lots and lots and LOTS of things that I can’t do well; but the things I can do well, I want to do myself so that I can be sure they will be done the way I think they should be done, the way I can do them. Call me a control freak, if you will; it’s not true for everything, but it is true with, say, my teaching. I’d trust my wife to teach my class over anyone else, as much as my fellow English teachers (And more than some of them), even though she’s not an English teacher: I know that she could do it, and do it well. I’d trust her with my paperwork, with filling out, say, arrest forms or hospital forms. I’d trust her with my medical decisions, I’d trust her with my legacy, I’d trust her with my life. It’s not only the big things, either: I’d trust her to take care of our pets, to lock up the house when we leave on vacation, to drive – which she does better than I do, anyway. When I trust her to do something, I don’t worry about it, I don’t have to double check: I know that she did it right, at least as rightly as I could do it.

(Exceptions: I write better than she does. And she doesn’t really do the dishes right. Mmmmmm – that’s it. She could do anything else for me, if she wished.)

Along with that complete trust comes understanding. Because we have shared so much with each other, and experienced so much together, I know exactly how she thinks. I went to get a snack while she was reading this (It’s about her and us, so she gets veto power), and as I was coming back to my office, I thought, “She’s going to get hung up on that dishes comment.” As soon as she heard me coming down the hall, she called out, “What do you mean, I don’t do the dishes right?” This is not a first: we frequently find ourselves having the same thought, and though we don’t finish each other’s sentences, it’s only because we don’t interrupt each other. We don’t think the same way: she’s more liberal, more spiritual, and has a better sense of propriety (One of my most frequent questions to her is, “Too much? Does that joke go too far?” She frequently says, “A little.” And I take it out.), but I understand how she thinks, and she understands how I think. As well as anyone can understand anyone, that is.

My wife is the most beautiful woman in the world. I don’t mean that her features are flawless or perfect – whatever the hell that means – because they’re not; simply that the feeling that one gets when one looks at something beautiful, the feeling of calm joy, a warm spread of soothing happiness and a desire to lose time in looking at it: that’s what I feel when I look at her. Watching her expression is the best: the slow smile, the way her eyes widen when she sees something interesting, the way they focus like lasers when she is working on something. It’s beautiful. I could watch her all day, forever. I’ve never seen another woman whom I could watch the same way. Partly, yes, because it would be creepy; my wife may think I’m creepy when I stare at her, but she lets me do it, anyway, without calling me out, without making me feel uncomfortable – without tearing down that warm calm that comes with looking at beauty. It’s that allowance, that permission to enjoy her, that is part of this; her walls are – not gone, but lower, or farther back, with me than they are with anyone else. That’s part of the privilege of love. Part of the honor of it is how I try to be worthy of that permission, of that trust.

Along with that – and not to get too graphic – my wife is the sexiest woman in the world. All the feelings of attraction and excitement, different and more intense and more fleeting and more addictive than the feelings that come with looking at beauty: I get all of those from being around my wife. Nobody else has ever, or could ever, have the same overwhelming effect on me so often, so immediately; all it takes is one glance in just the right way, and nothing else exists. Only she has that power over me. And it is a power, make no mistake: whatever I may want to say to hedge this topic, to moralize it, to objectify and reduce the feeling of sexual attraction, and the feelings of ecstasy, of connection, and of bliss that come with sex, the truth is, whether I can explain it or not, whether it needs explanation or not, sex is as powerful a part of love as any other.

It’s not necessary: I will say that. My relationship with my wife, our connection, our affection, our trust; none of that is built on sex, none of it relies on sex. I could not imagine, however, having the same relationship with her while having a sexual relationship with someone else. I don’t see how that would work. We could still be friends, even the best of friends; but she would not be my love. I know there are people who have polyamorous relationships, and I have to assume they care for their partners, and are excited by their partners, in the same way as I and my wife; but I can’t understand it. Suffice it to say that if everyone could share all parts of the relationship together, I can at least see how it could work; if people have separate intimate relationships in common, as in my understanding (based exclusively on televised fiction, which is why I don’t pretend to have an answer here) of religious polygamy, where a husband moves from wife to wife to wife on different nights – I can’t see that as the same kind of love that I have with my wife.

But then, I don’t think anyone else on Earth has the same kind of love that I have with my wife: I am unique, and she is unique, and thus what we have together is unique. So on some level, there is no word for what I feel for her, or at least no word that anyone else could ever know or understand or use. It is essentially uncommunicable.

Dang. Maybe my student was right. Maybe there is no point in defining love.

No: I still think it matters. My love for my wife is this way because it has grown and strengthened and become more for better than twenty years. When we met, when we started dating, and when we fell in love, there were all the same flaws and problems that other people have; maybe not as many, maybe not as serious, as there are for some relationships – after all, we stayed together – but love becomes unique and undefinable; I don’t think it starts that way. I think the feeling is, at first, recognizable, similar to what each of us had felt for other people in the past, similar to what other people feel in those circumstances. Knowing that, recognizing it, is what allowed us to first say to each other, “I love you,” and mean it. And I think it’s important that people recognize that phrase, and mean it when they say it, as something distinct from what people mean when they shout “I love you!” as they drive by the McDonald’s where their friends are at work. Because in a romantic situation, when someone says, “I love you,” and the other person says, “I love you too! You’re my best friend!” then there is at least a potential for serious and terrible heartbreak. There are countless dramatic moments in books, films, TV shows, based on this precise miscommunication, because it is one we can understand, relate to, maybe remember. That is the problem with using the exact same word for both very different feelings. And they are different feelings: I will use the phrase “romantic love” to separate them, but that doesn’t work in the moment, because you can’t say “I love you romantically” and mean it. When you tell someone that you love them in the way that I say it to my wife, then the word cannot be qualified and modified: it has to be everything, all in one, because that’s what the word represents: that’s the love I mean when I say it to her. Everything. All that I am, and all that I have, with her, forever. That’s love.

 

When I was thinking about this essay, I had an idea that I would end up defining two different meanings of the word “love:” one for the happy warm feelings that my student speaks of – call it the garlic love, in her honor – and one for the feelings I share with my wife, which I cannot truly express, not with all my words. I even had the idea that the garlic love, the one I feel for pirates or warm socks or the music of Weird Al Yankovic – and believe me, I do not discount and do not demean that love; I love that love – could be distinguished as the one that allows people to extend the word the way they do on social media, by adding more “e’s” at the end of it – “I LOVEEEEEEEE that movie!” I freely admit that bugs the crap out of me: because IT’S A SILENT LETTER! What the hell does it mean when you say it more, a long pause? But I also admit, just as freely, that this is my humbuggishness talking, that I have no grounds to be annoyed by that; I understand that people are trying to intensify the word within the limitations of the medium: you can’t do bold or italic or oversized font in a Tweet. You can repeat the word – “I love love love that movie” – but that’s neither better nor worse. In both cases, it’s clear communication of intensified feeling, and it does it the same way, by dedicating more characters to the idea.

I can distinguish that from what I feel for my wife, however, because when I tell her I love her, I don’t ever extend it. I don’t ever say, “I LOOOOOOOVVVVVEEEEE you!” I don’t say “I LOVE LOVE LOVE you!” But I would do either of those things – okay, not the second one, which strikes me as insincere, though again, no real reason for that, just prejudice and humbuggishness, the same as how I hate it when people use the word “impactful” – if I was trying to express how I feel about Weird Al. I LOOOOOOVVVVEEE Weird Al.

I love my wife.

Two different feelings, two different terms, even if they are sort of spelled the same. Even if they do both have the same positive, happy-making, basic feeling underlying them. And if I had my druthers, I’d insist that people distinguish: when they talk to their friends about their favorite breakfast cereals, they use the extendable one: maybe spell it “loveee” to be clear. When they talk about the person they want to kiss, they use only “love.” Spelled, and said, the right way.

But there’s no point in trying to do that. Language doesn’t change because people think others are using it wrong; language changes with people’s whims, with fashions, with the ease and quickness of flipping a switch, but never because people say that word there is the wrong word. I suppose I could try to make it unfashionable to use the word “love” in a casual context, but people want to say it. They want to express feelings, want to be open, and they want to be positive. And there’s nothing wrong with that. If saying “I love you” makes two friends happy, then who the hell am I to step in and say, “Actually, that’s not love; you should say you are fond of each other.” I mean, I can be a prick sometimes, but I’m not that bad. And while I said above that I wished we would take advantage of the richness of the language – and I still wish that, all the time and in many contexts – I could never say to my wife, with a straight face, “I am besotted with you.” (Note: I tried. Didn’t work.)

I think it’s okay, though. Because context changes meaning. So what we need to be aware of is the context we are creating when we use the word “love.” When we want to use it differently, when you’ve just been saying, “Man, I love Buffalo wings!” and you have the sudden urge to tell your date, “I love you,” don’t do it one after the other. (Though do picture that, just for a minute. “Man, I love Buffalo wings! I love you, sweetie!” Don’t even give the guy a pause; picture him licking sauce off of his fingers the whole time he says this. Nice.) Change the context. Surround the declarations of romantic everything-love with a situation that expresses what you mean: and if you want to clearly show the difference between uses of the word, then make sure the contexts are different.

What I really want to say, I suppose, is that love is a perfect thing for me. I don’t want to rename it. I also don’t want to keep it from having a name, from saying it is indefinable and indescribable, because I don’t want to keep other people from it – I want other people to feel what I feel. I think it has made me a better person, and given me a better life, than I could possibly have had without it. My wife is my everything, and she has given me – everything. If other people could know what I mean, this would be a better, happier world. But while my love is unique, my experience is not, because I know there are other people who have an everything love as much as I do. They have understood everything I have said here. (I hope.) That common experience is what allows us to communicate at all; and here, it allows us to understand what I mean by the word “love.” But even for those who don’t know, who haven’t felt, what I know and feel, and thus don’t quite know what I mean by “love,” at least understand this: when you say it, make sure the other person understands just what you mean.

I would love that.

Winning and Losing and Fighting

I wrote this last night.

I just want to say that I have nothing to say.

My fiction has not had the appeal that I always hoped it would; I’m not sure if it’s more because my writing is boring and overly wordy, or because people have largely given up reading, or some combination of the two. But the point is that the ideas I come up with, which I think will get people to buy and read and talk about my books, don’t make any of those things happen.

I’ve also come to realize that, in almost all areas of life that I wish to write about, I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I understand teaching well, and to some extent I understand writing and literature, but even there, I realize that I have only one of many perspectives on what I do, and I don’t think I have any real proof that my opinions are correct. I have suspicions that the same urge we all have to confirm and conform and support one another is the real reason why people tell me I teach well and write well.

This means  that I think there  is little reason for me to share my ideas. Those ideas are probably wrong, after all, and not well-written enough to be worth contributing just for the sake of  the eloquent prose and powerful rhetoric. I mostly just babble online, and the books show it. My essays show it. My audience shows it. My continued — shall we be generous and call it a “lack of success” rather than an abject failure? — lack of success shows it. I don’t know that I’ve ever convinced anyone of anything. I suppose I’ve been entertaining, though not on any scale that makes it worth doing.

So since I don’t know facts, and I don’t write lyrical prose, why would I say anything at all? Any time I think about picking a position and going for it, I think that doing so for the sake of fulfilling my urge to write creates an atmosphere of contentious disagreement, and if it’s not a strongly held conviction, then it feels like disagreement for an audience. Back to entertainment, and doing nothing good for my country — which I do love, by the way. But that’s not interesting. I don’t do that because nothing’s going to change my audience’s mind, so nothing I say is going to have any impact on the world. Et voila.

I have felt the urge to write. I don’t do well with not writing. I wanted to write tonight, about an argument that would be worth having. I thought about writing about Trump, but what I’ve seen for the past two years has shown  me that people, whether they agree or disagree  with Trump, will bend over backwards to show how they will never, ever, EVER, change their loyalty, no matter how many reasons they find to do exactly that. On both sides, too: if I were to write an essay praising Trump for what he has done well — engaging with North Korea and Kim Jong Un, maintaining the strong economy, even things like renegotiating NAFTA and getting NATO members to pay their fair share of the defense spending for the alliance — I’d get lectured on what he’s done that’s terrible (Too long a list to include). If I focused on the Naughty list, I’d get these things put forward as reasons why he’s done all the right things, and a dozen other angry disagreements about why I’m wrong and an unAmerican libtard. I don’t know that anyone would consider the points I’d raise, not least because I don’t even know what the hell I’m talking about.

If I stay away from politics, which would be fine with me, then what do I write about? Teaching? Ugh; talk about beating a dead horse. I don’t think I’ll ever again have an interesting or informative story about teaching that I haven’t already told. So what, then? My dogs? They’re lovely, but I don’t know anything about them other than what I observe, all of which has already been observed by anyone with dogs.  Talking about my family is taboo, especially if I were to try to air the dirty laundry that would make those stories interesting. I could try to write fiction — I am trying, still — but then we come right back to that whole “Your writing sucks and is boring” theory I’m operating with.

Again: I’m not trying to garner sympathy or affirmations. I’m trying to explain why I haven’t been writing, so that other people who are feeling like they don’t have anything to say that’s worth hearing can understand how I got to feel this way. I don’t know if it started with the failures of my fiction career (which are not shocking, as fiction writing is a damn hard business to break into) or if it came with my recent understanding that I am often wrong in my political views, that many of them come from my party loyalty rather than my own rational thought, and that plenty of my ideas are based on prejudice rather than reason. (That also is not a knock against myself: that is a description of how 99.9999% of us act about our own political views, which are generally wrong if not simply irrational. Though this is my own opinion, and as such is highly suspect, as it is based on little or no evidence, like all of my political opinions.)

I’m not sure what my point is. I was trying to write something more in line with my absurd argumentative holiday, but I couldn’t settle on a topic, and then I couldn’t get it going; I suspected that it was because this idea, that I am not fit to write and that my opinions are not worth being written, has permeated my thoughts more and more lately. It is possible I’m being too hard on myself. If so, I’m not sure how to fix it. Maybe if I can share my honest feelings and thoughts — and that, too, is difficult, as my honest opinions and thoughts are exactly what got me into trouble some years ago — then it will help me move past them.

Though I don’t know if there’s anything worth saying on the other side of these doubts, either.

I really don’t know much of anything.

I posted it, and then twenty minutes later, I took it down. I decided people didn’t really need to see my despondency, and while I said in there that I was trying to be honest so people could understand how I felt and how I got to be that way, that wasn’t really my intent; I was sad, and I was frustrated, and I was trying to write something. Anything.

It had already had some effect, though, because I know there are people who get email alerts from this blog which contain the posts, so it went out to those people, at least, and some of them might have read it. And it had some effect on me: by the end of writing this, I was thoroughly depressed, and by the time I went to bed, I was worse. I woke up at 2am thinking about this post, and about my life and my writing; it took me two hours to get back to sleep, and now here I am, first thing in the morning, writing this, rather than doing my usual check of Twitter and Facebook while I eat breakfast.

Here’s the thing: this is not true. I am not a bad writer. I am not a failure. I am not a fool. It’s true that I’m not an expert in the things that I write about, but I am damn good at research, at critical thinking, at deciding what facts to include and what to discard, and how to show a logical path of reasoning to a conclusion. That means I can write a good essay, which is pretty much all I write on this blog, apart from the book reviews (which are also good, I think). There’s nothing wrong and a lot right with my attempts to speak to truth in writing. I don’t have to already know the incontrovertible truth before I do that. In fact, there’s a reason for me not to know everything when I start writing: part of my intent is, as I claimed to be doing here, to show my thought process; I can’t do that as well if the thoughts are already done and set. Besides, even when I really am struggling to find an answer, that still doesn’t mean I can’t write an essay, and a good essay: because the word “essay” comes from the French for “attempt.” That’s what it is, and that’s what I do, and I do it well. Most of the time, I know that. As much as I know anything.

So what happened last night, that left me oozing melancholy onto this blog (My poor blog: you’ve taken so much from me, with never a word of complaint. Thank you for that.), is simply that I set myself an impossible goal. I picked a battle that I could not win, because I didn’t think it through before I started fighting. (There’s a reason I’m using war metaphors, instead of, say, “I set out on a journey I couldn’t complete because I didn’t know the destination, or the path.” That would work too, and if that makes more sense for you to describe a creative endeavor, then think of that, instead.) I decided that I had to write something last night. Had to be done on November 5th. No other option. I decided it in the late evening, around 7:00 or so, and by 8:00, I had — no ideas at all. I did an eminently stupid thing, which was to look on Twitter for possible inspiration; I honestly can’t think of a less inspiring place for genuine thoughts — unless  it’s  Facebook, where I also looked for ideas.

Needless to say, it didn’t work. I started writing something political, but I’ve had a lot of trouble determining my political stance lately — or maybe it’s my perspective — and so I question every potentially political statement I try to make. Happened last night, and I swiftly gave up on writing about politics. (Though that’s why it has a prominent place in the deluge above. That and I do think writing has the potential to make change, and politics is the thing in our society that needs the most changing, I think. Actually, maybe I’m wrong. You know, I’ve never really written about prejudice or hate. Hmm.)

That’s when I gave up. Surrendered. Decided I had nothing to write last night, and therefore, I had failed. And thus, in a stubborn attempt to write something, I wrote about my failure. But I didn’t do it well, which is why I took it down, and why I’m writing this now.

I did fail last night. But only because I was impatient. I created an artificial deadline for myself, and then collapsed when I couldn’t meet it. I think now (this is what I thought about between 2am and 4am) that this tendency to make up imaginary deadlines is a common practice, and not only for creatives; I think a lot of us do it a lot of the time. I have to be married with kids by 30 or 35. I have to have my dream job by 25. I have to be a millionaire by 40, or retired by 55. We pick essentially random points in the future, and we center our sights on it — and charge.

And miss.

On some level there’s nothing wrong with artificial deadlines like this, because it does keep us moving. It keeps us from putting today off for tomorrow, especially when today is the deadline. That’s a good thing, because despite what my students say, there is actually nothing at all good about procrastination. It’s understandable, but it’s never good. My students say they work better under pressure, but honestly, the pressure always comes from within: either you make the thing a priority, or you don’t, and if you do, there’s pressure to do it, and if you don’t, there’s not. Invented deadlines can be a way to convince your underbrain, that lazy lizardy bastard, that this thing is a priority NOW. There are plenty of times when I’ve sat down to write, telling myself I needed to find something to write about — and I have found something, and I’ve written, and it’s been fine, and I’ve won. Most of Damnation Kane was written that way, to be frank, especially the first book. I decided it was going to be a serial, I decided it was going to have a chapter published every Saturday by noon, and so every Saturday morning, I sat down and wrote a chapter.

The problem is what I did wrong last night: sometimes you pick a bad deadline, or a bad goal, and then when you miss it, you feel like a failure. Last night I shouldn’t have been writing. It was Monday: Monday’s a bad day to write. I should have been listening to music and grading vocabulary sentences. It was my own fault that I felt like a failure, because I didn’t create a way for me to succeed. I lost the battle with myself, with my writing, because I didn’t think enough about my strategy, about my plan of attack or my objectives, and so I didn’t win.

Why am I talking about writing like it’s a war? Because today is Election Day. And just as we set imaginary deadlines for ourselves in creative endeavors, so we do in politics, as well.

We’re going to be hearing a lot today about how this is the moment, this is the chance, this is the make or break, do or die, last hope for everything we believe in. I heard on the radio yesterday that today’s election will determine if this is Trump’s America, or not. I had the same reaction to that that I’m currently having to my own bullshit (That was what I was trying to write about last night before I gave up on politics), which is: that’s fucking nonsense.

So let me be clear. Today is a battle. Last night was a battle for me. Neither last night for me, nor today for this country, is the end of the war. I didn’t write something useful last night; here I am, less than twelve hours later, writing something I am much more pleased with (Though it still may not be a victory. It probably never is, which is where the military metaphor fails. I used it to make the analogy to politics, is all.). If this election goes badly — and I mean that, in all sincerity, for people of any and all political positions, because this election, like all of our politics right now, is so supercharged and combative that any result is going to be heartbreaking for one side or the other, if not both — the most important thing in the world to realize and remember is: there is another election in two years. (We should also remember that politics is not all of life, but that’s a different subject.)

The truth is this: the struggle never ends. Never. We win small battles, we lose small battles — usually only when we surrender, especially when the battle’s with ourselves — but we always keep fighting. The victories that progressives have had in the last fifty years have built up the fighting spirit on the conservative side, and that gave us the current situation; that situation is now building up the fighting spirit on the progressive side. That’s maybe even the way it has to be. It’s almost physics: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and so the pendulum swings, and then swings back, and the farther it goes in one direction, the harder and faster the return swing is going to be. There’s nothing — nothing — that can happen that will end the swinging of the pendulum, other than the death of all humanity. (Which is a fair possibility, of course, and the one that should probably have the most urgency to it, because those deadlines aren’t so artificial.) If Trump was actually Hitler (He’s not) and he took over the country in a fascist dictatorship, then there would be a rebellion, there would be a war, there would be an overthrow. The struggle would continue, and eventually, it would move the other way. There would be untold suffering in the meantime, and I don’t mean to say the struggle doesn’t matter, therefore: what doesn’t matter is the deadlines.

In a creative endeavor like my writing, there is no end. I’ll never be such a great writer that I don’t feel the need to get better. I’ll never write a work so fantastic that I’ll never want to write something even more fantastic. I will at some point write something that I can’t beat, but I’ll always want to. I will want to keep writing until I die, whether I am successful or not, whether I achieve what I want to achieve when I want to achieve it, or not. The struggle — the journey — will always go on.

Last night I decided there was an end to the fight, at least in the immediate sense. And I picked the wrong end, and I failed. I am going to try not to make that mistake again; when it’s a bad night for writing, I just won’t write, even if I told myself that I would. My ambitions have to bend to reality, not the other way around.

Let’s all try to remember that today, okay? Today may be a chance to achieve what we want to achieve. And it may not be the right time yet. Maybe things have to get a little worse before they get better — whatever you think “worse” or “better” means for this country. But today is not the end. Tomorrow we will still have to fight, even if we win today.

Tomorrow I’ll still want to write. Today, I won.

Now I’m going to go vote, and hope. And stay ready.

This is hard.

I wanted to explain why I haven’t been blogging very often, and why I haven’t been talking about the effort to publish my book. Why I don’t  write about writing. As a writer, I should — shouldn’t I? If I’m a writer? And even now, while I am trying to find the words for this, I immediately want to start apologizing for it. I want to say that I know this is a cliché, that everyone who writes, and everyone who makes art, we all have this same problem: that things have been said before, and why would I think that my way of saying them would be any better? I want to say that I know this isn’t interesting to anyone, but I felt a need to write it, so I’m just going to go ahead and do it: unapologetically apologizing. I feel like I’m lost in a fog, and I keep bumping into things, into people; I’m clumsy, and blind, and — sorry. Sorry! Oh, that was your foot. Sorry about that.

I want to apologize a lot. I’ve done a lot of things wrong, as a writer: I’ve made a lot of clumsy mistakes, often fallen on my face. I want to apologize for my first book being too long, which kept it from being published; I want to apologize for giving up on seeking an agent to represent me, and I want to apologize for taking so long to get into self-publishing. I want to apologize for being a teacher, and for being good enough at it, and believing in it enough, to take time away from my writing; clearly I should have taken a shit job so I could focus entirely on accomplishing my dreams. I want to apologize for wasting my years being happily married and not having kids; because even though I never wanted kids, the best reason that I can give anyone who asks me why not is that I wanted to focus on my career; and after all this time, I haven’t done enough to earn justification for that decision. I’m sorry. (Still not sorry I didn’t have kids. Absolutely not sorry about my marriage.) I want to apologize every time I write on this blog, because my book reviews aren’t good enough, because I don’t socialize with other bloggers enough, don’t follow enough, don’t comment and Like enough. I want to apologize for my essay/rant/blogs because I’m sure I’m offending someone, either because what I say is offensive or because it isn’t offensive enough. I want to apologize for not having enough expertise to really teach a general audience something they didn’t know before, and therefore wasting their time with my mediocre insights and tired, angry humor. I want to apologize for not writing short stories and poems, for not getting published in literary journals, for constantly shifting my blogging style and my intent with this blog.

Basically, I want to apologize for being me, at least the me that I think I am, though I’m probably wrong, probably indulging in some ridiculous fantasy so as not to face the truth of my mediocrity. I’m sorry. All I can say is, this is hard.

I’m pretty well lost in the dark out here; I don’t know where I am, or the right way to go, or what’s at the end of the path — or even what’s the path. I think I know what it takes to be a writer, but it’s hard to remember what I think I know, and it’s hard to believe, still, in what I think is true, no matter how many times people, including people I respect and admire, say the same things: never give up. Write every day. Write what you know, and write what you want; don’t try to chase the latest trend or the hottest thing: just don’t give up. I want to hold onto those touchstones, follow that map laid out for me by those I would be honored to follow, whose footsteps I dream of walking in.

But see, those are great writers who say that. People who have found success, who have published books, who have sold books. Not me. They have an audience: people want to read what they have to say. They have interesting and useful thoughts, crafted from the perfect words. They know what they’re doing, they can see the way to go; they can see it all so well that they notice the tiny details, they see little moments of beauty, or oddness, or even horror. I can’t even see the ground under my feet, can’t even see my feet, when I start writing: what makes me think that my thoughts, my words, are the right words? And if they’re not the right words, what the hell am I doing? I could be getting ahead on my school paperwork, and I could be playing video games and binge watching all the shows I haven’t seen. I’d be more comfortable at my day job, and I could participate in the conversations about pop culture. I’d know where I was, and I’d know what I was doing. I’d know what was right.

But when I decide to write, I step away from that comfortable, familiar assurance, that life like an easy walk through a mall. Air conditioning, clear lighting, You Are Here maps. And I step into confusion. Every time I write, I have to wonder: What is the right thing to write?

Who is the right me to be?

Figuring that out is hard. Not that actual figuring: I think that’s pretty simple. I mean, I think I am a writer. But I don’t really know why I think it. Every reason I can think of to support the assertion that I’m a writer, I can instantly, with no trouble at all, think of a counterclaim to disprove it. I’m good with words: but I don’t do enough drafts, don’t spend enough time on the work. And . . .

Oops. Turns out I can’t even think of a second reason to call myself a writer. I can keep going with reasons why I’m not a writer: I haven’t had any success, never sold a story, never got accepted for anything, been blogging for ten years and never broke 100 followers. I have never written a way out of the darkness where I go when I try to find the words. Never reached the light.

It is very hard to keep thinking that I should in fact keep writing at all, let alone finish this blog, let alone keep writing books that I don’t believe anyone will want to read. I mean, really, what’s special about these words? I didn’t create anything new with them. I didn’t describe anything that’s never been described before; in fact, I don’t think I described anything. They’re just words, and they’re just from me. Who cares?

I’m sorry for wasting all of our time.

I’m trying to come up with a final epiphany, an affirmation that can sustain me, keep me writing, make people understand why I do this, and why every other creative should continue to do it, too. (But then the voice in my head says, I’m not that creative. My book concepts are entirely derivative: a vampire story? Really? You wrote a book about a pirate? TWO books? Oh, good Lord. Let me guess: your blogs are about you being an angry progressive who doesn’t understand why our country is so stupid, right?

Have you ever considered that maybe it isn’t the country that’s stupid?)

Sorry. It’s hard to keep that voice silent. Hard to think that all of that isn’t the simple truth.

It’s hard to think.

I also get afraid, sometimes. I don’t deal with depression, myself, but so many artists and writers do. Today is Virginia Woolf’s birthday, and she’d think everything I’ve ever written is absolute shit. She was one of the best writers who ever lived. She killed herself. So that means either that I can’t be a good writer because I don’t have the same problems that the good writers have and had; or if I ever get to be a successful writer, I’ll hate every second of it, and want to get back to where life was simple. I’ll want to walk away from writing, from the place I worked so hard to get into. I’ll get there, and I’ll want to run away.

Why the hell do I do this, again?

I’m sorry. I shouldn’t keep repeating myself. It’s a bad habit. I think I’m looking for something familiar. Safe. Known. Which writing is not. Really, I shouldn’t be writing at all: I have way too many bad habits, and I don’t spend enough time taking extra classes, and studying exactly what my favorite writers do,  and carefully scrutinizing every line of prose I’ve ever written to determine how it could be improved. That’s why I’m not a good writer, which is why I’m not a successful writer. Because writing is hard, and I’m too lazy, and too cowardly, to actually do it right. I’m also too old: all the great writers publish their first great books much younger than me. I’m 43: clearly time to get to work on finding some other hobby that would be better for me, that wouldn’t cause me as much consternation, that wouldn’t be so hard. I can’t keep doing this one. I can’t.

But I’m still writing. Doesn’t that show that I am, in fact, a writer? Maybe even a good one, because I don’t give up? Because I try to be honest? Share what I feel and what I see in the world?

Sure, if what I shared and felt wasn’t shit. But if it is, then people are just rolling their eyes and laughing at me. I mean, I guess I don’t care if people are laughing at me, but I also don’t see any reason to keep going if people aren’t appreciating and enjoying my work.

And yet I’m still writing. Still trying to find a way to finish this, to make a point. I think I may have written myself into a corner with this whole “I should stop doing this” thing. I think I already contradicted myself pretty badly, and I’ve probably confused the shit out of anyone who is reading this. I’m pretty lost, myself.

This is hard.

I don’t want to give up. I don’t want to need readers: I want to write for the sheer joy of writing. I feel that sometimes. I get excited about stories. There have been some moments when I’ve looked back over what I’ve written, and I’ve impressed myself. I want to feel that the thousands upon thousands of words that I have put together are an accomplishment, that they mean — I don’t know, something.

And in my best moments, I do think that. I do think that anyone who has written four books — Jesus, four books! And hundreds of blogs, book reviews, essays, along with two-thirds of two other books — I mean, that person has to be a writer. Right? I don’t know where the line is between writer and non-writer, but I’m pretty damned sure that nothing else I’ve done in my life compares to what I’ve accomplished as a writer. (Not counting the things that matter, but aren’t really accomplishments, like being happily married and taking good care of my pets and such. If those are accomplishments, I’m proud of myself for them. If those define me, I’m proud to be those things.)

Actually, that’s not an if. I am proud of the husband I am, of the marriage I have helped to build and keep. Toni and I have been together for 23 years, and she is still the one thing in the world that makes me happiest. She is my world. I have given a home to an iguana, a dog, and a bunny who have all passed on after long healthy happy years; I am currently taking care of a dog, a cockatiel, and a Sulcata tortoise who are also living happy, healthy lives. I am absolutely and unequivocally proud of that. I am happy to be defined as that man, that husband, that father of many pets. I have no doubt of that: knowing that is not hard. This is where I am comfortable, where I am — mostly — sure of myself, and of the ground on which I stand.

I wish writing was the same way. That art was the same way. Comfortable. Sure. Easy.

But the truth is, it isn’t. Art isn’t easy. Art is never sure. Art is never comfortable. We live on mostly solid ground, and we can see all around us; but art is off the edge of the map. It has to be, because it is created. It could be created out of familiar pieces, it may be shaped to resemble something that we’ve known, but — it’s not something we’ve known. It’s something new. To make something new, you have to go away from solid ground. Where everything floats, and nothing is clear. You can’t see where you are, can’t see where you’re going. That’s the only place you can make art: can make a new place to stand.

Art is too big, too impossible to define, too hard to understand. It’s larger than we are, you know; I mean, of course. Of course the English language, and every concept that can come from all the creative minds that have ever existed, of course that’s all larger than me. And when I compare myself to that, of course I am insignificant, a bug, a nothing. Nothing at all. Trying to find my way in that unending expanse, that eternally shifting and growing universe, that limitless world being created and re-created every day, by every artist? Of course that’s hard. It should be.

And I’m still writing. Goddamn it, I’m still writing. Not as well as some others do, maybe not even as well as I could, given the perfect circumstances: if I didn’t have to work, say, or if I had some perfect storm of idea, and passion, and time, and could burn through my own Fahrenheit 451, my own Bell Jar, my own God of Small Things. But given everything I carry with me when I go marching into this unknown, into this mysterious world where art exists, where I make art, where I am past the familiar, through the looking glass, where even the landmarks do not exist until I create them — I think I do as well as I can. I don’t know if it’s good enough. I don’t know what “good enough” means.

But I’m still writing. Maybe it’s even more impressive if it isn’t good enough, because if I can’t have enough talent to really be good, at least I can have enough courage to keep trying, to keep writing, to keep going out into that chaos of formless possibility, and deciding: choosing: determining: building; and then going back to where I was, to the real, solid, familiar world, and carrying with me the thing I made — which is never like the real world, and every time I compare it, I know that what I made is not as clear, not as solid, not as real as the real world. But still, I bring it back here with me, and I give what I write to other people, and I say, “Here, read this. Look at what I made. Tell me what you think.” That does take courage, to dive into the unknown, and try to build yourself a place to stand before you fall: and then to invite other people to stand there, too. That takes courage.

And I’m still doing it.

I’m still writing.

A Letter to My Readers

Okay so here’s the thing.

I’ve been having something of a crisis of confidence. Maybe not a crisis, actually, because it’s been going on for quite a while; I’m still not out of it, in fact. But I’m realizing that it is probably more important than I’ve been giving it credit for being, and it almost certainly has to do with this blog, and what has happened to the kinds of things I post on here. I think this is the reason why I’ve reduced myself to posting only book reviews (Not that there’s anything wrong with that), and why all of my intentions to post frequently have fallen by the wayside, so that now I’m lucky if I get one post a week on here.

What happened is that I found out that I’m not actually very good at arguing. I think quickly, but I think shallowly; I tend not to do much research, I don’t argue about things that I have spent years learning; I jump in with both feet and start slinging opinions around everywhere. Then I get angry, and I start insulting my opponents – sometimes subtly, sometimes not so much – and when they insult me back, then I get huffy and leave the argument on my high horse. Though frequently, I say I’m leaving the argument but then I don’t; I just take a little longer to think up my next response, or I let other people talk for a while and then I wade back in. Basically, I’m really, really annoying, and the main reason why I always thought I was good at arguing was because I surrounded myself with people who agreed with me, and who therefore complimented me on my ability to take down my opponents. I don’t think I actually took them down very often; I just needled them into shutting up, or else I made wittier fun of them than they made of me, and so my audience applauded.

I don’t like this, but it’s true. It may be a little too harsh; I have had many arguments, and some have gone well, and sometimes I do know what I’m talking about. But ever since I found this out, I’ve noticed how often I talk without thinking, how often I ignore the need for facts to support my arguments, relying on words and, y’know, “logic.” Meaning explaining my thoughts and expecting other people to agree with my thoughts, which is mostly what we mean by logic. I have noticed how often I get angry and then say something shitty. And so I’ve started deleting those nasty comments, and more importantly, I’ve started avoiding arguments. Which I think is a good thing.
Along with that, however, I’ve stopped thinking that I should be ranting about the state of the world, and then sharing those rants with the world. I no longer see myself as a natural authority on truth, justice, and the American way, because my reason for thinking that was mostly that I could win arguments, which I thought made me right. It doesn’t. And if I’m not right, what exactly am I bringing to the table when I post about politics or the state of the world?

Not much, as it turns out. I don’t have a whole lot to offer society as a whole. So I’ve stopped wanting to offer it.

But there’s good news. I still think I write well. I think I have good stories that I’ve written, that I am writing. I think I do a decent book review, though there are certainly others who do more thorough assessments of their books, and who give more useful information; but I think mine are okay, so I’ve kept writing them. But that isn’t the exciting part. The exciting part is that I have kept writing fiction, and other than the fact that I have to spend much too much of my time working and also living my life, I have been writing fiction the whole time I have been pulling away from blogging and ranting and arguing. Which, yeah, that’s good news. Because I write well.

And then this last week sometime – the days all blend together, it seems – I had another realization. While I’m going through this fiction-writing adventure: why the hell am I not blogging about it? I mean, sure, it’s a change from what I’ve done in the past, but if that stuff was not very good, maybe this is a good change. Maybe I should stop ranting for a while, and instead keep this blog as, y’know, a blog, a weblog, an online journal detailing what I’m living through right now.

So to that end, I plan to start keeping a record, as often as I can manage, about this new thing I’m doing. I may still rant sometimes (I certainly will have some ranting to do about school and the world of education, I have no doubt) and I’ll keep up with the book reviews as much as I can; but otherwise, this will be the subject of this blog. Rather than trying to be Just Dusty, I’m going to make this – just Dusty.

Oh right. So what am I going through, you ask? Those of you who are still reading this, that is? Both of you?

I’m publishing my book.

I did this before, but I did it in such a terrible way that I don’t even count it. I wrote a book, completed it in 2006, and then when it wasn’t picked up by an agency or a publishing house after fifteen or twenty query letters (I think; I don’t even remember at this point how often I sent it out, though I do remember buying at least three Writer’s Markets to look for leads), I decided to self-publish it as an ebook. I joined Amazon.com’s Kindle publishing program, followed their instructions, and uploaded my book to the Kindle Store. I made an author profile, and – that’s about it. I didn’t really edit the book — still had more than a dozen simple typos, and I don’t know how many clunky passages, because I didn’t go through and smooth them out. It didn’t have a cover; I found a pattern image on my cheap-ass graphics program, slapped the title and my name on the front, and called it good. Here, this is it:

 

The Dreamer Wakes (The Dreamer's Tale Book 1) by [Humphrey, Theoden]

Yeesh.

My plan was actually to include a plug for my book in all of my Amazon reviews, because at the time, I had something like 100 book reviews on the site which had garnered some thousands of positive votes; seemed like a good opportunity to say, at the end of my long and detailed reviews, “Hey, maybe you should go check out my book, too.” But when I added a line at the end of my reviews, Amazon pulled them from the site. Because you can’t advertise for a book in the reviews of a different book. And of course I get that – but also, why the hell not? The whole page is designed to get customers to look at other books, other books by the author, other books that people bought after looking at this book, other books that Amazon thinks are related to the one you’re checking out. My review plug clearly wasn’t Amazon’s choice for readers, only mine, so I didn’t see why they got pissy about it. Anyway, I pulled the plugs out of the reviews, and then I did nothing at all to promote the book. It’s still there, still for sale, but in the two years – three years? – that I’ve had this particular blog, I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned it before.

Turns out I’m not only bad at arguing, I’m also bad at advertising.

But it’s okay! I’m really not trying to denigrate myself. It’s still a good book. (Though the larger problem now is that it is actually the first book in an intended trilogy or tetralogy, and I’ve never written the other books. Which is vile and wrong of me, and considering how much crap I’ve talked about George R. R. Martin for never finishing the Song of Ice and Fire series of books before he turned into a TV mogul, it’s really pretty appalling that my only work available for sale is an unfinished series.) It’s just not the story I’ve been writing.

The story I’ve been writing, which I have brought back for its second go-round as a serial blog, is The Adventures of Damnation Kane. It’s the story of an Irish pirate from the 17th century who finds himself, with his ship and his crew, in 2011. I started this story in 2013, kept it as a serial blog for about a year, and then stopped. But I love this story, and I want to finish it all the way to the end; and this time, while I’m writing it, I also want to publish it. This time, I have a real plan. This time, I’m going to do it right.

And that includes trying to talk up the book wherever and whenever I can. I want people to be as excited about the book as I am.

Which means that I should be talking about it – here. Among other places, of course, but certainly, at the least, in this space, which is supposed to be a collection of my thoughts, of the things I believe are important. If I don’t put my own book into this space, what the heck am I doing? If my own work isn’t important to me, then what is?

So here’s the deal, you two people who stuck it out through all this navel-gazing: The Adventures of Damnation Kane are currently available, from the beginning, on my other blog. But only until I get the book published, and then the chapters will come down; I will keep up a couple of the first chapters so a new reader could get an idea of what it’s all about; and I will keep posting new chapters every Saturday as I’ve been doing for ten months, now. The first volume of the Adventures will be available in trade paperback form, and also as a series of four short ebooks; my readers on this blog who review books, I will be asking you all to write me a review, if you would be so kind. And in the meantime, while I am working on getting these books out into the world, I will be writing about the process and the experience of writing and publishing books.

I hope and believe that this time, I’m on the right path. Thanks for coming along with me this far.

Yours,

Dusty Humphrey

Truth

It seems to me there are three ways to come at this essay about the different kinds of truth. The first and most obvious – to me, at least – is to quote the diabolical Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons, who, when on the witness stand and told that the court wants the truth, scoffs, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth! No truth-handler you! Bah, I deride your truth-handling abilities!”

The second (and only slightly less amusing) is to make reference to the classic Dwight Schrute meme where Dwight points out the problem with a statement – here, if I may indulge in a visual, is one of my favorites:

Image result for dwight schrute false meme

But I believe I will select the introductory quote about truth that is nearest to my own heart: Dan Rather, the former anchor for the CBS Evening News, said, “The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth.’”

I would like to poke you with a sharp stick called ‘Truth.’

This would seem, at first, a fruitless enterprise. After all, truth is truth; how can there be kinds of truth? But in fact there are, simply because we are flawed creatures, we humans; we cannot know everything, and so we cannot know absolutes: there may be circumstances and conditions under which anything we think to be true may in fact not be. Therefore there are at least two levels of truth: truth we can know, and truth we cannot because it is absolute and thus requires omniscience. Or more simply, truth we can know and truth we cannot know, but which is nonetheless truth. The key here is to accept that knowing truth changes its truth-value, which is the concept I hope to prove in this essay; the upper limit is truth which requires omniscience to know, but there are degrees leading up to that limit, and recognizable categories, which I will attempt to explicate.

By the way: because I wrote out that Sideshow Bob quote, now my word processor wants to autocomplete “truth” into “truth-hand” every time I write it. This is both wonderful and annoying.

Like truth.

Let us begin with a basic understanding of truth. Truth is perhaps best defined through defining its opposite, falsehood; I would argue that there are essentially two kinds of falsehood, which are one, untruths, and two, lies. Untruths are things – ideas, statements, assumptions – that are not truth because when one attempts to verify them objectively, one finds reality does not match the untruth. If I were to believe it is raining outside because I am in a room with no windows, I can look out through the door and discover whether my belief is true, or untrue: if it is raining then the belief is true, and if it is not raining, then the belief is untrue. This is the first point in arguing that knowing truth changes the truth-value: because the belief that “It is raining outside” is objectively true somewhere, presumably at every possible instant that one could believe it – especially if one broadens the concept of “rain” to include liquid precipitation on other planets and celestial bodies. So sure, it is always raining SOMEWHERE – but unless it is raining where I personally can verify it through my senses, then it doesn’t really matter to the truth-value of my belief; if I were to step outside into a sunny afternoon and say “It’s raining,” someone’s response would likely be

Image result for dwight schrute false

The second kind of falsehood is a lie: this is when the truth, objectively verifiable through the senses, is known, and an idea is put forward that is known to be counter to that truth. This is when I am in a room with windows, looking out at the sun, and I say, “It is raining.” The advantage for our purpose here is that it doesn’t matter which kind of falsehood it is, the truth is always the same: objectively verifiable through the senses.

But there is a difficulty there. Because there are truths that we have discovered, truths that we know, that are not verifiable through the senses, that are not objective. A strict prescriptivist of truth would argue that these truths are therefore not true, because only objectively verifiable facts can be true. To those people I say: talk to Heisenberg. (And this is funny, because it’s mostly science-y people who would say that, and Heisenberg is about as science-y as you can get. Take that, science!) The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle tells us that when a particle has two complementary properties, such as position and momentum, we cannot know both properties at the same time. If we know precisely where the particle is at a given moment, then we have frozen that particle in time, which means at that instant, to us, it has no momentum: picture it as a snapshot of the particle, showing us where it is, but in that snapshot, it is not moving. Alternatively, we could know the particle’s momentum, its velocity and direction; but we can only measure that by tracking its movement – which means that, over the time period when we re tracking its movement, we cannot say precisely where it was: only give a range, somewhere between Point A and Point B.

The real point is, that particle has both momentum and position, and both of those properties have objective truth, both are definite, verifiable facts – but we can only know one at a time. Knowing one makes it impossible to know the other, but it doesn’t change its truthiness.

Therefore we must add a word to our definition of truth: truth is an idea that is potentially objectively verifiable through the senses. If we had world enough and time, we could verify it; therefore it is true. But I hope we can all see that a truth that is objectively verifiable through the senses has more impact, more weight – more gravity, let us say – than a truth that is only potentially verifiable. If I suspect that the rain falling outside my room is in fact acidic, but I don’t have the instruments to test, then I may want to respond as if it were acidic, and act to protect my plants, let us say; but in the process I will undeniably encounter the verifiable truth of the rain itself: I will get wet. I am more likely to respond to the fact of wetness than to the theory of acid; that truth, then, has more weight, more potential to change my thoughts and actions. That truth has more gravity.

As I was saying, then, the lowest level of truth is one that is only potentially verifiable, but cannot be objectively verified. In fact there is one level of truth lower than that, based on knowledge – or rather, on ignorance; because if knowing a fact gives it more weight, then not knowing gives less. So the lowest kind of truth is truth we don’t know. It’s true, but for us, it is meaningless; because of our ignorance, this is equivalent to the absolute truths we can’t know. In either case, we can’t act on it, or change our thought process or paradigm because of it; it has no impact on us. For us, it might as well not be true, and so it has only the barest sliver of truth. That bottom level is the fact of rain outside a room with no windows and no doors. Or whether or not the worm currently crawling through the earth beneath me is depressed. I don’t know, and so cannot act on it. That’s the lowest kind of truth—and I apologize for using an underground worm’s depression as an example; I really didn’t think about the pun there.

As for truth that could be verifiable but can’t be objectively verified, let’s use as an example the infinite nature of the universe. Is the universe infinite? No idea. We’ll never know. In theory one could find a mathematical proof of it, if we could find the existence of the multiverse and the mechanism whereby new universes are created, but we can’t ever know it for sure. The only thing this kind of truth can do for us is give us a headache: it feels like we could know, but we can’t actually know. This kind of truth is a tease. At best a Zen koan.

Just above that level is an idea that I think is true, but I don’t know why I think it’s true. This kind of truth has the potential of being objectively verifiable, but I as the knower don’t know how to do that, and therefore could never verify it. This is where most racist ideas live. Why do racists think white skin is better than brown skin? They don’t know, but they think it’s true. There are quite a number of outright lies at this level, because people might be able to figure out how to verify their beliefs, but they don’t want to, because the truth will likely be the opposite of what they believe it is. That, in my opinion, is a lie: when I say it’s raining outside, but I refuse to open the door and look because I think it is probably sunny – but I won’t admit that.

The next level up is something that I am sure is true, and that I have evidence for, but which is not clearly objectively verifiable based on my evidence. This is where superstitions are found: Michael Jordan believed that his lucky shorts were one of the reasons for his success, and he wore them for every game he played. He won six NBA championships and three MVP awards wearing those shorts; so there is some evidence that the shorts were lucky. Just not verifiable evidence, because “luck” can’t be tested for – but just like (Okay, not just like) the uncertainty principle, if we were to create a laboratory experiment to confirm that the shorts were not lucky, the element of luck in the form of blind chance or influences on the experiment that we could not control would ruin the results: if we had Michael Jordan play half the time with his lucky shorts and half the time with “control shorts” (Which makes him sound like he has bladder control issues, which is just sad), that doesn’t mean we can make his teammates play the same in both games, or his opponents play the same, or even control all the other factors that go into Michael Jordan playing well or poorly. We can’t prove the shorts are or are not lucky, but there’s objective evidence in the form of success that says they are. And that’s why luck still exists as a concept, and why Jordan wore the same pair of shorts every game for almost fifteen years.

Oh – he did wash them, by the way. After every game.

The next level is one I don’t want to include, but I have to because of the parameters I have set forth. If someone knowing a thing makes it more true than something that nobody knows, then if a lot of people know a thing, it has to be more true than if only one person knows it. Because a known fact has more weight, more gravity, and that is an element of the fact’s truth-value. So the next level up is a thing that is known, with evidence but without objective verification (but still potentially objectively verifiable – have I broken your brains yet?), by a lot of people. I hate this because I don’t want to say that the popularity of an idea has any bearing on its truth, but in fact, if we want to include a truth’s potential to change someone’s mind or behavior – and I do, because otherwise there is no point to speaking about truth at all – then I have to make this a separate and higher level, because something that a lot of people believe to be true has a much greater chance of changing their behavior. This is something like this statement: Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server makes her a poorer candidate for president (Meaning she would have been a worse president than someone otherwise identical but who didn’t use a private email server; the statement that the private email server made her less likely to win is objectively verifiable truth, because: well, look.). A lot of people believed that Clinton’s private email server made her less trustworthy, and therefore a bad candidate for the Presidency. And because a lot of people believed it, with evidence (Because that’s an untrustworthy act) but not objectively verified (Because she never became president and so we can’t see how untrustworthy she would have been in the Oval Office), it had more weight: it had more impact. It changed enough votes that it, along with other factors, changed the outcome of the election. That truth had more value, more gravity, because more people thought it was true.

Are we having fun yet?

The next level is something that is true not because it is objectively verified but because it cannot be disproven. This is sort of an offshoot from the last level, because there isn’t objective verification, but there is somewhat more weight to these ideas because there is an argument to be made for them, that nobody can disprove the idea, that makes it more likely that people will accept it as truth, which increases the truth-value or gravity of the idea. (Don’t worry: we’re almost at the top. Almost at simple truth. But not quite.) This is the level where God lives. The existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, non-material personal deity is impossible to disprove: there is no observation I can make that would prove that God doesn’t exist. According to science, this makes the god-hypothesis false, because it is unfalsifiable; but I’m not talking about science, I’m talking about impact on humans through the intersection of objective reality and knowledge. There are quite a few people who know God’s existence is real, and since God cannot be disproven, that gives the idea more weight than Michael Jordan’s lucky shorts. (You have to be an atheist to make that statement with a straight face. Okay, I was smiling a little when I wrote it.) It moves the truth of religion to a higher level, how’s that? Not objectively proven, but not objectively disproven, either.

But now, at last, after ignorance and belief and faith and falsifiability and religion and – Lord help us – even sports, we come to the simplest level, and nearly the top. This is where we find: the truth. Simple truth. Facts, with known evidence, which are objectively verifiable: I can look out my door and see that it is or is not raining, and I can actually test it to make sure that it is rain. I can step outside, and I will get wet. Truth. Simple truth.

Of course, even this level isn’t that simple, because the evidence of our senses is, sadly, not necessarily reflective of objective reality; all my senses could verify that it is in fact raining, but I could be mad, or in the Matrix. But that moves us over into the question of absolute truth, and since I can’t know absolute truth, it doesn’t matter to me: absolute truth is actually down at that bottom level, truth I don’t know. (There’s no way out of Descartes’ labyrinth here, by the way. In the Matrix, it is possible to know that the Matrix is not real – but then, the second movie shows us that there is another level of truth, that Neo is the sixth version of the One, and the other characters did not know that truth; and then past that there is another level – because the character Neo, like the character of the Architect who makes him, who made the Matrix, don’t know that they’re actually in a fictional movie. The only truth we can ever know is what our senses tell us. Period. Cogito ergo sum.) We take our reality as just that, as reality, and that is all we know, and all we need to know. That is truth.

One level left: that is the important truth. The weighty truth, the truth that is both objectively verified and also able to change thoughts and actions of humans; the kind of truth that makes a paradigm shift, that combines both science and popularity, and therefore moves mountains and changes continents. Proven facts that also have gravity. This is, for example, the truth that every living thing dies.

The truth that love conquers all.

The truth that money makes the world go ’round.

The truth that man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.

The truth that art is humanity’s highest calling.

The truth that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The truth that evolution through natural selection is sufficient to explain all complexity in the biosphere.

The truth that we’ll never know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

My last truth is this: we can handle the truth. We can. We do.

Just not enough.