Plenty of twists and turns are now behind me in the space between the beginning and right here. I’ve reached that milestone, and I think by now it goes without saying.
Our lives aren’t as captivating or provocative as we like to think they are. Not to brush this off by saying we’re ultimately human. Instead, I think the finality of our lives’ content pulls the veil back from a central and sobering reality: We just kind of exist and do things. We fill empty things with what we like, and a lot of people do this so many times over that nothing is truly it’s own distinct substance positioned on any winning side beyond our own invention.
I think when we try to make sense of life, we’re bound to distinguish between experiences accounting for circumstance (cause and effect) and setting. I use “distinguish” in a very precise way; to underscore contrasting elements of substance that certainly went through the wringer, but impact differently depending on who encounters them. Doing this normally leads us to conclude that the individual experience is as close to relative certainty as we can get. And that seems to always be the goal. To continually overcome uncertainty, being necessary to secure some inner peace. Contentment.
Considering life this way, I’m more inclined to accept how little I’ve done up to this point. I’m more at peace with the conclusion of that period and where it left me. At least my shortcomings existed in a sort of vacuum. But while things in the end are meaningless, this doesn’t mean it’s pointless to look for reason in the madness, or to create it. The absence of meaning is probably a reason to create your own.
So, you’ve acknowledged that coherence will never be given to you on a silver platter, and ventured to derive some from your own experience. Here lies the catch. Personal experience isn’t always pleasant, especially when it’s of the existential sort measured in birthdays, changing shape every five to fifteen years.
There aren’t any answers toward the end to expect. Only angry moments of disappointment and frenzy in real time. Bills. Rent. Why you can’t think straight. Your health problems. There is no time whatsoever to pause and investigate. None of these moments work well with each other, they don’t form a larger whole, and no discernible truth has come from the experiments so far. The cycle eats itself. At the end, you’re really just gravitated to live out the hypotheses without method. That I’m told, is a very liberating point in your life. Where uncertainty becomes the exhale of your whole life, and your desires outlast everything (as far as you know.)
To me, this is the sum of existence. Or at least one way of imagining it.
But I’m not at that point of relief, and I can’t just keep reminding myself that I’ll get there someday. You don’t get a break from hunger by the idea of tomorrow’s lunch. So how do you face the reality that 240 months of your millisecond flash in eternity has gone by? Not disappointed by what you have or haven’t done, but unnerved by the simple fact of time passing and what that could mean for future experiences?
Getting off the brief adventure that was my teenage years feels like the last stop on one or two of a series of travels. A final chance for something significant. An urgent and narrow opportunity to grab something before it expires on me. I’ve talked to so many people who recall chaotic teenage years right the middle of a great social hysteria, while my own are spent at home, all year every year. Alone in small towns, isolated and bland. Mortified of the uncertain. It feels like making up for that in my twenties will bend the fence of my character compared to those I’ll associate with going forward. Should I be ashamed of this, or embrace it?
For whatever reason, I think of Trainspotting (1996) Who am I most similar to: Renton, or Spud? How might I reconstruct this point in life?
Resolving this intimate gloom is different for each individual. It depends on the trades you find yourself invested in, the people you bite your lip for, or the words you write that nobody else reads. For some, this is the end for one set of adventures, probably one where nothing was restricted. For me, it’s a curious glance at what I’m willing to go through for a few tranquil moments before my 30s going on 40s, and where to seek refuge afterward.
None of this is to advocate an obvious point of deterioration. We all rot into oblivion at different rates, but every person has a point in time where they shine brightest. I think it’s worth talking about it, always curious if we’re living it now while admiring the brevity of everything we can ever hope to know. Roughly ten years of elapsed time is good enough for me to reflect on, to chart where things are going; if only for the hell of it.
When you carve a statement into prose about yourself, it’s hard to fool anyone. At least, anyone who matters. You can lie and have everyone know it, but you’re always honest to yourself in the moments between thinking and speaking. You’re the only one who has to bare that emotional labor. You might even take comfort in coming back down to earth. One way or another, truth that only comes from the person living the life in question slips through, heard or not.
I endured new ruminations on what is “ultimate” or “final” in the course of all this. Although I’m not drawing up a final testament before my death, I value the graceful closure of one stage of my life and what I see in it looking back. Maybe I’m just afraid of important moments slipping away, even if I know better ones are bound to come along later. Maybe I genuinely like getting lost in memory, telling myself points A, M and V were the best three out of the others. All neatly sorted with the knowledge that I’ll never have these a second time.
I might have an opportunity to hold my present and future selves accountable to one another, while using past excursions and blunders to hold it all together in the hope of doing better. Though I never want one point in my life to hold every proceeding experience to, there is no safety net of contentment better than leaving a trail for the future self back to a trusted place if things go bad.
After scrawling a few different prefaces, I’m giving myself at least one week of time to collect these scraps of thought and synthesize them into streamline prose; giving the illusion of a consistent and clear thought process behind this article’s production.
I’ll just go through some highlights.
Who is right, who can tell and who gives a damn right now?
Until’ the spirit, new sensation takes hold, then you know
I don’t consider thirteen to have been a fruitful first year of my “teens.” While it was probably the peak of my desire to sort and document things, it didn’t resemble much of the road I still travel, nor is it fully relevant for it.
That said, I like to pay it tribute it for a weird scholarly phase when I learned the basic definition of philosophy. The first name I steeped myself in was Kierkegaard. Either/Or specifically, from Books-A-Million with the money I saved up that summer. At the time, I couldn’t hope to really grasp the concepts of Christian existentialism or Angest and interact with them significantly. But I did gain an impression of the fragility of the charted world’s framework, and it’s poor foundation in the surface level of our minds. Søren’s melancholic charm was also something of a treat for my young feelings toward men.
I’d give it two more years before getting somewhere familiar. I had a number of these impressions stored up with a bit of constructive interaction going on between them. It was just enough to give me a sense of real perspective, first emerging in the social and interpersonal spectrum of issues. I picked these up somewhere between Marx, Kropotkin, Tolstoy and Thoreau. It was exciting that these things had more to do with why things were happening now and how the past informs the present, rather than asking questions about “god” and eternity. The shift from existential and speculative, to immediate and foresighted. A slow, personal divorce from sanctity and a gravitation to realistic projects. This played out at different times: Commending Aaron Swartz and his legacy in online organizing, Internet legislation and the “modern web.” Supporting Edward Snowden’s revelations of global NSA surveillance. Advocating for free culture. My energy had more in common with the present than the present forcing itself on me.
It’s interesting when I think about how my social/political energy redirected over three years. I used to have all my passion stored into Internet freedom: The idea that the Internet is the one thing that people should control and be responsible for, not authorities of any kind, state or private. I think that was a good starting point for my overall philosophy, which meant that it would have to grow out of whatever box it started in. It would eventually find itself side-by-side with ideas that critique capitalism, stratification, expectations of conformity and power imbalance on a variety of axes.
At eighteen, this was changing form through the course of politics that year. Shortly after I stopped taking Bernie Sanders and the election seriously, I was changing political labels and buying different leftist and anarchist literature every three months. Internet freedom was soon meshed with a more general perspective of social change.
Now, just replace the Internet and people’s electronic possessions with every part of life. Whether it’s the joys and spoils of material excess, or the most basic necessities of survival, we have to own all of this and interact with it indivisibly, freely and equally, and establish clear habits to make this arrangement the most agreeable reality. It’s not up to any master to enforce their will upon us at the expense of what we love. At least, it isn’t desirable; yet the conversation gets caught up in whether that thing is or isn’t what someone claims it is. As far as I’ve unearthed, people who advocate against this are in an abusive relationship with something not out of the question to be overcome someday by future generations. Generations of people who had to put their lives on hold for the failures of those before them.
Every logic to the contrary offers nothing. Not a better idea, not a more lasting method. It only wants to pull us back into the tired old misery. It tells us the same thing we oppose in a different way. We have to discard things like this and keep answering to ourselves against all odds. Seeing how right and wrong, whether on a scale of “morality”, “practicality” or “efficiency”, is totally fabricated for the benefit of a variety of elites with only their accumulation of power and wealth in mind, it proved to me that life is kind of awful most of the time. After a while, some questions go unanswered for so long that people can’t hold any self-respect ignoring them anymore. They’re compelled to prove that they’re better than that. To do what feels obvious.
So ends my noteworthy evolution in that regard. The most recent development is probably my gravitation toward an anarchism without adjectives, spelled out nicely by Aragorn! and Voline. One that disregards excessively prefiguring a hypothetical future world. Instead, it favors proactive engagement with the present and associations of individuals living out their desires. It values anarchist projects equally for whatever reasons those involved decide on, and whatever methods are necessary for their common interest. But this has more to do with widening or obscuring boundaries than moving beyond something. A pattern I found myself falling in and out with.
Maybe the emotional sphere of my teens hasn’t been as constructive as I’d like in that sense. There is nil to gain from widening those particular boundaries, reducing oneself to one or two jaded emotional gears after seeing too much of everything. As much as the individual’s contrast with life itself is admirable, it’s often painful. My early to mid teens comprised a web of introverted strains that I’m still working to untangle.
Leaving school in my early adolescence was rough. Although I was being spared a long and grueling few years of bullying, I had little in the way of validating my deepest thoughts and feelings. My refuge was in the imaginative assortment of reality that different writers strung together, telling myself “maybe.” I used those as indicators toward the likelihood of a better day, but I didn’t consider that a better day isn’t synonymous with any kind of redemption.
New relationships built on honesty and intimacy conflict with my adjustment to solitude. If I’m not ungrateful, I’m easily weary of the emotional warmth that I need at different points, only to be overwhelmed by them after a few days of their use. While I need the embrace of my partner, the voices of my friends, and my ever-changing interests, I don’t need them to become the same centerpieces of my conscience as melancholy was. Retreating back to scenes from my old neighborhoods at early morning hours, outraged at the vast emptiness of every day, is one way of reminding myself how stagnant, if not worse, things could be.
“Intense” is one of a few words I think succinctly describe having senses and emotions. Intensity makes or breaks. I fully understand the desire to cease interacting with this reality. But I think there are ways we can get by, if only to numb the pain with vague reassurance. For instance, the belief that being hopeful is reasonable is also incredibly difficult. This difficulty is then artfully expressed through a culture, defiantly mad against the absurdity of it all, understanding that doing so is the means toward accumulating reason to illuminate hope. There is self-evident action in these ideals, and questions only answerable by the one asking them.
What I was hopeful for and what I’m presently hopeful for are steps in the unique process of myself, doomed to cycle back to each other without connecting or forming a stable whole. The chaotic pattern I’ve become accustomed to. I fully recognize the anguish on almost stereotypical levels of romantic sentiment, but I don’t see why anyone should exhaust their energy to cover up the simple fact of life being overwhelming and strange.
And in those moments as if we’re seated comfortably on a hill watching the vibrant blaze of social life in all the cities and towns on earth, we look for a few simple words to decorate the obvious. But why spoil those moments? I’d rather say what I would if given the full opportunity to elaborate on a few scenes from these last ten years. To attach my own reason to a couple glimpses back that meant something to me.
It’s time to go ’round
A one man showdown
Teach us how to fail
For the foreseeable journey, all of my genuinely creative energy is invested in this medium, which specifically entails the pattern of tone one would expect from an author’s usual spiel. I feel like I should consciously tend to that or let the tyranny of legacy set the standard for me. The common themes that fall into place are the first things people read on an author’s wikipedia page; their appraisals, and the verdict of public opinion. It’s the checklist of things likely to be twisted or exaggerated about me. That’s a crucial point of communication left out of my control, if I allow it.
I consider much of this to be necessarily detached from the intimate experiences and influences of the author. The basis of criticism is pointing out and stressing the divide between one perspective and another, always highlighting impression instead of deeper intention, which can only be assumed. This isn’t to say all criticism is faulty because it lacks that insight, but it could probably do well for itself to acknowledge this. Adapt, maybe.
How to actually steer a medium is hard to visualize. I guess it depends on what I’m interested in burning energy over. This particular set of paragraphs and epigraphs isn’t guaranteed to stick the landing and I don’t care. Getting to the destination I set out on is my prime concern. Getting there gracefully is always someone else’s concern. Looking at what I want out of all this, the sacrifices I haven’t made and won’t make, I should preface any attention I get with a disclaimer of impulse: I write the bare minimum notes and do the least possible outlining before steeping in the intricacies of what I want to relay. Only after I judged it in my best creative interest do I go back to overly producing a frame for my prose.
Unless my active project isn’t sorting my personal thoughts, I don’t feel the urge to be scientific about this. I consider it a “moral” duty to transgress as much of the bourgeois how to be a successful writer culture as possible. If I must brave this swirling concrete void, soaking up our decomposing dreams in the humidity, I only ask that my words are laminated before being swallowed by the ocean.
So I prefer to separate that noise from “writing.” I think “medium” is akin to a vessel that makes ideas more engaging and open to scrutiny, while “writing” refers to free acts in the form of text: A few pages of monologue. Two verses scrawled on a napkin. Graffiti lamenting industrial society. With or without attribution, every act of writing is a willful blow to an imposed social fabric (sometimes woven by highly formal mediums), with every pause giving time for new parts to be developed and applied.
Does it follow that mediums lack the spontaneous energy of writing? Probably not, if you build one out of what inspirations come naturally and immediately. Fixing the same revised narratives to a publishing or marketing scheme is just another thing to be avoided when pursuing impression while making a clear case for intention. Most of us are aware of Medium.com publications (especially with the expanded partner program) that invest excessive creative effort in aesthetic, leavened with trademark micromanaging analysis on culture that hardly makes a case for anything beside completing the look.
The question is not if mediums make us less sincere, or if writing has to take on an insurrectionist vibe for us to have it at its most raw. The question is how the author relates the sum of their work to an overarching profile or aesthetic, and how to change it to fit, if at all. We should ask if we’re actually reading someone’s words, or just admiring the medium.
I prefer to make the medium’s aesthetic from what one might contrast it with, simply because it wouldn’t feel like my own craftsmanship otherwise.
Whatever helps you get by.
I guess I should incorporate the setting I work and live in. There are separate ventures from my personal medium based on such willful acts of writing. Local newspapers and the handful of college zines. While their range is limited, I think that’s exactly what a consciously written medium deserves. A small and manageable project, if only for a short time. At least it could be an opportunity to critique workshops, prepare notes on how to collaborate better and open to participants.
Probably half of writing is just listening to yourself talk or think. Getting familiar with how you think and what habits to exploit. Highlighting a few keywords when brainstorming, slowly building an idea for something. But this process enters new and difficult realms when it’s time to translate to a structure. Align the scattered thoughts into something you can read back to the point of origin. There’s always disappointment in what you read, which is the function of ourselves being our worst critics. This is where it becomes a tightrope.
One might lack a coherent stream of thought. It might be the wrong weather. One’s access to helpful substances might be broken. This is where we get irritable and it becomes paramount to find the right order of words, if only to be rid of the stress.
There have been grueling nights at the looming hours of my own deadline where I’m sitting over my fourth cup of coffee at 3 am working on another draft, hating every word I put into it, nauseated over every paragraph. Why do I do this!? Persisting is the only thing that feels right, making little investment in mental breathing room. I am the pawn of my medium, but only because the landscape uncovered by continually reshaping my writing is one of the most enticing and urgent self-realizations I ever experienced.
Dadda and surrealism were probably manifestations of surrendering to this impossibility, handing control over to anguish. Not expression as science or pulpit, but as a scream or plea.
Bukowski gave his own advice, now beat to death by creative writing students.
if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
I think the safest and most appropriate bet is to work on something according to how much you want out of it. Blogging removed the publishing mechanics of a book from the author’s concern, so people now have a much wider range of options than what he had. A more potent sense of constructive rage is probably to blame, common with “not getting published” during his time, which is now “not getting read.” Still, the basic idea remains.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
I don’t plan to formally publish a book: I’m going to stitch things together as I see fit and throw it at people’s heads for free whenever I can. That said, I’m not opposed to tip jars. Consistent sources of income aren’t as immediate and manipulable as writing, so I think both will be happening simultaneously. Some writers think we should survive on this, but at what cost can this be promised?
Adopting the identity of a writer is an angle (if not a reach) into some intricate sliver of life, either presented by a medium or inserted through writing.
I’m not going to suddenly do more worthwhile things or make smarter choices in my second decade of life, and taking this opportunity to carve out a fragment of a memoir isn’t going to do much beyond leaving a personal record. I feel compelled to do so because the subject exists in the same environment as the creative process. A particularly useful reach into how to make sense of it and leave behind some documentation. When I find myself in the middle of the next leap for the anarchist movement, shift in society or in myself, I’ll consider the opportunity and act on my own terms.
I don’t feel like I need to be compensated, because the part we each play in all of this is a reward in of itself.
We’re off the streets now
And back on the road
On the riot trail
There’s a basic idea underlying most of what I create. I like to think we can imagine that idea in basic terms, knowing it won’t be perfect. That idea is that none of this should have to be complicated.
Every day we could wake up and physically build on our desires, discover new ones, share in the necessary labor for what a group of people agree to maintaining, and find the wherewithal to point out and remove the gunk from life. Sadly, people had to ask if this is idealistic or sensible, falling into the trap.
The more we interact with a toxic web of displeasure and confusion, the more we become the thing we hate: We get into situations where complexity is mandatory, the only thing that space is made for. We meet complication with more of it, playing into it’s own game and recreating the nutrients for social, emotional and existential disarray. We build brick walls around ourselves and keep building higher to try to escape.
Ultimately, nothing is secured in place by our own diluted sanctity. Everything is recycled around the impersonal changing nature of social stratification. But in the moments before that, we can get better at consciously disassociating from its ideals and patters of social organization to make way for our own worlds, becoming more and more familiar with how to overcome.
The prospect of overturning the nightmare is endearing. Perhaps a little more hopeful than I’m comfortable with, but a worthwhile standard to act on. But in the meantime, the suffering and limitations imposed on us inspire more ways to attack. We’re continually inclined to overcome, which seems like a fact of this world being unsustainable on all fronts.
Living a life is more akin to a radiating, shifting mass of energy than a hopeless journey of submission on a straight line of time mapped onto a hollow notion of “progress.” If we enable individual actualization over the blank frame of reality, we can outlast imprisonment in all its forms.
Until then, we’re all basically slowdancing with reality, awkwardly grinning at the horrors staring back at us, catching a few brief glimpses of something interesting in the background, until the music stops and the lights go out.
We all just want to surpass the constantly current mode of “average.” I’m glad to be moving in some direction with people doing the same in their own unique ways.
Twenty years. Huh.
To erase everything from the slate from one day to the next, to be new with each morning, in a perpetual revival of our emotional virginity this, and only this, is worth being or having, to be or have what we imperfectly are.