My dad used to say nearly every time I saw him, “Do one thing a day that scares you.” Which, isn’t difficult for me, as I’m terrified of nearly everything. Getting out of bed can sometimes be a Sisyphean obstacle. Even if I hid inside the sheets all day my mind would find ways to come up with scenarios to terrify me – death by apathy, a sudden illness, a life lived in shallow depths.
the glowing seed
“Do not look around thee to discover other men’s ruling principles, but look straight to this, to what nature leads thee, both the universal nature through the things which happen to thee, and thy own nature through the acts which must be done by thee.” – Marcus Aurelius
I was supposed to work on the book the other day. Instead I went to the beach with the dogs. The sky was overcast, and I wore my boyfriend’s hoodie and my black leggings and tried to remind myself to be present in each moment, to not feel the heavy burden I’d placed upon my chest, to let the guilt of not writing wash away. After the beach, I fed the dogs burger patties in the back of my car and put vodka in my smoothie from Jamba Juice and dyed my hair. I didn’t write at all.
I’m staring down my novel like it’s a feral dog, black and ragged and spitting in the corner. Maybe one day writing a long manuscript won’t feel like fighting an adversary. Maybe one day I’ll understand that all of this pain, confusion, and little spilled out drops of astonishing revelation that come with writing a novel are part of some eternal recurrence. I will understand intrinsically Nietzsche’s idea of Amor Fati or “Love of One’s Fate.” I will understand what Bukowski means when he feels like he can’t go on and laughs in the face of recurring misery.
When the dream meets reality, you have to deal with real problems that the dream could never actualize. Many days I romanticized about being able to spend all my time writing, living in a solipsistic wonderland inside my brain, sipping coffee and vodka while I wore turtlenecks and a disdain of all worldly things. But right now I’m on about year four of a long-term writer burnout, a time in which I often wondered exactly why I was writing when seemingly most of the joy had been sucked out of it for years. Since I was 19 years old I’d been writing daily, with hardly any breaks except to work to earn money or to practice being miserable. “Real writers write every day,” I told myself, and so that became a chain around my neck that I used to hang myself.
- There will always come a moment when the joy of discovering a new artistic medium (I.E, writing) is eclipsed by the fear of not being good enough.
- The amount of courage required for a task does not necessarily equate to an equal amount of compensation, success, or satisfaction.
- You are right to be afraid of the writing life. It is lonely and often without prestige. The amount of time and effort put into improving your writing or creating a work of writing is rarely rewarded with a satisfactory amount of praise or money. But at the same time, if you’re a writer and you’re reading this, this probably isn’t a deterrent to you. You probably understand that the reward of the writing life isn’t in the reward, it’s in the thing itself. The reward is in the moments alone when the words flow outward and inward, connecting you to the entire universe.
I think if I could give my younger self advice that I probably wouldn’t listen to it would be to actually learn to enjoy life. Which when said out loud seems silly and self-evident. But I spent a lot of time refusing to do anything that would sway me from the goals that I had (I remember becoming furious at a boy in college for wanting to spend time with me, because it was taking time away from writing), unaware of the reason for why I was doing such things, or that refusing to take a break would burn out the enjoyment for anything.
It’s difficult to be human, but we all have very important jobs perpetuating the human race, and making ourselves better to contribute to the betterment of all humankind and ultimately the universe, probably shouldn’t be an easy job. Whether you’re a corporate executive, a coal-miner, or a kid who dropped out of college so he can fish all day and roleplay a werewolf on an IRC channel at night, it doesn’t matter. Your task is still critical – be human.
Someone told me a few days ago that they thought happiness was a form of self-delusion, or at least was heavily leaning toward that idea. (He’ll know who he is when he reads this, but I don’t think he’ll mind.) I used to think that was a valid idea, and I’ve seen it repeated often enough. If I have to be honest it made me feel smug and self-satisfied in my unhappiness. If, after all, my unhappiness was a result of my intelligence and inability to deceive myself to the cruelty of the world, then I couldn’t be blamed for my inaction or the ways in which I perpetuated my own misery.
The execution of happiness can be extraordinarily complicated, but the premise is simple: Find things that make you happy, and do things that make you happy, and happiness will result.
Not what other people say will make you happy. Not what you -feel- should make you happy. Not what’s easy, and not what’s right. But what will legitimately, assuredly, speak to the little creature that rests in your heart, and stirs at the sight of something wonderful.
There are children starving in this city and if you stab me I will die, but sometimes my boyfriend will get me Redbull and smile at me and I know what it feels like to be warm between two sleeping puppies.
If nothing makes you happy, then it’s not because you’re just so intelligent that you see too much. It is a processing problem. Plain and simple. If you go out to eat your favorite meal and someone is rude to you in the parking lot or someone is talking too loud and that ruins your whole experience – That’s not being smart enough to see the world for what it really is. That’s being stupid enough to focus on an aspect of something that makes you unhappy instead of the fact that you just ate something you enjoyed.
If I look at my dog and instead of seeing how much he makes me happy in that moment and instead, I see the moment when he dies or worry about him getting sick or focus on how he smells weird – I’m not being smart – that’s a fundamental processing problem. That’s an INABILITY to focus.
Maybe that’s why I’ve had so much trouble reading and writing horror lately. Some people write about ugliness like it’s revealing is a profound thing, but I want to write about more than ugliness, or the supposed evil inherent in all men, or how everything beautiful carries a little dark seed of dissent. We know people murder. We know people beat their wives. That tells me nothing profound about the world we live in or why any of it matters.
I get that terrible and sad things happen – and they should make us feel sad. That is good and proper.
But wonderful and good things happen as well – and they should make us happy. That is good and proper as well.
If a sunset or a cup of coffee doesn’t inspire a flutter of appreciation at being alive, that isn’t because the world is inadequate. It’s because you’re just not looking at it.
I write a lot about transformations – women turning into butterflies, into glorious skin-filleted vampires, into robots that carry their memories through hollow unconscious wastelands. I don’t think I’ve written a single narrator in a novel that hasn’t carried a wound that begins to warp them, or travels on a journey that fills their mouth with the blood that begins to redefine them.
And now I’m transforming too – not in the way that I always imagined I would, abruptly, immediately, with the tearing of skin, like a howl ripping through the center of a tornado, or some kind of eucharist machine. My transformation is deliberate. It’s purposeful. I change with a heaviness that feels like everyday I roll out of bed so that I can walk miles across a windswept desert.
But there are things happening in this transformation that I’m not aware of. The human brain has a processing power of about 30 quadrillion calculations per second. For reference, in 2011, the K computer built by German and Japanese scientists to attempt to mimic the human brain, with over 83,000 processors, was only able to mimic one percent of one second of the human brain’s capability – and that took 40 minutes.
It’s easy to forget how extraordinary complex we are, how even the most simple of actions is a glorious culmination of millions of years of synaptic music. There is a lot going on under the surface that we’re unaware of. Subconsciousness, underwater processes, that shift and move the pieces of us around to accommodate a whole shape.
When the werewolf transforms, it does not deliberately and with conscious effort control the new homeostasis of its body, or its newfound hunger for human flesh. Its brain and body shift to eaccommodate its new skin in ways that it’ll never really understand.
Every deliberate action has an unquantifiable amount of data and pathways that was made to get to that action, and the ways in which it transforms the entire system may never be completely known.
I was talking about shame today. Specifically, shame that is used as a motivation to compel action. For years I’d get myself out of bed by calling myself lazy and useless. I’d whip myself mentally to write. And if I did something, but didn’t find it to my satisfaction. I’d castigate myself, say that I was worthless. I thought it was fine. I was getting the results I wanted, or so I thought, so I surmised it didn’t matter how I achieved them. I worked on the video games, I wrote the books, I got the money, the boy, the job offer, the contract, the invite, another motion, another circle, another check-box, another day in which I survived hurtling around the sun without falling off the side of the planet.
I even shamed myself out of not killing myself – calling myself weak and worthless for even thinking that it was an option. So I’d hunch over my laptop in a cafe, drinking an americano, trying to force myself to keep working on my novel, to keep going, clinging to my coffee like it was the only thing keeping me grounded to reality.
To this day sometimes when I smell an americano I’ll get this bitter sharp Pavlovian thought of suicide.
In today’s culture, self-hatred is an acceptable vehicle of growth. Just yesterday on Facebook someone deridedly made fun of women who “loved themselves,” and took duck-faced selfies, indicating that self-love was some kind of character flaw. And it does often seem a little self-indulgent, a little unaware, for people to take pride in themselves. We’re still under the Puritanical influence of our ancestors, and it’s sinful to be prideful in our bodies that are the objects of such sloth and indignities. So we often look down on self-love, without even really understanding why, and so perpetuate this cycle of self-flagellation.
So result of those years of shame-induced movement was that when I achieved something, I never got the satisfied feeling that I was expecting. I feel dull, empty, hollowed-out, looking onward to my next goal with glazed-over eyes. No matter how much I achieved, the internal voice was still whipping me as it screamed into my ear.
Because I’d used shame to try to achieve growth, I was operating under the idea that whenever I achieved something, I shouldn’t be proud of myself, I should be ashamed for not achieving it faster. I was working on the karmic balance of my evil birth – no tabula rasa for me – and every achievement, every good thing I ever did, was only trying to tip the scales toward achieving balance.
Everything we do is important. Not just what we do, but why we do it, and the processes that we use to motivate ourselves. Because everything in the machine is constantly working to achieve internal balance. The consequences of what we do today, may not be seen until years later.
But if you think those things are not reverberating through you right now – building the frequency of dreams – you’re wrong.
In my transformation, I begin to shed the body that hate itself. I can’t quite conceive what the thing underneath looks like, but it’s building itself toward achieving a new kind of efficacy.
Slime, and werewolf blood, and something coiled that glitters. I’ve been writing about this moment for years.
Sometimes I sit for hours inside myself- listening to Chopin or Dvorak or Massive Attack. I look at the trees outside, or the pretty girls on Youtube, and in the spaces between the notes, I begin to hear something. It’s difficult to describe what I hear, because, it’s not a sound, not exactly.
It’s a new way to live. My mind, learning a new rhythm, shifting synaptic waves to build an ocean of gold blood inside of me. An ocean that will carry me through worlds yet unknown.
Because everything we do is transforming us, in every moment, in every space. How we think, feel, breathe cascades into every future moment. Every motion we take, is building us a scaffold down into hell.
Or maybe a rocket to the moon.