Tuesday, August 12, 2014

An Empty Brain

I have, on rare occasion, had the benefit of an empty brain.  Where due to life circumstances or conscious decision I had removed some of the regular inputs into my life.  The last few days I have been thinking of this more regularly and realized that again I need to empty my brain.  A great interview with Trevor Talbert by Brian Levine's Pipes Magazine Radio Show really set me on this train of thought.  He was talking about his various artistic endeavours and that for him to be best able to create something he needed to fill his brain less with the things that others have created.  Empty Brain.  While I am writing about Empty Brain I got pretty distracted but I did stumble across this article from Trevor Talbert which fits in with many of my blogs quite well.

When I read that it struck a terrifying cord in me.  I stumbled across something similar just before going to the Himalyas and so decided to not bring the kindle or any music but to simply take in my surroundings and write if I could.  Unfortunately the hiking kicked my butt and very little writing was written.  I did fill 44 pages of a moleskin with various musings but mostly it is a chronicle of the trip, incomplete and not nearly as introspective as imagined.  And so I returned home thinking the newly awoken commitment to write due to the Morning Pages Experiment and the fresh beauty of the mountains would combine to create post after post of humbling beauty and biting prose.

Then the thing that I was afraid of happened.  My Empty Brain began to fill itself.  At first this was wonderful, I was imaginative and creative again.  I could day dream like I did when I was younger.  My mind was a fertile place once again.  Life and stress and a few major family decisions came up and, like the Tar from Fern Gully, began to infiltrate and pollute the inner recesses of my grey matter.  I began to very quickly lean very heavily on YouTube as my drug of choice to chase away the voices in my mind.  I know that there are probably those brave souls in our wonderful world who are not haunted by self loathing, depression, and suicidal tendencies.  Unfortunately I am not one of those brave souls.  I can understand a life without darkness as little as they can understand a life punctuated by it.  And so my Empty Brain became a weapon against myself and so I filled it.  Motorcycle repair, BBC's Farm series of videos, the Tested Channel with Adam Savage building super cool stuff.  All of these things filled my mind so that I was not free to fill it.

And then the last few weeks I have worked myself close to health again.  I didn't run during this period so the Marathon is no longer an obtainable goal.  I didn't write for weeks and lost the progress I had made towards building a writing habit.  I had again left scars of uncertainty in my precious children.  But I will not focus on what was lost.  So I began starting to write again.  And this week is a week free of YouTube to allow my brain space to think and to give me time to get my spiritual house in order.  So again I enter into the unknown, that place where I let my brain lead me down terrifyingly wonderful paths.  H.P. Lovecraft terrifies me that much more as I recognize the wanderlust of his characters down the paths of the mind.  To allow the mind to stretch and grow until it breaks.  Maybe some people are not afraid that there senses will snap and they will loose their mind.  Maybe I've read too many Victorian novels.  But down the rabbit hole we go, once more my friends.  I still doubt the great American Novel will begin to appear on these pages but at least something will.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


2 days ago I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep when I suddenly thought about what I would do differently if I had my teenage days to do over, knowing what I know now.  The first thing to cross my mind was girls.  I probably hold the record for spending the most time talking and thinking about dating girls and not actually doing so.  Waste of time.  The other, complimentary thought, was to buy a motorcycle and waste my time and money thinking about that instead.  The thought that hit me hard out of the thought cloud and surprised me with its intensity was that I should have worked hard and where I didn't work hard, the consequence was actually my own damn fault.

I was one of those annoying kids who didn't have to do much of anything to succeed in school.  When one is in school and you can't succeed in physical activities, making money, or getting girls doing well in school seems like a pretty crappy super power.  It is, I see now, a pretty rocking superpower second only to the pig's ability to turn vegetables into bacon.  But I digress.  Every superhero has their weakness.  Their kryptonite.  Their instant kill.  For the easy-schoolers, as I will call them, it tends to be work.  I was not the only easy-schooler to have this problem.  When you don't have to do the basic work day in and day out that those around you are doing, noticeably school work, you get a very weak work muscle.  I am not saying that easy-schoolers get the best grades.  I don't think they generally do.  I also am not saying that I am brilliant.  Even in my limited classic-rock/hackisack peer group I would say I was in the middle of the pack in terms of shear intelligence & brilliance.  Some of my friends were genuinely bright dudes.  I don't think that the easy-schoolers tend to get the best grades primarily due to the fact that their work ethic is about as strong as twisty-tie holding up the golden gate bridge.  As long as no work is required, easy-schoolers excel.  As soon as something needs to be done that takes some work, it doesn't happen and grades drop as a result.  They often still tend to be in the upper percentiles but I am convinced that easy-schoolers make up very few of the valedictions, especially at the high school level.  Intelligence does not equal wisdom and a lot of easy-schoolers, myself included, didn't do the work necessary to be at the top of our class, though it would have taken a lot less work than it would have taken other folks.  The people that did the work, spent the hours studying and completing assignments, they were the valedictions.  Gumption and hard work blew natural intelligence out of the water.  The unscientific fact that a lot of the brightest high-school kids question the shallow system, see no value in it, and tend to smoke a lot of pot instead only serves to bolster my hypothesis.  

Unfortunately I was stuck in the middle with you.  Not quite bright enough to realize the weaknesses in modern society and watch it all go up in smoke; coupled with my real fear that if I ever touched a joint to my lips Mr. Vogeley would immediately walk into the room and give me a disappointed look and crush my dreams of being a man forever; I didn't quite make it that far.  On the other hand my crippling lack of work ethic prevented me from truly succeeding in the scholastic realm.  One particular experience marked this enigma with the kind of memory-force that I have never been able to shake.  With the kind of lasting consequences that weren't enough to really alter my life path but seriously altered the way I thought about myself and would handle situations in the future.

The year was Nineteen Hundred and Ninety Seven.  The Grade was 7th.  The teacher:  Mrs. Thayer.  I saw a re-run episode of 7 Rules the other day which has a teacher saying, "I don't make the rules, I just enforce them to the letter."  That was Mrs. Thayer.  It was in the 7th grade at my particular educational establishment that the students take a test to see if they were prepared to enter into algebra in the 8th grade or if they were to pass onto pre-algebra and take algebra in the 9th grade, their first year of High School.  The educational establishment in question divided the students of each grade into "teams" of about 60 - 80 students.  I was called up to Mrs. Thayer's desk one day to be informed that although I had the 2nd highest algebra readiness score in my team I would not be entering into algebra the next year because I had a grade of a C and I needed a B, maybe an A, to get into algebra.  I remember saying, "But I got the 2nd highest score in the team."  And she replied, "But you have a C."  

By the time I had returned to my desk I had written off math.  It was really a shame because I enjoyed math, I still to this day am one of those strange people that stand in awe of math.  10 X 10 = 100.  Have you ever thought of that?  Amazing.  I'm mystified by civilizations that had a base 7 number system and how they did calculations that way.  I am bowled over by formulas that work every time.  There is a wonderful trustworthiness in normal math.  I also understand math.  I understand how the numbers work and interact with each other.  But by the time I had awkwardly squeezed my pubescent bulk into the desk I was a devoted English/History guy.  That was it.  It was an easy transition.  I had already tested with a post college reading level and I loved history.  From that day forward I averaged C's in math because it wasn't my thing.  The only year I earned an A was in Geometry during 10th grade when my teacher allowed me to do the homework while she lectured.  In the 11th grade I actually cheated on homework to not fail, sorry mom.  I was caught and never cheated again but my repugnant behaviour just shows the level to which I had given up on my own success and integrity.  Cheating is a horrible mixture of deceit, laziness, and theft.  But I remember standing there at the desk of one of the greatest teachers that I decided to not grow under, sweating profusely on the verge of creating vomit being told that I would fail his class if this ever happened again.  So after 3 days of reformed homework completion I simply stopped turning in the assignments.  

I was a year behind all of my friends in math and therefore science.  I missed out some of the great fun I had with them in English & History, the great discussions & learning.  I missed out on that because I had a flawed view of work as well as a weak will to fight.  Homework, up until college, was merely practice so you could pass the tests.  I didn't understand getting graded down for not doing homework if you aced the tests, which I was doing in 7th grade.  I could finish the multiplication tables fastest, I knew the concepts, homework was (and I still believe for the most part is today) a waste of time.  Mrs. Thayer apparently did not espouse this theory of education.  I didn't fight for it.  I felt like I had earned it, I felt like I had deserved it but instead of fighting for it, instead of arguing that if I raise my grade by the end of the year could I attend, instead of making a case and bring it to the top of the educational hierarchy I turned around and said fuck it.  Sorry mom.  

My family culture at the time was also very victim based.  When things happened they always happened to us.  When things happened to us we would get angry, grumble in defiance at the injustice, say fuck it, and walk away.  I gloried in this mindset because I had enough responsibility and guilt that weighed upon me at the time and I wasn't going to be at fault for the system.  It has been almost 2 decades since this event and I think about it on a monthly basis. 18 years and me sitting down and being robbed of math has haunted me.  It comes up in conversations where it doesn't really apply, it haunts me in the midst of my depressive slumps, it has been a major defining moment.  And I kid you not, in 18 years only the past 6 months have I begun to stop blaming Mrs. Thayer for my failure in math.  For 18 years I had the audacity to blame someone who was following policy for my failure to keep my grades up and do the work expected of me.  For 18 years I held an old shrivelled lady responsible for my failure to not fight for something that I wanted and deserved.   For my entire adult life I have failed to acknowledge my own shortfall and that has haunted me, tainted me, and I'm ready to exercise the ghost and be done with it.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

To Do or Not To Do

I haven't written in sometime.  I was hoping that the crisp & clear mountain air would clear my mind and clarify my future.  Coming home I had more questions & less answers.  It was a few weeks battling with major doubts and depression that my family decided that our season here in India is at an end.  So over the next few months we will begin to close this chapter of our life and figure out what our future holds.  Part of why my writing has stopped as you can see the 30 day exercise has concluded for the other contributors and unfortunately it didn't develop into a habit.  Scipio's work I dearly loved and now I'm not sure if any of the story lines will have a conclusion.  Maybe once we get into the same time zone we can work out at the very least some game-able clash between our forces to dictate the story line's conclusion.

The decision to stay or go in India was very difficult as it was one of those decisions that had to be made.  By not deciding we were deciding to stay.  Not deciding and staying by default robbed us of some of the intentionality that we had once had and we needed to stay for a reason or leave for a reason.  I've always had the habit of not making decisions to make decisions.  Whenever we were in a class and the teacher told the community to find a partner or a group I usually lingered until someone else chose me or I was assigned into the group that was still missing members.  This almost always did not work in my favour.  When one does well scholastically and doesn't aggressively make sure to work one's way into a group of students with similar standards the socially adepts underachievers will very quickly recruit you.  Unfortunately I couldn't wait this time around for someone to choose for us and we chose to return home.

It is interesting that one of my repeated messages in this blog to myself has been to get up and go do something.  That has been very hard since I got back from the trip.  Debilitating depression coupled with a lack of knowing what my future held severely demotivated me from doing much of anything.  It is hard to invest around you and spend time making things, both concrete and abstract, if you are going to leave those things behind anyway.  Now that we are leaving there are a few things I'd like to make before we go but a lot of my attention has shifted to the going and getting there, which I am attempting to curtail as much as possible, but it is hard.

I am going to continue to attempt to do some writing here as it has been writing here that really helped me before my Himalayan trip, which was fantastic & brutal by the way.  I do think, however, that on top of this outlet there is a book which I titled and never really wrote several years ago and I feel as though the nebulous idea finally has a few legs to stand on and so I'm going to see if we can't find some more legs in the strange place where thoughts become words.  Some of you know that I was working on a book earlier this year which probably will go no further simply because in my research I could not prove my thesis.  Though the thesis was not necessarily wrong, it did not have the scope that I thought it would have and so I decided it would be literary dishonesty to try and make it work.  I'm glad I didn't try to fake it but I was a bit disappointed that a ball that finally had began to roll hit a stump and stopped rolling.  Onward and upward.  I've been doing a bit of daydreaming recently as a major family shift in my position at work as well as my geographical location allows a certain width to re-invent oneself.  To stop doing things that have developed into bad habits and start focusing on things that I should have been doing all along.

In the midst of the whirlwind of what I wish I was doing one of the things that stood out to me was that I would really enjoy writing and I shouldn't stop.  I will not become an author by just writing in an obscure blog everyday but I definitely won't become an author if I don't.  But I guess author is like musician.  I am an author because I am authoring right now.  Musician is not a title strictly reserved for those who sell platinum records nor to child prodigies but simply to those who music and so I will continue to auth.  The other swirling ideas were commune handyperson/pipesmith/bike customizer.  As hard as I try to be a craftsman in the code I write for a living, the lack of tangible art is difficult for me to quantify in that way.  I would love to be a craftsperson for a living.  I probably wouldn't like the lack of consistent income, the ups and downs that go with living that way, but I love creating things with my hands.  I love motorcycles but though that is a wide market it is flooded and I don't know if I'm actually very good at it.  Pipe creation I think I have the beginnings for a skill there but that market is a narrow market that may also be flooded with people of my level.  Until I publish that book that allows me some way to smooth out the financial highs and lows of the craftsperson's life it will probably remain a simple dream of mine.

My parents in their self-confessed "fruit & nuts days" attempted a communal life, living off the land.  There short time attempting that with friends convinced them that it was not for them.  Apparently I am genetically predisposed to the same folly.  I love the idea of feeding my family directly with the work of my hands and building/fixing.  But those who have the freedom to do that tend to start out from a pretty strong financial situation that gives the flexibility to not earn a living in the normalized sense.  If I were to spring for a few acres I would have that pesky mortgage of said acrage to deal with that would require some normalized income.  I don't think most banks consider vegetables legal tender.  I also might possibly hate it.  Who knows.  I sure don't.  But until that sweet book deal gives me some plush bank account that lets me buy those acres with cash, I'll keep trucking along hoping to find that bit of peace between who I am and what I do.