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Monthly Archives: April 2019

Oh, to know what to do once you catch the mailbox you’re chasing.  §

Someone’s sent me a letter. Possibly some time ago, as I never check my now-lockable mailbox. Because no-one ever sends me letters.

Yes, in case you caught that bit, I did acquire and install a lockable mailbox, several years ago. Because my mail was regularly being stolen (along with a number of other things that I won’t otherwise mention just now). Funny thing, the person my locking mailbox primarily seems to keep separated from my mail ever since then is—me.

But I digress. A letter. And a book.

I don’t know if I’ll read the book. Still reflecting on things. But the letter itself is very nice; it must be. Look, I’m writing about it. And I haven’t been writing about anything—anything at all—for some time now.

— § —

Unrelated but related.

Men are lonely. I’m not entirely sure whether this is a matter of our particular culture and epoch or whether this is something to do with testosterone and garages. But we are lonely, lonely creatures.

Okay, I lie. I am sure. Not in any epistemic way, but rather as a matter of the puffy white clouds of my own opinion-making, which (refreshingly) sail the skies of my life again since I left academics and no longer have to prove everything with reference to (always obnoxious) “intellectual giants” or (even more obnoxious) “highly cited articles.”

But yes, as I was saying, we are lonely, lonely creatures. And it’s at this point that all of the women in the room start on about sharing feelings and finding connection and all of that sort of thing, but the fact is that all of that really misses the point. It’s part and parcel of the problem, in fact.

If we could share feelings and make connections and so on and not be lonely, we’d all have done it already. Therapy, after all, runs like water in our culture, and very public (and often entertaining and witty) advice along these lines doubly so.

But being lonely doesn’t come from making no connections. We make connections and we’re still lonely.

— § —

I remember the last time I cried as a child, and the first time I was unable to cry, despite very much wanting to. I simply—couldn’t. I nudged all the right muscles and made all the right facial expressions and tried a heave or three, but nothing would happen. It was infuriating.

It was, in fact, the terrible moment at which I knew that for the rest of my life, “release” of any kind would be a limited resource. It was the moment at which I caught my first young glimpse of the concept of “destiny,” and of my destiny as a man in particular.

No one ever told me not to cry. Quite the opposite, in fact. I had that very modern, forward-thinking, highly educated, very liberal WASP mother who reassured me to no end that sharing feelings was right and that it was very good for boys to cry.

Women think boys don’t cry because we’re trying to impress them. Or ourselves. Or because we were beaten by a toxically-masculine brute at some point, or teased relentlessly on the playground for it.

In fact, many of us can’t because we just—can’t.

I suspect it has something to do with XY and hormones. It’s probably a reasonably good evolutionary adaptation. If your job for the species is to ward off predators double the size of any community member and to fight off invading armies of clever homo sapiens sapiens opponents, it’s really an “all-hands-on-deck” sort of thing you’re up to.

The jobs of men have traditionally been the jobs of pain, suffering, and early death on behalf of others—so that those others, offspring amongst them, can thrive.

Breaking into sobs when things really, really suck may be good for the soul but I imagine it’s an evolutionary dead end in comparison to those who aren’t so encumbered.

But of course that’s a just-so story based on nothing but my own surmise.

— § —

Time is passing.

I’ve written that phrase so many times here and elsewhere that it’s a terrible cliché for me. Yet it is. And more. More than ever.

I am grappling, in fact, with the problem of mortality, because I can smell it in the air.

When I was younger I absolutely reveled in the “half as long, twice as bright” thing. “A pirate’s life for me!” and all of that. I did not live with longevity in mind. I wish I could say that I lived well, but I can’t honestly say that, either.

In any case, parenthood changes things. “Half as long, twice as bright” is not good for the kids.

I am overtaken with immense parental guilt about my own mortality and the many, many ways in which I may have hastened it when I was younger and likely continue to hasten it today. I’m trying not to be obsessive about it and, for the most part, succeeding, but the reason for that success is more analagous to the reason I never cry than it is to any particular substantive state of mental healthiness.

— § —

This brings me to a strange kind of empathy that I have begun to feel for my elders and forebears—an empathy that continues to be comingled with resentment and shock.

Because of course they built this world. This world of nuclear arsenals and global warming and asbestos and runaway capitalism and arid secularism and so on. For so many years, what I mostly felt about them was a kind of naive rage. How, after all, dare they? How dare they and also have us?

The selfishness!

That tapered off somewhere in my thirties and I generally forgot about all of that. I think that’s what one’s thirties are generally for—forgetting things.

And now, the forties, in which one’s purpose is to remember all of the things that one has never yet known. Including the fact—in my case, at least—that I am now my forebears. I now inadvertently destroy the health and happiness of my own progeny with nothing but the best of intentions, just as they did.

Innocence isn’t just at a premium; it’s both a scurrilous fable and the essence of all being at once.

— § —

We were talking tonight, the kids and I, about dog cognition.

We were veering perilously close to Sapir-Whorf territory, but what can you do? Dog cognition is dog cognition and in comparison to the human phenomenological universe, Sapir-Whorf seems both pedestrian and obvious rather than fraught.

But as the children wisely pointed out—or is that understood—it’s difficult for me to understand the difference any longer as a parent, which really deserves a post of its own but won’t get one—underneath it all, we humans all have dog cognition as well.

And, in part, it’s what must be recovered if one is to survive middle age and the golden years without snuffing oneself out.

It’s the best substitute for the ability to cry that a man is likely to come up with—that subverbal and in fact subcognitive level of stimulus-response that is the human equivalent of (to use a phrase that I found surprising and delightful and sad all at once when I first heard it) “the pure, unironic joy of being a dog.”

Some men get it from motorcycles. Others from guns. Others from sanding boats. I myself get it from wristwatches. And sunroofs. And, say, getting unexpected letters in the mail.

When the going gets tough, you are able to see evil.  §

It’s been a while now that I haven’t been able to write a damned thing. How many times have I started a post, then stopped? Twenty? Forty?

You can tell just by looking at this space. It’s empty. It’s bereft. It’s arid.

But that’s where I’ve been, too. Empty. Bereft. Arid. Yeah, you could say there are some problems. Okay, you could say there are a shitload of problems, mostly related to middle age and life as a single parent. And a bunch of other stuff. But for now, those will do.

— § —

So let’s see, what’s been going on?

House. The house isn’t mine. And it’s falling apart. And I’m pouring money into it. And it isn’t mine. And I should feel grateful for it. And it’s falling apart. And I’m pouring money into it. And all of this in very not comfortable ways, since it was built in the 1970s. Draw your own conclusions about what that means.

History and human muzzles. Speaking of, I can’t say a damned thing. That’s the reason for the disappearance of 75 percent of all posts. I can’t ever say a damned thing about a damned thing because I’m divorced and that makes everything in life (a) shit and (b) difficult and (c) painful and (d) guilt-inducing.

Society. The other 25 percent of all posts are muzzled because I also can’t say a damned thing on account of the fact that I’m not a tenured academic somewhere like I once planned, but am rather working on the open market where everything I do and say becomes a part of my value proposition, and it’s got to be a good one if I’m going to stay employed and continue to progress. I won’t say more about that, for obvious reasons.

Market. Speaking of, I have to stay employed and continue to progress because the debt load from years of graduate school followed by divorce is crushing. My ex is buying a house. People look at me like I’m irresponsible on account of having saved no money. But here’s the thing. I’ve paid for three whole cars, completely in the past four years. How many other people have paid for three entire cars in four years? That’s where my money went. My attorney’s fees are all paid off. That’s where my money went. Other debts that I took on as a part of the divorce are gradually being paid off. That’s also where the money went. But where’s it not going? Student loan debt. And buying a house. That’s what my ex gets to do.

Meaning. This is really all about the divorce again, but the thing is that it’s hard to be yourself or to explore the things you’d like to explore as an individual when you’re divorced because every last thing you do is scrutinized and anything that you do that deviates from recent history has the potential to cause trouble and causing trouble is the last thing that you want to do when you’re as empty, bereft, and arid as I have been. So there are things I’d like to do that cost nothing that I haven’t done, and that seriously gets my goat.

Age. Do other people feel—like, literally feel—the life force draining out of them with each passing day? I feel that in me. Yes, I know they say that everyone is slowly dying, but I can feel it, day by day and it sucks. No, it’s not going to happen in the next year or probably even in the next ten years, but I can feel it coming. It’s not indeterminate. And the amount of guilt that I feel about that—about a potential departure—is crippling as a parent.

Some of this is all in my head. Hell, all of it is all in my head. All of everything is all in everyone’s head, because in fact phenomenology wins if we’re all human, which we are, and that’s that.

— § —

Mostly I just hate all the things that, for a while, I loved.

I hate you, Foucault.

I hate you, academics.

I hate you, atheists.

I hate you, enlightened people.

I hate you, time.

Okay, I don’t know if I really hate these things. Because I don’t actually know what hate is. I don’t frankly know what anything is. I am coming of age as a lost soul, which I believe is what they call a “midlife crisis.”

Mine has been going on for five years, what’s your name?

— § —

I am also at that age where I think back over a life of doing things, and I think back to a lot of the things I’ve done, and I don’t like it. Guilt. Regret. Embarrassment. Sadness. Wistfulness in a few blissful, yet still painful cases.

— § —

Also—and this is hard as well—I used to be so happy to have known so many people.

I’ve inverted on that point. I regret having known most of the people I knew in my twenties and thirties at this stage. I regret having let them into my life.

Does everyone reach middle age and feel as though they’ve lived their entire life wrong and wasted it on people who were at best pointless and at worst evil?

— § —

Somewhere along the line (guessing just where is left as an exercise to the reader), I came to believe in evil, for the first time in my life.

Nothing has been the same since.

All of this is still the Great Unwinding that follows from that. The little stageplay in which I unravel like an old sweater and then disappear in a puff of regret.

I once owned the domain regretengine.org.

Ironic that I let it lapse just before I came to need it most.

— § —

“We play at believing ourselves immortal. We delude ourselves in the appraisal of our own works and in our perpetual misappraisal of the works of others. See you at the Nobel, writers say, as one might say: see you in hell.”

(Bolaño)

— § —

He found out he was going to die and wrote a masterpiece to honor his children. Would that I could do the same. But I suspect that when the time comes, I won’t. And that alone makes me want to wring my neck.

Is posting a blog post like this a sin? Probably.

But it is what it is.

When Notre Dame burns, new converts are gained.  §

Today’s burning of Notre Dame reveals just how profoundly we have dispensed with our imagination of—and vocabulary for—the numinous.

To read and hear much of the coverage, one would think that these “experts” and “public figures” feel nothing that I do about it. And maybe they don’t.

“…a historic building…” one said.
“…an important landmark…” another said.
“…obviously a religious building…” said another, stupidly.

Soulless automatons that have been programmed to reject the concept of the soul cannot possibly comment on the affliction of the soul of our civilization, or on the pain felt by millions of souls at watching it.

Philistines, all of them, everywhere. That’s what it was in academics, too. Everywhere.

“Of course, it’ll be rebuilt again—and better and more beautiful than ever, because now it will be made with modern materials and modern techniques,” I’ve read several times tonight.


© Jorge Láscar / 2014

I’ve also read several variations on, “It’s a building. Buildings come. Buildings go. That’s what happens. And let’s face it, it was an old building, obsolete and precious.”

Someone even said that Disney built better and more interesting things.

— § —

I have been on the fence for a long time, back and forth on the question of religion.

I’m not on the fence any longer. You can think what you will of religion. What cannot, however, be denied, is that only religion appears able to grasp—much less to preserve and to convey—the idea that there is more to life than a prosaic plod through economics and the intricate structures we’ve erected to venerate economics.

Birth happens. Death happens. Things matter, and not merely because they matter to me. Or to you.

All of this—the cars and the grades and the textiles and the plastic packaging and the wages and the elections and the battles for justice—all of this is so much pointless noise.

Everyone ends and will end in same way: in a final, eternal confrontation with the numinous.

If only religion is able to substantively reflect on or acknowledge this fact, then religion is where I must go.