Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Aron Hsiao Ph.D.

I’ve worked in a wide variety of very public roles and written a number of books. In my “real life” I’ve had an audience varying from hundreds of thousands to millions over the years, across big media, online media, and academic media.
 
Teaching
 
Some of you may also know me from the classroom, as I’ve taught at a decent array of major universities, in topic areas from linguistics to anthropology to sociology to cultural studies and media. I am not currently teaching.
 
Companies and Brands
 
If you’re wondering if I'm the “same Aron Hsiao that...” then, in fact, I probably am. I won't mention all of the companies, brands, and publications here because many of them won’t want to be directly associated with a blog like this one.
 
On Google
 
But if you’ve searched Google for “Aron Hsiao” then you’ve found me. The writer me, the professor me, the photographer me, the technology expert me, and so on. All of those pages and pages of results are, in fact, me. I am not aware of any other Aron Hsiao that has recently (in a decade or more) ranked in the first dozen-plus pages of Google’s results.

Born February 29th, 1976
 
Ph.D. Sociology (The New School, 2014)
M.A. Social Science (Chicago, 2004)
B.A. Anthropology (Utah, 2001)
B.A. English (Utah, 2001)
 
7 Books
Thousands of articles
 
1 Life
2 Kids
5 Goldfish
2 Cats
1 Dog
 
Lived in Salt Lake City, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland, and now... Provo.
 
Myers-Briggs INFP/INTP

I started “blogging” for the first time in 1999 at twenty-three years old, as I was going through my first serious breakup. Without meaning to, I continued to blog on a personal basis more or less without interruption after that. Now it’s been going on seventeen years. All of that content (well, most of it) is here, in one place.
 
In professional life, I have also ended up spending a decent amount of time blogging for an income for others. Still do.
 
But after all these years, Leapdragon remains home.
 
Many have questioned the wisdom of maintaining a site like this one, and from 2007 through 2015 I kept it increasingly obscure online. I have grown tired, however, of hiding myself behind a “professional” cardboard cutout. I’m forty years old and my life, like the lives of many others, gets more complicated by the day, personally and professionally.
 
It’s time to just be me again, in public, and let the chips fall where they may. So here I am.

Politics: Mixed—Old Left + Old Right (Fuck the SJWs)
Music: Sonic Youth, Einstürzende Neubauten
Novel: 2666, Roberto Bolaño
Operating Systems: Mac OS, Linux (Android)
Aquarium Fish: Common goldfish, fully grown
Illumination Technology: Neon tubing
Rag: Counterpunch
Academic Work: Illuminations, Walter Benjamin
Work of Art: Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Helnwein
Art Medium: Still photography
Club/Pub: The Pub, Ida Noyes Hall, University of Chicago
City: New York City
Place: Antelope Island, Syracuse, Utah
Fabrication Material: Leather
Drink: Green Chartreuse
Beach: Ellwood Beach, Goleta, California
Design Language: Swiss/Modern/Bauhaus
Season: Fall

I remembered what I was feeling the urge to write.  §

I was going to write that I was sad.

It’s not cool in this society to say something like that out loud, much less semi-anonymously into cyberspace.

But 2021 was a year that was full of sadness for me. Of course, for a great many other people as well, but I’m not them so I can only speak to my own 2021. And my own 2021 was a sad year. Not sarcastic ‘sad,’ not Trump sad, but legitimately sad. Like, if I could cry, I would have spent a lot of time crying, but as a guy with hormones I’m incapable so instead I made a bunch of insufferable posts here.

But I’ve been sad. It’s been sad.

And now, taking down the Christmas decorations and heading back into ‘reality,’ a new wellspring of sadness ironically at 2021’s passing.

I am hoping that 2022 can be better, with far less to be sad about, but there are troubling signs on the horizon.

There are indeed times when I wish I didn’t have to be sad alone, but life experience teaches me so far that some of us are always alone, whether other people are around or no. Yes, possibly that’s our own damned fault. Doesn’t mean we know how or have the skills to fix it.

So sadness it is.

That’s the post.

Football metaphors aren’t always bad. In fact, they may be better than most other things.  §

I swear.

All day I thought about making a post, and then it comes to 7:38 in the evening and I realize I’m in danger of not doing it.

That has to stop. That’s the encapsulation of any and all New Year’s resolutions that I have. That sort of thing has to stop. If I think all day about making a post, I damn well need to do it.

— § —

Of course by now, having let things slide for far too long, i can’t remember any of the things I wanted to write. That normally would then become the excuse for inaction. “Owell, I forgot, I guess I’ll do it later.” Wash, rinse, repeat.

No.

— § —

My alma mater went out yesterday and played a hell of a football game. They lost. But they did not lose by failing to live up to their potential; they maximized their potential and they lost anyway. Funny thing, this makes the loss something that I feel proud for them for.

All of this is a bunch of old truism, i.e. there’s no shame in loss if you do your best, but I think people often lose the latter part and shorten it to “there’s no shame in loss,” which is incomplete. Or they take “do your best” to actually and secretly mean “intended to do your best and really ‘put your heart into it.'”

That’s not right either.

Heart isn’t worthless, exactly, but it’s not the key piece of the puzzle. Your best is that which matches your potential. Doing your best isn’t a matter of intent, and it’s not a matter of heart. It’s a matter of hard work and long preparation and discipline and sacrifice. If you have done all of those things, haven’t cut a corner, haven’t phoned it in on this day or that, have legitimately kept your promises to yourself and to others and grown through every last ounce of hard work that you can commit and then you lose—then, and only then is there no shame in it.

Indeed, there’s much pride in it.

— § —

It sounds just a little bit maudlin and high school to be telling football stories and using phrases like “your best” on a blog post when I’m a forty-something, but I’m legitimately inspired by and trying to learn from these guys to start the new year.

Because I grew up in modern America. Every blow is softened. For every erstwhile unsafety there is a safety net. I didn’t join the military and go to boot camp. I didn’t play football for my school. I didn’t ever have to work hard. I had a decent brain through no fault of my own and as a result have been able to skate by and outperform peers since fifth grade without having to do much of anything.

But now, pivoting toward fifty and having used many big and flowery words with the serious and intelligent people and communities of the world, it all seems worthless.

Plain talk. Plain thinking. That’s what I’m after.

And in plain words I have the more-than-nagging-feeling that I could have been, and could still be, so much more than I am.

And there is shame in that kind of loss, and I feel it.

— § —

So my resolution for the new year is to be harder on myself, not in that self-indulgent way, but in that drill sergeant way.

I will fail, possibly for a long time. I have no model for nor practice in this kind of thing.

But I am determined to do my best.

One small step toward that is actually turning up to make the post I thought off and on about all day, even if I forgot what I was going to say, rather than kicking it to an eternal tomorrow.

Let’s fucking get some things together, team.

At the end of some years, there aren’t so very many words.  §

I’ve had this tradition of making a long, wordy post to end the year.

I’m running out of patience with my past self, and with words. Here are some things, and I think we can leave it after that:

  • There are way too many words in our society just now. A lot of talk—talk, talk, talk, words, words, words, most of it bullshit. I have come to realize that I’m as guilty of this as everyone else. We made ourselves these word-centric systems like social media and proceeded to fill them up. Mistake. The words have taken the place of actions, morals, decisions, understandings. It’s vapid. I’m vapid. We’re all vapid. Say less, do more.

  • On that front, I have had a terrible 2021 in most every way. But a lot of that is due to exactly the above—thinking I was doing a lot of things when in fact I was just saying a lot of things, like everyone. Which is ironic in my case because I don’t even have that many people to say things to. But the dark magic of our social media age is that you can blather on indefinitely to nobody at all and your circuits think you’re talking and mistake that for real stuff.

  • What I have learned since exiting the academy and getting divorced has become clear to me, and I think I can get it out in a bullet. Truth exists. Truth cannot be explained or detailed in words. Truth is suffering and suffering is meaning. Truth is not entirely material. Children are the only thing that matter. God likely exists, because hell clearly exists. Providing reasoned critiques of this in words is a loser’s game, like saying that apples are a pale imitation of television. Well, yes.

  • My resolutions for 2022 are simple: talk less and do things. It doesn’t even really matter all that much which things. Just things, and actual doing. Not talking about doing, not considering doing, not evaluating-the-possibility-of-doing-as-a-form-of-doing. Actual doing of things, offline, beyond symbolic culture—beyond words, beyond code, beyond images, beyond screens.

  • The world is going to get worse in 2022. And worse again in 2023 and then a whole lot worse in 2024.

  • Living in truth is not a mental thing. It’s a physical thing. Life is not a mental thing. It’s a physical thing. The only things that really matter are not mental things. They are physical things. In fact, mental things, too, are ultimately physical things—just an impoverished category of them.

  • The pope make a mistake on the Latin mass question. (Bet you didn’t see that one coming.) But he has made a lot of mistakes.

  • Most of you are already trapped in the matrix, as I have been. Escape will not be easy, but unless I escape, 2022 will be as terrible as 2021.

  • In all these years, I have learned next to nothing. I have much—very, very much—to learn.

Happy new year.

The academics are fighting over crumbs while Ganon threatens Hyrule.  §

Every year since I-don’t-know-when I’ve done this “year-end post” thing.

It’s about time to start cooking mine up for this year I suppose. I’m not sure to refer back to previous years to get a flavor for what I have done in the past (because for the first time, instinct really just isn’t carrying me there) or whether to just wing it.

I guess I’ll find out over the next few days which wins.

— § —

Among the other things worth noting this year is that 2021 is the year that I started playing video games again. There were accidents and disasters and then we all got COVID and somewhere in the middle of it, as everyone was laid up and reeling, I noticed that my kids were playing this game on their Switch units that spoke to me somehow. I asked my son if I could mess around for a bit and before you know it, I was playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Like, a lot.

Throughout my COVID recovery and then the rest of fall I played it, without spoilers, until I finished the game and nearly all of the tasks. It is amazingly deep. It almost immediately joined this category of “gaming experiences that stick with me as life memories.” This category also includes:

  • Riven

  • Nethack

  • Pac-Man on Atari 2600 (used to play this with my dad)

  • Original 1980 Star Wars arcade (first serious video game experience)

Don’t get confused about this list, I’ve played a lot of games. As in, a lot. But most of it dates back to the ’90s and early ’00s and I haven’t really played anything since maybe 2011—that is, until the second half of this year.

— § —

I stopped gaming for two basic reasons:

  • Games were less and less fun and more and more just about polygons and FPS

  • Serious academics don’t play video games

I’m embarrassed to admit the second one, but I spent half my life swimming upstream against an army of people spread across the continent who said I’d never make it and that I wasn’t serious—and I was determined to prove them wrong.

I’m ultimately not sure whether I did or not… I did get my PhD and I was a professor for a time, which I think are the two things they meant I’d never accomplish. But at the same time, by 2021 I haven’t used my PhD for anything in ages and I haven’t been a professor for eight years. So did I make it or didn’t I? Hard to say.

What I can say is that I was absolutely tuned in to playing the “serious” academic game in which you are working hard to be “competitive” and to “embody” the role.

In practice this means pitched, highly political, often vitriolic and underhanded battles between aspiring academics and other aspiring academics, and between aspiring academics and other aspiring academics’ faculty advisors. The battles are all-encompassing and deeply bloody and brutal, and if you’re going to survive, you can’t be spending your time playing video games—you have to dedicate your whole self to survival and coming out on top.

The funny thing is that despite how seriously academics take these battles, and how convinced academics are that they are Very Important and that The Future of Humanity may rest on each one, in fact they are completely invisible to the real world.

The academics are fighting each other for supremacy over each other in the end, though they don’t realize it—not for anything in the real world.

In the real world, the global video game industry drives $350-$400 billion in sales every single year, just shy of the accumulated total endowments of the entire Ivy League put together.

In other words, all those people coming home from work and playing Breath of the Wild (which is, incidentally, the greatest video game I have ever played, hands down) are the real world; the academics who are sure they’re fighting The Important Battles in the Real World are, in fact, off in la-la land engaged with each other in battles that are entirely irrelevant to anything.

They’re like rats fighting each other in the basement crawlspace under a house. They’re battling each other to the death over spoils that must seem all-important to them (say, a bit of granola that fell down a furnace vent), but in fact the real action in the house is much larger and elsewhere, and is entirely unaware of the rats—and wouldn’t care to worry about them if it somehow did become aware.

— § —

Anyway, back to video games.

Post finishing Zelda, I was at a weird loose end. I’d acquired this Nintendo Switch and it seemed silly to use it just to play a single game and be done with it. So I hit the Nintendo e-Shop to see what else was on offer (and on sale) and came up with Hades, which I am continuing to play regularly. And now I’ve acquired another half dozen or so titles—whatever is on sale in the shop for $2-$4 in a given week.

So I guess I’m gaming again, at least by my measure. And I think I am enjoying it as much as I ever enjoyed academics—especially the part where I don’t feel guilty about it any longer. (Well, at least not in the same way.)

That’s the 2021 factoid for the night.

Cool is the first thing to go when you join the ranks of the sinners.  §

So I was having this chat with an old friend about how when we were younger, we were cool. Reckless and invincible and effortless and cool and everything was easy—everything. Yet somewhere along the way, we’d lost it.

And at first, for a day or so, I was thinking that this was because when you’re young you have nothing to lose, but as you get older, you do. You can’t afford to be devil-may-care any longer because the things that you do actually affect other people, and because it begins to matter whether a risk was a good risk or a bad risk, whether you’re up to the task or not. When you’re young, it’s easy to take on any challenge with a smirk, because nothing in particular is at stake.

I was ever-so-subtly wrong.

Tonight I realize that cool goes not when you have something to lose, but when you have lost. When you have suffered. When you have, in fact, let people down, failed at the task, had to face the consequences of your failures.

If you have any god damn brains when you’re older, you realize that cool is unbecoming. Swagger is unbecoming. Because by the time you reach middle age, if you’ve lived at all, you’ve also fucked up. People have paid the price. Things have gone wrong. You and others around you have suffered and suffered greatly for your sins and your conceits.

Once that’s hung around someone’s neck, it takes either an asshole or an idiot to swagger around like a pirate. Humility doesn’t come from the stakes. Humility comes from having lost it all, and indeed from having lost it all for others as well. Once you carry the weight of souls around with you, you can no longer slice through life like you own it because that would be ugly and because you bear that weight every day, everywhere you go.

That’s the transition from the cocky young guy to the quiet old guy. Both are equally capable, but the quiet old guy keeps his mouth shut. He knows that capability doesn’t count for shit; you’ve crushed people and things you loved and you’ll likely do it again before your life is done, no matter how capable you are, because those are the stakes, because that’s what happens.

He keeps his mouth shut and he does his job and he tells people younger than him that he hopes they win, even though by now he knows better.

That’s the generation gap. Young folk think older folk are cowards and idiots because young folk, contrary to what they imagine about themselves, are as pure as the driven snow.

Making peace with the choices you’ve made isn’t easy.  §

I’m not writing a lot.

Mostly because there’s so much to write about. Thing is, you pass a certain threshold and if you bother to jot down how you feel you’ll just be complaining all the time.

I need to fix that, but I lack… something. I’m not sure what.

In the social media era, there’s no shortage of people out there loudly describing the success that they have and the way that they have it. Hard work, discipline, ambition, etc. I’m just not into it.

I don’t care enough.

They say that your preferences are evidenced in your choices, whatever it is you say out loud about yourself or the way you want your life to go. If you look at my life, then, what I am mostly giving evidence of is a desire to stand pat, despite the fact that I’m not thrilled about where I’m standing.

Risk aversion fits in here somewhere.

I’m just tired of problems. I’m familiar with the problems I already have and have had, and what I don’t want is any new ones, because I have the vague idea that if I were to encounter any new problems, I’d just want to quit. Everything.

I’ve had it.

I’ve got every standard problem that an American person can have. Failure to completely launch. A boatload of student loans. Underachievement due to choices I made about the course of my life. A life that resulted in divorce, and now single parenthood. I have a stodgy, computer-centric 9-to-5 that leaves me sitting on my ass all day. I’m out of shape and don’t work out or watch my diet enough.

Basically, despite having started out to rule the world and making great progress toward it for a while, I’ve ended up where the average American ends up.

I also don’t particularly want a better life. It is dawning on me that I was raised lower-middle class and that’s what I’m comfortable with. I don’t want a shiny, brand-spanking-new house and a bunch of swanky functions and cocktail parties to go to.

I want a cluttered, aging house, a car I can work on myself, an average yard, and evenings watching football in the winter and episodes of whatever is random in the summer. I just don’t want to live like “the beautiful people.” If I can’t be in a position to be where the power brokers are, I just want to grab Taco Bell a lot of the time and basically piddle around.

The problem of course is that I’d like to piddle around better, but that’s not really how it works. You do better by adopting a different lifestyle that I’m not really prepared to adopt. There is no “better lower middle class,” there is only “better as in Whole Foods and clean windows.” They go hand-in-hand.

What does this mean for my future? I’m not sure.

I’ve been encouraged to date a lot but I don’t really find myself interested in any of the people I’ve seen, much less met. On the one side there’s the Whole Foods and Instagram crowd. On the other side it’s bad grammar and poor educational attainment.

I think to really be happy in a relationship any longer, I’d have to find another academic flame-out in the same mold: I wanted to rule the world at one point and could have with “higher-end” decisions, but in the end I settled for Taco Bell and a used car.

There aren’t many women out there like that—women who can talk Dostoyevsky and the Frankfurt School and who understand every dependent clause in a long sentence and use large words astutely, but who also aren’t busy making sure they have an Instagram-worthy house and really just want to play checkers while watching the game.

It’s a dying breed.

Where I think I really belong is in the “absent-minded professor” population. Small town, regular life, just read a few more books and everyone wants to hang out with them. That’s not really a thing anymore, and likely won’t be again.

So it is what it is.

I’m dying alone someday. Oh well, maybe we’ll have won a natty by then. Probably not, but a guy can dream while he putters around the house buried in debt.

When you need a plan, the last thing you need is a plan.  §

I have these moments where I think, “What I need is a plan. A plan to get back on the horse. A plan to pull it back together. A five year plan. A one year plan. A ten year plan. Whatever. A plan.”

And then the next moment, when I think about doing it, I feel tired.

I feel tired, tired, tired.

So tired.

Too much living. Too many things. Too many people.

When life was simpler, lives were livable.

But now?

How many people can you love and lose? How many towns can you live in and leave? How many caskets can you carry? How many memories, tragedies, diaries, trajectories can one lifetime hold?

How much is too much?

I’m tired. Do I want to make a plan? Do I care to make a plan?

For what purpose? To do it all over again?

I’m tired of loving people. I’m tired of living places. I don’t like where I am, but the proverbial definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result.

How many plans have there been?

How many books have I written? How many degrees have I earned? How many homes have I outfitted? Plan after plan after plan, executed over decades.

I always end up here. What will be different this time?

I know, I know. Try a different genre of plan. As in, way different (I mean, I’ve done the date a dominatrix and the move to New York with $200 to your name and the promise to write a book in a month without knowing how things).

Join a monastery? Hike from the top of Alaska to the southern tip of Chile with only the clothes on my back?

I mean, I’m not twenty any longer.

Somebody drop the meaning of life in my lap, please.

I have a lot to give but no fucking way to give it.

Why do things happen the way that they happen? Why do lives turn out differently?  §

Sometimes you can fight despair gently.

But sometimes gently won’t get you there.

Sometimes you have to fight despair with every last thing that you have.

I am fighting despair with every last thing that I have.

— § —

Here’s a nod to all the things that I won’t write. The things that you can’t say on your blog or anywhere else for that matter because they would make other people like you less and because they would make you like yourself less.

The things that you think anyway, even though this is the case and you won’t write them down or admit to it.

Here’s to being sad about the way that life has turned out so far. About all the times you choose and pursue and win the wrong triumphs. Some people do that a lot. I’m one of them. They’re wrong because they don’t get you anything in the end and because later on you regret them.

Here’s to being lonely and getting lonelier each time a new face is added to your life somhow.

Here’s to the self-indulgent feeling that some people are just cursed by destiny.

— § —

Some people are designed to be happy, and they are.

Some people are designed to be sad, and they are.

I’ve had some very high highs in my life, but they don’t seem durable. They don’t last for me. Even things that people say are the “enduring” highs that we’re supposed to pursue. Family. Education. Health. And so on.

They didn’t endure for me, even though they did for other people.

But I suppose I’m still lucky in a way.

I haven’t been diagnosed with a brain tumor or lost a loved one to a car accident. Thank God.

But I confess to significant envy of the people that went to college, got an advanced degree, got a good job, got married, had kids, bought a house, grew a 401k, took out a giant life insurance policy, and how have nice barbecues or weekends on their boat on Lake Powell.

I went to college, got an advanced degree, got a good job, got married, had kids, got hated, got threatened, got divorced, ended up in a mountain of debt, own nothing, have no 401k, have no life insurance, and now think I will be working at 80 while my ex is out having nice barbecues or weekends on their boat on Lake Powell.

What sin did I commit?

I was a damned good husband. And I’m a damned good father. And I won awards with my advanced degree. And I wrote a bunch of books. And everyone always congratulates me and tells me they look up to me.

So why can’t I have a good middle class life?

— § —

I guess it’s just not on the cards for some people. Fate’s a bitch.

No. No, it isn’t. Stop asking.  §

I don’t know what this is for.

There was a time, once, when writing was my outlet. There was a time, once, when shooting was my outlet.

Pen and camera in hand, I lived my life at a distance, at a remove, so that I could cope with it.

Chicago, Portland, Los Angeles, New York, schools, road trips, drug trips, bad relationships, endless bottles of alcohol, tattoos, degrees, research projects, career twists.

There were, here and there, flowers. Clear, dark nights walking in the city alone. Rainstorms. Bundles of concrete and steel tucked away in the nooks of the endless map. Miles and miles and forests and forests and cities and cities.

There were moments to cling to, things to anchor to from a distance—from behind a pen, from behind a lens—and to hold on to for dear life.

— § —

This isn’t an outlet any longer.

There is no outlet. No outlet that can cope. No outlet that can help me to cope.

The rain falls and the wind blows and more rain falls and more wind blows and the leaves are torn from the branches and the branches from the trees and the trees from the frightened earth and the earth from the substrate of being and all swirl and swirl and clamor and rush in the tremendous fury of the tragedy.

— § —

The tragedy, our state of being, the nature of our world. The tragedy.

I can live in darkness. I can cope with a bleak world of suffering and hate, of the song of destruction wailing always and everywhere amidst twisted figures of suffering and deformity and decay, blah, blah. I can drink with the devil.

I can live in light. I can cope with a sparkling world of echoing giggles and the scent of lemons and springtime, in which creation bubbles forth in endless fertility and naive ecstasy in simply being. I can drink with God.

But these are not our world.

No.

It is the both that I can’t cope with. That I have no outlet for. Both.

Both.

Fucking both. Always both.

Innocence forever arising anew from heaven only to be fed to the slaughter, without understanding, without guile, without cause. Laughter giving way to cynicism giving way to the demonic. Springs of purity feeding cataclysmic mountains of corruption that race ever skyward, a symphony of mold and blood and feces and rotting, defingered arms and socketed faces conducted by the devil himself, virtuoso and maestro.

It is the fallen world that I can’t cope with.

The fallen world.

— § —

There is no outlet from the fallen world and there is no escape from the fallen world.

The world in which all good things must end.

The world in which every innocent babe becomes Judas, Machiavelli, Jekyll and Hyde, and ultimately corpse in due course.

This is unacceptable.

In an unacceptable world, there is no outlet that matters. All outlets are merely ways of feeding diseased effluence into a dying sea whose death is never complete, whose suffering can never be slowed.

— § —

No, this is not a suicide note. I am always asked. For thirty years or more I have been asked, every time I reach the familiar impasse.

“Is this a suicide note?”

No.

“Are you okay?” they always ask.

No. No I am not okay. No, I have never been okay. Not for a single day for as long as I can remember, since before I can remember, since before I could speak a word, have I been okay.

Who is okay in a fallen world?

Who is “okay?”

“What can I do? Who can help?”

I mean, what is the purpose of these questions?

“Who can help” is the eternal question, since time immemorial, since the dawn of man. The answers are Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. That’s who can “help.”

There is no help to be had.

Gravity pulls in one direction only. The fall is the fall.

We fall forever.

”I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.”

— § —

”A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows us an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward.”

— § —

”History, which is a simple whore, has no decisive moments but is a proliferation of instants, brief interludes that vie with one another in monstrousness.”

— § —

Every assassination, every cancer, every treachery, every unmarked grave, every cold case, every unheard cry in the darkness is proof that truth always wins out in the end.

Requiem.  §

The kids got COVID at school.
Then, my ex-wife and her husband got COVID.
Then, I got COVID.
Then, all hell broke loose.

— § —

At first, it was, “I think we might just be okay.”
Then, “I think I have gone crazy.”
Then, “Maybe I won’t go crazy?”
Now, “This is what it is like to go crazy, little bit little, with no means by which to stop it.”

— § —

There is no reality.
There is no reality.

Nothing that you take to be real is real. The ground beneath your feet and the rolling sky above your head are not there. You think they’re there, you may even be sure they’re there, you may even test your theory and physically find them to be there, and so they will appear to be there—until the day on which they suddenly disappear without warning.

And it will happen. It will happen to you.

Life, in this world of unrealities, is fundamentally a story of loss:

You are born.

Every day you lose something, some days more than others.

Some days large amounts of meat are torn directly from your trembling heart.

And ultimately, once it is all taken from you, you die.

— § —

Always remember that no matter how bad you think today is, today is already and fleetingly “the good times, before so very much was lost.”

It is an iron law of the universe that you reach tomorrow with less than you had today. So enjoy whatever hell you inhabit—because it is inevitably tomorrow’s paradise, achingly lost.

— § —

You are going crazy, too.

Some of you just don’t know it yet.

Reality is unacceptable and truths are hard.  §

It has been a long time since I posted anything. Things are not going well.

— § —

It has been a bad week.
It has been a bad month.
It has been a bad year.
It has been a bad decade.

— § —

One likes to think that “oh, the worst must surely be over by now, whatever comes next will be better.”

So far, this has proven not to be a working bit of hopetry.

There’s no reason to post this. But I will anyway.  §

I don’t know exactly how long it’s been, but I sense that it’s been a while. In a way, it hardly matters; very few people read here any longer. It’s not the late ’90s or early ’00s now. People have moved on in the ways that they connect with one another.

Just as well, as this entry is not going to be pleasant. It’s not that I have a dastardly plan, just that there have been so very many posts written in my head over the course of a day over the last weeks and months, and I can’t think of one of them that wasn’t ultimately sour in taste—so much so that over and over I’ve decided not to bother to even type them in.

— § —

I said this to someone in passing recently, but as I was walking the dog today it occupied me for some time: the social contract has been largely swept away.

Now I’m not naive enough to imagine that any social contract is ever stable. Social systems as such, even the most repressive ones, have a kind of dynamism and an intrinsic process of emergent social norming that together ensure that from generation to generation, indeed from year to year, the social contract evolves.

Nonetheless, there are degrees; there is evolution, and then there is violation or complete disregard.

There is a way to tell the story of my life in which the single thread that binds it all together—across neighbors, community leaders, family members, teachers, friends, significant others, forgetting for a moment about policymakers and administrators—is the free-falling experience of over and over again finding that the mutual obligations upon which I based my choices were not to be adhered to by others when the time came.

Yes, I know. Whine, whine.

But the thing is, I want you to step back a step. Don’t read it as being “about me,” but rather as “about anyone.” I said “tell the story of my life” above but what I see as relevant is not that I am the protagonist in this particular story, but that I increasingly think it is a story that has been playing out for one or several generations across the board. That is to say that it isn’t just the story of my life, but the story of a society—a society in which the social contract is collapsing.

A society of proliferating mass shootings, riots, corruption, relativism, “wellness-seeking,” and all the wrong kinds of “forgiveness.” That is to say—forgiveness not as a transcendental thing but as reluctant denial maintenance in the face of helpless disappointment and betrayal. We must all forgive because what else is there to do in such a society? The only alternative is to admit that we have been wronged and that we will continue to be wronged and that this is in fact equitable repayment for our own lazy wrongs in the same key, and that this train will not be stopped.

The alternative to this kind of “forgiveness” is, in many practical ways, the flame and the bullet. And avoiding those seems at least expedient and sensible at a superficial level.

Of course, the universe does not operate at a superficial level—

— § —

Still, at a personal level, you can’t live your life by legal contract; you have to do your best to uncover others’ values through interaction and frank discussion and then trust them and your understanding of them or, alternatively, decide not to do so.

I was born a trusting kid.

But as anyone (say, my closest friends or my ex-wife) can tell you, as an adult I’m something of a misanthrope. I’m sure this is largely why.

Call it my own naiveté or bad decision making, or say it’s because my brain is broken and I’m frankly autistic and unfit to comprehend human feelings as my wife once frequently did in public at my expense before she became my ex-wife (Am I wrong, for example, to read that as a violation of some implicit contract between man and wife?), the fact remains that I just don’t like people all that much because it looks to me as though—even when I’m not involved in an interaction and just observing their relations with others—people are generally amoral creatures out to glorify themselves at the expense of others.

More to the point, and this is new over the last decade or so, I have the feeling that contra this evaluation of my own, they’d say that in fact all of the things that they did were tremendously ethical, moral, and right, and that it’s my antiquated understanding of human obligation, which somehow gave us the Crusades and colonialism and the Holocaust, and whatever else, that is not just immoral but in fact frightening.

— § —

I find most people to be, in short, rather inhuman today, and I find this state of things to be accelerating.

Most people today would argue precisely the opposite—that people of the contemporary west and indeed all of modern, enlightened society, not to mention the society itself, are more human than they’ve ever been.

My response to that is:

You cannot become more human when you do not even know what human is.

It is my position that they do not know what human is.

And that someday soon, they will—the vast majority of them—be shocked and aggrieved to find that the story really does end with their death, which they’d always read rather like the claims on laundry detergent boxes: a lot of sound and fury untied to any actual real-world phenomena.

— § —

I have graduated to the treadmill.

When I was young every single teen boy, down to a one, swore earnestly that he’d never get on the corporate treadmill, never be part of the rat race, never fade away somewhere in suburbia working his nine-to-five job, unappreciated by community, unappreciated by wife (or worse, divorced and alone), subject of a largely forgotten existence as a tiny cog in a spectacularly vast and impersonal economic machine.

I can’t deny that that’s now me. I’ve finally arrived.

Like the rest, I set out to do something more, to be something intentional, to find a story or a hero’s journey that made life worth the price of entry.

I made it farther than many. I lived in all of the most interesting of our major North American cities. I both authored and edited books. I dated interesting and diverse people. I had drinks inside circles of power. I got advanced degrees and more advanced degrees. I started companies and social media platforms. I attended conferences overseas and married exotic foreigners. I was paid by universities, dot-coms, think tanks, and governments. I actually turned down a job at the United Nations.

But time has caught up to me, as it catches up to everyone.

Now I have to admit that for months at least, I travel forward in time with no intelligible story at all to tell. I wake up. I work a nine-to-five corporate job of no particular consequence outside the company itself. I finish late. I eat one of the same four or five things I always eat. I go to bed. I do it all again.

Being a parent carried me for some time—there is an intrinsic heroism and unpredictability in parenting that can mask the stasis in life that lies beneath.

But at length your children grow old enough that most of the time they neither want nor need any particular input from you. Mine are there. And that is, of course, right and proper. They increasingly find their own friends, their own hobbies, their own paths into life.

As my children accelerate into this new stage, even though it’s relatively early days yet, what’s left behind is just me and whatever it is that I have, in the meantime, become.

And what I have become is the guy who looks back at the things I say I’ve done in life and can’t quite believe that any of that is or was ever real, because the current state of my life is very simply that: I wake up. I work a nine-to-five corporate job of no particular consequence outside the company itself. I finish late. I eat one of the same four or five things I always eat. I go to bed. I do it all again.

There is something else there, beneath the surface. It waxes and wanes. At times I can access it, though I don’t know what to do with it. In recent weeks and months I can’t once again. I have the vexing feeling of waiting and a vexing uncertainty about whether I am waiting on myself or waiting on God, and about whether this waiting is the right thing.

— § —

Lack of companionship has been a constant problem since two years into my eight-year marriage. I’ve been alone and largely ignored for a very, very long time.

It’s not existential for me. Things frankly might be somewhat better if it were. I can go about my daily business and be fine. In fact, it’s eminently compatible with the misanthropic outlook that I struggle with. I’m sure a therapist would have all kinds of things to say here about defense mechanisms and so on, but of course the problem with therapists is that they’re not interested in moral principles and objective meaning, they’re interested in yoga, wellness, and subjective meaning. They’re false prophets, in other words, and I’ve had enough of those.

But it’s true that, as a few kind women have noted but not wanted to directly say over the last couple of decades, I seem lonely. I sure do.

Problem is that I struggle to meet anyone that it’s both appropriate to incorporate into my life and that I at the same time want to incorporate into my life. No, I’m not talking about dating eighteen-year-olds or anything like that. I’m talking about the apparent tensions between propriety, availability, and reasoned desirability.

I’m rather determined to meet what I see to be my obligations even if virtually everyone in the world tells me that they’re not my obligations. This severely limits the dating pool from the start on a simply demographic basis at my age. Pair this with the fact that most of the population of women at any age are now living their Instagram Best Life and are thus, frankly, rather off-putting if not outright disgusting, and there’s just not anyone left to talk to.

— § —

All of this is not to say that I don’t know any great people. I do know some truly great people. Most of them are younger than me, and I get to play something between mentor and elder community member for them. A few others are married.

But it is true that most of the people out there today are not people I want much to do with. Granted, a certain amount of this is a matter of the rotten values that they hold that are themselves transient, the result of a deeply evil zeitgeist more than of the individuals themselves.

Yet there’s also an unattractive story in that fact, since it implies that the individuals themselves are not made of particularly strong stuff—do not, as a general rule, have much in the way of structural fibre or integrity.

No, as my ex-wife points out, people aren’t perfect and it’s unfair to expect them to be, but what I generally can’t cope with is the degree to which everyone is so blasé or even gleeful about their imperfections and narcissisms now, the latter two now often consciously argued to be virtues, despite what I read as subconscious doubt about this position.

If there’s one thing I can’t stomach, is the self-righteous individual proclaiming to be their virtues all of the things that are so very clearly their vices.

If there’s one thing I can’t stomach, in other words, it’s an entire society of pervasive lies.

Close behind is “self-forgiveness,” which I find to be an abhorrent concept. It is for others to forgive us. It is for God to forgive us. It is not for us to forgive ourselves. That’s more of the bullshit being sold by therapists, who have done at least as much to destroy western civilization as the last several U.S. presidents.

Not sure how we got from relationships to lies, but whatever.

Point being: There are times when I distinctly believe that I can see through people. I couldn’t always, but in the last few years, I am often sure that I can. I don’t like it. I’d rather not. I know some great ones. But not many. The rest I will avoid.

— § —

I could sit here and do this for hours and hours and for many hundreds of pages. As I mentioned, it’s a large assortment, that assortment of blog posts that have passed through me without being keyed in over the last several months.

But as I also mentioned, most of them were variations on a theme, and the theme was not a particularly edifying or positive one, so I let them pass into the oblivion of the mental past.

This one is here because it’s been a while, and at some point to think of so many posts over so many days and type none of them in also feels like lying.

In short, it was time to put something here that was new.

So here it is.

— § —

Have I become something of the trad, cloistered monk, ranting and raving from within the walls about everything revolting happening without? Yes, yes I have.

Does that make me a hypocrite? I can’t tell but I leave open the possibility. It is for others and for God, not for me, to judge.

Do I have anything else to say today?

I don’t think I ought. Do you?

Let’s call that a “no,” then.

Here’s how the song of the divorced goes.  §

“My family was hell on earth, so I got divorced.
Now my family is paradise
but I’m doomed to suffer losing it over and over again
every few days,
for the rest of time.”

At 45 years old, you don’t get to have imaginary friends any longer.  §

Turning 45 tomorrow.

Found myself listening to Ben Folds songs, starting with “Still Fighting It.”

Spent all day working to finish the remodel on what will be my daughter’s bedroom.

Decided to make a blog post. Then decided that I didn’t have the internal resources to do it, felt like I didn’t want to confront what I was thinking or feeling.

Came to make the post anyway.

Don’t actually know what I’m thinking or feeling. If there was a therapist here they would say it’s because I’m in denial and need to access something or open up and get in touch with or some stupid nonsense like that.

In fact, I don’t know because there’s not one thing, there are a million things. Like:

  • How can I be 45?
  • Isn’t it bad to be 45 and be alone?
  • But I’m not really alone, I have my kids, right?
  • Ah, but will I always? I have an ex that’s a wildcard, and also they’ll grow up, no?
  • Isn’t it bad to mention kids in a discussion of not being alone? Seems harmful, right?
  • But can I really stand to date anyone? Haven’t I generally found that I hate it and that the people out there are shallow?
  • But does that matter?
  • Do I want to have better birthday plans than I have?
  • Do I like my life as it’s played out, or do I hate it?
  • How many years do I have left?
  • Do I care how I feel about my life? And if not, why not?
  • And is that question too meta to have any meaning?
  • And how do I feel about the weeks stretching into months stretching into years stretching into decades on the work treadmill?
  • But isn’t that what everyone ends up doing?
  • And is there really an alternative anyway?
  • And don’t I actually appreciate the job that I have and the accomplishments I’ve made?
  • And isn’t this too many rhetorical questions? What does it mean that I phrase everything in terms of rhetorical questions?
  • What does it mean that I ask what it means?
  • Should I go to bed right now and have an early night, or should I stay up late and read a book?
  • Won’t I regret it tomorrow if I stay up late and read a book?
  • Has that ever stopped me before?
  • What happens to the souls of your childhood imaginary friends once you stop imagining them?
  • What do I feel about turning 45?
  • Well?

That’s as far as I’ve gone so far, seems to be a brick wall. But now I can be satisfied that I’ve made a post, scratched that particular itch, and it wasn’t all that bad.

I think turning 45 is somehow much more psychologically disruptive.

End.

Knit caps may be the only things that don’t age, though they do ultimately always get lost.  §

When I was younger, I loved old things. Not too old, mind—not antiques. Just things old enough to show wear.

In fact, so long as they showed sufficient wear, so long as they were ratty and scratched enough, even a little bit of age did the job. They needed to look, in other words, aged.

That’s the particular insecurity of the young.

Every young person vies with every other young person for authority, for importance and the deference of others. Deference is given to those who are worldly wise—who have seen some things. Those who know.

There is no better way to demonstrate this particular quality when you’re young but to wear and be surrounded by things that demonstrate just how much battle you have seen, how many times you’ve been around the world on barely-maintained trains in forgotten countrysides where once there was this war or that one, and so on.

Never mind that as a teen or young twenty-something, it’s all likely a pose.

It’s instinctive. You want to be one of the silverbacks.

— § —

Now that I’m racing down the other side of the hill, my relationship to old things—particularly to my old things—is far more complicated.

Now things are old just because they’ve been around long enough to see decay. Now they are reminders that I, too, have seen decay.

That’s a hard pill to swallow at times.

And yet at the same time, things that have grown old are also things that are familiar, that are part of you, that are domestic and comfortable.

There’s a very strange feeling that I don’t have a word for when I look around now and see, for example, that paint job that I did that was once so fresh and white and new and is now ratty and scratched and shows all the signs of having been lived-with.

To see the light fixture that I installed, now with a dent and covered in dust, or the car that was once a bundle of shiny surfaces and clean, straight edges now a matter of fading paint and bumps and irregularities.

They’re the things of my life; they hold memories of myself and my children, I liked them (even loved them in some cases) and continue to do so.

And—

They’re things in the throes of death, they are evidence that those beloved versions of self and children have also passed long away, never to return, and part of me itches to replace them, even as another part of me silently cries out with some sort of pathetic longing for something closer to immortality.

— § —

But it is what it is.

— § —

I’m in the middle of painting and flooring another room.

If there’s one constant since my divorce, it’s that I’m in the middle of painting and flooring a room. I think that’s what happens when you divorce; something in you snaps and begins to crave the smell of volatile organic compounds and after that you compulsively fill your existence with them, painting and flooring like a madman without even realizing it.

— § —

I’m also in the middle of living my last… month? quarter? year? weekend?

…with my dog. She continues to do “okay but not great” as has been the state of things for at least three weeks now. It’s now been five weeks since the emergency surgery that saved her life but also revealed the presence of a large tumor—since removed, but believed by the doctor to likely be malignant.

It continues to be unclear what works and what doesn’t.

It continues to be clear that sometimes she feels well and happy and sometimes she doesn’t.

— § —

Here’s how my life works.

Every time I’ve gone outside since the first chill of fall, I pause at the door and think, “I should put on that knit cap I have.”

Then, I look around the entry area for it, can’t find it, and at some point think, “Oh, right. I think it’s in the car. I’ll put it on when I get in.”

Between the door and the car, I forget entirely, and when I get into the car and sit down, I don’t put it on.

I couldn’t if I tried, because in fact every time I return to my office, sit down, and start to use this keyboard, I spot said knit cap sitting next to my keyboard and think, “why in the world is that in here…I need to take it back to the entryway when I head that direction.”

The next time I head that direction, of course, I don’t even remember that I’ve had the thought.

So here the knit cap has been, beside my keyboard since October as I type.

And my head has been uncovered the entire time when outside.

That’s how my life works.