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.
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

Having reached the center of the room, he sat down and was silent.  §

I’ve been posting comparatively little recently.

That’s because there is nothing to say and no one to say it to.

I have developed understanding of all those middle-aged people I used to think poorly of, who seemed to live life on a dull treadmill of endless busywork, uninspired.

“How are you?”

“Same as yesterday. Same as last week. Same as last month. Same as last year.”

“What have you been up to?”

“Same as yesterday. Same as last week. Same as last month. Same as last year.”

“Any plans?”

“None but to go to bed, then wake up and do it all again tomorrow.”

You need someone to believe in you.  §

A fragmented assortment of thoughts.

— § —

I am neither prone to listening to “new” (as in, post-1999) music, nor to becoming overly emotional in response to… anything. Nor to fits of teen idol angst.

But a band that has mostly already happened, that happened sometime during that period when I was someone else between 2001 and 2015, has taken over much of my emotional universe. Every time I hear Nightwish perform Ghost Love Score or The Greatest Show On Earth, I end up with tears streaming down my face.

— § —

We live in a world that is largely devoid of beauty. We’ve worked very hard to eliminate it since the Enlightenment, and with our tools and science, we’ve been largely successful. When you see it now, it shocks you, like falling to your death, only doing so while at a strange kind of peace.

— § —

Life and growth happen, for a man, because someone believes in you more than you believe in yourself—and you want to live up to their belief and expectations.

So, by that measure, it has been a decent while since I was alive, or growing.

I need that pressure again, that belief that I am not quite sure I can justify. I need someone to think I am better than I believe I am, so that I can become what they think I am.

By that measure, I’ve been dead for years now.

I believe in myself. I can hand you my CV or tell you the ten thousand things about me that make me valuable, even exceptional. But I’m a man. I don’t care about that. I can try, but I don’t. I need something to live up to.

— § —

My son gave me a watering can for my birthday. Now I can keep plants alive. I love the watering can he gave me. I wish I could explain that to him in words that would convey the depth of my appreciation, but he’s 10. I don’t think he’ll be able to understand what it means to me until he’s 30.

— § —

One post a month. That’s all you get, apparently.

Trying to figure out how to generate good outcomes.  §

Sometimes late at night sitting here in the dark I come face to face with the fact that one reason I don’t think about the past very much, and in fact try to forget it altogether, is that I don’t have a lot of good memories that don’t directly lead to bad outcomes.

How many decades has it been since I had a good memory that didn’t culminate in a catastrophic outcome?

I can’t think about it too long. It takes me into the depths. Have to keep moving forward. But I have to also figure out what I’m doing wrong—why I tend toward debt, divorce, and damage at the end of everything.

Ex-wife used to say it’s because I was a born loser. I don’t know if I buy that. But there may be a hint of truth under there somewhere about the way that I make life decisions.

I started out with infinite confidence. Everything since 2015 has continued to batter it. Down on confidence? You bet. But I have skills. I use them every day. I can’t figure it out.

Life is actually only 30-40 years long.  §

Early in your life, your job is to grow up, to learn, to lay the foundation “so that you won’t be behind” and “so that you won’t suffer” when you get older.

By the time you reach your teens, the job is somewhat different. It’s to compete, to accelerate, to build, and when that inevitably doesn’t work out—as it won’t a couple of times—it’s to change things up.

— § —

At some point, you reach adulthood. For most it’s sometime after they turn 30. For a few it’s earlier. For some, later.

You’ll know you’ve reached it because once you reach adulthood, you can no longer do any of those things. You feel unable to learn. Unable to lay new foundations. Unable to alter the fundamental positions in what used to be a competition. Unable to accelerate or to slow down. Unable to build.

You emerge into this extended state in which you live the same day over and over again. The same week over and over again. The same month over and over again.

No matter what you do, you are unable to change the fundamental dynamic.

You move across the country a few times. You change careers a few times. People die. People are born. Major diseases come and go. New cars, cars crashed, new cars again. New homes, homes worn down, new homes again. It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. No matter what you do, you have the same basic financial situation. You have the same basic social situation. You live the same basic life. You have the same basic days.

No matter what you do, you are living in empty time, in which nothing is ever different.

You become desperate to break free, to loosen the rock and get it to roll down the hill, to light the fuse and get the bomb to explode, anything—anything—to change things, because you know that this stasis can’t last forever and what you really want to avoid is being stuck where you are until suddenly, when you’re 65, or 75, or 85, you emerge in an instant, and quite unexpectedly, into the last days of your life, having achieved nothing new, seen nothing new, done nothing new since you were 25, or 35, or whatever age it was since you entered into adulthood.

But it doesn’t matter. No matter how hard you work at doing something you, you can’t. No matter how hard you work at seeing something new, you won’t.

Life really consists of about 15 years of childhood, about 10-15 years of young adulthood, and about 5 years of settling your accounts and dying.

Everything else is this strange period of suspended animation—of extended pause in a closed loop—in the middle.

There are moments when conscience and the past are the same thing.  §

For days now, day by day, I have been lost more and more in memories of that time between ’89 and ’91 and the months that immediately followed.

Humanity had won. We were all in love with each other. It was like we had been only children but now we’d found long-lost siblings and were suddenly awash in the joy of family, of togetherness, of that surprising trust that can sometimes simply happen, for not reason, between people. It was magical. We were all in love with each other, across the oceans. We’d somehow saved humanity after all, all of us together, for all of us.

I have a piece of the Berlin Wall on a bookshelf. Previously it was an artifact but now it feels strange, haunted, as though it has a dark soul that watches me—that watches us—and that passes judgement, foreshadowing some terrible punishment.

How did we lose after all, after everything that happened?

It’s like the way that relationships degrade, become abusive, and then, if you’re not careful, become murderous, even if to start there was so much joy.

We humans are broken. Or I suppose fallen is the word.

In any case, that’s what happened. We lost.

We have lost.

All good things—even the most transcendently good things—must end.

Twenty-two years.  §

This site has been online for twenty-two years. Entire universes have come and gone in that time.

— § —

When I was young I never wanted to be the guy that lived for work, nor did I want to be the guy that lived a dis-integrated life.

So it was that I insisted always on working remotely. On using my own equipment for work. I pursued a career (academics) that would have enabled me to maintain the same identity outside of work that I had inside it. When I had kids, I wanted both parents to participate equally and together in child rearing.

I didn’t want to live a two or six or a dozen separate, compartmentalized lives.

But the forces in today’s world are just too strong. Today there is a work me and a private me. I have work computing equipment and private computing equipment. I did not find a career in academics. I am divorced and so half of the time I am a father and half of the time I am a single guy. I am half of the fertility couple that produced my children and rarely have contact with the other half.

Like everyone, I live a completely fragmented life.

I don’t see how or why we live this way. It’s a recipe for losing track of your life—having it fly by without any way to understand that it’s happening or to capture it in memory and narrative. Instead, it’s a string of unassociated flashbacks and images, not a biography of a single person. Very few people get to be single people any longer.

— § —

We’re in that period between the holidays and the summer during which things seem cold and barren. While driving back from dropping the kids at school today I thought for a moment that I’d write a novel about traveling through barren, snowy areas and that feeling that hangs in the air this time of year in the modern world. Then I realized that Orhan Pamuk already wrote Snow and that I’d just be doing that again only without the pathos and the story.

— § —

I have to go. My other self is knocking at the door since it’s business hours. It’s time for the private, evening self to commit seppuku again and hand pass the torch to the business hours work self.

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.


— § —

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.


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


“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.