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Monthly Archives: May 2017

Beauty.  §

Consider it to be axiomatic that whenever and however beauty is encountered, it will precipitate a crisis. Beauty invariably constitutes a kind of emergency; this is its nature as something fleeting and vanishingly rare yet deeply, longingly needed.

Every encounter with beauty lays bare the blizzard of lies that a person tells themselves day after day after day; only the indictments handed down by truth remain.

In such moments, the urge is to strip all of life and its endless artifice away entirely and begin to build again from the start.

Since this generally cannot happen, beauty becomes a haunting, a loss, a failure of redemption, an unfinished pilgrimage whose promise will forever remain the stuff of dreams and hazy recollections.

That which is beautiful, in other words, is also that which signifies one’s own end, with a clarity and inevitability that leaves one stunned.

Experiencing beauty is equivalent to seeing one’s life pass before one’s eyes. It is a nostalgic and fulfilling and harrowing and most of all wistful experience.

Art from the death of malehood era.  §

I’ve been digesting the death of Chris Cornell for several days, and reflecting on the previous deaths of Andrew Wood, Kurt Cobain, Layne Stayley, Scott Weiland, etc.

Ryu Spaeth at The New Republic gave me the tidbit that I needed to finally clarify my thoughts. He describes grunge as being colored by a “ferocious masculinity” that was also somehow feminized in its lyrics, politics, etc.

That’s really the crux of it, but Ryu doesn’t quite understand, doesn’t quite go far enough.

Grunge was indeed mens’ music, and it was indeed masculine. This is not an accidental fact, however; grunge was the piercing lament, the death cry of masculinity. It was western masculinity finally giving in, committing seppuku, an honor killing of its very self in the face of evidence of its unimportance, unwantedness, and rejection by society.

It was the moment at which masculinity as a force in society “stopped believing in itself” (to use Camille Paglia’s words) and accepted the judgments of feminism and capitalism together, judgments that had been brewing for half a century, since the end of the second World War. It was a continuation of the metanarrative of Vietnam—this was made explicit by Alice in Chains, the band in which Layne Stayley made his mark.

With grunge, masculinity surrendered its heroism, stopped trying, and accepted the assertion that it was obsolete and ignoble. It then, by embracing the politics that made this assertion, destroyed itself in a final heroric act of regret and generosity.

It is both fitting and natural that each of the major figures of the movement then killed himself as well; this had to happen. Once they had conceded, they were men outside of time, as all men in this culture are. Ferocious masculinity has no place here; heroic masculinity has no place here; simple masculinity has no place here. There was nothing left for them to be after this act of heroism; their early deaths were set in motion with the founding of grunge; the trajectory cannot be altered.

Those who applaud the death of masculinity must be warned, however: men are still being born, and testosterone is going nowhere. The fact that men have collectively committed suicide on the social scale is evidence of masculinity’s ultimately unaltered nobility, not evidence of its disappearance at the individual biological level.

All that testosterone has to go somewhere when not channeled into wild, courageous heroism. Where it goes is into mass shootings, terrorism, and other similar social problems.

And (again, Paglia) the barbarians—who for their part do not and did not commit ritual suicide, and are very masculine indeed—are now at the gates.

In another time and place, we could have used swashbucklers and seen-it-all hard-men to command squads and units, make the hard decisions involved in the maintenance of the gestalt social order, etc.

Now there is no one to do this but the left protestors. And they continue to demonstrate that they are not entirely up to the task.

They’d better learn quickly.

Untitled. (a.k.a. Pretty faces, new old photos.)  §

© Aron Hsiao / 2006

I had this whole thing typed up on another topic.

Then I got to looking at some photos. And developing some photos. Looking at beautiful images. Making other images into black-and-whites, because they’re meant to be memories, because things are ending.

Deleted the other post. Put on Simple Minds. Sitting here next to a bunch of roses that my daughter picked for me, drinking iced tea instead of whisky, thinking about the past and the present instead of the future.

— § —

And on Thursday I was all hot to write a blog post about beauty. Still am in some ways, but I’m moving on. Painful to do so, but necessary.

Getting older happens. You look in the mirror and you try to rationalize your age. You tell yourself that you still look good. That you’re still interesting. That there’s time to make plans.

But things are different. You can do cost-benefit calculations too well; the element of excitement, of exciting danger, has gone out of risk. Now you just know; now you have judgment. This is good, I suppose. It’s supposed to be, in any case.

Thing is, it’s not as exhilarating. It’s not youth; that’s gone.

You look around and you find so many people to be unattractive. You’re bored with most everyone—and of course everything—you encounter. The things that aren’t boring are now timeless and deep and all of that nonsense. They’re outside of you; they belong to everyone. The narcissism won’t stick. Sometimes you try to revive it, but the narcissism of youth can’t be sustained. You know better.

When you spot beauty, it’s not for you. Rare enough that I find someone to be interesting, but when I do, they’re in my kids’ circles, not mine, or they’re a kid themselves. Rare enough that I find something lovely or desirable in the world, but when I do, it’d look silly on me; it’s something for people twenty years younger than I to plan for, not for folks like me to reach backward to obtain.

Life has passed you by? No. Not really. Life has changed, that’s all. The difference is black and white; the difference is inescapable.

— § —

Endings. People leaving.

Different when it’s your kids’ endings.

You get over all of that in your own life sometime in your late twenties or maybe in your thirties. That unsurvivable bittersweet of the present at its apex, that longing that brings you to the verge of tears but won’t let you cry because it’s not time yet and never will be; that all goes out of your own life. You get used to it. Something—I’ll bother to say meaning—is lost.

© Aron Hsiao / 2017

You forget.

Now you watch your kids begin to go through it. People come, people matter, people go. Things come, things matter, things go. They now have to learn, not to understand, but to live with it, to embrace it, to paint sepia photos of last moments and haunting memories in their minds and cherish them without dying of need and unalterable, unavoidable gone-ness.

It’s all back. They say that you live your life through your kids once you reach a certain age as a parent.

I can see this happening to me.

The things I can’t feel for myself any longer, I can feel for them, both in the same way I once did and in entirely new ways.

Life hurts. And life is lovely. People hurt. And people are lovely. Things go wrong, but they’re nonetheless still right. You want, and you can’t have; you have and you can’t hold; you hold and you can’t move forward; you move forward and you paint the pictures.

— § —

Black text, white screen.

That’s been most of my life.

Still is.

Every now and then, I am witness to a miracle; I see a holy image. Time is that I know better and I move on. Keep typing. Time is that today is gone and tomorrow is predictable; only the past is unstable, and more unstable it will become.

Until everything is painted in sepia and shot through with unsurvivable longing for redemption.

— § —


Simple Minds / Don’t You (Forget About Me)
Crowded House / Don’t Dream It’s Over
Duran Duran / Come Undone
Led Zeppelin / Ten Years Gone
Ivy / Edge of the Ocean
Allman Brothers Band / Melissa
Concrete Blonde / Joey

Unseemly.  §

There is something unseemly about “dating” at my age.

I look at other people doing it and see these graybeards going out and “dating” and posting couples’ photos on Facebook and so on, and I just find it to be embarrassing.

No, I don’t see myself doing it. After 40+ years is not the right time to be “looking for love.”

Ugh. So unsightly.

The vexing risk-taking calculation.  §

The risk-reward thing in life is vexing.

© Aron Hsiao / 2006

No risks means no rewards, but there is something to be said for not putting the rewards already “risked out and achieved” into jeopardy.

So you’re constantly on the boundary between managing to appreciate everything you’ve got and earned on the one hand (not to mention not fucking up your life in any number of ways small and large) and trying to make sure that you don’t descend into a kind of unhelpful stasis on the other.

Some people manage this intuitively and do rather well at it, but I suspect that for many introverts, and for INT types in particular, this is a conscious analysis that has to be made on an ongoing basis.

I tend to swing between periods of risk-aversion and risk-taking in life, and both can be harrowing. During risk-averse periods, the threat of a boring, unproductive, low-meaning life tends to hang in the air and color every day; I begin to feel a kind of panic that nothing is happening and nothing is going to happen and thus each day is progressively less useful or worthwhile. I can almost see the clock on the wall ticking, the seconds of my life draining away.

During risk-taking periods, I almost immediately get freaked out—I find myself constantly asking, “What have I done, and why wasn’t I satisfied with what came before? Why did I have to go here just now?”

Is there some way to strike a reasonable balance? I haven’t found it in 41 years. Is the fact that I’m conscious of all of this merely a dimension of my personality? Is the secret to dealing with all of this simply to find a way to forget that it’s there in the first place?

And if so, what’s the method by which this can be accomplished?

If you had asked me when I was young, I’d have said that by 40+ years old I’d have this figured out and sussed, but what I seem to have figured out is that whatever you struggle with when you are young is likely what you will struggle with for the entirety of your life.

Curses and time.  §

The older you get, the harder it feels to write anything of substance or insight.

That’s because while once you grappled mightily to come to terms with the intuitions and ideas that you were having, your writing reflecting something of the inner dialogue carried out under these auspices, in the second half of life there is no longer any debate; the things that you know and the opinions that you have seem obvious, without need of explanation any longer.

You already know what you think. Your biases are baked in. Yes, you could revisit all of that old dialogue, but it feels pointless to do so. Instead, it starts to feel as if what you really want to do is to document your opinion with a parsimonious paragraph or two, then liberally salt it with four-letter words and invective aimed at all of the idiots to whom whatever you’re saying isn’t already as bloody obvious as it should be.

In short, your patience runs out, you no longer need to persuade or interrogate yourself, and you have little motivation to persuade or interrogate anyone else. You’d just as soon that they stay off your lawn.

— § —

When someone suggests that I date right now, I am literally overtaken by a blank stare and a blank mind, as though they’d suddenly broken out into song in front of me, or began to recite Xhosa poems.

It makes no sense; it is nonsense.

Why would I want to do that? Dating is the preferred technique and method for destroying one’s own life and putting and end to one’s pursuit of one’s own goals. Why would anyone want to do that?

— § —

Every now and then in the midst of going through the motions, I notice that a day is drawing to a close. Today it happened while I was on the stairway, descending, halfway between upstairs and downstairs, on the way to feed the cat. I paused and stood there stupidly for a good two minutes.

© Aron Hsiao / 2009

The thing is that whenever I have this realization, I’m swept away by a deep, bittersweet sort of longing—the longing to stop time, to make the afternoon, the moment, the gesture or activity that I am at that moment engaged in—last forever.

The end of a day is a kind of tragedy, when you think about it, a catastrophe, a great loss. All of humanity is losing a day together—and forever. That day is never coming back, for anyone. For any of seven billion people, who as a group and individually will never see it, taste it, hear it, smell it, or touch it again.

It is permanent, that loss. So very, incredibly permanent, so all-encompassing.

Time is devastating. And what makes it harder is that time isn’t cold; time isn’t brutal. You can’t be angry with time, which brought you your children and your life and all of the things toward which you’re looking, day after day. Time is generous. It gives so very, very much that it’s impossible to blame time for also taking something away.


At an alarming and steady pace.

Time is taking away your loves and your children and your own childhood and your pets and your possessions and your very life, but you can’t be angry with time, because time is your greatest benefactor, your greatest ally, and your greatest personal healer.

So insead, when you notice it next to you, you stop what you’re doing, there on the partially lit stairway, and you keep company with it. In part, you lean on it just a bit, as if you’re about to cry. And in part, you sigh under your breath, in hopes that time will take the hint and back off a little bit.

But there’s no point in being passive aggressive with time, because time doesn’t give a shit. It’s not that time doesn’t love you; it’s that time is the world’s foremost authority on tough love.

Projects, motivation, and out-of-body experiences.  §

I have a cold. This is intolerable because I never, ever get sick. But my voice has gone strange, my nose is congested, and I feel a bit foggy.

Funny thing is that when you feel a bit foggy, you also look like a different person in the mirror. I’m not sure if this is because the fog of being ill distances mind from body in such a way as to mimic an out-of-body experience when gazing at self, or if this is an effect of the subconscious understanding that you are not yourself, reflected more or less literally by the way that your visual cortex processes stimuli.

But in any case, I don’t feel or look like myself. I feel and look older than myself. This is bad because forty-one years old is plenty old enough as it is.

© Aron Hsiao / 2006

I don’t quite have wrinkles on my face yet, but I certainly have them on elbows (every time I notice it, I am shocked), my hair is graying, my teeth are yellowing, and all of the other stuff that one associates with mid-life, and—let’s be honest—late-middle-mid-life is generally happening.

I don’t like this any more than I like mowing the lawn. N.B. Somehow mowing the lawn the other day brought this rather to the fore; for the first time in my life, I felt like an aging man mowing the lawn, though I’m struggling to put my finger on exactly why. I think it’s because I was very much not in the moment. Sun, wind, grass, dogs running about, physical labor, whatever, I didn’t notice any of it; I was on autopilot, a million miles away, and then the lawn was done and I was sweaty.

Life-on-autopilot is a distinctly middle-aged sensation.

— § —

To try to break free from this autopilot stuff, I have been making changes here and there.

I got another dog, for example. A friend from across the ocean offered me the chance to invite them to stay for a few weeks and I rather jumped at the chance. I have a new car (though in all honesty this wasn’t planned and wouldn’t have happened had my hand not been forced by circumstances).

I do have to balance this sort of thing—to make sure that I am not doing novel things to try and distance myself from myself and my circumstances, to “run away from life” as goes the classic trope. Rather, I want to make changes that—piece by piece, brick by brick—replace a previous and all-too-current life with a new one, eventually.

In an ideal world, the new one would be consciously chosen. As can be read above, it is in fact partially conscious and partially (sadly, probably the greater part) dictated by circumstance.

But new is new, and that’s something.

— § —

Speaking of, I’ve registered two new domain names.

What am I doing thinking about new domain names at a time like this? (At a time like what, I ask myself. Nothing in particular, quite frankly, is going on—yet it still feels like “a time like this.”)

I’m not sure. I want to do something new. I want a project. Yes, I still have the strange and impotent fantasy that at some point I’ll finally get around to pitching my dissertation as a book and, as a result, finally have another book project in the works.

But let’s be honest, that’s been stalled for three years now, not due to external circumstances, but rather due to the subconscious actions of my psyche, which is clearly dead-set against it.

I’m not used to being unproductive, or to being productive only on someone else’s behalf. My entire life—whether at school, working, on vacation, whatever—I’ve always had a project and usually, in fact, several of them ongoing. It is only since I finished my dissertation in 2014 that this has not been the case, and at this point, enough is enough; the lack of independent projects is eating away at my soul.

My ex-wife never understood this and was frankly outraged by the way that I “spread myself thin” all the time, but my projects are the things that have kept me sane all these years and I need to start some of them.

So I keep trying to get myself to put the next book back on the table—the dissertation sits on my desk, black, leather-bound, and always ready to spring into supportive action at a moment’s notice, though it has not yet been called upon to do so.

Meanwhile, two new domains. It is time to try my hand at something new again. I won’t say what they are just yet, I’m going to build them out a little bit first.

But suffice it to say that I’m finally going to attempt to leverage one of the self-help industry’s truisms: do what you love; make your hobby into a job; find your passion; blah very blah but I’m trying it nonetheless.

I think.

I hope.

One of the vexing things about the last three years is that while my entire life I’ve been quite driven (though not always in ways that were visibly obvious to conventional others), my own inner motor has left me more than a bit complacent in recent years. Not being practiced at having to find motivation for things that I actually care about, I am somewhat unsure how to begin, much less to sustain action.

But step one in all cases is to do something, so doing something I am.

When lovely music feels like attending a wake.  §

Sometimes I get the music of childhood going on in my head, and it’s intolerable.

Note that this is not a metaphor; I’m not talking about some ineffable sense of the experience of being young or anything like that.

No, I mean the particular genre of music that has come to adorn childrens’ toys, childrens’ mobile apps, and so on. It has a very particular character, a combination of being joyful or at the least sunny, innocent, and simple.*

(*Note that I’m not sure exactly how this works; I am not now nor have I ever been deeply steeped in music theory or music education. I am essentially musically illiterate at the end of the day. I only know that is is clearly possible to apply such adjectives to music and have the application seem to be right.)

With children of four and six, I’ve now spent several years steeped in and surrounded by such music, so it makes sense that it’s somewhere close to top-of-mind often.

It’s not that I find this music to be irritating; far from it. Most of it is lovely, beautiful, or if nothing else, charming. The problem is that recalling or hearing these melodies is painful. It takes a lot in life to really get to me, but kid-music does. Every time.

With the kids growing up and losing more of their innocence every day (certainly a painful process in its own right, one that is hard to watch as a parent), and with their young lives now having been affected by the auto-tragedy of divorce in ways that are often only too obvious, the sound of innocence—when expressed as clearly and purely as it is in music—just plain makes me want to cry.

It hurts my soul. It brings home, deeply, viscerally, all that has been lost and all that is still to be lost. It creates in me an incredible longing for the companionship of that innocence which is now largely lost and which will, in time, be absent altogether.

Kid-music opens or illuminates a void in me—a lack—that I desperately feel as though I need to fill, but cannot for reasons of practicality, propriety, and morality.

Children must grow up. My job is to help them to do it, not to create any sort of impediment or hint of negativity about this process. Pain will be a part of the deal, as it is for every human being. This is the way of things. But boy, does it hurt to see it happen—to see the placid ecstasy of early childhood gradually decay into the realpolitik of everyday life in family and society.


Ben Folds: “It sucks to grow up.”

Yes. Yes, it does. And it sucks to watch those that you love most in the world having to suffer through growing up.