Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Monthly Archives: July 2019

The “all or nothing” trope has all and nothing on reality.  §

I am having trouble keeping up with facts on the ground.

This is the danger of road trips.

Particularly of road trips with your ex and your ex’s significant other.

This is proving to be both a terrible thing and also not a bad thing, all at the same time. And thus, this is also proving to be exceedingly confusing and confused.

The saying goes that when the student is ready, the master will appear. I suspect this adage to apply not only to actual human beings but to situational realities and ontological territory more generally.

Life, that inscrutable thing, is tying me in so many interesting knots.

The disentangling, to be completed later, promises also to be a performance of some interest, should it even prove to be possible.

Certain women struggle to move beyond “in utero.”  §

There is a way in which a certain slice of the world’s women, particularly in the western world, unknowingly want to pull everyone and everything around them back into the womb.

Not being a woman, I’m not sure exactly where this comes from or how it feels, but if I were to speculate, it must have something to do with the feeling of loss that comes from once having carried children as a part of one’s body and one’s identity… and then having seen them disembark and emerge into the world as separate beings… and then having seen them begin to wander off, independently, into society.

I’m sure it’s a wistful, if not downright painful, feeling.

But brass tacks here, there is a toxic femininity, and this impulse is it—all of life cannot return to the womb. It’s a physical impossibility, and even if it weren’t, for anyone not an infant, the womb would be a prison, not a space of nurturing.

The deep, pained pull toward always being and doing things “the same as each other” and “together,” the unbound desire for consensus, the frustration at competition, at independence, at agency and different opinions—all of these seem reflective of the deep-seated desire to recapture a lost unity that can never be again.

Life, in other words, goes on.

For boys in particular, the impulse to engulf isn’t just stifling, it’s deadly. Boys don’t have it. We don’t need it. We have neither womb nor the impulse to fill it nor the impulse to be within it. From the moment we come into existence, it is our destiny to leave the maternal milieu forever, to make a self and an identity that is our own.

We are fertile tendrils in our own right, new offshoots of humanity. We travel for adventure, materially or conceptually. We branch from the primary root and go our own way. We break new ground, forge new foundations.

As the father of a young boy, I have to say—upon reflection—that to try to pull a boy back into the womb is to try to kill him—even if he doesn’t realize it until far too late. Sad that this bit of wisdom has been lost today.

Everything important happens in California.  §

One more musing (or set of musings) for the night.

This time it’s about California.

I have a love-hate relationship with California.

Love because I have much family here, and many good memories of family here. And because the ocean is here.

Hate because every hard life lesson that I have ever managed to learn has finally stuck while I was in California. California has been the site of an awful lot of pain for me.

I only come here to be blessed or to suffer for my sins. There appears to be no in-between.

And for the first time, tonight, now, I am feeling grateful to California for that. Because to fail to be punished for one’s sins is perhaps one of the most painful and debilitating conditions in the universe.

So—here’s to you, California. You are the place that teaches me life lessons. The hard lessons. No matter how much I think I learn, I never truly learn until I come here.

Don’t get me wrong, California is a place of lies of the most seductive, devastating, and plentiful kind.

But, somehow, in that ironic, insane way that is beyond human understanding and that deeply marks the universe in which we live, that also makes California a place of deep an undavoidable truths that must be confronted if one is to grow.

Where did my first California epiphany lead? To me finally finishing my undergraduate degree after 10 years of aimless wandering. Where did my second California epiphany lead? To me going to graduate school and getting an M.A. Where did my third California epiphany lead? To me going back to graduate school, getting a Ph.D., and having two beautiful children whom I love very much.

Where does this California epiphany lead? I’m not sure just how to encapsulate it yet, though a sort of intuitive summary is below in the previous post. I suppose time will tell about how I frame it years from now.

In any case, California makes me suffer. Deeply. Existentially. That’s why I hate California with a passion. But as the (very rare) wise folk of our species know, suffering is the stuff of growth, and growth is the stuff of light.

That’s why I also love California with awe and gratitude.

They are all wrong. Every single one of them.  §

So I’m three days in to one of the strangest things I’ve ever done.

What is it?

I went on a road trip with my ex-wife when directly asked to do so for practical reasons.

Who does something like that? A fool, that’s who. One thing a fool never quite seems to do is to learn the lessons that life throws his way. I am such a fool. At times I could swear that I’ve failed to learn every major lesson life has ever tried to throw at me.

I do believe that I am terrible at learning lessons.

How strange is it?

Her boyfriend was asked along at the last minute, once the trip had already been announced to the kids so that it was too late to back out. So I am on a road trip with my ex-wife and her boyfriend.


Not that he was super-pleased about it, either. I suppose the world is full of fools like us.

— § —

I’d just like to point out that this is sort of ridiculous cabaret is where “enlightenment” and “wokeness” and “being adults” leads.

Which is why I’m off the bus.

I have been unenlightened behind the scenes for some years now, and some of my friends know, but it hasn’t quite been a public thing. The moment is right, right now, for a coming-out party. From here on out, you can regard me as:

  • Conservative
  • Traditional
  • Catholic
  • Unwoke
  • A different person than I was for years

Despite the foolishness, there are some things I’m glad of on this trip:

  • Glad to spend time with my children
  • Glad to be of service
  • Glad to have a moment to get to know their mother’s boyfriend better
  • Glad to have the extra nudge needed to get me to really embrace what I really think

And what I really think is that everyone who tries to separate the world into spheres of “adult” and “child” basically has dirty laundry that they’re trying desperately to launder.

Here’s a bit of a bomb:

  • What’s fit for children is fit for adults.
  • What isn’t fit for children isn’t fit for adults unless time-honored tradition (i.e. thousands of years) says otherwise.

The world of “adults” and “adulting” is basically a world full of people who are desperately trying to stop rejecting themselves for the ugliness that they can see only too well in the world around them and in the lives that they lead.

— § —

Hate me all you want. I’m okay.

I’ve been hated. I’ve been hated, intimately for years on end. I am generally immune to hate. That’s another thing I’m thankful for.

— § —

When I was a kid, people used to say that when in doubt, the right thing was simply to do “the right thing.”

Years of education tried to persuade me that this phrase was naive. It worked, for a good long time. And then, finally, a few years ago, it didn’t.

Doing the right thing is, in fact, a thing. A thing that a vanishingly small number of people actually do, but a thing nonetheless.

In our society today, everyone has let themselves off the hook, for everything.

I’m not here to condemn or call anyone out. Only to say that I don’t believe that it works.

Oh, people may try to let themselves off the hook. They’ll read books. Attend therapy. Talk to friends. Adopt a fancy new age philosophies or eastern religions or organic vitamins that have nothing to do with their culture or actual science and that they only barely understand anyway.

Yes, I’m essentially describing the entire Western world at this point.

But they know. They all know.

That’s why they have to keep pointedly “letting themselves off the hook” every single day. Why they’re always trying to find new ways to let themselves off the hook.

Because without even having to think very deeply about it, they understand intuitively that, despite best efforts, they are still in fact “on the hook” in every way.

Sure, you can try to let yourself off the hook—but everyone knows better than that, deep down. Everyone is the progeny of a deeper truth and reality, one that stretches back to time immemorial.

— § —

Oh yes, there is truth.

It’s not “your” truth, and it’s not “my” truth.

You see, it isn’t the truth that becomes an orphan once someone stops believing in it…

— § —

Strange. Yes, I’ve done something strange. I’m having a strange week. It may as well be in Los Angeles, the strangest place on earth.

Judge? We are all called to judge.

That’s what it means to be the kinds of creatures that we are. To fail to judge is to fail to live up to our essence and purpose. We are creatures with judgment, first and foremost.

— § —

There are approximately zero good people left. I’m trying to increase that number by one—just the fool in the corner here, who does foolish things, trying to be better. Feel free to judge me, only please tell me of your judgment—otherwise, it’s all for naught.

Sometimes you travel to Venice Beach and meet your exhaustion face-to-face.  §

There are three kinds of people on Venice Beach.

  1. Tourists (blind)
  2. Broken people (can see only through a glass darkly)
  3. Commuters / people passing through (blind)

— § —

Things seen on Venice Beach after hours:

  • A scruffy, middle-aged man walking a husky
  • A lone cigarette butt in a sidewalk crack
  • A chopped off pineapple top
  • Two lesbians wearing neon colors and talking about restaurant food
  • A forsaken tennis racket and a split tennis ball
  • A lone cop sitting in a cop car reading a book
  • Me

— § —

Some Americans stereotype Europeans as not ever wanting to bathe. This is of course untrue. There are actually two kinds of Europeans:

  • Those who never bathe
  • Those who always bathe, as in as soon as the damp wears off, they’re hopping back in for “a quick shower” again

There doesn’t seem to be much in between.

— § —

Innocence, once lost, can never be regained.

People imagine that this is a one shot deal, a saying about the end of childhood. In truth, it applies to a great many things, over and over, throughout entire lifetimes.

It’s another way of saying that time moves only in one direction and death lies at the end for everyone.

— § —

Life is about making compromises.

Most of them are compromises you never though you’d make, and that you’d have sworn—as a young person—that you’d never, ever, ever make.

Every situation and choice for young folk is context-free. They don’t have enough life under their belt yet to understand just what the accumulation of life means for a person, how the larger and larger circle of what you are and can’t afford to lose means a smaller and smaller list of hills where one can reasonably plant one’s “die here” flag.

When the end is closer than the beginning is, it’s a lot harder to say you’ll die for this or that position.

I first read Don Quixote when I was in grammar school.  §

Is it possible to have writers’ block for months?

Probably not. What you see here is a failure of courage.

I’ve been having one of those periods in life during which the courage to write fails me. You find yourself trapped between telling the truth, which makes for better writing, but can be very painful and not a little bit boring, and not telling the truth, at which point there’s really no point in putting words down anyway.

The truth? I won’t get to all of it. But but maybe there’s a bargain to be struck, a compromise, a partial deployment.

— § —

A knight escorts his queen through a high mountain pass atop which a voracious dragon lives. His mission is nothing more and nothing less than to achieve her safe passage.

They approach; they are seen. The inevitable ensues. They make haste and the knight fights valorously in rearguard action, maintaining position between predator and queen, who runs breathlessly ahead.

It is only the knight’s presence and continued fight that preserves life and limb, but the knight cannot hold out forever . At length, he will lose, and be torn apart. But perhaps by then the queen will have escaped.

I am the knight. My children are the queen.

— § —

The largest tree in my yard, which is very large indeed, is dead. The lawn is destroyed because the underground sprinkling system leaks badly enough to damage the house’s foundation if left on, but is buried deeply enough to be unserviceable without heavy equipment.

Patio is rotting. Supports of patio and carport are rusting. Windows leak and are becoming difficult to keep together. One of two furnaces is out of service. Basement is now partially asbestos-free but remains unusable. Interior of house requires painting. Wiring is suspect. Bathrooms require refinishing. Plumbing is suspect.

I could try to find a way to come up with tens of thousands to invest in the house, but the house is not mine and at some point I will likely have to leave it; such an investment is difficult to justify. On the other hand, there is no one else that will come up with tens of thousands to invest in the house if I don’t.

Car is aging and transmission shows signs of typical wear. Seats are cracking. Suspension is failing. I could try to find a way to acquire a new, far better one, but is that the wisest course of action when the house is as it is?

Student loans remain as large as ever and will not be retired before I die, so it is difficult to be motivated to make “progress” on them. I could pay two years’ entire salary and not retire them. So where’s the motivation to spend an “extra” several hundred here or there? It feels like burning money.

Alimony payments remain an albatross. Working at foreign employment, healthcare costs remain high.

Divorce remains the same intractable situation it always has been and always will be. The project to ensure the best possible environment and developmental situation for my children remains a difficult and vexing one. Disagreements about childrearing inevitably remain, and must be managed without breaking peace.

Age continues to progress. Infirmities continue to progress. I cannot do the things I did when I was thirty, much less the things I did when I was twenty. Mental fatigue is no longer the issue; physical durability is.

Social life is difficult. There is virtually no subject about my life that I want to discuss, with anyone—because it is uncouth to go on at length about your problems, because it is tiring to have to think about them out loud, and because there is virtually no way to avoid them.

What can be afforded? Both everything and nothing. There is no good answer. When can I host guests? Now I suppose, but properly, never. When can I get away for activities? I can’t. When will any of these things change or make sense? They won’t. There is a strange, surreal substance to it all.

— § —

There is no moment of the day, apart from moments at work, during which I am not either conjuring with one of the innumerable intractable and unsolvable problems that I face or during which I am not effectively hiding under my desk.

The workday, ironically, has become escapism. At work, I am competent and I know what to do.

Neither holds true outside of working hours.

Do I talk about this? To anyone? Certainly not. Particularly not to my children, who deserve, after everything, a sense of security. And not with my ex, because it’s just not on. And not with my closest friends, who know all of it.

Men aren’t particularly helped by talking as women are. Talking doesn’t solve any of the problems; it just sucks time away from any attempts to mitigate and manage them. Talk isn’t just cheap; talk is destructive.

Yes, at times I’m quite lonely, but this mere fact is not its own solution, as so many presume. Things happen for reasons. To alter them, the reasons, too, must be altered.

— § —

How did I get here?

There is no one wrong or fateful decision.

I’ve reached the age at which “you’ll understand when you’re older” makes a kind of sense to me. Life is infinitely complex, things accumulate and interact with one another.

I went to grad school. Twice. I committed myself to an academic career. Then, I didn’t and got married and had children. Again I didn’t when I got divorced; I stayed where I was to parent. Do I regret any of those decisions? No. Nothing was, in particular, a bad decision.

What was bad was all of them together.

Could it have been avoided?

And me still be me? I think not. Maybe this is what is meant by “destiny.”

The die being cast isn’t fate, nor is it any one point of inflection. The die being cast is yourself, not yourself as a momentary quantity, but yourself as a tendency and as a trajectory over time.

It’s hard to see how any of it could have been different, without my having been someone else to begin with.

— § —

What now?

I need to learn to do new things that I haven’t done before.

Hire people to do things. Start businesses. Invest money, perhaps. I didn’t learn how to do any of these things in the lower-middle class family that raised me.

In fact, the values were all precisely opposite to these.

Don’t hire people; always do it yourself. Don’t risk your time and money on a business, when most of them fail; find a good employer, earn their loyalty, and climb the ranks. Don’t invest money, it isn’t safe; put it in a bank and let it stay there so that it will be available once you inevitably need it.

I’m not sure whether it’s that these strategies aren’t viable any longer, whether it’s that they are methods for remaining trapped in a precarious existence and always have been, or whether it’s that they simply aren’t reasonable for me, in my particular life.

What I do know is that I have long struggled to move beyond them. Not as a matter of principle or fear, but as a matter of knowledge.

How, precisely, do you hire someone to work on your yard? And what sort of someone do you hire, and for which tasks? And where do you find them? And what does it cost? And what is involved? And what parts will I be responsible for, and what parts will they be responsible for?

Is this what is meant by people that “never became adults?”

But if so, isn’t it true that for some of us, the previous generation also “never became adults?” Or is it simply that the postwar form of “make due adulthood” is no longer adulthood, has passed into anachronism?

— § —

I took a radical step and cleaned those windows that I swore I’d never clean.

I do miss the view that I had before—the view of essences and of implications. Instead now what I have is a kind of antiseptic clarity.

Consider it to be a spell, an attempt at magic; what is needed now is not just the evocation of, but the arrival of antiseptic clarity.

— § —

So here it is. For the first time in months, I’ve written something, given myself permission to write something, mustered enough courage to write something.

There are so many, many things that I am fighting, and so many ways in which the fight cannot be indefinitely sustained.

I’ll suspect die young. I’ve always suspected it, strangely.

But perhaps I’ll manage to shepherd my children over the mountain pass before that happens, and to leave with them forever the frozen image of the fight being fought with determination, whether or not with skill, and to also leave behind for them to discover someday a few relics that were on my person at the time.

I’m very, very far from home. And I am not well-acquainted with dragons as a species. I fight because under such circumstances, there is nothing else to do.

Legacies aren’t something you’re meant to think about in your ‘40s unless you’re very wealthy and have been thinking about them since your teens, since in such families they’re a practical, everyday, intergenerational matter.

But I think about my legacy every minute of every day.

Right now, today, included.

Online dating doesn’t even get started.  §

Some people ask me why I don’t date. Here’s how it typically goes when—every now and then—I decide to visit a site and start looking at photos or profiles:

Fuck you.
Fuck you.
Holy shit FUCK YOU.
No way, fuck you.
OMG fuck you.
Wow, I bet your parents hate you, fuck you.
I can tell you’re a terrible person in one photo! Fuck you!
Hmm, you seem nice. Owait, just read your profile. FUCK YOU.

And so on.

They’re all terrible people. Judging a book by its cover? If someone makes the effort to put assholery on the cover, you have to take them at their word. They went to the trouble, after all. Just once, show me a humble, unassuming, regular person and I’ll give them the humble, unassuming, and regular award.

Look, I’m in marketing. I’m a marketing professional. I know nonsense when I see it.

What I can’t figure out is why so many people try to use “I’m a badly behaved jerk with an attitude!” as their sales pitch.

Take your narcissism and your attitude and go buy a dog. You’re going to need it. Come see me when you’re 75 and all alone. I’ll give you some advice at that time.

(It will be: FUCK YOU.)