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

In the small hours of the morning, when push comes to shove, it’s just you and heaven. That’s it.  §

Sitting, waiting for the storm to begin, exhausted and without the energy to eat.

This is a tonight thing, but it is also a life thing. Because a storm is blowing in from heaven for each and every one of us, eventually, and for everyone that we love.

It’s difficult to square that with living life. You don’t want to simply sit and wait, exhausted and without the energy to eat. But you also don’t want to do what so many now do, which is to pretend that time doesn’t exist, that all things are stable and eternal, that no good things must end—and then be shocked to misbehavior and fragmentation when they do.

I don’t quite know how to live and never have, but I suspect that no one else does either. It’s not the sort of thing that can be known or understood; it’s the sort of thing that can only be done, and in a way that will be done whether you like it or not.

You don’t live life so much as life lives you.

When you’re young, this isn’t what they tell you. The playbill that you got at the start of the show was full of quotes from parents and teachers and guidance counselors telling you about the importance of all of your choices.

But in fact, the choices hardly matter in the grand scheme of things. Be a doctor, be a hobo, be a millionaire, be poor, it’s all the same in the end, and the feelings are all the same in the end.

It’s not about the choices, it really is all about… I don’t know what. I was going to say character, but that’s not quite it. It’s not at all about how you live or the choices you make. It’s about how you are through the hanging-on that you do.

The nights are long and many of them are alone and really quite frightening when all is said and done. There’s no way around that; that’s life.

This is why it takes decades to raise a human—because even if you do it right, these are not the sorts of things that can or should be “taught” all at once.

The most troubling thing is that it’s everyone’s fault. Everyone’s.  §

Here’s a roundabout journey.

We were watching holiday films, as one tends to do with kids, and we needed something short. We’d run out of things that are still available on simple streaming services (now there are a hundred of them snapping up all the classics, it’s worse than cable) so we ended up watching a recording of “You’re a Good Skate, Charlie Brown” that I happen to have on a flash drive.

That led us to O Mio Babbino Caro, an aria that my daughter mistook for Silent Night at first, so I showed her a YouTube video of Charlotte Church singing it. Of course Charlotte was 13 years old when she sang this at the royal variety show and that got my daughter talking.

Next thing you know, we’re watching Charlotte Church singing Just Wave Hello, the official “global anthem” from the millennial celebrations at the end of 1999.

And as we watched it, the whole thing got more and more to my head. Global anthem. It’s a beautiful song, really, very alluring. But even more than that, I hadn’t thought about the millennial celebration in decades.

I am absolutely floored by just how far we’ve fallen. I remember it because I was in my mid twenties then, reaching into “real adulthood” and thus able to take it all in more or less properly. What strikes me?

  • There was so much hope for what the next epoch would bring.

  • There was so much optimism. The cold war was over. Classical liberalism had won. It was all The Enlightenment and fun TV from here on out.

  • The world really felt united. It was an “us,” a “we,” not just in the United States, but everywhere. The whole world tuned in and sang along with Charlotte. We were partying like it was 1999 and we knew we were all in it together.

  • Everyone spoke in these terms, from people on the street to the world’s leaders.

If you’d told me that by 2020 we’d be rioting in the streets, seeking to reimpose segregation in the United States, in a cold war with China, beaten back by terrorism and our own follies, and busy falling into authoritarianism ourselves in the midst of a crumbling West and a crumbling global order, I’d have said:

“How the fuck did we fuck up so incredibly badly? We have it all! All we have to do is keep eating McDonald’s, keep going to work, and keep watching TV!”

It’s honestly depressing. And also somehow edifying to think back to that time. For a moment, we really did come together as a planet, for a few short years in the ’90s.

Everyone wants to think we’re so superior now, morally, to who we were then. We’re not. We took progress and turned it into priggishness and petty conflict, and we seem determined to drive these until the end of the road.

Stupid humanity. At least we got a global anthem out of it. Not that anybody remembers. It may as well have been a thousand years ago.

It all disappears and then you have it hanging around in your head all the time.  §

They’re right when they say that the reason creativity goes as you age is because everything is held closely. The control stands in for the tsunami.

It’s not seeking, not finding, not a journey; it’s just a flash in the sea of forever.  §

Out there somewhere ahead, you can see the end of the road.

Just faintly. Just on the horizon. Maybe it’s a mirage. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s the threshold between here and there, now and then, the denoument.

On one side and the other, a blur. Time, stationary, as you rush past it. You try to see colors but really it’s all moving too fast; it blends to gray; pure motion.

The road vibrates a little.

Out there, somewhere ahead, you can see the end of it.

Just faintly. Just on the horizon. Maybe it’s a mirage. Maybe it’s not.

Frost on the glass. Book after book. Daughters and seasons.  §

My daughter came into the kitchen while I was sweeping and said,

“Dad, reflect on your place in life.”

She didn’t say it as preface to anything. She meant exactly what she said. I said,

“I do that pretty much all the time.”

She then said,

“Good for you. My place in life is that I’m your daughter.”

That was it. She left the room.

— § —

I wrote my first book when I was 15 years old.

I was already at university but I wasn’t old enough to drive. I had a Tandy Model 102 laptop—reporters used to use them, look it up—and while I waited every day after classes for my mother to come and pick me up, I’d sit and write chapters.

I wrote the whole thing in about a semester.

It was never published, but I still have a copy somewhere. Frankly, it probably could have been, looking back, but I had no idea how to go about things then.

It was already autobiographical, in a way. It was about dropping out of high school to go to college—pitfalls and success tips.

— § —

I didn’t grow up.

It has become more and more clear to me as time wears on that while others around me aged, moved on, grew up—I didn’t.

Right before my daughter had come in, I was listening to Seasons, that song by Chris Cornell from Singles that defines the early ’90s in some ineffable and inescapable way. It’s still my song. Every note, every word.

It’s often remarked that I look young for my age. Last person to tell me that was my doctor, and he wasn’t lying. My hairline isn’t receding. I don’t have many wrinkles. I look around me at people my age and I think they look old.

When she left, I unpaused the song and continued to listen to it as I swept the floor, washed the countertops, thought about how I still wear jeans and a black tee and leather shop boots and think it’s fine, like the world never moved on.

— § —

They say that if some event catches you out, has an impact, arrests the full stride of your life and prevents you from striding any further, you stay that emotional age forever.

I suspect it’s not just emotional. There’s at least a bit of the physical in there, too.

Something stopped me, froze me all the way back then and I haven’t moved since. Sometimes I sit and try to figure it out—try to remember what may have happened to capture me and never let me go, not let me progress, grow up like all of my peers.

I don’t know what it was.

A lot of things happened, but none of them that I remember seem like the right one. They just all seem like the things that happened. But there must be something that I never got over, because it’s clear that I’m not over it.

Otherwise I wouldn’t sit around and listen to Seasons on repeat.

— § —

Monday is double-malaise day, and this particular Monday doubly so.

It’s no one thing, just the accumulation of many, many small- and medium-sized things that happen, hour after hour, until you’ve had enough and you’re ready to sit down hard and sigh.

Like an old man.

And yet—and yet.

— § —

For a brief moment, I thought I might date someone.

Then, like always, I had the realization that our ages were mismatched. Not in years, but in some other way, in the other way that matters.

In the way that leads me to think about my place in life all the time and to listen to Seasons on repeat.

You can’t really accuse me of self-indulgence. I hold down a good job. I’ve climbed the corporate ladder, written a small pile of books, earned a Ph.D. I parent two kids and make sure that they do their homework and carry their school equipment with them when they go out the door.

I keep the kitchen floors clean.

But it’s really not about all of that, is it? Not really.

It’s about something else—not just a matter of thinking all the time about your place in life, but also a matter of just what you say that place is, once all is said and done.

I don’t care about any of the things I’ve done.

I think the greatest things I’ve ever done are little things that nobody knows about. Particular pictures I’ve taken. Blog entries now and then on this blog. An old watch that I once repaired. The book that I wrote at fifteen and never published. The cat that I adopted from a McDonald’s dumpster. The fact that I helped the kids make their names out of Lego blocks.

You can’t carry that value system into the world of adults. So, frankly, I never really entered the world of adults at all.

— § —

I wrote my first actually published book when I was 22 years old. I was wrapping up my double major. Macmillan called me and said that I was on a list of undergraduates with expertise and asked if I wanted to write a book. I said why not.

I wrote the book. They printed it. I took pictures of myself standing next to it in Canadian bookstores on road trips with single friends.

I kept on writing books for various publishers until I was 30. Then I stopped.

By the time I was interested in the fact that I was writing books, I was done writing books.

Now they sit on the shelf like archaeological artifacts and never get dusted off. I half forget what’s in them.

— § —

Once upon a time, I threw a frisbee down a giant hill next to a river over and over and over again, morning after morning for hours, so that my little big dog could run underneath them and catch them.

He’s dead now, long dead in fact, but the air that was under those frisbees is still out there somewhere, floating around New York.

— § —

Maybe it’s all for naught, I don’t know.

Days pass. Some days, like today, are tiring enough that the malaise kicks in. But what it never does is fix me, wake me from my paralysis, caught somewhere in the ’90s as a young man thinking about my place in life.

I wasn’t lying to my daughter.

I think about it all the time. It may be the only thing I ever really think about.

— § —

There’s another way to explain to people (my ex-wife among them) why I don’t date. It’s because the people I meet never become real to me. They’re all ghosts in a way; they must have lives somewhere, but not anywhere that I can access, not in any way that I can taste or smell. They’re fictional standing in front of me.

And at some point you feel guilty about that. You realize that you can’t give them what they want—the respect of personhood—no matter how hard you try. There just isn’t enough of them to substantiate themselves.

I think my ex-wife would agree with this if she sat down and thought about it enough. People are thin, like diner coffee or clifftop air. They’re barely there.

I have maybe five or six people in my entire life that exist.

The rest is fiction.

Irony being that I’ve always wanted to write fiction, but seem unable to do it. Maybe because you have to be real and see real to create imaginary. If you’re already living imaginary, one step less real is—nothing at all.

— § —

It’s December, but only for a moment.

Then, it won’t be again. Time is a bit like wind. It passes and there’s a bit of a chill involved and then it’s gone before you can really grasp what you’ve experienced—but it hasn’t stopped because it never stops, even if at any particular moment you can’t put your finger on it.

It all blends together.

— § —

Around bedtime, my daughter asked to see a picture of my former cat—whose life overlapped hers by a year or two at most. I knew there was a picture here, so I used Google to pull up the entry and show it to her.

She said, “You have your own website?”

I told her that I had several, and showed them to her, and then showed her my Amazon author profile and my photo library for sale on Alamy and a couple other bits of online biography.

She said, “Are you famous?”

I said, “Not really. Rather, I’d say that I can be found if someone wants to look.”

She said, “Oh, like me. Former national champion at taekwondo. Nobody really knows, but if someone wanted to look for you, or to look for the kinds of things you once did, they’d find you.”

I said, “Yeah, pretty much that.”

She said, “I think that’s better than being famous, because it’s real.”

Then we looked through some of my photos and she told me that she liked the nature pictures that I took. She recognized some of the places. She was excited.

Finally I told her it was time for bed and we turned off the tablet.

— § —

Once, as a teenage undergrad, I sat in a graduate film class I’d been given special permission to take, in the darkness, in a theater somewhere on the University of Utah campus, watching a French new wave film.

I don’t remember the film at all.

I frankly don’t remember anything I saw on the screen all semester.

I vividly remember the the darkness, the air around me, the spring in the seats, the cold metal sides of the seats, and the fishing hat full of hand-tied flies that the professor wore.

I got an ‘A’ in the class.

The professor wrote me a recommendation to attend the University of Chicago, where for my first week I did nothing but play video games in my tiny dorm room and order Chinese takeout—a week that I remember more clearly than anything else about my time at Chicago.

The tiny room, the little Thinkpad, the dim table lamp, the window overlooking the Midway, frost on the glass.

Seasons.

— § —

What does it mean that my daughter told me to reflect on my place in life?

It’s a strange moment when you recognize yourself in your child.

But strange or not, the moment passes.

Life goes on—well, while it does, that is.

Things.  §

1. Time is ruthless.

2. Silence is your friend.

3. Modernity dissolves friends.

4. Peace is a patch of sunlight on a white wall.

5. Anachronism is a universal destiny.

6. Ends are not beginnings.

7. We needed God.

8. Wristwatches tell truth, not just time.

9. Soil is beautiful.

10. Be thankful.

The detours are what every year, story, and locale have in common.  §

It’s 3:00 in the morning and I got out of bed to write this because it hit me like a ton of bricks. Maybe that’s because it’s 3:00 in the morning and I’m half asleep. Maybe tomorrow I look back on this and I can’t figure out what the significance is, or what it even means.

Who knows?

— § —

Thing is, the phrase I came to, rolling over half asleep with visions of people and places past in my mind is this:

I always seem to end up on the side roads, the detours.

I don’t think another reflection has ever crossed my mind that feels (at least at this moment) as though it so perfectly encapsulates my life.

All these places, and things, and stories, and people. Stuff I’ve done, applause I’ve had. And for what?

Very little of it is still around. I have done thing after thing, been to place after place, but all of it feels like legend now because none of it was destined to stay around—or alternatively I wasn’t destined to stay around it.

I’m still looking for the main road. The road on which I can look back and see where I’ve been and it looks like a path, and look ahead and see where I’m going and it looks like a path.

So many things that have seemed so solid, so important—and that have then evaporated, ultimately become myths more than they are reality.

Did I really know those people? Did I really live in that place? Did I really write those books, do that show, earn that degree, teach those students?

If I’m not careful, it all feels like fiction, like something I dreamed up in a fevered imagination. They were all side roads. I’m still on a side road, I lament that all the time.

Where’s the main road?

There is no diversity left in the female universe.  §

There is one single woman left in the United States. She makes an endless stream of dating profiles, day after day. Unfortunately, she lacks any creativity so most of them look the same, profile after profile.

Title:
“Life is an adventure” or
“Living my best life”

Photo 1:
Yoga pants and sports bra, on a mountain peak or in a slot canyon

Photo 2:
Same yoga pants and sports bra, now “skydiving” in the grip of an actual professional, large smile

Photo 3:
Smiling broadly with friends wearing far too much makeup and a trashy outfit

Photo 4:
Duck face

Description:
“I have no time for players. I value honesty. I have no time for games. I am living my best life and I won’t apologize for it. Part-time yoga instructor. I’m always up for adventure, kayaking, skydiving, hiking, or horseback riding. I love to dance and enjoy a night on the town, or just curling up with a good movie. I’m independent and successful. I don’t need a man, but it would be nice to have someone to share my life with. I’ve seen all the games and then some so don’t waste my time unless you’re fit and financially secure. I know what I want out of life and I know my worth and I won’t settle for anything less. Don’t waste my time!”

Poor thing must be desperately lonely, considering all the profiles she posts.

I wish her luck, but I wonder if she realizes just how off-putting her profile is to any half-sane man.

Social media is increasingly just not for me.  §

I’ve started to delete social media accounts. Being on social media would be great if the people there were great. They aren’t. If social media is a venue that holds a mirror up to society, then society is pretty damned hard to look at just now. Not edifying. Not enjoying it. Not really doing it any longer.

The same goes for the dating sites. I took another spin over the weekend to just browse them. Same question as ever:

“Would I want this person to know who I am, and to have a role in my life?”

Answer over and over:

“Oh God, no. Oh God, no. Oh God, no…”

The powers that be have a lot to say about toxic masculinity, but they say considerably less about the equal amount of toxic femininity that oozes through our social world right now. As far as I can tell, the most toxic versions of both are on the prowl for victims just now.

It’s not a good time to get to know people, because there aren’t all that many people that are any good. If you think I’m somehow placing myself above that category, you’d be wrong. I make no claims to be better than anyone else—I only claim that as a group, we’re a lot of horrible people.

Misanthropy, inc. over here just now.

And tomorrow is election day. That ought to be really fun. Things get worse and worse and worse—not better.

Decline of empire, sure, but bigger picture, decline of a civilization and a way of life.

Promise never fulfilled.

Never will be.

Putting my helmet on. Wish I’d had time and funds to build a fallout shelter underground because there is every chance that the days ahead will be not just unbelievable, but dangerous as hell.

When you travel far enough, you meet yourself.  §

Or, maybe, you don’t.

Do you ever sit up late at night, alone, surrounded by nobody in particular, and miss yourself?

Sometimes I do.

A month without much to say is still a month.  §

Not easy times. Not easy at all. I wasn’t a fan of 2019. I’m even less a fan of 2020.

I knew things would be bad, and they have been—and we haven’t seen the end of it.

The thing to remember about all of this—the politics, the riots, the spread of disease months later, the conflict in our political space—is that it’s not about systems or politics.

This has nothing to do with leaders, leadership, government structures, budgets, or anything of that sort.

It all stems from a single fact: as individuals, we are narcissistic jerks, and getting more so all the time. Yes, this means you. Me, too. No government is good enough to make up for a land of assholes, and in any democratic system, partial or total, functional or dysfunctional, a land of assholes means an entire government superstructure of assholes, and top leadership of assholes.

We did this, and we’re stepping on the gas.

On the distance of friends and the terror of archaeology.  §

So much clutter.

There is so much clutter everywhere. Material clutter. Circumstantial clutter. Digital clutter. Mental clutter. Schedule clutter. Memory clutter.

— § —

I am ripping apart my last decade.

It’s part of a remodel, to turn what was my office into a bedroom for one of my children. It has been ongoing for weeks—in the process of being ripped apart for weeks.

Because when you stick an academic in a small office for years, things accumulate. And when you stick a senior manager in a small office for years, things accumulate. And when you stick an adult person in a small room for years, things accumulate.

All three of those people, being me, were in that small room for ten years.

It’s not all clutter, and it’s not all furniture. It’s clutter intermixed with furniture, in highly dense, rational, and inbuilt ways. It’s taking a long time to tear it back down again. The amount of shelving and desk surface littering my driveway right now is insane as I pull it all out.

— § —

One reason that people who live alone die sooner is that there is nobody around to find them after the heart attack, after the stroke, after the fall down the stairs, after the bookshelf falls on them.

They lay there until someone stumbles across them, often too late.

Someday, that will be me. It has been several years since I had a guest of my own in the house. Nobody stops by. Once the kids grow up, we plod on until the event happens, and then at some point the neighbors inquire about the smell.

It’s easy to say “you should have some friends over” but all of my friends live in other states.

It’s easy to say “you should make some friends” but I have a distinct aversion to having friends in my own state, especially friends that come “over.”

— § —

When you’re feeling in a dark place, it’s an important thing to make a little bit of progress in something. Any progress. Any amount. In anything you’ve been working on or could be working on.

I wish I could say that making that bit of progress feels good, but really it doesn’t.

What it does do, however, is feel less dark than just sitting there, and that’s often enough.

— § —

Tearing apart what I and the kids have long referred to as “the office” has been a kind of archaeology of the recent past, of the past decade.

Thing is, the last decade has seen the absolute worst times of my life in it, by a very large margin, along with some of the best. But it’s the former that hits you with the force each time you stumble across a significant artifact.

There have been a lot of significant artifacts.

— § —

Not everyone can say that they have a stack of letters in which a previously trusted person threatens to entirely destroy the lives of them and their family over and over again in a variety of ways—much less from someone that is actually positioned to carry this threat out—and less still when that person is, by virtue of outward apparent affinity, the last person anyone in the world would suspect of such a thing.

I have such a stack of letters. I haven’t looked at it, or wanted to look at it in a long time. I still haven’t looked at it. But I’ve laid eyes on it again, and that was enough. Risks of archaeology.

Experiences like that—like receiving a stream of such letters over time—change a person and the way that they relate to the world, and to other people.

They cause you to become that strange person, the one who’s always a bit standoffish, who can’t quite be nailed down, who won’t let anybody in, who seems just a bit dangerous.

They leave you unwilling to cope with having friends in your own state that might actually come “over.”

— § —

I was never much one for self-defense, or for playing things close to the vest when I was younger. It’s interesting to see how much self-defense clutter I’ve accumulated in recent years—material, circumstantial, digital, mental, schedule, memory, etc.

There is a strand of conventional wisdom—which is nearly always wrong—that says that it’s bad to be on the defensive against other people.

“Open yourself up,” it says, “what have you got to lose? Only love and friendship!”

Like all strands of conventional wisdom, it throws its hands up when the worst happens and says “well… it’s not like there can be any promises…”

Thing is, I have children. My life, now, belongs to their protection until they are launched.

Hopefully launched.

In a way that I and so many in my generation and other recent generations never were.

Until then, it’s silence and archaeology for me in the in-between times.

— § —

I’m not a weak or timid man, but there are nonetheless many things in my life that I can’t bear to look at, am unable to stomach, can absolutely not stand to see.

In the whole wide world, all of them lie within 25 feet of me and where I dwell, day after day, and they have done for years now.

Someone once told me I should burn them.

I couldn’t make them understand that being haunted by the ghosts of archaeological terror is no better than being surrounded by its corpses.

El Chapo, El Chapo, El Chapo, El Chapo, El Chapo.  §

Weekend in early September, world generally falling apart. Dark, 70 degrees outside. Aquarium slightly low on water against south wall.

— § —

South. That means that if you continue to go in that direction for long enough, you’ll end up in Mexico. And if you keep going long enough after that, you’ll hit ice.

At least that’s what they say.

At this particular moment, it’s hard to believe any of that exists, mainly because it doesn’t. The world, the one that’s falling apart, doesn’t exist anyway.

Because it’s 2020.

— § —

There are times of elation, times of stagnation, and times of suffering.

This time is somewhere between the latter two, perhaps encompassing both of them. The time is out of joint. The center cannot hold. Use whatever phrase you want.

— § —

This returns in echoes for me, at a personal level.

I don’t have one of those even-keeled lives.

— § —

It’s dark in this corner of the house that I do not own living something rather other than the life I had planned, with my own children elsewhere and no particular projects or life goals underway.

Middle age waiting for my late twenties to begin.

There are times when I’m elated and times when I’m stagnant and times when I indulge in suffering.

The last several months have been somewhere between the latter. The time is out of joint. The center cannot hold. Use whatever phrase you want.

— § —

I will never retire. I will never own a home. I will never grow old with anyone. I will never get tenure. I will never be rich. I will never have one of “those” yards. I will never have one of “those” vacations. I don’t remember any of the plans I made. I don’t remember the things I used to do.

— § —

In Oakland and in New York they are marching through the streets chanting “Death to America.”

Twenty years ago I’d have assured you I’d be among them. Ten years ago I’d have been bewildered but patient with the whole thing.

Now I think they ought to be tried and hanged for treason.

— § —

Naivete is a hell of a drug, and you ingest rather a lot of it while you’re young.

Then, you age.

The end begins to race toward you, or you toward it, and you can see it and it grows and gets bigger and bigger and you begin to realize that soon you’re going to crash into it and you don’t have time to react much less to make plans much less to dig up the plans you already made much less to execute on them.

The lawn isn’t even mowed.

— § —

In the corner of the room, in the dark, you can’t hear them thousands of miles away as they chant “Death to America” and you can’t hear the laughter of your children enjoying life without you with some other family that didn’t even give them any genes.

You think about how evil people are, and about how evil society is, and about how the Catholics and the Orthodox had it right all along all these thousands of years, and about how many people that ought to have been hanged never were.

And you reflect on how other people, clueless, naive, and maybe, just maybe, evil—though naturally, of course, naturally, of course, you don’t ever, ever judge any of them, oh no—would think less of you for a thousand reasons, some of them your intrinsic properties and some of them instantaneous judgments of the kind that you never, ever make.

And you also think about how the fact that it’s now mid-60s in the room and falling, and how it will continue to fall in the months ahead in a world without a world, an inside without n outside in a pademic, means that fall is coming and the wheel is turning again.

— § —

The race toward the end.

You always said you’d either become a professor or you’d head south, south to South America, where you’d open a tin-roofed shack of a bar and duck under the flying bullets and flying bottles.

But you didn’t become a professor.

And you didn’t go south.

— § —

Sixty degrees and falling.

And still they march.

No. No love for me. I do not want love, I’ve had more love than I can handle.  §

My ex-wife says that I should go out and find love.

This is wrong.

There are some people who should not date, who should not pursue “love,” and I am one of them. There is not a single love relationship in my life that has turned out well.

Even in the relationship, they never make me happy. They are an exercise in “making myself okay with things” and “learning to deal.” Love relationships are invariably painful, much more painful than just living life on my own, which is actually not all that bad.

In my life, when I have dated, I have been:

– Less emotionally healthy
– Less happy
– Less productive
– Less resilient
– Less connected to others
– Less disciplined
– More exhausted
– More stressed
– More in pain
– etc.

I just honestly don’t understand why I would ever put myself through that again. It’s like a stimulus-response conditioned aversion at this point.

Just about every time in my life that things have been going really, really well, I’ve fallen in love—and then the wheels come off, I soon have despair in the pit of my stomach, I spend years in inner turmoil and pain, and then it ends and my life comes apart. Why do that?

Even after we break up, they hurt me. I have an accumulated list of exes stretching back to my teens. Every single one of them continued to cause me pain after the relationship, sometimes years after.

I’ve met the biological need to procreate, that’s done with. I think maybe she was right when she said that I was “not the marrying type.”

For another age and cultural milieu, I could have been. But in this one? Forget it. Anything I might want out of a relationship I can’t get out of one, even if I somehow manage to make myself okay with the infinite list of painful things that I do get out of one but desperately don’t want.

Modern relationships are structured precisely as “all of the things I least want out of life, and that will cause me pain, with none of the things I actually desire.”

So no, I’m not going to go “find love.” Just not. Because what gets called “love” these days is not something I need, and what I’d call “love” is not on offer and hasn’t been for fifty years at least.

And he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.  §

It’s late and dark and quiet and I’m in a foreign land.

— § —

Does everyone feel as though they live entirely out of context by the time they reach my age? Because I feel as though I live entirely out of context.

This city is foreign to me.
This house is foreign to me.
This room is foreign to me.
This desk is foreign to me.
My own body is foreign to me.
My own mind is foreign to me.

I feel like a traveler. Not the traveler passing through, still seduced by the novelty of his environs and the local folk around him, secure in the knowledge that tomorrow I’ll leave them all behind, but rather the traveler who became embroiled.

The traveler who paused just slightly too long—and as a result is on year twenty of his vacation, still waiting to pull up stakes and move on, someday.

— § —

They say you can’t live your life waiting for life to begin.

But what does it look like to live without waiting? I can’t conceive of it.

Everything about our time and our place and our people is about waiting for rain, waiting for mana, waiting for the page to turn, biding time and doing the things that must be done if the breath is ever to be exhaled—if the journey is to continue.

Only it doesn’t.

— § —

Wrong turns happen.

When you’re young, they’re innocent enough things; you backtrack a bit and return to the intended road.

Then, at some point when you’re older, you realize that wrong turns have begun to accumulate; that it’s been some time since you saw the map—you don’t know quite where it is in your luggage. Maybe you put it back in your backpack? Maybe it’s in the pocket somewhere in your things? Maybe you’ve stowed it in your wallet, or in your laptop sleeve, or maybe it’s in the glovebox.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

There’s no time to look for it just now, you’ll find it later, at the next opportunity, at the Next Great Unpacking which never comes, and anyway, it probably won’t matter because so many wrong turns have been taken by now that you’re hopelessly lost.

You’d stare at it and try to intuit where you are but in truth you could be anywhere in an eight square inch area covering cities and lakes and deserts and borders.

When you were younger, you’d stop and ask for directions, but at some point you gave that up; every time you asked someone, the directions were different, the names were different, the answers did nothing to resolve the questions that you raised.

Where is the GPS for the roads that you travel in your own biography?

— § —

It’s August 2020 and I’m out of context.

There’s an episode of Northern Exposure in which the problem of living out of context is discussed. When I was younger, I had no idea what this meant.

The words washed over me in the way that words sometimes do; you intuit a bit of this and a bit of that and the result is a kind of pastiche of meaningfulness that satiates for the moment without doing any particular damage to your worldview.

Now—now I understand the concept.

When you’re young, giants walk the earth and you’re one of them. You can see as far as the horizon in any direction; you can spot every landmark at a glance.

Ideas and decisions flow, and the symphony of your life plays out naturally, as though nothing could be otherwise.

But you’re only a giant so long as the things around you are smaller than you are, ready to hand, familiar. As the architecture of time and biography rises around you, it is you that seems progressively smaller, until your view is blocked on all sides by new, concrete and glass giants of contingency and history.

You wander and you peer, and at length you pick a little corner to dwell in, to create well-worn paths in, to avoid getting lost in—the same way a traveler tends to stay within a few blocks of his hotel while in town.

Only it’s August 2020 and I’ve been in town for two decades at least.

— § —

What would it look like now for life to begin?

If the world were suddenly to open to me—if the student loans disappeared and the children were grown and all the questions were settled and the floors were swept and I had open vistas again around me, could see all the way to the horizon once more—

What would I do?

I can’t even be sure.

— § —

People go to therapy because they want to be reassured that they don’t want what they actually want, which is—too often—nothing in particular, or nothing they can sell to themselves.

They want to be told that the reason they’re lost in their lives isn’t because they’ve decided rather intentionally to become and remain lost, to embroil themselves in complications of urban shadows, but rather becuase they are being oppressed by a foreign presence.

Of course what is asserted to be a foreign presence is their very own “subconscious” self.

The older I get and the longer I wander around these streets, the more I believe this to be nonsense. We do what we do because we chose to do it.

If you don’t have all the things in life that you “want,” it’s because you don’t actually want those things but can’t bear to admit that to yourself.

You have exactly what you want. You have conducted the cost-benefit analysis; you conduct it every day, and at every moment, in every thing. You do the things you do because you chose to do them. The other things that you don’t do are the things you didn’t choose to do.

The question isn’t why you don’t do what you want to do.

It’s why you don’t want what some part of you would like to be able to say that you want.

— § —

That calculation is the easy part.

The hard part is figuring out what it is that you actually want, so that you can enter into talks with yourself about when to issue the press release and come clean—“Here is what I want, and have wanted all along, and I’m going to continue to pursue it with aplomb.”

So that you can do what you are doing anyway even more, and even more properly.

— § —

Why did you take yourself out of your natural context?

Why did you pause in this town, at this hotel where you claim to be only temporarily marooned? What is it that you’re actually doing here?

How can you make the context your own?

How can you go home, finally, just where you are, and begin to put down roots in your life, in your own ongoing work of dwelling?

— § —

If there’s one thing I wish I wanted to do, it’s to put down those roots.

To embrace where I am and see the richness in it properly; to identify with myself and as myself and see myself through clear eyes, instead of through the haze of the traveler’s heady bewilderment.

Because twenty years is too long to be traveling, to be a stranger in a strange land—particularly when you’ve been there so long that everyone recognizes you already and has done for ages.

Everyone, that is, but yourself—for and to whom you remain a stranger.