Drunk on Henry Miller, Ruminating on Life

I am the happiest man alive – or, at least, I aspire to be. My restlessness, my stressors, my impatience, my work – the machine of automatic process by which man is conscripted to live and work in this society – all of these pale in the face of death, which, I concede, is the final result of life. 

As Henry Miller wrote in Tropic of Capricorn

Take a good look at me. Now tell me, do you think I’m the sort of fellow who gives a fuck what happens once he’s dead?

And rightly so; for this is my heaven, right here. 

But a distinction must be made: I was not always diamond hard on the inside. This blog – my life – is a testiment to that. 

I have learned how to be a true Stoic, to see what lies beyond my control; again, quoting Henry Miller:

I soon found out you couldn’t change the world. The best you can do is learn to live with it. 

But in learning to live with it, you change your world, your perspective broadens, your prejudices die off. 

Where I am now, at 31 and change, I have learned to live with it [the world] via the acceptance of personal responsibility. I – and only I – am responsible for how I feel, what I do. 

I fear this (and much of my writing here) all sounds very pollyannish, very self-congratulatory, very smug. And fuck it if it does; although, I am very much inclined to state that no man is immune to the human condition entirely. I’m a Homosapien; I have foibles, which, if left to their own devices – that is to say lived unconsciously – would ruin me; however, that’s not how my story goes. At 31, I’d much rather feel nothing at all than pain (A sharp departure from the shadow days of my late twenties, when I was hellbent on burning my world down – a world I didn’t see fit to live in). 

Pause. 

I am begged by the muse to answer a question here, and the question is one I have heard other fortunate souls ask: why me? Meaning, instead of falling in love with Sarah, instead of many of the good things that have happened for me (All my loves included), why didn’t life just fuck me, ruin me?

I don’t know: I suppose it did; I just don’t see life that way anymore; instead of seeing a tragedy, I see a golden goose. Sure, shit sucked – I have felt the twisting pains of heartache – but I no longer feel I know what heartbreak is. 

As I have said before, every woman I ever loved has loved me. 

Why lead all roads back to love – what else? I find nothing save the ability of my soul to weather anything – to endure – to make an ecstasy of solitude; all else is waiting. 

The bounds of my love, however, are merely shores I have yet to tread upon. I’ve only now, in my eyes, become what may be called a good friend, a good son, a good brother, a good uncle – a good person, which is to say nothing of morality and everything of generosity. 

I have covered this – and wish to cover it no more – but I will:

I wasn’t always this whole. 

Again, I am not one for morality. Save me your reproaches. As the newest beau of my muse, Henry Miller, wrote:

I had no more need of God than He had of me, and if there were one, I often said to myself, I would meet Him calmly and spit in His face.

I am of the basic belief that humans are no more than a goddamned species of mammal. The great tragedy of life then is, that in the advancement of life, the most advanced species on earth is also its most base.

Slavery, Abuse, Rape, Murder, Torture, Oppression: the human is master of these crimes. We are inherently base because we are a bunch of fucking mammals with egos. 

And in being human, I wish no more than to transcend the petty, the ugly, the banal; for it is very difficult to be human and not feel like a piece of shit. 

Real life, which is to say life amongst the human race – shit – good luck buddy. Because even if you are happy, it is only becacuse you are not in a North Korean prison camp eating rats. 

Why the world is like this? I don’t know. I’d like to say that humans will continue evolving, that we will overcome the darkness of our own age, but I also fear the inroads to the soul are dying – that man is exchanging knowledge for truth. 

Facts are stubborn things, sure; however, despite myriad human progresses, I am increasingly inclined to view society as a machine that will eventually – given the dangers of AI, genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics – eat man. 

Not all progress is forward. 

There are, within futurist circles, those who would happily see Homosapiens go extinct, and frankly, aside from the hardwired preservation of my own mortality, I can hardly disagree. We are the single most oppressive, harmful form of life on earth. More suffering can be attributed to man than can be engendered to any God. But I suppose this is merely the unfolding of evolution. I just wish we saw our place in the universe more honestly. 

We are a species with hopes and dreams. But we are a species nonetheless and not the children of Gods; we are the children of men and woman, as flawed as any ever were. 

I am stretching my mental legs, thinking aloud, as I always do here, but it is late and I am tired. So, allow me to wrap up. 

Life is a road, and we are born in a lane amongst many. Our lives are spent largely ignoring our passions, lost in petty pursuits, chasing trivialities at the cost of our grandeur, our splendor. 

Society asks that you participate in exchange for acceptance, which is a catch-22 of the highest sense. You are made to exchange happiness for comfort, time for money. But that’s all there is fundamentally: time. 

You are born then you die. Humans, sadly, however, choose to spend their lives pretty fucking stupidly. Put simply, the metrics by which we measure our wellbeing are not doing our being well. 

Great food and nice homes. A nice car. Clothes. Is that all you want out of life? 

Do you not wish to live in flow? Would you not rather enjoy peak state as a circumstance rather than a luxury? 

That conception of you, your very values, these are products not of the self but of society. 

And there is only one way to change society, which is to say the collective values of humans, and that is via art; for only art has the power to create change in others, in ourselves. It is the mirror; the place where we form our heroes, where we catch the conscience of the king, as Hamlet did. 

Art, I feel, is then the royal road to life as the Buddhists see it: the purpose of life being the reduction of suffering. 

Art can be anything. 

To quote Malcolm Gladwell, ‘art is using your humanity to create change in other people.’ Only, via capitalism, via governments, via the leveraging of labor, we enjoy our comforts instead. 

The Substance of The Soul

Edit: I’m beating myself up after publishing this. It’s not that I don’t like the content, which was inspired by a conversation I had tonight with two new friends. The problem is, this is simply not the right form. There is a reason Victor Hugo wrote Les Miserables. I must work on my stories. This comparitively is masturbation. Pleasurable, but not fulfilling. Nonetheless, the following freewritten message written post haste is something worth reading. But it is a tiny star compared to the cosmos brewing within me. Time. Time.

I love nights spent in deep conversation, talking about things that matter. Substance. This is something most lives lack an adequate volume of. Instead they are filled with things that burn our time and waste our minds, and for what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul?

We live in a world of gains at the expense of the things that make us most human: love, relationships, a connection to something deeper; our entire inner lives are but an abyss. I am one who suspects we fear what’s beneath the surface. After all, the vast majority of our encounters with our soul tend to be painful experiences: breakups, loneliness, rebellion, pain, breakdowns. But these too are aspects of the soul, for no soul is purely calm and peaceful. Like the sea, the disturbances of the soul are found on it’s surface, and the calm rests far beneath, at a depth few reach. A human soul, when brought to light, shines brighter than a thousands suns. I see this light in the faces of babies, animals, and those in love. It’s light stifled by the thinking mind, and thus the souls of most adults have long been snuffed out. But the darkness need not be permanent, for this light may be rekindled. Art, music, dance – even great conversation; any form of honest self-expression brings soul to light.

As Voltaire’s Candide teaches us, we must cultivate our gardens. Only, like Candide, we abandon the garden of the soul in pursuit of our fortunes. And in our neverending pursuit of doing and being more we suffer the cost of our pursuits. Costs we never realize until it’s too late. When I have children, I want them to know they have the power to create themselves; to be rather than to become. To actualize the soul rather than the self.

I believe we are all creators. Only we have been taught to consume. Our values have been twisted by a society ruled by power, by a people obsessed with prestige. It’s the businesses of the world that conscript us from birth to make a living instead of making a life.

Nothing is sacred anymore. All that ever was has vanished under the tide of image, pulled by the endless greed of the ego. For in a modern society it is prefferable to be seen as smart rather than to think for onesself. So we let others define happiness and success for us, and we live according to benchmarks that ring true only in the light of day. Look at me, look at how good I am at life, the bourgeous seem to say.

Our egos and our personas are defined not by our souls but by the times we live in. The values of the human soul are timeless. The values of a society live and die with its people.

What are you giving this world? What are you giving the future. Is your life a good model for others? Do you want for your children what you have for yourself? Do you even want for yourself the life you have?

Modern life isn’t conducive to independent thought. The system is designed to create good workers not great thinkers. After all, good workers can buy good TVs, good cars, and all the other bullshit (aka eventual junk) we have been programmed to exchange our lives for.

I can’t change the world alone. But I believe together we can. If each of us lived a life true to the values of our souls, the world would be a beautiful place. This isn’t just about getting to paint, eat organic salads, and make love. This is about being part of a system that has enough money to feed starving children, real humans with real names. A system that places profits over people. A system that ignores the plight of 200,000 Koreans in concentration camps in order to maintain diplomacy with China for capitalist gains.

This system is fucked up. You are a part of it. Are you really going to let yourself be another brick in the wall? Is this all your life is worth?

These are just thoughts written on a Saturday night by a guy in a warm bed. But they are part of a human life, the life I am living. A life I want to use rather than be used. While society may call me a misanthrope, I don’t think it can ignore my voice. This is why I write. This is why my dreams of the self, replete with all the trimmings of a successful life, are secondary to the dreams of my soul – a soul that values inner peace, love, communion, family, truth, beauty, and goodness. A soul like any other.

Under a Blue Moon

Cool on me the eye of heaven shines
In an earthly world where the mortals dine

I can’t question anything,
Anymore or again
I am to be my hero,
My unequaled friend

You know your truth,
Think and speak your voice
Act according to your heart and you’ll never have to make the choice,
Between things and dreams
Unless your heaven is a Rolls Royce

The soul has dreams;
The ego wants
The choice you make leaves the alternative that haunts

What is greater,
To be a consumer or a creator?

Select thine edeavor
And may thee fruits live forever

The Layman Sails Not

Standing on the banks
The layman sails not
But intent on succeeding,
He plans, toils, and plots
Only he’s living in a dream,
For he accomplishes naught
And without the tests of time,
His craft lay in rot

While he watched men of the world go forth
He judged himself still provincial and stayed hither
Hence through age and not mediocrity,
Unspent passion soon withers

Years on and gone wasted,
He recalled the voyages of great men:
How they were once but mediocre,
And he was once but one of them

##

Unproductive day, dissapointed. Perfection is surely a lesson only the great can teach; the rest of us damned to learn it, aiming to be great and failing to venture forth and acheive what may be called good, even great. There’s a diffference between living a life that is a work in progress and making progress.

Maybe it’s just patience I Iack, but I’ve been here before. I made that great mistake mediocre men make in trying to be great: I turned back at the water’s edge. Yes, I built a raft and made ready to venture across the river but on reaching the water’s edge and not feeling my craft swift or good enough, I turned back.

But what if I would have cast off?

Oh the pain in not knowing and then knowing! This is hindsight: to see,  years later, the mediocre man made great by the greatness of his voyage. Not to say any person is mediocre – that is to say, not mediocre in the downcast view the bourgeois have of their self-imposed fate – no, when I say mediocre, I say it with reverence, I refer to the Latin mediocris, meaning: moderate, ordinary, from medius: middle. Great men were no more than ordinary men who took great voyages. The voyage great, simply because it was made. The anchor of mediocrity that weighs the ordinary man down is not his lack of greatness, but his lack of courage to venture forth into greatness from mediocrity, for it is not the greatness of the man that makes him great but the greatness of his will. How many men build and beat on their craft only to turn back at the rising tide of time!?  For there is an eternal winter from whence only the willingness to be mediocre can lead one to greener pastures. How the sun might shine resplendent on the faces of the mediocre if only they would go! Swim across the damning bank for the sake of living, will ye.

In the book Into The Wild, Christopher McCandless reaches such a bank. After months in the wilderness he prepares to egress, only to reach the river and turn back after judging his swimming skills inadequate to cross. The author remarks that had he simply walked a few miles downstream he would have reached a spot where he could have safely navigated tamer, shallower waters. Of course, this is an easy observation, and we know what tragic fate young Mr. McCandless meets; needless to say, he does not die a drowning death.

I hope I am forgiven in using this anecdote – for I only use it as metaphor and the story of Christopher McCandless has doubtless inspired countless youth to venture forth from the banks of mediocrity into greatness – for Christopher McCandless crossed many such banks before he found the one he dared not cross.

And I write this standing on the edge of my own banks – staring into the abyss of possibility – beating on my own craft: my business, my writing, my concept of self, all works in progress, all mediocre, all inadequate, all laden with excuses for not doing the damn thing.

So it is, I write this to call myself to account. I’m still young and through the process of self-honesty I have staved off the eternal winter of mediocrity, but I am not as young as I might be had I crossed this river sooner. Now I am thirty. That age when men stand in the river of time whether they dare chance it or not. A man at thirty faces his possibilities and whether he belives in himself or not, he knows in his heart what he might be.

I don’t want to grow old standing in the cold bank of the river. I know that luck is not preperation meeting opportunity, but action creating it. The needle of probability which directs our fate is controlled by each of us. Whether we take action, moving chance from unlikely to likely, or whether we stand in the evermore freezing banks of the river, our craft decaying in the eternal winter of preperation, we hold our future in our own hands. I personally have never in all my life failed at anything, except relationships and those ventures I did not undertake. And only the latter of the two I regret.

In ten years I will be forty, and in less than a year’s time I will be thirty one. Perchance I could speak to him, what would my great grandfather say to me?

I’d like to imagine he would encourage me to venture forth from as many banks as I could as fast as I may. He would tell me not to strive to be great but, rather, to strive to do great things. The doer of great things being the one who does them.

I have a friend who makes half a million dollars a month. He did not attain this through perfectionism – he did it by casting off the lines from the dock and putting his ideas to sea. His compass – his needle of probability – pointing
straight to likely, while mine, so long as my ideas do not sail forth, will remain on the banks of mediocrity – my needle pointing straight to mediocrity.

I challenge myself (Having no other choice in the face of such hard truths) to set sail. Every idea, every dream, every plan, is no more than a mist, a vapor, a fog. The only measurable and worthy idea – the only plan or dream that may come to fruition, being the one we deem worthy of releasing into the world. Until then, they lie buried beneath the crushing weight of our egos, decaying with an increasing tide of self-consciousness. A plan is a dream with a deadline. A failure is one whose time either passes or never comes. What are you afraid of? What are you afraid of?

Money meet mouth. For mediocrity is a river, possibility an abyss. Only action and its palpable results, only what may be called good enough and done, may be called great.  While you are here be not a master architect or shipbuilder; be a sailor, mediocre as your untested craft may be.

Passages: Inner Reaches of Outer Space, Joseph Campbell

Prologue: Introducing Passages

I have begun sharing select literary passages on Facebook as of late, where, despite my small list of friends, I have received a substantial amount of positive feedback in the form of likes, shares, and comments. Prompted by this experiment, and spurred by my desire to champion good literature, I will be publishing a series of entries entitled Passages, where I will share my favorite prose and wisdom within a given book.

I’m excited about this. As a writer, I’ll get to transcribe the passages I enjoy most, endearing their texture and syntax evermore deeply to me; and as a reader, this practice will foster more thoughtful, perceptive reading – something I am duly more conscientious of, having just read Mortimer J. Adler’s and Charles Van Doren’s classic literacy manual: How to Read a Book.

As I embark on this journey of transcribing these beautiful bits of books, I offer a caveat and a disclaimer: Passages are not CliffsNotes, nor it is not my wish to contribute to the pseudo-intellectual culture promulgated by the internet and television; that which gives the viewer a false sense of knowing, without any background, context, or experience, the same stacking of facts that allows people to quote so-and-so without ever actually having read blah-blah-blah.

I am not one who espouses highbrow elitism; however, I believe the world would be a better place if people read more books, for few things have profited my soul as time spent between pages.

Without further ado, I hope you enjoy these selected passages.

Inner Reaches of Outer Space, Joseph Campbell

Passages excepted from the 1988 Harper and Row Edition

The inner, transformational world of myth

“The seat of the soul is there, where the outer and inner worlds meet. That is the wonder-land (sic) of myth. From the outer world the senses carry images to the mind, which do not become myth, however, until there transformed by fusion with accordant insights, awakened as imagination from the inner world of the body.”

– p. 31


The borderless omnipresence of the holy land

“The holy land is no special place. It is every place that has ever been recognized and mythologized by any people as home.”

– p. 44


The transcendent, larger than life power of story

” …as noticed in the Chhāndogya Upanishad: “Just as those who do not know the spot might pass, time and time again, over a hidden treasure of gold without discovering it, so do all creatures of this world pass daily into that Brahmā world [in deep sleep], without discovering it, distracted as they are by false ideas.” The distinguishing first function of a properly read mythology is to release the mind from its naive fixation upon such false ideas, which are of material things as things-in-themselves [vs. metaphor]. Hence, the figurations of myth are metaphorical (as dreams normally are not) in two senses simultaneously, as bearing (1) psychological, but at the same time (2) metaphysical, connotations. By way of this dual focus the psychologically significant features of any social order, environment, or supposed history can be transformed through myth into transparencies revelatory of transcendence.”

– p. 56 | note: I find Campbell’s normally eloquent and succinct writing a bit obtuse here but if you can discern what he is saying – there is a lot to take away from this passage on happiness and the transcendent, larger than life power of story. To quote Gabriel Garcia Marquez from One Hundred Years of Solitude (a book I could not get into): “It’s not so much what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” In other words, the story we tell ourselves matters more than the plot of our lives, for the story shapes the plot.


The metaphorical, transcendent nature of G-d

“…the term and concept “God” is itself but a metaphor of the unknowing mind, connotative, not only beyond itself, but beyond thought.”

– p. 57


Cross-cultural archetypes in myth and identification with the sacred

“The first task of any systematic comparison of the myths and religions of mankind should therefore be (it seemed to me) to identify these universals (or, as C.G. Jung termed them, archetypes of the unconscious) and as far as possible to interpret them; and the second task then should be to recognize and interpret the various locally and historically conditioned transformations of the metaphorical images through which these universals have been rendered. Since the archetypes are not limited in their distributions by cultural or even linguistic boundaries, they cannot be defined as culturally determined. However, the local metaphors by which they have been everywhere connoted, the local ways of experiencing and applying their force, are indeed socially conditioned and defined. Bastian termed such local figurations ” ethnic ideas,” völkergedanken, and Mircea Eliade has termed them “heirophanies” (from hieros-, “powerful, supernatural, holy, sacred,” plus phainein, “to reveal, show, make known.”).

“The very dialectic of the sacred,” Eliade declares, “tends to repeat a series of archetypes, so that a heirophany realized at a certain historical moment is structurally equivalent to a heirophany a thousand years earlier or later.”

The Elementary idea is grounded in the psyche; the Ethnic Idea through which it is rendered, in local geography, history, and society. A heirophany occurs when through some detail, whether of a local landscape, artifact, social custom, historical memory, or individual biography, a psychological archetype or elementary idea is reflected. The object so informed becomes thereby sacralized, or mythologized. Correspondingly, a religious experience will be realized when there is felt an immediate sense of identification with the revelation. The sense of a mere relationship is not the same. In popular cult the experience of relationship is frequently all that is intended. Thereby a sense of social solidarity may be rendered. Through identification, however, a transformation of character is effected.”

– p. 100


Schopenhauer on the synchronicity that shapes a life

“Schopenhauer, in his bold and really magnificent “Transcendent Speculation upon an Apparent Intention in The Fate of the Individual” (1850), takes up the idea, remarking that in the later years of a lifetime, looking back over the course of one’s days and noticing how encounters and events that appeared at the time to be accidental became the crucial structuring features of an unintended lifestory through which the potentialities of one’s character were fostered to fulfillment, one may find it difficult to resist the notion of the course of one’s biography as compatible to that of a clearly constructed novel, wondering who the author of the surprising plot can have been; considering further, that as the shaping of one’s own life was largely an effect of personalities accidentally encountered, so, too, one must have oneself worked effects upon others.

It is one great dream dream dreamed by a single being, but in such a way that all the characters dream too. Hence, everything links and accords with everything else.

– pp. 110-111


The restrictive, mechanistic, religious view of the sacred

“From the standpoint of an exclusively mechanistic view of human experience and action, any such attribution to nature of, “a presence… far more deeply interfused” as that of Wordsworth’s poetic lines of meditation written above Tintern Abbey, or of Schopenhauer’s “Will in Nature,” must be qualified in the derogatory sense as feelings; the so called pathetic fallacy: a sentimental projection of the imagination like Don Quixote’s morbid fantasy of a magician’s work in a windmill. Anthropologists, in the same vein, describe as “animism” the attribution in tribal mythologies, not only of consciousness, but also of a discreet indwelling spirit, to every material form of reality, whether it be animal, plant, stone, star, moon, sun, or cyclone. While in the vocabulary of Judeo-Christian theology, diabolism is the word for such beliefs.

For already in the Old Testament, as in post-Gallilean sciences, there is in nature itself no divinity. There is no god in all of earth but in Israel (II Kings 5:15), and the gods of the gentiles are devils. The texts of Christian missionaries to this same point in justification of their labors are legion, Satan himself being there recognized as even literally present in the idols, sacraments, sorceries, and miracles of every worship but the mission’s own.”

– p. 114


The priest vs. the artist and the artist as innovator

“Carl Jung somewhere has written that the function of religion is to protect us from an experience of God.

The priest’s practical maxims and metaphorical rites moderate transcendent light to secular conditions, intending harmony and enrichment, not disquietude and dissolution. In contrast, the mystic deliberately offers himself to the blast and may go to pieces.

Like the priest, the artist is a master of metaphorical language. The priest, however, is vocationally committed to a vocabulary already coined, of which he is the representative. He is a performing artist executing scripts already perfectly wrought, and his art is in the execution. Creative artists, in contrast, are creative only in so far as they are innovative. And of their innovations, two degrees are readily distinguished. One, the more immediately obvious, has to do with technical innovations; the other with innovative insights.”

– p. 121


The pornographic nature of art intended to foster desire

“Art that excites desire Joyce calls pornographic. All advertising art is in this sense pornographic, since it is intended that the viewer should desire to possess in some manner the object represented.”

– p. 123


The “proper” artist as revolutionary prophet, and mirror for the social mask

“For nature, as we know, is at once without and within us. Art is the mirror at the interface. So too is ritual; so also myth. These, too, ” bring out the grand lines of nature,” and in doing so, reestablish us in our own deep truth, which is at one with that of all being.

So that the artist, functioning in this “proper” way, is the true seer and prophet of his century, the justifier of life and as such, of course, a revolutionary far more fundamental in his penetration of the social mask of the day than any idealist fanatic spilling blood over the pavement in the name simply of another unnatural mask.”

– p. 132


The sublime nature of art that cleanses

“The word ” catharsis” (Greek katharsis; from kathairein, “to cleanse”) which in Aristotle’s usage denotes the effect of tragedy as “effecting through pity and terror a katharsis of these emotions,” was a term which referred in the Greek religious vocabulary to a spiritual transformation brought about by participation in a rite. The mind, “cleansed” of attachments may merely secular aims, desires, and fears, is released to a spiritual rapture. Plato writes of katharsis, for example, as a “defeat of the sensation of pleasure.” The ultimate effect, that is to say, is not to be of beauty (which when seen pleases), but of the sublime (outreaching human comprehension).”

– p. 134


The degradation of art, myth, and religion, and the artist as deliverer

“The question finally at issue, however, is not of individual psychology, alienation, and resentment, but of the irreducible conflict of metaphysics vis-à-vis morals within the jurisdiction, not only of art, but of myth, religion, and social action as well. For during the course of the nineteenth century, the separation of those two opposed orders of human experience, concern, and fulfillment became in the west exaggerated to such a degree by the radical materialism of the increasingly industrialized megalopolitan centers of mass intelligence and democratization, that anything like the functional grounding of a social order in a mythology (so that individuals of whatever social class, participating in the metaphorical festivals, should become joined with all in a profoundly shared experience of the ground and sense of their lives) simple disappeared into irrelevance. And with that, the proper artist lost his function. Today’s pitiful contracts to invent monuments commemorating local-historical events and personages are hardly compatible to the earlier challenges of art, to break through the walls of a culture to eternity. Thus, the only true service of a proper artist today will have to be to individuals: returning them to forgotten archetypes, les grandes lignes de la nature, which have been lost to view behind a cloud contending Jeremy Benthamoid philosophies of the greatest [economic] good to the greatest number.

– p. 144