Turning my Fear into a Kind of Courage

An obligatory post, to let all my, uh, reader in on the ins and outs of my life.

He who hesitates is lost. Or so they say — I can’t confirm it’s true, and yet I feel that if I spend too long scrutinizing my words, I will somehow be lost. For example, shall I scrutinize the reason for stating that this post is ‘obligatory’, or shall I just move on. Is the reason for which this post is obligatory more interesting than whatever else I might write?

How much explanation of myself is right and good, how much self-analysis? Who knows. On the one hand, I kind of like that fact that I only have one reader — it reduces the consequences of saying something wrong. Clearly I am unsure of myself. I have a few other web presences which I have never cross-referenced (i.e. facebook, my website, and two older blogs). I am so unsure of myself that I let each presence languish in isolation.

So on the one hand, I feel confident enough to put up a blog post, but generally speaking not confident enough to unite my web presence into a unified whole. Perhaps I started this blog in order to purge myself of past sins, to start afresh, with a strange new identity.

I suppose I can write this blog as the Salamander. My real life name is Zach – I’ve mentioned that before, but perhaps I feel better as the incarnation of the Salamander on this blog.

But still, why obligatory? Because I wanted people to feel like I am still alive. Okay, so I’ve done that. Is that all, then?

No it is not. The real reason I sat down to write an obligatory blog post is because, as either the Salamander, or as my humble real-life self, I have a living presence to bring to earth.

Now I have written a few paragraphs of words so far. Now, why did I write them? Because I felt like it. And I justified the writing by saying, “He who hesitates is lost.” So in the end it comes down to whether it was worth it or not to write this short post.

Should I have hesitated to write this post? I did not hesitate, but… am I lost, nonetheless? I am going to ponder upon it, and then come back and decide what to do.

Okay, I pondered it and here’s what I came up with. It comes down to whether I believe in the Salamander or not. If I believe in the Salamander, then I suppose nothing could deter me from writing – if though, I don’t believe in it, why would I keep going? And I will say that, while I do not currently have the track record to prove that I really have staying power, I do believe in the Salamander.

I am a sort of religious freak – you know, like a “Jesus freak”. But it’s not quite for Jesus. It’s for my own weird religion. I think I take the most things from C.G. Jung, if you want to get any kind of a handle on it outside of just reading this blog. So I’m a Jungian, to be sure.

But Jung is dead and gone – I can’t survive just being a Jungian. There must be some living something which fuels me. And that substance is my weird religion, which I must become less ashamed of, if I want to write blog posts with more confidence. In fact, the most notable thing about Jesus freaks, in my opinion, is their lack of shame.

For my part, I have come to acknowledge that the Christian image (that of Jesus on the cross), carries great psychological power. But I think the significance of Jesus is limited to that power and does not pervade the world any further.

But I also empathize with the writers of the Bible.

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you, but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings. 1 Peter 4

Now the Jesus freaks take nourishment from this passage:

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Matthew 5

They use Jesus as a crutch – and with scriptures like that, who’s to stop them! But the spirit of the quote has to do with the fact that people project their shadows onto the weaker members of their tribe — a phenomenon which is detectable even in non-humans.

The trick of the Bible is to convert that phenomenon into a kind of strength. Now, in my case, I am loathe to portray myself as the omega wolf – the negative consequences are obvious. I must appear strong, or people will eat me alive! But the Christians have managed to turn this phenomenon into a paradox.

Actually, with regard to my choice of religion, the example of the original Christians is better than that of the moderns. In the early years, no one had even heard of Christianity, and thus it took that much more balls to become one. Now they’re a dime a dozen, we have freedom of religion – no big deal. But since my religion is so unknown and odd, I am more like one of the original Christians.

The point is that I want to write powerful things, but I don’t have the courage or the motivation to do it. That means I won’t write, unless I can turn my fear into a kind of courage like the Christians did.

The Democratization of Stardom

Perhaps I can use my blog as a sort of cure for loneliness. I think I only have one reader — that’s what my site stats say. For each day I blog, it says only one person is visiting. But it’s the power of the Archetype — yes, the archetype of The Blog, which still has the power to enchant me.

It is good to record, in writing, what you think. Instead of its being a private journal, it is a public one, the kind only made possible by the Digital Age. This little seed of possibility infests my imagination and I imagine how famous I could get for writing such a blog. I have infantile dreams of Hollywood Stardom!

Phrase: the Democratization of Stardom. That’s what the internet has done.

When I was a kid, you had to go to Hollywood to became a star. The best example is the Muppet Movie — that’s what the WHOLE movie is about. But is it even true anymore? What does the internet do to Hollywood? Countless folks become stars right from their own bedrooms nowadays. Film, and broadcasting time on television used to be prohibitively expensive. That is, the actual film and the actual broadcast bandwidth monopolized by TV stations was limited. Therefore, those who controlled what went on the air and who could afford the film were put in positions of significant power.

I found this exact idea expressed in this article when I typed the above phrase into the search engine:

“Once you needed a studio to make you famous. Thanks to the Internet, anyone can be a celebrity,” says Perez Hilton.

Tila Tequila, “Chocolate Rain’s” Tay Zonday, Perez Hilton…Yes, even this self-proclaimed “Queen of all Media” has benefited enormously from today’s global democratization of stardom.

Okay, so I’m a year or two behind the times. I admit it. But it’s still a pill I’m swallowing hard.

Also, I’m probably destined for poverty (unless I can, as in my last post, sell a lot of copies of something). Barring that, I think I’m just of the type of personality which is going to be poor, because I won’t be popular enough to get rich. The other way to get rich is by being savvy with money — but I’m not really that either. I’m not savvy with money, and I’m not popular… I guess that means I’m destined for poverty. It would be cool if it weren’t so, but you have to look at reality directly in the face sometimes. I can imagine some scenarios where I get rich, but the safer bet, if you will, is that I will be poor and fringe forever.

Institutions and Me

The reason I keep going in life, is that at the very core of the matter, at the bottom, where there is no lower to go, I like myself. I think I’m alright.

The converse of this, is that if I get rejected in life, I am, generally speaking, loathe to attribute the cause of my rejection to myself. I think there must be some mistake. I convince myself, that the institution which rejects me has made a colossal error, and that they will pay for their mistake when, at some point, I turn out to be awesome.

This is, nonetheless, an extremely painful way to live life.

Institutions don’t like me. Hopefully there will be a solution to this conundrum. I think it involves selling a lot of copies of something I produce, thereby receiving money from a source outside institutions. Selling a lot of copies of something that is rather cheap to produce.

Knowledge and its Discontents

My existence once again proves itself. Out of the dying embers comes a lizardly voice. I blog, therefore I am.

The internet is a white hot fire — imagine that the several functions of the internet each are identified by a color. Combine them and you have the white which shrinks the entire world into a little diamond-sized crystal.

I guess it’s a good thing. What it prevents is the natural formation inside the human soul of a little, private world, uninfluenced by the big industrial world. Everyone has access to the industrial world — the metropolitan, urban psyche of the modern times — and no one has the innocence common to peoples of the middle ages. But ignorance is a form of protection — this is a thought that goes against our modern arrogance regarding the value of knowledge.

If any reader has seen The Matrix, you will remember the character Cypher, who betrays the human crew. This is a very important character whose motivation should not be underestimated — he expresses very clearly that he would rather live in the Matrix, under the illusion of a nice world, than in the real world, a much harsher and uglier place. In order to accomplish this he must return to a state of ignorance and remember nothing of what he’s been exposed to.

In our modern times we forget the price we pay for having access to so much knowledge. We forget how helpful it is for the health of the human psyche to remain ignorant of harsh things we can’t deal with. This is the price we pay for having the internet — we sacrifice ignorance. Our inability to confront this issue is a grave threat to our civilization. The weakness in our thought is that we can’t confront that ignorance is very healthy.

If you want to know what I mean, consider the mental health of a child who is allowed to believe in Santa Claus versus one who is not permitted by her parents to believe in such things. The first child is likely to have a stronger inner life because she is permitted a degree of ignorance about reality. The second may be forced to try to see the good in the world without the assistance of their fantasy life.

It is the core nature of human beings to have some kind of story which turns the world into a good place for them. It sometimes seems to me that the information we have access to from the internet prevents us from having access to these stories. We have a habit of mocking the middle ages for their ignorance ( see Monty Python and the Holy Grail ), but we should mourn ourselves for our knowledge as well. Both ignorance and knowledge come with severe side effects — and it’s scary to me how much our culture ignores those of the latter.

Nonetheless, I blog. Lizardly. What else am I supposed to do?

Mommy, what came before the Internet?

In this post I segued from some vague ideas about power and modernity to an examination of one specific cultural custom which I believe to be lost.

Blogs are awesome.

I still don’t understand them, completely.

The printed paper media have had five hundred years to establish themselves as industries, so it’s easy to get a handle on them. Whereas the whole internet thing is so new, and, if you’re like me, you hardly had a handle on the old stuff before technology turned everything basically upside-down.

I think the main difference between the pre-cyber world and the post-cyber world is that information is no longer the possession of elites. Elites, in this case, are simply those people who can gain power by using information. I wonder how much of the structure of our current academic system, to name one example, is based upon the presumptions of the pre-cyber world. I wonder how many university professors were for hundreds of years secretly padding their self-esteem by knowing things which today would be freely accessible. I wonder how much power was wielded by the institutions of the pre-cyber world based on the fact that the availability of information was limited.

Since I’m someone who hasn’t yet acquired a college degree, I can’t prove that my pronouncements aren’t colored by personal bias. I guess it’s not too much heresy to say that we can only expect our modern institutions to undergo convulsions as technology changes.

But that someone like me, who has NO higher credentials and no job, can find a place, have a voice, is due to the internet. And yet, I have to point out that, prior to the internet, there was a rather romantic way of becoming well-known and having a voice. It consisted in the process of hunting for a print publisher. I myself have never participated in this process.

Because print media is so expensive, there was rarely an opportunity for an anonymous writer to be published without their work first being vetted by an “editor”. In those days, the quality of the writing was generally higher because the editor/publisher needed to stay in business by selling enough copies to pay for the printing. So such editors, in order to increase the value-per-page of the final product, had to be picky about what made it onto the page and what didn’t.

Since the invention of the internet, the relationship between the writers and editors has begun to disappear. I want to name two, no, three examples. These are books by authors who had achieved essentially legendary status in their time, the now legendary age of the printed word.

In high school, we read J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Great book. Now, for anyone who wanted to follow up on that author they would inevitably be led to Franny and Zooey. In the introduction to Franny and Zooey, Salinger thanks his editor for his patience:

As nearly as possible in the spirit of Matthew Salinger, age one, urging a luncheon companion to accept a cool lima bean, I urge my editor, mentor and (heaven help him) closest friend, William Shawn, genius domus of The New Yorker, lover of the long shot, protector of the unprolific, defender of the hopelessly flamboyant, most unreasonably modest of born great artist-editors, to accept this pretty skimpy-looking book.

This kind of relationship between author and editor – if I’m not mistaken – has been made obsolete by the invention of the internet. Young aspiring authors will have to find relationships of this depth somewhere else from now on. There’s no longer anything heroic in being an editor, because anything you reject can just as easily show up on the author’s personal website, e-book, or other free place. You’re not “saving the world” anymore. There’s no such thing anymore as any of that romantic stuff with which Salinger fills his book’s introduction. Today Salinger could just as easily put it up on the web with no need for the kind of heroism previously required in an editor.

The previous example covers most of what I wanted to say. I said I’d give two others. Robert M. Pirsig writes in a foreward to Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance how he was turned down by 100-some (if I recall correctly) publishers before being accepted by, again, a heroic risk-taker.

James Joyce’s Ulysses is another example, although not exactly the same. I’m not trying to make any specific point here, but just to say that I can hardly even imagine how the internet might have made Joyce’s life (and his works) different. What would James Joyce’s website look like? His blog? The world is upside-down.

So I don’t really understand the internet yet, but still, I’m writing this now and in two seconds you will be able read me from anywhere in the world. But we no longer have the writer-editor relationships we used to. Editors, while still important for many writers, can no longer approach the heroic roles they had during the “legendary” Age of Paper. I’ve had to learn to accept this profound paradigm-shift. There’s still room for heroism in the world, but no longer of this type. The whole profession of writing is changing.

A Good Match for a Fire-Beathing Dragon

I have this odd condition in which I can’t afford to see a therapist – and the thing which might cause me to get more money may well be therapy – with the “right” therapist, of course, should I perchance find them. I have long held this bitter feeling about not having enough income to afford whatever might put me in a position to get more income.

This is a Catch-22. I’m not saying it’s a fatal version of such, but it does seem to slow me down at least a little bit.

I will point out the contrasting argument, which is the position generally held by conservatives which is summed up in the phrase “Get a Job!”

The idea with this brand of conservatism is that any job will make you a better person – put you in better contact with the basic facts of life, perhaps help focus your motivation. And my motivation certainly is hazy!

There is much merit to this position – I think it might be the best course for me. So why haven’t I just gotten a job? I think it’s because I’ve feared the coldness and brutality of the workplace. But my skin has been thickening up for years now, to the point where I’m actually willing to consider engaging with several social institutions. I will name them here as I think of them:

College. It’s been ten years since I was personally strong enough to consider the path of college. I would hope to start soft – that is, I doubt I could attend just any college. I have a rather low opinion of our institutions of higher learning for a long list of reasons. I have considered this college: CLICK HERE, however, because it seems a tad better than most of the others. It’s a good example of the middle ground between no college and a full standard (and boring!) college I’ve been willing to consider recently.

Jobs. Well, I could just walk into a coffee house and ask for a job – which might be the best possible idea, but I haven’t had the courage or the interest. But there might be more than one way to win here. My Dad, for example, whom I’m not really that close with, but still closer than I had been for many years, said he knew somebody who helps people with disabilities to get jobs.

It’s been a long time since I considered putting myself in that category because I took it as an insult and a sign of shame. This hasn’t stopped me from spending my Social Security checks though. It could be argued, however, that “disability” really is the closest our modern medical culture can get to what’s really been going on with me.

But if you’ve seen the depressing way in which most people are treated within the mental health system – there is just so much ignorance as to the causes and cures of mental disease – I would advise you to just do what I did and find a way to get the disability checks deposited directly to your personal bank account, and DON’T LOOK BACK – it’s probably the best thing you can do for yourself.

So anyway, it’s the first time in a while where I’ve considered getting a job. I’ve simply been distracted and preoccupied. Yet these years spent in “distraction” are very important for someone who is healing. Since I didn’t do much productive work in those years I often thought that maybe they were wastes of time. But they weren’t really like that. It’s a bit of a paradox – in our culture, which values Doing and knows nothing of Being, finding a refuge in which you can just heal is really hard. And I don’t know how I’ll ever convince others that those years of non-productivity are really what makes me who I am.

I guess I just grew up in an ignorant environment where I was made to feel bad for not showing myself to be “productive”. It never occurred to those people that taking time to oneself is also productive – they were bound by the notion that the only form of work that matters is work which looked familiar. Creativity was simply not part of their lives – it’s this creativity which takes time and is greatly helped by and understanding environment – which I haven’t had.

But still I’ve had the courage to do what I’ve had to do. I guess that’s why I’ve taken the name Salamander – gets put through fire but survives – the greatest of mysteries. I suppose he’d be a good match for a fire-breathing Dragon!

the Unknown Future

It’s my habit to type an entry and find a title for it afterward.

It’s another lazy day here at my house. Possessed by a sense of non-genuineness.

The degree to which one should be paralyzed by the fear of being phony is equivalent to the possible negative effects it could have. It’s a blog entry, therefore it may reach millions of people and may therefore be in a position to cause harm to such people.

In the past I have been disinclined to write whenever the slightest feeling of being phony stirred in me. Today is no different. In some way I have to accept that even though I may never produce much of anything it is still the rule by which I probably will always live. From my current position I don’t see how I will escape this melancholy attitude I consistently take.

From this point in the essay I could gaze inward in attempt to pick apart the root of myself, how I came to be this way, or I could look outward, applying the principle to something in the world. When I ask myself what my readers might want to hear, I think it more likely that they want some comments about something out in the world. I say this because I’m not sure I would want to read someone introspecting, finding something melancholy in their nature.

I’ve made a few logical leaps over some problems which have until recently caught me up in them whenever I’ve encountered them.

I would often want to make the assertion that life is a miserable experience – I generally feel that it is – but I have also not wanted to impose this thought onto others without really thinking it through. The reason is that if I proselytize the belief that life is pain, then I always kind of thought in the back of my mind that what I’m really saying in that we should all quit – that the logical conclusion of the condition that life is pain is to end it.

But recently I have found a formula which allows me to assert the fact that life is pain without being liable to act on the logical conclusion that all of us should just end the whole proceeding by a large act of mass, yet individual – individual, because for those who aren’t convinced, why should the suicides of others force them to act if they for some reason find themselves enjoying life? – suicides, with mine naturally being the first one.

I understand that this stuff is rather depressing, but it still is interesting to me, so maybe it will be of interest to you too.

I discovered the formula which allowed me to live by realizing that although life on the whole seems a painful experience, various events modify the pain I am experiencing. One thing that alleviates the pain most considerably is the presence of people with a clear appreciation for things which I am experiencing. To listen to Beethoven’s music for example can give me a feeling of relief, because it seems that Beethoven also feels the same pain. This basic phenomenon, of noticing in someone or something else the emotion you are also experiencing, is so prevalent that everyone can identify with it. And the key to this phenomenon is that it actually alleviates some of the pain.

So my new formula which finally conquers what would be the inevitable solution to the assertion that life is pain is that the presence of other people who “get it” somehow does provide a certain measure of relief to the situation. And I also must be capable of concluding that I am such a person – this is a subjective consideration, but I do believe, and perhaps it is the sign of some special talent I have, that I do “get it” with regard to the fact that life is pain. In other words, I have convinced myself that by my awareness of how painful life is I am actually reducing the total pain.

The theory relies on the principle that the presence of others who feel the same way you do helps to make the world a better place. It’s true for me at least, since I don’t want to speak for other people. As I said I like to listen to Beethoven and others (Dave Matthews, for example). If I could have the thing that would make life better – not necessarily “good”, per se, but at least, “better” – it would be the presence of someone who gets it. Someone like me. So now I can assert that life is pain without being forced by my need to be logically consistent into simultaneously asserting that we should all kill ourselves with myself as the logical first victim of that conclusion.

I can assert with my new position this slightly more satisfying statement:

Life is pain. Those who are aware of this fact make it better. Those who aren’t make it worse.

(Of course, the fact someone who is aware makes it better doesn’t prove that those who are not aware make it worse, but it’s largely true, in my experience, except in the case of children and dogs, neither of whom can really be blamed for their relative happiness.)

Well that’s one logical leap. I said I had a few. The next one is that I have disentangled some problems associated with the differences between mental illness and ordinary illness. The real question is whether mental illness has a special role to play in the greater society that ordinary physical illness does not and cannot play. It is a VERY thorny issue. But I think this post is long enough.

If you want to hear about the role of mental illness in the greater society then tell me so or I might end up forgetting about it.

Who knows what I’ll write… The future is a real mystery.

🙂 Accompanying Video 🙂

The unknown future rolls toward us.