*The Dalai Lama often concludes his comments with this statement. He then listens to the views of others.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A jug of popcorn oil and an empty shoebox

What's in the trunk of my car? or at the back of my desk drawer? or on my list of abandoned blog posts?

What is a blog, after all, but a "useful pot for putting things in" (credit to Winnie the Pooh). If all you have is a burst red balloon (with sympathy to Piglet) then you'll be pleased with an empty honey pot to put it in. And take it out of. And put it in again.

Here's a bit of blog about blurred vision. Once upon a time, before there was such a thing as lens replacement surgery, I had profoundly blurry vision. If you were to twist your camera lens as far out of focus as possible, until even the colors swim together and the shapes are all but lost, you'd have some idea of just how blurry. Every once in awhile, I miss that blur of color, the complete relaxation of vision that cannot bring anything into focus. Of resting with my eyes wide open. If I'm sleepy enough, and I've been playing a circle or star popping computer game long enough, I can persuade my new eyes to let go of focus until the colors swim together. I like that metaphor so much I refuse to assign a meaning to it.

I could write a dozen posts a week about media and moral panics, and more than half of those could be about Facebook.

I wanted to write about the ache of watching a student who loves to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn "light out for the [war] Territory" and try to help "sivilize" Afghanistan. I say to him, Don't forget how to write. And he sends me stories. And I forget to write him back.

I like to blog in defense of young people and especially in defense of college students. It is easy to blame college students for not being something: for not being motivated, for not being interested in truly learning, for not caring about the world but only about making money, for not knowing how to write well. And indeed it is easier to pass blame than to pass a writing course. Colleges blame high schools who accuse grade schools who point fingers at parents who blame their college professors. Except not really. Because lots of students do want to learn, and do write well, and care no more nor less for making money than the rest of the world. And most of their critics are mostly complaining that young people are not more like them, when young people are like themselves. But anyway. College students do not need me to defend them. They can take care of themselves.

I am sometimes reminded of how drastically different one mind can be from another mind. This structure has been around a few years but it is new to me. The artist calls it "Fifty Books I have Read More than Once" and I can stare at this a long time without in the least comprehending how someone might view their mind as a series of lines and 45 degree angles defined by specific books written by someone else. But if keep on staring, pretty soon the lines and angles begin to blur together and I "see" a comfortable blob of blur with some scribbled pages wafting here and there. Much better.

"There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner . . . the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question. I was glad of it." Jane retreats from the cold and hides with a book full of strange pictures. A wild seascape. A frozen moon. A graveyard. "Each picture told a story; mysterious often to my undeveloped understanding and imperfect feelings, yet ever profoundly interesting."

"I feared nothing but interruption, and that came too soon."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. --Melville

I've been reading Melville, and I've been reading Dostoevsky, and I've been stretching my mind on its tiptoes trying to grasp some fragments of their wisdom. The exercise is exhausting, but in a good way. It is humbling, but in a vital way. It is thinking that does not come, like every novel must, to a finis. It's more like Infinites--a journey limited only by my intellectual scope and mental endurance. Please understand: I like this kind of thing the way some people claim to like running marathons.

Okay, so. It goes something like this. I read a passage that catches me by the collar and insists I read it again, and then a few more agains, because I know there's something there that I want. For example, consider Ishmael's contemplations in final 3-4 paragraphs of chapter 96 of Moby-Dick, "The Try-Works." (I'll mix it up while I write about it, so go check Melville for the original.)
There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.
Wisdom is too hard to come by for it to be popular. And if Melville's Ishmael is right that wisdom dwells with woe, albeit not to the extreme, that's an even more serious blow against it. And if it is also true that wisdom comes with age and experience, then there's no market for it at all in large segments of the population. Most of us do not want to work hard, let alone suffer, for something so nebulous as wisdom, nor do we want to reflect too much upon the sorrows in our world, nor do we want to either (a) learn patiently as wisdom unfolds for us, or (b) even acknowledge we are aging at all. I fuss over signs of age much more than I contemplate what I have learned of life, and as I write this I discover that I almost never anticipate what stores of wisdom may be in my future. Let me put aside the wrinkle cream and contemplate more of Melville:
Look not too long in the face of the fire, . . . believe not the artificial fire, when its redness makes all things look ghastly. To-morrow, in the natural sun, the skies will be bright; those who glared like devils in the forking flames, the morn will show in far other, at least gentler, relief; the glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true lamp - all others but liars!
Here we find some cheerfulness in the form of conventional wisdom: ghastliness is illusory, almost an hallucination brought on by staring into hell, and when the "true lamp" (as opposed to the "artificial fire") brings light, things won't look so bad after all. Silver linings! Light at the end of tunnels! Calm after storms! Very good. Except that conventional wisdom is incomplete. Ishmael won't rest on the comforting thought:
Nevertheless the sun hides not the millions of miles of deserts and of griefs beneath the moon. The sun hides not the ocean, which is the dark side of this earth, and which is two thirds of this earth. So, therefore, that mortal man who hath more of joy than sorrow in him, that mortal man cannot be true - not true, or undeveloped.
Setting aside fantastical fears and horrors, and considering the world from a well-lighted place, the truth is that sorrow outweighs joy. If I don't accept and understand that, I am either deluding myself or simply haven't grown up enough. To take Melville's math literally, we still have one part joy to two parts sorrow. "There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness." To see nothing but the woe, that way madness lies. But read again: "Millions of miles of deserts and of griefs beneath the moon." A beautiful sentence. Beauty itself wherever we find it, simply because it is, balances some of the pain. At least for me it does.

I see here two paths of error, and I have tested out the sunny one quite thoroughly, and the shady one just a bit. One is to walk always on the bright side of the street, shielding myself from painful realities with some one of the fixes readily available in the marketplace of easy ideas. I could be, in Ishmael's words, "he who dodges hospitals and jails, and walks fast crossing grave-yards, and would rather talk of operas than hell." But then, I think, it is almost as easy to veer off into the dark alleyways, convinced that pain is the beginning, middle, and end of life, that joy is the illusion, suffering the reality, cynicism the opiate. There, instead of being falsely optimistic, you can be falsely pessimistic. Cornel West has said that Optimism and Pessimism are two sides of the same coin, and that the whole coin should be rejected, and replaced with Hope. I frowned when I first read that, being mostly inclined to optimism, but then the wisdom of it struck me.

Ishmael says, as with people, so with books: "The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon's, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe. 'All is vanity'. ALL." A book with more joy than sorrow is not a true book, or so Ishmael says. And yet, it follows from his argument, a book that is all sorrow is not a true book either.

Now I wonder. Is all this wrestling with ideas about woe and joy a luxury for the privileged? For people like me, with a good education, a minimum of suffering, a good job, leisure to read, think, and write? What if, instead, you're trapped in the darkness of intense woe and physical suffering? What happens then to the life of the mind?

And at this point in my questions I find Dostoevsky, living in a grim reality between imminent execution and years of exile. At the last moment, his death sentence was commuted to "four years of hard labor, and after that to serve as a private." The same day, he wrote a letter to his brother that conveys his sorrow at being separated from family and friends, his affirmation of life, and his grief and fear of being deprived of the means to write: "Can it indeed be that I shall never take a pen into my hands? If I am not allowed to write, I shall perish. Better fifteen years of prison with a pen in my hands!" But here is someone with "a Catskill eagle" in his soul, one who can "alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces." Even at his "lowest swoop," a soul like his is still "higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar." There is a person who is fitted, Ishmael would say, "to sit down on tomb-stones, and break the green damp mould with unfathomably wondrous Solomon."

"Do remember," Dostoevsky urges his brother, "that hope has not deserted me":
I have not become downhearted or low-spirited. Life is everywhere life, life in ourselves, not in what is outside us. . . . Not to be downhearted or to fall in whatever misfortunes may befall me--this is life; this is the task of life. . . . The head which was creating, living with the highest life of art, which had realized and grown used to the highest needs of the spirit, that head has already been cut off from my shoulders. . . . But there remains in me my heart, and the same flesh and blood which can also love, and suffer, and desire, and remember, and this, after all, is life.
I could learn all sorts of things about wisdom by reading, and by thinking, and by writing things down, because looking at my own words always helps me understand myself and my ideas better. But unless that awareness moves from intellectual appreciation to lived experience, I am no wiser than I began. Ishmael's meditation on wisdom and woe was triggered by his alarm at discovering he was looking backwards and in imminent danger of steering the ship into disaster. Best not look backwards too much.

Okay. So it goes something like that. I've left out lots, like thoughts about the etymologies of "wisdom" and of "woe." Like a web browsing session to discover whether the concept of "wisdom" even appears in the daily news. (I found no politicians running a wisdom platform, and the closest reference was to "pearls of wisdom" dispensed by Barbara Billingsley in the character of June Cleaver.) Like a re-reading of "the fine hammered steel of woe [Ecclesiastes]." Like a Google search for "Wisdom for Dummies" (which turned up a good article from the Utne Reader that said much of what I started to say myself but ended up leaving out altogether.) After my brain has gotten some rest, off I go again. The word "hope," echoing here and there, has grabbed me by the collar and demands further attention.

That is my view from where I now stand, at end of the blog and the threshold of whatever comes next.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Blog of Depression

Today would have been my father’s 80th birthday.

He’s been dead for 20 years.

My mother would have turned 80 in mid-November. She’s been officially gone 10 years, but the deterioration of her brain took her from awareness of life 10 years before that.

Yeah. Pretty much at the same time, 20 years ago, I lost my father and my mother. I have no model for how to be 80, or 70, or even 60 for that matter.

So here I am, and it’s shortly my turn to become 50. If I die or lose my mind at roughly the age my parents did, I have only a decade left. I have no reason to suspect that will happen, but then neither did my father or my mother. It could be that 50, for me, will be only the half way point. That I have a long, long road still to walk. Someday I will know, and whatever it is will be fine.

It is a strange thing to think about. I don’t know what it’s supposed to feel like to be 50, but I have to remind myself fairly often that I’m not 40. It seems to me that I’m 40. It seems as though I’ve lost a decade in there somewhere, and it’s unlikely I’ll get it back. There’s a Facebook joke going around: “Inside every old person is a young person wondering what the fuck happened.” Exactly.

What happened to my 40s?

Depression happened. Or now it appears it was not depression exactly but something else, bi-polar lite or just an inability to get stuff done or find the energy I had for life all my 4 decades before that. In spite of that, I worked my way to career stability. I like my job and would not trade it for any other one. I live in a beautiful place. I raised my daughters from 14, 10, and 4 up to 24, 20, and 14. And my children are incredibly wonderful young women. My marriage grew smoothly and happily towards its 25th anniversary. Other than the constant nag and drag of emotional struggle, I am healthy. There is no reason for me to be sad.

So let’s pretend there’s only 10 years left to go. What would that mean?

On the one hand, just for my own personal self, it would be fine. Sad though it may be for a healthy nearly-50 year old, I am often worn out. There’s no big life goals waiting for me to accomplish them and be proud. At least today it feels that way. I cannot think of any.

On the other hand, I enjoy my job and am not near retirement; I love my family, and I want to be with grandchildren that might arrive. I don't want anyone to have to grieve for me. Also, there are times I do not feel dreadful. Moments that I enjoy life for its own sake.

When you’re depressed like this, you have to remind yourself that it won’t always be this way. You have to remember that it comes and goes. But then again, after all, it will always return to this phase. It’s pushing that famous rock up the hill, then having it roll right over you on its way back down. There are days you just don’t want to push it up there again, and at that point it feels like quitting time. Just lie there bruised and watch it fall down the hill without you. Sleep as much as you possibly can. If at all possible, with the comforting weight of a cat resting against your body. Robert Frost had a warm pony with bells instead: "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep / but I have promises to keep / and miles to go before I sleep / and miles to go before I sleep." Yes. Exactly. Exactly so. This also says it perfectly: "I have been one acquainted with the night. / I have walked out in rain, and back in rain. / I have outwalked the furthest city light."

But the whole thing. Read the whole thing. Then I won’t have to try to explain any longer.

I have been one acquainted with the night.

I have walked out in rain --and back in rain.

I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.

I have passed by the watchman on his beat

And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet

When far away an interrupted cry

Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;

And further still at an unearthly height

One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.

I have been one acquainted with the night.

If my mother and my father were alive, I wonder what counsel they would have for me. Both of them suffered far more than I have ever suffered. My father was haunted by severe bi-polar all his life. My mother struggled from the stress of single-handedly raising three children. Both of them cared, and people who care keep an eye out for you like the watchman on his beat, even when you can’t explain. Even when you slip away from them into an even darker place.

That’s what my parents would do, if they were still within talking distance – Dad would say, “I love you,” and Mom would say, “I love you.” And I would feel a little bit better.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?

September 21
International Day of Peace

I'm trying to write about "Peace, Love, and Understanding."

I could be cynical and score cleverness points by mocking the faded peace signs and wilted flowers of latter-day hippies. I could be patronizing toward peace groups that hold sparsely-attended rallies on street corners or fruitlessly wave signs in front of capitol buildings. I could satirize politicians who insist that war is the best way to get peace. I could stop cold in despair at the unrelenting loss of life in war zones. Or I could just dodge the subject by explaining that none of that world stuff matters so long as I am safe and prosperous and have no loved ones in the military.

I could simply give up on the subject, delete this blog post, and write instead about something beautiful or delightful like dark chocolate truffles or the autumnal equinox or Don Quixote. Personally, I find peace in chocolate, love in nature, and understanding in great novels. That works for me because I have such a good life to start with. But when I study the news, from local to international, "I ask myself, is all hope lost?" It's difficult to pursue inner peace when you're struggling with "pain and hatred, and misery." If you care enough about the world's problems to search for "light in the darkness of insanity," your spirit will feel "downhearted, sometimes." If not lots of times.

But it is the International Day of Peace. It's a good day to give credit to people who find nothing funny about working for world peace. And there are lots and lots and lots of them. All over the world."Where are the strong? and who are the trusted? And where is the harmony?" The measure of their success is not in absolutes. If we are waiting to see when "War is over!" and "Poverty is no more!" and "Justice has overcome injustice!" then no wonder we sit down and hide our faces. No wonder we escape to the woods with frosted brownies and a good book. No wonder we think it's a joke to even try for "world peace," and instead buy cynical bumper stickers advocating "whirled peas." But our success is measured in footsteps, while world history evolves by generations and takes shape over centuries. We simply have no way of knowing what our little dab on the canvas will look like someday. But without the peace workers--be they activists or artists or any of the rest of us--conditions would surely be even worse. That is my view.

Elvis Costello keeps on singing that song, keeps on asking those questions, year after year, to crowd after crowd, and though his hair thins and he no longer stands on the sides of his red shoes, the intensity in his eyes doesn't falter.

To anyone who confronts the hardest questions unflinching, working without knowing whether or not it makes any difference, may International Peace Day bring you a moment of hope.

What's so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding? Nothing. Not one single thing.

By Nick Lowe. Originally recorded 1978 by Elvis Costello and the Attractions.
And as performed on the David Letterman Show, 2007.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fantasies of Safety

If you decide to give up your worldly comforts and go to Afghanistan to provide health care for people who have none, is it your fault if you get shot? If you do not wear a seat belt and are ejected from a car during a crash, is it your fault if you are injured? If you fall down the stairs because you tripped over junk you left in the hallway, is it your fault your broke your arm? And most of all why do we care so much about fault? Many people think of a smoker as guilty of lung cancer while a non-smoker is a more innocent victim. Someone who exercises regularly and suffers a heart attack is more to be pitied than another who is overweight and inactive.

I suspect that if we can convince ourselves that accidents and illnesses can be blamed on someone, then we believe we can prevent bad things from happening to ourselves.

Somebody rationalized the death of aid workers in Afghanistan like this: since they went somewhere dangerous instead of abiding by the principle of "charity begins at home," their death is their own fault. Never mind that some of them had been in Afghanistan for years and years. But they were helping Muslims, when they could have been helping needy Americans. Blame assigned. Compassion withheld. The illusion of personal safety enhanced.

Last week, a huge gas explosion in San Bruno, California killed four people. Within hours of the disaster, news outlets across the country began asking the question "Could it happen here?" Suddenly we are informed of possible risks of gas explosion in our neighborhoods. Reports of gas leaks, most of them groundless, increase exponentially and absorb resources that might be better spent on more immediate local concerns.

A bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2007 killed thirteen people, and by the next day we were reading stories about aging and dangerous bridges everywhere. Anxious drivers tried to choose their routes based on bridges. And although only a few bridges have been repaired as a result of the scrutiny following the tragedy in Minnesota, I suspect most people have forgotten to worry about bridges.

Of course it's important to investigate the causes of disasters and accidents and, if possible, prevent them from happening again. Of course those responsible should be held liable. Of course we should learn from mistakes and act accordingly. No one would argue with that.

What I want to argue about is fear and irrational thinking. Might it be hazardous to our well being to choose our safety preoccupations based on the rapid news cycles covering the most recent horrible events? Almost before we can feel concern for the losses suffered by others, we are wondering whether we ourselves are also at risk. And we are afraid. We are also distracted from any number of other hazards that almost certainly pose a much greater personal risk than the one we are panicking about right now.

We have a similar pattern with health dangers. An outbreak of a disease, especially if it is an unusual one, throws our attention immediately to that particular illness, and we are suddenly more anxious about that germ than about ailments that we have equal or greater probability of contracting. The length of our focus on a certain virus or poison or bacteria is controlled by how long media attention lasts. Whatever happened to anthrax? or SARS? When did you last open an envelope with trepidation, worried that white powder might fall out, or wear a breathing mask to the grocery store? (I take that back. You may have done so during the recent H1N1 season, and perhaps wisely so.) Are you more concerned with Asian Bird Flu or salmonella? killer bees or Lyme disease? flesh eating bacteria or brown spiders? tainted Tylenol capsules or mad cow? spinach from California or eggs from Iowa? I am not diminishing the importance of any of these problems, but in my view it makes no sense to let my fears be selected and inflamed by what the media thinks I should worry most about at any given time. Or really, to be frank about it, what the media thinks I will be most interested in worrying about. When the news value of any given problem wanes, a new fear will be fueled.

The issue is proportion. Reasonableness. And a healthy attitude toward safety. That is my view.

Here is the reality: we are not safe. And no amount of fussing will change that.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Heretical Musings

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. --Mohandas Gandhi
Today I can barely stand to think of myself as "Christian." I'm almost ready to quit.

Throughout history, "Christians" have, in the name of religion, pressured, forced, manipulated, coerced, bribed, threatened, tricked, or otherwise attempted to control people. Let's just be clear that we have no Gospel-based justification for such behavior. (And let's also be clear that throughout history and yes, even today, many "Christians" have scorned to use underhanded or aggressive strategies in the name of God.)

But many "Christians" who get media attention showered upon them are like [name deleted] who is famous for picketing all over the country in the name of the doctrine that "God hates [derogatory term deleted]." Or like [name of deceased deleted] who blamed the ravages of Hurricane Katrina on "HOmoSEXuals" or [name also deleted] who saw the earthquake in Haiti as a "blessing" and the result of a Haitian pact with the Devil.

Or, to bring this catalog of infamy current, like [name deleted] who is staging a "Burn a Koran Day" on September 11. [Same name deleted] will be responsible for God knows how many additional surges of fury and distrust on a global scale. Pictures of his event are sure to be used in recruiting by terrorist groups. I can't stand it. I'm ready to quit except, that would be like letting the bad guys win, right?

What does it mean that hatred grabs our attention and sells advertising while boring old caring-for-others is relegated to dependent clauses and submerged paragraphs? That the guy who hates has a full-color picture announcing his ugly message to the entire Associated Press world? That his answering machine is backed up with requests for interviews? That his mailbox is full of Qur'ans destined for the flames?

Indeed, here I am myself, devoting a blot, I mean a blog, to the haters instead of to the caring ones.

I was raised United Methodist, flirted with conservative Baptist theology as an undergraduate, then came to my senses and joined a Mennonite congregation that emphasized working for social justice and participating in a community of mutual care. (Of course I know many other groups espouse the same approach.) Anyone who reads the Gospels with an open mind must acknowledge that Jesus lived according to those values. He was persecuted because he spoke for outcasts and challenged religious authority. For the most part, he taught the people who came to hear him, or to challenge him, or who were milling about the Jewish temple. He sometimes started a conversation and invited people to join him, but he never chased them down or yelled at them or called them ugly names if they declined. No. He let people go their own way.*

He let people go their own way.

Tell me, am I so angry and ashamed by the behavior of some "Christians" that I'm in danger of becoming one who hates? I can't stand it that so many "Christians" believe they have the right, and not just the right but a holy mandate, to seize political power and use it to subjugate our country to a certain version of "Christianity." It enrages me. I can't stand to let them go their own way. I want to stop them, or at the very least, I want to distance myself from them as much as I possibly can.

The religious power brokers of Jesus's time may not have succeeded in killing him without the support of the people. And the support of the people was won in large part when Jesus failed to bring about the political revolution they expected. It has not changed. Most people, including "Christians," want power, including political power, and they want it now and are willing to use whatever means necessary to get it.

Including ignoring the example of Jesus himself.

*Disclaimer: Note the title of this post. Also note that while I feel strongly about the issues I discuss here, I do not present myself as a model "Christian" or, indeed, a model anything. These are simply my views.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Comedy, Tragedy, Rage, and Joy

Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. -- Ernest Hemingway
It looks like you can write a minimalist piece without much bleeding. And you can. But not a good one. -- David Foster Wallace
This gold image is called: "The Three Faces of Life: Comedy, Tragedy, and Rage." I am accustomed to seeing the masks of Comedy and Tragedy on playbills, theater programs, and drama anthologies. Usually the faces point this way and that rather than right at the viewer, but I keep staring at this one with its hybrid face of rage staring right back at me. The Comedy mask includes the smile, and the Tragedy mask provides the frown, but the center mask for rage leaves the actor's mouth exposed. An eye from comedy, and eye from tragedy, and blankness where the human mouth must be screaming in rage. Yes. But is that the point? I keep gazing at Rage because I am not sure. Maybe comedy and tragedy are not art so much as artifice, and primal rage is truth. But on the other hand, maybe the face of Rage is the artist, who glares at life with one eye focused through comedy and the other through tragedy. The mouth has no expression at all, perhaps, except as presented through tragic or comic art, or more simply, through language. Rage itself has no voice but what the artist can provide.

I wonder if this vision approximates how some writers approach their work, writers who are sometimes described as Tortured Artists. I recently tuned into an argument being carried on another Blogger channel, Universal Acid. In "This Page is My War Zone," Ryan Amfahr Longhorn collars Sean Platt of Collective Inkwell and berates him for his sneering treatment of "The Tortured Writer." Sean explains that he was so alarmed about the agony purportedly experienced by writers that his fear "kept me from spilling ink at least two decades too long." But now, he notes happily, "I never allow the sun to set without the jotted thoughts of my day, for the best moments of each earthly orbit should never be abandoned." Sean is the smiley face of contemporary writing; he has neither a comic nor a tragic vision, but is practical and commercial. That's fine for Sean, but I am puzzled at his hostility. Why not consider the possibility that different writers experience their lives in different ways? Just because Sean finds writing fun and profitable and suffers angst only when the cash flow runs thin (see the comment stream following his post), it does not follow that authors who pursue their art with gut wrenching passion and intensity are phony, self indulgent masochists. Art, did I say? Sean does not use that word.

Ryan could not be a stronger contrast to sunny Sean.
For one thing, Ryan keeps handing out free advice -- I've even seen him offer to read an unknown correspondent's fiction, whereas Sean would ask that aspiring writer for up to $750, depending on word count. No wonder Sean does not want young writers discouraged by accounts of discomfort at the keyboard. When you sell a product, you want a maximum number of potential consumers.

Of course there are poseurs who wear the tragic mask but never actually dive into the wreck, but Sean doesn't introduce us to any. Nor does he directly mock Sylvia Plath or Ernest Hemingway or David Foster Wallace or Virginia Woolf -- extraordinary artists who lost their lives to depression.

Sean says he is talking to "
the classic inebriated writer, wasting away as they eek through insurmountable emotional agony and too many adverbs. Sure writing is difficult, but so is driving a car or walking a dog… when you’re drunk." Is that so? I will NOT, I promise I WILL not, stoop to grammar sniping here by pointing out the error in his sentence. But I WILL fault Sean for failing to make an argument that goes past scatter shot insult and conceited assumptions: his blog drips in scorn but is dry of evidence. Where we might expect examples, we get self promotion.

But Ryan offers himself as an example. He says, yeah, I'm one of those arrogant tortured writers Sean complains about: "
I think the level of endured psychological torture varies from writer to writer, I'll concede that. But, for someone to even identify as a writer there has to be a certain imbalance in there somewhere." Sean says that if writing is not fun it may not be for you. Ryan says:
Once, writing was fun. Then, I went way down deep and saw the hell burning at the core of my being and I cannot do anything else that comes close to satisfying the self-actualizing urge to reveal, over the course of whatever ends up being my lifetime, exactly what I saw and felt and smelled and tasted and heard down there.
There's the rage, see it? There's the tortured writer right there. And here's another who blogs under the name of Annie Mac:

this. is. necessary.

i am writing this which, i promise, is shit, so that i might not take out my extra-ordinary McRage on parties who shall remain unnamed. My Daddy is sick again; he is - was? i don't know if he still is in the hospital or not because i'm so disconnected from - never mind. . . . despite what's been "diagnosed" thus far, you never know what's to come with him, what's hiding, and i don't trust the sources providing my long-distance clues. this is my blog; my writing; my words; my goddamn truth.
the truth.

And from another of Annie's pieces, "The Glamorous Life of a Writer!":
Honestly, I'm tired. That's the stupidest thing I have ever said. No, that is. But "I'm tired" is one of the greatest understatements of my life. This waking up at 5 am, writing until 2 or 3 pm, drinking mad quantities of coffee throughout the hours - then the exhaustion, like a...it's like some purple-black F5 tornado-tidal-wave of sleepless 3 am and that makes no sense - I know - but that's what it is - comes up over the back of the couch in the middle of the afternoon and just wallops me, bashes me over the head and it's...it's fucking ausgespielt, is what it is. I'm out. But I can't sleep. Can't nap, rest (I know - lay off the coffee, dumbass), but you'd think with that kind of fatigue, a wink or two wouldn't be too difficult to catch. You'd be wrong. . . . No matter how much I eat, The Muse works it off.

How could Sean possibly understand either Annie or Ryan? For Sean, "Creativity is a garden that only grows with nutrients in the soil and sunlight in the sky." It's okay that Sean has a different view, of course it is. But I cannot help but wonder how much better a writer he could be if he dug into the dirt of his garden and sat out in a couple of thunderstorms. At the very least, he would have a better chance of understanding why some writers take their work so seriously:
I want my words to matter to someone. I want them to mean something. I want my electric guitar machine gun in the hands of every starving child—for whom the gun will shoot food. I want it in the hands of the abused girlfriend who clings to that bastard because she doesn’t feel like she has anything else—for whom the gun will provide courage. I want it in the hands of the bastard, too—for whom it will provide salvation. And I want my loved ones and my friends to have it so they can know who I am and what I stand for without me ever having to say it. That’s why I write, at the core. The other stuff just feels good but this part is about love.

The triple gold mask places rage in the center of comedy and tragedy, but if I could have an artist craft that mask for me, it would have a fourth face.
Rage is not the only raw emotion, and the image is incomplete unless there is a mask on the reverse side, also borrowing from both comedy and tragedy, one that expresses primal joy. If rage stares with eyes of comedy and tragedy, so does joy. And it surely hurts just as much to write from joy, to write from a gut-deep love, as it does to write from rage. That is my view.

Am I a tortured writer or just an apologist? I'm not sure. I'm digging in the garden to see what's what. I've got some joy, and some rage, and some confusion. I've got fatigue. This is the second night I've worked on this blog until 2:30 a.m. I threw out a third of yesterday's work but I'm not sure I've improved it. I still don't think I've managed to say what I wanted to say, maybe because when I'm immersed in the writing of others, their voices get busy and my own is harder to hear. Do I need to add a disclaimer? I do not think a great writer must be miserable, and I certainly do not think that because a writer is anguished that writer is destined for greatness. Just because someone is misunderstood doesn't make that person a genius. But why am I working so hard on something only a few people will read unless I'm a sucker for punishment? I don't know for sure. Ask me tomorrow but not today.