Thoughts on Pain (from a Wizard)

I’ve been binging paperbacks hard this year, and a fair amount of those have been The Dresden Files series. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a series of novels by Jim Butcher centering around a private investigator in Chicago who’s a wizard. Or it might be more appropriate to say he’s a wizard who works as a private investigator. Either way, it’s great. I had friends recommending the series to me for years until one of them just bought me the first five (there are seventeen so far) and I’ve been cramming them almost constantly ever since.

They’re fun reads.

But you ever have one of those moments with a book that sits you down? That can either mean sits you down on your ass because it took you off your metaphorical feet, or it could mean that it sits you down, puts a hand on your shoulder, and has a talk with you. It’s one of those moments where, for a brief minute, you set aside the story the book is telling you and audibly thank the author by their first name like you’re on that kind of basis with them.

This was one of those.

It was a perspective on life that I realized I’m going to be loosely quoting, paraphrasing, and otherwise referencing in deep talks with others for a while, if not the rest of my days on this earth. And I won’t lie, I had expected something like that to come out of ‘The Art of War,’ or ‘The Book of Five Rings,’ or ‘The Alchemist’ (which is also good), or something. Not necessarily a novel about wizards, zombies, vampires, angels, warlocks, and all the rest.

I’m going to put the excerpt here, in all its glory. It’s out of the ninth book in the series, ‘White Night,’ pg. 307-309 if you nab the edition published by ROC. (I don’t know if there are other “editions,” it just sounded fancier to say that way.)

“The wisdom, maybe, was still in process, as evidenced by her choice of first lovers, but even as an adult, I was hardly in a position to cast stones, as evidenced by my pretty much everything.

What we hadn’t known about, back then, was pain.

Sure, we’d faced some things as children that a lot of kids don’t. Sure, Justin had qualified for his Junior de Sade badge in his teaching methods for dealing with pain. We still hadn’t learned, though, that growing up is all about getting hurt. And then getting over it. You hurt. You recover. You move on. Odds are pretty good you’re just going to get hurt again. But each time, you learn something.

Each time, you come out of it a little stronger, and at some point you realize that there are more flavors of pain than coffee. There’s the little empty pain of leaving something behind – graduating, taking the next step forward, walking out of something familiar and safe into the unknown. There’s the big, whirling pain of life upending all of your plans and expectations. There’s the sharp little pains of failure, and the more obscure aches of successes that didn’t give you what you thought they would. There are the vicious, stabbing pains of hopes being torn up. The sweet little pains of finding others, giving them your love, and taking joy in their life as they grow and learn. There’s the steady pain of empathy that you shrug off so you can stand beside a wounded friend and help them bear their burdens.

And if you’re very, very lucky, there are the very few blazing hot little pains you feel when you realize that you are standing in a moment of utter perfection, an instant of triumph, or happiness, or mirth which at the same time cannot possibly last – and yet will remain with you for life.

Everyone is down on pain, because they forget something important about it: Pain is for the living. Only the dead don’t feel it.

Pain is a part of life. Sometimes it’s a big part, and sometimes it isn’t, but either way, it’s part of the big puzzle, the deep music, the great game. Pain does two things: It teaches you, tells you that you’re alive. Then it passes away and leaves you changed. It leaves you wiser, sometimes. Sometimes it leaves you stronger. Either way, pain leaves its mark, and everything important that will ever happen to you in life is going to involve it in one degree or another.”

God. Damn.

Thanks, Jim.

Why (I Think) Writing Should be Hard – A Rant

Not saying that’s what this is at all, but I get into about one online fight a year. I do them annually. I keep it to that, because otherwise I’d go insane, since they all go exactly the same way: I see something I disagree with, I look into it to see if I stand to learn something, after which I tell the person I disagree and why, they disagree back, I cite sources and supplemental arguments, they post a picture and call me dumb, I explain why that’s insufficient, whereupon they say that I’m insufficient, and I close with a final argument, a plea that they improve themselves, and a promise to myself to never do that again because it’s fruitless as hell.

It’s dumb because it’s <sigh> too easy. And I’m not saying that at all in an “I’m so much smarter than so-and-so” egotistical way. I’ve gotten into plenty of online discussions wherein someone stakes a claim and backs it up with reasonable evidence and rationale, I try to do the same, and we both come away with an evolved view of our positions even if they haven’t necessarily changed. The problem is that those things are rare as a pink manta ray (look ’em up, biologists have found ONE that exists), and the remaining overwhelming percentage are folks posting pictures, regurgitating easy rallying cries, and slinging insults.

That’s because it’s way easier to do the latter than the former, and that’s so damn disappointing. Ideally, one should either take part doing it correctly, or not at all. Just because you can post an inflammatory picture or meme that’s supposed to summarize your point, doesn’t mean you need to. (Also, if your world view has so little nuance as to be completely encompassed by a rehashed picture and a joke, that may be part of the problem.)

I’ve been a longtime lurker on reddit, too. Always reading and surfing posts, but never posting my own or commenting much. Recently however, I’ve started getting a bit more involved with commenting at least. I stumbled upon the r/writingadvice forum, and that seems to be where I do most of my talking. It’s always great to spread and pick up tips and shared wisdom from other writers, and that’s as good a place as any. It also feels good to have your advice find some small purchase with another person and resonate with them.

That said, I found one bit of advice I’ve shared that never seems to get a positive response. I’ve dwelled on it critically, whether it’s sound advice or if I’m just being an asshole, but I earnestly lean toward the former (not out of defense, either; I’m down to be called out if it’s correct). In a nutshell, it goes as follows:

The OP says they know they’re a strong writer with a powerful voice, but they never find the motivation to finish projects or commit to anything. They have talent, those close to them praise their work and reassure them, but still the doubt remains. What can they do?

Whether it’s right or wrong, this is roughly what I try to share with you now as I have on those posts:

You can’t tell yourself you have talent. It may very well be true, but for the vast majority of us, it isn’t. It doesn’t always come easy, and it shouldn’t. There will be times when inspiration strikes and the words flow, sure, but you can’t just accept that your words will effortless spin gold because it’s natural. It takes effort over time, commitment, and exhausting levels of energy. “I don’t like compliments,” Jimmy Hendrix was once quoted saying. “They distract me.”

Be like Hendrix. Even if you are talented, don’t tell yourself that. Make yourself earn it, time and time again. Celebrate successes, absolutely, but don’t get lost in them. Live, strive, learn. You have to be your own biggest fan, but only while paired with being your own harshest critic.

Doubt, loneliness, some self-loathing, exhilaration, wonder, elation, and all the rest are part of the trade, it seems to me. Having wonderful ideas, observations, and tales to tell is something literally all of us do. The trick- the job is in building a bridge between that realm of imagination and fantasy into the real world.

Y’all, that takes work. Just like a bridge, it needs structure. It needs fittings, cables, hangers, bolts, sub-structural braces, decorations if you’re fancy, and maintenance. It needs all these things before it can work like you want it to. So just like with the aforementioned internet squabbles, it needs more effort than expecting it to come naturally and have people see it the way you do in your mind’s eye. The work is wondrous, lonely, heartbreaking, but uplifting and rewarding.

Can you do it? Fuck yeah. Please, Christ, share your story. But put into it tenfold the energy you expect to see out of it. Will some succeed and find it easy? Maybe. But even ninety-nine out of a hundred success stories you’ll hear about by very talented people are built with insane amounts of unseen work and luck. Enough patience and fortitude is what will make the difference for us normies.

If you’re looking to succeed at an art, at a project, or whatever else, that’s the secret. It’s simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Great artists that seem untouchable are people just like us. The only difference between us and them is time spent. That means time spent trying, spent working, spent failing, spent regrouping, spent learning, and spent trying again. That really seems like the secret everyone wants, but doesn’t like. But if you’re looking for a sympathetic ear and a pat on the back, ask for those instead.

Or shoot, maybe it’s a diet rich with Vitamin A. Like, somehow fifty years from now science will find that’s the trick to creative genius and everything I’ve just said is malarky.

But it’s worth a try.

Ciao, y’all.

Another Trip Around the Sun

To each their own, obviously, but when I was about sixteen I learned one of the secrets to happiness.

I was about that old when my uncle had one of his birthdays and I asked him how he spent it. “Oh, took the day off to slept in a bit. Wife went to work, so I cleaned up the house some, then I took myself out to breakfast. After that, I got a haircut and went to go see a movie. It was nice.”

I don’t think I said it out loud, but the inside of my mind sounded something like this: “That…um, wow. That does sound kind of nice, actually. You…you can just-…you can just do that?”

To me, at that age, birthdays were something that had to have a bang. It was expected to have some kind of party, some kind of event or get-together. So when he said he’d quietly celebrated his birthday with an easy day with himself, nice, little tokens, and time without expectations, he might as well showed me how to turn lead into gold. In that moment, he was an alchemist and had just showed me how to craft the Philosopher’s Stone.

With the exception of my twenty-first, I have striven to live each birthday in the same easy fashion ever since, and it really is the key to happiness, I find.

If your thing is big ol’ shindigs and how-to-do’s, by God, go for it. Love it, the occasion, the time, yourself, all of it. But damn, being given the tacit permission to enjoy an easy day free from any obligation is…just, such a treat.

Slept in a little bit this morning, got some cuddles, finished a mystery novel I’ve been reading and started another, showered and got doughnuts. Now, I’m sitting in a coffee house writing to you guys, with plans to have shwarma later with my mother, and bet on UFC fights while scarfing tacos sometime after that.

And fuck me if that isn’t exactly how I want to spend the day.

Y’all have a good one. Or, rather, whatever kind of day you damn well please. Life is hard, and these little oases of downtime are…boy, they’re a joy.

What Kitty Litter Taught Me About Life

There’s a meme I’ve seen floating around from the heartwarming, soul-crushing animated movie ‘Up.’ It features the main grumpy old man character when he’s young and enjoying life with his partner. They’re lying on the grass together smiling, and the text reads simply: “You never know the importance of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

Savor life the best you can, because you never quite realize the moments that make it until you’re looking at them in the rear-view. Sometimes you do. Sometimes you feel the memory being formed like a camera taking a snapshot. But the majority of times, you don’t quite have control over the moments that will stick with you.

This is one of those.

I was eleven years old, or thereabouts, hanging with my aunt, uncle, and other friends. Among those friends was one of theirs, a man in his early twenties at the time named Ian. Like a lot of conversations around the time of the “I CAN HAZ CHEEZBURGER?” zeitgeist, we were talking about cats. Being the insightful little bugger I am, I added the thoughtful question: “Why do cats poop in a box full of sand anyway?”

Without missing a single beat, Ian looks at me and ripostes: “Why do you poop in a bowl full of water?”

You see, by asking my question about a box full of sand, I was trying to imply that it wasn’t natural for a member of the animal kingdom to be defecating in that kind of environment. Ian’s sharp response informed me that I wasn’t paying nearly enough attention to my own circumstances to be criticizing where cats poop. Since then, it’s become sort of a watermark for measuring my own hypocrisy and making sure I come correct whenever I think to criticize or form opinions about the situations of others.

So-and-so may be kind of annoying when they bring every conversation back to their favorite topic, but before gossiping about that, make sure to check how smooth a conversationalist you are in your own right before going there.

It might seem obvious to you how irresponsible someone seems to be with their money, but it’s worth a double check at your own spending habits and circumstances before forming an opinion.

On and on the list goes, but the absurd fact of the matter that a comment about where cats take a shit taught me a life lesson that’s so far spanned seventeen years and counting should say something about the mysterious, wonderful workings of the universe.

“Kindly let me help you, or you’ll drown” said the monkey as it took the fish and put it safely up a tree. Just because we think we know what’s good for us – which we absolutely don’t always – it’s worth a second look before applying that kind of hubristic approach to others.

This nugget of enduring wisdom, again, brought to us by cats taking a crap.

The world is funny.

A Quick Rant: Unicorns are Badass

Hey-o. It’s that time again.

I’ve been (thankfully) busy of late, which has also sort of rekindled this dry lil’ well…hmm, mixing those two bits of metaphorical speech is kind of contradictory.

…anyway!

Yeah, I’ve been finding myself more and more over the past couple of days thinking, “Oo! That thought might be one for the blog,” and then jotting it down. So the next couple of days will be seeing some of those, but I figure we’ll loosen up with the easy one: Unicorns are kind of badass.

There’s a beloved coffee shop in town – we all have one that’s our go-to – and this one is particularly special due to their decor. They’re very outwardly LGBTQ+ friendly, meaning rainbows and sparkles EVERYWHERE. Their mascot, for lack of a better term, is a bright silvery unicorn. And that places brings about so much comfort and productivity, a real writers’ haven, that it inspired the very deep thought: God, unicorns are pretty badass!

To the point where, now as an adult, I’m really at a loss as to why they ever were considered as “sissy horses,” or a symbol for little girls meant in a pejorative way. They’re a freakin’ stallion with a freakin’ horn on their head. You’re talking about a strong, magical, terrifyingly intelligent equine with a weapon on it’s face. What, it’s cool for rhinos and dragons to have horns on their faces, but give one to a horse and suddenly it’s nansy-pansy. Get the f*ck out of here. If we’re riding into battle, I’m taking a unicorn (or a centaur – probably a better conversationalist) any damn day. There’s no lack of stories placing unicorns as lieutenants in fantasy armies, incredibly valued for their blood, horn, mane, or overall wish-granting abilities, and thankfully more and more stories where they gore an mf’er with that fancy piece they’re sporting (thank you Cabin in the Woods). They were one of my favorite Clans in Legend of the Five Rings (like, two of you will get that reference, maybe) and now I can understand why. This has all seriously absorbed me, too, to the point where I’m considering decor for my office space, just so I can start those conversations. “Evan, why the unicorns?” “Intruder, why NOT unicorns?”

Anyway. Been fun, but I’ve beleaguered the point to hell and back and now I gotta be off for a day of manual labor.

Catch you again soon!

Random Thought

Mmm, yeah, we have time for this- oh! And to clarify, not “random” to me, exactly. What I’m about to thought-vomit on is a topic I’ve spent a weird amount of time fixating on every now and again; but I should be random to you.

If it’s not, then, well, that has certain…I guess, existential implications to it. Or we’re just on the same psychic wavelength, which I guess is always possible given how many people there are in the world- Anyway!

Do me a favor and look at your hands. Palms flat, fingers extended and straight. First off, take a moment to note any scars, callouses, wrinkles, and so forth. They’re all kind of a cool road map of your history, what you’ve done with these two little collections of meat tentacles.

But the reason we’re here today, look at your fingerprints. Not even actually caring about how unique they are to every person, have you ever noticed how, if you stare at them long enough, you can start to see the ways in which those tiny grooves are almost runic? Just, the texture of the skin on your palm and fingers has a pattern like stylish filigree. And to the smart guy out there who’s maybe googled “where fingerprints come from” or whatever: 1) I haven’t, and 2) that’s not the point, really.

At the end of the day, I like to think of the pattern’s presence as a little reminder that we’re all works of art, and that’s a trait we all share.

I guess, unless you’re a spy or something and have had your fingerprints smoothed over for work. But I think we should agree that’s pretty unique.

Anyway, something to chew on. Happy weekend, y’all.

Ciao.

Path of Paine

Wow, hi guys!

Can I lead up at the top that I appreciate you? Whoever you are, though I don’t know your name, your voice, your favorite food, or whether you prefer high-five’s or fist-bumps – I think you’re pretty great.

Out in California, right now we’re all collectively preparing for fire season. Mostly that means expecting power outages, preparing (at least mentally) go-bags we can quickly pack or grab in the event of an evacuation, and taking stock of what things are important enough to warrant inventory space and which might need to be committed to flames (worse case scenario, obviously).

Most of us have an idea of what we’d bring, and what that does is highlight what matters to us. It also usually highlights how many things of ours are…just things. And when that happens, it leads to a deeper appreciation for what we have. This could lead into a never-ending rant about how Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and how I think it suffers the incredible irony of being severely underappreciated whilst getting crushed under the stampeding boots of Christmas shoppers- BUT we’ll leave that for another day.

In a largely roundabout way, what I mean to center on is that it’s a common thing for most go-bags to include a small stack of a person’s favorite books. Now, while fiction is my first love, and my treasured collection of Witcher novels would need to be pried out of my cold, dead hands, another that would need to come with me is Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason.”

Enormously controversial in its day, I’m sure it could still be seen that way nowadays. In short, Paine describes it simply as his thoughts on religion. No wonder why then, in the mid-eighteenth century, the book landed him in some pretty hot water (and, actually, totally in jail). The second half of the book was written from prison, and it’s essentially his dissection of the Bible and the reasons why, in his view, it’s complete cockamamie nonsense.

I don’t love it for its second half. I love it for the first half.

The first sixty-eight pages (of my edition, anyway) are Paine outlining his own personal form of Deism – deism being a viewpoint that sees the universe as having a supreme, creating intelligence, but one that is separate from and does not intervene in the material world (Creation).

And while I want to, I’m not going to quote anything here – because I insist you read it yourself (found easily enough as a pdf right here —> Here!); and if you do, scroll down to pages thirty-three and thirty-four to get a taste of the root of his outlook.

In brief, he doesn’t see God necessarily as being a big bald-headed man in the clouds with a big floofy beard. Whatever name you want to give the force greater than understanding, more universal and common but as mysterious as consciousness itself, doesn’t matter so much.

But what is important is that the worship is in seeing. It’s in listening. In feeling. In smelling. In tasting. Taking in the world around us, trying to comprehend it, but above that – appreciating it.

Not to get too ‘woo-woo’ on us, but do you ever take a moment to recognize that you exist?

Just the fact that you, the awareness behind the eyes, inside the body, and behind the thoughts of whoever you are – are real. For no discernible point or purpose, from a mysterious some-say-unknowable origin, as a cosmic phenomenon…you exist. AND you’re able to contemplate that fact. Cogito, ergo sum, after all.

Worship is in appreciating what’s in front of you. What’s in you. What’s happened, or all the unknowable things that will happen. All of the heart-breakingly beautiful shapes and creatures on the planet, or those things our astronomers have shown us out in the cosmos.

It’s such a warping thought to know it’s so large that to even try comprehending the full breadth of it is unimaginable from the start.

Anyway, I’m feeling lost in the weeds now. We’re FULL rant. But…gah, things to think about right?

TL;DR – I appreciate you, things are awesome, good to think on that sometimes, woo-woo.

See you guys next time.

What the Gosh-Dingle-Damn?!

Won’t lie, y’all, forgot what day it was. That goes for yesterday, too – which is why this is late. ALSO, I’m writing this from a potato pretending to be a phone, with a keyboard that doesn’t have a Return key. So in that spirit, today, I’m going to pose a question that we’re going to answer tomorrow: What was going through the mind of the guy who discovered cheese? (Scheduled post subject to change based on the author’s whimsy.)