Monthly Archives: March 2012

Why I am Not Not a Christian

My first spiritual experience was most likely my conception, or “benception” as my mom calls it (I am kidding, my mother is not too hot on puns) — but as that moment of happenstance-laden and conjugal-sanctioned becoming is about as far removed from my conscious recollection as the goings-on in our Sun, I will move past that, and also past the childhood experiences which are neither completely accidental nor intentional in their selectivity — moving forward to my tenth year, where at a week-long Bible Camp hosted at the college where my parents met I was taken up — all 95(approx.) pounds of me — in a charismatic flowering of my heart.

The chapel in which I found myself on that warm Monterey evening was dark and filled with praise music. I’m not sure what triggered the sudden flood of emotion that came over me. It was something about God’s love for us. How amazing and awesome it is. But as the tears came, followed by strange movements of my tongue, I knew with certainty that God is real. This had nothing to do with belief or anything I had been told. It was a pure and powerful experience of a vibration that was beneficent and all-encompassing. When my parents swung by to pick me up the next day, I told dad that I spoke in tongues. He (jokingly) asked for a demonstration. That was one of those rare instances where I failed to find something funny. I shook my head. You can’t tell the Spirit when to come or where to go…

There was a couple more incidences that year or the next where I was able to know things that were marginally unknowable. Our church had lost its pastor, and after waiting several months for the right fit, a man with the correct qualifications came through, and the congregation voted on him, and I started bawling and bawling because he wasn’t right. Over the next couple of years that man dismantled the fellowship. Things like that—that can only be verified by retrospect—that have no true ‘gain’ to them, in the material sense… what is call Insight, is what I think I had a line on for a year or two, back then.

But then came the coarse hair and the itching drives of puberty. The hormonal crush of anxiety, self-consciousness and icky, icky change. That swallowed up my insight, obscured it with a dorky sense of humor and the need to cuss when out of earshot of my parents and pastors. Over my high school years I was very involved in my church’s youth group. I loved being in church—not the services necessarily, but the building itself felt like home to me. It’s odd that I keep finding myself working in them, though I haven’t been a congregant for a teenager’s lifespan, now.

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“The greatest threat to an artist isn’t piracy…

…it’s obscurity.” —ephemeriis_

So sayeth the unknown reddit commenter (quoting Cory Doctorow (rephrasing Tim O’Reilly)).

There is a very big shift that has been occurring in the arts over the past decade, where the traditional conception of ‘ownership’ is becoming more and more confused. Charged words like ‘theft’ and ‘property’ are being bandied about by large, faceless corporations who serve lists of shareholders. These shareholders exert a pressure on the corporations to constantly increase earnings, and so these corporations use their funds to secure these earnings, using established laws and bending or recreating laws to suit their needs.

But the artist does not serve the shareholder. The artist’s investors are his fans. Ostensibly, the large production, publishing and management companies are there to connect the artist with the fans—but it is obvious that an artist is a commodity to these companies, to be bought, sold, traded, and milked for content. The amount of money an artist receives from, say, the sale of a book and cd is miniscule—usually no more than 15%, and often less than 10%. I’m not saying this is necessarily wrong—middle men will always be the ones who ‘make’ the money. Creating something that moves imaginations requires a different set of skills, from that which will move wallets.

These lumbering giants—in the music and the book industries—are making big waves right now, but eventually they will adapt or fail. The indie music and self-publishing models will slowly eat at their profits, and these large entities, I believe, will have to be less like ‘digital rights’ companies, than ‘quality ensurance’ [sic] companies. Curators of excellence… or at least curators of gleaming, lowest common denominator McArt.

Imagine this: a network hub which connects writers, editors, designers and marketers, and then connects products with fans. Alternatively, studio musicians with songwriters with producers with marketers with fans.

TheLegion.net: where the myriad meets the multitude.

Great little video about experimental business models for art & music.


why stanzas & breaks

To demarcate the meaning,
accentuate the rhyme,
declare the rhythm
Or simply for
the shape.

Each poem obeys its own laws.


Believing is like Dreaming: a byproduct of intelligence

In which I urge a writer to explore his character’s doubts, rather than the deploring of others’ faith.

 

My personal take on religion is that it is a housing for experiences of an extremely personal and powerful effect, and over the centuries it has moved away from that, to a more or less impersonal aggregator of communal opinion, that seeks to mold the internal verity to an external denominator.

However (and this again is my personal take), both the disbelievers and believers base their beliefs on their own experiences. And when your character declares that he does not believe, that is not a lack of belief, but a (positive) belief in the lack of reality (negative value) of the religious experience, based on his dislike/mistrust/refutation of the religious doctrine.

Were he challenged by a [man] who uses religion not as a way to constellate the self in a cult of belonging — but rather as a way to communicate “deeper” or “uncommon” notions of connection, meaning, faith, and self — what would your character say to defend his belief that religious experience is a lie? How would your character hold up under a patient, reasonable examination of his certainty (absence of doubt) that there is no God? If he were to discuss his “un”belief with an intelligent inquisitor who insists on the psychological value, rather than the cultural influence, of spirituality — what experiences would he share? In his past, were there any moments [in his church] where the rituals fell away and he merged with something greater than him? What were the instances when his doubt emerged—the first cracks, leading up to the final shatter, which forced him to be honest with his own experience?

Believing is like dreaming: it’s a byproduct of our intelligence and imagination. We can’t not do it. And if some are convinced they don’t, it is more likely that they are not conscious of it.

(I in no way mean to say we all believe in a certain Something, but that belief itself is an attribute of human beings)

And a parting query: Can we doubt our dreams, while still allowing for their significance?


The Artist has a Split Tongue, too.

To have at hand a vessel

to restrain the dualness

of my heart’s polluted wrestle

its wisdom, foolishness.

I ever seek to edify

but in the wake of my creation

at once I criticize

my inspiration as inflation.

From The Blackbird Variations, 3 — Chapter 9.) Broken/Open


Re: 90% of Writerly Advice on the Interwebnet

It feels like most of the writing advice that gets bandied about the talkosphere, a la “Awesome Writer’s 9 tips of Howto” boils down to:

  • Be straightforward
  • Don’t not be straightforward
  • Various variations on straightforwardness
  • There’s no way I can tell you how to do what you want to do, so just ignore my advice and write harder

Straightforwardness is great and awesome and magnificent at getting points across and captivating the audience and building a readership and making a ‘sure thing’ — but why aren’t there any 9 tips from James Lookitmereinventinglit Joyce or David Footnotefootnotefootnoteaside-thatruns300pages Wallace? Where’s the bastions of ambition? Where’s the brave author who espouses cleverness and trickery and tells us: “Psst, kid. You wanna know what writing is? It’s the imagination, made tactile. And you know what that means? It means that writing is infinite, and in it, anything is quite literally possible. However, it’s gonna take you f’n years to pull off, but if you work your fingers to the bone, experimenting the hell out of plot and character and language, you are going to make something that quite possibly has never been before.”

To be straightforward: An increase in complexity causes an exponential need for mastery. And what does mastery require? Not much. Just your life.

And there is an audience for hardmode literature. But they just happen to be hardmode themselves—they are not easily amused.

“The fool who persists in his folly shall become wise.” —Wm. Blake


How I have Failed as a Writer, Part I

Impressive stat number one: I estimate I have written close to 2 million unique words in the last sixteen years.

Realistic and contrary stat: I have had a total of 20 words published, and that was in an article on internet piracy, in which I was wrongly accused of copyright infringement, as well as misquoted.

Both of these stats will change in the next few months, because 1) I have decided to self publish and 2) I have figured out what my freaking problem is.

My problem, in a nutshell: I have been doing every possible thing with the written word except for doing the one thing people want to have done to them, through the written word—which is to be given a moment wherein they forget their own lives and the act of reading, and are “swept up” in a tale.

My problem, mashed into nutbutter(yum!):

There are two positive and two negative moments from my teen years that have effected me as an artist, and only last year, with the writing of The BBVv3, have I been able to pin-point and lay them to rest.

First the positives: at 14 I contracted mono and was blessed with being allowed to do independent study (I loathed my highschool, and the next year secured a transfer). In independent study I was given a book that I haven’t been able to find the name of. It was about right brain/left brain politics and brain storming and such, and it propelled me into written expression. Before then, I had written some stories here and there, but afterwards… Well, there was this girl, named Brittney. She was a year older than me and I knew her from youth group and because I was not so much a ladies man as a girl’s boy I hung out with her and her friends quite a bit. Then I started to have some feelings for her, and I put these feelings onto paper, and as soon as I did so, it was like I had dropped a match onto a in late summer Northern California prairie. I burned through page after page of… stupid stuff, but I noticed that my feelings actually became stronger and more distinct when I wrote them. And, presaging the addictions to come, I was hooked on the act of poetry—moreso than the girl it was nominally directed to.

The second positive, isn’t a specific incident, but I recall several moments in my teens and later where I would be consumed by a proto-physical creative urge. Almost sexual in its intensity, but rather than being focused in my loins, it seemed to radiate from the crown of my head, and I would end up climbing trees and onto roofs, or crawling under tables, brimming over with this almost nightmarish sensation of prescience-without-context. I can’t really describe it. But I knew it had to do with making art—or, making art was the only thing I knew that could act as a channel for this sensation.

So: the contraverse: this unfortunately has to do with my father, so I’m running a little too close to whining by bringing this up, but, in writing the previously linked autobiographical account of my early twenties, these two events really made some sense of the extremity and severity of my “rebellious” actions, post childhood.

At 15 my father found some poetry I had written to a girl—to the girl after Brittany, I think, for after she had convinced me I didn’t really like her, I found another object for my adoration to be ‘inspired’ by—and then another, and then another. But dad found one of these poems and he got quite angry at me for the language I was using. I wasn’t being sexual, but rather highly metaphorical, evoking grand natural imagery to evince the boundless charge of my feelings. He said that only God was to be spoken of in that manner. That only God can be loved like Mountains and Sunsets and great big old storms, and it was wrong of me—I’m not sure if he used the word blaspheme, but that was the connotation—to compare a mere girl to the grandeur of creation. Thereafter, I never showed him a thing I created, and if he came across any of my writings it seemed he would laugh when I was attempting to be serious, and become angry when I was attempting to be humorous. This caused me to have a very, very high standard, but also caused me 1) to hide myself, actually, scratch that, to obfuscate myself, and 2) to doubt the worth of everything I produced, to see its faults and to consider it ‘not good enough’.

The second incident is rather weird, and personal, but if we aren’t personal when we’re navel-gauzy [sic], then what’s the point?

So at 16 my parents took me aside and they told me that, after praying for me, they felt that I had “Something to SAY.” We were in a church and that church was on the boring side, and my parents were on the Pentecostal side, so there was a tension that somehow landed on my shoulders. After my siblings had gone to bed one night, we stayed up praying and they ‘anointed me’ with oil, saying, again, that I had some sort of God-delivered WORD to impart to our community.

This didn’t have an immediate effect on me. I had been graced with enough self-doubt to not feel myself the prophet all of the sudden, but the seed was planted: that whatever I ended up producing had to have a super-normal worth to it. Once I was out of their house and encountered the first wave of depression in my life, that weight sent me reeling into abuses of the heart and the nervous system and… not least of all… the English language.

(it’s dinner time now. part II forthcoming)