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The Surface Tension between the Esoteric and the Exoteric

The esoteric is opaque by definition; yet the depths rarely mind it when the surfaces discount them.

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I subscribe to the notion that there are various levels to spiritual knowledge. As the alchemists put it: “as above, so below”— meaning, in a sense, that obvious facts correspond to inner truths.

For example: the leaves of a tree will brown with age and fall out. The same happens to the teeth of a man. These are, at a glance, entirely mundane facts. But on consideration (and with a pinch of poetic license) one could say that this speaks of how a person develops from a state of hunger and purity, and then moves to a state of decay and barrenness (the leaves being thought of as hungry for the sun, as teeth are for food). And in later life, a person returns to needing softer morsels, and all her showiness is stripped away, revealing the skeletal branches of her life’s choices.

In religion, too, there are levels of interpretation: the lowest being a blanket acceptance of the inherited laws. At a certain stage, the question arises: why? And what-for? There is a resistance to this leap from those who are content with the answer “because X said.” And here lies much of the “surface tension” between non-believers and believers—because experience of a self demands personal proof. Gurus and mystics arise to satisfy this demand, and due to the ambiguity of spiritual knowledge, many of the so-called wise are either willful charlatans, imbued with attractive charisma, or people who have received something personal, who try to communicate this to others. Some knowledge can be communicated in such a way that it is useful for others, and some knowledge can only be understood by personal revelation.

Esoteric knowledge (eso = inner), I believe, exists, but the exoteric (exo = outer) obscures it, and often corrupts, misinterprets, or outright discounts it.


Writing from the Heart

Last year’s novel was concerned with Memory and Mistake, and it’s greatest fault—and the reason it’s sitting in the vault, aging for a spell before I go back over it—is that it is largely written from a state of removal. From the first page, the “writer” states that he is writing about his writing more than he is writing about the life that his writing sprang from. And by the time the denouement starts to form, like a storm accumulated from the dust and wind and moisture of the traversed landscape, the Blackbird Variations, 3 retreats into a fractalling demurement of self reference, interpretation and critique that is so freaking dense and uncalled for that I’m sure anyone who made it that far would end up chucking it across the room, shouting: “What the hell is your problem, Benjamin? Why is it so hard to just tell a damn story?”

I let my mind guide my prose, and while some people can pull this off, I’m not one of them. My wheels spin so tight and quick that all too soon they spend the grist they’re fed, and begin to masticate their self-same mechanism.

Probably the greatest complement I’ve ever received, as an artist, was voiced 10 years ago by a four year old girl. She said to her mom, while describing the stories I would make up for her class while they ate lunch: “Benjamin tells stories from his heart.” And yet every time I tell a story to a blank page, my head steps all over the heart and tries to get the blood portioned out into a 42 fluid ounces, labeled and tested and siphoned of hemoglobin.

There has to be a way to cheat this.


Self Examination is the Yoga of the Opinionated Heart

…keeping one flexible and [redacted unnecessary reference to yoga pants].

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(The following is taken from a dialogue I had in /r/christianity at reddit.com)

Me: After spending some time outside the church in my early twenties, I went to visit my parents (my father is a pastor) and I was overwhelmed with an uncomfortable feeling during the worship portion of the service. It felt too ’emotional’ to me. People sounded like they were using their hearts to comprehend and interact with the divinity, rather than creating a calm, quiet space inside where the Divine activity could manifest.

Adversely, a couple years later I was in Europe and I saw an old, old, old wooden door. I thought “Hey: a landmark!” and I pushed myself inside.

Little did I know it was a place of worship. And it was the beginning of Mass.

Continue reading


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)


the PREantePENultimate POST

From another r/writing thread

Some superfluous advice for the Beginning Writer:

Make sure you read as much as you can. Branch out of fiction, find a vein of philosophy you enjoy—that will help to build your thinking muscles for later on, when you’re ready or want to dip into deeper concepts.

(A semi-related anecdote: when I was a teenager I wanted to be a poet. I understood that poetry needs to be wed to music to garner the praise I was after, at least in the culture I’m from. And seeing as how I was shy and more often than not disappointed by the lyrics of the bands I liked, I decided to focus on writing stories instead. Years later, burnt out on stories, I picked up a guitar, and found that songs fell out of me, like rabbit poop scattering across the carpet. It puzzled me how much a struggle it was for the musicians I knew to finish a song—when, as a writer, all I needed was a good chord progression, a change or two, and the lyrics came on their own. I knew how to listen for them. Which goes to say: other pursuits will feed into your writing, and give you an advantage, or, rather, increase the value of your product. (As an aside, I can’t record music for sh*t, but I love writing songs, they alleviate my poetry compulsion))

Also, write for people and write for yourself. Get good at action sequences and descriptions, but experiment with language when you can. I believe that Writer’s Block is not so much an absolute block as an indication that your imagination wants to take things in a different direction. As the proverb goes: “There is always fruit in the forest.” So: be playful. Remember that the entirety of writing is a human construct, and there are no absolutes, only varying degrees of clarity, immediacy, and sympathy between writer and reader.


the ANTEpenULTIMATE post

I’m blowing a good idea here, for the beginning of this blog. But that’s okay, because it is a blog and it’s actually the end.

This good idea is not worth mentioning, so I will go on with my third blog post.

This blog post will not be self-referencing.

That is, beyond this point:

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Quoting myself from a reddit.com/r/writing post Why is having a writer as your central character usually discouraged?

One difficulty with choosing a writer as a protagonist is that, sooner or later, his writing is going to make its way into your book. And his writing will be different from the writing about him — in other words, you will have another story on your plate, to deal with.

And the more attention you give the story within the story, the more complexities will spring up — this is the nature of story — which will require resolution (of plot) and polish (of prose) — and this ends up elongating the finishing process (which is endless to begin with, despite its lip-service to finality).

But the potential rewards of having an author as a subject is the ability to elaborate the world and themes of the novel in radical ways—by means “perpendicular” to the flow and tone of the “outer” story. If positioned right, your creative protagonist can become an infinite doorway of narratives for your novel to pass through, picking up and setting down locations, times and particulars—and as long as the characters translate through these transitions of narrative, the reader will be able to follow — for however long the story is engaging.

But yes, the far greater pitfall is that the subject will be a creatively stunted nobody, or writing teacher who bangs a student, or any other cliche that is more a practice novel than a proper contribution to the stack of informative furniture that lines our shelves and builds up like tartar on ebook hdds.

As ever, good fiction relies on good realization.