Monday, September 5, 2011

A Heart Unwritten

It can be difficult to find the energy to be creative when you cannot find that balance between pain and suffering, despair and agony.

But it is like they say: Write what you know.

So, here is a bit of flash fiction just for you:

I looked into the mirror this morning and couldn't help but stare.
"What?" the reflection asked.
"I'm sorry. I thought you looked like someone I once knew," I said.
"You always say that," the reflection said.
"Yeah. Sorry."
"You always say that too."
I started the hot water and let the steam build a wall between me and the man I used to be.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Children of the Damned

As anyone who has known me in real life for more than ten minutes can tell you, I don't like kids. I frequently refer to them as larva, homunculi, spawn, etc. usually in jest. But I am serious about not liking them and having them make me uncomfortable, and I did not realize until just recently why that is.

I am afraid of not doing what is right by them. In my particular case just having one could end up a disaster just on the grounds that my genes are a minefield of debilitating migraines, epilepsy, eye damage, and the obnoxious task of trying to find pants that fit someone over six feet tall but has no waist to speak of. But even if I adopted a child I would still be paralyzed by the fact that I wouldn't know what to teach it, how to talk to it, or how to help it grow into a decent human being. The running joke is that I couldn't shut it out in the hall when it cries like I do the cats.

The reason I feel this was is because we are never really taught what having kids is like. We always hear about how they are a gift, a blessing, a wonder, a treasure, and numerous other positive value adjectives. We hear about how they make your life complete, and for some I imagine that to be true. But the thing is that we are not taught about how they scream all night, need to eat at irregular hours (another reason for me not to have kids since I never grew out of this one), that they are smelly and weird looking, or that your life as you knew it ends when their's begins. This is not to say that my parents never taught me. They did a pretty good job all things considered.

That last point always seems to rub people the wrong way. "That is selfish," they tell me. "It isn't all about you, you know." "They bring value to your life."

Bullshit. It is actually all about me because I am the only person responsible for adding value to my life. Thus that last response is a damned good way to get my blood pressure up. If you require an external source to add value to your life then having children will not make you any more fulfilled and when they grow up and move on you will be stuck with a stranger that looks just like you in the mirror.

Like I said, some people may feel fulfilled by having children. These are people who see that as the path they want to take in life. More power too them since this species, despite its numerous and destructive faults, deserves a future to make things better. Hell, we are genetically programmed to feel that way about kids. But that is no excuse to hide the realities of parenthood from our children.

So I beseech you, people who think its so damn important to have kids, instead of telling people how wonderful it is and giving the false impression of puppies and rainbows all the time, teach them the hard parts too. Teach about the parts that keep you up at night. Teach about the parts skipped in movies and books.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

All of the Small Things

Last May was a rather insane month for me. It involved a new addition to the family (a small fluffy one, not a human larva), the loss of my job, and my first award for painting that actually came with a medal. Had losing my job not been so awful, it would have been the best month I'd had in a long time.

But that last bit is what I really want to talk about. ( I will discuss the puppy later, she requires a bit of time to talk about) What is it about losing one's job that is so devastating? When I lost mine it was like the entire world dumped upside down and broke into a shower of tiny glittering pieces. The initial shock just left me sitting among the ruins of a future that would never be, and I had no idea why I wasn't able to simply pick up and move on.

I still haven't completely moved on due to the fact that I haven't found a job and other extenuating circumstances continue to have the details of the loss of my job haunt me constantly. It is just like having food poisoning. Whenever I think of starting a new job I get sick to my stomach even though I know it is what I need in order to stay afloat.

Lucky for us all there is a cure. It has to be drained out, in drips and gushes, until it is no longer in one's system. The trick is finding an outlet fast enough to stop it from spreading to other parts of your life and even future performance.

And so that is what I am doing. In drips and gushes, I am removing this poison one letter at a time.

Monday, August 29, 2011

What are you doing?

I ran into one of my old professors today and like many people who have not seen each other in a while we asked one another what we were up to.

I asked him about what he was teaching, and he cut that off and asked me point blank:
"Forget about that though. What are you doing?"

It was right about then that two thoughts came into my head. One was a screaming shallow noise machine designed to mask its quiet and powerful partner. This first thought gave all of the normal excuses:
"Looking for work."
"Working on my writing/painting/underwater basket weaving."
"Taking care of the puppy."

All of them true but useless and unspecific.
The other thought that was hiding right behind them was far more terrifying. It whispered its quiet poison into my mind:


It was then that Nietzsche's abyss stared back into me for it was also the moment that I realized I had been staring into it ever since I had lost my job. Or, more ominously, longer still.

Like all good questions it opened up into many more, but only two really mattered in this transcendental 'oh shit' moment: "Why?" and "What are you going to do about it?"

At this current time I don't know the answer to either one.

Conveniently by the time I got home I had come down with one of those psyche shattering migraines I am prone to and as such had a great excuse for lying curled in the fetal position in my bed. I spent the rest of my day running on automatic as my mind raced through oblivion and arrived at nowhere.

It was definitely one of those damn days.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Milestones are completely arbitrary points that we place in time in order to mark its passing and to give ourselves some metric with which to measure progress. Usually they are the anniversary of an important date: birthdays, deaths, major conflicts, first time actions, etc. Often we mark them one of two ways: by celebration or by solemn reflection.

Yesterday marked the passing of th 9th anniversary of the day I decided to try and build a life with one woman. This milestone, this marker, is a pretty big deal on the face of it. It means that we have spent 35% of our lives together, trying to make our way in the world. We have watched each other grow and change and slowly become the adults that we want to be. It has not always been fun, or exciting, and there have been terrible troubles and great moments of despair. But through it all we have grown and learned to be new people who adapt together.

Often times people say "nothing lasts forever" and that is certainly true. But to spend that much time with someone, to spend what feels like three lifetimes because of the amount we have changed, makes someone more important than worrying about things like "forever". It is because we are not who we will be, and we are not who we were.

There is only here and now and who we are at the start of this our tenth year.

And so I say it here and now, for all and none to see: Thank you, my love, for the time we have had together. I look forward to who we will be at the sunset of next year and for every year we grow after that.

Friday, June 3, 2011

On the Value of Experience

Experience is one of those buzzwords that comes up anytime someone decides to examine someone else's credentials. But what is it really? What makes "5 years of related experience" a testable and reliable metric for making sure someone is qualified for a position?

The short answer is easy: it isn't a good metric at all, but it is a really easy (if stupid, which I will mention discuss in a moment) to weed out candidates that are unlikely to fit. The only real problem with this system is that it assumes being near something is what makes experience. This is fundamentally erroneous since it implies that just by being in Spain I will become Spanish through some sort of cultural osmosis. To a degree this will occur, but how many of us have friends who have returned from abroad decked out in the local dress and speaking a smattering of the language, but unable to tell you much more than that about the local color?

Most of us, I am sure.

This is also true in the work place. Many times people complain about managers who know less about whats going in in the department as a whole than the people on the floor. This is to a certain extent true since if the manager knew every single little detail he would be a micromanaging tyrant, but we often run up against management that has no idea what is going on and the people on the floor are expected to fill them in before the big meeting. The problem becomes that if both of us leave that company and apply at Big Bob's Mayo Warehouse to the same management position, he will get it due to his "5 years of experience managing department X"

This superficial view of experience is downright dangerous at times when it comes to electing our leadership. Just look at the 2008 election when people were crowing from the rooftops about Obama only spending a couple of years as a junior Senator and community organizer before becoming President. Yet these same people paraded out for us Sarah Palin, a woman who they championed because of her "experience as governor of Alaska". She was the boss who had no idea what was happening on the floor, but our culture's obsession with superficial experience attempted to put her one heartbeat away from running our country in one of its most dire situations in the last few decades.

All in all wanting experience is a good thing and is something we should look for, but the catch is that we have to know what we are looking for. It isn't enough to just have someone who was in a position but didn't actually do anything or learn anything. The perfect example of this is the renaming of positions so that they sound more important that they really are. "Specialist" is the new "Assistant", "Technician" is the new entry level. With all of this flash and showmanship flying around, it can be difficult to find out what is real amidst all of the sound and fanfare.

But really it is this simple: When someone puts their best foot forward, make sure it is really there and that it is attached to a leg for them to stand on.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

So A Lot Has Happened...

I worked for a company the shortest I ever have outside of a contract and as such am now unemployed. That's a complicated viper pit at the moment and am not at liberty to discuss it at the moment, but trust me its a doozy.

It isn't all bad though! A brand new day has dawned for our household with addition of another family member. Astra, our super puppy, has been home for 4 days now and is a handful. My experiences with her so far have reinforced my desire to never procreate of my own will and volition. But she is wonderful and we love her dearly. Pictures forthcoming.

My painting has taken an amazing leap forward and managed to land me a bronze at Reapercon a couple weeks back, so that was fun. First medal ever. Feels gooooood.

Anywho, more writing on this thing since I don't have much else to do. Look forward to doing some shouting into the void since it is always so cathartic.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Reckoning (of sorts)

I drove down the central avenue of the university for the first time in a year, and it felt odd. Nothing had changed, hell even the people looked similar, but it still felt like I was seeing the place for the first time. It drifted past my eyes like the haunting melody of some childhood tune that I couldn't remember hearing but I could not get out of my head all the same. Though it had only been a year, and nothing about it was different, but still it appeared alien.
The slow realization dawned that, like the distance between me and that childhood melody, it was I that had changed. The distance was my own, built on enough change in myself to create the feeling of a lifetime between now and the last time I had made this simple, half a mile drive.
That night I slept with a soundness that I have only experienced a handful of times. I closed my eyes enveloped in the walls of this strange canyon of time, and I slept in the echoing song of memories as they tried to bridge this gap.
When I woke I made a discovery that was so personally profound that all I could muster was a half-hearted "hmph."
I had discovered that now, after years of pretending, I am and perhaps always have been an adult. This notion made me smile a deep, warm, and quiet smile. Breakfast tasted better because it was a breakfast that I had chosen and purchased with my skills and knowledge. Playing with the cats was more fun because I cared for them and they cared for me. Spending time with that lovely woman in my life was more fulfilling than it ever had been because I really, finally understood what the years we had spent together really meant in terms of patience, sacrifice, and growth. I loved her more than I ever could have before because I didn't know (and likely still don't) how much deeper that feeling could go.
I will have more to say on the subject later, but I wanted to get this out while it was fresh.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.7

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


After having the last week or so off work, I have found that my does not rest well. As such I have found the time to finally sit down and paint again. This is something I should have been doing all along since it stimulates my desire to write. I have found it helpful to relate everything I do with writing so that it in turn all becomes fuel for stories.
When I am working on a mini it gets easy: colors can all be there for a reason. The news is even easier still since writers write what they know.
But how does the idle mind help the writer? It doesn't because idle minds don't exist. Have you ever really tried to clear your mind and think about nothing? It's damned impossible since the very act of thinking about nothing is thinking about something. So finding that connection to things, even in our most idle of moments, is what makes us capable of what we do.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.7

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Blind King and his Hollow Men

So I am free at last from the shackles of my former employer and am free now to wander the wilds of society for a couple of weeks before my new job begins. I would like to be clear about one thing: I did not hate my job. Much to the contrary most days I loved it. The people I interacted with for the majority of my day were all funny, competent, and sensible. They were always quick to laugh and joke, but also to take firm in hand any problems that arose. Most importantly: they could be reasoned with. If something made clear logical sense then it was adopted and implemented with little to no grief.

But this was middle management. We were not on top of the dog pile and those above us were the issue. It is difficult to look at someone who sees you as a liability and a drain on their wallet and not get sick every time you do it. It is near impossible to discuss serious growth policy when you are told that "Quality is not what is important, just completion." It is absolutely insurmountable to overcome the feeling of absolute loathing that comes from watching people take pay and hour cuts just so those at the top can toss a few extra pennies into a bucket full of millions of dollars.

I understand that every business must make money. Thats the whole point of being in business in the first place, but we aren't talking about quantities of pencils or a quota of rough spun wool, we were talking about people's lives and careers. If you have never had someone look at you as if you were asking for their lung or liver just for asking for a budget of $10, then I assure you that the feeling you get watching Scrooge yell at Cratchit about putting another coal in the fire doesn't even come close to how it really is. The bit about $10 for a budget is not an exaggeration or hyperbole, it was a fight that literally lasted weeks on end.

It is like looking into the eyes of a starving animal. There is no understanding of the hunger, no thought to what is consumed as long as the pain and desire are slaked at least for a short time. I do not understand it, nor can I without some context. But when I recall this time, I will forever see the Blind King upon his throne, bloated but starving, draining the substance from those who serve him until they feel they have nothing left and thus will never run.

So now this Wandering Scholar leaves behind the Blind King and his kingdom of husks and noble souls to move on to a new puzzle to solve.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Near Limitless

Creativity is one of those buzz words that get tossed around so much in elementary schools that it loses its meaning for most people. When every macaroni drawing by little Timmy Anklebiter is considered The Most Creative Thing Since Davinci (tm) and everyone is expected to agree and swoon lest you hurt Mommy and Timmy's feelings, it can be damned hard to sit down and have an earnest talk about what the word actually means. Like political rhetoric, people's feelings about being the best tend to make a whole lot of noise with not a damned ounce of substance and it all comes from one nagging thought at the back of our heads:

"If I wasn't born gifted, then I am not worth anything."

Which is of course utter horse shit. This is an underlying part of our culture where con artists and advertising agents play host to the devils and demons that haunt us and we obsess over what it means to really be gifted, or creative, or anything like that.

The worst thing you can say to a pro-athlete, or artist, or writer, or any number of other highly skilled professionals is "Wow, you got lucky." First off, how insulting. How the fuck do you come to the conclusion that years of work, study, practice, and dedication have somehow not had any impact on the outcome?

Oh right, I already answered that part. You were told from birth that people are born with these gifts, so obviously that professional X that you were talking too was just going to do whatever it was anyway so no worries.

This would be a good time to learn what its like to be dead wrong.

Many people are born with natural talents, it is true. But how many of them have any chance at real success? Not much it turns out. Athletes train every damned day. Writers pour out thousands of words that never even see a printed piece of paper, let alone the inside of a bookstore shelf.

This brings me back to my original point: Creativity, and what it is. First big surprise: it is a learned skill. Inherently creativity is nothing more than chewing up little bits of this fitful sleep we call reality and then digesting them into little proteins that our brains can then use to fuel a furnace that churns out our dreams. Thats it. Just a drawing of connections between point A and point B in a way that makes it so we can deal with and relate to each other and the reality we inhabit.

Are some people born better at it? Of course they are. Not everyone is born with the necessary physique and hand-eye coordination for sports. Not everyone is born with the ability to even SEE color, let alone paint a photo-realistic, true color painting of the Urals in winter.

But that is what is so great about it. We don't have to be able to do it that way in order to be great. Everything has an artistry to it. This is something that I try and teach my students constantly. You don't have to write music or sculpt a masterpiece in order to be an artist. There are ways to tease out the beauty and details of damned near anything, whether you are an accountant looking at the narrative woven by the numbers in front of you or you are a pilot tearing off the runway as the forces of physics and the ingenuity of the human mind takes you literally higher and higher. These are true and honest things. Things that are as much about dealing with reality as any famous painting or gentle poem. They are things that are deserving of the term "art" because they are things that we create and use to expand our lives.

Try it sometime. Next time you go into the office, or wherever you get work done, and look at the details of your day. Track how you used to do things, and draw those connections to other things. Digest your reality and find the beauty in it because once you do then the creativity will flow out. Solutions will come to problems. Answers will leap to your lips before the questions are even asked.

The possibilities are near limitless.

But it takes work. No one is born that lucky.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The King's Speech

The other night I went out with the lady friend and a few other less specific friends to see the film The King's Speech. I would like to get the trivial part of this discussion out of the way first by saying it was a damned fine film that kept a good pace as nothing really happened. No aliens invaded, there were no menacing criminals blackmailing the throne, no super villains had designs on world domination, and there were no robots (which normally would be a strike against it but I will let it slide as I am in a good mood).

What did interest me was how much of an interplay between psychology and linguistics I saw. It is really common knowledge that our speech patterns and choices are ingrained into our brains by the environment that we occupy, but it had never really dawned on me that a "skipped track" if you will could cause one to have a speech impediment. In my studies I came across cases of people who were mute or otherwise incapable of speech due to some sort of trauma, but I had (in hindsight foolishly) never made the connection between the same and stammering. Working with students from China has introduced me to a plethora of confidence issues that I had never really known to exist outside of the cinematic scope and the film really nailed the idea soundly into that worthless lump of meat twixt my ears that the same techniques could be used to help my students when they are on the radios. Despite my tendencies towards... unorthodox methods of teaching, I would have never really considered speech therapy since it sits nicely outside of my scope of education.

Many people who I work with mistake comprehension issues in the students as a lack of vocabulary, but usually what happens when they are brought back to me they blossom and begin to discuss very complex and technical topics. This eventually leads to the revelation that they are, in fact, scared to death of their instructors and the tower.

Confidence is such an integral part of our daily speech patterns and it never fails to amaze me that the company I work for does nothing to encourage an environment where these uprooted people are given someplace to grow into. Instead they are thrown headlong into the daily grind and told from day one "DO EVERYTHING EXACTLY RIGHT OR YOU WILL GO HOME IN SHAME." This is not the right way to do things, but to change hearts and minds you must start at the bottom. As such I will take what I have learned in this film and redouble my efforts with my students and will strive to be that one friend they might need while on this wild adventure.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Phoenix and the Hearth

It has been a long damned time since I sat down here in order to get my thoughts together. I said I would restart this blog when I had the mental resources to deal with it, but in hindsight that is probably the opposite of what I should have done. Our brains are far more resilient than we give them credit for, and it is exactly when we cannot think that we should the most.

So, to old business. When last we parted I was unemployed with few prospects on the horizon, cast out into a college town with a degree in literature and mounting medical costs. But a month or so later I was employed at the strangest job I have ever had. It is one of those peculiar aspects of life that makes it so much fun, all the while being the most frustrating, insane, and terminal condition one can have. In the course of a year, I have gone from a minimum wage nobody to overseeing the career (and English proficiency) of Chinese airline pilots.

If you have never spent a great deal of time with a large group of people from another country and were left to sink or swim among them, DO SO. It is a very character building endeavor. Also work around pilots, they are subtly insane lot that really protracts the general insanity of the human race.

I also recommend that you spend a period of time stewing in your own you-ness, which sounds very gross when I write it but its out there now so I am sticking with it. Not enough people do this and it is troubling. I am not recommending joining your local yogi's breathing sessions or gallivanting through the countryside in some misguided attempt to "rediscover your roots". Those are stupid and, worse yet, tired old tropes foisted upon us from on high.

What I mean is, turn off the light and look in the mirror. I mean really look. Let your eyes adjust, and let whatever shows up, show up. Author's Disclaimer: Do not do this if you are afraid of any one of the following: the dark, mirrors, or (like myself) your own visage. We here at Jarrad Corp are not responsible for any damages to lights, mirrors, or persons. But in all seriousness, it has done me a lot of good. Teaching language has forced me to stop and draw connections to myself and the tiny little world I occupy. It seems like a Herculean task at first, but you will find that these connections to the world are all that really keep you from being cast adrift when things go wrong. Otherwise, the few anchors you do have just get tangled beneath and pier and drown you (much like this metaphor).

So, in short, sorry I am back but there is damned little that can be done about it. Buckle in and lets talk.