It’s not that I “want to be a writer”, it’s that I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t. Write, that is. Of course I do understand it, so that’s not exactly true, but — well, let me put it this way. It’s not that I think my persona or my experience is a reason to write; if I were to be psychically transplanted into anyone else’s body, anyone else’s life, I would still write. But in that case, I would write from their persona, their experience. And because I love to write, it wouldn’t matter. It would still be “good”. Can you imagine me, the writer, channeling the pudgy lady who runs the back office at a small local hardware store in middle America? I would slay that lol. Or a tall lanky retired guy who spent his career being the CPA for a custom plastics outfit, who lives affluently but unselfconsciously at the beach. Or the 40-something native headbanger guy who’s kind of like the Rez version of a 40-something California surfer guy who hasn’t quite grown up, isn’t very incentivized to figure out how growing up works, but experiences confusing, muted, increasing, and omnidirectional suffering as a result of not really growing up. There are so many ways to be, but they’re all…write-able.
It seems my goal — and I always tend the use the word “goal” softly, because our aims in life are like throwing a ball and then God, other people, and our own unconscious attractions and repulsions act like the wind, helping us or hindering us in ways we’re usually not even prepared to recognize clearly, which is why my dad always qualified statements with the Arabic phrase “inshallah”, meaning “if God wills it” — so my goal, inshallah, with this blog, is two-fold.
One, to just celebrate the random confluence of my own perspective in this unfolding space-time moment, because that’s all that any of us can do. My perspective is necessarily limited and probably often wrong, and even the “character” I play is no better and no worse than any of these “characters” I imagined, above. Isn’t it fascinating to get over ourselves, but get really into ourselves, at the same time — as adults! Isn’t it interesting how, when we’re kids, we’re encouraged to finger paint, even if we’re horrible. Sing, even if we’re horrible. Dance, play instruments, make macaroni art, all of it horrible, or not, and who cares. Then it’s like, we turn 18 and we’re suddenly assholes if we fancy ourselves anything more than automaton worker bees. All creative energies must now be directed to commerce, industry, the accumulation of wealth, or at least the accumulation of debt. We must labor in secret to produce incredibly flawed pieces of art we’ll yearn to show people, but probably won’t. Damn that reminds me — a friend sent me his novel manuscript, I need to start reading that today.
Anyway, God forbid (insha not allah) we try to be creative, on purpose, as adults, unless we’re just incredibly good at it, and even that in accordance with the way our random and equally limited contemporaries define and are willing to recognize “good”. I feel this emphasis like a barometric pressure — it’s not anyone’s fault, but it just comes as us and chronically dampens our enthusiasm — and it makes me want to announce this mandate: make bad art! Fuck it — make bad art. Not because the world needs more bad art, but because you, the potential artist, are the second-least-qualified person to judge whether it’s bad or not, with the first-worst-qualified being, of course, The World. Don’t belly ache over whether it’s ever going to pay your bills, as I did for so long. Maybe it will, and that would be great. Or maybe that very conflation of your art with your income will cause you to retreat, as so many have, as I historically have, into the deceptive safety of up your own butt. Pay your bills somehow, and make art even if it’s bad, get over yourself, and simultaneously get really into yourself. I think it’s worth it, which is why I spend every morning trying to output a little, as a balance to all my consumption.
In fact I think that’s a really helpful lens right there: creation versus consumption. We all do both, and in a million different ways, but it’s too easy for the former to be eclipsed and frankly eaten alive by the latter. I try to practice what I preach, and if this blog isn’t ever anything but that, I’m still winning by my own standards.
And then second, this persona of mine — which is not a hardware store manager lady or a retired CPA guy on the beach or an aging Native man child hemmed in by a deflated socio-economic hierarchy with a bunch of rungs apparently missing, or any of the other infinite scraps of god-consciousness we represent — just standing squarely in my own tiny scrap of god-consciousness, perforce, isn’t very interesting, even to me, unless I just do the hard work of finding the ways it can be, and is. I’m able to in some sense distill and aromatize my perspective and persona via the mechanism of art, because that’s what art does for literally everyone, via even the most minor and tentative engagement. But in real life I’m just a bumbling fuddy-duddy. Kind of boring to hang out with, often getting cut off in conversation because my timing is shit, recently adjusting my spectacles a lot because I got some new glasses and they make my eyes look like they’re at the wrong end of a telescope, but I’m trying to make my contacts last through the whole fire season.
I have this immense catalogue of unusual life experiences, gained mostly through an adventurous sense of occupational nihilism, which was accidentally promoted by a set of parents who failed to properly indoctrinate me with feminine fear-of-everything. I mean, I got the feminine memo, but missed the part where it’s supposed to be a reason to only work inside buildings and drive poorly and be scared of men or whatever.
Actually, wasn’t meaning to make this point but I’m in the neighborhood so why not — I’ve been asked before how I function as such a polymath, or words to that effect. A polymath is to a monomath as a sphere is to an arrow — just kind of exploring in all directions, versus energies aligned along one trajectory. We live in a world of presumed monomathing, just as we live in a world of presumed extroversion, which is why there are a bunch of videos on YouTube exploring how and why introverts are also worthwhile people, just as TED Talks have recently been looking at the fact that some percentage of us just are, whether we like it or not, polymaths. It sounds like a cool way to be — multi-talented instead of having just one gig — but it’s actually pretty frustrating and unintelligible, up until the point you consciously realize that’s what’s going on, and that you’re never going to settle down with one main thing.
So, how have I polymathed so well, or at all. Unfortunately, we’re apparently more like computers than we realize, where we can only run so many applications at once. So the way I know how to do/be a bunch of different things — and I guess I haven’t really justified this polymath identity but the list makes me tired so just take it on faith — is actually by channeling only one or two or three selves at a time. Like, I’m literally out of touch with selves that aren’t currently in use. I didn’t consciously know this, but here’s something that happens to me all the time: someone says, “Oh, I heard you used to x y z?” And I’ll say “yeah I used to x y z.” And they’ll say “what route did you take through blah blah mountains?” or “how did you weight blah blah categories on your rubric” or “what range did you use to calibrate your transversance and elevation” or “do you usually start with the chords or the lyrics” or “which reference cone do you use when you teach the blindside parallel” or “what ventilator screens on the Drager gave you the best sense of shifts in lung compliance” or “what’s the difference between short fiction and prose poems” or “did your company use two-inch hose or three-inch hose” or “would you rather transport diesel or gasoline” or “how do you tell if you’re overtraining or just not eating enough” or whatever else, and if it’s a question about a self I haven’t been in a little while, guess what — I barely know the answer. The pathways get dusty really fast, but they get shiny really fast too, if/when they’re engaged again.
The interesting result is that I’m more prone, I think, to enter unfamiliar situations with new demands and simply trust that something within me will rise to the occasion — kind of like walking out on stage with no script but assuming one will come — than the average person. Not only because I’m usually able to rise to the occasion of new circumstances, but because I’ve had no choice but the rise to the occasion of even old circumstances, because I know I know how to do that thing but I just can’t remember until I have to do it again, for some reason.
This has made me a little impatient with people, on their behalf, who don’t try things until they feel ready. This is a little unreasonable, right? The thing is on their radar, they think they might try it, but they don’t feel ready. Hey, they don’t feel ready. What could be more okay than that.
I’m just real skeptical of that feeling; that not-ready feeling. I’ve gotten a lot of life mileage out of ignoring that feeling, occupationally/financially at least. I mean, getting into a relationship even though you don’t feel ready is maybe a bad call. Although I think I could argue that point too — why on earth would anyone ever feel ready for monogamy, or starting a family, for instance, and yet those trains just sort of…need to leave the station, if they’re ever gonna, you know.
But occupationally, and even artistically, whether I feel ready or not, I just think: it’s unlikely I’ll be bad enough at this for long enough that they need to fire me. Probably this speaks to something less impressive than my polymathery. “Oh, wow, how did you get into that?” Wildland fire contracting or the oil field or modeling or anything else. “Well, I just kind of floundered in here like an invertebrate and then hastily grew a spine”, is usually the answer. I’ve found myself poorly adapted to a stable world that worships lifetime specialization, and now suddenly well-adapted to a world where everything is ass over teakettle for a lot of us, and I think now is a great time for us all to re-examine those things we instrinsically have to offer, regardless of whether or not we feel ready to offer them. The more things you try, the fewer of them you’ll be able to instantly access, but it’s all like riding a bike. Those files live on your computer, as long as you’ve ever opened any of them.
Okay, so that’s the polymathery tangent; back to the blog goals, I think a candidate for maybe-third is, to explore ideas I find personally interesting, usually without knowing how, or if, they may become important or relevant later. Since I started this blog, there have been quite a few instances of something coming up, and Nick will say, “Hey — you just blogged about that a couple weeks ago!” This is neither here nor there, but just kind of a fun way to send ideas out in advance and see if they bring back any good intel.
So, to wrap up for today: as always, I’m happy to be functioning on multiple levels, here at the fire camp and in the world generally, and I’m as interested in cleaning the showers out at the end of the night as whatever goes on here, in this blog. It’s fun to be in the world and if it isn’t, then you might be lazy at making it fun for yourself. I’ve often been lazy in finding my own silver linings, and some days I’m still lazy, and I’ll just get derailed by the littlest things. I try to find my way back. Neither a pessimist nor an optimist by nature, I simply think it takes work to find something to feel good about, whereas any lazy jagoff can find something to feel bad about. That’s not a comment on how many things in the world are good or bad or ugly or pretty; it’s just a reminder, to mostly myself, that having fun, liking others, liking ourselves, and believing good things can happen literally takes conscious work. It’s against the current of human nature and even the snakes-and-fire specialization of our own brains. And thankfully, like growing a series of spines relative to a series of endeavors, even if it doesn’t get easier, it does get more familiar.