Monday, March 14, 2016

What I'm For, or How To Discover Your Purpose In Life By Failing At Everything Else

When I was young, I wanted to grow up to be a scientist.

I spent several years on that, training in the sciences, especially the earth sciences. I pursued that goal all the way to college level classes in geology and chemistry. What stopped me was math studies. I placed in advanced math till the eighth grade, and then I got stuck. Later in life, my Mom said it was because of the math teacher. She had seen it at the time, but had not been able to change it, or talk to me about it; she thought there were psychological problems in play. I had really liked my math teacher at the time, for example he liked to play Beethoven's Sixth Symphony during class while we worked, but he did somehow derail my confidence in my math studies.

I'm not really sure how that happened. I only remember that after 8th grade math, I felt stupid rather than smart in math studies. I had little confidence in my own ability. When it came to college entry exams, I scored nearly perfectly in Language Arts, and only at 50 percent in Math on the SATs. This was after scoring in the top 1 percent in every test battery taken throughout my school years. I still somehow scored in the top 5 percent overall for college entry exams, and placed out of both English and Foreign Language requirements, by getting top marks in Advanced Placement classes for both. But not for math.

I was a gifted child who didn't want to be one. I was one of those child prodigies. But I was bullied for being smart, for being a teacher's pet, for being different. I wanted nothing more than to fit in, to be liked, to be accepted. Well, that never happened. I continued in the sciences, till college, and loved doing geology in the field, partly because I loved being outdoors, and then I realized something.

I wasn't meant to be a scientist.

Well, I was, and none of that work was wasted, but there was a thing in me that could never be suppressed or ignored or set aside. It just wasn't possible. It was too powerful to ignore. It's too much more of what I was, and supposed to be.

I wanted to be a scientist. But I was supposed to be a Maker.

I was born to make art. I'm a natural creative. It's the thing I do best. (Really. I can barely handle mundane tasks like managing money, by contrast.)

It took me a very long time to accept that I'm supposed to an artist, a composer, a worker, a person who makes things. New things. A MAker

I say this with neither pride nor humility. I am neither egotistical about it, or falsely humble about it. It's just a fact. Making things is what I do best.

It's really the only thing I'm any good at. I've tried a lot of other career paths in life, and mostly failed at them. I'm looking at a future of failure again, every time I try to fit in, or be accepted, or be like other people. Fitting in never worked in school, when I was being bullied, and it still never seems to work in my adult life. I seem to fated to always be "other." Again, that's just data, not ego.

In mid-college I changed majors from science to the arts. I switched from geology to music, and transferred to the Music School. Almost everyone tried to talk me out of it, including the Dean of the Music School. But the fact is, I had been playing music since I was 5 or 6 years old, singing as a boy soprano soloist. I began piano studies at age 7. (That was inevitable, as Mom was a concert pianist and music educator. Both my sister and I studied piano. I think it made us better thinkers overall, as later education studies seem to suggest.) Everyone wanted me to continue in science, get a good job, and continue to be an amateur musician. But I couldn't do it. In fact, I had been composing music, and had even had a few pieces played, since I was a young boy. I had won awards for short story fiction by age 16. I had gotten interested in photography at a young age, and got better with every year. Even when I was out studying geology in the field, all summer long in Wyoming, my very first college class, when I returned home I had already taken so many photos in the mountains that people started to notice them. I was a gifted child, and stood out, even though a lot of the time I just wanted to disappear.

After music school, my first job after graduation was ironically with Mathematical Reviews, a monthly review journal, where I got in on the ground floor of the desktop publishing revolution, and became a computer graphics expert, a digital type designer, and more. Working in corporate graphic design jobs was creative enough to be fulfilling for me, and I did it for many years, but it still wasn't enough. A book design company, one of the best places I ever worked for, allowed me to use their gear to teach myself Photoshop, and become even more of an expert. I also started to win awards for photography and digital art. I worked there till they corporately downsized. The book publishing business collapsed starting in 2000, and has radically changed since then. Nonetheless, I still have all those skills.

And corporate employment just never seems to work. I can never seem to make it work. It's like it's prevented. And then my life changed due to chronic illness. I suspect those corporate doors may be forever closed to me now.

So I've got no choice, now, but to go forward with no hope of success but with my only choice being to be what I am, a Maker. I make stuff. It's all I'm any good at. I don't know if it will be enough to sustain me. I guess it's time to do what I'm good at, and forget about the rest.

It's pretty scary, because I've developed trust issues. Really big ones. I guess the only thing I actually trust anymore is Making, in which I never seem to doubt myself, and in which I always have full self-confidence in my ability and need to make things.

I make art of some kind every day. (Well, some really bad days I can't. But that's a symptom of a dark day. I hate it, but I try to get past it.) Even if everything else falls apart, that's still true. ON good days I make things, on bad days I make things, I just make things. I guess that's how to tell that's what you're for: it's the thing that you never stop doing, even when all the rest has been taken away. So that's what you do. That's what you're for.

And that's all I can do. It's all that's left. Wish me luck.

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Trapped in a motel in Escanaba

[/rant mode/ alert]

And now I feel like crap. I was feeling okay awhile ago, but then feelings rush over you like the weather, and your internal weather changes in an instant, and that's that.

What am I doing in a hotel room again? Well, I was hoping to camp these past two nights, since it was unseasonably warm. But that didn't work out, in part because on neither night did I really have the energy to do it; plus as soon as I get really tired, I begin coughing like a consumptive, a leftover from that cold/flu I had three weeks (or more) ago. It's like the dread night fungus keeps growing in your lungs, a mad parasite of neglect. *cough cough* I just didn't have enough spoons for camping. I'm a little annoyed about that. I'm also determined to "Escape From Wisconsin" again in the near future, and go camping when it's a few weeks warmer, and I'm a few weeks more rested.

Escape From Wisconsin.

No offense, folks, but Wisconsin has turned into a toxic sludge morass hellpit for me. I must leave. I must find better pastures elsewhere. It's not your fault, unless you voted for anything Republican in Wisconsin since 2008, in which case it's at least your fault that I can't find work, that the economy in WI tanked and hasn't recovered, that our current Governor is a hollow man who only ambition is personal and who has done more to tear the net of the social contract than any past Governor of WI ever dreamed possible, creating a social climate in which sociopathy is in ascendance and empathy is a quaint notion of yesteryear. In which case, we are reaping the whirlwind that you sowed, and gods bless you and keep you safe. For me, not so much. So my big job over the next several weeks is basically finding the best way to get the frak out of Dodge City, in such a way as to not destroy my health again in the process.

I'm also feeling trapped and unhappy in this Escanaba hotel room because tomorrow I have to go back into the venomous black hole sludge pit that Wisconsin has become for me. When I hit the road to head up to Minneapolis, then up to Duluth and Lake Superior, I was quite calm and even happy. As soon as I turn around to go back into Wisconsin, I begin to feel like crap. This has happened every time I've had to go back home in the past two or three years. Why? Because my life has been a hell of loss and desolation, and all of that happened between Beloit and Madison.

Trust me, though, there have been some astoundingly superb, wonderful and good things that have also happened in that same tanged timespace locus, and for which I have only good memories and grateful feelings. Yet the scales are nowhere near balanced. The good is no longer either necessary or sufficient to maintain a desire to try to make things work out, in a place where nothing has worked out (well, mostly nothing), and every year of the ten years since I moved back to WI has been worse than the previous, not better. I moved back to be the full-time live-in caregiver for my parents, giving up my own life and career—with no regrets—during which I almost died. I mean that literally: an undiagnosed chronic illness that I had had for at least 15 or 20 years by that time was driven into an acute and near-lethal phase by the strain of being a full-time live-in caregiver, and then having to deal with everything that followed upon the deaths of my parents. There was a house with thirty years of Stuff to sort through and get rid of, just for starters. It was more than I could deal with, and I did have a lot of help dealing with it—for which I will forever be grateful, because without that angelic help I'd probably be dead. Literally. I'm not exaggerating. I'm not being a drama queen. I am reporting what my doctors said to me over the past few years: without help, I'd be dead.

If you are ever ashamed of asking for help from your friends, get over it, grow the frak up, swallow your pride and your shame and your guilt, and FUCKING ASK FOR HELP. It will be there. Maybe not always, and maybe only in limited ways, and maybe not in the forms that you expect it to be in—but it WILL be there.

I'm feeling like crap tonight, and writing it all out. You are not required to read it, or respond, or do a frakking thing about it. The truth is very simple: sometimes all I really need is to fell like just one person has actively heard me. And then I can go on. This does not require "fixing." It requires listening. Nothing more, nothing less.

I used to have friends, now apparently former friends, who are now afraid of me, apparently, because I'm too intense for them. Well, I would respectfully point out that almost dying (twice, not just the once reported above) can kind of make you so aware of the basic realities of life that you do get a little intense. It deeply sorts out your priorities in life, and fairly brutally. I am so very aware that No One Here Gets Out Alive. So get over your fucking ego selves and just start being good to each other.

That's all. That's really all that it's about.

We might all be born into the species homo sapiens sapiens, but that does automatically make you into a human being. It gives you the POTENTIAL to BECOME a human being, a fully realized, adult, grown up human being, capable of both competency in life and being aware that the Golden Rule basically reduces to: Don't be a dick to each other. Just fucking be nice to each other. Apparently this needs to be shouted from the rooftops far more often than it has been; certainly centuries of social and spiritual evolution have yet to convert the majority of homo sapiens sapiens away from being monkeys throwing excrement at each other through the bars of their cages. Which is what you get if you don't develop your potential to become a human being. You need to take that potential and DO something with it. Otherwise you're just a smart mammal, and not a fully realized human being.

I readily admit to the vice of impatience, because my hyper-acute awareness of mortality, stemming from almost dying, twice, leaves me with no desire to see love wasted, or time wasted. You are no longer allowed to be bored: you don't have time for it. Life's too short. If you ever find yourself approaching the Kingdom of Boredom (which ultimately lies within you), take another road immediately, towards something much less deadly to the heart and mind. Life's too short to waste being bored. Seriously.

Before I began typing out this annoyed longish rant, I wrote an annoyed little song lyric, for a bad song I'll never actually write, which began with the phrases: "Trapped in a motel in Escanaba / there's nothing wrong / but there's nothing right." That's when I knew I was feeling bad, rather than good. Sometimes you don't know what you're feeling or thinking till you make art about it. Which is another frakking reason to make art about everything. Figure it out.

Here's the whole song lyric. Oh, and by the way, [/end rant mode/]

Trapped in a motel in Escanaba
there's nothing wrong
but there's nothing right

If I'd had my way
I'd be camped by the water
drinking in the campfire light

But here I am in a cheap motel
the water's fine but the heat don't work
the night's fooled up, the neighbor's a jerk
but somehow we'll have to get through because
we're all trapped in a motel in Escanaba

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Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Winter Waters

walking by the lake blue-white in half-melte
distant scraping resolves to
sails further out, skaters with parasails
in just enough wind, metal on ice
wet gliding, steel shaving, memory of iceboats

several hours' drive further north
there are bear tracks in late snow
some kind of quiet god woken too early
to own his still-twilit domain
long summer evenings have not yet sprung
out of blue bogs, green cattails, moose brown

there's a river only half-awake
this blue hour of year, stone clatter
musical chime of cold flow on icicle
blue tears hung by spray on granite over shale ledge
this single river carving its shallow valley
scrapes dense kraton, tough sheets, resistant caprock

even further where loons will migrate later
hallow sea-edge open watered haloed green
white pack ice wind-sails into the corner bay
lead left half-open, ready someday for seals
where shallow river-mouth meets tidal swell

we write what we have, when it comes
on shore sand, on half-drowned leaf
brown with tannins and river rust
the land writes on my own waters
circulating sea-tide of red blood and bone shell
skull under skin just waiting its time to emerge

back south in more habitable home
late snow coats milkweed pods whiter
than white, late broken buds exploding with cotton
wild rice stalks clump like black bamboo
and the ring of open water mudding the shore shines

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