A Scar on The Face of The Soul of The Universe

I am a scar on the face of the soul of the universe, something grey and purple and dark; something searing and sad. Something wished hidden and forgotten.

I am the hunk of metal beneath the skin that calls out when it's cold, sings its screwtoned melody, recalls of the time when overwhelm got the upper hand. Like the scar above the fracture, like the scar on the face of the soul of the universe, it is a reminder of how things grow sick and break.

I am the glimmer in a mother's eyes now turned to ash, never to shine again.

I want to be well. Healed. Unmarred. I want to stop this ride I'm on, to take a breath.

But the brakes don't respond, and the rowers keep on rowing.

Where is my mind, that thing I treasure most? Where is my heartbeat? My imagination? Where are my friends and compatriots in this war of art and life, this battlefield of bullets?

Where have all the cowboys gone?

Am I implying I'm in need of rescuing?

Acknowledgement of existence would suffice. A tangible feeling of remembrance and meaning, of feeling less like a burden. Less like a scar. If only for a moment. A moment is all I need.

Just to take that breath.

But there is no rest in the storm, when all it does is rain and the scar on the face of the soul of the universe glistens brighter, the downpour mingling with the moonlight to ignite smooth, angry features. There for all to see, and in seeing, as it burns, increasingly easier to despise, to loathe, to wish away.

To try and ignore.

These are rainy, storm-filled days—days shaped by wandering uncertainty and uncanny edifices of normality. Of going through the motions. Of "everything is fine." Days that creep into weeks that seep into months that slip into years and decades and eternities that bleed their minutes and seconds into the splintered floorboards of a sallow, spider-webbed cellar, staining the earth beneath. That hollow out their shallow graves like so many stories left unwritten, so many dreams left half-remembered, bubbling just beneath the surface of an articulate thought.

When will the sun come up and dry up all the rain? When will the daylight shine upon this house?

When will I find the courage to dream again?

Where is my mind, that thing I covet most? Where is my heartbeat? My imagination? Where are my friends and compatriots in this war of art and life, this battlefield of bullets?

It's all there, I think, the heart and the mind and the sun and the sanctuary, trapped in the glimmer of a mother's eyes now turned to ash, never to shine again.

It went into that box with her.

It has yet to return.

— G

Notebooks

song in my head — “Superposition” by Young The Giant

I’m obsessed with notebooks. Journals. Planners. All these tangible things meant to map out the intangible—the project or the day. The goal. The vocation. The life. If only I can get it all down on paper, we think. Then it will be real. Then it will be attainable.

Right?

I hunt for organizational tools like a homeless man hunts trash cans for food, desperation quickening with every listless, overturned recepticle. ’That one was empty.‘ ‘That one didn’t work.’ ‘This one didn’t fill my needs.’

So the search continues.

Nothing meaningful ends in the planning stages. No one ever says, “yeah, but that guy took some really good notes.” Unless, of course, those notes are solid study notes and you snagged a copy of them to pass your final. But tests aren’t life. And they certainly aren’t art.

Art requires completion. Interaction. The finality of statement. Art is better when it’s singular and honest. That’s why remakes and prequels are so hard to pull off. Imagine a “reimagining” of the Mona Lisa. What purpose would that serve?

We want things with voice, with shape, with perspective—even if we can’t articulate such a need. Our soul is built by story and to story it longs to return. Netflix wouldn’t be trying to pump our brains with 24/7 content if story meant nothing. They know, like I know, that our brains are wired for discovery. And we’ll watch 20 bad new shows in hopes that the 21st transcends.

Like that homeless, hungry man with the trash cans, the hunt is never done.

“I am the perfect fuck” says James Marsden’s Neal Oliver in the wonderful and criminally unseen film, Interstate 60. “The one you’ll never have. Perfect in every way.”

Perfect in every way.

That’s how our plans tend to be. Our journals. Our calendars. On paper, they’re emaculate.

But that’s because we’ll never have them.

Reality refuses time and time again to conform to our schemes, yet the siren song of the “morning routine” or the “new habit” or the planner built perfectly for x, y and z continues to call despite the evidence against its very existence. These products, these planners, these life coaches, these books—they are not inspirational, really, not when faced with the light of a real day. They’re ‘aspirational.’ They’re dreams sold in Facebook ads.

There is no perfect day.

There is no perfect fuck.

Only the one you didn’t have. Only the one that lived solely inside your head. There it stays, unmarred. Free from blemish. Free from scrutiny and rejection and failure. But only there. And nowhere else.

Your plan fell through, like it always does. It didn’t translate to your real life. That new habit, new routine, new journal, new notebook—it didn’t do what it was advertised to do. But that is the way of things.

Amor Fati—Love of Fate

The obstacle is the opportunity, here and now in this present and tangible life, not in the dreams we conjure up in our journals. The one things that matters is action in context.

So how will you move today?

— G

Life You Dreamt You'd Lead

song in my head—”Am I Ready?” by Spitalfield

There's omnipresent in our culture a feeling of discontentment. We all seem to be searching for something—something more or something better. We're told to seek our "best lives now" and to live into our "full potential." So we invest in self-improvement books, dieting plans, gym memberships, skin cream, protein shakes, bigger and faster cars, bigger and better homes. Even our desire towards a better understanding of our own souls—of exploring religion and philosophy—often turn into salves and bandages applied in the hopes of making us feel better about ourselves. But spiritual, existential matters are far more than pacifiers, and questions of the soul aren't really built to make us feel better; they're designed to make sense of creation. So even those attempts can feel shallow and empty on a personal level. For many of us, it seems like nothing can satisfying.

So why in this life is contentment so elusive?

Take a step back and look at our world. Our consumer-driven culture with its instant gratification and next-best-thing mentality, our winner-take-all society that values success above ethics and equality—this place has rules. And these rules were put in place not for our benefit, but for our detriment because our detriment benefits the ones who make the rules! The game is always rigged to keep us hungry. Eternally unfulfilled.

So seeing that, what can we do about it? How can we actually live the lives we've dreamt we'd lead?

For me, it comes down to reframing the game and looking at it from a different angle or lens. It's obviously difficult to write your own message while being bombarded by so many others. But in a very practical sense, these are the words I have written in my office that remind me what it takes to drown out the noise.

  • Commitment: Commit to the life you envision. My dreams are more than goals, they're promises to myself and others.

  • Courage: Harness courage in whatever way suits you so that you can face the messages of this world and push them aside if need be. For me, this courage comes from my faith.

  • Capability: Do the work necessary to build your knowledge, your strength, your fortitude. Increase your ability to live the life you've envisioned.

  • Confidence: With all this, go confidently in the direction of your dreams.

Now that sounds a lot like some of that petty self-help garbage I was deriding earlier, doesn't it? But here's the kicker and the thing you must remember, the reality almost everyone leaves out of our modern-day self-help prescriptions.

You will fail.

Some days you will be super confident. Other seasons are all about becoming capable. Sometimes just committing to the vision is the hardest step of all.

All of this is entirely okay.

What the gurus and the experts fail to mention is that we're all human, unique in every way—especially in our failures. My hangups, neuroses, weakness, and sins aren't yours; they are mine, made up of the thoughts, experiences, interpretations, strengths, talents, and realizations that only I have. I was built in nine months, yes, just like you. But I was shaped by over 1.1 billion seconds on this planet to which you were not privy. Your moments, your seconds, will be different, even if we share substantial similarities.

So no, the latest mass-market paperback won't save you. The newest workout routine advertised on Facebook won't satisfy you. The life you want to lead? You're already living it. And the good news is that it's a long game. If you're going to improve, it's up to you to figure out how and then to take things one day at a time. But remember that there is no finish line (unless you count the grave); there's no moment when you get to raise your hands and say "I've won!" We are all works in progress; we grow and change a little every day.

So spend less time worrying about what you don't have or who you haven't become. Spend that time wisely, in the here and now, learning to love not the completion of your life, but the process of creating it.

Stop Searching For Yourself

song in my head—”Good Things” by The Menzingers

“… The amateur's self-inflation prevents him from acting. He takes himself and the consequences of his actions so seriously that he paralyzes himself. The amateur fears, above all else, becoming (and being seen and judge as) himself. Becoming himself means being different from others and thus, possibly, violating the expectations of the tribe, without whose acceptance and approval, he believes, he cannot survive. By these means, the amateur remains inauthentic. He remains someone other than who he really is." —Steven Pressfield, "Turning Pro"

We've all heard of the idea of "finding" yourself. It's a self-reflection axiom used since what would seem like the beginning of time. But is this really how things work? Do we really “find” ourselves?

The idea that the path to self-understanding is some quest or hunt is an alluring one. It gives us a task we must go and do, and we have a fantastic propensity to "do" things without actually "accomplishing" things. But also, and more importantly, this image implies that our self is lost somehow, which means that if we fail in finding it, it's not our fault. Not all things that are lost can be found, right?

But Pressfield pokes at the true hindrance to our self-actualization. It is not that we can't be found. It's that we're already found. We're just afraid to live into what we've discovered.

The opinions and judgments of others are great cudgels levied upon us daily. But how many of those opinions and judgments are merely imagined fears we hold on to as an excuse not to try?

You see, the self doesn't need to be found. I mean, sure, we all experience maturation and growing up. But at a certain point, a picture begins to form, and we can see who we are—what makes us tick, what interests us, what our values are, what our mental makeup is. Some of us dive deeper into fully forming this portrait than others, but I think we all understand the basics of it on some level.

So stop thinking about trying to "find yourself;" trust that you already have! You'll continue to learn and grow, but the foundations are there. Now it's just of matter of embracing it, of showing the world just who you are—a treasure not found or discovered through a path to some X on a map, but one that was there all along.

—G



Bumps In The Road

song in my head—”Playing Favorites” by The Starting Line

On January 10, 2019, I posted my first essay here at The Campfire, declaring in my head as well as publically that I would post every day (except on Sundays) from then on out. And I've done pretty well with that goal thus far.

Until this week.

I realized today I haven't posted since February 8.

There are many reasons for this (one being the 12-hour shifts I've been working at my day job), many excuses that could be made. But in the end, none of that matters. A few missed days doesn't equal failure. I said I'd write every day. Today is a day. Tomorrow is, too. But yesterday is gone. So why get hung up on it?

Some people are afraid of goals just because not hitting them makes us feel bad. So rather than changing their mindset about goals and outcomes, they never set them at all, never accomplish anything.

So yes, I haven't posted in 5 days. And it's easy, especially for us sensitive and self-doubting artist types, to focus on that. But today I choose to look at the positive—twenty-four essays posted since that day in January. Twenty-four pieces of myself put out into the world. For someone who hasn't blogged or shared his writing in nearly three years, I'd say that's a pretty good improvement.

There will always be bumps in the road. Resistance rears its ugly head to derail us. Sometimes it wins. But that's okay. The life of an artist—and life in general, really—is a marathon, not a sprint. Some days we run. Other days we can't. Either way, we're still in the race. And if we focus too much on the bad days, I've found they have the habit of metastasizing. Of multiplying. Of devouring us whole.

Let the struggles be what they are—a means to grow stronger—and focus on what lies ahead, one foot in front of the other.

—G

Reckless

song in my head - “Plain Sailing Weather” by Frank Turner

I’ve grown up a lot these last couple of years. A lot of things have happened to me that have smoothed my rough edges.

Life entering this world.

Life leaving this world.

Meetings and partings, as they say.

I’ve gotten more serious, more thoughtful, more introspective, more professional.

But I’ll never be completely safe.

There’s a recklessness in me, a rebellion, an artist in tune with the Muse. Most days I keep things in check, play the role of an adult, and do my work as a careful and dedicated professional.

And then there are times when I stay up until all hours of the early morning, drinking whiskey, with a guitar in my hand or a notepad in my lap, and I sing songs and pen stories that well up within me an almost spiritual flood of emotion, a deluge of senses and seances seen and unforeseen. And it’s in those “irresponsible” moments that I remember myself.

Thoreau once said “our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.”

To dream is an act of recklessness; to act on that dream borders on the insane.

But to deny that dream means death, not just for what is but for what could be. Chaos and disorder are where chance is supreme, where creation begins.

We all need a little chaos. We all need dreams awake.

Go and dream. Be reckless. Be you.

And never let anyone tell you otherwise.

—G

Life, wait for me
These seas are stormy
Breathe in, slowly
Life, wait for me

Love, wait for me
This heart is heavy
Breathe in, slowly
Love, wait for me

Life, wait for me
These seas are stormy
Breathe in, slowly
Life wait for me

Toxic Engagement

song in my head — “Still Into You” by Paramore

Generally, if you show up to a comic con or some other sort of fan convention, you won't see many haters in the building. You won't find supposed "fans" that seem upset even to be there. Sure, a person might not get down with everything lining every aisle or hall, but they're at least there looking to have a nice time. That's because the price of admission—and I'm not just talking ticket prices—created value in their minds. There’s a buy-in. You had to drive there, sometimes from great distances. You had to plan ahead or maybe take time off of work. You had to RSVP or purchase tickets. There's an actual investment involved.

In some online spaces, no such investment exists.

I follow many publications, pages, and outlets online that cater to a particular audience, such as horror-related media or comic books/superheroes. And sometimes, a quick perusal of the comment sections on Facebook or otherwise leaves me wondering, "why are these people here?" They've chosen to follow and engage with something for which they seem to have nothing but disdain (if their words are any indication.) I saw it today, in fact, in comments over this poster (which, for my money, is super dope.) Someone else in the comments was as baffled as I was, observing that "85% of the people that 'like' this page never have anything nice to say."

And as a left-turn example, the vitriol is basically just as bad over at my beloved Detroit Lions fan page. It's like... no one is forcing you to follow this page or this team...

So why does this happen?

There are many factors, I'm sure, but I think a lot of it comes back to that comic con example, that presence of "barriers to entry." If you make a thing for everyone (a publication with a social media page), even a thing you think is specific, it means anyone can join in if they feel like they identify with the group. And "Horror" is a broad spectrum, with many subgenres and points of interest; it means many different things to many different people. Jump over to the Shockwaves Horror Movie Club, however, a moderated group run by fans of a specific podcast, and you generally won't find such hate. That's because there are barriers to entry. You have to ask to join, and you probably would have a knowledge of the podcast to hear about the group in the first place. This creates a shared history of experiences, a frame of reference. And it narrows the interest.

When we are more intentional about the type of fan or customer we want to engage with—when we search out that minimum viable audience—we can hope to limit toxic engagement. Some spaces go too far, in my opinion, immediately blocking out any dissenting view (even well-reasoned and well-articulated ones) like a child sticking their fingers in their ears. So I'm not arguing for a removal of disagreement. But there's a big difference between "I'm not feeling this thing because..." and "this thing sucks and anyone who likes it also sucks."

In my opinion, someone coming into the comments with that attitude isn't a "fan" of anything, and is not someone I want around me, the things I love, or the things I make.

—G