Reflecting On Karma

I’ve often said that Karma means not only the ripples from the stones we throw, but our tendency to throw stones in the first place.

Right now I find I’m still in a rut trying to reconcile myself with mortality by trying to reify my eventual death into a romantic plot device for a story arc.  But Jack’s memories have already taught me something devastating but fundamental: death is often random and senseless.

The people who can bring it all to a final chapter and live their lives like a well-written book are the lucky few.  The rest don’t get to tie up loose ends. They fall into canals and drown. They get blown up on battlefields. They die suddenly of strokes.

But I should know better than to idolize those savvy travelers who go gently into that good night with their bags neatly packed. Trying to add meaning and impact to death is just another trap we fall into.  That’s why suicides are so theatrical. That’s why people volunteer for wars. That’s why people risk it all for some grand goal.  People are so confounded by their own mortality that they stake out chances to die sooner in exchange for more meaning.  But they still die senselessly in the end.

Others dream of a world where nobody has to die. I envy their idealism. But I can’t see that working. Not with the way of this world.  Immortality would be the next aspirational carrot dangled in front of the working class, but it would only be available to the aristocracy.  Imagine a world where most people die before 40, ruled by 1000 year old princes. This isn’t the kind of world I want to live in.  And the stains, regrets, guilt, and baggage of such a long life would be unbearable. Realisitcally, I wouldn’t want to live a day over 300.

So we can’t stop death without serious consequences. We can’t reify it into something meaningful when it’s inherently absurd.  We would do better to take our time and reflect on that absurdity.  But even when we know this, the omnipresence of death holds a sword to our throats and demands an answer from us.  “I’m coming for you,” death says.  “How do you want to do this?”

I miss the brief period when I was doing well divorcing myself from the idea that my death would have any kind of meaning.  I miss being able to zero in on that headspace that acknowledges Dukkha but doesn’t give it any value.

I miss that enlightened place. The immediacy of danger since last year’s election threw me off balance so bad.  It’s easy to imagine yourself detached from Samsara in a stable country where a long, uneventful life is easy; it’s quite another to maintain a steadfast commitment to that detachment when your personal beliefs can get you killed.

In short, I feel I was tested, and I failed the test.  I’m ill prepared to deal with real uncertainty without falling into those same comfortable myths of heroism that never served me.  Jack’s Karma is still stuck on me.

This is one of those times when “Well, what now?” transcends a rhetorical expression of helplessness and becomes a Koan for meditation.  “What now?” indeed.  I need to find some kind of inner balance, but it’s like trying to spin plates while people are throwing rocks at you: Not impossible, just puckeringly difficult.

I guess this means I’ll be posting here a bit more while I sort this out.  This was always the place I posted these abstracts.  Time to meditate again on the senselessness of death reified and detach myself from the need for death to mean something.  Meaning is such a matter-centric way of thinking anyhow; something only means something else if it’s bound to causality the way we understand it.  It’s completely useless to speak of meaning when describing a bardo state like the one I remember from 1915.

More grappling to come.  Bear with me.

 

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Brief Note

A brief note to say that this big project is drawing closer to completion but that it’s taking far more time and effort than I had supposed.

Once this one is done, I have another project in mind based on the less mystical parts of my time in London.  It’ll be a nice break from a medieval low fantasy/sci-fi crossover.

In lieu of anything else to take my mind off the looming dread of the present time, writing has become my only outlet.  I don’t even take weekends off any more; I spend 7 days a week on this.

Busy

Few updates for now.  I’ve been busy with what has quickly become the longest and most involved novel I’ve ever written (in this life or any other).

I’m working hard on creating the most polished, professional work I can manage.  My last novel was very good, for a project that only took 9 months from the first page to the first edition, but I could have done better still if I’d taken another year to polish it.

This novel I’m working on now has a convoluted history.  It’s loosely based on my first novel, a medieval fantasy story with some small, unfocused elements of mind-bending SF I began working on in 2003, finished in 2008, and published in 2013.  It got a frosty reception because, to tell the truth, it wasn’t very good.  It was a manuscript I’d been sitting on for some time by then in the vain hope I’d find a more mainstream publisher for it (DAW actually sent a personalized rejection letter, so they read my manuscript at least).  I finally published it with the niche publisher that printed my first published work (the one about the airships I’ve mentioned in passing here) but by then it got a frosty reception.

I had intended to write a sequel from the very beginning (originally it was meant to be a trilogy but that idea was scrapped), and wrote one between 2010 and 2013, that focused harder on the SF element; however, after several successive drafts it didn’t quite get past the slush pile, and the slow sales of the first book sealed its fate.  So last year, after about a year of nearly giving up on this project, I asked my publisher if they’d consider dropping that earlier book for a book that salvaged material from both but created a completely new story.  They said they’d consider it if I could show them what I’ve got.

Very little of the original 2003-2008 manuscript survives in this new one.  Most of the material is actually from the past year, and I’m holding my breath to see if I’ve successfully made a silk purse out of two sow’s ears.  I’ve made up my mind that I’d rather do it right than rush it to press, and even though I’m getting close to a state I’m satisfied with it’s still taking forever.  My anxiety over whether my voice will be unique enough, my prose will be polished enough, and my story will be engaging enough is only mitigated by directly engaging the text and constantly reminding myself of my progress.

I have the makings of a cult author.  My last book was a watershed.  Copies of it are selling for three times their original cost on the used book market in France.  It rates a solid five stars on Goodreads and Amazon. It’s also the first of my books to be pirated.  Sales of the first book I published have ticked up a bit too.

Once this next book is out, rather than spend my promotional budget on another trip to San Jose, I’m going to use that budget to send promo copies to any newspaper, magazine, or journal that will review it.

As for the general state of my life, I’ve been more vocal about politics in places where I’m usually not.  I won’t deny that I’m worried I’ll lose some friends over this and it’s not my intention to flame anyone or start drama.  Even so, I’m genuinely worried that we’re rapidly headed toward a future where people like me might be in real danger.

People will say “you can just leave the country,” but that’s not really an option for a penniless disabled pulp fiction writer.  It’s already become clear that nobody’s going to step up and help me with that, either (those who would couldn’t, and those who could wouldn’t).  Realistically, I’m stuck here in the gathering storm until and unless I can break out and make enough on my writing to be able to get somewhere like Germany or Sweden.

It won’t happen with this book, though.  When I say I don’t expect my next book to be a breakout success, I’m not being defeatist, I’m simply stating the fact that you can’t reach the next floor from the bottom of the staircase without dealing with the steps in between.  There’s a lot of steps between a brief honeymoon with a small group of readers spread out across the globe and actually making a living.

Legacy

I often wonder, will I have a lasting legacy?  And if I do, will I be regarded as anything other than a harmless kook who wrote a few obscure cult novels that only passed for a pale imitation of other people’s work?

 

I often ask myself, what have I really done with my life, besides put out a few so-so novels that only a handful of people have read?  Has anything I’ve done really changed the world for the better?  Who am I?  What impact does my existence really have?

In my present life I feel like a voice crying out in the wilderness.  Except I don’t feel like I’m crying out anything important.  I feel like I’m wailing inarticulately.  Screaming into empty rooms.  And what can come next from here but obscurity, death, and a rebirth with a vague notion that I had lived before as a writer whose work I can’t track down because no copies of it survive?

I have all these grand dreams of hacking Samsara and eventually escaping- and helping others escape- to the light by leaving a trail of breadcrumbs in literature across lifetimes.  I wrote a whole damned novel about it.  I want to save myself and by extension save others.  But will it ever actually pan out?

All I ever get from the I Ching is “keep trying.”  “Expect minor obstacles and minor successes.” “Just use your better judgment.”  I even got one hexagram that- I swear to you- was the equivalent of the Magic 8 Ball saying “Reply hazy. Try again.”  I could get as much from my father, who thankfully puts up with my eccentricity (I count my blessings to have such a father in this life).  It’s not that the oracle hasn’t given me clear readings about anything either; but when it comes to where my legacy will fall, it would seem fate is undecided and I’m going to have to yell into many empty rooms if I ever want to be heard.

On The Anxious Personality

I sometimes wonder if what we call anxiety isn’t basically a low-grade psychosis.

To put it in relative terms, if the psychotic lives with their nightmares, the anxious live right next door to them.  I’m fairly certain that every thing an anxious person experiences is basically some lesser degree of what a psychotic person experiences.

As for irrational thoughts and paranoid ideations, the psychotic believe them fully; the anxious constantly swat them away, like aggressive flies.  Both are plagued by them to some extent.  The anxious, like the psychotic, often has to rely on trusted friends or mental health workers to help them sort out the truth about their fears sometimes.  Finding out that one’s worst fears are true, I find, is both a relief and a burden.  The anxious personality is a natural Cassandra because we can often put two and two together in ways that “healthy” people can’t.

There are hallucinations too. If you’ve ever dealt with extreme health anxiety you know that phantom aches and pains are a constant problem.  The physical sensations often have no discernible cause whatsoever, but are so real they can literally drop you.

Disorganized thinking is less of a hallmark in anxiety, but it’s there. Try doing anything that requires concentration when you’re biting your nails with existential dread.

Oh, and depersonalizing/derealizing? Nothing will make you think you’re losing your mind faster than that when you don’t know what it is.

Then when you get into severe anxiety disorders, like PTSD, it’s so chaotic that it can wreck you almost as bad as schizophrenia.  Try reliving the worst things that ever happened to you while being told by well-meaning but naive friends to “try not to think about it.”  Meanwhile that movie of the abuse you were put through 20 years before keeps replaying every time someone acts like your abuser.

It really makes you think of mental illness differently when you see that so much of the difference between conditions is degrees of awfulness in various metrics, doesn’t it?

Another Dream

I had another dream last night, a sad one.

I had gone to sleep with my new cat, who I’ve had since March, pressed against me and purring like my old cat, who died of old age in February, used to.

I dreamed that my old cat was still alive, but it wasn’t a happy dream. He was still very old, still very sick, still leaving me wondering when I would have to watch him die again. I was reliving his senescence and it tore my heart out because even in the dream, I remembered seeing him die.

I woke up feeling poorly rested.  I’m still very tired.

I wonder why I’ve had two dreams in short succession about old age and impending death where the dead appear to me alive, but never tell me anything.

I hope that if I have another dream involving the dead appearing alive, I’ll get a chance to talk to them. I feel like my higher self may be trying to contact me.

Strange Dream

I don’t think I’ve ever had an actual dream about Philip K. Dick, and he hasn’t been much on my mind lately.  I’m dealing with enough stress that I don’t need additional weirdness.  Last night though, I had a very strange and vivid dream.

I dreamed that Phil was alive, and that I couldn’t have been him in a previous life after all.  He had retired from writing and was hiding in plain sight.  In the dream he was quite old (as he would be if he was still alive) and got out even less than he used to, pretty much confined to his room most of the time.  He lived in a little white house very much like the one where [SPOILER] lives at the end of “Man in the High Castle,” or the one where he and Kleo lived when they first moved to Point Reyes Station (before he married Anne).  He was married to his seventh wife (whose name I didn’t get and face I only ever saw in my peripheral vision oddly enough) and they’d been together longer than anyone he’d ever been with, since the 80s or 90s I think.

He agreed to meet me, but I never got to that point.  The dream abruptly shifted one of my more typical dreams, a nonsensical and vague dream about being in an 80s McMansion that had aged badly and finding the tornado shelter just before a tornado hit (except there was no distinction in my mind during this dream between tornados, earthquakes, and nuclear explosions).

I’m not attached to the idea that this dream actually means anything but I’m recording it because that’s what this space is for.  Even so I feel strange many hours after the dream.  We’re wired to find meaning in everything so naturally I do wonder, but maybe it’s just more noise from the subconscious.  I haven’t had much of anything significant in a long time, nothing on the magnitude of what I had in 2012-2013.