A Chair Between The Rails: Chapter One

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Text © 2013 by George Anderson. All rights reserved. 

Are you getting excited for the publication of A Chair Between The Rails? I am. I thought I would share the first chapter with you. Take a look!

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By James Feckidee
The steel planet
Year 1946-t0-the-side

PART I
Events on Earth
Year 1945

Chapter One

You see, I first discovered the poet William Blake, that man chosen by whomever God thinks God is to relieve me from the agony that it is to think and feel—first discovered him when I was twelve, sitting in Uncle Phil’s study. I will always remember that day. The fire was so warm (winter, you know—a great room for winters, and wrought-iron window-framed). His voice was warm, too. And now this: Uncle Phil, dead; the funeral, tonight, in half an hour; and myself, hapless James Feckidee, a little more dead inside than I’d been yesterday, waiting to fill up the old Ford and watching the slow-turning clouds of young October.

My boy Austin was only four, but sometimes I let him roam. He stood now on the other side of the gas station gravel, holding the payphone up to his ear and listening. I must have listened like that in Uncle Phil’s study, when my mind was still malleable. Austin must be listening now to the dead phone, like his imagination was more than reality, like he knew something I didn’t—like he heard something I didn’t. He probably did.

The gas station attendant came out. He had a big scar above his left eye. He was still drunk, or maybe you would say already drunk, seeing as how it was almost dusk, and that would be a mighty hangover. Regardless, this guy needed a razor and a cup of coffee.

“Need a fillup?” he asked.

“Yes,” I muttered.

“How about a wash and a wax?”

“No thank you. We’re off to a funeral, so it doesn’t matter.”

“I’m sorry, sir.” He pumped my gas.

I stood kicking at the gravel. Austin smiled at me across the drive, holding that dead payphone up to his ear.

“The kid hears something, you know,” said the gas station attendant.

I blinked and looked at the guy. His hand was clamped on the pump, but his vacant eyes watched my boy.

“Excuse me?”

“That’s a rare ability.” His empty face turned toward me, and the scar above his left eye seemed to throb.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The man shrugged. “But I do, and so does your son.” His speech was strangely clear for the bleariness of his eyes. He shut off the pump and crossed the gravel. “Hey, little guy. What do you hear in that phone?”

I dashed after him. I swept up my boy just as the creep’s hand went for him. The payphone fell hard, clanging gray against the gray metal, colorless—always colorless, this deep morass, this wading through.

“Telephone—telephone—” My boy kicked, scrambling over my shoulder, but I held him.

We stood breathing and staring at each other, the creep and me. Alien colors passed under the man’s face. At last he murmured, “You have no idea what he can do.”

“Listen.” My terror, my rage. “Tell me what I owe you, and leave us alone.”

Now the creep raised both hands, shaking his head. “All right. You’re not ready. Now, I can’t stop what’s been set in motion—though I can protect you, if you’ll trust me.”

“What do I owe you?” I didn’t care that he hadn’t filled the tank up all the way. He’d given us enough gas to get away from him.

“Sixty-seven cents,” he said.

“I’ll meet you inside.” I glared at him, holding my boy, waiting for him to leave. At last he lowered his gaze and nodded and walked past me toward the door.

“Telephone—telephone—” My boy was still throwing a tantrum.

“You can’t stop him,” said the creep as he went inside. “You can’t stop what he is.”

“What he is,” I muttered. “He’s my boy, that’s what he is.”

With the gentle force of fatherhood, I put my struggling ball of limbs into the car. Though it hurt me, I locked him in. You see, I had to. He sobbed and pounded on the window as I walked away, but it was for his own good.

Inside, I paid the creep. He measured out my coins with exacting idiocy. At last he said, “You’re a penny short, but who’s counting?” He threw all the money into the same compartment in the drawer. “Listen.” He leaned over the counter and took me with those broad, bloodshot eyes. “Something is happening which you know nothing about. Something has been loosed which you can’t stop. Your boy is special. See? You can’t keep him away from his purpose.” The creep’s gaze wandered past me to the window. I spun. My boy was at the phone again, listening.

“Shut up!” I left the idiot and stormed outside. I swept up my boy.

“Daddy, no! Telephone—”

I caught the receiver as it fell. I put it to my ear. Not a sound, not a hum, even after I dropped in a nickel as an experiment.

“Daddy—daddy—”

Back to the car. I would have to hold him in my lap. If he had figured out how to unlock the car door, there was no telling what he would do to get back to that phone while we were moving.

“Daddy—daddy—”

I clutched him to my chest with one arm and wrangled the ignition and the gearshift with the other. He was still struggling.

“Calm down. I need you to behave. We’re going to Uncle Phil’s funeral.”

But I don’t think he even knew who Uncle Phil was to me.

We were just shuffling past the knees of relatives, just settling into the pew, when the minister began to intone his dirge of comfort. I guess we were late—but couldn’t we be forgiven? What a battle, just to get there.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to remember…”

Oh, I could remember. I remembered how Uncle Phil used to look up over the desk at me. The lenses and their thin film of opacity somehow rendered him inverse professorial, like he was the antithesis of the unapproachable scholar, though still retentive of all the knowledge. He wasn’t even my grandfather in archetype, but more like a brother-fellow-conspirator who happened to have white hair. It must have been brown once; we’re a brown-haired family.

The minister’s gaze revolved slowly around the congregation. “When a brother in the Lord passes on, we gather…”

Uncle Phil came to all the family gatherings when I was really young. If only I could have given Austin the same opportunity to get to know him. But Austin had barely even met Uncle Phil, what with the sickness that taken my uncle four years ago, strangely coinciding with the boy’s birth. Now Uncle Phil had been taken from Austin forever, just as he had been taken from me for a few years, when he had mysteriously disappeared…

“…who reigns now with Jesus Christ in the fields of eternity—that is the true Phillip Feckidee. That is the man as God made him. But that—” the minister pointed down from the pulpit to the open casket and the glorious white shock of hair—“is just the withered shell. No, do not weep for Phillip Feckidee!”

But they wept anyway, all around me. It was a quiet sound like dead leaves rustling in some abandoned gymnasium of the woods. Likewise, it had no meaning. I don’t weep, you understand; so I just sat there. I pitied them, really. To be so lost, so weak, that you can’t maintain your steely humanity. Never find me doing that.

Of course, Uncle Phil did find me that way once. He came to the diamond near sundown, driving that old jalopy bounce-banging through ruts as if on wagon wheels. I’d been catching, and I’d taken a foul ball to the cheekbone. I’m still not the same shape there. That was such a dry summer, and dust and blood makes this sort of dough. If you could feel it, like I still do. I was weeping then; don’t know if I have since. Of course, all the pains after that have been nothing but amplifications of the original, of the first time it was shown to me that I was paper and not a god, that I was flesh and not iron eternal spirit. From then on, the universe has been diligent and relentless to remind me of its arrogant superiority, and this is no exception.

The minister got down after making an open invitation. I, who read and write and don’t speak publicly, as a rule, got up and stood between the whitewashed walls from which a thousand declamations of fire and brimstone had come. I stood looking out across the flat and opaque and mundane body of the Lord, who were black-dressed and daub-eyed and ready to ring with my words; and I, reader, writer, and mock-theologian of nothingness, began to speak.

“To me, he will always be Uncle Phil. Economy of speech assumed the dropping of great. Great was a mere technicality. The fact that he was great was so fundamental that if you had to say it, if you had to call him my great-uncle, you didn’t know him at all. I just called him Uncle Phil. But you know, he always felt more like a brother than a man fifty years my senior. He never came at me with that superiority complex so natural to a writer of his intellectual and artistic prowess. He was just incredibly normal.”

My voice rang in glorious cadence across the room. I seemed to hold their emotions, these foreign things, in the palm of my hand.

“Above all, Phillip Feckidee was a mover, a man who might have changed the world. He was a man who looked elsewhere. He insisted that if we follow him into his dance, we go elsewhere with him. For that, I loved him dearly.”

I probably didn’t speak that magnificently, but you know how we represent ourselves. I got down from the podium then, something like caring and triumphant.

Then I stood in the casket line among the black-backed shapes that I should have known all my life—among those things still shuddering, still beset with that particular affliction that I do not know. I stood mingled, but walled off and outcast and safer that way. That was me, then, there. The sidelong light of the dusk-brown sun made the women’s left ears glitter and the men’s watches shine. One by one they came to the point of flowers and solemnity and lacquered wood where they got stopped up. From there on out, it was all flow, sweet forgetful flow into scattering and disintegration.

I was perfectly lucid.

Now swept up in the inexorable push of the line, I came upon him. O, the long daring face and the hardset jaw carved for derision but accustomed only to laughter. The same glasses and their opaque film, like they were dimly misted—but they were dry, it was only the light—and the eyes shut in eternal mystery behind them. That same brazen wash of white hair, unchanged in death as it had been unchangeable in life. The hands of a giant folded in wrinkled wisdom like poetry, like Blake’s hands as they must have been when Blake had lain like this, floating in flowers and white satin, as he must have, floating, just atoms now unencumbered with the higher mysteries of will and consciousness and emotion, a part of the earth now prepared for disintegration, just atoms, as they tell us, just atoms, and the rest is atom bombs.

Oh, my memories—

“Read to me, James.”

Uncle Phil leaned ravenously across the desk. Firelight flashed on his lenses, but it could not dim the hunger in his eyes.

Why do I always read? I asked. Why don’t you read?

“I can’t, dear James. I’ve lost the ability.”

How? Are you going blind?

He laughed. “Of course not! Just read to me, James. My soul is starved for words.”

Chapter one. I read to him. I loved him. Dark Urizen prepared; his ten thousands of thunders, ranged in gloomed array, stretch out across the dread world…

“Blake has a way with words, doesn’t he, James?”

Yes.

“Sorry, keep going.”

I shifted the musty book and found my place. Voices of terror are heard, like thunders of autumn, when the cloud blazes over the harvests…

Maybe Blake had meant that to refer to a late summer storm, but now I would always hear in it the Japanese cities decimated, the Japanese sky ablaze. What would Uncle Phil think of us, of our country? He would never tell me now, for he had taken sick years before the bomb.

“Take pen and paper. Take this on dictation, if you don’t mind, James.”

I never minded hearing his voice or feeling his swift winged words infuse my pen with universal vibrations.

“Do you ever think about how these are just words, just letterforms, just swept ink illegible on the page?”

No, I said.

“It’s true, James. These forms have only the meaning we’ve learned to give them…”

I never thought of that, I said.

“So pay attention to the context of anything, of everything. That’s how we pass it down. That’s how we preserve intellect and meaning. Remember: without our efforts, these letters are just ink on a page.”

Just ink on a page. Just atoms. He was just atoms now, and the rest was atom bombs. They had done it over there, and it didn’t make a difference metaphysically where or who, even though I couldn’t fulfill my duty to my country. It had been done. We had done it to our planet, to our race, to ourselves.

I love you, dear uncle.

All around me, the black-clad forms moved in reverent pantomime. Mine was a timeless salutation before the casket, and no one dared interrupt me. I gazed. The stillness of his waxy face did not move. Floating in a garden of fragrance and color, he did not respond to me, and he never would again.

“What do you mean incompetent?!” Uncle Phil shouted, jumping up from behind the desk.

Mentally incompetent, I said.

“And how did the Army determine—”

Ask them!

“I don’t see how that could affect soldiering. You’re a strong lad. You’re intelligent. You have a mind both creative and logical.”

I’m not strong, I said. I barely passed the fitness exam.

“I’ve never heard of this mental incompetence business. You should be serving your country.”

I can’t! That’s what I’m saying!

He turned and left the room then.

“She’s really leaving?” Uncle Phil shouted, spinning to face me across the study.

I said that.

“There’s no—”

She said the word.

“My God, James. What about the boy?”

What about him? I’m not sending him to an orphanage. I’m his father.

“Doesn’t she want—”

No. And if she did, I’d tell her to—

“So you’ll be the one who—”

Yes. He’s my son.

“And why? Did she tell you?”

You know her. The damn floozie magazines—as if those were real people, as if I ever touched any of them—

“But you were looking.”

What difference does it make? It’s just art. Just paintings and photographs. I never said I didn’t love her. I never told her that.

“I think you did, James.”

He looked out the window then, doubtless at the June flowerbeds devoured under careless grass that I had forgotten to trim.

Now I would never finish the gardening for him; and even if I ever patched this up into something like a life, he would never find out. The last version of James Feckidee he had known, which he would know forever now, was the divorced, the violent, the perverted.

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Text © 2013 by George Anderson. All rights reserved.

Indiegogo: A Little Change Of Plans

Here it is, July 3rd, and no Kickstarter. I have had some difficulties with them. My fundraiser will still be happening, but it will start July 5th, on a different crowdfunding platform.

My Kickstarter project was declined because it seeks funding for an ad campaign. While Kickstarter’s rejection was probably due to my wording, and while it can be appealed (and would probably be approved after an edit), I’ve decided to skip the hassle and migrate the project to another crowdfunding site, Indiegogo.

I’m actually happier with that change. On July 5th, I’ll have a live Indigogo project for you. Until then, enjoy the Fourth of July, and don’t eat too much bratwurst.

A Chair Between The Rails: Origins

While we wait for Kickstarter to approve my project (I wasn’t prepared for that!), I thought I would tell you a little about the origins of A Chair Between The Rails. I’ll try to keep it spoiler-free.

Summer of 2012, I was out of work. I took a job at a local music store, working under the store’s psychotic former manager. After getting to know him a bit, I began to realize that his alarming thought patterns matched those of the main character in a novel that I had abandoned the year before. Finding inspiration in the pain this man caused me, I set out to rewrite the novel.

The germ of that story, originally titled Distant Eden, took shape in 2007. An early draft struggled to find its rhythm and died after a few chapters. A second draft was completed in Fall of 2008, but turned out to be overly cumbersome. (At the time, I was obsessed with writing long books for the glory of authorhood. I was a fool.) In 2011, I started the novel from scratch. I was in design school at the time, training myself to cut paper to tolerances of 1/32 of an inch. Enforcing the same precision on my writing muse, I quickly killed the third draft of Distant Eden with my fear of failure.

From 2009 to 2011, I had worked on The Tower of Babel, which comes chronologically after A Chair Between The Rails. With the failure of the 2011 draft of Distant Eden, I gave up on the story and declared The Tower of Babel to be the first book in the Vaulan Cycle. But it was not to be: readers asked for more backstory, and people who knew the story of Distant Eden encouraged me to get it out there. So I set out again, summer of 2012, to rewrite Distant Eden. This time, it worked. The book will be released November 1, 2013, as A Chair Between The Rails.

Suicide is a resonant theme in A Chair Between The Rails. I’m a little concerned that this may bother people. However, the book settled into its current state not by design, but by me listening to what it had to say. As I delved into what I perceived to be the psyche of my insane coworker, his insanity began to infect my mind as well. I worked it out through writing the novel. The resultant character is James Feckidee, the narrator of A Chair Between The Rails. I cannot apologize for James’s tendencies, nor for the strange way in which they come to fruition (and to redemption) in the story. The book is what it is.

That said, I like to think that the book’s presentation of willful death has something to say to us. Growing that summer in my relationship with my fiancee (now my wife), I began to learn the hard way what it is to die for someone else. Taking this and applying it to the almost constant passage of blaring trainhorns in this city, I stumbled upon the climactic scene in the novel. You can come to your own conclusions from the story, as I don’t really want to go too deep in explaining what is (I hope) a work of art.

A Chair Between The Rails comes chronologically before The Tower of Babel. I’m planning a third and possibly a fourth book, which will bring the Vaulan Cycle to true circular completion. I know this is an ambitious project—a new attempt at myth-making—but I’m up for it.

Kickstarter Announcement

acbtr_postrans_roundiii1_KINDLE_RGBDear Friends and Readers,

On July 1st, I’ll be diving headfirst into one of the craziest things I’ve ever done: I’ll be conducting a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication and marketing of my upcoming novel, A Chair Between The Rails.

If you’ve read The Tower of Babel, you probably have a lot of questions about what happened before that story. A Chair Between The Rails will answer some of those questions. If you haven’t read The Tower of Babel, the new book is the best place to start for getting into the series. Though it is being released after The Tower of Babel, it is Book I of the Vaulan Cycle, and The Tower of Babel is Book II.

I am fronting some costs of publication myself. However, I would like to run ad campaigns for the book on the websites of three major national magazines. These are magazines whose readerships will enjoy the book. A project of this size requires capital, but it should produce a return that will help get Ripening Books (my publishing company) closer to self-sustenance. Hence the invitation for you, my readers, to participate in building the Vaulan Cycle into something that is nationally known. The Kickstarter campaign will be crafted around donation levels that are not financially burdensome to backers, but which provide great value in gifts. There will be 8 gift levels total; but for now, I’ll draw your attention to two:

For $35, you’ll receive:

  • A digital copy of the book in your choice of format,
  • A thank you by name in the published print and digital versions of the book,
  • A print copy of the book, and
  • A digital copy of The Victorious Airborne’s new album, Come, My Tired Machine.

For $75, you’ll receive:

  • A digital copy of the book in your choice of format,
  • A thank you by name in the published print and digital versions of the book,
  • A print copy of the book, signed by the author,
  • A digital copy of The Victorious Airborne’s new album, Come, My Tired Machine, and
  • A sneak peek of material from my non-fiction project We’re All Singing Now: Making Art In The 2010s, which is currently in the development stage.

I can’t tell you how excited I am about this project. I’ve worked for months on the text of this novel. From nights where I stayed up too late editing, to mornings where my eagerness to work on the book woke me up too early, the process has been a great personal struggle. The greatest battle has been with anxiety: a gnawing fear that the book will not reach the readers it deserves. While I know intellectually how to deal with this fear, mastering it emotionally has been extremely difficult. I guess I’m all in with this one.

A Chair Between The Rails was born from a singular vision, a belief that life begins only when we surrender to forces that are greater than us. For me, the writing, editing, and production of the book turned out to be a lesson in that principle. Now, I want to turn that structure inside-out. I want to turn the book over to an audience larger than I could ever create on my own. I want the people to grapple with this book.

I invite you to join me July 1st, 2013, as I launch my Kickstarter campaign. Your donation will help get A Chair Between The Rails in front of over 400,000 web visitors distributed across three major sites. I look forward to your participation, and I thank you ahead of time!

ONE YEAR LATER: Six Things I Learned From Following My Dream

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A year ago, I dropped out of design school to get married and publish a novel. It was one of the weirdest, most terrifying decisions of my life. I’ve changed more in the last year than in the previous twenty-five—or maybe I’m just feeling dramatic today. Regardless, I want to share with you a few meditations.

  1. Relationships are always more important. As an obsessive-compulsive creator, I have to learn this lesson again and again every day. Our culture has taught us to make something of ourselves and follow our dreams and be rock stars. Lady Gaga cut this seemingly harmless sentiment to its awful core with the famous quote, “…your career will never wake up and tell you that it doesn’t love you anymore.” Oh, she was so wrong. My writing career wakes up a good three days out of seven and tells me to go to hell. If I had chosen to marry it, rather than Danae, I would have already descended into abject misery. As it is, I am learning to live a balanced life—one which puts loved ones ahead of creativity. This prioritization is essential because…
  2. Art is a gift. Art is not a way to get famous, make money, or wield cultural influence. Neither is it strictly self-expression. It is a gift of healing which, if you are a creator, you are called to give away to other people. Rather than trying to make a splash or impress people, you should just listen to that inner painter-poet. If you are truly a creator, that inner painter-poet will speak. The best thing you can do is get out of the way and let it flow—through yourself, out, and into the world, where it can change a mind or a heart or even a life. Getting out of the way becomes easier when you realize that…
  3. You are a funny person. Taking yourself super-seriously is dumb. The way you look, talk, dress, think, act, post, write, sing, and play is kinda funny. Unique, quirky, beautiful, intrinsically and metaphysically full of gravitas (since it is a sincere human expression), and yet funny beyond belief. You don’t have to make an impression on people. You don’t have to come across right. You are silly and excellent, just the way you are. It’s important to remember this, because you’ll soon discover that…
  4. Your work is not as good as you think it is. Not gonna lie, I thought The Tower of Babel was revolutionary. I still know it’s mildly unique in literature, but when I published it, I thought it was the bee’s knees. However, consistent feedback from confused readers has shown me that I tend to live (and write) in my own head. Nobody can experience the network of my thoughts, the interconnectedness of everything in my fiction or in my picture of How Life Works, unless I give people a little help. This was the lesson I had to learn a year ago, and my blindness to it then tells me that I am blind to another lesson right now—and that I will be blind again and again, for a long time, maybe till I die. When this gets too hard to handle, I simply reread number 3 above. But I find I can get over it from another angle too, because…
  5. You, the person, are better than you think you are. This one comes with an asterisk: if you commune with God and let him make you beautiful. On your own, yes, you are the sum of your failures; you are a drunk in the gutter at 2 AM. But sing hallelujah from the gutter, and damn well mean it, and you just might be moving towards God. It’s the only thing you were ever meant to do. You’ll find this path more fulfilling than trying to make a splash because, no matter how hard you try…
  6. Nobody wins. Selling more ebooks (more than what? Than whom?) isn’t winning. Playing more shows isn’t winning. Pushing people away because you have serious art things to do isn’t winning. If there is any confusion, see numbers 1 and 3 above.

Don’t get me wrong: I haven’t arrived yet. But I have begun to see. I hope I’ve helped you to see, too. 

Mediocrity

bandcampI’ve had enough of mediocrity. I understand that we can all make art now; but most of us have no business doing it. Spotify is paying musicians pennies on the penny, and laptop speakers on college campuses sleep in a haze of jangly indie sameness. Amazon is drunk on Kindle books whose covers feature jpeg compression and the finest typography that Word 95 could ever have mustered. Another talented indie filmmaker is posting a great film to Vimeo right now, but you’ll never see it. Among other things, I just promoted The Tower of Babel for about $270 and made $19.18 in return.

This is art today, in snapshot and panorama. The grave is dug. If you aren’t helping yet, grab a shovel and start making an album.

This is a two-edged sword, for both the talented and the untalented. For those who should actually be heard, it’s now easier than ever to produce a creative work. (I use the term technically. Production is not the actual making, but how the thing made gets from artist to you.) The infrastructure is there. You just upload your stuff. But the side of the sword that will kill you is the fact that everyone else can do it too, and this creates noise. You may have a right to be heard, since your stuff is excellent; but the nobodies all around you are cluttering up the airwaves.

For the untalented, life is great! You’re in a band! You made an album! You put it on Bandcamp! People listened to it! People gave it Facebook Likes! This is like Led Zeppelin, but you can do whatever you want! Yeah, you listen to them! You’re a rock star! You’re playing at The Musica next week! (Oh wait, it’s just Musica, not The Musica?) Sure, the “promoter” is making you sell tickets, but hey, you’re in a band! You made an album! You put it on Bandcamp! So what’s the bad side of the sword for you? The fact that the stuff you’re pouring into the wonderful art-sharing infrastructure of the Interwebs just plain sucks. You will never receive the recognition you crave, because you are not making something that people need.

We are living in unprecedented times for the world of the arts. To paraphrase a certain old-school guy, it’s a great time to be an artist, it’s an awful time to be an artist. It’s a great time to be in the audience, it’s an awful time to be in the audience.

I think it’s Monday.

Afterburn

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The hardest thing is to leave the work unfinished for the day. Sometimes I seek desperately for the validation of arrival, but every day ends with unanswered questions and unsolved riddles. I am hounded by my own creativity. There is no way out.

I know I’m doing this wrong. Three days ago, an artist retreat in Cleveland showed me a glimpse of truth: that love comes from being, not from work (even creative work); that I am already a son; that nothing I can bring about by my own will has the power to improve the vision or create “success.”

In light of this wrecking of my little castle, I’m having a hard time figuring out what to do. This seems to be my calling. Outside of time spent with people I love, making stories (and sometimes music) is the only thing that makes me feel alive. Somehow, in spite of the choked-up sewer that is my truth-conduit, the clear water of truth is coming out of me (sometimes). I have these abilities. I seem to be able to create this stuff. I hunger and thirst after the right way. I really do. How do I exercise these abilities without descending into narcissism and obsession? How do I give with these abilities, instead of taking? Is there any agency, any room for choice left to me, or are the successful times all the Spirit’s doing and the rest just the half-baked scams of my ego?

This past weekend, I felt the profound weight of holiness. It is a thing you do not touch. The selfish thoughts that sprang up in me looked away at once and held their hands behind their backs. Something of terrible power was in the room. At last, my spirit slipped into alignment with the deep logic of Love. There was no space to deny the holiness, nor even space to stand back and observe. Cultural rituals and anthropological investigation be damned: we were in the presence of the Most High, and it was pulsing in our vocal cords, our neurons, in the blank white walls of the empty sanctuary.

Now my head hurts and it is snowing again. I’ve mailed off the jury thing, hoping the claim of “non-resident of county” will excuse me. I still need to check the oil level in my car. I still need to get the thing repaired, too. I need to rectify this situation with 20 pixely-covered copies of my book—copies that have the old cover—copies that I hope to claim towards a credit on copies with the new cover. My publishing venture has twenty-four dollars in the bank, none of which is profit after cost. I am eleven hundred in the hole with it from last year, six hundred in the hole from this year. I am tired. I want God. I want a functional, chemically balanced brain. I want to stop feeling like I should smash things. I want God. I want people to read my books—not for my financial gain, not to get me famous, but because my books are true. They are about God and us and nothing more. I want God. I want to go back, or forwards—I am not sure which—to wherever God is.

I guess it is forwards. It’s never back. I know that. I know that.

Music and I

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Music and I broke up around 2010. We had always had a decent relationship, I guess, but it became increasingly apparent that the spark had faded. Since our commitment had never progressed beyond an unspoken “we’ll date—for now,” there was nothing to fall back on when our relationship hit the rocks. That year, I gave to music with a half-hour piano sonata, an album of pop tunes, and a senior composition recital. But music wasn’t giving back to me, and my efforts masked a deeper change that neither music nor I was aware of. Allow me a moment of melodrama: we simply weren’t in love anymore.

Actually, I shouldn’t say we broke up in 2010; we just became emotionally estranged, and I think it happened in 2011 or 2012. Can I change my story as I go? I’m just trying to process this. Music changed herself again (she always did—and that kept it fresh for a long time), offering me a role in an indie art-rock band. It was new and beautiful to play bass in Kairos House. I no longer had to worry about writing for classical instruments in a way that would make performers happy. (The classical world is incredibly provincial. “Not my job” is the prevailing attitude, and it’s most popularly applied to parts for one’s own instrument.) Now, in Kairos House, I could blast the living daylights out of my bass with a cello bow and headbang away my masculine angst. Not playable? Oh, we made it playable. It was loud, and it was fun.

But somehow, it came to an end. Life kept shrinking and needs kept growing. It wasn’t that the sounds of Kairos House didn’t speak to me. They did, but other music didn’t. In 2009, discovering Oceansize and Fleet Foxes had changed my life. In 2010 and 2011, these bands’ new albums should have been amazing. But nothing could match Oceansize’s Frames and Fleet Foxes’ eponymous first album. The muse, ever a fickle mistress, had not quite imbued these new offerings with that glorious golden Something Other. Each album sounded like the band that had made it; and that was the problem.

Addendum: Age of Adz gave me a glimpse of All Things Made New, but it was only a glimpse, and it faded inexplicably. Oh, and summer of 2011, music tried to woo me back with an incredible Bon Iver concert in Chicago. Hearing 2,000 people sing “what might have been lost…” has a way of changing your life. But after a few months of providing glorious sensory stimulation, Bon Iver, Bon Iver began to reveal a lack of spiritual depth. It was pure sensory form without spiritual function. I’d been had.

I was still giving back to music, but the relationship had turned somewhat abusive. Winter of 2010-11, I recorded a short album of morbid pop tunes eclipsed by mechanical noise. I called it Come, My Tired Machine, and never released it. I took music and I beat her with the noise and violence in my heart and head. But even under the bruises, she was beautiful. These are some of the best songs I’ve ever recorded.

By now, I’m sure I’ve thoroughly confused music. I am truly sorry for that—and yet, she’s been sending me mixed messages too. For my part, I never meant her any harm; I just have this recurring fear that if I invest too much in her, my writing will suffer. But oh, how part of me longs to make godawful noise on guitar again. That 50-watt Bandmaster is just gathering dust. Then there are those half-formed ideas of songs from last Fall, mouldering on the same harddrive that holds this Word document. There was something about a train sweeping by, and a lonely slow guitar tuned down to C and overdriven to hell. Yes, I’ll be back. Just give me time.

But even nowadays, the committed musicians in my life have kept me from abandoning music completely. They just keep cranking out good stuff. My fiancee’s cello playing has redeemed me on many a night of emotional sickness. My brother’s album, Strongheart, has spoken to me in ways that nothing has for several years. I absorb these sounds now without feeling the old pressure to Know Exactly What Is Happening or Produce Something Just As Good. And maybe that alone means that music and I will get back together, sometime soon; having grown older, wiser, and a little more cognizant of what we can and can’t do for each other. Maybe it isn’t over after all.

Hey music. How’s it going. I know it’s been a while… is this weird? Yeah, I don’t really know where to start either.

What Is Your Vision?

It’s hard to understand why some people reach a wide audience in creative disciplines, while others toil away year after year in apparent mediocrity. While you have to be in the right place at the right time, and you have to meet people, the last ingredient is the most critical: your vision must be indispensable.

It’s no good hoping to be a famous author if you keep writing things that people don’t need. Everything is an economy, including the world of thought and emotion. People need emotional catharsis and intellectual leading just like they need bread and electricity. And despite the digital revolution, pirating, and the debilitating effect of TV on our ability to think critically and appreciate beauty, people will still pay for emotional and intellectual catharsis. If you are an artist, this is your industry; and it is not at all wrong to think that way. In fact, thinking that way is the only thing that will help you to find an audience who needs your work.

Good writing can lead its readers to new truths of the mind, just like good music can open the sluicegate of the heart to let the tears finally flow. (I know that’s an awful generalization of the function of each, but bear with me.) We are all, to varying degrees, emotionally constipated and intellectually stunted. We are all trying to find the way. If your art is not showing people the way, it is not necessary; and in any economy, that which is not necessary fails.

All right, so your projects aren’t getting off the ground. That’s okay. There’s a lot that goes into creating something and then getting it to people. For many of us, creating is the easy part; the process of getting it to people is strange and complicated–and waking up to the Internet in 2013 makes it even more so. If you aren’t marketing your stuff, no one will know it exists; and an artwork that could change the world yet stays stashed in the basement will remain stashed in the basement. So the next paragraph is not about artworks that have failed due to a lack of appropriate marketing.

This is going to be hard to hear. But listen. If people aren’t responding, if they aren’t excited, if you don’t see at least a little good that your art has done for others, you might want to sit down and reevaluate what you’re doing. What is your vision? Were you given one, or did you invent one? Are you a conduit of something from beyond yourself, or are you trumpeting the fact of yourself? Are you preaching the fact of Other to others, or are you preaching the fact of yourself to yourself? Do you want to be a vessel of beauty, or do you want to be a rock star? The world needs beauty more than ever, but we have enough rock stars. They’re on stage tonight at every black-painted dive bar in every Nowhere, USA.

The digital revolution and the rise of indie culture have redefined success for everyone who creates things. But the fact remains: if what you create is necessary, and you tell the people who need it that it exists, it will find some type of success. If it is not necessary, it will fail. This is because people need things. They need bread and water and beauty. Think long and hard about this; and if you still turn out to be an artist, go out and let beauty flow through you.