Five More Songs

5.

It seems to me now that
I want to feel it on my flesh the way
I feel it in my mind,
A gentle breeze of light to caress
My disdainfully neglected skin
Just as the timeless waves of
The universe
Have endlessly caressed my mind.
I want to see it in front of me
Suspended in the air
That’s so cryptically and
Painfully full of
Raw existence, life,
Sensual and
All around.
And if seeing it kills it
For me
I simply do not care –
One momentary glimpse will sustain
Me for all of eternity
And beyond

4.

The goddess that lives inside my chest
My anima, perhaps,
Informs me that there’s a strand
Of meaning
That ties together the
Bewildering
Uncountable mass
Of the outside solid world.
A million strands of meaning,
Perhaps,
For every speck of dust and sand
For every flower and lion
Tied together
Inseparably
By a million strands of meaning,
Life,
Of wonder to exist,
A million strands of meaning,
Of knowing without seeing,
Of feeling how this world contains
Surely infinite strands of meaning
Flowing through
The all around perceptible
Entangled with my heart

3.

Feeling transmuted into sight
The things that inhabit my dreams
What mad mad magic process
What certainly fictional alchemy

Feeling turned to flesh, to touch
To sensing all around
But not my body, not yours, not together,
Not what exists, as it exists,
As though that’s all there is

Feeling rendered physical, made real
Let time be damned
And all that she holds behind her back,
Behind her where we cannot see
Whatever it is she hides,
Behind her where time is something
Entirely different
That we cannot understand

Feeling made solid
Feeling made real
Feeling that creates entire worlds
Out of worlds that already
Exist
Somewhere else
Invisible, as of yet unseen

2.

I’m searching
In frustration
For a means of encoding worldly potential
Not of that which is real, exactly,
And neither of that which is abstract,
But of that which is on the edge of
Being tangible
What will be real one second from now,
One instant from now,
After the next infinitely small tick of the
Universal clock
But it’s vast, that information,
And the children of Aleph and Beth are
No longer able to serve us in this task,
Too mired are they in the detail before the subservient whole
Too mired in what might be, derived from what was,
Unsuited to what will be, born of what seemed.
Far too unwieldy
To catch even part of the swirling sensory
Just waiting there to be
Made visible and understood
And seen for what it truly is,
Which for now is but a feeling —
An achingly sensual feeling
Frustratingly out of reach

1.

Oh, hey, I know this feeling
This intensity
This energy
This excitement
It feels like I’m just at the edge
Almost up to the very edge
Of an insight, profound,
Of an alignment,
Of a realization of
Something I could never
Previously see.
I can feel it waiting for me
Beckoning me
From inside its cloudy amorphous form
But always before, in the past,
Every time
I have felt like this
It has never arrived like I expect it
In a dazzling flash of light,
Of clarity divine,
Instead
There has always been a crash in between
A bitter unmerciful crash in between
But
Whatever,
I’ll just ride it for a while
And see what comes my way

Thirty-Four Songs for Which I Have Not yet Composed a Melody

34.

I think that my new favorite pronoun
Is “you”
— I like to say “you” quite a lot —
And partly that’s because often
When I say the word “you”
I mean all of you
I mean everyone
I mean the whole entire world
And as of somewhat recently
I also include myself in that
All of everyone
So I guess you could say that
When I say “you”
What I often mean
Is “we”

And then on the other hand
When I say “I”
(And I have to admit that
I like the pronoun “I”
Quite a lot as well —
I find myself saying “I”
Quite a lot)
But when I say “I”
What I want to mean is “you” as well
And I want to mean “we” as well
But when I say “I”
I say “I” about things
That I only know to be
True — or at least mostly true —
About me, or in my own life
Because I cannot see all of the things
That you see
I cannot see all
Of the things inside of your mind
But when I say “I”
I do hope that someone out there
Will say
“Yes, that is true for me as well!”
Or “Yes, I experience that, too!”
Or “Yes, I feel that way, too!”
And so when I say “I”
It is often
(Though, let’s be realistic
Not always)
It is often an invitation of sorts
Because I like to talk
About things
That no one likes
To talk about
But maybe someone else out there,
Given the right encouragement,
Might like to talk about
Those things, too
And I’ll go first if you don’t want to
I’m happy to say it first
I just want it to be said at all

33.

Only now after all of this time
After Modernity has died
Only now can we turn
To our left and see all the way around
To our right
Around the circle of time
Only now can we do this
— no longer blind —
Without forcing another
To stand in between and
To fill in the gap where we cannot see
Without forcing another to be
Our master or servant or lover
Only now that we can
See around the circle of time
Only now can we truly be equal
Because each of sees along
A slightly different path
Providing each other
— without fear, without need —
A missing perspective
But whose lack does not
Diminish us in the way it once did
Because now we are complete
And now we can see
The Humanity of
Ourselves
And of each other

32.

Our skin is just the boundary
Between the future and the past
Where this thing that I call “I”
Is the past
Inside of this thing that I call “me”
And this thing that I call “you”
Is the future that lies outside —
The future grown together
Which only all of us
In concert
Can unwind
And then move inside
Across this barrier
This skin
That separates
The future from the past
When “we” shall become “I”
And then another “we”
We all must find

31.

The way out is to die
Though I do not mean literally
For we may ever so briefly
Visit the place
That might be called death
But if we do so
Only in our minds
And not with our bodies
Oh, then!
Oh then what life should arise!
What life on the other side of death,
Be it only in our minds!

30.

I fell back in
Because
I wanted to know why
Suddenly
This all felt so good
And
Could all the old habits
Be better
And okay
When seen through these new
Eyes?

But no, I see,
The answer is no

I made a deal with you
My lord, my lady,
Though I continue to pretend
That I can find a way
Out
To go back to what
I used to do
Because! don’t you see?
I have such a larger perspective now
You gave that to me
You helped me to see
So can’t I just use that gift
To do those things inside of me
That I used to do?
Those things for which
I did not need – nor want! – anyone’s help
Nor any ideas but my own
Can I not do that now in peace?
But no, I see, the answer is no
You strike at me with this sadness
And irritability
Therefore, weary, I concede
I must do as you say
I must go out and
Feel your joy
After all, we made a deal, you and I
We made a deal
And — oh!
Oh yes! there it is,
Oh yes! there’s that feeling again
Oh yes!
Now I remember why
Why we made this deal

29.

You showed me your face a million times before
With my eyes wide open
Or shut closed tight
You showed me your face so many times
But I could never see
It never once occurred to me

That the reason I could not break the glass
Could not reach you on the other side
Was because the window was a mirror
It never once occurred to me
That the face I was seeing was my own
How could it possibly be?

For it was beautiful, that face
It hurt me physically to see
And I knew — simply knew! —
That no such beauty had I inside of me
Although somehow now
It appears that I was wrong

And yet I am no more than a man
And no great man by any means
Simply a man who feels and feels and feels.
A child of this universe
Like anyone else
And so if this beauty lies in me
Then I promise you this:
It lies in you as well

28.

Always before when my blood would run hot
Like this
When my head would buzz with
Exhilaration and excitement
Like this
Sensing the eternal unseen
Always before when it felt like this
So, too, it felt desperate
And beyond my reach
So unattainable
So far away
Never to be found
But not now!
But not now!
But not now!
Because now it feels light
It feels here
It feels present, all around
It feels like there’s nothing left for me to do
But let it wash over me
It feels like home

27.

I’m pretty sure that what happens
When I speak
Is not the thing that I want to happen
When I speak

When I speak what I want is not
That you’ll hear that I think that I’m right
And that I’m trying to tell you that I’m right
And that you should believe that I’m right

No

When I speak, what I want is
That you will hear that you are
Strong and that you are valuable and
That you matter

But it seems that that’s not how
My words sound to you
Though maybe if I keep trying
Maybe one day I’ll get it right

26.

We are pushed around this life
By forces we neither
See nor understand
And so we tell ourselves stories
Called science or religion
Or whatever came before
Which capture none of the
Utter grandness and mystery
That surrounds us every moment of our lives
And yet these stories are useful,
For these stories,
While incomplete,
Give us something to hold,
A place to rest
Momentarily
As we struggle forward
Through this seemingly endless
Task called life
As we’re bludgeoned by forces
Neither seen nor understood
Set adrift on wild currents
Neither seen nor understood

25.

I can pretend to be helpless
I can pretend to be weak
I can pretend that I need you
To tell me what’s best for me
I can pretend that I need
You to do the things I cannot do
For myself

But I assure you
Oh! I assure you
That that’s not me
That’s not what I need.
What I need is
Or rather want is
For you to feel safe
For you to feel whatever you
Need to feel so you don’t
Feel so out of control
So you don’t feel so scared
And so you don’t use your
Greater size and strength against me
Or so you don’t withdraw your love

I can pretend, though,
And I can make you believe
And maybe I can almost
Believe it myself
But it’s not the truth
And we all know it
We’ve known it all along
That I’m lying sonofabitch
But now
Finally now
But now I’m saying it
Out loud

24.

The future precedes the past
As the present hurls itself forward
In a way that no one yet
Knows how to predict,
And what we call the past
Is simply the trace left behind by
That act

Or maybe for you it’s different
Maybe for you the past does
Rightly occur first
And this could only be true
If time does not exist at all, and
Then what we perceive as time
Is simply a matter of how
Slowly we measure the
Traces of what we call the future
And what we call the past

23.

Turn your face
Toward both
Your future and your past
Look upon both
Your love and upon your hate

Look all the way ‘round the
Circle of time, and then
Travel back around from the opposite side
For I feel quite certain
That you will like it, you’ll find

I should warn you though
That in order to do so
You are required to die
In a metaphorical way, of course
But I’m absolutely certain
That you will like it, you’ll find

22.

The despair in you
Is a sign
From the gods
You’re being asked
To give up
All that you think you ought to love
Because by now it is tinged more
With fear than with love —
A fear driven by need and
A fear of loss
But if you let it go
It will return
Once again with an
Overwhelming transcendent
Joy
For that is the sublime,
And despair is the
Gate through which you must pass.
It won’t be easy
It won’t be fast
And you cannot do it all on your own
You must walk through your hatred
Of yourself
That you try to keep hidden inside.
But on the other side
Of all your despair —
O! On the other side!

21.

At the end of everything
When everything is gone
When nothing remains at all
And all you can see before you
Is infinite loss
Take but one small step beyond
I promise you, there
Beyond the edge
Is all of everything and
Even more
So much more
Than everything you’ve ever known

20.

None of the words that I write
And none of the words that
Come out of my mouth
Have much of any meaning at all
They’re simply building blocks
On which to hang this other thing
This other thing
That I want you to see

I don’t expect you to interpret my
Words
Or to feel
What it felt for me
To write them down
But maybe — just maybe —
As a vehicle for what
I actually mean,
That thing that I actually mean,
Maybe you can feel what it
Means to me
Maybe you can feel
A little bit of what I feel
Because what I feel
Is explosive wonder
And I desperately want to share
It with you

19.

Water could you let me move along
A little closer home
For I’m growing so very cold
I know you have so much to tell me
Though I’m growing so very cold

But no, it’s alright
Do tell me, please,
What it is that you need me to hear
I like to listen
It feels amazing
This sense of not urgency
But something like it
This sense of
Feeling the world flow
Through me
If I only let it
Just, perhaps, let me stop freezing
For only a minute
I’m not going anywhere

18.

I remember walking alone at night
The wintry sky orange
Reflecting city lights
Alone and cold
On my way to read about
Things I would never do
And people I would never be
Listening to Tori
And thinking it was good
That I was cold, good
That I hurt, good
That I hated the failure of a person that I already was

So long ago but still I remember
And now I can barely feel my hands
As I try to write these words down.
So many years later now
I don’t think it’s good that my
Fingers hurt from this cold
It’s just an interesting fact
About this single moment in time
As I listen to David and hear the
Frigid waves crash against
The rocky shore

I can only explain it by contrast
I can only explain by
Comparing
Because this joy I feel now
Even with my increasingly
Frozen hands
This joy I feel now
Could never have become
So powerful
Without the pain and
Self hatred that came before
And so, yeah, maybe it
Was good so long ago
When you were
Walking all alone
Beneath a too cold wintry sky
Listening to Tori
And thinking you
Deserved to be hurting the way that you did
And just because you were wrong then
Doesn’t make me
Love you any less now
Now
Now
No
My god
I love you so much more

17.

Every single one of us
Is born holding a gift
That we are meant to give away
If we can but find the means to give it

Some of us are fortunate and
Carry a gift that the world already understands
That the world is ready to accept

While others of us
Carry something no one seems to
Understand
And when we try to give you our
Gift, which is to say,
When we try to say I love you
All the world hears
Is “I hate you”
As though my gift
Repudiates yours
It does not
It does not
You fucking asshole
My gift does not
Make yours any less valuable
You fucking asshole

I tried to give you my gift
I tried to say I love you
But you hit me
Over and over
And demanded
The stupid gift that I could
Pretend to have
That I could pretend to give
Until it nearly killed me

But it didn’t
It didn’t kill me
It killed that fake thing
That fake giver of fake gifts
And now
And now and now
Well
Now I’m here

16.

I will not complete you
Don’t even ask me to try
You might not understand
Why I’m saying this but
Maybe someday you’ll
Realize

Whether you know it or not
You do not need me to hold
Your hand
Because you are strong
And you are wise
You are already complete
On your own

I simply want to see you smile
That particular kind of smile
I want to see that you know
How perfect you are
Either with or without me
You’re already perfect
Exactly as you are

Do you see that you are perfect
Exactly as you already are?

I hope that you can see
That you are perfect
Exactly as you already are

15.

The only things now worth knowing
In this human era being born
Cannot actually be known
And it’s such a jarring change
From all that we’ve discovered and
Known, and needed to know,
For many hundreds of years

But now the only things
That have any real worth
Are those things that we must believe
Without knowing
Without touching
Without measuring
Or certainty of any kind

But I’m not talking about faith
In the way we’ve always heard it before
We’re not returning to
Religion barbaric
And social conformity
Violently enforced

We are not called upon
To subjugate our unique expressive selves
To some higher purpose, so-called,
Invented by someone else
And policed by those who are terrified
About this world and others in it
Who are not the same as us

For it is difference itself
In which we now must believe
And trust
And love —
I am not safe because you are like me
And we can stand together against those
Who are not like us.
Instead
I am alive and I am strong
Because we are different, you and I,
So very different, you and I,
And I can see myself now because
I can see you
And I hope that you can see yourself
And love yourself
Just a little more now
Reflected in my eyes

14.

Annie was playing
Alone on the stage
And she wouldn’t tell us
The story of the prince

Maybe she didn’t understand
How much it would have
Meant to me
Or maybe it didn’t make
Sense
Between proposals
And birthday songs

But all of that’s okay
Because I remember
As I watched her
— just three rows back, a bit to the left —
A voice in my head
Spoke out to me and said:
I want to make people feel this way

Of course I did not believe the voice
Because it did not make any sense —
I cannot do what she does,
Her work is not mine

But I honestly believe that the purpose of
Every artist is to create
Another artist
And if I’m right about that
If that has any truth at all
Then maybe I am a son
To someone
To so very many someones
And Annie would surely be
One of those someones

13.

I wanted a drug
That I could synthesize
In my own brain
Just by thinking
And just by feeling
And I became afraid that I would
Actually figure out how
And become addicted
To this new drug
And that’s exactly what happened
I found the drug
And it feels so amazing
My god
It feels amazing
And I want you
To get hooked on it too
And I named my drug
And I named it gratitude
And life
And like edward says
I named it this gift called
Dying born
And it’s music
And it’s you

12.

I’m not looking to be your lover
Not that the idea holds no appeal
For me
I think I’d probably like it a lot
But that’s not what I’m trying to do
That’s not what I want from you

It’s so much more than even that
More than you could ever imagine
More intimate and raw and alive
You probably wouldn’t even know
For sure
Exactly what we’ve done
Without a single touch
But I think that you’ll smile
And I think that you’ll feel
As though the world is
Just a little brighter now
And maybe you’ll believe
In yourself just a little more
I’d like it if you could

I don’t want to possess you
In any way at all
Nor be possessed by you either
I just want to touch you
With my mind and with my soul
While we both remain free
To stay or to go our own way
However we decide

I want you to love me
Knowing you already have my
Love, freely given,
And I want you to know
That if you do choose to love me
Then the love that you will feel is
Really for yourself

I can’t imagine that
You could possibly understand
I don’t even know myself
Entirely what I’m trying to say
Even if I’m the one
Who’s saying these things
To you

But I really hope that you’ll smile
And I hope that you’ll feel
As though the world is
Just a little brighter now
And maybe you’ll believe
In yourself just a little more
I’d love it if you could

11.

We cling to the past
Because it contains
Answers to
Questions asked
So long ago
As to be meaningless
And yet not only
Are there no answers to
New questions
There are not even
New questions
That apply to life as it
Now is
And so we pretend
And demand that others pretend
As though we live a thousand years
In the past
While refusing even to
Consider that the answers
Discovered in those times
No longer hold any
Relevance
In our confusing
Post-Modern age

10.

The goal that each of us is given
Is to learn to sow the seeds
Of our own destruction
And of our own downfall
And then to rise again
With far greater awareness
And understanding
So that we may create for ourselves
A more beautiful and more loving
New reality, itself to be torn down
Eventually
By its own final catastrophe
And so on and so forth
Until such time as we
No longer within us have life

But fear not, for humanity
Will continue the cycle beyond ours
Until such time as humanity itself no longer exists
Or rather,
And this is important,
Until such time as humanity has become something very much like
Angels
Which is how this certainly ends
For we are angels in waiting
We are angels in training
We are learning to become
Immortal
It will simply take some time.
More time for sure than you or I have
But not more time than we have
Really not too much time at all
No
Not too much time at all

9.

I am now too old
To have enough time
Or mental or physical ability
To ever become great
At any new endeavor that
I might think to undertake.
I am currently learning to sing.
But however much I learn
I will never be a great singer
Though I expect a competent one
I will never play an instrument
With virtuosity
I will never be a great poet
Or dancer
Or comedian
Or businessman for that matter
And so then what does that leave me
Now that all that I have done
Throughout my entire adult life
Leaves me feeling nothing but empty and bored?
I can’t start over
It’s much too late for that

Or is it?

Who says that I must be great?
Who says that, barred from greatness,
I am a failure?
Or lesser than?
What if instead, barred from greatness,
I am now the freest man who has ever
Lived?
What if, knowing that greatness
Cannot be my goal,
Can never be mine,
Something else must drive me
Must motivate me
What else could that be?
What could replace striving
Towards mastery?
What could possibly be as significant?

Well I think I know the answer
Because I can feel the answer
I feel it in my very bones
And the answer is no more than this,
A silly little word that no one takes
Very seriously any more
The answer is simply:

Fun

I can have fun
I can play
And I can feel joy

I could do none of this before
When I sought perfection (which
Of course I never attained)
Or when I sought expertise (which
I might or might not have attained)
But which felt like nothing more than
Hollowness and hunger for
Something more

I will never be great at anything
That I now try to do
And that is freedom itself
For no one can tell me that I will fail
And no one can tell me that
I don’t have what it takes
No one can tell me I’ll never
Make it to the top
Because I already know that to be true
And I cannot bring myself to care

I can still sing
For no other reason than
Because
It tears my heart open with joy to sing

I can finally do what I could never do
Before, when all I could see to
Measure was the quality of my
Performance in the eyes of the world

But now
Oh! now!
Now I can do whatever it is that I choose to do
Simply because I love to do it
Now I can feel love for the things that I do
And I can feel love for myself
While doing it
And because of that
I can feel love for you
In a way that I could never feel
Love for you or me before
Because now I understand
All that I never understood before
And what I understand is this:
Greatness means nothing
Compared to love

8.

I know that I am the star of my own story
But also that you are the star of your own
So what can that mean for us?
How can we both be the star?
How can we share the spotlight?
How can this be all about me
While at the same time being all about you?
Of course
I think that’s the wrong question
And I think it’s not too difficult
To understand
I think that we simply too often
Assume that there can be only one story
With one hero, one star
Or that a story is the end, the ultimate goal
But your story, together with my story,
Is but a beginning.
Life begins where our stories end
And then
What comes after that
Now
That’s what fascinates me
That’s what I want to explore
Because that
I’m certain
Is what it means
To be alive

7.

Always now I am alive because with me
You share the tiniest hints,
Whether you mean to or not,
Of your darkest feelings
And your greatest joys

I know that I am alive
Because I can see that
You are alive
And I can feel that you are alive
And feeling that
And knowing that
I know that I will never again feel
The unbearable sorrow of being alone

Just knowing that you are alive
Knowing that
Even if I know nothing more
Knowing that
I know that I am alive

6.

It does not matter
Whether by chance or by destiny
Or as decreed by some unseeable god
The simple fact is that we exist
And, because we exist, we are now
Inextricable parts of
This universe.
It does not matter why we exist,
Only that we do.
We matter
Because we exist
And that is all
And that is everything

5.

We’re flirting with
Tribalism because
Our bodies know —
Somewhere deep down
Inside of us we know
That the future is far more communal
Than this individualistic cult
In which we currently live
And even if we don’t know it
In a fully conscious way
Even if we can’t put it into words
Even still our bodies know
And our spirits know
Because as human beings we
Are gifted with
An attunement to the universe
And cursed with a mental separation
That keeps that attunement
From becoming awareness
From becoming knowledge
But maybe if we’re very quiet
Maybe we can hear it whisper to us
Or maybe if we’re very loud
And don’t censor ourselves
Maybe then in the unintended words
That slip from our mouths despite
Our attempts to control what we say
Maybe in those words we
Can hear some part of the truth
If only we pay attention

4.

The tall grim buildings
Silhouettes against the
Far too early setting winter sun
Warm yellow lights inside
Scattered haphazardly
About the facade

And across the way
Some in single file
Moving west
To the place they keep the planes
When they’re not in the sky
A mass of jets
Their lights like Venus at dusk
Reflecting in streaks
On the dark nearly motionless lake

And then flood waters on the beach
Beneath the sodium lights
In front of my home
And sand barriers erected to protect
From the coming vicious waves
The waters higher than they’ve
Been for over thirty years
And yet placid tonight
Hardly moving at all
No
Hardly moving at all

3.

It feels so untethered out here
In the world of physical sensation
So impermanent
So uncertain
So incomplete
And so alive

2.

You needed
To be away
My son
You needed
To feel alone

You needed
To feel abandoned
You needed
To yearn for more

You needed
To be angry with me
You needed
To fight free

You needed
To want me with unquenchable desire
You needed
To break free

You needed
To discover me all on your own
You needed
To find your home

I’m sorry you felt
That I had abandoned you
But I swear I was here
All along

Even though I was not to be seen

And you needed to hate me
Like you hated no other before.
Though you always sensed my presence
You needed to want me gone
For only in my death could you
Find me —
I am your Sehnsucht
I am what stands between
You and the infinite.
With me you are timeless
But only in the time-free
Non-moment when your
Hatred for me kills us both
And we find each other
At last
When in that eternal instant
You see my face
Which is yours since before
You were born

1.

I opened the door to my body
And just as quickly
Closed it again
Valiantly I fought
To regain control
When you started to show
The hidden brilliance that
You might possibly hold
I loved it
I loved you
But maybe I was still afraid
Maybe like always
I wanted you to remain
Safely in the future
So I put you back in the drawer
Until maybe now
Maybe now?
I hope now
I hope I have the strength
To feel your joy
And you
So patient
You
Just waiting
Hello

Sibyl, Kurt, and I (Variation 17)

I found out a few years ago that shortly after László Moholy-Nagy’s death from leukemia, his second wife, Sibyl, wrote his biography titled Moholy-Nagy: Experiment in Totality. It seems to be out of print now, but luckily the Chicago Public Library has a copy which I borrowed and devoured. I don’t read many biographies, but this one was striking: there are no words or passages to which I could directly point as evidence, but throughout the book, perhaps hidden in the blank spaces between letters and lines, there is a pervasive and overwhelming sense of love and loss and tenderness. I found it extremely effective — perhaps the key to a moving biography is to make sure that the author loves the person about whom they’re writing.

O du, Geliebte meiner siebenundzwanzig Sinne, ich
liebe dir! -- Du deiner dich dir, ich dir, du mir.
-- Wir?

In recounting the life of her late husband, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy ended up introducing me to the Dada artist and poet Kurt Schwitters, with whom I had previously been unfamiliar, despite his being, as it turns out, the topic of the Brian Eno song ‘Kurt’s Rejoinder’, which I had already heard quite a number of times. In the background can be heard bits of Schwitters reciting his ‘Ursonate’ sound poem. Perhaps it’s not as famous as the Talking Heads’ transformation of Hugo Ball’s ‘Gadji beri bimba’ into the song ‘I Zimbra’, but I nevertheless developed a new appreciation for it.

O thou, beloved of my twenty-seven senses, I
love to thee! -- Thou thy thee to thee, I to thee, thou to me.
-- We?

There is a passage in Experiment in Totality which describes an official government press banquet attended by Moholy, Sibyl, and Kurt Schwitters on the eve of the “great diaspora” of artists and intellectuals from National Socialist Germany. Moholy had been personally invited by Futurist artist F. T. Marinetti, who was by then Italy’s minister of cultural affairs and had been brought to Berlin as a gesture on the part of Hitler as he strengthened his alliance with Mussolini. It was Schwitters who convinced Moholy to go, despite the latter’s reluctance. At this time, according to Sibyl:

Ô tu, beloved meiner siebenundzwanzig senses, I
aime to thee! -- Tu thy toi dir, I à toi, tu mir.
-- Nous?

“Kurt was profoundly worried about the political tide. His rebellious days were over. At forty-six he wanted to be left unmolested, enjoying a secure income from his real estate and typographical work, and puttering away on his gigantic MERZ plastic, a sculpture of compound forms which extended from a corner of his studio through two stories of his house, winding in and out of doors and windows, and curling around a chimney on the roof. There was nothing he dreaded more than emigration. He died a broken man in England in 1948.”

O tu, bien-aimée meiner siebenundzwanzig sens, I
aime dir! -- Du ton dich dir, ich to thee, tu to me.
-- We?

Near the end of the banquet, in order to break the tension in a room containing many a high ranking SS officer, along with a number of revolutionary artists of the kind the SS were already beginning to imprison, a politically immune Marinetti launched into a spirited recitation of his Dada poem ‘The Raid on Adrianople’, at the culmination of which he fell to the floor, “pulling [a] tablecloth downward, wine, food, plates, and silverware pouring into the laps of the notables.” A drunken Schwitters reacted:

O du, beloved de mes vingt-sept senses, j'aime
to thee! -- Du ton dich dir, ich dir, du à moi.
-- Wir?

“Schwitters had jumped up at the first sound of the poem. Like a horse at a familiar sound the Dadaist in him responded to the signal. His face flushed, his mouth open, he followed each of Marinetti’s moves with his own body. In the momentary silence that followed the climax his eyes met Moholy’s.
“‘Oh, Anna Blume,’ he whispered, and suddenly breaking out into a roar that drowned the din of protesting voices and scraping chair legs, he thundered:
Oh, Anna Blume
Du bist von hinten wie von vorn
A-n-n-a

O thou, bien-aimée of my siebenundzwanzig sens, ich
liebe à toi! -- Du deiner toi to thee, je à toi, du to me.
-- Nous?

I was entirely unfamiliar with the poem ‘An Anna Blume’, but I did make sure to read it soon thereafter. I find it simply devastating the way that Sibyl Moholy-Nagy was able to capture Schwitters’ anguish over the loss of what he and his fellow artists had been able to accomplish since the end of the first World War. In the larger scheme of the Nazi rise to power, this might be a small and minor event, but in its quietness it carries a terrible and powerful foreboding and hopelessness, a crushing of the will. Surely that is a necessary first step in the kind of barbarism that the National Socialists were able to perpetrate.

Ô thou, Geliebte meiner siebenundzwanzig senses, ich
aime à toi! -- Tu ton thee à toi, I dir, tu mir.
-- Nous?

That episode became even more poignant when I later encountered a statement that Schwitters had made in 1930, in which he realigned the beginning of his own personal artistic revolution to coincide with the end of World War I and the beginning of the Weimar Republic:

O du, bien-aimée meiner siebenundzwanzig sens, I
love à toi! -- Tu deiner toi dir, je dir, tu à moi.
-- Wir?

“I felt myself freed and had to shout my jubilation out to the world. Out of parsimony I took whatever I could find to do this, because we were now an impoverished country. One can even shout with refuse, and this is what I did, nailing and gluing it together. I called it ‘Merz,’ it was a prayer about the victorious end of the war, victorious as once again peace had won in the end; everything had broken down in any case and new things had to be made out of the fragments; and this is Merz.”

AN ANNA BLUME

Merzgedicht I

O du, Geliebte meiner siebenundzwanzig Sinne, ich
liebe dir! -- Du deiner dich dir, ich dir, du mir.
-- Wir?

...

La dissolution des mots

I have always found it challenging to write about both my software work and about my evolving philosophical notions, the latter I think primarily because those ideas are still so amorphous. For quite some time, though, I thought that my reluctance to discuss my software art was entirely due to anxiety over it not being good enough, and indeed that might be a factor. However, I also now realize that past attempts have ended up merely being descriptions of my software as something that already exists, as a sort of linear history of how I got to where I am, and to be honest, I find that type of thing to be mind-numbingly boring. A while back I claimed that I only care to write when it seems likely that doing so could lead to some kind of epiphany or catharsis, and writing about facts and details absolutely does not do that for me. Nevertheless, I have recently made efforts to explore some of my philosophical ideas, even if I’ve done so in a decidedly non-academic way, and I haven’t found myself entirely dissatisfied with the results. So maybe it’s time to try again to discuss my software.

From the moment my father brought home an IBM PC Jr one day when I was 9 years old and I discovered simple commands in BASIC that would allow me to place colors on the screen, to create imagery with my mind and a keyboard instead of with a paintbrush and manual dexterity, I was hooked. Always since then programming itself has been nothing but a basis, a mere foundation for my true purpose, which has been to create beauty. Or perhaps it’s not beauty I sought, but simply an esthetic outcome, which might mean that I have in fact always strived to be an esthetic researcher. Programming itself is interesting, to be sure, but it is nothing more than a tool that I have hoped would one day allow me to show you the awe and wonder I feel about the simple fact of being alive as a human being, and perhaps that is what the technological sublime is all about. However, that goal has forever remained just beyond my reach.

There’s nothing very advanced about my software art, if that’s even the right word for it. It’s based on just about the simplest possible generative algorithm, something that everyone starts with but then quickly abandons because it’s been done to death. It’s a variation on John Conway’s Game of Life, but also heavily influenced by Brian Eno’s ideas about what ambient music is and can be. But that’s all just something of scaffolding, something to give it a minimum of shape and form, so that it be visible at all, because I have discovered that I have tremendous difficulty with form itself, which is also why I eventually gave up my nearly decade long obsession with architecture. However, I am ultimately satisfied with that being the case, because that distant thing I have in my mind is itself entirely shapeless and without form.

In my opinion there are two enormous limitations to the Game of Life in its original form. First, it only has two states – on and off – though, yes, there are variations such as the Generations algorithm which adds a series of steps between on and off, a place to add a color gradient for some added interest. The second problem is that at its core it’s just a grid, a checkerboard. The edges are too harsh and rectilinear, and blinking the squares on and off is too staccato and jarring. But if one blurs the edges, which Leo Villareal has done with frosted plexiglass in front of LEDs, or which I have ended up doing by treating the colors on the checkerboard as points in a cubic NURBS surface, then it starts to become more serene. And if the changes that happen over time, as the cells turn on and off and pass through intermediate stages, happen slowly and traverse smooth (that is, C1 or C2 continuous) color gradients, then it starts to become even more serene yet. Finally, another lesson I learned from Villareal is that it is preferable not to show the entire checkerboard, but instead to zoom in on a small section of it. But that’s all I have. Blobs of color fading in and out. Sometimes I think, oh, that’s kind of nice. Once, exactly once, something caught in my throat as I was playing around with it, and I thought, holy shit, that thing came out of me! But then it was gone.

John Conway’s Game of Life, along with my variations, are a class of algorithms called Cellular Automata. “Cellular” basically just means the squares on the checkerboard. It could also be hexagons or any other shape that tiles. “Automaton” just means it runs without ongoing intervention by a user. Quite frankly, I don’t give a shit about any of that. I haven’t the slightest interest in any of the numerous mathematical properties of cellular automata and their so-called “emergent” properties. It’s awesome if other people care about that, but it’s also awesome if I care about the things that I care about, and math and technology and even programming do not really count among those things. Which is exceptionally weird, considering that they make up the core of what I am proposing is my real work.

One characteristic of Cellular Automata is that there needs to be a starting pattern of cells turned on and off on the grid. There isn’t any specific pattern that’s necessary, but different patterns can sometimes have significant effects on how the grid evolves over time. I choose animation parameters that are not very interesting mathematically, but instead that keep the whole thing from collapsing to a state where all the cells are either stuck in the off position or in a simple stable pattern that can no longer change among more than a few states. As a result I can be rather flexible in choosing my initial state, but I do still need to choose something. From the very beginning I had no interest in doing something like drawing a circle or a squiggle or just generating random numbers to choose which cells should start out in which state. At some point I decided that an image of black-and-white text would be absolutely perfect. Words — words would be the basis, the starting point. And from the very beginning my idea was that those words would eventually be the words of others, short quotes from the poets and musicians and authors that have been such an inspiration to me throughout my life. It would be my homage to them, a thank you letter for all that they have meant to me.

However, the starting patterns for my animations are typically not visible. Even if they can be seen for a brief moment, they still always quickly disappear as the algorithm runs. And so I have a mantra that keeps reverberating in my head – “la dissolution des mots” (“the dissolution of words”, in French because it uses a different part of my brain than my native English). It’s a similar theme to Millie quoting Lessing’s “Read in my eyes all that which I cannot say to you” (originally in German). It’s about the things that exist beyond the ability of words to express, or at least the ability of my words to express. But for me, it seems, words are the foundation, the respite, the fortification. They are the, or a, sine qua non of my real work, but they do not seem to be my real work itself.

And yet all of the above is only part of what it is that I’m actually doing with my software. I’ve described what might be considered the final product, but ninety percent if not more of the time that I spend writing software has very, very little to do with that final product directly. For some reason, I keep holding that outcome at arms length, forever writing and rewriting lower level components. And in fact, what I’m really working on is something perhaps best described as a Photoshop or After Effects (though not even remotely as complex) that I can use to create and edit animations that then run using the algorithm described above.

Perhaps I can’t go quite so far as to fully agree with Paul Valéry’s assertion that the final artistic product is nothing more than a “precious excrement”, when instead the work of creating it is all that has any real meaning. And yet that is how I have been treating my programming work. All of my focus has been on creating software that will allow me to produce and modify these animations with utter simplicity and ease. For example, don’t like that color? No problem, there’s a slider to adjust it immediately. No need to stop the animation, tweak the underlying code, recompile, and run it again. That latter process is something I could do almost from the very beginning, and yet it was deeply unsatisfying and frustrating. The delay between thinking of modifications and seeing their results was simply unacceptable to me. One could say in Boydian terms that my OODA loop was not nearly tight enough.

And so I’ve been working on my editing software, which itself has shown itself not to be the end of the recursion. I had a version working nearly three years ago. It didn’t do everything I wanted it to do, and it was ugly to look at, but it did work. And yet I keep rewriting it. Over and over, one component at a time, down and up the hierarchy of systems, components, sub-components, etc. It makes no sense. It’s maddening, and yet I believe that this type of work is exactly what I should be doing. Perhaps the end product, if I assume that the end product is a visible animation, is indeed nothing more than a precious excrement. But I also recognized at one point that the end product is most likely not that at all, but instead is me or at least my world view.

Debates rage among software developers about what is the one true way to write all software. This is of course the wrong question. It arises from the same exhaustion of internal Subject that plagues all aspects of society, and from the same Verneinung or doubling-down on the belief that there must – simply must! – exist one core, underlying, unquestionable idea, to build upon which every product can be successfully elaborated. But software and the tooling around it is one of the most effective tools that humanity has ever conceived for modeling and testing hierarchies of concepts, even if it has instead typically been used in order to create “products” that we then try (yet ultimately fail) to reason about in terms of the types of products that we’ve been building since the Industrial Revolution. That latter practice almost works, or at the very least a great many people have become extremely wealthy in attempting to do so. But a software “product” is obviously not a car or a dishwasher.

In fact it seems to make little sense even to use the term “product”, by which we mean external Object, in describing what software is, can be, or should be. I’m far from the first person to suggest that software is something like a far more complex form of human, that is spoken or written, language. Yes, one can readily imagine a “language product”, like a book, but is that really what language is or has traditionally been? I hardly think it would be controversial or even insightful to claim that language has traditionally been used as a tool by which to describe, clarify, or illuminate how life works, how it should work, or how it can work better. Epic poems of antiquity (be brave!), sermons (be virtuous!), medieval Everyman stories (follow the rules!), Boy Scout guide books, etc. Language is obviously about communication and explanation, though of course we can still sell the printed or digital versions of collections of words for a profit, that is, as a “product”, and I won’t argue that it is unreasonable to do so.

But words and language obviously don’t in and of themselves do anything. They can incite action, to be sure, but they don’t really do anything in the active, Get Shit Done, external Object sense. And so perhaps software shouldn’t be expected to do that kind of work either, or at least not always. 

Hierarchies in the sense of Commons et al’s General Model of Hierarchical Complexity (GMHC) have very clear ties to the way one tends to create software hierarchies wherein lines of code form functions, grouped together to create subcomponents, themselves making up components, out of which sub-systems, systems, and then programs are built. Consequently, the GMHC’s associated dialectic of stage change, that is, the process of vertically elaborating the next higher level in the hierarchy, would very likely have ties to how one might go about creating software. 

At least that’s how I have been trying for a while to think about and practice programming. Of course I myself have spent nearly the entirety of my career thinking there must be, if I could only find it, one true, perfect, and always applicable and appropriate process of or methodology for organizing code so as to create “perfect” systems without, as they say, having to reinvent the wheel every single time, or without having to think so damn hard every time about how to fit together bits of code that simply don’t want to fit together. Eventually I came to the conclusion that such a process could never exist, partially because everything in all of existence has both a known/knowable aspect and an unknown/unknowable aspect, that is, Object is always paired with Subject, which realization, if it can be accepted, actually feels quite amazing to consider.

So my software will never be perfect, and that’s okay. Well, not entirely okay; I still wish it could be perfect, but I try not to wish too hard. On the other hand, there are certain combinations of Object and Subject which are somehow more stable, somehow better able to withstand the forces of dissolution that are ever present in the universe. Aeons ago atoms were discovered to be a stable way to organize their subcomponents, and then molecules as a way to organize atoms. And so on up to ideas, which are still so recent, in cosmological terms, as to be almost completely flexible. However, I do believe that some combinations of software components – of ideas – are indeed more resilient – not just more robust (won’t fall apart) as Taleb says, but more able to be used as building blocks for outward expansion, which means, I guess, more “antifragile” as well.

But how does one go about finding and/or building such “more resilient” software hierarchies? It very much seems to me that one does so by doing what I’ve been doing – taking apart and reconfiguring all of the existing and past components that have made up the hierarchy of the software in question. Obviously no commercial venture, which treats its software as merely a means to an end, can afford to or would be willing to have its employees do such work. And so it is up to artists, or esthetic researchers, to do so instead. 

The exuberance of several years ago behind startup culture, along with Clayton Christensen’s disruption theory and ideas like “failing fast”, seems to have died down to some extent recently, but if we reconsider those ideas in the present context, then art, or at least esthetic research, is truly the most fertile and safe ground in which to make “small bets”, because one simply cannot fail to create a successful “product” if one is not truly creating a product (external Object) at all. One cannot succumb to competition, because there is no competition in the traditional, market focused sense. Of course, this is only true for “esthetic research” as opposed to trying to play the game of the contemporary art market. And sure, one can fail personally in some way to keep themself fed or clothed, for example, but the failure of one single person as compared to a large corporation on the order of Google, Apple, or GM, or even of a small startup with only a handful of employees, is very, very low stakes indeed, as long as any such person is willing to undertake that risk. Furthermore, an esthetic “product” need not fulfill any requirement to facilitate others in their effort to create even more “products”, and in fact must not do so. So then art, once again, is the safest and dare I say easiest initial laboratory for societal change.

But I still haven’t explained how to create “resilient” software hierarchies, and to be honest I cannot offer a fully satisfactory explanation, because I myself have yet to build one. However, one thing I do find over and over is that the shortcomings of my existing hierarchies only truly become noticeable and intractable once I try to extend them beyond their current use or to build another vertical layer on top of them, which is exactly what Commons et al, not to mention John Boyd, suggest would be the case. And then my intuition, which I am tending to trust ever more over time, convinces me to rip everything apart and reconfigure the boundaries all the way down and then back up the hierarchy. But it’s mostly about boundaries or connective code, to change which does often admittedly require breaking apart whole components but rarely a complete rewrite of them. I suppose even then that after splitting apart components it is often just a matter of configuring new boundaries. And I don’t necessarily have to traverse the entire hierarchy, because there are bits of code all the way down at the bottom that haven’t changed in a very long time, and might never in fact change. And I think that’s the key – there are a certain number of layers that are readily amenable to change, and then below that, especially if we go all the way down to atoms, change becomes increasingly difficult. I have a hunch, nevertheless, that the farther one is willing and able to descend down the hierarchy, the more robust or even “antifragile” that hierarchy can be made. I believe that kind of practice is a significant factor in Apple’s success, and why Alan Kay posited several decades ago that “people who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.”

Eventually after numerous acts of reconfiguring the hierarchy, the bottom-most “readily changeable” layer will have been revisited the most often and then at some point, I suspect, sufficiently often that the basic contours of “what works” will have been relatively well worked out. This then perhaps forms something like the bottom rung on a ladder, a firm base, a starting point for further upward elaboration, or at least a means of avoiding infinite downward recursion. 

But why not do this with any software? Why must the end result be esthetic in nature as one might deduce from Mario Costa’s philosophy? Why can’t I do all of this while attempting to write my own version of Microsoft Word or Google’s search algorithms? I can only assume that it is because of the incompatibility of motivations that guide each type of goal. It is the difference between the ends being an entirely Subjective experience versus focusing on an end product as a tangible external Object. It is vertical versus horizontal elaboration, and I suspect that the former is mediated by the Default Network in the brain while the latter is mediated by the Task Positive Network, which networks for the most part appear to be incapable of being simultaneously active. (And again we see hints of human beings referencing quantum complementarity-like phenomena.) Both types of elaboration are necessary, to be sure, but for some reason it must be in alternation, and none of us appears to be equally adept at each type and thus spends a relatively larger amount of time practicing one versus the other. We fall into one of them more readily, and it then becomes the dominant theme in our work, or even in our cultural era. For me personally, it seems to be predominantly about external Subject and vertical elaboration.

And so that’s how I try to work. I hold in my mind an idea, ever just out of reach, of a transcendent, or I guess I could say sublime, visual outcome with no purpose but to feel amazing and sensual, to remind me and I hope one day show you that to be alive and to be a human being is a breath-taking, awe inspiring, and wondrous thing. If the sublime does indeed mean an enjoyable kind of fear, where we feel as though we won’t actually be harmed because we now have a better understanding of the phenomenon, at this point in human history perhaps it is internal dissolution itself that we must learn not to fear, and if that dissolution can be simulated or explored by repeatedly building up, tearing down, and rebuilding conceptual hierarchies expressed in software, then perhaps software is indeed the doorway to the technological sublime.

The Last Great Iper-soggetto Was God

 

Fundamentally we are all just basically trying not to die, or dissolve, or fade into chaos, etc, which are all effectively the same thing. There are an infinite number of ways to die, dissolve, or fade into chaos, and I suspect that we continue to create new ones all the time. We call it evil, bad, the devil, hell, any term you like for “that which is undesirable”. But of course that rather misses the point. Heaven always lies on the other side of hell, and in order to thrive, if not simply survive, we must continuously search out and find the means to weather or even enjoy minor acts of dissolution so that we can move beyond them.

Robert Kegan speaks of Subject/Object theory in human developmental terms as the contrast between that in which we are embedded and to which we are blind (Subject) as opposed to that which we can see, hold in our hand, and measure (Object). Subject is navigable only by feeling one’s way through it, and in fact, the tool used for that navigation is none other than the Jungian cognitive function of Feeling (be it in the Introverted or Extraverted attitude), whereas the cognitive function of Thinking (again Introverted or Extraverted) is the tool humans use to navigate Object. Jung and Kegan simply provide two views into the same phenomenon.

Feeling as a cognitive function, which must be understood as not synonymous with emotion, is a means of measuring based on guesses, hunches, heuristics, experience, intuition, or perhaps as a first-order reaction to emotion, where the question is effectively: which of Option A or Option B is better or at least preferable? It is applied to problems or contexts which are not amenable to logical Thinking, because no consistent relations have yet been discovered, if they ever will be. This is Subject. Thinking, on the other hand, is used to measure Object and is a matter of applying axiomatic or proven theoretical knowledge to determine if Option A or Option B is even true or logically consistent. Feeling deals with the unknown, which always surrounds us no matter how fervently people of a “scientific” mindset might wish or pretend that not to be the case. Thinking, on the other hand, deals with the known. Both are required, because everything in existence has known and unknown aspects. If all were known, then stasis would ensue, and stasis is just as deadly as chaos. If nothing were known, that would indeed be pure chaos, which most people intuitively understand as death itself. 

Indeed later developments of Jungian typology make the claim that Feeling is always paired with Thinking, and vice versa, albeit in the opposite attitude. There are obvious thematic relations to quantum complementarity, which is unsurprising since we as human beings, along with everything else in existence, are at our very basis quantum measurement devices. This must be true because if quantum fields underly all reality, as I understand quantum physicists to claim, then in order to do the work of surviving, how could we not in some way be attuned to and able to deal with quantum effects, even if only indirectly? However, we do still have the question: what does the Introverted vs Extraverted attitude of Jung’s Feeling or Thinking mean in terms of Subject/Object Theory?

Ken Wilber claims that the fundamental laws of evolution apply on every level of existence, from the smallest subatomic particle up through human beings. So we can use the atom as a reference point, or at least as an analogy. The nucleus of an atom is a relatively stable “thing”, an Object, or at least that could be said of protons and neutrons individually, whereas the electron cloud is very much not Object-like. It is measurable only in a probabilistic sense: an electron is likely, but not certainly, to be in this place or that at any given time based on equations that are however beyond my own knowledge. So then electrons correspond to Subject, irreducible to Object. To continue the analogy exclusively in terms of individual atoms, Thinking refers to the nucleus and Feeling to electrons. Since the nucleus is on the inside and electrons on the outside, this suggests Introverted Thinking paired with Extraverted Feeling.

The other pairing, Extraverted Thinking with Introverted Feeling, then remains to be explained, and the whole analogy cannot be completed until we move up a level in complexity, which process is the entire basis of evolution. An atom is never actually able to move its electron cloud from Subject to Object. Instead, the universe decides simply not to care so much because it has  found something more interesting to do through the discovery of a new type of Object that lies beyond the Subject of electrons, and which makes the immeasurability of electrons relatively less important than from the previous perspective. The new Object would be molecules. However, electrons remain Subject, only now they are internal, and thus the Extraverted Thinking of molecules paired with the Introverted Feeling of internal bonds can explore all the new possibilities of molecule formation.

Something similar must previously have happened to protons and neutrons themselves before they were sufficiently solidified, or in Ken Wilber’s terms, before they had been around long enough to have laid down cosmic grooves so deep that their behavior became increasingly constrained and unlikely to change. At every level of increasing complexity, from subatomic particles to atoms, to molecules, to cells, to tissues, to human beings, and all of the stages in between that I’ve omitted, the process remains the same. New Objects or “holons” or components-made-of-whole-subcomponents arise as the lower-level component on its own becomes insufficient to deal with increasing entropy in the universe. At every stage, new Objects are created or discovered by moving the previous Subject from external to internal.

Furthermore, and again as Wilber points out, the more recent the transition, the more fluid and reconfigurable the components are. That is to say, atoms are unlikely to stop acting like atoms, or from the opposite perspective, it requires enormous effort to break them apart because their internal nuclear bonds contain tremendous energy. Molecular bonds are less strong and contain less energy. Human behavior, at the far end of the spectrum, is extremely fluid and changeable. And yet, human development within a person’s lifetime as well as across generations does advance by the same underlying principles of moving to new Objects by leaping the chasm of Subject to the “simplicity that lies beyond complexity”, which, as an aside, seems to suggest some basis for the idea of punctuated evolution.

This process is rather difficult to detect within an individual human being, even if developmental psychologists have been reliably able to measure their test subjects’ position and sometimes progress along the developmental continuum. But individuals make up society, and individuals alone and together throughout time have contributed to society’s, that is humanity’s, own unfolding process as it passes ever onward through cycles of moving beyond its current Subject to a new Object and then exploring and using that new Object until it too becomes less and less capable of holding at bay the disintegrating forces of entropy, at which point a new Subject must be found so that the cycle can continue.

We are coming to or already at a transition right now, one that will eventually upend everything we have come to believe in the West since the Renaissance, which itself was an example of the previous Subject (God, among other things) moving from outside to inside, Extraverted to Introverted, as the works created as the expression of the subjective basis of individualism and related concepts became the new Object. But now we’re crossing a threshold of diminishing returns on everyone simply becoming “an individual” but progressing no further. That act no longer holds chaos at bay as effectively as it once did, and the solution is to turn inside out, as suggested by McLuhan, to make Object internal and then set out to find the new external Subject.

Fortuitously, this type of massive transition has happened previously in recorded history, albeit far enough in the past that we are left with little more than a very incomplete and low resolution roadmap of how to proceed this time around. Backing up and beginning roughly with the first atlatl, or the first tool that multiplied force in some way instead of merely being harder than a fist or sharper than a fingernail or tooth, there followed an explosion of tools based on the same underlying principle (the same underlying God or Subject). But then eventually the further usefulness of that principle was exhausted, just as the usefulness of the individualist/positivist/rationalist ideas that came to full expression in the Enlightenment are becoming exhausted now. In the earlier case, it took people like Abraham and Plato and all the great thinkers of the Classical Greek period in the West to begin the process of discovering a new Subject, and that subject was sometimes expressed as a single deity, but also as any single external idea against which to measure everything “below” it. It could be a king, the pope, the Soviet state, the corporation, any external, single authority. Or it could be Plato’s ideal forms which can only be expressed in the “real world” as shallow, imperfect imitations.

And so Greek, Roman, and Medieval European philosophers, along with their cultures, are probably a very good place to look for hints as to how to navigate the next several hundred years, so long as one focuses on deep underlying thematic concepts while viewing specific details as nothing more than placeholders. There will also be countless useful examples from other cultures in the same timeframe, with which I am simply far less familiar. I’m not particularly excited about undertaking such a study, and there’s a good chance I won’t even do so, because I have absolutely no need to develop this theory to doctoral-thesis levels of rigor and completeness in order for it to be effective as a personal guiding star in how I go about doing my own creative work.

However, there is a contemporary philosopher who has already written extensively about aspects of what I present here. As part of his theory centered on the “technological sublime”, Mario Costa repeatedly makes the claim that the individual-focused and subjective basis of art since the Renaissance is no longer an effective means of making art in the current and coming era. Instead, he claims, the individual subject of the “artistic personality” will be replaced by a hyper-subject or iper-soggetto, the details of which are either beyond his ability to fully clarify or my ability to understand from his description alone. However, framing his observation in terms of Robert Kegan’s Subject vs Object, Jung’s Feeling vs Thinking, and all of developmental psychology’s notion of stage change, it follows immediately that Costa’s iper-soggetto is nothing more than a renewed focus on Extraverted Feeling paired with Introverted Thinking, on an external Subject paired with internal Object (or epifanìa rittratta in sé) instead of an internal Subject paired with external Object.

By analogy, we’re winding down with the usefulness of our exuberant and fruitful exploration of molecular bonds in all their multitude of combinations, and now it’s time to start thinking about and exploring how to rearrange molecules into higher ordered structures. That is what the ancient Greeks did, along with those who followed them for two thousand years in the West, and that’s what we must begin to do again. Costa mostly writes in terms of art and technology, and then identifies that those things affect humanity, but mostly his emphasis is on the former. So he claims that “artists” in the Renaissance or interior-Subject sense must transform into ricercatori estetici or esthetic researchers, and in fact I believe he is absolutely correct.

Art is unmeasurable, even immeasurable, as opposed to science which is by definition measurable. So art is Subject/Feeling, and science is Object/Thinking. The goal of art is to advance to the point of no longer being art, but instead to become or at least give birth to new science. But art always precedes science, a compelling example of which is linear perspective in Renaissance painting, which was a shot across the bow at the Enlightenment’s scientific process of measuring observable and repeatable phenomena, a process which to this day most westerners consider to be the one true means of learning about and understanding the universe, at least, that is, if they have moved beyond a traditional religious point of view. Concurrently with those scientific developments, art has been primarily a matter of refining interior Subject using Introverted Feeling paired with Extraverted Thinking, with Object on the outside or as the product, exploring all the myriad combinations of objects based on the underlying, unifying concepts derived from an abstract internal God or authority, which for two millennia previously had been expressed as the external monotheistic or authoritarian leader. 

But again, that foundation of an internal authority is becoming less and less effective, and it is time to begin exploring directly and in earnest all of the objects/Objects that have arisen from that traditional mode of enquiry, and in exploring them try to determine what type of super-structure might allow us to coordinate and make sense of them all, which unifying idea is or will be the theme of the next great external Subject, and which will most easily be navigated via Extraverted Feeling (iper-soggetto) paired with Introverted Thinking (aseità). That is exactly the type of work that Plato did in his own time, and as wrong or simply incomplete as his philosophy has been shown since then to be, in his era he was one of a tiny handful of the most advanced thinkers yet to exist, at least among those who left a record. Art produced without relying on the heretofore taken for granted “artistic personality” as derived from an internal Subject, together with a far more complex extension of “Plato-like” philosophy, is what humanity now needs going forward, and as far as I can tell, an attempt to do such work is exactly what Costa means by esthetic research, though I am decidedly less certain as to whether he would in any way agree with my interpretation of this subject matter.

To the best of my ability to understand, and in fact given his discovery of this phenomenon over thirty years ago this makes a great deal of sense to me, Costa seems to focus primarily on the transition of Object from external to internal, along with the attendant weakening, exhaustion, or debolimento of its previous interior Subject, while the consequent establishment or discovery of a new external Subject is left as something of an exercise for the reader to work out for themself. I personally, on the other hand, am far more fascinated with and motivated by the latter part, the attempt to discover some new external Subject, though I do specifically mean the attempt itself without any real hope of a full and conclusive discovery, which I suspect is beyond my own means or possibly even the means of humanity at this time, just as ancient Greek thought needed to be elaborated and explored for some two thousand years. And yet as I’ve written before, to be present at the beginning of this new chapter in human history is an amazing and wondrous opportunity.

The General Model of Hierarchical Complexity (GMHC) as elaborated by Michael Lamport Commons and his associates has been an extremely useful conceptual tool for me in how I organize my thoughts around the phenomena I have been trying to understand and sometimes write about for several years now. What I failed to realize for some time is that the GMHC, along with its corresponding theory of stage change, focuses primarily on one half of the equation. Definitely it focuses on the half of the equation which is most salient for me personally, but through its being incomplete (as must any- and everything be), I was previously unable to see its full applicability, the other half of which I could also not previously see as being provided to some extent by Costa. 

Commons et al describe the first step of stage transition as requiring a rejection of the previous stable view of the world. He does mention something along the lines of that rejection coming about as the eventual result of the loss of reinforcement felt after repeatedly undertaking the actions that were representative of the previous stage or world view, but I have found very little further clarification on his part or on the part of those who have worked alongside him. In their dialectic of stage change the new starting point, the negation, is effectively the same as the old ending point, when in fact there is an intense, lengthy, and productive period of exploration and elaboration that happens in between. It is not wrong, necessarily, that in the vertical direction there might be little to distinguish the previous hierarchical endpoint from the next starting point, but it downplays the expansion in the horizontal direction, much like those who, believing that the horizontal elaboration since the Renaissance represents the one true view of the world, might belittle the largely vertical development that occurred from Ancient Greece until the Renaissance. Both orientations are necessary, though at any given time or throughout any given era, one or the other might be more fruitful to explore, and by fruitful I mean capable of or necessary for holding off the decaying effects of entropy or, more realistically, whatever is the underlying phenomenon that we refer to as entropy.

Costa, on the other hand, primarily focuses on trying to explain the very diminishment of the reinforcement of previous-stage (or previous era) actions, even if he largely limits his references to the dominant Western worldview that began with the Renaissance. However, putting together the two lines of research greatly helps in making sense of the larger phenomenon, which, again, at this point in human history has to do with beginning the search for the next external Subject.

In explaining his Esthetics of Communication, with many references to the work of artists Fred Forest and Maurizio Bolognini, Costa often repeats his assertion, rarely understood by others, myself included, that in estheticizing communication, the content of that communication is empty and has nothing to communicate. Bolognini has demonstrated this idea in works in which computers are networked together and communicate with each other, but have no monitors or displays of any type such that the effects or results of that communication are never visible to the human spectator. However, I believe this line of reasoning only works if “having something to communicate” is forced to mean only that which arises out of an internal Subject, because the very communication which Costa asserts “has nothing to communicate” is, in fact, Subject, but again, external. To be sure, it does not give rise to any kind of Object in the traditional sense, but instead coordinates or attempts to coordinate already-existing objects by searching out their boundaries and also or eventually, I believe, their similarities, or at least some means of meshing them together, again, in order to create higher-order structures. That being the case, it has a great deal indeed to communicate. The last great example of such an iper-soggetto in the West was the Judeo-Christian God, though not every external Subject need be so grand, and as well the next great one will almost assuredly look nothing like God in any discernible way.

It’s really a matter of perspective. In arguing the exhaustion of the usefulness of Renaissance through Modern ways of being in and seeing the world, Costa appears to make the mistake of taking that seven hundred year old mentality as a given, as being how things naturally are, when in fact it is only one way of how things can be, a way that was appropriate for its era, and no longer is. But we don’t need to invent an entirely new way of being in order to manage and move beyond that exhaustion. No disumanizzazzione on the one hand or transition to some kind of ultra-umano on the other is necessary. We simply need to return, albeit in far greater complexity and with far more knowledge behind us, to the underlying thematic (but not specific) way of being in and seeing the world that was introduced by the Greeks and explored in the West until the Renaissance, and which we see partially explained in more modern terms by the GMHC’s dialectic of stage change, which focuses on vertical elaboration instead of horizontal.

This vertical elaboration involves a reexamination of existing objects/Objects, which are taken as a starting point instead of an ending point or product, followed by a dissolution or breaking apart of their internal connections and boundaries (internal Subjects) in order to reconfigure them into a coherent greater whole (external Subject). Commons’ dialectic of stage change describes a fractal-like re-elaboration of all the vertical layers of mental connections that we have built up throughout our lives, with a negation or rupture of each connection in the hierarchy preceding its reconfiguration. John Boyd described a not-dissimilar process with his example of how to build a snowmobile. In my own work, both in writing words and in writing software, I find myself constantly attempting, sometimes with success, to break old connections and make new wholes out of the pieces, always ending up with something thematically similar at the end, and yet having a different, sometimes wildly different, feel to it.

Always for me it seems to be a matter of trying to be, to write words, or to write code such that the result of each attempt or experiment is logically compatible with some distant, diffuse, and felt but not known target or idea. It is a frustrating and laborious process, and in terms of my software work it has yet to prove in any way fruitful. Psychologically and in terms of my fiction writing (fragmented though it be), on the other hand, I have found this process to be immensely productive. The theories and ideas I present here only came about as a result of having done that work. Beforehand, despite years of fascination with Jungian typology and its descendants, with developmental psychology, and with the work of Mario Costa among others, I simply had no means whatsoever of being able to see the worlds they described as anything but entirely disjoint and unrelated. And yet now it seems entirely obvious, even if only to me, and even if this too is just one more incomplete theory in a lengthy history of incomplete human theories. But that’s how it works! Everything is simultaneously complete and incomplete, or in the process of becoming so, and that, my friends, is not only amazing, it is life itself.

Art in the Early 21st Century

Preface

The following is the last of several attempts I made over a year and a half ago to put together my thoughts on how art and culture might change in the coming years and decades as Post-Modernity seems to be losing its effectiveness in describing the complexity of the contemporary world. In the time since then, and even after launching this site last summer, I have simply not felt ready to publish it, most likely because it shows me making a public commitment of sorts, which is something I rarely do because I forever doubt my ability to follow through on anything to my satisfaction. That is most likely the same reason I remain reluctant to discuss my software work, which is something that will never be complete no matter how long I work on it. It’s entirely different from posting episodes from Verity, which I never really intended to finish, so there was no real way for me to fail. But I think I’m on to something here, and I think it’s important, even if I’m wrong in the details, which would be entirely unsurprising. It takes great effort for me to see individual trees within the forest that consumes my attention. But for some reason right now I feel like sharing it, and I suppose I really ought to do so before the feeling passes and I decide to think about it just a little longer, you know, just to make sure it’s really what I want to say.

For a Post-Post-Modern Avant-Garde

Allow me to be blunt: the Post-Modern mindset is thus far the single greatest achievement of human culture, bar none, greater than any scientific or technological advancement, even if there is a feedback mechanism between technology and culture. Post-Modernism and its pluralist perspective gave rise to the civil rights movement, the equal rights movement, and more recently the marriage equality movement. Never before in human history have so many people (and yet still too few) been able to take the viewpoint that a person on the other side of the world who looks different, speaks differently, and behaves differently is nevertheless just as entitled as we are to the same right to live peacefully and to make the most of their life. Such a perspective is immense, and it is a triumph of humankind.

On the other hand, Post-Modernism is at its core little more than an emphatic “No!” to the Enlightenment and Modernist ideals of positivism and humanism which claimed that man is entirely in charge of his own destiny. I use “man” here instead of a gender neutral word because those movements did the same. Post-Modernism was absolutely correct to reject a belief in man’s ultimate self-determination, though it took until after the horrors of Auschwitz, to reference Adorno, for thinkers and philosophers to recognize that it simply could not be the correct answer. However, a significant part of their legacy is little more than that word “No!” — No, mankind is not perfectible; no, you are not entirely your own master; no, there is no ultimate meaning. Not-incorrect or inevitable as it might be, that’s a terrible place to be, that nihilism and uncertainty, and it has gotten to the point where the entire world is reeling on one hand from the apathy that such relativism engenders, on the other hand from the fear, dread, and anger born out of seeing a formerly safe ground of pre-Post-Modern certainty and assuredness crumble away. Nobody enjoys Post-Modernism, despite its profound gifts.

Post-Modernism has only been a legitimate cultural movement, a cultural age even, for some fifty years. That is a ridiculously short period of time as cultural ages go – Modernism itself, the culmination of the project begun by the Renaissance, took five hundred years or more to come about. It seems preposterous to claim that we are already on the cusp of moving beyond Post-Modernism to something else, and yet that is exactly the claim I make, because I am not alone in feeling down to my marrow that something else is on the horizon, or rather, that the direction in which society is going cannot be sustained much longer in its current form. The two observations are merely two views of the same phenomenon.

To rephrase Marshall McLuhan, every cultural age eats itself. It continues along with its core defining mode of action until all of the space in which to take that action has been filled and there is no more room to continue. Then things start to become chaotic and unmeasurable, as per John Boyd, who claimed that the only solution is to find a broader perspective. Ultimately, and again from McLuhan, those same defining actions “overheat” and become their opposite. Post-Modernism’s resounding “No!” to Modernism is a perfect example.

The question, then, is what comes next, what comes after Post-Modernity’s nihilism, relativism, and uncertainty? It should be self-evident that I cannot predict any specifics of how this upcoming transition will play out, but I will assert that there are some general contours that we can expect along the way, for which we must turn to the field of adult cognitive, ego, and moral development, which has grown out of and expanded upon Jean Piaget’s earlier work of identifying and measuring child development up through adulthood.

I have found it interesting that developmental researchers readily make the comparison between the stages of development of individuals and the stages of development of the culture in which those individuals live. Traditionalism and things like the medieval Catholic church correspond to what Robert Kegan calls the “socialized-mind” of the individual, where one’s ties and responsibilities to one’s closed social group or community is of utmost concern. Modernism is the societal representation of the so-called “self-authoring mind”, which name should have a clear relation to the positivism and self-determination of Modernity. Kegan even said something along the lines of “That to which Post-Modernism is ‘post’, is the self-authoring mind itself.”

Cultural observers and philosophers seem not to make the opposite observation, that the phenomena they describe are societal reflections of the mindset of the mass of its constituent individuals. Thinkers such as Marshal McLuhan, John Boyd, Mario Costa, Charles Jencks, James Carse, or even blogger Venkatesh Rao speak at length about topics that have clear ties to human development, and yet never make use of the resources provided by researchers in that area. It is a missed opportunity.

The insight that developmental researchers offer is the following: society as a whole reflects the mass of individuals’ stages of development, perhaps in some sort of Gaussian distribution, so there are and always will be people ahead of the center of mass and other people behind the center of mass. Although there have been eras of collapse and regression, which in fact is part of the process, overall the direction of societal development has been towards an ever broader and expanded perspective, effectively accounting for more of the variation we experience in life. The path taken by society is the same path as taken in the development of the individual, albeit in far greater complexity. Putting this together, we can look at individuals, or at least theories of individuals, who are developmentally “ahead of the curve” (and all of the researchers have data about such people) and then from their behavior, which has already been measured and interpreted, we can attempt to extrapolate to how society at large might behave if enough people within it were to have that same broader perspective.

So then what is a Post-Post-Modern mindset within an individual? Robert Kegan calls the next perspective the “self-transforming mind”, where individuals actively seek new conclusions about who they are and how the world works, and then just as quickly choose to drop those conclusions in order to search out new ones. Over and over. Susanne Cook-Greuter and Bill Torbert describe the so-called “Autonomous” stage of development, where the individual not only begins to see how deeply interconnected we all are, going even beyond the pluralistic belief that everyone has the right not to have someone stand in their way, but then to realize as a consequence that we have new and different responsibilities not only to others, but to ourselves as well. We create this world together, whether we are aware of it or not, and whether we like it or not. As such, my very ability to thrive depends on your ability to thrive, and the reverse is true as well. Such is the basis of James Carse’s so-called “infinite games”. Beyond that, Autonomous people apparently feel a much decreased sense of anxiety about going against societal norms of whatever kind, which is not about consciously flaunting conventions in order to shock and elicit a reaction, but quite simply a recognition that how things are done is entirely arbitrary, and why should the result of that arbitrariness be sacred?

The project we are just now starting of moving beyond Post-Modernism will not be completed within any of our lifetimes, but that’s okay. It was Eric McLuhan who said that we were entering an era as significant as the Renaissance, and that project took centuries to complete. We won’t get to see the end, but what we do get, and this is monumental, we as artists or as what Mario Costa calls esthetic researchers, we get to be there at the beginning, the equivalent maybe of the quattrocento, and if we keep our eyes open, we can watch it unfold. Not only watch it unfold, but be active participants in that unfolding. This is an amazing gift and opportunity. But it does come with a terrible cost, and I mean terrible not only in its strictly negative sense but in its other sense of overwhelming and terrifying grandeur.

The cost is this: moving to a new stage of development, or simply moving to an entirely new perspective within a stage of development, takes an enormous emotional toll upon us. It’s the terrible twos, adolescence, the quarter-life or mid-life crisis. Michael Lamport Commons has extended Piaget’s so-called dialectic of stage change to a multi-step process of first recognizing the failures or short-comings of one’s currently held perspective of the world, going through a period of rejecting that viewpoint and having no firm ground on which to stand, like the nihilism and relativism of Post-Modernism, then through a period of oscillating between competing viewpoints of the same level of complexity, to repeatedly failed attempts to “smash” those alternate viewpoints together, and then only finally to fusing them together in a “non-arbitrary” recombination, thereby creating something entirely new that could not have existed solely through the earlier viewpoints. John Boyd described the exact same phenomenon, albeit in very different terms. It’s never fathomable how the process will turn out, and yet once someone has gone through it and shown others, it seems immediately obvious and intuitively correct to everyone. But it is amazingly difficult work to do.

In order to do that work, we must constantly and consistently and with our eyes wide open choose to dive into that nihilism, uncertainty, and despair as we give up our previous conclusions, and then wade through the neck deep mud of trying to smash together things that don’t want to go together. Over and over. Choosing to do something like that must be a kind of madness, but for one thing, many of us have no choice, and we all do it to some extent already, though I would contend that we do it without knowing why or how we do it. To move forward, we must engage in such behavior consciously. Many of us feel, perhaps have always felt, a burning compulsion to do something, to push society forward in the only way we know how. We can’t choose not to care about that, and that’s why we’re artists. But even more than that compulsion, there is a reward at the end. The feeling of breaking through, of completing that non-arbitrary recombination of previous viewpoints, is a breathtaking and euphoric feeling. That feeling is nothing other than what philosophers mean when they speak of “the sublime”.

This is not intended to be a recitation of theory. The theory is but a foundation for the ultimate purpose of all of this, which is an entirely emotional plea or call to purpose. I believe that what we are doing is a calling, and that there is a profound even if sometimes terrible responsibility to heed that calling. Society needs people to push it forward, and some of those people might be us. But again, the work is hard, and I strongly believe that we need each other to do it. When any of us is in the depths of the nihilist part of the cycle and can’t see a way forward, or is frustrated that nothing seems to be working no matter how many variations we try, and everything seems to end in failure, the rest of us need to be there with a reminder that that’s just the work we do. Feeling that despair and frustration, that’s part of it. We can remind you, and you can remind me that there is a way out, there is a path forward, no matter how difficult it is to see. But it’s not just a group hug. It’s not supportive therapy. It’s the intentionality behind the support that’s key. It’s the recognition that uncertainty and despair are not just things that for some reason seem to go with the territory of art-making, they are in fact core components of the process. It’s the recognition that we need to go through hell over and over, but that heaven always lies just beyond. That is our responsibility first to ourselves, to each other as artists, but then indirectly through that to the rest of society.

My background is technology. I’ve been writing software professionally for almost twenty years and have been interested in computer generated imagery since my father brought home an IBM PC Jr in 1985 and I started making ridiculously simple algorithmic line drawings. People in the software community speak about some of the things I’ve written here, specifically, the idea of accepting failures along the way. Failures are inevitable, they say, but one must “fail fast” in order to minimize the cost. Partially that philosophy misses the point, but even where it’s correct, it is still principally about competition. It’s important to fail fast, and in small ways, but only so that the other guy doesn’t get ahead of you. What they fail to realize is that the stress of competition impedes truly transformative creativity. But that’s the world of software. No matter what any particular individual within that community thinks or feels, the community itself either does not believe in or cannot see the very real emotional toll of nihilism and failure, or else it is not socially acceptable to acknowledge it. I say this ultimately not to disparage, but to contrast: they speak of changing the world, and to an extent they can and do change the world, but we, we in the arts, we have a tool that pure technologists have difficulty using at a cultural level, and that tool is emotion. We thrive on it, we revel in it, even, often, when it is profoundly negative, because we are researchers and explorers of emotion. We can use it consciously as a tool to change the world, and that is exactly what we must do. In a Post-Post-Modern avant-garde, we replace the uncertainty and nihilism of Post-Modernity with the one small certainty that the continual process of discarding and reconfiguring our world-views is the path we must take in order to get where we are going. We all create this world together, and I need you to succeed just as much as you need me to succeed. It is our responsibility not only to continue to make the decision to do that terrible and beautiful work in order to advance society, but to recognize the specific inherent difficulties of doing so, to support each other when it’s hard, and to celebrate together when it’s beautiful, which, perhaps, is always.

Psychological Aspects of Conceptual vs Experimental Art

David Galenson’s brilliant insight that artists and other innovators tend to work using one of two distinct creative processes — on the one hand an inductive, experimental, uncertain, and searching approach, or on the other hand a deductive, conceptual, certain, and decisive approach — is, like everything, both utterly true and simultaneously incomplete. He admits as much throughout his treatise Old Masters and Young Geniuses, often pointing out corners of his theory that require further elaboration and/or further evidence. I do not recall seeing his mention that some of that further evidence might include the subjective, lived experience, in real time and longitudinally, of creative people who fall into each camp, but such data would unquestionably be useful.

I remember wondering upon first reading his book several years ago whether the inherent and learned aspects of an artist’s personality coupled with the field of their endeavors might work together to determine the creative process under which they most easily work. For example, depending on their personality might an experimental painter be a conceptual writer? Might a conceptual sculptor likewise be an experimental poet? Might a conceptual fiction writer need to take an experimental approach to writing non-fiction? Such a question applies across fields, as well. Galenson’s theory is just as readily applicable to scientific creativity, though my personal focus is on art, and thus I am only speaking to art here.

In the meantime, unsurprisingly, I have been quite unable, even as a thought experiment, to come to anything approaching a satisfactory conclusion about how personality and domain of work might interact to determine one’s creative process. What I failed to take into account was a developmental perspective, or if I did, I considered it only in terms of wondering about any given artist’s active level of cognitive or ego development, not in terms of the very existence of cognitive and ego development itself, or of how different a personality can look at different stages of development.

The process of cognitive, moral, and ego development is a laborious and time consuming process of mentally and emotionally resolving paradoxes about our place in the world, though this process is typically not conscious. The attendant pain, confusion, and frustration is definitely apparent, but its cause is often not. To be somewhat more concrete, the process of development, which often goes by the name of personal growth or self actualization, is largely concerned with recognizing and accepting, that is, integrating, aspects of our personality that live in our so-called “shadow”, those traits which we define as something that “I am not”, that which is ego-dystonic. It might even be more accurate to say that it is those traits which we tell ourselves “I could never be”, which in its very formulation indicates nothing less than a fear of and longing to be exactly that.

Such shadow traits are polar opposites of the traits which we believe to be truly who “I am”, and as such, they seem incommensurate, irreconcilable, even loathsome. For example, one might consider oneself to be a logical, thinking person and thus consider their very real feelings as something “other”, and “not me”. They might then heap disdain upon feelings within themself and within anyone who actually believes themself to be primarily a feeling person, and who possibly has an equal and opposite disdain for their own very real thinking traits. Our shadow aspects feel unreal, unattainable, untrustworthy, and at the same time extremely, albeit shamefully, alluring.

Our shadow is nothing more than the opposite, split-off end of a polarity which includes and completes, at the other end, our conscious self. Both sides together form a unity, or at least they can: coming to recognize and be able to “see” that unity is nothing more than what cognitive, ego, and moral development is all about. It’s also harder than hell to do in practice, because there is no roadmap, no guaranteed recipe to follow. It’s a less esoteric reading of the concept of transcendence in Eastern religions, on which subject Ken Wilber says, “Transcendence only happens by accident, but meditation makes you more accident-prone”. Not that Eastern religions have a monopoly on the phenomenon of transcendence, or quite simply growth, but they certainly speak of it far more extensively than we do in the West.

Now, I contend that experimental artists are chasing desperately after their shadow, that which they cannot see, whereas conceptual artists don’t feel the need to do so, even if perhaps only in relation to the specific effort in question. Consider a sculptor who since childhood has been fascinated by and adept at manipulating objects in the real world, who feels at home in the physical world and trusts their abilities. If they have an alluring vision of a new sculpture they might create, it is entirely conceivable that a lifetime of experience developing manual dexterity might give them all the confidence they need in order to bring the work to completion exactly as they have envisioned it. This would be a conceptual artist. On the other hand, someone who has spent their childhood reading stories of fantasy and adventure, who lives more in their head than in the real world, such a person might envision the exact same sculpture, but their great skill is dreaming, not manipulating objects in the real world. It is highly likely that they will not be able to “see” and thus not be able to trust their hands or their materials to do what their intuition wants. As such, they would probably need to undertake an extremely time consuming and frustrating experimental approach.

Now consider the opposite: the conceptual sculptor envisions a story they would like to write, but might not trust the abstract, ethereal, dreamy side of their nature, possibly then requiring an experimental approach to novel-writing. The experimental sculptor who spent their childhood in their own head might, on the other hand, be able to trust their ability to see the abstract layout of the characters and plot and then readily work as a conceptual novelist. Each of the hypothetical artists in this example is adept at the other artist’s shadow, but cannot see their own, cannot reconcile it, and must search for clues about how to proceed. Neither approach precludes nor guarantees excellence in any given domain. It is simply a different path with differently prioritized goals and means.

What if, however, each of those artists in their experimental field were to undertake the torturous path of “growth”, “self-actualization”, “transcendence”, whatever you want to call it, and then come to recognize, own, and even love their shadow? Even to trust it? The frustrating and laborious search in each case where they worked as an experimental artist might then become something different, because they will have found that hidden, ineffable thing that drove their search, that thing just beyond their vision but not beyond their Sehnsucht, beckoning them onward with no means of knowing where they were going, and yet feeling so deeply that something was there.

Everyone requires certainty of some sort. If it’s possible through conscious, rational, decisive means to achieve that certainty, that is most likely what a person will choose. But if one has no ready means of making such a clear decision, if the call of Sehnsucht, of one’s shadow, is the loudest voice in one’s head, then chasing after it is itself a kind of certainty, and that chase is the very hallmark of an experimental approach to art. It is a search to find a new perspective from which to be able to make clear decisions of the type already available to the conceptual artist. It is a process of growth beset by frustration and crushing uncertainty. Sometimes, though, that very search can be the source of powerful and meaningful works, discovered along the way. Sometimes, as well, and perhaps in some cases for the remainder of a lifetime, each of us discovers and integrates some yearned for aspect of our shadow, and then the search can end, at least temporarily. Each reintegration gives us the ability to discern some new aspect of our work, pushing us ever closer to the possibility of a conceptual, measurable, deductive approach.

Certainly all of this is nothing more than conjecture, at best another incomplete theory whatever its merits otherwise, and the kind of long term empirical study necessary even to show whether it has any validity at all is something far beyond what I am willing or able to undertake. Graduate degrees in art history and developmental and social psychology, along with a tenured professorship, almost definitely stand between me and such a study, and I can already declare with absolute certainty that I will not be going that route.

On the other hand, I can offer some anecdotal evidence, from my own experience. I am that kid who grew up living in his head. I have never trusted the physical world or my ability to make any difference within it. My parents sometimes tell the story of my having said as a child that “the real world is an okay place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there”. And yet I have been obsessed with the beauty and sensuality of music and visual art since a very young age. Most of my life I have just listened to other people’s music and lied to myself that I had no artistic aspirations, because that desire to create beauty in the physical world has always been buried deep in my shadow.

Fortuitously, there was a more proximate shadow, my profound emotionality and sensitivity. That was not buried quite as deep, and yet deep enough to be a tremendous struggle to identify and own. Once I had done it, though, writing, oddly enough, became something I could do on a relatively conceptual level. When I argued that I was not an author, I think that a great deal of what I was actually saying was that I could write with something nearer to a conceptual approach, which made no sense to me and seemed somewhat unreal, because everything, absolutely everything, that I had ever tried to do artistically in my life had involved the immeasurable uncertainty and frustration of an experimental approach.

It’s not up to me to say whether my own writing is any good or not, but I can say how I feel about it, and what I feel is confidence. Not confidence that it’s good, because I am surprisingly unconcerned about that, but confidence that it adequately reflects what I want to say, because I more or less know what I want to say, even if only after I’ve said it, and if you’ll pardon the circularity. I don’t feel the need to go back and rewrite and edit and futz with my words. Sometimes I do semi-extensive editing, but not self-consciously, not because my original words feel wrong or because I feel uncertain about them, but because I just thought of a construction that I like somewhat better. And I could never, ever have done this before I recognized, owned, and came to love my sensitive, emotional shadow. I had already tried my hand at writing a couple times in the more distant past, but I always gave up immediately because my output was awful and I had no idea even where to begin to understand why it was awful or how I might improve.

But I was never driven to improve my writing, because the more elusive and yet more tantalizing goal for me has always been visual art. Even since I started writing seriously two years ago and have felt confident about it, even still there has been no change in my experimental approach to visual art. Two years of still being completely unsure of how even to proceed, while continuing to be driven forward nonetheless. The call has been so amazingly powerful, so unrelenting. I think I can look back across the years and say that I have often hated it, that Sehnsucht, and even hated myself sometimes for having it, or more likely for not being able to find it, that thing just outside my vision that I could nevertheless feel, and feel as more real than anything in the physical world. It turns out, of course, that this aspect of my shadow, it was in reality nothing more than the physical world, or the acceptance that I live in it. And I just recently discovered, among other things, that I do in fact live in the physical world. I have always thought that was a curse, but it’s not, it is the most profound gift I could ever receive. For a child and even an adult whose head had always been in the clouds, standing now as a man with my feet on the ground, my god, it feels amazing, and I suspect it feels amazing in a way that would be incomprehensible to anyone who has already known and cherished their physical being for their entire life, just as I could never understand such a person’s joy to discover that the clouds are their home as well. And in fact, I think that might be a significant source of the power of art: when an artist discovers the magic hidden in their shadow, which might be mundane to someone else, and yet still that feeling of magic can be conveyed, can be felt by others, and it can change the world. Like Prometheus’ fire, an artist’s responsibility might be little more than to show the world their personal experience of pure magic and wonder to have discovered something that was always hidden in plain sight.

So does this mean I can now become a conceptual visual artist? No, I don’t think that will be possible just yet, but maybe one day it will be, or at least maybe I can move in that direction. I still have so much to learn, skills of sensory perception and evaluation, of composition, and so much more that previously I was always unwilling to learn because I could never believe that I was capable of it, and thus disdained it, thinking instead that I could solve everything by dreaming or by intuiting something into existence. I couldn’t see a way towards trusting that a pleasing sensory perception might be a valid means of judging the worth of something. I honestly thought, my entire life, that everything of value must be shot through with deep intuitive meaning and cosmic grandeur. Head in the clouds, to be sure. But now, well, maybe I can develop some confidence and do some work that’s both more and less and quite simply different from searching and yearning.

Addendum

Of course all of the above is entirely provisional and open to major revision if not outright being discarded, though I do think there is some merit to it. One of those revisions, though, already presented itself once I had stepped away for a few minutes. I feel relatively confident that I will not soon become a conceptual visual artist, because that’s still quite a bit more advanced than where I am currently at. What I can, do, however, is use my newfound trust in the value of sensory experience as a yardstick for determining whether the software I write to make my visual art is moving in the correct direction. How could I have forgotten to consider that?

My visual art is nearly synonymous in my mind with the software that I’m writing to produce it, but it is quite fair to say that because I have not had a clear, measurable goal in my mind for what the output should be, thus I have also taken an entirely experimental approach to writing software, which feels really weird because I’ve been programming professionally for 20 years and have in the past written some rather complex if imperfect systems. But in those cases I always had a means of determining the correctness of my work, or at least how to approach making it more correct, because I always had either a template, a specification, or a request from a customer or superior to guide me. This has not been the case in my own work with its elusive, undefined goal. Now, though, I have a means of measuring, even if that means is nothing more than “does it feel nice, even sensual, to use this software?”, but just as a struggle for a new perspective is the hallmark of an experimental approach to art making, so is measurability, even if subjective, the hallmark of conceptual art making. As such, I think I can probably move towards a more conceptual approach to writing my software, and I have some very small hints that I might already be starting down that path, which feels really quite nice, I must say.

There Is No Mystery of Ada Noble; or, a Letter from the Author to Himself

There is no Mystery of Ada Noble, because Ada is not a mystery to be solved. She’s just a character in a story, and you loved her, and she died. That’s all. She wasn’t teaching you a larger lesson. There aren’t more pieces to the puzzle, so please stop looking. You loved her and that was the point, nothing more. She gave you the opportunity to feel that way about someone, you rose to the occasion, and somehow as a result you were able to feel that way about yourself. But there was no trick to it, no cosmic conspiracy of hidden symbols and meaning. You loved her, and it changed your life, because she is you. She was there inside you all along, but you had to fabricate her as a separate entity so that you could see her. You even said so, often, but you still wouldn’t believe it. You only believed that you were the damaged, hurting characters struggling under their false conceptions and limiting beliefs, the ones who actually needed to be saved. But did they? Or was their salvation, so-called, nothing more than their own decision that they didn’t need to be saved?

No one can save you, my dear boy, because you don’t need to be saved. You already are. There is nothing from which to be saved, not even from yourself. The question itself is nonsensical.

And that’s all there is. And that’s enough, because you are enough and always have been. You just needed to accept that fact, and you will probably need to fight for the rest of your life to continue accepting that fact. But won’t that be interesting? What will that even look like?

Let’s find out, shall we?

Let’s get started.

A Manifesto

I have nothing but the most maddeningly vague sense, out of the corner of my eye, of what my real work is about, my work as an artist and as a human being. I have some intellectualizations about it which I don’t think are entirely wrong, but that also fall far short of describing it or offering any help in closing the gap between that sense, that feeling, and where my work is at right now or where it can even go in the foreseeable future. The best description I can muster is that it’s a great cosmic emptiness that I can taste, that with all my being I long to enter and more fully experience, so that I can show it to you, because it’s vast and terrifying and full of so much hope, infinite hope, for all of creation and all of humanity, for each and every one of us. It’s a hope that I’ve always carried with me, even in my darkest, most terrible moments. It’s why I could write a month ago that despite my recurring bouts of depression, I have never, ever been suicidal. It’s my thing. It’s the thing that I was given before I was even born, but that I selfishly hoarded for forty years, or that I was too afraid to show, maybe because it always seemed so cruel to say that you should have hope when you can legitimately see none, when you have every reason to be hurting. Maybe it’s because the people who try to inspire hope are often killed for it, because there’s nothing that misery and pain despise more than hope. But I don’t want to hoard it anymore. I don’t want to run from it anymore. I want you to see it. It hurts how much I want you to see it. I can’t carry this all on my own. In love and ecstasy I say this to you, but even more so to myself because I’m still so far away,

Oh, my darling! If only you could see!

Holy Shit, I Finally Met Elizabeth

Preface

The following scene from Verity came out of absolutely nowhere, as I’ve been struggling for several days with a really, really stupid problem in part of the software that I’m rewriting for the millionth time. It’s something that probably doesn’t even matter – I could theoretically just let it go and move on, but it’s a bone I can’t stop gnawing at. I can’t tell if it’s Resistance convincing me to waste my time on a triviality because I’m nervous about starting on the next step, or if it’s actually important to do a good job here and it’s just a challenge to overcome. Is it perfectionism, or is it being true to my vision, not necessarily of how it should work, but how it should feel? Distinguishing the two cases is not something I do well. Yet.

I’ll take it as serendipity or synchronicity, but I had also just stumbled across Steven Pressfield’s recent book The Artist’s Journey as I indulged in some internet-oriented avoidance behavior. Of course I had read The War of Art back when I needed to be reading The War of Art, as we all at some point must, but I never realized he had so much more to say, so much that I completely agree with. Things that I agree with so much that, well, for a brief moment I thought, hey, if this guy is saying all the things I think I might be saying, only saying it better, is there any point in my repeating it? But that’s silly talk. My perspective is different enough that there’s room for it, and it’s an important enough message that even if I were to parrot him verbatim there could still be enormous value to doing so.

I’ve begun taking a deep dive on his blog, which might also be avoidance behavior, might be Resistance being a dick again, but instead maybe it’s research. Maybe it’s an opportunity to spark some new connections in my brain. Like I said, I’m still working on how to tell the difference.

I can say, though, that already at least three things have come out of it. First, Pressfield speaks frankly about his sincere belief in his (and your and my) Muse, and I think I agree with him. And I’m leaning towards believing that Ada is my Muse. Everyone else in Verity I can somewhat readily identify as a version or aspect of myself, most specifically Mildred/Millie. But Ada is as much a mystery to me as she is to Millie, and maybe that’s why I can only dribble out a scene or two every now and then. For a while I thought maybe she was some higher, future, aspirational version of myself, but that never felt entirely convincing. For one thing, I really don’t want to believe it. Even metaphorically I feel no inclination towards martyrdom being my destiny.

And sometimes you need to hear something twice before it sinks in. Early this year I had exactly one phone session with a creativity coach who found me exceptionally frustrating, but after I described how Ada was always kind of there in my mind, chiding me and cryptically nudging me even when I wasn’t writing, they said in confused exasperation that I already had my Muse, but that I couldn’t do any of the rest of the necessary work of being an artist, things that every other artist apparently does before meeting their Muse: I hadn’t decided what it was that I even wanted to do, artistically. I hadn’t chosen what my work was. I don’t think that they were wrong.

Like Pressfield and I assume millions of others, I also find the theme of the Hero’s Journey extremely fertile for its explanatory power, or at least as a way of organizing my thoughts around what it is that I’ve been doing for the last three and a half years consciously and the previous thirty-nine years unconsciously. Of course, I far more strongly resonate with Kim Hudson’s ostensibly feminine flip side to the Hero’s Journey, which she calls the Virgin’s Promise. For what it’s worth, she considers Rocky to be a Heroine’s/Virgin’s Journey, not a Hero’s Journey, and I consider my own path over the last three years the same way. Just not with boxing. Furthermore, I also look at the Heroine’s/Hero’s Journey as a metaphor for the same underlying process that developmental psychologists Piaget, Richards, and Commons call the dialectic of stage change, which occurs on many levels, big and small.

What I had never considered, and for which I owe Pressfield a true debt of gratitude, is his insight that whereas all the stories we’ve told throughout history end with the Heroine/Hero returning home with a gift for her people, with everything thereafter being yada yada’d over with a happily ever after, it is in fact only then that the real work of an artist begins, the Artist’s Journey, which is no less arduous, but entirely different in nature. It is the process of self discovery, of learning to “find and speak in our true voice”, which only begins after our heroic struggle to identify our true calling.

Well, holy shit. Okay. That is a huge relief, because no matter how much I can feel all the way to my very marrow that I am not the same person I was even two years ago, that despite ongoing struggles I have an indescribable and never before felt confidence that this is what I am meant to be doing, still I have no idea exactly what the hell this is. Art, yes, of some sort. But is it writing? Is it software-based generative art? Some combination of the two or something else entirely, because neither is sufficient on its own? I have a consistent, low-level anxiety that not knowing where I’m going means that I’m still at a much earlier stage in the process than I feel I’m at. And it’s important to know the difference, because the way forward is different at different stages of the process. I shouldn’t and can’t rely on others to tell me this kind of thing, but damn, it sure does help to have this confusion normalized.

I suspect, as well, though I’ll probably change my mind later, that the second half of Verity, Millie’s search for the secret of Ada Noble, is a complete blank to me because it’s where I’m at myself. The first half is the Heroine’s Journey, where Mildred comes to throw off her belief that, because she’s not the one suffering from the disease, therefore she must be emotionally subordinate to the needs of those who are. She must maintain a distance, always be on the outside. She believes that to behave in such a way is the most loving and ethical way of dealing with their misery. But then her choice to love, to really love her patient Ada, and to accept and receive Ada’s love in return, sets into motion her rebirth in the wake of Ada’s inevitable death. But what comes after that, I think, that’s her Artist’s Journey in Pressfield’s terms.

And I know what that looks like in the very, very early days, but only in the early days, because that’s where I’m at. I don’t know where it’s going, at all, and I hate not knowing, but at least, thank God, at least I know I just need to find out. That’s the rest of my life. Finding out where the hell I’m going as an artist. Because I am an artist, a real artist, even if I have nothing tangible to show for it yet. Even though I’m a neophyte at best, possibly even an abject failure according to any number of external measures, which, at least and maybe only in this moment, mean surprisingly little to me. But I am an artist, and I could not have written those words two years ago or even have allowed my internal monologue to whisper it. Partially because it wasn’t yet true, partially because I could hardly face the fact that I wanted it to be true.

So that’s two things that came out of my taking a small break from my software: the likelihood that I can’t understand Ada because she’s my Muse, and the likelihood that I don’t have any idea what Millie does in the second half because I’m just as lost, and yet as hopeful, as she is. The last thing I got out of it was the next scene, which just popped into my head as I made my way steadily through the pages and pages of Pressfield’s blog. I finally got to meet Ada’s twin sister Elizabeth. All I had before was one vague image of her in anguish on her therapist’s couch, along with another image of her singing U2’s “Like a Song” in the club where Millie and Kimball first spy her, possessed by a demon, her voice ragged and screaming with self rage, and yet controlled and powerful and real. The audience falls silent, in awe, as she finishes:

When others need your time
You say it’s time to go, it’s your time
Angry words won’t stop the fight
Two wrongs won’t make it right
A new heart is what I need
Oh, God make it bleed
Is there nothing left?

But then there’s this, which I didn’t expect. It’s rough and it needs to be reworked, and it’s not one of those scenes that wrote itself. I was fully conscious and aware while writing it, which isn’t quite as fun as coming out of a trance to see several pages worth of words just there. But I think I like it, and I think it might work as the opening scene to the whole story, somewhat reminiscent of Atonement.

I’m not yet sure exactly what it is, but something in the back of my mind has been telling me since I started writing this scene yesterday that it’s an extremely important clue for my own understanding of what Verity is and what my parallel work is all about. There’s something about the circularity, or the chain, of Ada saving Millie, Millie saving Elizabeth, and then Elizabeth’s apparent effect on her fans. There’s a facile, superficial well, duh in there, but is it more? It feels like there’s more. As well, I’ve always thought of Verity as Millie’s story, which means it’s my story as well. But this, this strongly hints that Verity might, in fact, be Elizabeth’s story. I have a string of implications that dissipate into a cloud if I try to look at them directly, but it could be fun to explore that in the coming days and weeks.

The Gift

“The truth is,” said Elizabeth, “that I had lost my sister, my first sister, years ago. It wasn’t just there before the end, after we fought, after I told her that if she was really going to do it, to just give up, that she could just go ahead and get the fuck out of my life right then and there, which, it seemed for some time, was exactly what she did. I never saw her again, and I gotta tell ya, the guilt of that, I mean… Well, it was really hard to deal with.

“But she never really left. I mean, of course she left, she’s dead. But she left me something, and God knows in her place I wouldn’t have done the same. But that was her, that was Ada. Always so goddamned composed. Always ready to forgive shit that I would never forgive, shit that I could never forgive. She puts me to shame, I would say, if it wasn’t for… I guess… if she would let me continue to feel that shame. Not that I didn’t, and for such a long time. But, you see, it was the gift she left me.”

“The gift? What was that?”

“A sister.”

“I don’t think I understand. You mean that your sister died and left you… a sister?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what she did. I don’t know how the hell she managed it, how any of it could’ve worked out the way it did. Quite a bizarre chain of coincidence and chance. Implausible, really. But there it is.”

“I’m still a little confused. What do you mean that she left you a sister?”

“It was a woman named Millie, her nurse. She found me. She didn’t even know she was looking for me, because she didn’t know I existed. But she found me anyhow, and it saved me.”

“Saved you?”

“Yeah, from myself. From my guilt, my shame. I mean, after Ada and I fought, after the things I said, things I could never take back, when she needed me because she was already so sick.

“But even besides that. You see, she had always been so much stronger than me, always, even as kids. She could just hack it, could tolerate things that brought me to my knees. I used to think it was because she had more support, because Mom loved her more, which you could just tell was the case. But that’s not really why. Mom loved her more because she was already so strong, and it felt good to be around her. You felt like someone when you were around her, like you mattered. And I fucking hated her for it. I hated her fucking guts. But no matter what I did, no matter how cruel I was to her, she just took it, just smiled her pathetic smile back at me. And the fact that she could take it, that she wouldn’t fight back and tell me what a wretched cunt I was, that she didn’t scream and try to tear my hair out, that just made me hate her even more.”

“But not now?”

“No, not now. I mean, I’m not entirely sure, though, right? Cuz you don’t just flip a switch and suddenly everything’s hunky dory. But I think now, I definitely feel like I can look back on her with affection and admiration. I try not to move on to thoughts of all the time I wasted, all the lost time when we could’ve been friends, confidants, you know, sisters. But she didn’t begrudge me that, God knows how. And she left me her gift.”

“Her gift. You say that like this Millie person is an object, or a pet.”

“Oh! Sorry if I was unclear. Millie isn’t the gift. Millie is the one who brought me the gift. That she became my sister in the process is just one more unexpected miracle.”

“But you said that Ada left you a gift, a sister, and now you consider Millie to be a sister, so…”

“Yeah, but the sister, the gift, that Ada gave me was herself. I mean it’s obvious, isn’t it? It was redemption. Forgiveness. But even more than that. It wasn’t that she forgave me, because she always did that. I don’t think she even thought it was necessary to forgive me. But somehow… somehow she allowed me to forgive myself, and now she’s more alive to me than she has been for decades.”

“And how did she do that?”

“Well, obviously I wasn’t there, but it was something about what she said: ‘Oh, my darling! If only you could see!’ Millie said that those were Ada’s last words, when she should’ve been too far gone to speak, or even think coherently. She used to say that to me, when we first started drifting apart, when I first started treating her like shit, when I could still catch some surprised hurt in her reaction. Back then she was chiding me. She would say it in sorrow and frustration, but from what Millie tells me, when she died she said it in ecstasy, in love. And it was for me, I believe that, though God knows I didn’t deserve it.

“I mean, it’s kind of hard to explain, and I don’t fully understand it myself. I just know that… Well, also, when I finally understood what she had meant to Millie, when I saw how devastated she was to have lost Ada, I could… It was like I was looking in a mirror. But a mirror that reveals hidden things. I knew it was real when I saw it, but not until then. It was buried under too much shame and guilt and anger. But I saw in Millie’s eyes what I was feeling, that I missed Ada so much. That I had been missing her for years, that I had been living for years with a hollowness inside that was eating me alive because I had pushed her away, even before she chose to die, before she was sick, before Mom and Dad were sick, since all the way back when we were young.

“But then Millie showed me how much I missed her, and that was… well, I was a little surprised, because did that I mean I really did love her? Was I capable of that? Had I always loved her, and had she known that all along? How else had she known to send Millie to me with her message?

“I don’t know. I don’t get it. But something broke down. Something just dissolved. All the hate, the bitterness, the acrimony and recrimination. I don’t know if that had all just been projection, if me hating Ada for so long was just externalizing my own self loathing… well, I think obviously that’s what it was. But I don’t know how she managed to convince me to stop. Or at least to start stopping. I’ve still got a long way to go. But there is something that I do feel, something that’s entirely foreign to me: I feel hopeful. And I feel love, and I wonder if those two words might just mean the exact same thing.”

“Wow. That’s… So that’s what your new album is about? That process of, would you call it healing?”

“Healing is a pretty good word, and maybe also catharsis. But then it’s also, well, I don’t quite know how to put it into words, and that’s why I had to make this album. There was no other way to, you know, get it out there, to manage it. As amazing as it feels to have all of this happening to me, to feel, how can I put it? To feel like I’m finally alive, actually a real, living entity on this planet for once instead of some kind of empty shell, even still, it’s overwhelming. In a good way, yes, but still overwhelming. I… does this sound weird? I think I needed to make this album, to share all of this with all of you so that, well… I mean, because I can’t manage it on my own. I’m sharing it because it’s too much for just me to deal with. Does that make sense? I think, I think maybe I’m asking for help in carrying this. But, you know, I really do hope you’re getting something out of it, too.”

“Miss Noble, I’m truly at a loss. I’ve been doing this for a very long time, but I’ve never had an interview like this. You say you hope that we’re getting something out of your work? Could you possibly doubt it? You’ve read the early reviews, you know what people are saying. Look around you right now, the crew, even me, on live television, nearly losing my composure. I don’t do that. Miss Noble, I can assure you, we are getting something out of your work, and out of you being here with us today, sharing what you just shared.”

“Well, thank you. Thank you for that, I mean it. And do please call me Elizabeth.”