Category: Uncategorized

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

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.