-93 : Wayfinder

“And now the floodgates cannot hold, all my sorrow all my rage, teardrops fall on every page.” – David Gray

I met an old friend of a new-old friend last night, whose insistent, deadpan delivery of some bit I can’t even recall this next morning started me laughing and then laugh-crying and then turning away from the table, afraid that last poorly-timed mouthfull of salad would come out my nose.

It was glorious; rediscovering that ability/capacity to be helplessly joyful. Like that dream of finding a small doorway in the back of an upstairs closet, and behind it is a secret room — an extension of your dwelling and, therefore, an extension of your self — which had been there the whole freaking time.

Pretty sure I hadn’t laughed like that for a whole freaking time.

Thank you. Grateful to the Muse, or the stars, or whatever. I needed that, and I needed the reminder that the best kind of laughter is when you’re not supposed to laugh. The freedom to violate the pall of convention. The license to stop sailing around and just moor your boat to whichever goddamn piling feels right at the moment.

“hello, it’s me”

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A morning ritual of wandering would be great for me; is great for me. Actual, physical footsteps wandering, rather than just in my head while seated.

This tiny, infinitely-connected digital map in my pocket is a revelation. Like shedding another season’s skin, it lets me explore without the mental overhead and anxiety of getting lost. Of not being able to get back. Now — provided I remember to set a marker at the point of origin (hint, hint, dummy) — I can just go. Go new places | see new things | try out being a different person on this block than on the next one, or the next. Walk into a shop and not hesitate: Oh yes, I will take these brand-newish half-price recycled consignment shoes — because I was needing to buy some on the Internet when I get home anyways. Oh, and this slightly-too-small neon green gym shirt. (The suggestion that I cut the vertical slit at the front collar to give the chest hair room to breathe. Uhm… no. Not even in Portland.) And this horizontally striped sweater/sweatshirt thing, even though it will be one hundred degrees tomorrow (more likely: because it will be one hundred), and which might not actually fit me, and which seems way too cool and fancy for my usual Old Navy settling. But fuck it: check out and go. None of that usual brain picking and hesitating and pre-emptive regret optimization strategy shit. So fun.

I’m willfully wandering into new territory, too. The M-F barrista, I notice, has a tattoo of California on her right bicep, just below the shirt sleeve line. She seems nice, but guarded. Likely a hazard of the occupation, if not also for a thousand other imaginable reasons. Still, trying to be nice about it — trying completely to be of pure intent — I ask her about it, as she’s making small change. I’m from San Diego, I say, by way of attempted explanation. Bay Area, she replies. And then something something, which I miss as my brain fires off the realization that, oh, duh, standing here in OR, as we are, being from CA isn’t anywhere nearly as unusual or significant as it would be in Bloomington, IN, where I keep repeatedly, momentarily forgetting that I’m not. (It feels like ten Bloomington’s stitched together by quaint little highways.) In IN, the CA connection would have been a moment. Here, not so much. But that’s fine… no, it’s better than fine. Because there’s no harm done; it just doesn’t land completely. Because I’m exploring. Because I’m trying to make connections. And because maybe tomorrow, when I order the exact same thing for the third straight day, we’ll share a smile about it. Or maybe, that faint human moment in the books, on the way out of here a few minutes from now, I’ll say something like, Bye, California. Hope you have a good day.

Probably not. But maybe I will. Because for a former social anxiety-laden, girl-afraid, hiding my truest self from the world, nerdy depressive, I think that’s OK. I hope that’s OK. In a perfect world, that makes her feel good for a moment, or think, “That was weird,” but not bad-weird or creepy-old-guy weird but just good, something-happened-today weird. Hopefully.

Oh, and I bought a third guitar. From a centaur. From Centaur Guitar, which is an actual place, and such a brilliant name for a shop that I went all the way across town — and probably past four other guitar stores — to find it. Dungeon Masters of the World, Unite and Take Over.

I didn’t need a third guitar; I don’t need a third guitar… However, I wanted a third guitar, this one, and I wanted to buy it now, yesterday, and so I did. Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.

Also, it’s a hell of a guitar for 275 bucks. That’s the copay on 11 therapy sessions, one month’s amortized propane payment, and/or only half a plane ticket to bizarro world.

What does this one — I wonder, what does this guitar do for me — or what does my subconscious monkey brain think it will do for me — what does this one do that the other two don’t already do? And what I come up with, over my phenomenal breakfast biscuit sandwich, here on my own semi-private gorgeous little alleyway patio, is that if I ever did summon the balls to walk out into a public place and sit down on a bench or curb and sing my song, this is the guitar I’d want to sing it to. It would feel right; and it seems to me there are few things more crucial to a realtime performance than the core elements feeling right. A tool for — potentially — further self discovery. What’s that worth?

“Meet me on the other side.”

-94 : Swift Birds

“Skies grow darker. Currents swept you out again.” — TS

Those little moments of grace when someone gives you exactly what you need, despite it not being your right to ask, or their obligation to do so.

The nascent ability to just shut the fuck up and take a lecture, when and where one is offered. There’s always some worthwhile truth in a lecture, if you pay enough attention, and stow your ego long enough to hear it.

A Fight Club vacation, in which, perhaps, we are merely imagined projections of what the other person needs to see the day, that hour, in that moment. Or are we ever really much more than imagined projections of what the other person needs to see, in that moment? Unless we happen to be punching one another in the head, or caught up in the flow of transcendent sex, or doing a long pause stare down over some mutual understanding (or mutual confusion), or in the tragically mere seconds per day of a hold-me-tight embrace — aside from those times, it’s almost all virtual and illusory. Glancing blows to the head rather than the solid meaty connection of knuckles on bone.

I thought, up until a year and thirteen days ago, that I had to get my mind and emotions right before I could get my body right. Now I think that if — somehow — I’d been able to get my body right, my mind and emotions would have naturally followed, like sea birds over a riptide.

mosaic less-broken hearts

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Last fall, and through the winter, I had this playlist on my phone. I listened to it over and over and over… for what now seems like months, it was my morning go to; my calibration routine for each new day of refactoring my life and rewiring my brain. It was mostly Swift birds; mostly songs about love and loss and the faintest flicker of new hope. It was a guide across that J unbelievable new tesseract bridge M I’d discovered; a bridge that had been hiding in plain sight, maybe for decades.

Those songs had a flow, from one to the next; a rationale for dancing in the way too early pre-dawn in a dark studio to the flickering light of a rekindled wood stove. A way through to blogging without saying too much. A beacon out of the seemingly-endless night. “Lantern burning; flickered in the night for only you.”

Call It What You Want To.

I called it This Love, and while for the longest time it seemed to be about and for something else, ends up it was about learning how to love things again. Discovering that I could love anything again, for real. Then, right around my re: Birthday, I decided it was time to go on without it. That while I still loved that guide, and craved its guidance sometimes, it was overdue. It was time to move on. So I deleted it; carefully, weighing options. Knowing that once it was gone, it was gone for good. I think it’s smart to learn how to throw away things that aren’t working for me anymore, no matter their former utility, or my fondness for how far they got me along a new path. Gotta shed that skin if you want to keep on growing.

I comb back through my memories of this year, like unfolding the hard-won wrinkles in that tesseract bridge. Maybe that unfolding is this; maybe that’s what this loop chain back to origin, back to ‘0,0’ is. And it’s startling — sometimes a little wondrous — the things that I find in those creases. The segments jumped over en route to this waypoint; this destination at the other side of the chasm.

“Make a bridge drawing,” she said; cryptically. Instead I made a photograph, and a windy metaphor for what it represented; a geography of hope and intent; a for-once-in-my-goddamned-life actual plan. The bridge rests on piers; the piers march out to sea; that blue sky rectangle at the end seems impossible, unobtainable, but I know my mission is to just get to the first archway, and find a way through; one portal at a time. Because you can never actually do two things at once — you’re just dumb enough to think you can.

Here’s my bridge. Here’s my tesseract. Here’s my hope, my basket of old fears, my wild-eyed new dream.’Cause this love is brave and wild-eyed.

Oh oh. Oh oh. Oh oh.

-95 : Triangulation

“I’ve got that deer in the headlights look locked up.” – Family of the Year

I came to Portland because I need to keep the depatterning going. A sense, a hunch, that getting far enough away from home, on my own, just for a few days, might clarify. Add the kind of perspective I’m missing, up so close to all this new action. And, I suppose, because it takes three points to triangulate, and the farther off that third point is, the sharper the angle it crates, when tied back to the other two.

Sharp angles seem right. Taking an X-Acto to the metallic tape and oil pastel drawing of my life.

swimlane

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And time has been at such a weird premium lately, since my Big Lebowski summer ended, that I needed some discrete, partitioned Time For Little Squares. Or if not technically needed, really wanted.

Like this: I’m sitting here in a Pacific Time Saturday “morning” cafe — feels like late evening to me, after an absurdly early wake time to make it to the airport — which I never do; typing this on a laptop, which I’ve never had before. They just leave the front door open, as there is no evil Augustinian damp and, apparently, no bugs outside; even now that it’s raining from a mostly-clear sky. I mean: sure — why not?

I’ve already seen more #keepportlandweird in an hour than in a whole day in, say, Bloomington, Indiana; and more than in a lifetime in Fillmore. It’s delicious. Like: oh, sure — why wouldn’t you paint all that cool shit on your garage? Why not pink cowboy boots over thigh-high red and black striped socks, under an ancient jean jacket on a guy who’s probably six-seven? People wandering gritty streets with their little kids, still haven’t recognized a single song on the house music overhead, and I walked all of five goddamn blocks to get here. We really do live in a cultural desert.

So yeah. Depatterning. Triangulation. Can’t/shouldn’t specify on that second one too much just now, but the depatterning = definitely. Deciding, mostly on the fly, to take a trip somewhere I’ve never been (unless one counts driving through on the way to the 1986 World’s Fair in Vacouver; I do not), to see a friend I haven’t hung out with in — 25 years? — on my own (eg. sans la famiglia), spending money on a plane ticket that was once slated for a new salt kiln, skipping away from my amazing new job for the second time since starting it six weeks ago — this is all, on the face of it, pretty nuts. But so is loving my dayjob. So is starting to think of myself, after almost three decades of not, as a capital-a Artist, just because I do some fucking random junk on paper now and took a two day stonecarving workshop. So is seriously thinking about moving from the country back to town, to be close to… well, work and school and Starbucks and the gym and the guys I play board games with and Pixel’s friends and… well, all the stuff I thought I didn’t need — wouldn’t need — when I so gladly left 13 1/2 years ago.

Hmm. Thinking maybe I shouldn’t have named this one ‘Triangulation’ if I’m not actually gonna write about that, but I’m trying to let these intuitive titles stick and not go changing them later. Sometimes you think you’re just procrastinating or distracting yourself from the task at hand, when you’re really on a boat, sailing around it a bit, looking for a solid mooring. [OK, I completely stole that. Sorry, PR.]

Maybe it is about triangulating, but I just can’t see how yet. Maybe I’ll see how tomorrow; or the next day. Or only after I return home.

Oh — right: I’m supposed to be writing about depression. Ha. It’s been so long now that I sometimes go hours at a time without remembering that that used to be me. It went away like a swift bird. I’m starting to believe it ain’t coming back anytime soon, barring a global shortage of Prozac or some other deep tragedy.

Well, the medium is the message. A depressed person — the depressed person I was — would not — not ever, never, ever — hop a plane to a mostly-unknown destination for mostly-unknown reasons and then start figuring it out after he arrived.

In a sweet little cafe.

With the front door open, and the cool rain outside.

No, it ain’t no passing phase. Baby, I’m no good at nothin’.”

-96 : Tears

“There is beauty behind every tear you cry.” – Bea Miller

I started crying again last fall. At first, a lot. A dam breaking. Crying for all those years, all that missed time; for the thousands of moments where I was physically present but not really there; not really here.

And, I suppose, for what could have been, what I could have been. For the love that I could suddenly see and feel but that seemed permanently out of reach. For all the things I had, or could have had, and lost along the way. For the sudden absence of such a profound absence. And for the staggering realization that all that broken thinking had so badly undermined my love of music, of art — even of clay. The new awareness that my broken thinking process created a broken making process, and gradually eroded and spoiled even my connection to pottery; a connection which I had believed to be sacrosanct and immutable.

And fuck: it wasn’t just pottery. Come to find out, it eroded and spoiled almost everything within reach.

Up until my re: birthday last summer, I was what I now semi-jokingly call a ‘high-functioning depressive’. (Or, as you may recall if you’ve been around these parts awhile, I used to call myself a ‘high-functioning fatalist’, in those long years before I realized I was actually just super fucking depressed. Oops.) “High-functioning”, like with alcoholism, in that I doubt anyone but the few people very closest to me could tell. (The insidious problem there being that ‘the few people very closest’ are the only people that really matter.) So even while in the perpetual abyss of despair, I still got out of bed every morning. (Well, OK — on some studio mornings I got up, then went back for a while. Hint, hint.) I never missed work for it (not “real” work, that is). I kept having two pottery sales a year, come hell or high water — and sometimes both. But I just slogged through so many of them, the ends just barely justifying, rationalizing all the incredibly taxing means of getting there. And I was an omnipresent parent — here to read bedtime stories 360 nights a year; almost never missed a dinner or a school event or a lost tooth. Always here, almost always on duty, in one form or another. But rarely anywhere nearly as engaged as I could have been; as I wanted to be, in some abstract way; as I now wish I had been able to be.

If only I’d gone for help a decade earlier.

But yeah: Maron is right. Beating yourself up about the things you just discovered, for not having discovered them sooner, is a fast track back into the problem. It’s the broken part of the brain trying to reassert its dominance, in one of those moments of clarity about how little consideration it should be given by all the other, better functioning parts.

It seems to me now — and I’m super new at this, so please correct me if I’m wrong or just being willfully naive — it seems to me now that an optimistic person finds a way, upon making that discovery, to focus on being grateful that they’ve learned something new. A depressive person finds ways to focus, instead, on what could have been; to ruminate; to re-litigate past losses, past suffering, past regrets. It seems to me now that while memory is vital to an evolving sense of self, to — dare I say? — self-actualization, living too much in the past is a sucker’s game; an easy way to distract oneself from both the opportunities and the obligations of the present moment. This moment, right now, this one here — you and I each looking at our respective screens, doing those things we do in our heads when we look at letter symbols in all these tidy little rows — this moment, this now, is usually the best one to focus on. Because, really, it’s always and only all that we have.

[Channeling my inner Carter Gillies there, aren’t I? I say that counts as progress. Somebody’s gotta grab the Wittgensteinian mantle and march around proclaiming proclamations and such, don’t they? Don’t they?]

So I don’t know exactly when my tears had stopped — ten years before last summer? Twenty? Fuck Pluto and Hermes, I don’t really even know. But I know that I used to — in college, let’s say, my emotions seemed more a part of me; accessible and often just below the rocky surface. But over those decades of perilous adulthood, the jobs, the moves, the compromises against my true self, with a few very rare exceptions, the tears just stopped coming. Even when I wanted them to; even when I was aware that I needed that emotional release; that I was suffering more for the lack of it.

Since we moved here, particularly, which marks it at about 13 years ago, I have spent a lot of minutes — in aggregate, hours and hours and hours — face down on the floor, or face in a pillow, completely miserable. Hallowed out, lost, reeling; wondering how I could feel so shitty and yet not cry about it? Not drop a single tear?

It seemed very strange. Like I knew that wasn’t “normal”, but I never followed up. Never made an action item of investigating why. Something to ask Christine about, I think. In retrospect, the inability to cry was a sign: one part of my mind signaling — desperately trying to send — an alert to other parts. A sign, just like the other one that really should have prompted a different response: the persistent nagging voice that sang the Everything Fucking Sucks song in my head most hours of most days. Over time I started thinking, “It doesn’t seem right to think everything fucking sucks all the time, even when ostensibly not fucking sucky things are happening to me, around me, through me.” But, the problem being the problem, those signals never quite set off the stronger alarms that they should have/ that they could have. Not being capable of crying sounds to the now me like one of those symptoms that should have prompted a quick, embarrassed Google search. Maybe I knew the result would say Seek Professional Help, and my despairing brain — my hard-wired loop — wasn’t going to let that happen for anything? Because the first rule of Depression Club is you don’t go get help for Depression Club. Sacrifice almost anything to keep the party (loop) going.

So the point I’m hammering on here is that it’s rather disturbing to me now to see just how much my ‘core self’ — “I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it…” — failed to notice. It should have noticed! It should have flagged those symptoms for further review. To lean once again on the old brain-as-computer analogy, the majordomo program that’s supposed to be watching all the other programs for misbehavior, and to send in a neurochemical SWAT team when it finds recursive loops or rampant errors, was tricked into thinking all systems were running normally. It was tricked, or tricked itself, into believing that if things seemed odd, it was the outside world — outside the computer in my head, that is — that was broken; not me. Not the machine itself. (I still have Andrew Solomon’s Noonday Demon book sitting, unread, on yonder shelf, so I’m speculating beyond my research, but thus far my understanding is that that’s the thing about hardcore depression: it hacks into the majordomo program and, like any good hacker, the first thing it does there is hide it’s own presence in the system. If the target doesn’t even know you’re there, you can act with impunity. The despair, the Black Dog, got root on my brain and cuckooed my cuckoo’s nest. Hard.)

So I got hacked. Then, almost magically, some talk therapy and pills cleared my cache; defragged my hard drive. And now I’m back. And occasionally, when it feels warranted, able to cry, like Peter Gabriel says we shouldn’t be afraid to do.

It’s good.

Sometimes it’s just hard to realize.

-97 : re:Birthday

“Everybody’s got to lose their darkness sometime.” — Sting

A year ago today, I took my first dose of an SSRI, and it changed everything.

It changed everything, and almost immediately. Like, the very next day. I was sure it was wishful thinking/the placebo effect, at first. Then that following week was just an epic trainwreck — I mean, the timing was ridiculous. I noted that, too: I wasn’t blogging then — I wrote two posts in March, none in April or May, one in June — but I knew when I first went to therapy with The Wizard and took his advice to try the adolescent dose of Fluoxitine, that I was going to want/need to remember those details later; so I made some notes and kept track of them. Here’s what they said a week later:

Well, that was one fuck of a week — like a 6 or 7/10 in stress and awfulness. But it all felt a lot less worse than it should have, or than it normally would have.

”… it all felt a lot less worse than it should have…”

Ding!

Then I noted all the bad breaks and hard grinds and soul-bruising setbacks of that first week, and… just kept going. I didn’t smolder on them like I used to. I didn’t despair for the idea that that trendline was just steadily and inexorably downward. I didn’t catastrophize every daily thing into what it would mean as a weekly|monthly|yearly|lifely thing. I just picked up and kept going.

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Soon after, I realized that I wasn’t waking up every day with that crushing regret at having to plow through another day. The days… just started seeming like days again; and then I started to get a flicker of perspective on just how long it had been since that’s how the upcoming days seemed. It had been _years_. Probably more like a decade. A whole decade.

Telling a depressed person to practice gratitude, or to just be optimistic, is like telling someone dying of thirst to imagine water. It doesn’t solve the problem, because it cannot solve the problem. The problem is the problem.

For me, a discursive loop of serotonin, just a tiny amount of one particular chemical compound, recycled through my fucking brain a couple more times than it had been, was like a waterfall appearing, suspended in thin air, in that desert I’d been dragging my ass across for so long. It was revelatory. It might have been life saving.

So it’s been 365 days since then. Happy Anniversary, little blue and white pills. It’s me and you forever. [OK, not really forever; more on that another time.] And my real birthday was a couple months ago — June 8, thanks — but in my head, I’m resetting it to August 1 for a while, because a re:birthday is perhaps even more important than a birthday, especially when you luck into it at the halfway point of the trip.

Anyways, that’s all I’ve got for now. Another link in this loop chain. I can feel it speeding up, now that we’re around that penultimate curve, and I just wish I could carve out more time along the way to tell these stories. I wish these could be my re:birthday present to you — whoever you are — and a little more expensive than I can afford now, and a little more nicely wrapped, and maybe with a fancy bow on top, just because. Maybe it will be more that later; maybe not. Gotta let it be what it can be, because trying too hard to make it everything was another part of the problem.

[Oh, and also: it’s not really today. I checked; I was making detailed notes. It was actually last July 28th, at precisely 5pm, that I popped that first pill. But I’m never gonna remember 7/29; much easier to round it off and call it 8/1. Also, being a stickler for marking it as 7/29 is the kind of nonsense detail that my old brain would have insisted on. Fuck you, old brain. Re-patterning/de-patterning/anti-patterning.]

I took a walk alone last night; I looked up at the stars. I picked a star for me; I picked a star for you.

-98 : 1988

“Hello from the other side.” – Adele

I was just lying face down on the floor of my childhood bedroom. Stretching out my spine, after the last night in this loaner bed of our annual summer trip, back to where so many of my patterns either first revealed themselves or were first set into motion. Or some of both — it can be two things.

Fifty light lumbar bends, ten deep press-ups, a hundred reverse sit-ups, three songs, a few deep sighs, a passing attempt at practicing my breathing, and I start to feel like a whole person again, ready for a new day. “Hello, can you hear me?”

Lying on the carpet, five feet from where I first so happily had sex, with a girl I was absolutely, astonishingly in love with. Also five feet from where I fell in love again, at least one and a half times, and processed a broken heart, at least twice. Hmm… speaking of patterns. Here, in this room now where I type on a borrowed laptop, here is where I learned how to put those shards back together into a rough mosaic; just barely complete enough to take that heart back into the world and give it another go.

Interesting.

The things that come up from free writing; from ‘daily pages’. The things I’m willing to share now. Interesting.

Lying here, now sitting here, sifting through impressions of the people that mattered to me most when that room was the center of my life’s gravity. Many things I can’t say there, because while it’s my right to tell my story however I want, it’s not right to tell the parts that intersect with others’ stories too much. I owe them far too great a debt of gratitude to say things they’d probably I rather not say. They know who they are, and how they helped make me me.

I can say that I remember learning to juggle with Wade, R.E.M. on the stereo. All those late high school afternoons. Cassette tapes and Slurpees and… God — what did we talk about? Who were those adolescent boys, quickly and recklessly becoming men? Probably 94% about girls, and the rest music. Perhaps a little bit about juggling, but probably not as much as it would seem obvious to me to discuss now. I didn’t really know anything about craft or the process of learning a mechanical skill then. I wouldn’t have analyzed it this way, because it’s one of the things that taught me how to do this.

I also can’t remember whose idea it was to make that a “project” — ah, so great — but it was almost certainly his. I always leaned towards the bolder, creative types for friends. People who would drag me from my reluctant shell, like a gull dropping some gooey crustation from the air to the hard packed sand, to pop it open and see what was inside. Wade prompted me to learn to juggle, Eric to draw and play guitars, Cindy to see myself as an artist. S… well, yeah. There’s another one I can’t say, exactly, but I think fair to put it that she showed me one way to love.

“You missed six!”

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I saw Wade yesterday for the first time in two years; an appointment carefully planned in advance and crammed into overly-full middle-aged lives, because I narrowly missed him last year and it made me so angry and sad. We had indoor street tacos which were unbelievable, and I told him almost everything about this past unbelievable year, and he told me things about his view of the world and Buddhism that would have been literally unbelievable to my locked in, Black Iron Prison brain but that now seem not only wise but very compelling. Go figure on that one, author of a blog called Alms for Oblivion.

Anyways, he and I learned together, 30 years ago — where were you then? I’m afraid I know — how to keep three balls in the air pretty well. Bouncing along to the rhythm of “Orange Crush” and “Ages of You” and “Bandwagon”. Improbably, with very few reps in the intervening years, I can still do it. Not listen to old songs on the “stereo” — juggle. At least, for a moment. I could do it better with a little practice.

Everything gets better, with a little practice.

And I was thinking the other week about how I never learned to add a fourth ball. It’s not 25% harder; it’s exponentially harder. Like a completely different thing. In my new life, with my new brain, that seems like a good thing to try to figure out. It seems like a project. It’s now on my list.

I’m in California dreaming of the way we used to be, when we were young and free…

+99.9 : Apogee/Apology

“Memories seep from my veins, that may be empty; Oh, they’re weightless, and maybe, I’ll find some peace tonight.” – Sarah MacLachlan

This is the last link in this loop chain, as far as it can possibly go, before I turn it around and follow it back to where it started. Apogee: the point of an orbit farthest away from earth before god and gravity make whatever they wanna make. Apology: I’m sorry; sorry, sorry, sorry.

What I want to make is an end to this discursive loop. An ending that lands it back at the beginning, but not in exactly the same place. Perhaps at the same x and y coordinates, but a new z: one level up in the same spot on the map. I’m trying — trying — trying to bend what has been a closed orbit for so, so, so too long into an open spiral. One going upwards: aiming for new altitudes, instead of forever locked into that dismal, static, horizontal plane. Growth rather than stasis. Risk instead of caution.

If I can manage that project — if maybe I’ve already started to — that would close off this loop cycle nicely. Not quite on time — pretty late, actually — and at some incalculable variance from any reasonable budget. But still… Change is change; arriving is always better than drifting on endless seas. I woke up just in time.

And, if I dare to fire up yet another capital-D Dream, here with my newfound optimism and precious new little spores of hope, I’ll end not just this loop cycle here, but the cycle of cycles. Break not just the chain, but the fucking wheel, too. For good. And I don’t even have dragons.

< loop | loop | loop >
Stop.

This is a story I’ve been waiting to tell for almost a year. Perhaps “stalling” is a better and more accurate word than “waiting”. [And perhaps that’s more than just semantics?] Either way, I’ve been consistently not telling this story, despite wanting to and feeling it build in me. Like a train in the foothills, gathering steam.

I think I’ve been doing the waiting/stalling routine for a few reasons; reasons which seem distinct enough to list separately, yet might just be facets of the same thing:

One, for the simple fear of saying it out loud, and what might happen after that. The joyous freedom to speak, and the occasionally heart-stopping knowledge of having to own all the consequences of speaking.

Two, for hoping the story — this new narrative arc in the Scott Cooper book — would last long enough that telling it wouldn’t overlap with (or, for the love of the Old Gods, somehow prompt) its ending.

And three, for wanting to get it as close to right as I’m able. To resist that perpetual desire to unleash my wild pack of words as soon as they’re hungry, allowing them the easy, temporary satiation of munching on the smallest prey. I want to keep them close, instead; held tight until they’re keen and slobbering, yet still disciplined enough to go after the big kill. The one that will feed us for a good long while, not just until tomorrow.

OK, so:

ONE:
The fear of saying it out loud. The prevailing biases in our society, or at least in the small, vanilla slice of it that I inhabit, say that mental health issues either: a) aren’t really a thing, unless they’re a serious thing; or b) reveal such a fundamental flaw in one’s character that your friends should reconsider their connection to you and your coworkers should really think twice about trusting you with the passwords to the web servers.

Seen from a very slightly more informed perspective, all of that is revealed to be complete bullshit, but those biases are broadcast at us and perpetuated through ten thousand channels, from sitcoms to overheard snippets of conversations. Sometimes overt, but most quietly implied. “He’s off his meds”; “she doesn’t have her shit together”, “that dude is crazy”, “everybody’s sad; just suck it up and get on with it”, etc. So admitting to anything in that realm either announces a weakness that others don’t have — what could be worse than being susceptible to a ‘not a thing’ thing? — or flags you as a potentially serious liability.

That’s a little paranoid, perhaps. But you just never know what kinds of trouble putting your hard truths out into the world might get you into, amongst the craven and the disreputable. Revealing my scars and pressure points is a boundless virtue among friends and co-conspirators. The people I’ve found out there via the amazingly easy mechanism of typing my ideas into a box and pushing Publish are astounding; literally now some of my favorite people, even having never sat in the same space or heard one another’s actual voices. But for all that, it’s also a risk amongst others. Public is public; the permanent online archive is permanent. “Vultures and thieves at my back,” as the song goes, is exactly right. Swooping and stealing as much as they can possibly take.

It would be so much easier to stay quiet, sort it out in private, and hope nobody notices.

Also some fear because it’s just not a glamorous or attractive story. It certainly ain’t as cool as documenting my soaring attempts at living the artist’s Dream. I mean, who would want to read about this instead?

Friends and supporters and fellow travelers, that’s who. Or strangers, who don’t yet know me or care, but who might; and who might be lifted or encouraged or helped, even just a little, by my version of this old, sad story.

TWO:
I’ve almost forgotten what it was like to wake up in despair every morning.
Every. Single. Fucking. Morning.

Almost.

It’s probably wise not to let myself forget it, completely.

“Oh shit, another day…” is not a good way to start each potential + or x on the calendar. It’s a very, very bad way.

In about a week, it’ll be the one year anniversary of me taking that first, unassuming little blue and white pill. The pharmaceutical miracle that turned all those misfiring x’s in my brain to +’s; or at least into neutrals, so that I had a fighting chance of spinning them positive instead of negative. A year is a pretty good span; long enough for me to get past the fear of the effect just one day stopping as suddenly as it started; long enough to see the ebb and tide of emotions as a normal cycle that doesn’t end in a waterfall to nowhere; long enough to map the contours of my new mind and learn to trust that it’s a real, dependable place.

So I was probably waiting to start telling this story until those things happened. Until I could say it had been more than two days or a week or a month or a season. Because it’s been some dramatic seasons, in this past year, none of them reliable or really even very understandable as they were happening. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from volleyball, it’s to never celebrate too soon.

I wrote sixty blog posts here last October and November — which is pretty nuts. 10mg of Fluoxetine, and a little bit of well-timed therapy, fueled a writing surge that made me wonder about the ‘delusions of grandeur’ side effect listed on the EULA. Not entirely seriously, but occasionally; because the difference between waking up at 7:30 wanting almost nothing but to fast forward to the next sleep cycle and waking up a 3:30 wanting to pound out five thousand words is rather startling. Like: “Which one am I again?”

So I found and thoroughly explored the outer limits of my blogging habit last fall, and that felt like a win. I can’t remember what hardly any of them said now — and I’m resisting the urge to go back and do a thorough re-read now. That kind of caution/hesitation is Old Brain Thinking, which I now studiously avoid whenever possible. Any anti-pattern in a storm.

But then that rush stopped ; so abruptly, as I remember it, that from the outside it probably seemed like I’d been hit by a bus, or lost my login. What actually happened is I realized I needed to divert the attention and effort I’d been lavishing on this space into saying the things that I desperately needed to say only to myself; for myself. There were so many things I needed to explore, but absolutely could not say here. (Ha, even now. A lot’s changed since October; a lot’s stayed the same, or intensified.)

Whatever.

So I kept writing at a similar rate, privately; first typing, because of that strongly engrained habit; then transitioning to handwriting in journals; really for the first time in decades. Going back to paper was like returning to first principles; like unplugging everything and picking up an acoustic; like asking my 15-year-old self, who used to lie on his stomach, scribbling furiously in one 200-page college-ruled notebook after another, “Why were you doing that, kid, and what did you hope to gain? What did you learn? Did it help more than it hurt? Who the fuck were we back then, and what does that say about who we’ve become now?”

So I started filling journals again — now much more ornate and satisfying ones, with lovely grid lines and calendar charts and nice typography. The world seems to have caught up to my generation’s desire for fancy notebooks, which now come in a jaw-dropping range of styles and preferences.

(Maybe we need the design of the object to help us justify all that time spent on introspection and self-aggrandizement? Or maybe after years of templates and .css files and obsessive wrangling with digital files, it feels like cheating if all that composing can happen just as readily on a crummy $0.99 Mead, so we spend twelve bucks instead, to bridge that gap? I dunno. I also kinda don’t care.)

So I have been writing: intently, unrelentingly, sometimes probably a little too much. And part of that was prompted by a change in format or methodology. I decided that if I was switching to a private channel, for all the grace that bestows, I was going to truly go for it: every thought OK to write out; ignoring longstanding worries about posterity or being read by others; even discarding the idea of making it legible to some later version of myself. So, for once, not reining it in and not thinking ahead to some hypothetical reader. Discarding the constraint of trying to make it legible; trying to make it make sense.

Almost anti-blogging: just every word as it comes, automatic, sometimes so fast and abrupt that if I pause, to stare out the window or surf a wave of emotion, I can’t even decipher what I wrote a few lines up. Sometimes almost indistinguishable from drawings (and the drawings now inching ever closer to journal entries; cf. Instagram). Brutal, unpretty honesty — much more than I’ve ever allowed myself in four-ish decades of this habit/ practice/ method/ mechanism/ hobby.

In all that writing (and, since I restarted therapy this summer, all that drawing), I’ve been seeking both my current thoughts and feelings, and the larger patterns they delineate; the ways that my brain and view of the world have changed. Early on, to reassure myself that I wasn’t just going to spontaneously return to that grim, hopeless certainty that it’s all just suffering and waiting for the bad parts to wind themselves down to nothing. Then exploring the possibility that I was changed for good. (And also for the good.)

So: I stalled on telling this story for fear that I might have to stop (again) and reverse course. Like, “Sorry guys! I’m depressed again, so I’ve gotta pause this story arc to go deal with that shit some more.” Because in addition to undermining my greatly desired narrative of progress, and the incumbent embarrassment, that’s just bad storytelling.

All those years of toxic rumination vanishing almost overnight left behind the magical suspicion that saying it out loud might jinx it. The first rule of Prozac Club is you don’t talk about Prozac Club. I now think about how so much of mental health involves wrestling with one’s subconscious, surfacing things to daylight thinking that would rather stay down in the muck, eyes and nostrils poised to attack when the moment is right. It’s a process balanced between rational and magical thinking, in a way; and so prone to self-fulfilling prophecy, to suggestion, to all the allure of symbolism. Beliefs and emotions from the deep well of the self are by definition mostly outside our control; often barely comprehensible by the “me” that sits here in the command module and thinks he’s flying the ship. Unpredictable and wild… like how a visit to my childhood home can prompt redreaming dreams I haven’t had in twenty years.

So I stalled — waited — out this first year, learning and exploring a lot of that stuff I just wrote, in the hope that if I waited a bit longer, I could tell the story better and also not accidentally end it along the way.

THREE:
And last was the ambitious, wanting part. I waited until now because I really want to understand this story, these ideas, enough to do more than say, ‘this thing happened, then this other thing and then this strange thing.’ Optimistically, even idealistically — a completely new thing for me, this decade — I waited and read and talked and beseeched Odin’s ravens, trying to gain some insight that I could put into the telling. Because it is fine and good to merely document one’s lived experience; to share. It is something else — wondrous, grand, dare I say, noble? — to redirect, to teach. Perhaps, and this is a huge stretch, but perhaps even to help save, the way that others helped save me.

So my new goal here is to give some useful intel to you, dear reader; on the small chance that maybe you’ve come here looking for some. Or maybe that was what drew us together, across the expanse of a billion voices all speaking uncountable thoughts at once, all those long years ago, when we were young and dumb; or just a few moments ago when I appeared in the haze of some questing Google search. Perhaps you’re in a phase of your own life’s orbit where you could use a boost. Perigee can be astoundingly difficult to escape sometimes. I needed all the help I could get. I still do.

Maybe like some binary gravitational anomaly, I fire these newfound thrusters to boost you a bit, then we swarm around one another and you push me a little farther away from the Abyss, too, spiraling out to new heights in some beautiful new thing that looks like a loop, from a distance, but is actually a helix; an upward spiral.

Yeah, I said it was ambitious. But that’s different than crazy. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past 355 days it’s that nurturing a little wild hope in your chest is the price of admission to the rest of whatever this life can be.

All that said, I used the word “right”, up above: “to get it as close to right as I’m able.” And I use it carefully, advisably. Because “right” is probably the kind of concept — the excessive, perfectionist style of ambition that helped lure me into my Black Iron Prison in the first place. I’m still figuring out how to keep a wary eye on brittle, punishing perfectionism while embracing the kind of hope I just described above. “Because ‘perfection is kind of an asshole, and no one invites him to their pool parties.’ Or something like that.”

Maybe the key qualifiers in that stated goal are “close to” and “as I’m able”. “Close to right” is not aspiring for some predefined Platonic ideal of a result — it is an open-ended, adaptable goal. So is “as I’m able”. Not requiring or expecting something beyond my current capabilities; not insisting that everything else bend itself to my will, to this desire; not imagining that I can somehow escape the unyielding influence of circumstance and accident and luck. Water bugs, trout below. Always just water bugs.

So a condition on all that aspirational, Pay It Forward, Catcher in the Rye business is I can only do what I can do here; this bit of writing is just another bit of writing, however sincere and dedicated and enthusiastic I may be for it in the moment. It will be as good as the time and space and my attention and expanding self-knowledge will allow, in this moment, today, this week, whenever. And: fine. I will sing this song; then another song; then another song. There’s only one beginning and one ending for each of us, and everything in the middle is verse-chorus-verse and, if we’re lucky, a really sweet bridge somewhere near the end.

It also took a while to get past my initial concept, which was that this blog would end with one last post, here at +99.9, and that it would be a polished, discrete thing; accessible to virtually anyone, so that people who might benefit from reading it wouldn’t need to first wade through my previous 30,000 words on the Internet in order to make heads or tails of it.

I was stuck on that lofty, hard goal until I realized that I didn’t have to write that single, concrete, clear essay. That it’s not necessarily a good thing to oversimplify and hone away every possible bit of excess and seasoning. That putting all this in terms of “the problem” and “the solution” might be killing the messenger more than wrapping things up in a tidy bow.

That ‘all things to all people’ kind of writing, aimed at an uninitiated audience is that kind of thing that would go on the back page of a ceramics magazine, but it misses the point of blogs; of micro-audiences; of aiming right at the heart of just a dozen other people on earth. And it just isn’t me; or isn’t in me now; it’s certainly not how I write or how I like to write; and it’s probably tangled up in some ludicrous Dream-thinking and an unstated hope for extrinsic rewards. Also it’s much, much, much less fun, and almost certainly less rewarding, in the end, than this… whatever this is. Than these discursive loops.

So even as ‘the new me’, that’s still not me. I don’t write essays; I write a blog. An essay starts with answers and an agenda. A blog post starts with questions and a faint whiff of hope. I’ll take hope over an agenda any day.

“Let me take the idea that has gotten me this far and put it to bed. What I am about to do will not be that, but it will be something.” – Ze Frank

So here’s to the new idea of extending this writing project twice as long as I’d planned; There and Back Again. It’ll almost certainly continue to be messy and crazy and self-referential, as much clues and hints and callbacks and out-of-synch references as ‘substance’; red herrings in place of meaty content; all in an attempt to get to some deeper, better kind of meaning.

Oblique to encourage fuzzy thinking, rather than punish it and pound it down; opaque to reward exploration; as organic as thought, scribbled down like casual petroglyphs in sandstone, never intended to delineate the high water mark of our little civilization… just a guy in a moment and place in time with a sharpened stick and an impulse to see what he can do with it.

I used to joke that tw@se was a rough draft for the blog I hoped to write someday. I still think that’s a pretty decent joke. [Oh! An aside to mention that very few things have made me happier lately than when my therapist told me I’m funny. She might have even said, “very funny.” Reminded me of “they’re (really) good jokes”. Hmm… let’s circle back to that one sometime, eh?] So it would be fitting for me to take 98 more posts, on the orbital path back home, to arrive at a rough draft for that one, normal-human-accessible kind of essay. I mean the one I’ll still probably never write, but which I’d be a lot more prepared for if I allow these discursions and explorations on the way there. Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

I mean, come on: discursive is right up there in the title.

So yeah. The idea that Paying It Forward doesn’t require that I share this thing, this story, with the whole damn world. And forget carving sandstone: it doesn’t even have to make more than just a mark in the sand, between cycles of the tide. I’m pretty sure every one of those erased marks somehow makes a difference, too. And/but/also — importantly, these are my marks in the sand. I made them, when I could have been doing almost anything else instead. And I made them. (When I could have been doing almost anything else instead.)

Ho fatto questo.

It would be wonderful, rewarding, generative, encouraging, even negentropic (if I may be so bold), if I put my brains and guts and tattered skein of a soul into this and it helped even one person. One is a lot. Especially if that one person was one of you, my All-22, who’ve been along for so much of this journey with me. [Probably now whittled down to an All-2, or maybe three, who still find some use or fun or distraction or joy in reading words like these on the Internet. But still: even two or three would be fan-tastic.)

OK. Enough preamble. Here goes:

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“I don’t want to start, but I will. This is an invocation for anyone who hasn’t begun, who’s stuck in a terrible place between zero and one.” – ZF

This is the end of the first half of this loop. This is the positive integers straining all the way up to their maximal limit, one incremental little + after another. (Ironic that it will be -‘s on the way back down. Or maybe more fitting to make them x’s?)

This is where I bend it around and try to bring it back home, with something big and new and possibly very important in tow: a glimpse of a previously-unseen, unfathomably-distant galaxy; a reflection of myself, in a mirror that I thought was long broken; an echo of the finite, like a signal bounced off the infinite; a lookout for hope.

This is my depression story, and how I started ending it.

“You were brought from the wreckage of your silent reverie…”

+99.3

“I draw a jackal-headed woman in the sand; sing of a lover’s fate, sealed by jealous hate, and wash my hand in the sea.” – 1o,ooo Maniacs

So here’s the thing: I thought I’d hatch a dream, to escape the dreadful void of not knowing What I Was Going To Do With My Life, and then I’d instantiate it — make it real — and then everything else would just sort of sort itself out.

So naive.

I’ve loved that song above, Verdi Cries, for thirty years now. When I first heard it, in my teenaged bedroom, sitting on the floor in front of the stereo, as almost every kid worth her or his salt used to do, before Walkmen and iPhones and portable Bluetooth speakers… sitting on the floor of my California bedroom, in front of the stereo, in the nineteen-eighties, I thought I’d be one of those lucky dreamers who didn’t have to conform to the mold that held everyone else, everyone above and beyond me in the aging olympics, so tightly bound.

“I was a dreamer before you and I let me down.” That’s Taylor again. It’s astounding, the reservoir of tremendous lyrics just from that one human’s brain. Enough to live on for years.

And somehow, in my solidly upper-middle-class, mostly trauma-free, loving two-parent household in the still-new suburbs of one of the nicest cities in America, I imagined I could both be an iconoclastic dreamer [my junior year journalism teacher, Peggy O., taught me that word. She was fantastic; a former Berkeley hippie who brought it every day. How teachers do that is still beyond my understanding.] [I thought I could be that, too, for a little while — it was a momentary answer to the question above, which really means, “How are you going to pay your way through this life, dummy? English Lit. major. Seriously?” But I failed miserably at that too; all those young faces looking up to the front of the room, desperately needing guidance and structure and, equally, doubting my ability to give them either. Too much.] I imagined I could both be an iconoclastic dreamer and have the same kind of stability (or so it seemed) and security (or so it seemed, and luckily, ended up) as my parents, my extended family, the neighbors, my friends’ families.

I saw my dad bust his ass to change his own brakes and get it done before the sun went down on a Sunday, and somehow didn’t believe that calculus would apply to me. What was I thinking? That if I just listened to Verdi Cries enough times in a row, the parts of the future cars that I’d certainly have to own — let alone find ways to pay for — would just heal themselves, like magic?

I seem to have overlooked that a house is not just a thing — a permanent place you come home to and a vessel for watching television within. I saw — and even occasionally helped with — the constant painting and tweaking and minor repairs and battery changes and perpetual trips to Home Depot for some damn inscrutable little part or tool or other. And sure, some of that sunk in, past the oblivious filters of teenage lust and angst, to where when I signed a deed myself, all those years later, many of those activities felt strangely instinctual. I’d been culturally patterned to know that having some screwdrivers in a drawer in the kitchen was a good idea; and taught, almost by osmosis, which one to use for a particular problem. I knew not to fuck around with electricity until the breaker’s off, and even then, not too much. I knew about paint, sort of — because California paint is ridiculously different than Midwestern paint — and calling plumbers and why you fix a leak the second you spot it. Sure.

But somehow, for all that, I still dreamed about owning a “cool”, “interesting” old house someday — one with the ever-popular CHARACTER — and thought it wouldn’t be a source of constant need; an epic time-suck; an incalculable sinkhole for money that really should be spent on guitars and vacations.

“So it goes.”

And, duh, same with pottery. I didn’t see the long hours, the sore back, the fact that every lump of clay on the wheel still brings its challenge.

And if I was still in my abyss, spiraling down the long ramp to oblivion, I’d have ended this scrap of writing just there. On a note that says, fuck, wow, am I fucked, and I bet you are too. But I’m not. So I didn’t.

Yeah, the house is a monster, but it is my sense of place. My anchor in the physical world. I walk off the side porch into the incredible cold — the tear ducts momentarily crystallizing kind of cold — and look up and there’s Orion’s Belt, tilted at just the angle that belongs to us here, slowly plowing across the dark; passage marked like hands on a cosmic clock by the bare branches of the trees I nurture and then, as time and the weathers do their thing, prune and cut and burn for their saved heat. I struggle to force myself back to the wheel, every time — I know now that I always will — but like that dog circling it’s bed before a nap, that routine of stalling and approaching gradually and checking for hazards before letting my guard down exists for a reason. No, for a thousand good reasons. The dogs that didn’t scout before sleeping ended up not being dogs faster than those that did. The potters that just rush in are probably missing something important.

So throwing is still hard, but once I commit, and acclimate, it’s mostly a good hard. You know what’s not hard? Tying my shoes. You know what I never even think about as I’m doing it, and haven’t felt any reward from accomplishing since I was, like five years old? Yep. Gods forbid that making things out of clay should ever fall to the level of tying shoes.

Like learning new chords on the guitar, and then wondering how they somehow remained hidden from me all these many years, I go back to my wheel — so simple, it just goes ’round in a circle — and all the clay I can possibly use — so complex, it can do almost anything, if you learn what it wants and are patient — and the possibilities, hiding just out of sight, or around the next corner, are bafflingly wondrous. This can be anything you want, said the sign I wrote to myself when I quit being a full-time potter and went back to being a part-time potter. You’re paying your way, mostly, elsewhere, so don’t be a dumb drone here. Don’t make an endless run of the same Teadust mug and wake up twenty years from now not liking any of them. Don’t surrender to the modest expectations of your likely customers. Don’t hurt yourself trying for a quantity that wouldn’t really make you feel that much better if you achieved it.

Just don’t.

“The souls of men and women, impassioned all. Their voices rise and fall. Battle trumpets call. I fill the bath and climb inside… Singing…”

+99.2

“Trying to tear her down was your first mistake. ‘Cause little do you know, she wasn’t built to break.” – Grace VanderWaal

I approached the gods and I was found wanting. They sent me back here, for more practice.

That’s OK. The trees are awfully nice, especially at the start and end of each day. And I get to sing songs with my daughter — honestly, we’re both terrible, but wow is it fun to try.

I’m not sure if they sent me back with the capacity to make more pots. I mean, it seems like they would have; I assume I can, since that’s been a part of me for almost as long as this has been a me. But I really don’t know. I can imagine, if the terrain suddenly shifted, morphing that impulse and those skills and desire into music, or cutting up and drawing on bits of paper, or writing, or who knows what else The OA might sprinkle on the path, luring me to some as-yet unimagined destination?

But this version of me? I dunno. Sometimes it feels like I channeled so much of the despair through clay that it’s too hazardous to return there. That those well-worn repetitions and modes of thought are permanently entwined with the bad loops; that my former (just barely) salvation could now be a route back to my undoing. Is this just the normal procrastinating stall before diving in, or is this one different? I’ve never dove back in with a new brain before. I probably will; and later I’ll probably report back that it was good and fine and I’ve found some good new things there to chase. But right now — at 6:02 on a Sunday in the northern hemisphere and winter — I’m not sure. It seems a bit too much like the risks I used to take without knowing they were risks.

OK. I’m gonna get my 2nd cup of coffee and reset here. This night isn’t quite over, and I’m not convinced that this is a smart direction to start this day. Hold on a sec…

[OK, I did an Instagram checkin, too. Because I am a solipsistic jackal, like all the rest of you. But the overnight returns were good. It’s crazy to fuck around with some pencils and graph paper and an X-acto knife for a little while and then make an impression on a dozen brains I admire to the ends of the world. I mean… what the fucking what how does that happen? MORE LIKE THAT.]

Mapping out my new brain.

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[Oh, also have a good streak of posting a lyric from a song I’m listening to at the start of each day to Ye Olde Dreaded FB. I like that almost no one ever Likes them. No one but me; because I fucking love them, man. These sounds/sounds/words are the cheapest life support system our civilization could have conceived of, and it’s right there, now, on an infinite tap, straight into my soul via these weird little white knobs that hang around my neck. Imagine.]

OK, loop back. That opening paragraph sounds like I attempted suicide and fucked that up, too. Clarity: I didn’t. More clarity: I didn’t make the attempt — have never got closer than imagining a long walk in the snow with no destination, on one very cold night years ago. And I really don’t know what any of that metaphor means, or is trying to say. I really don’t. It popped into shape, fully formed, as I was doing my too-early music-supported back-stretch hoodie-on lie-down routine. The thing that helps me transition from waking at 5am to being a respectable (?) human at 5pm.

{Oh, and shit! Man, do I want to recount that subtle suicide joke my buddy made yesterday, in my IG comments; but it’s too much to out him for, and I mean, that stuff is not funny, Scott. No; not ever.}

Well, OK. So much for plans. I think I’ve been avoiding this ‘space’ because I foolishly made a plan for it and announced my intentions, back in that bizarre rush of October and November. Nothing kills flow like predicting it’s continuity. Or expecting it. Dummy.

But hey — on the plus side, it looks like I still remember that ‘“I’m not clay.”

+99.1

“Tilt your head and turn it towards the sun.” – Stars

“Waterfall goes softly to the sea. And I feel my hands are finally free. Oh, give me a chance so I can find the sea. One and one; one and one is me.” – Wheat

Well, well. Fancy meeting you here again.

So, I have been writing, despite lack of all evidence here. In fact, writing so much that it’s seemed a little overkill or OCD, even for me; writing writing writing. But it’s all been for myself; working on a story that must remain only mine, at least for now; chipping away at other ideas way too strange even to tell to you; circling and circling this amazingly strange and wonderful new ‘space’ I’ve discovered, like an overlay on the world I previously knew, all too well, but which was hidden from me by secret codes and handshakes I could only dream of.

Writing in my digital Bear, some, yes; mostly cataloging the recent past; trying to put down markers for future reference, remember the places where time moved too fast, so I have to play it back. Typing is good for that; I’m really fast at a keyboard, when I just need to catch the quickest thoughts as they go by the interpreter in a caffienated Rush.

But mostly writing in my paper notebooks — the slow(er) kind of writing; more introspective; more spatial; sometimes with associated sketches and arrows and scribbles for emphasis, or as substitutes for actual mediatation. I’m now on my third one, since I restarted that sporadic habit this fall, [a habit that stretches back at least 30-years; and maybe more like 35]. Not sure when that will wind down or if it will keep pace, but if I keep going at 10-12 pages on a good night, I’m going to need to start buying them in bulk.

But all of that is, pretty much, and as I said, another story; a story that would come well after +99 here. If ever; because it’s a story I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to tell. (Although, “ever” is so long, probably, that it’s foolish of me to assume that. Better to think that I will definitely tell it, just later than I think I might.) Alternately, it might just leak out in unexpected ways, like tears lately, or in the occasional, unanticipated slosh of an overfull mental bucket. We are not always as in control as we think, or would like. Sometimes ideas slip out like meeting an old friend in a new, unfamiliar place.

“Which one am I again?”

+

For years (I mean: years), I’ve looked out the windows at our mostly-wild landscape in this season and thought, “Fucking frozen winter hellscape. Surely this is what’s making me miserable. Surely it’s just because it’s [January].” [*insert name of current month here*]

Now I look out and think, “My god, where did all this beauty come from? Sure it’s cold — I mean, by The Old Gods is it ever cold! — but that’s part of the fun. It couldn’t be this astoundingly white and ice blue and a million shades of interleaving gray without the cold. And we need a good hard frost to kill off all the nasty bits. And it’s not all bad, needing an excuse to walk outside, to go babysit the stove in the studio six or sixteen times a day. Not all bad at all.”

It would be natural to assume that when I stopped writing here, it was because I stopped chasing the Muse; gave up on The OA. But it’s the opposite — because I was chasing her harder, farther, faster, more intently; the Wild Hunt howling in full throat for days at a time.

“This Is A State Of Grace.”

And, another bit of unexpected grace: as I pace my circles around our driveway circle, trying to keep my long, aging limbs moving even at the nadir of the solstice, I get to actually see the track of where I’ve been; literally how many laps made by footprints, captured in snow. Just like fingertips trailing across the wet surface of a just-thrown pot, or how I was, walking the beaches, as a sunburned, foolishly optimistic kid — completely unaware that not every landscape in my later life would automatically record the trace of my passing, like sand. I walk out on that 8º morning; or this -11º morning; and can see all the loops of yesterday’s walk; and the day before’s; and the day before’s. I need, right now, that reminder of the days passed; proof of progress through The Long Night. It is not optional; not a luxury. The count keeps me in rhythm; synced to the eternal Cloud; out of the ditch; away from the old edge of the old, goddamn Abyss.

So, like retracing those steps through the snow, I’ve been needing to write for only me; to figure out what the fuck is going on in here. I just kind of stumbled into moving the slider on the Public/Private control all the way up to 99. (Well, maybe 95; if you’ve been following me on Instagram — and you really should be following me on Instagram; I mean; I’m getting pretty good there — you know that I’ve been using it like a little microblog more; like shards of these longer arcs; excuses for another space to drop random-to-you-but-crucial-to-me lyrics; saying more with a photo than my brain (or courage) have been able to muster with full paragraphs.

I need to dance to TS with new earbuds in my studio in the early morning dark, while the stove kicks back up to an inferno from the embers. I needed to let my beard grow wild for a few more days, here in the mandatory winter “break”; to go out in the single digits and cut broken trees and haul next next year’s firewood; and play backyard lumberjack just to prove that I’m not yet fully broken or too far gone, both for the lumberjacking and the play. I needed to put on new strings and be amazed again at the sound this thing can make; I have played more guitar in the last month than in the previous five years combined. Maybe a lot more. I’ve got two or three new songs almost learned, to where I can go through them without having to think about it too hard. It is mesmerizing, like a self-cast magic trick, and so heartening to hear my own voice dare to sing. Again.

I needed, these last weeks which have felt like months, to make a list of Important Things To Do Today and then studiously ignore it, for, instead, playing snippets of songs into Voice Memos on my new iPhone, or putting together new Lego sets with Pixel, or continuously not going down to load salt into the softener barrel in the basement.

At least, that’s what I *think* I needed. It seemed to work out OK. I’ll be “behind” again in April, and May, and probably in March, but maybe it’s time to take a good hard look at what that really means, and who the dreamer is who keeps indulging in that particular self-cast nightmare, anyways.

Because I really have no idea.

I’m trying to find new friends; trying to start this massive book about ancient Rome; {down, autocorrect! I’ll decide if “ancient” gets a capital A; not you!}; trying to at least think about sorting this almost-done year’s receipts, so I’m not stuck fiddling with paper on a gorgeous day in Spring, like I have been every year since I first tried to be legit about selling pottery in this world.

Anyways.

So: I used to wake up, nearly every damn day, and think, “Fuck, another damn day.” That is literally, exactly what I would think. That and/or worse. I am almost more ashamed to admit it than I am compelled to admit it. So there; now you know.

Now I wake up and think, “Wow, another day. I want to do everything today. How am I going to choose? How will I fit it all in?” And this is no little fling; no temporary {in}sanity injected into the norm; it’s been that way for months now. Months. “I’m doing better than I ever was.”

Somehow, the help pulled me out of the Abyss. And then, as if that wasn’t enough for one year, I somehow also slipped the hangman’s noose; given a reprieve from my choice of execution, where I’d hung, gasping, for years. I’m still gawking at that combination of circumstances; struggling to fit it into a coherent view of the universe; marveling at it. That kind of fortune deserves reverence; vast appreciation. I will try not to get greedy. I will try not to want too much more.

And if this new state (of grace) does turn out to be temporary — if the Abyss drags me back into its gravity; if the noose sneaks back around my neck in some new, unanticipated form — then I feel the urgent, desperate need to use this time, right now, to lay down new patterns; new circles in the snow, which, hopefully, will bring me back here, if and when I get lost again. So I’be been screaming my way into new anti-patterns; going FILDI at as many things as I can juggle at once; doing the opposite of almost everything I used to do, aside from the cores of being a decent Dad, and crossing off my chores, and not blowing out my back, and eating and sleeping, at least occasionally, well.

The contrast — between Old Me and New Me — is sometimes dizzying; inscrutable joy (as if I’m drunk without ever having been drunk) alternating with profound confusion (as if I woke up in someone else’s body, and need to learn how these fingers and legs work). An almost-daily twist of regret and mourning for everything I lost while I was lost; for who I could be or would have become by now if not for all that. (With recognition of what Maron said, about that immediate tendency to blame yourself for not knowing then what you suddenly know now, and how that’s fruitless. I get that. I respect that, and grant myself that pass. But still — that guy I used to be was a stubborn fucking idiot sometimes, wasn’t he? I hated that guy. I wouldn’t blame you if you hated him, at least sometimes, too.)

Been thinking that it’s like the thing that I killed and left in that shallow roadside grave was not The Dream, but the *me* who stumbled through trying to kill it from, oh, let’s say 2007 to mid-2017. That’s a long fucking decade to be lost. That’s a critical mistake, to think that I could strip off that skein of hope and live without it, like Peter Pan without his shadow.

“Just because I’m losing, doesn’t mean that I’m lost. Doesn’t mean I didn’t get what I deserved; no better and no worse.”

So: sorry for the delay; sorry for the future delays; sorry for being sorry. You know what I mean. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” So much has happened that I would have liked to also capture and track and share here — it seems deeply crazy that I wrote a blog post on the morning of my sale and completely forgot about it until I friend just reminded me of it the other day, so thoughtfully sending me a screenshot of it on his device, to prove to me that these words I put on my screen actually do go out into the world, and to other minds, sometimes. Weird how often I forget that, amongst the dark and the notice. I read it again yesterday (or was it the day before the day before that? I lose track…) and it was actually good; and also good that that was only 20 days ago and feels like 20 weeks. And I don’t actually mean “deeply crazy” like crazy, but deeply weird; like unbelievably strange. Like my internal sense of time passing has warped to match the contours of this new terrain; this strange, unmapped place where I’ve no desire to waste time, to get past it, to skip ahead via video games and televised sports or drama, and instead want to either be soaking up every moment — often listening to music as much and deeply and in ways I haven’t since I was literally a teenager — or asleep, refueling for the next charge into the unknown.

In a D&D metaphor, I just keep coming back up to the surface base camp with one strange, powerful, dauntingly beautiful artifact after another; mystified that they’d been lying under the surface, just beneath our feet, all that time, while I obliviously sleepwalked through years, staring at my feet yet missing the fact of all that ground/earth/substance beneath; immune to the idea of things both seen and unseen. Now it’s like I’m rolling natural 18’s and 20’s most days of the week, with the occasional, paltry 9 not being against anything fatal; all my bad rolls now seem recoverable, with a little rest and some extra spellbook study.

As my new brain has gradually ramped up to cruising speed (I hope), my attention has sometimes gone fractal; trying to be everywhere at once; and so (or, maybe, in spite of this) my writing has gone way, way deeper than even I was expecting. I am using the tricks and tools that I developed here on the blog, back in the way-gone of Oct and Nov (with you as volunteer audience to help me learn them), to burrow, now, down where no audience should go; at least, not yet. If I keep writing myself to sleep each night, instead of watching TV or reading The New Yorker, I’m a little scared of where that might lead. Is it possible to learn too much about yourself, scribbling out one word at a time?

And I don’t mean for that suggestion of unseen words to be tantalizing — assuming you like and maybe even value them, at least a little — or a promise of future quantity and quality, it does feel a lot like being out there in the snow, geared up and trying to have fun without cutting my leg off: sawing up raw materials that will fuel as-yet-Unknown future work, once the requisite time for seasoning is complete… Who knows what might happen in a sufficiently-warmed room in 2019? With an infinitely malleable material like clay — or words — or thoughts — and enough serotonin to keep from getting stuck in another bad series of loops; and, with any more luck — although I know I can’t ask for, and shouldn’t ever expect, any more than I’ve already, recently had — it seems like possibly just about anything could happen. Just about.

And that’s kind of the essence of hope, isn’t it? Of dreams? Not expecting, not counting on them, but allowing them?

I don’t know what else I can tell you about all this, today. Rewiring a brain from scratch is hard work. Labor intensive. Non-linear. Hard to estimate how much time and money it might take to complete the job. Hard to show evidence of past work in the “finished” product.

It’d be nice to have wrapped the year with that ‘final’ +99 post; the one I’ve been thinking about, and hinting at, for months. But I still seem only vaguely closer to writing it; it might need next year’s firewood to fully combust. So yeah, sure, that would have been nice, but nice is not always worth chasing. Trying to fit my actual life, day by day, hour by hour, to the harsh geometry of arbitrary calendars feels like Old-Me thinking. For the sake of what? A very shallow riff on a joyless joke? Like: look at me, I hit a numerological deadline! Yay. Yeah, maybe that kind of thinking was always more part of the problem than part of the solution. Whereas dropping that quote-unquote important post on some random day in January (or June) (or next January) feels much more humane; more in tune with the human I actually am. And this human still needs all the help he can get.

“So it goes.”

So 2017 was the first year in a long time that I didn’t hate. Well, that’s not strictly true: I hated the first seven months of it, as usual. That’s why I ( finally ) went to get help. And then, like the punch in a fairytale, the help, somehow, magically… helped. The last five months — those were really good. Intense, wild, brave, scary-good, but so much better.

“My castle crumbled overnight. I brought a knife to a gunfight. They took the crown, but I’m alright. All the liars are calling me one. Nobody’s heard from me for months. I’m doing better than I’ve ever was.” — TS

Thanks, Taylor. Sincerely, and from the greatest depths I can plumb. This music, your music, has helped me more in the last year than I could say in a thousand blog posts. You are an incarnation of The OA. I am unerringly grateful.

So August through December has been like a renaissance. A new way of writing, a new language of thinking, an almost — at times — brand new way of looking at… well, fucking everything. I don’t know how else to put that. And sorry, but the F-bomb there is necessary; like so many seemingly unnecessary things.

I am humbled by that newness, where I’d truly believed there was no room left for anything that wasn’t old. Brought low in my dominion of self; to where I can now bow to the full New Year moon as I pass by, in the sub-zero snow walk to feed the stove. I am so much less than I’d insisted, and so much more, now, than I’d hoped.

And since I couldn’t have predicted any of this, a year ago — since I failed completely to see any of it coming — I am officially out of the prediction business. I will, instead, make small, contained goals. I will try to keep my To Do lists short and on point (with everything else dumped into appropriately labeled containers, minus expectations and guilt: Someday Maybe; If You Feel Like It; Rainy Day Insanity). I will try to be open to each new bend in the road, each new curveball from outer space, and each new opportunity to indulge in another Oxford comma, or not.

I will just try.

“There’s glitter on the floor after the party.”

+98

“I love you to the moon and back…” – TS

It’s sale day. The last thing I should be doing, three hours and fifty seven minutes before opening, is writing a blog post. That’s why I’m doing it.

Well… That and I feel like I kind of left you hanging there. After twenty thousand words in October, and another twenty in November, I was certainly paid up on my Karma Payment Plan for December — but I could have at least given you a heads-up. I was so insistent about getting my voice into your head, all three of you who doggedly followed along for the whole thing, that it was kind of rude to just turn that voice off, without warning. So, sorry about that.

It’s not that I haven’t been writing. Might even be doing more, but I switched over to paper and the Private side of the words. I’ve had a ton to think about — between the new job and the new brain, it would have been plenty, but adding in the sale panic and I didn’t think I could trust my filters enough to avoid making a mess. A couple recent near-misses — where I accidentally lobbed things on the wrong side of the Public/Private membrane, yet somehow got away clean — shied me off for a while. You don’t have to FILDI everything, all the time.

(Don’t worry; I’ll be back to cause myself more trouble again, soon.)

➕ SALE TOMORROW :: 10-4 ➕

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So last night, during the obligatory bath time (not mine), I was cruising around iTunes — which I virtually never do — and found a new-to-me TS song. I bought it instantly — a dollar and twenty nine cents might be the most ridiculous bargain in the history of culture — and discovered it is tragic, and beautiful, and austere, and… Well, it’s pretty much knocked down my walls and destroyed me three times since then, and the sun still hasn’t been out in that span. Clearly, things are moving below the surface; tectonics of emotion, drifting in their inexorable, unpredictable patterns, atop a sea of god knows what.

And the shocking-revelatory thing there is that this slice of beauty was there, for years, just out of my view. It existed in the world — we have as many external bits of proof of that as we might want to go look for — and yet, to me, it was invisible. Unknown; even more: unimagined.

So how many other things are there, like that, just out of my biased, habitual, so often too-scared and too-distracted view? Dozens. Millions. A red cardinal on a twenty degree late afternoon, perched on the side of one of our seventy year old trees to catch the fading Midwestern sun. A side-by-side moment of paternal joy. The explosion of a perfectly landed joke; the glimmer of a secret smile. All these things.

It’s traditional for potters, at this time of year, to proclaim that this is their best batch of work in a long time; that they are really pleased with the new stuff, their discoveries since they last hammered out their road signs, that you should (I mean, not should, but I sincerely hope you will) come and see it — and also, if that’s not enough, cider and cookies! And that’s usually just Communications & Marketing. (Trust me; I know. Also, I am now a certified professional, so you have to believe me.)

Well, as suspcious as this will sound: this is my best batch of work in a long time; maybe ever. I am more than really pleased with the new stuff; the discoveries since I last hammered out my road signs — I’m almost to the moon and back over them. And, as great as it would be for you (and you and you and you and a whole bunch of them) to come out to our weird spot near Fillmore and see them, I honestly don’t really care if you, or practically anyone, does.

The pots are good, and that’s almost all that matters. Almost. I followed The OA as far as she would take me this time, sincerely and openly and with all the attendant risks, and it was worth it. The setup is getting lovely even as I write, the snow hasn’t started falling yet, the flowers in those new perforated vases are gonna break my goddamn heart, and maybe yours, too, a little bit.

The hardest part is done, the funest part — seeing people see them; seeing people like them — comes now. And… and then these long months of work and worry and more work will be done again, for awhile. I’m not certain that I won’t start glazing up the next batch on Monday — I’m that jacked up to take another shot at twenty two hundred degrees — but I might sleep all day, too. Maybe some of both.

Or write that plus-99 post. Or something.

Anyways. I’d say “wish me luck”, but I already feel like I’ve won a lottery this fall. Can’t really ask for more than that. Wouldn’t want to.

Cheers, readers. I hope it snows on you today, just a little. I hope you look up that song, if you’re overdue for a good, clear-the-decks sob… It’s called Ronan, and it’s, to me, astounding.

I hope you find some unexpected, pre-existing beauty today. I’m going to keep a good watch for it, here, myself. Try to be the best version of me I’ve got access to, right now; after all that. When I get tired, but can’t go nap, will try to just go a little quieter than usual. To remember that tired is okay, and doesn’t last forever.

OK, here we go. I won’t ask for you luck, but I’ll take any you’ve got to spare.

Thanks, guys. I love you all, even if I don’t even know your names.

“I remember your bare feet, down the hallway; I remember your little laugh.”

+97.0

“I recall late November, holding my breath, slowly I said, ‘You don’t need to save me…’” – TS

A whole decade of before.

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… And, starting today, a new after.

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The difference is shocking; startling; surreal. If this was a dream, you guys would let me know, right? What a delta a day can make; what a change a window onto the (real; not virtual) world makes. I can sense time passing, just like on studio days, from my perch on Day Hill, instead of that gnawing, perpetual twilight. I can watch the sun go by; hear the church bell ring noon; and at five; see police cars, coming and going; see the wind blowing by a leaf, and the big wire that nicely cuts across the view — like a line of black slip from a brush — swaying in time.

Plenty of people on campus would kill for this room with this window. Plenty of people, everywhere. I know I sure would have. But maybe I paid for it up front, with 10 years working out of a hole in the ground. As unlikely as it seems, maybe I’ve actually earned it.

“Nobody’s heard from me for months. I’m doing better than I ever was.” – TS

+96.8

“And the time on the clock, when you realize it’s so late, and this time we’ve spent, together.” – Dashboard Confessional

I just realized something. Something that probably shouldn’t have taken 46 years, 5 months, and most of 16 days to figure out. Something that maybe I used to know, once, in the shining moment of youth, and then forgot, along the hard way.

You have to be chasing something.

It almost doesn’t matter what. Or how. Or how remote, or even if you’ve ever got a fucking chance in hell of ever catching up to it. It’s the chase that matters.

All those days, months, years where I’d pretty much given up the chase.

“And I know it’s long gone and the magic’s not here no more, and I might be OK but I’m not fine at all.” – St. Swift

It’s so good to be more excited about the next oddball, semi-random thing I’ll discover through the kiln than worried about what happens if they don’t all turn out well. It’s good to dwell on the almost-successes; to allow my imagination to go fractal and pursue the entire flock of receding birds at once. It’s okay to live part of each day in an inspiring fantasy. Just remember to keep eating protein and take care of your kid(s).

I dunno. It’s 3:51 in the dark, or so they tell me. Feels awake to me.

Sometimes the thing you can chase is dumb, or silly, or absurd, or even painful. That’s the thing — no, one of the many things — I loved about Dart, back when I really knew him; back when we were growing up together on an almost-hourly basis: he ran towards the pain. If it was hard to do, he was even more motivated to try. The only way out is through. The only way to get good at all the pain — and there will be so much more than you’ve dreampt of, my sweet summer child — is to practice. Dive into the cold water all at once. My friend Dart, from what I remember, usually ran towards it with a howl in his lungs and a mad gleam in his eyes, like the exact opposite of what any rational person would want to meet coming towards you on a battlefield, back in the days when his red-haired ancestors (and mine) were swinging rocks and bronze axes at each others’ skulls. He’d have won, every time.

He chased painting, muscles, style, friendships, cycling, attitude, loyalty, discovery, belief. Goddamnit.

So. So so so. Here’s to the negative nine week olds, who don’t even know yet that they’re gonna inherit one super cool dog as best friend. Here’s to words across the wire; friendships on the wind; potters firing as if the food they’ll eat in April is on the bubble now. Because it actually is.

I’m gonna try, like the damn fool that I am. Not to give up the chase. Not to revert to my mean[ness]. Do more stupid shit that might leave me on my face, in the mud, embarrassed for the attempt; but at least not smug and clean on the couch. Like a free mug caption contest on Instagram. Like making changes where all the change seems to have bled dry years ago. Like eating better food, throwing better curves, dreaming better dreams.

Oh! Look! There’s some new pain::: RIGHT. OVER. THERE.

Let’s go!!!

“And I knew, that you meant it, that you meant it, that you meant it.”

+96.6

“In silent screams, and wildest dreams, I never dreamed of this.” – TS

winter. night. firing. breath.

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Back to my faux death, the one where I tripped in the studio and drowned in a bucket of white slip: it’s interesting that near the start of this fall run of writing, I was thinking in terms of death metaphors. Not intentionally, but as if that back part of my brain was bubbling up the idea that some now-unncecessary part was peeling off; dying; draining away.

At the time, back in the +40s, which now feels like merely the prototype days of what this thing has become; and it wasn’t that long ago, but the time has been so compressed and intense, so much happening, so much internal change and revelation that it feels, sometimes, like years… and mostly good years.

Back then, when I came up with that bucket of slip gag — and it was intended as a fun joke, about why I needed one of you to show up and save me from my solitary ramblings in the studio, stretching into the night time hours, as I marveled at my ability and desire to keep making things at a time of day when I’d always just assumed it was too late — back then, I was imagining how I might cobble together a ‘dead man stick’ here for this blog; a switch that would self-terminate it if I just stopped logging in to WordPress for a month or two. Like a news agency composing obituaries for notable people while they’re still running around healthy, just so they are ready if it happens all of the sudden, I thought I could start at the ending and write the last post now; set up to autopost in the event that I just never came back.

I’m painfully wary of suicide and death metaphors, now; too close; too soon. But also; but still… some part peeling away. If that person who insisted on zombifying The Dream, and exhuming it, and staring into Oblivion, a handful of Alms waiting for the end to take them — if that person has been gone, consistently, a while now — “nobody’s heard from me for months” — then isn’t it like I killed him? Pushed him out of the pilot’s seat, at high altitude? Left him in the hole in the ground he’d dug for himself and furnished, with loving care, with all the trappings required to convince himself that he really deserved nothing better than to live out the rest of his days in a hole?

It really is like that person I’d become is gone. But I know he’d come back the second I allowed it. Old buckets of slip are lying around all over the place, waiting for me to faceplant into them. Try not to trip on anything obvious, at least.

You might remember how I killed off one blog — you know, tw@se, the one that people actually liked. I did it deliberately, coming back to give it a good send off at the very end, but only after I’d almost let it just lapse into oblivion; fade to nothingness. That’s how I felt then; that’s how I was then. I almost can’t look at that last picture of myself, now; reflected back in the studio window, surrounded by the dark, and the noise, outside. Man, that hurt.

I couldn’t imagine then being like this, now, and I really couldn’t imagine, then, turning that weekly attempt at self expression into this, where I just went ahead and said almost everything. It’s so much worse for you, dear reader; so much better for me.

reach > grasp

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“I feel like I might… sink and drown and die.” – TS

A little later — I could go look up the dates, but it doesn’t matter exactly when — I had that actual dream about piloting my craft into that frozen lake. It was shocking. I don’t think I’d ever dreamed my own death before; at least not that specifically or viscerally.

That crash. Jesus. Even after all that practice — in the dream, I was a seasoned veteran — I still couldn’t stop myself from cutting the margins until there was no margin left. When your ‘margin for error’ is zero, you next move is always an error.

(Like Viserion, in that show about fire and ice, I sank to the bottom of that arctic lake. Unlike him, there were no zombie hordes to pull me out, no Night King to reanimate me into the opposite of my former self. The slow, inevitable march of doom. I’m wondering if that Dream pilot, the one who kept risking everything for ever more marginal gains, if he needed to sink and drown and die all along; not the Dream itself. Or, as Witt once instructed me, if I just needed to find a new Dream, and believe it was worth continuing to imagine in the impossible. Supposedly impossible.

So maybe that guy, the “new” me who replaced the “old” me, whether that was ten or fifteen years ago, is dead now; vanquished by these tiny blue and white pills, as if it’s a tiny, daily magic trick that reveals a formerly hidden layer of reality. Maybe I didn’t need to Kill The Dream after all; maybe I needed to Kill The Dreamer Who Was Having That Nightmare.

“And I buried hatchets, but I come back to where I put ’em.”

HOT

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“Everything means everything, Dan. That’s the problem!”

So no: I don’t know what I’m doing here. I mean — how the hell could I? Maybe it’s clear as Athena’s grace to you, from the outside, but it’s opaque as death to me.

I know that I’m stalling. I know that I’m going to do +99, and I’m going to take as long to make it right and good as it needs. I know it’ll probably be after my sale, which means still several weeks off, and that, while it was smart and good to set that arbitrary deadline, I’m likely going to keep writing, and wanting to keep posting, and so I’ll probably linger here in these fake dot revisions, and even keep going back and adding and revising the old, “published” ones (sorry, Witt!) as much as I need, or want, to. Call it what you want… to.

Going almost back to the beginning of my pottery blogging, I’ve loved setting up number systems and then wontonly breaking them when and where I see fit. It’s fun to connect the dots, and find patterns; it’s more fun to flaunt those rules and break them. I missed six, you missed six; sometimes we’re all so eager to think we know what the fuck is going on in the world, in our lives, in our minds, even — hilariously — in our deepest emotions, that we jump to seven as if it’s a magic number.

Spoiler alert: there are no magic numbers. It’s all just arbitrary markings on the wall of this particular cave we find ourselves in together; ways of demarcating and annotating the time we’ve got left until that woman who escaped [because, again, why does it always have to be a guy?] comes back with the light to show us how our reality is just shadows.

One thing I know is that I’ve skipped watching TV, at night, before bed, more in the last forty or so days, since that day when Everything Has Changed, than in the previous… Oh, let’s say, decade. I almost never read, or need to read, The New Yorker, by the light of my bedside lamp, to turn off those last troubling thoughts of the day and sink into sleep; as I’d done for at least twelve years, and maybe more like twenty. More input at that time of day is now the last thing I want; even when my brain is so tired it’s practically hallucinating. There are too many ideas in here already. But I keep feeling the need, sometimes desperately, on a daily, and sometimes almost hourly, basis, to get them out; to play and sing and dance and write and write and write, down to the bones. Thanks, Natalie.

Back in mid-October — when I thought I was already cranking out words pretty hot — ha! — even two posts a day and a writer’s block wasn’t enough. I had to revive my paper journaling habit; of pretty much daily spilling out everything; the entire truth; if you want to know that story, look for the cheap notebooks with the colorful covers. But trust me, you really don’t. (Also, it’d only be proper to ask my permission, first. I’ll probably say yes, because you know how I am about wanting careful readers.) There, I write — now — with no worries about someone else finding it; reading it; what they might think, what ideas it might loose out into the world. I worry, a bit, about them failing to burn it with me in the cremation kiln some day, [hopefully long from now] [wow, there’s a change] [!], as per my request. And that rediscovery of self in pen and pencil somehow seems to connect this new me back to who I was at 17 or 25 or 32. Not that any of those guys had “it” figured out, or that I’d want to go back and be them again. But they knew one thing, which is that I’ve always wanted to put words down, to get them out of my head; that there’s not anything wrong with writing for twenty minutes before you can wedge that first piece of clay, or for an hour before you can tackle the day’s chores, or for three hours, all told, by the time you circle back to bed. [No, autocorrect, I did not mean to type “circle back to dead”, but wow, are you learning my tendencies. Like a kid who missed six and now reads like her life depends on it, you are helping map my terrain, and I’m grateful.]

Oh lordy, now what am I gonna do? [Maybe try 7.5? Duh.]

So I guess when there’s a firehose of inspiration coming in — nonstop streaming from that unseen radio station in the sky. Or gifts from The OA, from where she sits, over my shoulder, back where the guest potters’ shelf is in the show/writing room; laughing behind her hand, like it’s the best joke in the world, but one she’s not supposed to tell, or to find funny in present company; starry eyes sparking up my darkest night; so gorgeous can’t say anything to your face. Because look at that face. Or the beneficence of Hermes the Messenger, or Hera, the divine Mother. Or downloading at warp speed over that super secure terminal connection to VALIS, or Vishnu or von Wittgenstien or. I guess once you have that on tap, that much coming in, you need more than a garden hose of expression going out.

Every living system needs homeostasis. I’m glad I’m still among the living systems. Because being almost entirely dead fucking sucked.

“And losing grip, on sinking ships, you showed up just in time.”

+96.5

“Candle wax and Polaroids on the hardwood floor.” – TS

My new favorite sound in the world is the bell that rings in Taylor’s Gorgeous. It happens — I dunno — four or five times in the song, right before that killer chorus; you’d think I’d have memorized every bar by now, for the number of times I’ve listened to it the last few weeks. The rest of the tracks — the synth bass, the digital marimbas, the tripled or quadrupled vocals, all that atmospheric reverbs stuff — stop for a beat, and then that bell. In the pause, just before each time it rings, I pretty much have to reach out into space and pretend to hit that button. Like the fifth movement in The OA, or taking two arbitrary little dance steps backwards on the way through the frost to the studio, in time to other music in my head, or closing my eyes for a moment to acknowledge the grace of beauty in the world, reaching out to hit that imaginary bell is penance for past sins; a koan of gratitude for finding my old self again; a small gesture of supplication to whatever American Gods still linger in these parts, under earth or stars or faded hopes of not succumbing to the inevitabilities of an unexamined life.

That video, watching St. Taylor — another incarnation of The Muse — work through the first parts of that song in what seems to be a legitimate view into the act of creation… that’s still kind of haunting me. Is there anything more lovely than that momentary look away, maybe an inadvertent scratching of one’s cheek, when we realize there is an idea lingering, just off stage, and if we listen for it and stay patient, even for just a single goddamn second, it could be ours for keep? I mean — is there?

My new second favorite sound in the world is the rhythmic, mechanical, subtle-but-absolutely-intentionally-there-in-the-mix, of what I think is a mic’ed sustain pedal on the piano as she plays New Year’s Day. It’s in the L channel (at least, it is on my headphones), and it compliments the rest of the song in a way that’s breathtaking. Like, I practically listen to the song just to hear that creaking.

(In my fantasy version of the world, one of the engineers was down on the floor fussing with cables or something and heard that pedal squeaking or creaking a little more than it should during rehearsal. And then, on a lark, and instead of getting out the WD40, she snuck a little mic down there to catch it as the piano got captured for all time. Later, she turned that phantom track on, just for a minute, during one of the playbacks and TS flashed on it immediately. (Uhm… duh — because she’s a fucking genius.) “Wait! Jennie, [because the engineer is a woman — got you, didn’t I?], “Jennie,” she says, “what’s that sound over there on the left?! Oh. my. god. Put that in! You guys, we have to put that in!” And so it went in. For people like me. For people like her.)

And everyone in the world who hears it will hear it, even if they don’t know they are, or don’t really hear it. It’s there. Like a too-bold glaze drip frozen until the next volcano comes by.

My third new favorite sound in the world is that one percussion hit — a single woodblock or rim shot in — yes, you guess it — another song from reputation; almost certainly my favorite one: Call It What You Want. This is the one I dance to in the showroom every morning, now, despite the fact that I have no moves, no game. No shame.

It’s not that it’s crazy different or a surprise. In fact, it’s probably the right, expected sound in just the right, expected place in that kind of song, landing high in the mix, just as she goes into the brilliant chorus of, “My baby’s fit like a daydream…” — And yet… And yet.

The thing is that it only hits about an eighth as often as I’d expect — only right at the opening to that chorus. Then, it’s replaced by a quieter, more rhythmic sound in the rest of those spots on the drum chart. I’m quite certain that someone — maybe even teams of someone’s — spend hours and hours fidgeting with these drum tracks for each song; imagine the millions that are potentially at stake. So I also like to imagine the deliberateness that would go into finding exactly the best sound, like a craftsman honing away everything that wasn’t essential, and then, once found, the restraint to not overuse it. Like a fluid, perfectly imperfect brush stroke that stops a few centimeters before it had to, or a pattern of applied texture left open or wobbly at the end, so the spirit can get out and go into the next one.

And, of course, one of my all-time favorite sounds is the muffled roar of the burner, as it first becomes audible above the crunch of the gravel under my feet, as I make my way back out to tend to the kiln, 10, 20, 30 times each firing. My brain goes from that momentary worry — is it off again? — to that soothing You Are Firing A Kiln state. Work is getting hot, work is getting done. That’s the sound of progress; the sound of another little batch of dreams coming awake.

“You and I, forevermore.”

+96

“Don’t we dream impossible dreams?” – TS

So I spent about 2o,ooo words calling to The Muse in October, and in return she graced my first firing of the season. Not that it’s strictly transactional like that, of course, but I’m quite sure it’s related. And it feels like if I keep dancing before dawn every morning and playing at least one song on the guitar at night and writing writing writing, but also pausing to supplicate nature and appreciate the beauty of momentary rays through clouds, or a break of sun on my face as the last row of bricks go into the door;; if feels like if I keep doing all that, then this good harvest will continue.

That’s some whackadoodle mysticism right there, now ain’t it? Good god, what’s happened to me?

So No. 83 was more like a 3rd or 4th firing in the cycle than a 1st. The first ones are usually mediocre; I purposefully fill them with the worst pots, as a test run; a kiln calibration; fodder for all my same old mistakes. But this one had, like, zero jankiness and almost every pot was good — even the few where I overshot in my zeal for that runny amber celadon. (I’ll need to do some careful grinding, because the results of it flowing off the pot were — pretty awesome.) Several other’s were even — I don’t know if I can say this ::: does it irritate The OA to say that her gifts are great, bordering on revelatory? Maybe it jinxes it to be that specific? Or is that the appropriate degree of regard? Am I supposed to heap praise and rend my garments and grow out this beard in gratitude? Hell, no wonder every tribe had a shaman; this shit is complex. Oh, I guess I’m probably just supposed to shut up and make another sacrifice. Words don’t really count. (Too bad words are how I roll.) Got another goat around, Witt?

Anyways, there were like, some serious keepers, dude. (If you have the misfortune to also see my nonsense on Instagram — ‘a.k.a. my micro blog when I’m not macro blogging’ — you’ll have seen a half dozen shots from that load yesterday. And I had to restrain myself to keep it to six. More in the hopper for today. UNFOLLOW!)

{Uhm… I think they’re waiting for you to toss in a “you missed six!” reference. Not gonna do it? Ugh! Such a jerk. Way to set ’em up and then fail to knock ’em down -Ed.}

So. So so so. I think some of my wonder at the results was because the forecast promised buckets of vile, cold rain all day. But at daybreak, after kickstarting the stove, it was clear just long enough to haul the door down, grab all the pots, run them into the studio like a bank heist gone wrong, and then button it back up before my fancy shelves could get a drop of wet on them. (It rained like a bastard all day after that, too, so — timing. As usual, it’s almost everything.)

So then, suddenly and unexpectedly, there were all the results, sitting on my stainless countertop under the hot lights; the first group of new pots in almost half a year, and a reprieve from my terrible plan of having to glaze the next whole load with those pending results still unseen. So good.

Perhaps needless to say, I was doing the “jesus-fuck-wow-oh god-holy crap-no way-too good!” routine through the whole load, as I hurriedly pulled them out. Afterwards — I’m not making this up — I sat in my studio chair — the broken one St. Trox gave me for free — a used $800 Aeron, that took a quarter — literally just a quarter — to fix and make good as new — [OK, now I’m just stalling, because this involves more crying, and I’m being a baby about admitting it… Jesus, suck it up, man!]

[Music recommendation for this next section, if you can get to it: Memories of Home, from the soundtrack to the series The Pacific; Blake Neely, Geoff Zanelli & Hans Zimmer. Instrumental. Orchestral. It’s what I’m listening to now, as I write this.]

…so after I got the pots out, amazed at them, and so happy to have pulled that little stunt off, I sat in my 25¢ studio chair and dripped a few more tears into my hands, cupped over my face; but this time it was pure gratitude, and relief. All the books and blogs and religions say to practice gratitude, but for years I just couldn’t find any; not without faking it. And I knew the difference. And then here it is, like a magic trick. The real thing. ‘Everything has changed.’

This can’t last, can it? It’s too good to be sustainable; it’s got to be an artifact of my rapid ascent from the depths; an emotional bends. But;; maybe;; ?? Or, just go with it and stop trying to anticipate the next disaster, or direct the movie you’re watching?

“And, God, let me enjoy this. Life isn’t just a sequence of waiting for things to be done.” Oh, Ze. Where’d you go, man? I miss you like a brother, lost before he was ever born. “You look like him… Frank.”

So there I am, sitting in my studio on yet another Saturday morning, like a thousand other Saturday mornings, but this time, maybe even for the first time, saying thank you to some force that I do not think actually exists. And yet, saying it anyways. Wondering if, just maybe, I’m coming around to the idea that our selfishness and smallness and venality are all from us — that we are indeed the source of our worst impulses — but that things like love, and generosity, and graciousness, and our capacity to not only appreciate beauty but actually create little patches of it from time to time, might actually come from somewhere else; come through us, rather than from us. For an up-until-right-now hardened atheist, that is one heck of a thought. Not sure what I think about that thought, yet.

It’s like the combination of realizing finally! that I’d been overfiring the whole load just to flux liners on the top shelf, and stopping doing that, and finally! figuring out how to get salt cups into the dry zones without them turning into lava and puddling all over the shelves; it’s like those two in combination solved 85% of the problems I’ve had in the previous 82 firings. (Well, that and adding the chimney, which was a massive improvement in the actual firing cycle itself.) And so, yes, sure, that’s just trial and error and an idiot trying to get to salvation so with the wrong tools and a poor understanding of the scientific method, and randomness, etc. But… But but but. Isn’t it also, arguably, “the sacred geometry of chance?” I mean, I look at the results on a couple of these surfaces that were just random shots in the dark; experiments with brand new tools, whose magnificence I’ve hardly earned yet, and the layering of texture and my intentional marks with color and then running glaze, seeking the path of least resistance back to ground, and blasts of salt and heat and love and it’s just kinda fucking staggering. Like, “Who made this and where did it come from?” Because it sure doesn’t feel like it came from only me. I dunno; maybe it’s just an illusion; a byproduct of this hot new brain.

Oh — and you know the kiln gods are on your side when you haven’t fired in literally six months, and yet the thing follows the previous firing log like minute for minute, all the way down the last four hours to the end. Crazy good.

So, as predicted, I feel vastly better about pulling off the sale, not just because my big rock is now rolling, but because this tiny batch of 25 or 30 pots not only adds more to the shelves in the showroom, but is also better than almost all of it. A new crop of the freshest, best stuff… And this wasn’t even close to the finest of the bisqueware, still stacked around the studio. Oh my.

Oh — and the firing went easy, and I found the energy to keep prepping the next one, even though I got up in the four o’clock hour to start bumping the gas, and… Whew.

Two more like that and I’ll be in good shape. Not great shape, but good enough. Good enough to invite all my previous customers with confidence. Good enough to not get swamped in regrets about how I should have/would have/could have just knuckled down more in August or September or October. [Because, note to self: August and September and October were insane. And November’s not been without it’s share of drama and incredulity, either. You did pretty well, considering.]

(Oh dear; I see what’s happening here. Look, I AM NOT counting the pots from those future firings yet. I know they still have to go to hell and back! Yes, that’s the deal! I get it! I wouldn’t try to skirt the deal; Oh no! Not me. And I’m gonna keep dancing and playing and singing and crying and writing and staring that beautiful terrifying polar bear dead between the eyes, until the burner goes off for the last time. (Hopefully at twentyonehundredandfiftyfivedegrees.) I’m an idiot, but I’m not stupid.)

💥

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Hmm.. Let’s see. There was something else…

Oh, right! I had a long, nighttime phone call with that old friend. It was great. Good to hear he’s doing well, especially considering last week’s news. Fun to feel that conversational bubble appear out of nowhere, yet again, like another magic trick; despite something like three years in between us talking. When you’ve spent night after night, for almost an entire year, lying on your respective sides of a dorm loft, talking in the dark before sleep, noses inches from the ceiling, so there’s room for a couch down below, well… I think that sets a conversational pattern in place that you can lean on, now almost 30 years later, pretty much as hard as you want. I feel like, for all our wild differences, that guy’s been in my mind, and I’ve been in his, enough that we can just synch any damn time we might want to. Pretty great. More like a brother than a former roommate; more like an unexpected herald of The Muse, since he first lead me to clay, and without him I doubt I’d have ever found it, than just an old friend.

I also took that field trip to U-town, and met up with Aunt Nell for the first time, and it was amazing. Two world class conversations on back to back days — when do I ever do that? [Spoiler alert: never.][OK, not I’m just pantomiming my own schtick. Ugh.] Anyways, her show was wonderful — so many impressions and surprises than I’d ever expected from the photographs, and, since I built her website by hand back in the day, I think I know her photos (and the photo version of her work) pretty damn well. Score another one for seeing art with you own damn eyes, instead of on a screen.

And the rest — walking around a town with a cultural heart, the best bowl of soup I’ve ever had, browsing and splurging at an honest-to-Zeus art supply store, [I didn’t get around to shopping for pants,] listening to TS most of the hour and a quarter there — in between a few long bouts of talking to myself;at myself;for myself — another paean to The OA — and again most of the way back. Crazy.

And Aunt Nell is the bomb. I love back-to-the-land hippies who are now closing in on retiring age. They are pretty much the best. Thanks, Aunt Nell. Especially for listening. So weird to look around and discover people who actually seem to get me. Can’t wait to do that again.

So, yeah. When have I ever unloaded a kiln with a new OS Patch on my brain? It’s been so long. Or made a drive like that and instead of a mild torture, kind of an adventure? Or woken up each day excited about at least one thing, if not several — even if it’s just this dumb blog or an idea for a photo to shoot to further feed my Instagram addiction? So long. So weird.

And now it’s Sunday afternoon, and somehow I talked my way into getting the next batch loaded [Always helps to let The Admiral loose on IKEA every once in a while]. So No. 84 is sitting ready, out in the deep cold, where it will wait for my two-day stint as a “normal” at the U to end, then I’ll try to blast it through a little hole in the predicted weather between Tuesday night and all the familial obligations of giving thanks in a proscribed, ritualize manner. (No thanks, I’m good. I’ve got The OA on my side now; one rambling, excessive blog post and one more playthrough of Call It What You Want at a time. That’s my religion.) (Well, that and slaughtering the occasional hapless Georgia goat. Honestly, we just fucking make it up as we go along.)

I haven’t tallied up my word count for this month so far — was thinking that’d be a good bookend to this whale of a post. I bet it’s a lot, but feels like bad luck to look, now, in the middle. Also, expecting it to fall quickly as the sale approaches… But then again, I never expected to write any of this in the first place, so who knows? It might keep going up.

Not me. I don’t know a damn thing.

Lucky you.

“Like we’re made of starlight, starlight.”

+ 95

“I’m so happy I can’t stop crying.” – Sting

Ugh, this is a hard one.

So now I cry almost every other day. For a while there, it was even a couple times a day, face down on my yoga mat in the corner of the showroom, where I hope people will come stand soon to look at the pots that are still too hot outside in the kiln. Pretty sure that was on five, down from ten, and that it was entering “jags” territory. Like once I’d turned the key, now I couldn’t go back through and latch it again. Back at ten it feels useful and healthy; at five it felt a little unhinged.

Let’s see: should we do the What, now? What is pretty much all of it: I cry about the lost time, the regrets, the missed memories, the wild flailing at a dead Dream. That it took me so fucking long to find this one little lever to start my rock rolling uphill again. How could I not see that before? How much of that suffering was needless; more than I could learn from? I don’t know; I might never know. I cry, now, too, about that one other thing. Sometimes mostly about that. But that’s a story for another day. Or never.

Today I’m trying to understand why I didn’t. Like, not a single actual tear for almost an entire decade. Maybe longer. Like all the other bad ideas he whispers, so convincingly — this is just normal, the world really is this dark, and it’s just that other people can’t see it, you’re too weak to escape — the Dark Angel talked me into thinking tears and the occasional sob were not only optional, but not worth the risk.

I think — I mean, my current working theory — I was afraid. Afraid I might scream, and maybe not be able to stop. Fear that if I let it loose, my mind might just split in two. Fear I’d become my father, and abandon her when she was two. At Christmas.

That’s right, I said it. Come and get me. I’m not afraid anymore.

I don’t know. Maybe I wasn’t really afraid of any of those things; maybe I’m just grasping at the idea of fear now as a comfortable scapegoat, or a simple, plausible explanation. At the rate things are changing in here, it is entirely possible that in a week I’ll know it was something more, something else, something fractal and more complex. But, just now, it sure feels like I was afraid. It felt like territory I used to roam that was now closed off to my exploration; a part of myself embargoed, or sacrificed on the twin altars of fatherhood and obligation.

OK, we’re closing in on it now. Nowhere to run. Ninety-nine is coming, and unless you’re going to pull a fast one and miss six, you’ve gotta start figuring out how you’re gonna get there. It helped to describe it to Aunt Nell yesterday. See seemed to both get it and ratify that decision. Pretty sure I’d trust her to just make the decision for me; maybe that one and a whole bunch of others.

Because look where it got me, making all of them for myself. Almost nowhere; but finally here.

OK, I’m posting this before it gets light and I come to my senses. Still 6:08 on the blogging machine. Still in my glasses, stove still cold in the studio, and still on scarcely even one cup of coffee. Because I will wuss out in the daylight, if I don’t hit it now. FILDI. “You look like him… Frank.”

You’re welcome — and sorry — and thanks. Thanks so much.

“I was brought to my senses. I was blind, and now I can see. Every signpost in Nature says…”

+94

“And someone with strengths, for all the little things… You need.” – Wheat

Today feels good, and also very random. Waking up at 4:30 and starting to work will do that, I guess.

First light. 1167•F.

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OK, so I am admittedly a complete homer on this, but I say that “Gorgeous”, “Call It What You Want”, “Delicate”, and “New Year’s Day” is one hell of a good playlist. I may or may not have listened to it, oh 50 times since reputation came out. Less than a week ago.

The strangely specific, very unpleasant smell of slowly cooking off an entire summer’s worth of wasp’s nests from the loose bricks over the kiln arch. Ug. Gives that first firing of the season a distinctness I could live without.

The paranoia of having the kiln going again; hoping for no burner FUBARs, the weather to follow its predictions, myself to regulate my energy and enthusiasm so that I stay on top of it and don’t do anything dumb, like decide at the very end to let it go fifteen degrees hotter for no reason.

I took a selfie out in front of the kiln, something I never do. OK, not never, but like maybe four times to date. After looking down and realizing how ridiculous I’d look to a stranger coming up the driveway, I couldn’t resist. 15 year old torn up jeans, backed by thermal leggings. Ancient yard work tennis shoes, dull green from all that dead grass. My IOWA 51 hoodie, from 1993 — so that one wins the prize for oldest garment in the ensemble at 24 or so years. Rabbit-trimmed hunters hat, bought as a gag on a cold day in Wisconsin in what seems like another lifetime, and now worn every day around the studio from October to April. Blue latex gloves, to keep the coarse, ice cold sealing clay off my skin, as I wrap the dumb little kiln in a paper mache’ coating, for protection against stalls and backburning from the occasional volatile gust. And I’d even forgotten about whatever my semi-beard is doing now, in the long 5 day interim between being on the clock from one week to the next.

And they think I dress down on office days.

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Living in the country, growing weird, indeed.

I got in touch with one of my oldest friends, after a few years of radio silence, and we scheduled a call for later tonight, after the kids are in bed. So great. Such a relief. And while I’ll be loopy as hell by then — even more than I am now — he’s one of the few people in the world who’ve definitely seen me worse, probably dozens of times, and still loves me in spite of it. Or because of it, maybe; I’m not sure. That decade-long recluse thing kinda came back to bite me in the ass, and I’m determined to turn it around.

Same goes for tomorrow — once I get past this first firing — I’m going on an exceedingly rare (for me) clay visit, to see the retrospective show of a friend, whom I’ve never actually met in person. This should be cool. And it’s in the U town — the real U — so there will probably be a good lunch involved. Thinking I might also let myself go to the kick ass art supplies store and buy whatever feels right; even though my 14 year old car needs new shocks, struts and tires, and I’m a long way from banking any of the sale proceeds from all this bisqueware all around me, it seems like a fine time to not deny myself some new toys/materials. “Because a mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.” Oh, and I might even buy a new pair of pants, if after all that I’m still awake and feeling particularly nutty. The one I’ve got left, that isn’t tattered by clay dust, is from last year, before I stopped drinking milk and accidentally lost about 15 pounds. I’m pretty much swimming in them now, and the belt situation is a little ridiculous. (I know, the fucking luck, right? Sorry. What can I say… I got the Scandanavian metabolism/skinny gene as part of the Dad Deal. Came with some decidedly negative early life experiences, and I’m pretty sure I can chalk up the Black Dog to that side of the bloodline, too. But hey — at least I know not to start drinking. That’s a plus.)

Oy. I think I need another lunch before it’s time to salt.

I made the mistake of showing Pixel this morning’s post, because she asked if I had used that Taylor lyric yet. So I was reading that paragraph to her, and she started reading aloud over me, as she does, and she’s so dang quick that she got to the next line, which I’d already forgotten about, and read out, “Fuck ’em if they can’t…” — before I could snap shut the browser window. Oh dear. I lose the bet with The Admiral as to who’s gonna break out the first one of the seven deadly swears.

So I immediately go into my whole song and dance about how there are no bad words, only bad people — kidding! — only bad uses of words, and that almost any word can be used badly, la la la, etc etc etc, what do you expect from an English major/might-have-been-Philosophy-minor-if-my-first-Prof-hadn’t-been-God-awful?

And she says, “Well, in my world, we call that the F-word. That way we can say to a teacher, “He said the F-word!”, and we don’t also get in trouble for saying it.”

Third grade, folks. Read ’em and weep.

Makes me think about all the other things that she knows that I don’t think she knows yet. This parenting thing gets easier when the world beats me to the punch sometimes.

“Waterfall goes softly down the drain. And I think my time has finally come. Oh, give me a chance so I can find a thing… One and one; one and one is three.”

Well, shoot. Plus-93 was going to be about how I did my 93rd bisk firing in my electric kiln the other day, and the same day Pixel came out to the studio, looked at a whole board full of test tiles, and said, “Dada, I like number 93 the best. Ninety three.” And, for whatever reason, how one of my favorite Colts, from back when I was young and watched football, was Dwight Freeney, DE, No. 93; all-time master of the spin move. And some other 93 thing that happened that day, too, but is now lost to wadding and diorite and lunch and two semi-naps and salt prep and Instagram addiction and waiting and watching and wondering.

“My hand is, possibly, slipping. And I may have, lost what I, was gripping.”

+93

“Yesterday we broke from the parade.” – Wheat

Spoiler alert: there’s no Pottery Bloggers’ Club. Of all the peeps I came up with, in the Golden Age, pretty much all have quit now, or stopped, yet again for an indeterminate time. Just like I have before; just like I will again. No shame in that, but it does get a little lonely sometimes. We, collectively, made a thing, a spark of beauty in the world, and then we scattered, “like embers taken from the fire.”

So just now it’s only me and Tony C. Weird. Sad.

Of course, that’s not actually true at all. There are dozens of other people still going, too; people I never quite connected with (yet) or whose combination of writing and photography and pots didn’t quite hit it for me. No shame in that; or in my not knowing them and following their exploits like I hope you’re following mine. A quick scan of Fuzzy’s pottery blog hit list says this is true; written in the sky so blue; as blue as your eyes.

In this case, I’m not even sure whose eyes those would be.

Strange.

++ THIS IS WHAT WE CALL A SECTION BREAK. FOR MOST PEOPLE, THAT’D BE ENOUGH TO CALL IT A POST AND EVERYTHING ELSE WOULD BE ANOTHER ONE. IMPROVES YOUR CLICKBAIT AND PENNIES OF COMMISSION I GUESS, OR SOMETHING. IDIOTS. ++

Firing today — finally. First one of the Fall, first one of the cycle, first one of the last ones of the year. Feels good.

Here’s the bad news: my blogging machine is now out in the studio — right here, at the table where I cut and handle and assemble and paint and smooth and refine and dream. Seven and a half years of operational discipline with tw@se — never letting the blog encroach on the making, not even a little — and now with my new brain all that is gone like the wind. Ha! I won’t be surprised if I type half the day away now, in between temp checks and turnups and salting… Instead of glazing up the next load, like I so certainly should do.

Ah well. Can’t have everything, I guess. Can only be in one place at once.

Closing in on a thousand degrees. It was great, yesterday, after waiting out nine hours of rain, that the meteorologists at the NWS nailed it — stopped on cue, just a little 0.00″ mist, and I slammed ’em in there, bolted it up, and turned on the gas. Also great that after a full six months away, without even seeing the interior of the kiln, I had enough of the process packed into hard memory that I could mostly go on instinct; my obsessive notes and checklists more of a safety net than a “what the fuck do I do next?” recipe. {He seems to be overconfident. Especially for the first firing of the cycle. This is likely to end in tears — you heard it here first. -Ed.}

“I know it’s true; it’s written in a sky as blue, as blue as your eyes, as blue as your eyes. If nature’s red in tooth and claw, like winter’s freeze and summer’s thaw…”

Sorry — that line just came out the speakers, because I queued the song up on my still-new-yet-already-beloved-iPod-Touch, and I had to transcribe it. Already had a bit too much coffee for 6:46am on a Thursday. Or any day.

I told Witt yesterday, on one of our two short Potters’ Panic Season calls, that it was weird to be doing all this same stuff with my new brain. Glazing and firing is such a routinized operation; everything kind of has to follow from the previous step, skipping or freelancing are usually disastrous, often the best you can hope for is to not make dumb mistakes — just too many variables to keep track of, at least the way I do it, and too narrow a spectrum that qualifies as “success”. (At least, the way I do it.)

And now, I kind of can’t believe I did all this while I was depressed. No wonder it was so fucking hard. I feel more like I’m just doing it, and less like I’m rolling a hostile boulder up a horribly hostile inclined plane. Afraid that’s gonna jinx it, too; my self-fulfilling prophecy capacity seems nearly as strong as my self-defeating one. Like, last night, for the first time in forever, all I wanted to do was sleep and stay asleep — the one night where it would have been really useful to be up prowling around, to get in an extra gas bump! The diametric opposite of what the previous 82 firings have been, where I desperately wanted to sleep more, but was too anxious and couldn’t get back to sleep after wandering out in the cold and the dark to light that candle.

“I lit a match and blew his mind…”

Not my favorite new TS lyric, but Pixel loves it… And has been insisting for a few days that I work it into “a blog”. “Let’s do a blog, Dad.” Oh dear. Poor kid doesn’t even know how goofy and wrong this is; she’s growing up thinking we’re normal and the rest of the world is weird.

Living in the country, growing weird.

It’s firing day. I’m keeping all of that. Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

“One and one and one is yesterday.”

+92

“Squeeze my hand three times in the back of the taxi. I can tell it’s gonna be a long road.” – TS

That’s a strange phrase, “like the back of my hand”. It seems like I know the front of my hands a lot better than the back. Maybe focusing on the front is a potter’s thing. We like insides just as much as outsides; a lot more than the average Jane.

Things finally seem to be going in a good direction for me. It’s been a long road. Not everything, not guaranteed. But I feel the vector gradually shifting from negative to neutral to positive. Kind of unbelievable, really.

That said, there’s always plenty of time left for me to fuck it all up. My capacity for self-sabotage seems limitless, some days. If I do — fuck it all up, that is — maybe I’ll get a tattoo. On the inside of my right forearm, in block S T O N E C A R V I N G letters; starting at the wrist and going up, left to right, to the inner elbow. It will say, “This was a terrible idea.”

Fuck it. Sometimes you’ve just gotta say, “Fuck it, let’s do this,” and kick off a one-man dance party:

I spoke too soon. _Now_ it's a party!

A post shared by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

I still haven’t cancelled my sale. But I still haven’t sent the postcard off to the printer yet, either. Usually, that’s the demarcation line. I’ve glazed and wadded the first load of pots, but I still haven’t fired anything. I was a thousand percent committed to starting early this year — my first target date was mid-October — before everything else went fractal on me. Ah well. ‘So it goes.’ What are you gonna do?

The irony is this might be the best batch of bisqueware I’ve had in a while. Maybe a long while. Ends up better brain chemistry helps in the studio, too. Who would’ve guessed? Speaking of regrets and blaming yourself for belatedly figuring out something important: by Odin’s Beard it kills me to imagine what pots I could have made, what discoveries discovered, what problems solved, if I’d started all this sooner. /Kills/ me.

But. But… No time machines. The path of regrets leads back into the dismal swamp. Sometimes you’ve just gotta drop a full power Cone of Silence down on that shit. FILDI. Just do it. Be the change you want to see. And don’t forget, Scott: water bugs.

Water bugs, and trout.

Below.

“Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you… And I will hold on to you.”

+91

“I am not the type of dog that could keep you waiting… for no good reason.” – R.E.M.

I told that anecdote from The Night Of a couple weeks ago. Don’t worry; no spoilers coming. If you’ve seen it, you know the one I mean — about the care package. If you haven’t seen it, just imagine that it’s a great story, but one that a person like me really should never attempt to use in a regular old conversation; especially not when the other person doesn’t already know the story. It’s one thing to reference a shared idea; another thing entirely to try to conjure it up out of thin air and make it work. In this case, it’s just too convoluted a setup, and requires details that have to get worked in somehow, and if, after all that, the payoff at the end misses — well, ugh. That would suck.

But it was late in the day, on a really crazytown day — I mean, probably the craziest in a long time. And so I’d been firing on all cylinders for so long they were starting to melt the engine block. So while some little, faraway part of my brain was screaming, “Don’t do it!”, I just couldn’t hold it back. Like so many things I’ve written here, when I’m over-tired, I tend to tell too much of the truth; my filters are the first thing to fail. And, really, maybe that’s not so bad.

Because I’m pretty sure I’d rather be a storyteller than a technician.

So, amazingly, considering those circumstances, that story seemed to land just right. And it needed to, and I was somewhat in the right to attempt it, because it conveys one of those ideas that almost can’t be had via simple, rational explanation. It’s an idea that needs a story as the medium to express it. Sometimes metaphors aren’t stand-ins for the thing; they are the thing.

And this particular story, the one from that show that I’m still not spoiling, just matched up perfectly with the idea I had; with the overwhelming way I felt that afternoon. In fact, I’d even thought of it in advance, like learning lines for a play that may or may not go on. I’d talked myself in and out of trying to land it several times before the curtain went up.

I do tend to think about words a lot, don’t I? About them, in them, for them, by them. They’re like a care package. If you’ve seen the show, you know what I mean. If not, you should go watch it.

+

Circling back up a level, with this blog (aka. an exercise in text and solipsism), it’s like I’m trying to build a fractal palace in my imagination. Sort of like one of my Minecraft monuments, but made out of virtual words, instead of virtual blocks of wood and stone. A fantastical place where you can come play with me — a place that, through writing and reading, we start to expand and revise together, just like that rare bubble of a conversation in a rainswept car at night.

I think it can be like this third thing, between my mind and yours. Something that is neither you or me, but can’t exist without both of us being engaged (and, hopefully, a little transfixed with the focused attention and enjoyment of these shared moments going snap snap snap).

We instantiate this thing together; it’s not mine or yours alone. Then we can use it like a screen, to project our wilder ideas upon; an echo chamber, to test the sonic resonance of impulse control and surrender; a malleable ball of universal clay, that maybe neither of us knows how to work well, at least, not yet, but which shows signs of being amenable to all the traditional tricks of craft and hope.

Like spawning a new server as the admin, I breathe that first spark of life into it (if for no other reason than because I’ve got the top level privileges here). But the very next thing, before the spark goes out, I invite you to join, and if you say yes, we’re off. Who knows what could happen in that wavering bubble of thought and time? Sometimes, so rarely it makes me cry, wonderful things happen.

When they do, we try to sustain it as long as we can. So hard getting started, so sad having to stop. I hate every alarm that rings, every known limitation on that flow, every regretful pass at another idea that could have lived, another feeling expressed, another moment captured into two twinned memories. Hate them. Everything in the known universe tries to tear that bubble apart. Clocks, “priorities”, to do lists, other appointments, drying pots, on rushing deadlines, the need to keep bringing in cash at a steady pace.

Nature abhors a vacuum; our civilized, modern minds abhor anything that deprioritizes our avaricious, atomic selves in favor of some shared understanding or identity. It’s a shame, really. I think our not so distant ancestors would watch us running away from each other all the time and wonder where it all went wrong.

“I can swing my megaphone, and longarm the rest. (It’s easier and better to dispute it from the chest. Of desire.)”

+90

“Don’t we dream impossible dreams?” – TS

And here’s me after just two days back at ten:

David Carr, whose passing I still lament:
“Hope is oxygen for someone suffocating on despair.”

And he knew, more than most, about real despair. I’ve had my taste, and no thank you. Not anymore, if I can help it. I’ll go to the doctor, go to the mountain, look to the children, drink from the fountain — you name it. (Well, OK. Pretty much anything except American Jesus. I’ve also had more than enough of my share of that, and no thank you. Seriously, if it works for you, great. But I’d rather try Taoism or or rock climbing or Gluten-Free.)

When the afternoon tiredness hits — and it hits hard on a wake up cycle in the 4am hour — I am either just tired or I am despondent. At five, it was the despair; the old, well-honed mental machinery cranks up again, glad to get a chance to work. Every possible pessimistic thought, every denial of a hopeful view of tomorrow or next week or ever, every excuse to find some momentary wrench to shove in those gears and make it stop.

At ten, I can see those gears — giant and looming over my landscape like artifacts from a long departed, indifferent alien civilization — and hear them shuddering, as the hidden underground boiler tries to churn itself to life again. At ten, I can turn my back on that, and put in earbuds and listen to All Too Well or New Year’s Day and find some comfort. It also helps if I’ve got enough clear space to take a nap; which has been happening lately and is gonna be difficult come Monday.

I spoke too soon. _Now_ it's a party!

A post shared by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

So I missed my first firing window, and I was sure I was going to be despondent about that, too, yesterday. But instead it felt weirdly like relief. Relief that I didn’t have to be out on the first 25º morning of the year; that I didn’t have to keep rushing to an automaton’s schedule; that I could indulge myself the slack of putting up those lights. (Which, at mid-day, seemed like stupid folly, once I was wiped out and hot from being up near the styrofoam ceiling and with the bright cold day sun glaring in the windows seemed to add almost nothing. After blessed dark again — and a rare chance at napping, eating dinner, and then going back into the studio — they were… Wait for it… Yep, you guessed it: incandescent. [There’s something else I dearly want to say there, but I won’t. At five, I might have. Which is fan-tastic. Call It What You Want To.]

Every day, while I wait — to fire, to see if I’ll actually be able to pull off the sale, to see what this batch of brain chemistry will spawn — I hatch little plans. Mini-Dreams, to see me through. As if I need to learn how to grab a Dream, and savor it for a while, and then let it go just as easily. Cycle through them, instead of getting fixated on a single one, with a 10 or 20 year horizon. That’s too remote for hope. Too far to really see with anything other than wish fulfillment. A good dream would be intrinsic; something I can visualize in all its complexity and with the grit and texture of daily life on it. Not a city on a hill. Not a lottery-winning utopia. Not getting saved by some deus ex machina.

{Someone notify the Autocorrect Department that “machina” is correct, and should not convert to “machine”. (Although, deus ex machine is funny, in it’s own way, especially when composed by a robot. Oh — maybe I’m not giving it enough credit, and it was trying to make a joke? Hey — save comedy for the meat bags! What the fuck else do we have left?) Seriously, though, the bots should totally be smart enough by now to recognize the kind of popular Latin that this simpleton is able to pull out of the air on impulse. -Ed.}

More optimism: I called in an airstrike from St. Philbeck and he’s gonna sortie his jets. Awesome. My customers really like his pots. (Maybe better than mine, but I’m not jealous. I swear.) I’ve still got a really fine crop of Phillips’s and Gillies’s, too. That’ll help. I remembered that I have a small group left at the shop in town, too, that I can raid for the big weekend. (It’s been so long since I had any in town that I’d forgotten about them; they’re pretty much the best of the best of what was left over from the spring sale there, which means they’re better than anything here in the showroom (aka writing room) now. That’ll be a good boost, both to the display and my confidence.

And Change Master encouraged me to skirt around my kiln/weather problems by just glazing up as much as I can in advance. That I’ve been doing this a long time, and mostly have my glazes dialed in, and it’s worth the risk to get them fired to take a few shots in the dark. Better than good bisk on the shelf on sale day.

And there was also some talk yesterday about actually buying a piano — maybe after the sale? — and about how, if I did get serious and actually start building a kiln, I might be able to call on reinforcements for vastly-needed expertise, as well as hugely valuable labor, and priceless comraderie. Can you imagine? Having that much fun and ending up with a new kiln?

Now that seems like an impossible dream.

“Like we’re made of starlight.”

+89

“I’m a crumpled up piece of paper lying here, ’cause I remember it all, all, all… too well.” – TS

So here’s me after about a week at five, written a couple days ago:

It’s been intense. I’m worn out. Worn down. Worn.

Trying to work when everything is screaming that I’ve earned another hour off, a day off, a week off. Imagine: taking a whole week off. Insane, but definitely insane in November. Potters gonna Panic.

The problem with being this tired and this emotionally wiped is that the Dark Angel sees my weakness and pounces. He has so many terrible ideas for me, each one wrapped in a chrysalis of hope and the promise of momentary salvation. I have to bat them away like flies. Very, very tempting flies.

Stupid Internet ruined everything. Everything | and | everyone | always | being | one | click | from | everything | and | everyone | else |. It’s freaking dangerous.

Oh, you mean, ‘what else is wrong’ besides the fact that I’m a fucking idiot who can’t stay out of his own way? That I can’t seem to sleep more than three hours in a row without needing a break for music, writing, Minecraft or all three? That I’m still not sure if I’m having a sale, even after posting the event and dates to the dreaded FB? That work has gone from it’s usual somnambulistic mediocre haze to a white hot rush, including more drama and intrigue than I thought possible anymore? (Followed by the bizarre sensation of suddenly caring again, like I did back when both me and the web were still young?) Or that I had a weather window for a firing this week, and really, really tried to hit it, and still came up short. So close is useless on Sunday, after it’s started raining.

Or — I mean, seriously, check this out — the sneaking suspicion that I may have — simply through being stubborn and determined to ride my existing coping skills and mechanisms all the way to rock bottom, if need be — I may have squandered the better part of, oh, six to eight years of my life, for want of a little blue and white pill at dinnertime each evening?

Yeah, sure. I mean, besides that stuff, there’s nothing wrong. It’s all good.

“Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it.”

+88

“You make me so happy it turns back to sad; there’s nothing I hate more than what I can’t have.” – TS

I went back up to ten. It was getting a little too sad in here; sad in a way that felt too familiar, and so a little scary.

There should still be a range, ups and downs. There’ve been a lot more ups — like, super ups — lately than I’d have guessed possible; so I’ve gotta swallow my downs, too. But then there’s too down, which is where the shit that the Dark Angel is whispering at me starts to seem like a series of plausibly actionable ideas. And no, it’s not about controlling how you feel; but you’re always responsible for controlling what you do.

Downs like when an old friend dies. Like a light going out over your head, the one you were using to see the page, but didn’t even know was on. Ambient light versus direct. Easy to mistake one for the other, then take it for granted.

I don’t know what that means, and I doubt the analogy holds up, but it feels right. I’m gonna go with what feels right — for a change.

Holy shit, I really need a piano.

Music and writing instead of tv last night — again. Like I’m someone else. More like my 20-year-old self than a recliner-bound has-been, awaiting a slow, spiraling fade out.

{Hey, remember when you used to write obsessively about everything, back when you where ‘young and cared’, in those 300-page spiral notebooks? There were days you could scarcely stop. That seems weird now, because the intervening 25 or so years have kicked you ass, en route to teaching you a thing or two, and so just like most kids quit drawing, you (mostly) stopped writing. At least, until tw@se came around. But, arguably, that’s who you are as much as anything else. You used to play guitar and sing a lot, too. And cry. And have unimaginably remote, impossible dreams. And fall in love like your life depended on it. (Maybe it did.) -Ed.}

I’ll take sleeping straight through from 9 to 4:30 any day over that ghostly Dark Wake mode. Fitfull sleep, full of dreams, I think, but not OA dreams. Still haven’t had another one of those; that was a unique experience. But still — solid sleep, I think. Helps to reload your cache.

[OK, going weirder now, and into more computer/as/metaphor shit. Feel free to bail.]

Woke up thinking that this is like in the old Mac OS days — for me, the entirety of the 90s — where all the non-core things you wanted the machine to do required little bits of software called Extensions. (I was not in IT back then, and had zero clue that would be my fate — I mean, that would have seemed as ludicrous to me then as working in the hardware department at Sears as a tool-clueless 15-year-old had done in 1986.) Anyways, I was still a tech civilian back then, so I can’t tell you what an Extension really was, in CS terms, without doing some Wikipediaing that, at the moment, I don’t give a shit about. But my guess is they were “extensions” of the basic operating system. Things the Apple Gods had deemed outside their purview to include. And so, things that were absolutely necessary if you wanted to, say, print. Or calibrate the color of your monitor, or “distill” a PDF file, whatever the fuck that was supposed to mean. (Perhaps that Adobe saw itself as some kind of renegade bootlegging operation; the little good guys up against the Mac’s Death Star. Ironic. Why do the rebels always end up as tyrants the second they seize 51% of the power? Have they no shame? No fondness for their hippie roots?)

Anyways, because Extensions were outside the main system, they were [oh, let’s just go ahead and say ‘a Wild west’] a Wild west of roll-your-own, slap-’em-together, figure-it-out-yourself hoo-hah. (Today’s “DYI” sounds so punk rock, whereas back then it was more like a trip to Radio Shack with a broken soldering iron and Journey playing on the cassette deck. But the weird inversion is that today’s version of “do it yourself” is actually much more tame and guided — more corporate and safe — than the old-school one, which really was a new frontier. Those Homebrew Computer Clubs were the real deal. Same old story, I guess: We tell ourselves lies and then layer over some hubris to hide our tracks.)

So you’d find an Extension to do some new trick on your Mac — not online, because online (mostly) didn’t exist yet. It’d come on a floppy — not a CD, and certainly not a install DVD, because those didn’t exist yet, either, outside of some R&D lab. And you’d install it and then you’d reboot the computer, often needing to also invoke arcane spellcasting like zapping the PRAM or holding down three special modifier keys (which sometimes did nothing and other times caused their own special weirdness). The machine would come to life and… pretty much anything was possible. Now you could, say, print, but your mouse didn’t work. Yay, command line interfaces again! I knew all that pointing and clicking was a fad. Or you could do that distillation of that fancy document format, but half the colors were missing from your display, or you’d get system crashes every 30 minutes (which was super duper fun back in the days before partitioned memory; one app would take down the whole machine, including all your unsaved work. (Sometimes hours of writing, if it was the middle of the night at a computer lab across campus, and your paper was due in your first class, and you were too loopy to keep track of time and remember to keep saving.) (To this day, I still compulsively hit Command-S every few minutes, even in applications that autosave to the Cloud, where Command-S doesn’t even do anything anymore. It’s like a cargo cult.)

“There’s glitter on the floor after the party.”

I can’t believe I forgot to convert the italics in that message. I can’t believe I didn’t offer to drive, didn’t say that one part that I’d planned, over and over again, to say, didn’t see that my excited gesturing was looping ever and ever closer to the top of my ill-advised Starbucks cup. [Note to self: even for 4:40pm meetings, maybe recaffienating right beforehand is a bad idea. Better to go in too cool than too hot.]

For the amazing string of things I got right — I mean, there were a few that I nailed like a bullseye from across the room, with my contacts out — for all those successes and good things, I can’t believe all the things I got wrong last week; all the near misses and missed opportunities, only realized in shocking jumps hours and hours later. That is definitely the kind of obsessive, self-critical thinking that I’m supposed to steer clear of, because while we have to examine the past to learn anything from it, imagining a time machine is not helpful. You cannot go back for a do over, you can only try to do better the next time. And it’s not that any of those little misses or mishandling so or unfortunate turns of phrase really mattered, not really. Nor will it make a huge difference one way or another, that, say, I had to stand there for 15 minutes with coffee dripping down into my pants. Who knows? Maybe it clarified the mind and stiffened my posture and helped me nail the rest of it? Because it certainly went unexpectedly fractal there for a while, and I held up well, almost as if it was one of those crazy interview stunts where they purposefully stress test the candidate. (Hilarious to imagine that I think everyone else is just playing checkers, but they’re full on chess masters, and so that’s exactly what they were doing, and I was too dumb and arrogant to see it; but somehow passed the test anyways. For all the ways ceramics has ruined my life, having to stand in front of a kiln load of complete disaster and retrieve your mistakes from the void, one painful lesson after another, builds a shit ton of character. To where standing there with an unfamiliar iPad and coffee in your underwear and random important people popping in and out like it’s a 70’s improv sketch and everyone else is on coke is pretty much a walk in the park. (If that’s true, I should blow all this off and start a consulting gig where I travel around in a fancy POW-style bread truck to fancy corporate HQs where they force their employees to wrangle with glazes and trimming bowls and the ego-sandblasting of blatant inexpertise and clear, unrelenting failures. There’s probably a million dollars in that idea, for someone more shameless and motivated than me.)

So I’m trying not to dwell on my missed opportunities, but damn does that gully go deep. Neural pathways, it ends up, take some serious time to rewire; and in the meantime, it’s like every wire is hot, nothing is labeled on the panel, and some dummy didn’t even bother to put covers on all his comically-wired junction boxes. It is a “hot mess”, my dear.

But sometimes I really do wonder, with my new set of Extensions, if all it might take is one of those little things — just one more unlikely piece added to the stack — to tip the whole thing over into something else. Some new reality. [Like, what if true A.I. was there, waiting in some inscrutable configuration of this piece and that piece and definitely not that piece, and no one ever thought to wrap them together and say, “Run”? Some of this undeniable moments feel like that; like if I could have just threaded together disparate elements in such a way, like a pagan charm, it would be the thing that would make all the difference, as if it could somehow leap me out of this reality and into another one. That’s some high-octane mystical thinking, there, which maybe speaks to how wide I’m casting my net in trying to sort out this new brain.]

Sorry again for the hypergraphia. Really; you don’t have to read all these — certainly not now. They’ll keep; I’m not gonna rush over and delete the whole thing the first time it catches me up in some minor unintended consequences. (And, even if I did, pretty sure the Internet Archive’s got it all covered. Every momentary thought, crystallized into an unrelenting permanence, simply because I couldn’t find that last bit of self restraint, again. I dunno — it might all come back to bite me in the ass, but there’s something beautiful about taking that risk. At least if the bill comes due, I’ll have paid it forward as best I could.)

OK, that’s enough for now. Sorry again. It’s better than the one I was going to do. It occurs to me that, rather than save this on the shelf for later, perhaps more reasonable review, I have to hit Post now in order to make the writing stop. I can fix it in the mix; I’m letting myself do that as much as I like, now. The stove needs restarting, the glazes restirring, the next batch of pots resorting. I missed my firing window, but I really hope to not lose yet another day.

“Is it cool that I said all that? Is it chill that you’re in my head? ‘Cause I know that it’s delicate.”

Thanks for reading, again and again and yet again. I can’t believe that you do. You’re the best.

“I recall late November, holding my breath, slowly I said, ‘You don’t need to save me…'”

+87

Things I Shouldn’t Have Said This Week
Vol. 373

– Maybe by different starlight I could find another dream worth having.

– That’s how it works…

– Your instincts on these things are usually wrong.

– I actually feel sorry for the sanctimonious jackasses who are too far gone to enjoy this.

– Gygaxian Premise

– I’ve been waiting for that invite for ten years.

– Oh shit!
[Not sure if I actually said this or not, but in the moment that I was accidentally knocking my coffee into my lap, during that meeting, it might have slipped out.]

– See you tomorrow?

– I’m used to them being slick, but that guy is evil.

– I feel like I’ve known you for years.

+86

“And I never saw you coming. And I’ll never be the same.” – TS

On a typical day, now, I wake up thinking. I’ve got an idea for something to write, and I’m just going to keep thinking it until I’ve filled up my RAM and boxed myself in somewhere. I have to write it to get out of the box. When I don’t get to write it, I can just keep thinking myself farther and farther into the box, until the best part of the day is gone and I’m just a mess. Stuck in that box.

[I did restring my guitar, last Sunday; at least, the first three. (All six at once boggles my mind, with all the stretching and retuning. Top three are up next.) And I’m learning some TS songs: All Too Well; Call It What You Want. Singing ’em, too. I even bought a couple new songs just now, which is so rare these days. Like I’d given up on music as if it was a young man’s game. Whew, that was close! Let’s not forget again.]

[Spin, Fidget Ninja, spin! Don’t let them stop you. You be you, Fidget Ninja. You be you.]

I’m still a little stunned by how many posts I wrote in October. [Or, I should say, how many I wrote and posted. 33 doesn’t even count that Drafts and Scraps in their respective Bear bins, or the half notebook I filled with private scribbling, or all those ‘today’s writer’s block’s I did. So many words. By Yoda’s knotty little cane, if only I was this devoted to glazing and firing pots just now. Ah well; we do what we can, not what we can’t.]

I joked to Witt that I’m now posting so much so fast like it’s a buffer overflow hack on your wetware — trying get so many of my thoughts into your RAM that your system can’t handle it; exploiting the mechanism where that lets my input start to bleed over into your other processes. “That’s how it works.” Pretty soon, you’ll be dreaming of muses and watching The OA and listening to Taylor Swift all day long, just like me.

As the comedian Dana Gould had it, crudely but essentially correct, “Let me put my thoughts into you.” Isn’t that pretty much all of Communication? All Marketing? All influence, persuasion, reading and watching and writing and singing? Practically all of culture, when it comes down to it?

“And I loved in shades of wrong.”

So you’ll probably find this little admission just up against the border of pathological: I’ve also been writing in my paper journals again — a lot. It started with those Guest Check cards — still so fun, but I’m mostly using them for lyrics and quotes and lists, and less as blog post starters. Poor Natalie Goldberg got me started up so fast that I read the first fifth of her book and haven’t cracked it open again since — like the boulder in Raiders, or Ol’ Siss on a bad day, it’s like I am racing down a preordained track and cannot be stopped.

The journals are for the actual private writing. The things (even) I don’t dare say here, or that I type here and then think better of. But, also, for just free associating. I find that moving the pen or pencil makes my thinking better; less fractal; less obsessively looping. And I’ve got a lot of thinking going on. Too much.

I started back into them, maybe a month or six weeks ago, with those little “today’s writer’s block”s — a gimmick that let me write what I was thinking, but without leaving a trace. A lot of stuff I needed to write but not worry about saving, or even seeing again, myself. Then it kind of morphed into deliberately scrawling across the page, like shorthand by a speed freak or something. {Note: He’s not actually on speed, all appearances to the contrary. Too much coffee, sure, but other than that still pretty much straight arrow clean. -Ed.}

But then I realized I was having trouble processing it without the actual, legible recording of the thoughts. Fast and sloppy was good, for just blasting things out at the speed of conversation, but I kept finding that I wanted to at least have the option to go back and see what I’d said. Sometimes I need to refer to the transcript to figure out where the hell I am now. But the catch there was that by going back to legible script, I really was leaving a paper trail — a literal one — of all my worst, least appropriate, indefensible, momentarily (?) nuts ideas. That’s a tough one. Even if those notebooks never leave the house, it’s hard to secure them in a way that doesn’t feel like leaving dangling, important bits all over the place.

And then, one day, I just said, “Fuck it.” I need to write what I think, so that I know how I feel, so that I can keep going, and I’ll write “BURN BEFORE READING” and the date on here, and if anyone is stubborn or foolish enough to ignore that warning/request and plow into it, then they kind of deserve to know what they find.

So — hey — one of you: if I croak first, next month or 167 genetically modified years from now, please go through my shit and find all the paper notebooks with that on their covers and stick ’em in a nice, piping ∆14 firebox. Thanks!

“This is a state of Grace. This is a worthwhile fight.”

+85

“And I know I make the same mistakes everytime, bridges burned, I never learn, at least I did one thing right. I did one thing right.” – TS

Now if I could just figure out what that one thing was.

Call it what you want to.

Man, those typography videos just nail it for me. Even the parts that are a little obvious or formulaic; all in all they’re just grand. I love — love! — the canvas scrolls, so that it feels like the camera is tracking across this larger, unseen space, where all the words are cascading and morphing in all across the whole. And typewriter fonts. . . well, I probably should have realized that would have been enough to sustain me when I first played with moving them around on screen seventeen years ago. Damn, Scott, you should’ve gone deep on the typewriter fonts when you had a chance. Could be making Taylor videos from your parents’ basement by now.

“All the drama queens taking swings // jokers dressing up as kings.”

Hmm… which of those three am I? On any given day, some of all three. Perhaps mostly the joker, although I do seem to enjoy the drama lately more than I expected myself too. My misanthropic guise is slipping daily.

I give myself a B+ for today; probably just a straight B for execution, but the plus for insane effort. I definitely tried for an A. Well, today, which is kind of faded into yesterday already, but still feels like today. You know how that is.

{So can you tell this is another of those middle-of-the-night Dark Wake posts? Like hot off the metal and into the Cloud? So perilous; so fun; so bizarre to read them again twelve hours from now, trying to remember this state of mind, and it seeming like it must have belonged to someone else. What fun. -Ed.}

“Starry eyes sparking up my darkest night.”

Things at work — you may recall the ‘everything has changed’ bit — uh, for those of you who are lost, it was +52 — 26 days and 33 posts ago — things at work are continuing apace. [No, unhelpful autocorrect, not “Apache”. Trust me; I was an English major before the computers learned to spell. “Apace” is a word. Jezum Crow, it’s like nobody appreciates the archaic form anymore.] Which is to say that it’s like I’ve got this donkey. He’s a stubborn motherfucker of a donkey; like, won’t take yes for an answer kind of stubborn. And we’re stuck halfway between hell and high water, so I’ve gotta get ’em to town. (Let’s call him Stan.) So Stan the donkey and I are on the road; I’ve got a lead rope on him, and I’m pulling in the direction we need to go; I mean, of course it’s the right direction — haven’t I been down this road a dozen times before? But no — Stan wants to go towards just about any other point of the compass rose, or to just stand still and wait for fate or retribution to smoke him into ashes and regrets.

So I’ve gotta pull him, just enough to get his feet up, and yet only about an inch forward. Then I stop pulling. Wait. Wait | Wait | Wait. Gauge him — still huffing? Weird donkey saliva still bubbling on his weird donkey lips? Or is he ready to move again? If ready, I pull some more — hard — but only another inch. See, I have to wait for stubborn Stan to forget that we just moved an inch a few minutes ago before he’ll let me move him another inch. It’s ludicrous; Sissyphus is lapping us on a regular basis, and laughing his ass off as he does. “Rock and Roll, Dudes!”, he says as he goes past. [Weird that, for some reason, Ol’ Siss speaks in Title Case. I do have to wonder what he’s listening to on those earbuds.]

So odd, dumb Stan and I are stuck on the road, one inch forward at a time, with thunderheads looming and one of those freaky, barn-killing sideways winds coming; fifty degrees colder than it just was a couple hours ago. “L E T ‘ S . G O . S T A N.”, I plead. “For fuck’s sake, we’ve already been waiting so long; let’s go!”

Goddamn Stan.

“My castle crumbled overnight, I brought a knife to a gunfight, they took the crown but it’s alright.”

+84

“I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me…” – TS

It’s been reported to me that some girls were singing Look What You Made Me Do during a bathroom break at school. What?! Other people know our song?! And they were even ‘on chorus’, which I’m not sure whether that means ‘on tune’ or ‘in harmony’. Either way, when I asked (already knowing that the answer was no) if she joined in, she said, “That’s not me.”

Sigh.

That was never me, either… I can’t fault her for that. And the times I tried to make myself be that, I always ended up flat on my face. We are who we are, and it appears that much of that flows down through the generations. Oh well. Not everyone needs the skill (or is it the will?) to rush out and make friends. Some of us are good at sitting quietly, alone, reading books, instead.

Either way, we’re pretty excited about reputation coming on Friday. I’m still listening to the four pre-release tracks daily; sometimes on a loop, for Gorgeous and Call It What You Want. Possibly even dancing around the house, with earbuds in, at the 5am dark wake time. Quietly, but actually dancing. So fucking weird.

“But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time.”

+83

“Say you’re sorry, that face of an angel comes out just when you need it to.” – TS

How come the only things I really want are categorically impossible to get? Is it because that is the point of Dreams — not to achieve them, but as a goad to get us up off the couch? So that we at least do something? Anything? Something slightly better than nodding through this one shot at life, supposedly safe in our protective cocoons?

How to dream again and not get crushed by waking up when it’s over? Do I have another one in me? Witt told me, even back then, that I needed a new dream, and I was like, “Oh hell no. I’m done with that shit. It’s just grim, prosaic life for me from here on out.” Well, ends up that wasn’t going so great. Not sure it has to be a binary choice — dreaming or sleepwalking — and not sure this reawakening feeling isn’t just the momentary fantasy before the next magnet snaps together, snapping me stuck in between them, again. I might be buying today’s optimism with procrastination, which means when the bill comes due tomorrow, it’s gonna be steep. Maybe?

Questions… so many questions. Oh boy, do I have questions.

+

Oh, here: this feels like a new thought: maybe I never actually killed The Dream. Maybe I just buried it alive and tried to grieve it as if I had? That bit at the end of my published version, the SFW version, where I said something like ‘life without it [the Dream] isn’t so bad’ — ? “Isn’t so bad”? What’s that, a euphemism for “hopelessness gets a bad rap; you should try it”? Fuck me.

Now, a decade out from my dream time, and a few more years logged in “isn’t so bad” territory (and, thanks to the neurochemical enhancement, maybe slightly more awake than I’ve been in a while), life without hope seems like a fate worse than death or shattered dreams. Like, if I was never gonna dare to fly at the sun again, I should have just wandered out in the deep snow while I had the chance.

[Sorry for that one. It’s what I wrote on Saturday, and it still feels too true to cut, although the timing and context are now abyssmal. I guess I can say that I’m not making a joke about suicide here; I’m referring to the time when I got closest to the real thing. And not that I was that close — I wasn’t. But I could see it from there, and it scared the hell out of me. Three months without sleep in the dead of winter is not a recipe for a reasonable perspective on the world and one’s place in it. I can’t recommend it.]

Huh. I know I shouldn’t be saying any of this, and yet — it’s pretty much the only thing I want to say. That and the lame references. Oh, and the song lyrics… Lucifer’s Hammer am I loving music lately. “We’ll dance around the kitchen in the refrigerator light” is a long, long, long way from “If you need me, I’ll be out in the deep snow.” A long way.

Approach/Avoid/Approach/Avoid

And so it’s as if that first Dream rotted and zombified, and went lurching off into some horror movie that I can’t bear to watch. A consequence of my unholy act or original artistic sin — failing to give it it’s due. I mean, I tried to, but I got scared. I got tired. I saw a softer landing spot and just thought I could rest up a bit before restarting the climb. And then I just quit climbing. And not even to say that that was the wrong choice; everything considered — the sorry list of ills and misfortune that I cataloged in that Killing The Dream essay — still seems like plenty of reason to back off and think about either a different target or a different approach to hitting it.

That undead dream probably can’t be unearthed and revived; even if I wanted to. ‘Exhumed’, to borrow the great R.E.M. word. [Single quotes again. I know I shouldn’t.]

I think the pagans would say you have to perform some rituals now, to get out from under that past. Special plants cut at midnight, under a harvest moon like the one out the kitchen window last night. (Why do I stay inside? Sometimes, it feels like freedom to just stand out under the dark.) Maybe that’s the thrust of this whole pseudo-Goddess/Muse/OA thing. Appealing to some mystical power that can erase what time and math and money have wrought.

If I do exhume it, or sanctify or put it to rest; if I did; would it make room for a second Dream? Another spin of the big wheel? So many questions. And if so… if it did, would it be worth the nearly unfaceable costs to pursue it?

Because, see, I already know what that dream would be, deep in my sneaky little heart; and of course, like a character wishing for extra wishes in a badly run D&D campaign [not helping yourself with these outdated nerd references, Scott], the new dream would somehow try to quietly wrap the best parts of the old one into itself. Like: I could get used to not actually working.

+

So the big one is coming up. I might be subconsciously racing towards Oblivion so I can get it here faster. The pressure to spill is building; I foolishly think I can lead you to it, bit by bit, Iike dragging my stubborn mules to town, one inch at a time, so they don’t quite flash onto the fact that we’re on the move. {Please clarify: is that ‘bit’ as in ‘bit and bridle’ or bit as in ‘pieces of eight’ or bit as in ‘1/8th of a byte’? -Ed.} [S T O P !].

:: so that when we get there, you’re ready for it, and won’t crucify me for my excessive honesty :: i don’t want to be your martyr ::

Whatever ends up happening with that — the how — I’ve already decided that the what is going to be +99. Because that’s a real magic number. That’s how my blue-painted ancestors would have done. Not +100. One hundred is as magical as the imperialist White King’s boiled roast beef. Drained of life, propped up on a throne encrusted with our stolen jewels, as arrogant in his certainty as the weakest among us. Ninety-nine is where it’s at. Or, I should say, where it will be. So if you want, you can skip out the rest of this slowly bending dramatic arc and just jump ahead to the grand finale.

Sixteen to go. (You missed six!) I’m scared, but I think I can get there. Better offload some more casual readers before then. Let’s see… Are there swear words I haven’t used yet? Topics so banal and grim that even Witt or K in A might turn and look away? (Not that I want them to; I just mean, bad enough that practically everyone else will.) Maybe I should abandon this ‘hiding in plain sight’ nonsense — duh, Google — and think about converting it to a subscription-only TinyLetter or something, instead. Like, before 99. Yeah, maybe. But you know I won’t.

Damn. I’m doing that thing again where I’m writing checks now that my dumb ass might not be able to cash later. I should qualify all that, as I hear tell that I am quite unreliable these days. Even on 5mg. So OK, my plan is to build up to +99. I hope to. I aim to. YMMV. “And it came to me then, that every plan, is a tiny prayer to Father Time.”

All of this could very well come collapsing down under its own weight well before we ever reach such a lofty total.

“If my FILDI is weak, let me”… Eat my critique? I forget. “But if my FILDI is strong, let me…” I dunno. I forget. Oh, Ze… Where the fuck did you go, man? I need you — maybe now more than ever. I hope you’re happy, wherever you are.

If my FILDI is strong, maybe it will let me face down the armored bear — grasp his hot-fanged jaws between my hands, moments before they find my throat, and leap onto his back, like a Minoan bull rider. Then, off we’ll charge, to kill the enemy and redeem this overly-long, sad, silly story.

Maybe I’ll even let that face rearrange my stars. Maybe by different starlight I could find another dream worth having.

“And it’s too late for you and your white horse, to catch me now.”

+82

“Autumn leaves were falling down like pieces into place…” – TS

And I can picture it, yes, even after all these days. And I know it’s long gone; and I know there’s nothing I can do, but I forget about You long enough to forget why I needed. To.

That’s Taylor, not me. Credit to the ghosts.

In the expanse of woods behind our ten acre plot, I step outside the back door of my studio to hear ten thousand leaves — a million — falling to the forest floor as one. Today’s wind takes them all. Tomorrow’s wind will take a million more.

“A hundred million birds — fly away.”

That’s Michael, not me. Credit to the ghosts. Fables of the Reconstruction // Reconstruction of the Fables.

“And inside every turning leaf, was the pattern of an older tree. Things I’d never seen; things I’d never see.”

That’s Gordon, not me. Credit to the ghosts. Ghosts in the machine.
(And if you get that reference, you are my kind of cool. I love you.)

[Firing up the fidget spinner, on the pale wood top of my drafting table, for momentum. Get it? Drafting table? A place where one goes to make drafts? {Oh boy. It’s gonna be a long ass day if he’s starting it like this. – Ed.} It wasn’t until yesterday that I realized I don’t have to hold it; it’ll just spin like a motherfucker on the tabletop right here, between my Delete key hand and my first five am mug of coffee. Likely the first of many too many. As close to a perpetual motion machine as I’ll ever get. Only way out is through.]

That’s all me. Don’t blame anyone else.

I’ll try not to call you up again — everytime I don’t, I almost do — but I can’t promise not to break you like a promise. I’m unreliable these days :: these days :: these days :: i i i am not a bot :: these days.

Soon enough, we’ll take our frigid winter walks there, soaking in what little daylight there is in an Indian winter, traipsing near where they made mounds that are now planted with corn; then holy sites or more. A legacy of blood. What else can we do? What else, beyond seek a reprieve in daylight? And think about how to explain all that to a nine year old.

I don’t know what that means, or how I can be… already dreading and anxiously awaiting it, all at once. At least once it snows, it means I’m done firing for the year. Call it what you want to.

“…The air was cold, but something about it felt like home, somehow…”

Taylor again. Pretty much if it’s in quotes and it sounds good, it’s her. Call it what you want to. You make me so happy it turns back to sad; there’s nothing I hate more than what I can’t have.

Stupid kiln.

More dead Dream thoughts. Tons of them. Before that tragic news yesterday, I had a whole three pages (or whatever) cued up about burying it alive but mistakenly thinking it was over; now it seems like an awfully petty metaphor. But “this love left a permanent mark”; I can’t help but run my fingers over the scar.

And I [shouldn’t] forget about you [dream; else] long enough to forget why I needed [really, still do need] to.

Yes, Taylor. That original line: can you hear it and think of anything better in that spot? There’s no way. It is perfect. But the brackets in my mongrelized version there; if you hadn’t flashed on it yet, I’ll spell it out, since it’s still a couple hours from daylight and I need a friend:

[Stuff in straight brackets is what would have been endnotes, back on tw@se. An affectation born of a technical limitation, like most decent creative ideas are. The OA loves limits. These are my thoughts to myself, the meta layer as I’m writing; thoughts which any decent writer (or person) would leave out; would cut without a second thought on the first editing pass. (Yes, you may be astonished to know, but there actually are multiple editing passes on most of these. Sometimes with additions and corrections days later, just to really mess with Witt’s head. Not nice, but he should know better, by now, than to believe in the permanence of text. It’s not canon until all the guilty parties are dead.) Stuff in straight brackets is for me for you, if that makes sense. It’s a stubborn rejection of the Gygaxian Premise (which, you won’t recall, is that any part of a writing that you like the most is probably the part you should cut. I keep them all. You’re welcome.]

(Stuff in parens is just normal usage: an aside, something tangential, but often as a qualifier or way to undermine what I’m in the midst of saying. They’re fun, and they help keep me honest. Probably also infuriatingly loopy and hard to track. All the blog you can read, or your money back.)

{Stuff in curly brackets is a new goof of an idea; I’ve introduced the character of an imaginary Editor, who steps in, like in the grand old days when journalism was about facts and accountability, not debating whether people could and should have their own “facts”, sans accountability. Who knew the World Wide Web was going to be the downfall of our civilization? Not me, or the hippies and scientists that built the damn thing. They genuinely thought it might bring about a new Golden Age; a utopia of knowledge and communication. Idiots. We are monkeys with machine guns.}

{OK, as you probably noticed, because you’re smart and a careful reader, Scott just broke the format in that previous paragraph while trying to explain the format. Jeepers. It’s like he can’t help himself. And this, I’ll note, is on only one cup of coffee. So this — this paragraph right here — is an example of what he was talking about. If it’s in curlies, it’s by me, The Editor, which means you can trust it and take it as T H E . F I N A L . W O R D . Word to your mother; -Ed.}

Well. That went off the rails in surprising order, now didn’t it? Guess we got some shop talk in, but hell. I was aiming for abstract poetry and bullseyed redundant word salad.

And damn it, I told myself that I wasn’t going to rush in here and cover over that eulogy so quickly today. The one time I manage to hold it together and write something linear, concise and with only a justifiable amount of profanity; it should get to linger at the top of the page longer than a (very short) overnight. But what can I do? Sleepers gonna sleep; bloggers gonna blog.

I told myself that I should hover and write in the background today, if I couldn’t help it — nothing wrong with honing some stuff in Drafts, so that it’s eventually maybe a little better than this. I like the ones that linger and morph and grow strange new fruit when I hold onto them for a few days or weeks. Ah well.

I’m thinking that innocent civilians might be stopping by, linked in from polite society {I think he means Facebook. LOL. – Ed.}, to see that one thing I wrote that wasn’t a steaming trainwreck; nice old ladies. Which is fine, but then if they scroll up or down a little, holy god get me out of here. “I wonder what broke his brain so bad?, they’ll ask their daughters (my former high school friends) on next weekend’s obligatory phone call. Like I said, the Web is basically a harbinger of our endgame. As we (the sane, rational half of us, anyways) have so recently discovered — and to our collective peril — everything is basically one click away from everything else, now. Beauty from madness, joy from sadness. It is the way of the world. I can’t be blamed too much for that.

I’m unreliable these days.

[Bonus points for working in “peril”. That one’s for you, Adam. And I bet Dart would have liked it.]

“So it goes.”

That’s KV. Maybe the best line ever written in English.

“Maybe we got lost in translation, maybe I asked for too much, and maybe this thing was a masterpiece, ’til you tore it all up. It was rare, I was there, I remember it all too well.”

+81

“It was only one, I recall. It was all so different then.” – Peter Gabriel

Back in the expanse of woods behind our yard, I can hear ten thousand leaves, falling to the forest floor as one. Like pieces falling into place. And yet, not like that, too.

I loved this friend of mine, so many years ago, who I just heard today is suddenly gone. Today, when the time is already screwy, everyone’s extra tired, the weather just an emotive mess, and so, so much else going on. Today, “I grieve… For you.”

We were only together for a couple years, but they were those crucial ones — kids out in the world for the first time, just starting to imagine who they could become as adults. He was at my elbow as I fell in love with my future wife. As I first got good at school. As I toyed, cautiously, with the fleeing possibility that, like him, I could actually try to be one of the creative people, instead of just a bystander. His enthusiasm and tenacity were infectious; he made me see the world more like he did — open and full of possibility. He ran towards new experiences and pain, instead of away, like me. He let me shave his first mohawk. It was an honor; I admired him and loved him like an older brother.

I’ve already told one story about him today, elsewhere, and it feels wrong to just repeat it. So here’s another, a short one, that I think will give an idea of who the person I knew was, well twenty five years ago, now.

I was flying back in to some rural airport in Iowa, back to college after Jan term away. I knew some number of friends would pick me up. (Details were spotty, back before cells, texts, email. None of us had even heard of the Internet yet, and the Web was yet to be invented. We just kind of rolled with the uncertainty, kids.) So I get off the plane in this unfamiliar, frozen place, get my bags, and hear, from what must have been halfway across the concourse, “Super Coop!” A mad bellow; the kind that would instantly bring an armed security crew down on you, if you tried it in an airport today. And then he’s running — like full speed, lunatic weight lifter/cyclist speed, right at me, no pause as he crashes into me, knocks my bags to the floor, and bear hugs me until I’m sure he could snap a few ribs without much effort. “Hey, man! How the fuck are ya’?!” He even had on that goofy, tremendous leather cap I gave him, because it was too small for my big head of hair, and looked ridiculous atop my six-foot-five, but precisely perfect over his bushy red eyebrows and glasses.

In the intervening years — goddamn decades, now — I can’t believe I let him go so easily, and that now I’ll never get the chance to say so. To apologize to him for that, and to try to fix it. What would I not have done, a week ago, if I had somehow known? I would have dropped EVERYTHING. Cancelled the sale; if need be; torched the huge changes at work; if it would’ve helped. Gone camping or shared my brain meds or just stayed up all night talking until it might have made a difference. God damnit.

Can’t fix it now. But I’m overawed at the thought of all the other people I’ve genuinely loved, and been so lucky to know, and yet let slip away, as life carved its own channel into these distant sands. I should, somehow, find the time and make the effort to fix some of those gaps. If we cannot connect now, amidst this unimaginable array of communications technology, then we’re all truly lost. It’s only for lack of desire that we remain siloed away, one from the next. “This flesh and bone, are just the way that we are tied in.”

It’s not my job to be the catcher in the rye, and if it was, I would probably suck at it. But it wouldn’t hurt anything or anyone — not even me — to try a little better.

“Did I dream this belief? Or did I believe this dream?”

+80

“Swift writes about her life so directly that the listener is forced to think about her persona in order to fully appreciate what she’s doing creatively.” – Chuck Klosterman

Now look: I really like Chuck Klosterman. I read his books, enjoyed his columns when he was The Ethicist for the NYT, avidly awaited his podcast chats with Bill Simmons, about college football and pop music and random self-searching thought experiments. He’s way smarter than me; a vastly better (and infinitely more accomplished) writer; probably an order-of-magnitude better thinker. And he’s spent some amount of time actually being around TS, interviewing and observing her for a profile he wrote on her a few years back, where all I’ve done is imagined having a single coffee with her and how it would remake my world.

But I think he’s dead wrong in that quote above. Exactly wrong. In fact, it bothers me how wrong he is, because he’s saying that her music is somehow not enough on its own, and the biography (as told through other media) of the musician is the key to decoding how great her music actually is.

Extend that and it also says the biography of the potter is what really makes the pot. That provenance is more significant than gut-reaction. That we must become vacuums of all the peripheral flotsam of the culture we desire, to fully “get” the culture we’ve somehow missed.

Fuck that, Chuck.

I don’t give a hot damn about who song is about; what it says about them in the (now virtual) liner notes. Whom Taylor has been dating and for how long and what the gossip blogs have had to say about it. The critical supposed-think pieces, baiting their clickbait hooks as if their lives depended on it — oh, because their financial lives actually do depend on it — {insert quote about a man not believing something if his salary depends on not believing it – Ed.} — click click clickity click. Never trust a critic who hasn’t spent years trying to do the thing they’re criticizing. Otherwise, it’s just all frustrated-artist speculation, Schadenfruedian pedestal-toppling and pent-up wish fulfillment.

[Discursive Loop: frustrated-artist speculation, Schadenfruedian pedestal-toppling and pent-up wish fulfillment. Good tag line.]

“Which is more than they can say.”

The videos, while occasionally entertaining, don’t do much for me. If anything, they diminish the songs, like a mediocre adaptation of a favorite novel. Clearly, they’re aimed straight at the 14-year-old segment of her audience. But, I swear, some part of the songs is aimed directly at me, the jaded, 46-year-old, ‘reawakening for/after the Fall’ guy.

(They are Swifties; I’m just swift. But man, when I get that TS tattoo on my forearm — in medieval S T O N E C A R V I N G script, of course — it’s gonna lock down Coolest Dad Ever status, come middle school. I might even beat out Dorian for the Most Preferred Carpool Driver job. [See my post on Linked In!!!] “OMG, how does your Dad already know all the lyrics to Call It What You Want? And he likes White Horse, too? A-maze.)

All that said, there are bits about her public persona that I like. She has charisma to burn; I would cast her for the role of Muse in the remake of some Jon Hughes movie. Banging on her drumkit like her life depended on it, or whatever. I can see why the Big Pop Machine decided it could make her famous. Don’t think I’ve watched an entire interview, because they’re painfully self-conscious — image grooming — and they also belie the depth that can be found in some of her lyrics. Either she’s a better slow writer than fast talker, or there have been a lot of other people feeding her words to sing over the years. (It’s probably a good dose of both. Even so, she deserves all the praise; when I am speechless at a turn of phrase or the nuance of a repeated line, I think of her. The byline still gets the credit. We ghost writers knew the score when we signed on. “That’s how it works. That’s how you get the girl.”)

Oh! Except there’s this one live performance on YouTube — complete with allergicly-wretched lead-in promo, and couched in whatever Star Search type show those fucking things are these days — there’s this one video that, even compressed by that awful format and venue is simply incandescent. I mean, so much so that I really need to track down the audio version. I am a lifelong sucker for a great bridge, or late break, especially when the music drops and the vocals jump to the top. J U M P. And in that one, TS just eviscerates any doubts about her singing chops; the spot where her voice almost breaks just about breaks me, every.single.time. That’s not ‘a limited range’. That’s the empty spot deliberately left in the pattern of a Mimbres bowl, so the spirit can get out. Wabi-sabi, jackals. G.T.S.)

[Damn, I guess I should link to it. Should I link to it? I’ve been making a point of not linking to things, ’cause it gets out of hand so readily. And I hate how the highlight pollutes all this pure black on white, like contours wrapping around a sacred curve. Nah. Fuck it. You go find it; I don’t care. Well; OK. I care. Ask me, if you want, and I’ll send it to you. We can be Friends. Or Followers. Or whatever the hell they’re doing on Snapchat.]

All I knew, this morning when I woke, is that if the remaining 11 songs are half as good as these four, two of which I already adore enough to just play them on loop almost every day, then you and me, TS — you and me are in great shape. I cannot believe I doubted you even for a minute. Like The OA, I’m really sorry for all the times I tried not to look you in the eye, afraid for the current pattern of my stars.

“Starry eyes sparking up my darkest nights.”

dl

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I actually feel sorry for the sanctimonious jackasses who are too far gone to enjoy this. Populism, as we’ve seen in the mass hallucination that’s overtaken our Red zones, is its own reward. I really hope they — the too-cool critics, not the self-abnegating voters — are enjoying whatever else they’re listening to, instead, half as much as I’m enjoying this. If they’re not, then they deserve it. (“Some indie record that’s much cooler than mine.”)

Punk rock Penny can ridicule fantasy-novel-memorizing Quentin all he wants for looping Shake It Off in his head. We become King, in the end, and you’re just a cryptic library security guard with no hands, dude.

(Here’s another reawakening thought: when I first watched that show, I had no clue who TS even was. I’m so out of the mainstream culture, gladly so, that all those references were lost on me. Like I was watching a show made for someone else. (Hint: I was. The novels were for me. Thanks, Lev.) So, if I hadn’t later heard it on the radio, and bought it for Pixel — thinking only that she’d like it, and I could live with hearing that horn section a few more times — what would have been different? Would some other music have occupied 87% of my hindbrain these last few years, or would there have been no music at all? (It’s shocking, now, how little I listened to for a while there. Where “a while” is a euphemism for literally scores of months.) And so does that mean there’s some other singer or band out there that I missed, that would have been capable of filling that gap, that role? Or it was this or nothing? Or something not music, which I’m also lacking now? Stonecarving? Hard drugs? Poetry, for (The Old) God(s) sake? That’s a trip down the rabbit hole, if you’re inclined to follow that one. Loops galore. Danger; trout below. Look out for hope.)

Like the way truth will out, Taylor doesn’t need five star reviews by Dads who actually saw The Replacements play live. [Mother fucking piece of shit world: I didn’t.] She’s gonna get 9.4 million views in two days no matter what they (we) say. Populism is its own reward. [No, Bear! Stop inserting an apostrophe in “its”! You’re making me look like a fucking novice, and right about now it’d be super helpful for me to appear to have a few writing chops of my own.][More on that, later.]

[Hmm… hey, Witt, check this out: Maybe the third character, the one with the whip, is the polar bear. Like Iorek Byjornsson in Spyglass, a massive, armored beast. How can you not stare him down when he’s charging to devour you, rag & bone?]

[OK. What am I saying here that I’ll have to add to next week’s Things I Shouldn’t Have Said list? Aw, who cares? The time shifted last night, Pixel got up in the five o’clock hour, it’s gonna be a long Sunday, and I need this. Eff ’em if they can’t take a joke. Or twelve attempts at one.

“Sorry I woke you up at five o’clock.” So sweet. “That’s OK, little dude. I had some blogging to do.”]

Anyways. So yeah — pop music. Guilty. “If bein’ strong is what you want then I need help here with this feather.”
{See how he did that? Clever. – Ed.}

“A nuanced sense of humor does not translate on a general scale, and I knew that going in. I knew some people would hear ‘Blank Space’ and say, ‘See, we were right about her’. And at that point, I just figure if you don’t get the joke, you don’t deserve to get the joke.” – Taylor Fucking Swift, yo.

+79

Things I Shouldn’t Have Said Last Week
Vol. 372

– You’ve got it, boss!

– I’m crying more now, too.

– Busking

– Jason would have built it already.

– A little bird told me…

– p.s. Scott says, “You’re a jackass.”

– …if everything fails to go according to plan.

– Like black lines on white. Contours.

– Fan-tastic.

– And that was The Cuban Missile Crisis.

+78

“And I just want to tell you, ‘It takes everything in me not to call you. And I wish I could run to you, and I hope you know that everytime I don’t, I almost do, I almost do.'” – TS

One-thirty. With half a night’s sleep earned & banked, my mind turns on like the row of burners in the furnace below my writing desk. When the thermostat calls for heat, you get heat. Whether you actually wanted more yet or not.

Back at five pm, when I looked around for The OA, my hands sore from painting, my back sore from stooping, She was nowhere to be found. Just a Muse-shaped hole in the blinding blue sky above. At six, after making dinner, still gone. At seven, with Pixel finishing her Friday evening bonus Minecraft time, I wanted to cry out, “Where did you go? Are you ever coming back?” But I didn’t. I’m learning to know better.

Then at eight, as unexpected as a great dream, I luck into making room for Her to return. The opposite of ‘can’t you see that I’m driving?’ is ‘hey, just a guy sitting here with his fingers poised on ASDF JKL and an empty mind :: I’m here again :: just in case :: no pressure’. And, so suddenly I almost don’t detect it, She’s there again; lingering in the corner of the room, by the shelf still jammed full of my guest potters’ pots, checking me out; seeing if I really did have the wisdom to supplicate, but not to call.

It takes everything in me. I almost did.

A N D W E ‘ R E O F F.

{A Note of Apology From the Editor: Now that Scott has flashed on this new compositional affectation — the simulated stonecarving letters thing — it seems quite likely that he’s going to beat it so far into the ground it’ll end up down where our well water seeps into the limestone. Like, 200 feet too deep. FWIW, he can’t help it; it’s just how he is. But still, that’s no excuse in a public forum like this; we are not endorsing this behavior. So when you’re rolling your eyes in exasperation and reaching to X out of this browser tab, swearing that you’ve had enough — can’t possibly endure any more of this nonsense — go right ahead. We are fully paid up on subscribers, and since there are no ads to click, we’ll be fine without your eyeballs. Have fun on Facebook.}

[Wow — my editor is an even bigger jackass than I am! The balls. I even had to cut out this part (yes, I get final cut. What do you think I am — stupid?): “You know you’ll be back, and you know we’ll still be here, and ‘Sigh’ing and random-lyric-quoting and codename dropping and “I dunno”-ing A N D A L L T H E R E S T O F I T whether you’re here to see it or not. Seeya suckers!]

[As I used to say on that old blog — you know, the one you actually liked — you’ve been warned.]

Here we go again ….

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So I wake up in the middle of the night, after the first sleep, and literally three distinct ideas for posts roll into my mind, in sequence, like waves arriving from some distant shore. 1) One about W’s; how I’ve got one in my history, in my stamp, and how if there’d been a “G” in there, at the end, instead of a “C”, I’d probably not have gone with SWG, because SG would have been way too tempting to the 20-year-old me who made that decision; and how maybe that one little thing would have butterfly-winged its way to changing everything else. For the better? Who the fuck knows. 2) One about another goddamn snake dream. That’s already saying too much. 3) One about the S T O N E C A R V I N G letters. Or no — wait. [Ha… Maybe not so distinct after all.][‘Be distinct and credible’: I seem to only be capable of one of those at a time.]

OK, the S T O N E C A R V I N G letters was supposed to be in 1), entwined with the ridiculousness of W’s, since “double you” is just V V, for carving expediency. And 3) was actually about baskets, and visual influences, and that thing Clary said, ‘back when I was young and cared’, about having to be careful about what things she brought into the studio because of their tendency to creep, unbidden, into the clay. I mean, like, who makes a basket out of super thin porcelain, then scores and drills and grooves the living hell out of it? What good could possibly come from this?

[Answer: A L L T H E G O O D.]

Those subconscious visual inspirations. Things both seen and unseen. Like The OA, sitting quietly but intently in the corner, observing everything, even if She gives no sign that She hears you. Now eyes wide and giggling madly, Her mouth covered by one hand, as if She knows this is too much mischief even for Her, as She tosses another curveball at us, Her willing fools.

That’s how it works. That’s how you end up with either some sweet ass porcelain baskets or a twisted pile of shards, straight out of the bisque. Either way, you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. (If you know what’s good for you.)

OK, that’s all I got for now, I think. Sleepy again. The first rule of OA Club is after you talk way too much shit about the OA, you go back to sleep for a while.

Not publishing yet. Can’t trust myself to have not said something nuclear. Hmm. “Nuclear” and “Unclear” are so much closer than you’d think. [I think it’s OK, but then again, I mean: I would, wouldn’t I? Hopefully after the next sleep.]

{Try not to wreck it by fluffing it up too much, yo. – Ed.}

[OK, I’ll try.]

“Oh oh oh, leaving me quite a mess, babe — probably better off this way. And I confess, babe: in my dreams you’re touching my face. And asking me if I want to try again with you… And I almost do.”

+77

“Nobody’s heard from me for months. I’m doing better than I ever was.” – TS

Somehow I got through the whole day without cracking open a glaze bucket. Not sure where the time went, but it went good. Well and good. Felt like The OA was around most of the day; mostly productive thoughts. Five mg thoughts.

Some regrets, some guilt for not trying harder, for not pushing farther. Call it what you want to; one way or another, it’s about time to call it another day.

I almost threw out caution and drove down to Bloomington tonight for that opening. Almost. Not quite. Still feeling like I have no margin to spare, even for something cool — especially when a whole day can just coast by like that with really not a ton to show for it. Not laziness, exactly, but more like a refusal to not linger in the moment, and then another moment, and then a song, and then some ideas for writing, and the next thing I know it’s past lunch time and I still need a nap (stupid sickness) and I’ve just started into the second of five things I was hoping to do before dark.

Later, I did manage to get out and do some more scraping and sanding and pushing the paint on down the wall towards the North; using up the last of the precious good, dry weather. The kind of weather that would be good for almost anything, so anything I choose will always feel insufficient. A dozen more days like that in a row, free, and I might be in good shape. Ha.

I added three more Guest Check cards, scribbled with lyrics and ideas, to the top of the stack today. Intents still outpacing spots. Guess that’s better than that dreadful feeling of wanting to write and having nothing to say. Certainly not my problem, lately.

I don’t know why I’m telling you any of this. Maybe now that we’ve pruned away any possible non-die-hard, and turned off the “hello world!” functionality, it does feel like it’s just us here; this strange little band, hiding in plain sight. Maybe that’s freeing; maybe it’s a false sense of security. You’ll pay for this in time.

In time.

We’ve got reputation marked on the calendar, for when our pre-order will come in. Song number four dropped overnight (I think that’s the lingo the kids use these days, but who knows?) and we streamed it out to the studio when she got home; how many days of the year do you get a new TS song?; she danced around in the lush fall grass while I went brush brush brush on the same wall that hasn’t been painted since I stood there one day in October with her in a Baby Bjorn. I’ve got the photos to prove it. “Life carries on, and on, and on, and on.”

I bought a fidget spinner at Satan’s Emporium yesterday (aka WalMart: I have mentioned that we live in the sticks, and there are no other options nearby, yes?). On my transition-day-run-to-town-for-oddities. So now I sit here and spin it next to my ear, when I’m waiting to see what words will stream down from VALIS next; or while I’m waiting for the page to reload over our pokey connection to the Internet. In the vibration of its spin, and the sound of the air looping past, I think I can hear Her voice. She says I can call it what(ever) I want to. That maybe it’s good nobody’s heard from the old me for months. I’m doing better than I ever was. It’s sweet of you to check in on me like this.

And I don’t even know who “you” is — it changes all the time. Sometimes it’s me; sometimes it’s you; or you; and you; or all of us at once, and that other person over there, too. “You” might never even read this, but it helps me to imagine you will, or have, or are. Or might, if everything fails to go according to plan.

And then I’ll say, “Hey! Look here. I’d forgotten all about this, but this is what this was, and this is what that was, and see how I used this word here and that phrase over next to it, and wove it together so it was obfuscated just enough to hold water but not so much as to hold my breath? [Because I’m having a hard time holding my breath.]

So weird. So dumb. Like anyone in the world cares, besides me. I’ve become an expert on myself. Or not. Or.

Might go sand down some more porcelain holes after Pixel’s sorted. Might be due for another ‘today’s writer’s block”. Might start rewatching The OA — been holding it off. Starting is hard. Somehow, I fell into Forrest Gump the other night; was looking for that first part of Braveheart; and most of it gets me every time. Gotta give the TV some love, I guess. Still doesn’t feel as whole as this, but if I write all the time then I’ll stop having things to write about.

I think…

Maybe not.

“Slowly I said, ‘You don’t need to save me…'”