Erasure II: Reshaping the Path

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Oops! There isn’t an eraser big enough for this ball of fur

I’ve heard from a lot of people in response to my Erasure post which I wrote over a year ago about turning 30, erasing stuff, and how we’re not getting any younger so I was going to carpe all the diems, make mistakes, and learn Portuguese. One of the best responses was from one of my oldest friends, Abe, who sent me a giant eraser and some comics I drew of our group of friends in high school. Good times. Actually, the comic was aptly named: The High School Times. Anyway, Abe recently started a brilliant blog, which you can read here. And you really should because he’s a brilliant, insightful writer and all around awesome person.

So, a lot of things have happened since I wrote that Erasure post. I’m now headed toward 32, and not really worried about being 30 anymore, and the Portuguese thing got complicated. It’s actually a pretty funny story.

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Then: Novo Avenida

Last fall I went to Montreal. Hilarious story, right. Wait, here comes the funny part. I have never had a desire to learn French. While my mother and both of my sisters studied French in school, I studied Spanish. When my friends traveled to Paris in college, I studied Japanese. When I finally went to Europe, I avoided the continent all together and stopped in Ireland.

So anyway, there I was in Montreal with my Portuguese textbook, ready to use my spare time on vacation to complete the last few exercises.

Then things got French. Fast. People in Montreal that I talked to were all bilingual, but I quickly felt myself falling for the charms of the language and the culture. I’ve always dreamed of spending time in a place that would challenge me to speak another language, yet I’ve been feeling a pull back east as I get older too, and feeling like there is limited time to travel to new place while still staying connecting to all the places I’ve been. Quebec is lovely and hilly and mountainous, there are huge deciduous trees and all those wonderful things I miss about the east coast. Being in that place sparked memories of my past and reminded me of the future I’m chasing.

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Now: Comme un Gant!

So when I got back to Winnipeg, I put Novo Avenida on the shelf and enrolled in a French class. Wait, I’m not a quitter. I have justifications:

1) I got to take French for free through a government funded French for Immigrants program. It feels like I’m learning a lot faster than I was learning Portuguese through studying on my own.

2) I live in Canada. French is by far the most useful second language for me to know. It’s useful at work (when visiting Montreal) or just whenevs I feel like Frenching. That’s what they call it, right?

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The High School Times

3) I am no longer erasing. I read a book about mindsets recently, and how we can grow from mistakes. It made me see opportunity where I used to see failure. Maybe you don’t always have to erase, but can constantly improve. Such as reshaping a letter written in ink, turning a mistake into something new, not worse. So anyway, the justification is: French and Portuguese are both romance languages. Learning one will help me learn the other, and I have the ability to take French classes for free, so why not start there and build Portuguese on top of the skills I pick up along the way? It might not be the most efficient way, but how can you ever complete an objective if you’re erasing and starting over? Especially if you happen to be really indecisive and always want to try something new…

I think there was maybe a 4), but I forget.

Oh, wait, I forgot the really funny part. As in ironic funny. There is a chance I’ll be going to Brazil in the coming months. And I just might bring a French book to study while I’m there. *upside-down-smiley-face-what-a-crazy-world emoticon*

 

Erasure

FullSizeRender[2]A couple months ago I turned 30. The big 3-0. All year I felt this impending milestone sinking on my shoulders and it made me question what I’d done with my first 30 years. Which led me to ask myself why I hadn’t achieved what I’d set out to do in my 20s, the major goals being to publish a novel and become fluent in a second language. As my 29th year burned to a close, I collected the last of the rejections on my novel and chalked it up as a loss. Which made me start feeling even worse about my other goal of learning a language. I wasted my 20s fueling a failed novel, and had nothing to show for it. All I had was a job I hated (that exacerbated the failure) and a lower than novice level understanding of Spanish, Japanese, Latin, and Portuguese.

Hitting 30 was one of the most depressing times of my life. I hadn’t done anything. And I blamed it all on the novel, on writing and how it had made me lose sight of my career and other ambitions.

It was dark times. Dark, scary times. I hit 30, totally unprepared with no seatbelt or parachute.

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The other side of my 30th birthday was just as dark and scary.

But shortly after, things started to get better. I revisited my second novel and let writing become an activity I enjoyed again instead of a means to an end (an end of failure slathered in sticky peanut butter and dusted in glitter). It’s got a long way to go, but Second Novel is going somewhere. And I’m going with it.

Almost exactly a month after my 30th birthday, I started a new job. This literally changed my life. My last job was emotionally draining and awful and the new one is busy and gets stressful, but it doesn’t make me feel completely awful, which is completely awesome. I have energy at the end of the day. I sleep well. I feel happy sometimes, actually most of the time — which is new.

FullSizeRenderThis newfound calm has led me to the decision to actually study Portuguese instead of just talking about it. I ordered a textbook online and was half excited and half disappointed yesterday when it arrived and I discovered the workbook was already filled in. Excited because it’s fun to see someone else’s mark on an object, and disappointed because how am I going to learn Portuguese if Sarah from Guelph already learned all the Portuguese out of this book?

Luckily, Sarah wrote her answers in pencil, so I went to grab an eraser, only to discover that I do not own a single eraser!!! When I thought about it, I realized I haven’t used a pencil at home or at work, probably since high school. On my desk at home I have a stein my sister brought me from Germany. It is full of blue pens, black pens, pens that FullSizeRenderlook like monsters, sharpies, and highlighters. Not a single pencil. My desk at work is covered in papers with pens sitting on top of them and rolling under them like snakes under leaves. My top drawer is full of a dozen backup pens. No pencils.

Throughout my school years I was something of a pencil fanatic (read into that what you will). I had an impressive collection of Yikes! designer pencils, mechanical pencils of all lead weights and materials, and many, many more pouring out of my backpack and Trapperkeeper.

I also had a collection of erasers. The boring pink trapezoids, a green one shaped like a brain (from Yikes!’ Fall 96 collection), erasers that looked like dinosaurs, and ones that sat atop my equally impressive pencils. I only used the pink utilitarian ones because I didn’t dare turn my favorites into rubber pulp. But I took comfort in the fact that I had an infinite variety of writing tools at my disposal — and also a limitless number of ways to correct any mistakes I happened to make.

In our youth we’re expected to write in pencil, to make mistakes, to have an eraser FullSizeRender[1]handy. But then as we get older there are no erasers. Time is always passing, and you come to learn that you can always make a second attempt but you can never have a complete re-do because what’s done is done and there’s no going back.

I know this now. But that didn’t stop me from buying an eraser today. I’m going to erase Sarah’s attempt to fill in the blanks, and I’m going to learn Portuguese!

A Life of Many Roles

I have to begin by saying I’m usually not moved by the death of a celebrity. Of course it’s horrible when anyone dies, but I just don’t feel a personal connection to people I experience through the barriers of the screen. People who are removed yet again by becoming a brand or a product.

But for some reason, when I read that Robin Williams had died, I felt a personal loss. I’m still trying to figure out why exactly that is, but here are some of my thoughts on his life and death:

How could someone as funny as Robin Williams be so tortured that the punchline of his life is this horrible?

Mrs Doubtfire.jpgI had a discussion with some coworkers the other day about how maybe comedians are the most tortured of us all. There is some strand of the dark and perverse in the things that make us laugh. To connect with what makes us laugh, you have to be familiar with what rips us apart. Which came first, the loss or the laughs? At a certain point we need humor to help us through the awful, like laughing through a funeral. Life would just hurt too much if we didn’t let out the parts that wound us deeply.

He wasn’t “just” a comedian.

Comedians are analysts of the human condition, and their job is not easy or superficial. Yet, Robin Williams was more than humor. He was fun, family friendly characters like in Aladdin, Hook, Jumanji. He was of course, hilarious characters like Mrs. Doubtfire. And often forgotten, he was creepy characters like 24 Hour Photo and Insomnia. (Wow, I just realized the Robbins on a boat meme photo is a shot from Insomnia.) And he was inspiring, like Patch Adams, Good Will Hunting, and my favorite, Dead Poets Society. (And also wonderfully unclassifiable movies like Toys.)

He was more than just one role or one anything. He occupied all these facets of our lives. What makes us laugh, what terrifies us, what comforts us.

Depression

I’ve had my own, often thankfully short bouts of depression. So I respect and understand his struggle. I don’t think it was right or wrong of him to take his life and I can certainly understand the void of depression that could lead someone with a full life to see the world as hopeless. Depression turns even the best things in our lives into black holes that consume the very universe we live in. It tears them apart and only leaves an absence behind. Not even a desire for what was, but a hole.

So hearing that Robin Williams killed himself made me all the more depressed, because it made me feel that struggle and that pain. I’ve heard several people say he inspired them to pull out of their own depression. But for me it just echoed my own dark moments. A reminder of how it could have gone. I don’t really have anything positive to say about this. There isn’t anything to say about depression or suicide. It is terrible.

Immortality

Thanks to the interwebs, the moment Robin Williams died, he was all anyone talked about. Like a larger than life rockstar burning out only to explode in the allure of their tortured too-soon-death, the man became a legacy at his death. Instead of a man, we now see him as a culmination of his roles, of his personality, his public life and deeds.

Maybe it’s just because I grew up in a conservative small town in the American South, but I only heard bad things about Michael Jackson; he was a deviant, a pedophile, until he died and suddenly became not his actions or his life, but a culmination of his art. A memorialized piece of culture and revered cultural icon. So it is with Robin Williams. His films will live on. His legacy will live on. His commitment to his family and to causes he believed in will live on. His awesomeness will live on. (He named his daughter Zelda, after the videogame, so he was the best kind of geek.) He is now all of these things at once, not a man, but a life and a memory that permeates the consciousness of everyone he’s moved and laughed and nudged through adolescence and their own dark times.

Looking back over what I’ve written, I think what strikes me most about Robin Williams is his range of characters. He’s so easy to identify with because life is a series of many roles, and we need the full arsenal if we’re going to get through.

 

The Burning Questions

I’ve had an interest in philosophy since my teen years, and I had my first panic attack about the impossibility of infinity before I was ten, so I’m no stranger to the burning desire for knowledge that has consumed so much of my life and so much of the world throughout history. I’ve often found myself asking what we can learn by studying the past, from science and religion, from the universe itself, and from looking toward a transhuman, post-singularity future.

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It wasn’t until I reached college that I first encountered a physical manifestation of what I call these burning questions. In an art history class at JMU, the professor showed us slides of a painting called Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? by Paul Gauguin. In my search for meaning I’ve so often struggled just to find the questions, let alone the answers. But when I saw the painting, those three questions became the primary mantra in my search for meaning in my life and in the universe itself.

The search for knowledge is maddening. Why are the answers to the questions which seem so vital to our very existence so impossibly elusive? The closer we get to the truth, the blurrier it becomes. If only we had a massive pair of communal reading glasses.

In thinking about the past, the “Where Do We Come From?”, I wonder if we have Adam and Eve to blame for devouring any knowledge fit for humanity, digesting it, and turning it into excrement. If there was a tree of knowledge growing in my garden, I wouldn’t think twice about rebelling against the powers that be for a taste of what’s behind the veil. Rules are meant to be broken, right? Maybe I’d be struck by a divine bolt for my insubordination, but why go to the trouble of planting a knowledge tree if its fruits aren’t meant to do anything more than fall to the ground and rot?

I’ve always been an avid reader and looked to books for my primary source of answers. At the same time, I have an understanding that those answers aren’t in any book, because there most likely aren’t any answers. But recently the maddening thirst for knowledge has hit me with full force, regardless of how much or little I think I understand about the way the world turns. This summer I’ve been devouring books at an alarming rate, usually at least a couple a week, searching the pages for answers, and then, without pause, tearing into the next book, desperately hoping to get a little closer to some universal truth.

Obviously I haven’t come across the meaning of life. I promise I’d share it with you if I had. And if you have, please let me know so I can go back to reading at a leisurely pace. Just leave your insight in the comments section below and I’ll be happy to note your insight and shelve the books so I can go back (as if I was ever there) to sanity.

I’ve also been reading a lot about immortality and transhumanism, thinking about the Where are We Going? question. I haven’t really been seeking these books out, they’ve been finding me.

I don’t know where we’re going. I don’t know the answer to any of the burning questions. But I still ask them. I still madly scour the pages of book after book, Untitledlooking, I guess, not for answers, but for reassurance that it is okay not to have the answers. That not knowing is fine. That it is good. That it is the way the universe is designed and maybe the meaning is wrapped up in that unknown, a wrapping paper tessellated with question marks. I mean, what’s the point of existing in the first place if everything’s already figured out? Why go through the motions?

But I digress. In all the reading I’ve been doing this summer, one passage in particular jumped out and smacked me across the face, leaving my ears ringing with the sound of one hand clapping. So while I may not have any answers, I’m stabilizing again as I’m reminded that the human concept of meaning might just be the greatest barrier between us and understanding our place in the universe.

Here’s the passage, which is from Another Roadside Attraction:

“But seriously, if life has no meaning—”

“To say it has no meaning is not to say it has no value.”

“But to say it’s all meaningless. Isn’t that a cop-out?”

“Maybe. But it seems to me that the real cop-out is to say that the universe has meaning but that we ‘mere mortals’ are incapable of ever knowing that meaning. Mystery is part of nature’s style, that’s all. It’s the Infinite Goof. It’s meaning that is of no meaning. That paradox is the key to the meaning of meaning. To look for meaning—or the lack of it—in things is a game played by beings of limited consciousness. Behind everything in life is a process that is beyond meaning. Not beyond understanding, mind you, but beyond meaning.” – Tom Robbins

 

 

 

Above the clouds

WP_20140408_14_20_44_ProMy grandfather passed away last week. I made a quick trip home for a short, intense visit to attend the funeral and be there with my family.

While I was there, something struck me about the service and and all the proceedings. They were simple. Brief. My granfather was neither of those things. He was exciting and always had a story to tell. He was a radio operator on a B17 during WW2 and a lot of his stories come out of that experience. So when the simple service passed and I listened to my mom retell her father’s adventures and the trials of growing up with two deaf parents, it was already time to fly home again even though there were many stories I didn’t get to hear, ones he never even told my mother, ones he never told a soul.

As I was flying home looking down on the earth through the holes in the clouds, I suddenly felt like I was seeing the world from his perspective. A small ball of earth beneath my feet. A ball on which there are thousands of people waiting to hear his stories.

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Happy Canada Day!

 

Canada is a great place to live. It’s a lot like the US in many ways, but it has its differences too.

In some ways Canada is like a younger US. The population is much smaller so immigrants are still flooding into Canada at a rapid pace. Whereas, in America (legal) immigration has come to a halt, relatively speaking. Sure there are still people coming in from around the world, but unless they are refugees or are filthy rich, they have to fight incredibly hard to stay.

While the US is turning people away, Canada is saying: Come here! And I’m one of the many that came when Canada called. I moved to Canada just over a year ago. When I think of what Canada means to me, the words welcoming and stable come to mind. For many reasons my life in the US was unstable, to the point where I couldn’t imagine my future, and that was terrifying.

I didn’t know what laws would come and go that would affect my family, and I was tens of thousands of dollars in debt thanks to a degree that had landed me several part time jobs, mostly being a servant for people with more money than me in the restaurant industry (English Majors rejoice!).

I never, ever found a full time job in the US in the four years after I graduated from college. And I guess I would have found one eventually, but I really can’t say for sure. I could have made coffee and served rich people and taught 1 class at a community college until I retired at 95 death.

Then I moved to Canada and 3 months later, found an actual writing job, the thing I actually went to school for and racked up all that debt for.

My life has fallen into place in Canada in the way that I always imagined, but couldn’t see as a reality in the US. There’s nothing wrong with the American Way, well maybe some things…but I feel like coming to Canada was the real beginning of my adult life, when I started feeling stable enough in the present to begin to see my future for the first time in my life.

Thanks for that Canada.

Best regards,
Will

Pie,

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. That’s how 99% of blog posts begin, eh? Well, there was school and the mentorship and life and a whole lot of me not blogging. But I’ve had a lot more free time this summer to think and breathe and live and write.Photo: My new ride, Pandora's Shadow. #walkingisforchumps

I got a bike about a month ago and have been having a lot of fun riding it along the river trails through the mud and forest. Today as I was riding, a poem started forming in my head. I haven’t written a poem in years, I think partly because I was surrounded by so many amazing poets at George Mason. They were writing brilliant poems and I was just a novice novelist.

But because so much of the world IS poetry, I had to stop along the river and capture something of the moment. So I tapped the screen of my phone, creating virtual words-magical! It felt so good to let the poem out! Writing a novel is so tedious and I’m sure revising and editing good poetry is tedious too, but letting a single train of thought out of my head as a thing in itself is such a breath of fresh air!

I tried to give it the very clever title, “Poem,” but my phone autocorrected it to “Pie,” so here is Pie,:

Pie,