Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dissatisfaction, and, "The Man Who Collected Machen"

Today is New Year's Eve. NYE tends to be either very wintery, or reminiscent of Spring. It's more like the latter today, just like the first day of Winter was this year. After being in Spring-like Los Angeles for a few days, I have come home to a cat who is clearly dying, so that mixture of ending/beginning is still the theme. (The cat, by the way, is not Shiva--it is Whiskers, who seems to have some kind of eye tumor).

Regardless of this year's circumstances, I always find myself in an evaluative mode on New Year's Eve, even though the point in time is arbitrary in the larger scheme of things. This year, I find myself lamenting how much wasn't done and is unfinished, or done incorrectly, rather than looking at what I did complete this year. Part of the problem is that so much that I worked on mid-year is still pending, and there are no apparent solutions to some looming problems after many months. But I have also come to realize that I am not a patient person, and do not like it when I cannot control outcomes. Which, rationally speaking, is silly--no one really can control outcomes, not in a big way. But unconsciously, I get angry at myself for not being able to do so. I think they call that being a "perfectionist". I'm sure it's why I devote so much blog space to talking about letting go; I need to take my own advice.

I visited my sister in California, and at one point we had a conversation about dissatisfaction. There is a Tarot card, the 4 of Cups, that illustrates the issue. On the well-known Rider-Waite deck, the card features a young man sitting under a tree with his arms crossed, looking at 3 goblets out of his reach, and not seeing the invisible hand offering him his own full goblet right next to him. The card deals with boredom and dissatisfaction, and the message is that we often focus on what we don't have rather than what we have. Boredom is another variation of that; we cannot stand to be alone with ourselves, so we want distractions. Writing is my usual distraction, but lately I've either not had time or not been very inspired. So, I am besieged by the demons of What If, and the unknowns surrounding What Is. I forget that it's all a giant board game, and to be taken just as seriously.

My nephew gave me a wonderful book for Christmas--"The Man Who Collected Machen, which is a collection of short stories by Mark Samuels. I finished it this morning.

You can see the influences of writers like Poe and Lovecraft (and Machen) in Samuels's writing, but it's not about comparing him to those writers. He is very good at writing about the monsters of unconsciousness, horrors of knowledge and language, and a very Lovecraftian sense of the "horror of God". "A Contaminated Text" is one of my favorite stories, and reminds me of one of the last chapters of Carlos Castaneda's book "The Art of Dreaming", where he talks about insect-like beings that feed on us and drain us of our capacity for independent thought. This is metaphorical, of course, and Samuels is well aware of the reality of the metaphor, and identifies it. "The Age of Decayed Futurity" is so disturbingly like our modern society, you get a sense that there is a grain of truth to the conspiracy theory. He also describes that state he calls "that unique mental fever from which only writers suffer", which is well-known to those of us who write fiction. "Nor Unto Death Utterly by Edmund Bertrand" does a great job of smashing metaphorical concepts of God. God is, in this analysis, that wretched face of Death that we fear, and that we spend our whole lives trying to avoid.

The book is a timely acquisition, as it allows me to think more freely about my own work, and things I want to revise, but have gotten stuck. I highly recommend this book if you are a fan of horror or speculative fiction. It is not really horror of the more gruesome variety--it has more of a feel of the classic writers mentioned above, without being a caricature of those writers. I am always on the lookout for writers inspired by the classics, as a lot of contemporary horror leaves me cold.

So, with that, I will wish everyone a happy new year, and hope that 2012 does actually turn out to be a better year than expected. I am hoping that as a nation, we've reached our nadir, and that there's nowhere to go but up. Things go in cycles, so what is empty will fill up, and what has been full will empty. And so on.

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