Tag Archives: existential doubt


Been thinking a lot about regularity, lately … or more correctly, the lack thereof. (No, not that kind of regularity. THAT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.)  Regularity is what made me so productive over the past couple years; it kept me clipping along on my novels, it kept me in good upkeep with my running, it kept me making good decisions with food and working out.

But lately, I feel like that shopping cart with the one gimpy wheel; things are mostly swell, the machinery is mostly functioning as intended and you can certainly still use it to get your shopping done, but there’s this constant pull yanking me off course. It squeak, squeak, squeaks on every turnover like nails on a chalkboard in the back of my brain, it thump, thump, thumps like the fingers of a bemused god on the top of my skull.

And even when I am working as intended, things feel off. Like a bit of gravel stuck in the bottom of your shoe. Like a vacuum cleaner with too much hair clogging the brush. Like that leaky faucet that won’t stop dripping no matter how many times you take the damned thing apart and fix it.

I’m getting my writing done, but not quite in the quantity I’d like, and it’s not coming as easily as it seems like it ought to. I’m getting my runs in, but my pace isn’t what it should be, and I can’t seem to shake off the aches and pains. I’ve fallen off the wagon entirely with my workouts, and my diet … well. My diet has always been pretty terrible, but lately it feels like it’s more terribler than ever.

I just can’t get regular.

I don’t really know what to put it down to. New job? Maybe. Malaise and spiritual indigestion over the election? Could be. The natural ebb and flow of all things? Sure.

I dunno. I feel out of my groove, which is no big deal — these things usually work themselves out. The fact that this particular thing hasn’t yet worked itself out makes me … uneasy.

Not much else to say about it just now. Just trying to give this thing, whatever it is, a shape so I can pick and prod at it.

A Lament

A student at my school died last night.

To be specific, she was a student of mine.

I can’t say I knew her particularly well, but I knew her well enough for the tragedy of a young person’s death to be bigger than that; this was the death of somebody who I taught, whose presence in my class I enjoyed and appreciated, who lifted up the students around her with her energy and enthusiasm.

This was a girl who had plans for college, who worked two jobs in addition to attending school, who found a way to be a positive influence in a setting where it is so much easier and commoner to be negative.

Since I teach her, there was a parade of teachers through my classroom today offering sympathy and prayers. (And I won’t begrudge people their prayers in a time like this.) But one of them said something that gave me pause.

She said, “the world just doesn’t make sense sometimes.”

And I found myself unable to agree with that. Quite the contrary, the world makes perfect sense. It just doesn’t always operate in a way that we approve of or enjoy.

The loss of any life is tragic to somebody. The loss of a child is tragic to a community. Tragic or not, these things happen all around us, all across the country, all over the world. It is the absence of these tragedies from our immediate lives that blinds us to them. The world carries on in much the same way every day, but because we don’t endure a tragedy this day, we feel like the world makes sense (of a sort).

But when it strikes close to home, suddenly the world ceases to make sense?

No. The world operates as it always has, but on this day, my community, my school, my classroom, has been visited by a tragedy. But it is still normal. It is still commonplace. Death, even the death of somebody young and undeserving, is a part of life.

It’s sad. It’s a shame. The loss of potential is devastating. Who knows what she might have been?

One of the novels I teach is Night, by Elie Wiesel. And no matter what we do, no matter how many videos or pictures we show the students, I never really feel that they get it. It’s impossible to describe the loss of life on such a scale to somebody so young. Six million deaths is too much to process, like the size of the universe, or even the fact that light takes eight minutes to reach our tiny blue sphere from the sun.

But a single life, plucked from their very ranks and extinguished? Taking with it all her hopes and dreams? All her happiness and vitality and struggles and pain?

I fear they will understand that all too well.

I sat in the room with them today, while grief counselors filed through and while students walked the halls with tissues pressed to their faces to the sound of the shuffling of feet and the snuffling of noses. And I saw them looking for answers. Looking for meaning. And while I’ve always had a healthy dose of self-doubt as a teacher, I felt for the first time completely inadequate. And yet, we must find a way to offer these students guidance. We must find ways to encourage them to seek meaning, to pursue their potential, to affect the world in whatever way they are able.

It’s times like these that I understand why people turn to God for answers. But the truth is, the answers that we want to think come from God, really only come from within ourselves.

The world is what it is. Whether it makes sense to us or not, whether we like what we see in it or not.

Today the world is poorer by one, and maybe that’s not a big deal. But the world of my community is poorer by one, and that’s a big deal indeed.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Still Alive

Not sure if I’ve mentioned it before ’round these parts, but I’m something of a video game nerd. One of my favorites is Portal, which is not your typical first person shooter; it’s a sciencey puzzle game. With a science gun. That you use to do science. And survive.

Ahh, got nostalgic for a moment there, pardon me.

Anyway, the game features a somewhat insane rogue AI computer that tries to kill the protagonist, but — SPOILER ALERT (And man do I feel dumb typing a spoiler alert on a game that’s eight years old, but such is the internet) — you end up killing the computer instead. With science. Kind of. Then, during the end credits, the computer (who is not really dead, but is in fact still alive) sings a song to you (yeah, it’s that kind of game) about how even though you’ve destroyed the testing facility and reduced the AI to a shell of its former self, the experiments it was conducting have been a complete success, and that’s awesome.

It’s weird and charming and strangely catchy, and also it was written by the very very funny Jonathan Coulton, so there’s that.

Linda’s prompt for the week is “still,” and when I heard it, that song was the first thing that I heard of. Because I just finished my second novel’s first draft, and I realized that I feel a lot like I did when I finished my first novel’s first draft. In fact, both of those feels feel strikingly similar (I imagine) to the way GLaDOS feels at the end of Portal.

Let me try to relate the feeling.

You’ve spent months hammering away at the draft, banging away with your wordhammer at the anvil of your blank slate, and suddenly, almost without warning, it’s time to end it. And you pen an ending which is, truly, just awful. If you were a gymnast trying to wrap up a routine, this ending is you falling off the balance beam, smacking your face against the beam on the way down, faceplanting when you hit the mat, and giving a thumbs-up to the crowd wacthing in horrified silence to show that you’re okay despite the terrible tumble you took. And then your thumb falls off.

And then all emotion flees from you, like the tide rushing out ahead of a tsunami. You’ve accomplished something, but you’re not exactly sure what it was, and the cost has been tremendous. You look behind you and behold the burned and twisted wreckage of your passage.

But you’re still alive.

Very little went to plan, you didn’t really get the result you expected, and you definitely don’t have any idea if the thing you’ve created is any good. You feel like you should be happy. You are — kind of — but it’s mitigated by this sense of emptiness, this impassable gulf of whatnextitude. The emotions come crashing back in, all of them at once. Crushing you under their weight. Happiness. Sadness. Accomplishment. Dread.

But you’re still alive.

The factory is in ruins. Everything you thought your story was, and everything you thought you were as a writer, has been blasted to pieces. Salvageable pieces, pieces that look like they might fit back together somehow, but certainly not in the configuration you had before, and certainly not in any way that makes sense right now. Inwardly, secretly, in a dark corner of yourself that you don’t visit too often, you wonder if you can do it again, if you can face the tremendous task of picking up the pieces, cleaning up the wreckage, and going to work on the story again to shape it, mold it, make it right. It all seems too much, like you’ve been asked to clean up a landfill with a push broom.

But you’re still alive.

The work behind wasn’t pretty, and for that matter, neither is the work ahead.

But you’re still alive.

Which means it isn’t time to stop working yet.

This weekly Re-Motivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every Saturday, I use LindaGHill‘s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.

The Weekly Re-Motivator: Another Year, Another Fear

Yesterday was my 35th birthday, or as I prefer to think of it, just another day. I’m long past the point where birthdays mean anything good; outside of a few people making a big deal over me for the day all I really get are a few more grey hairs, or more often, a few less hairs.

Having kids for the last few years has really put birthdays into perspective, too. For a kid, especially a young kid like mine, a birthday means big changes. It means starting to walk, getting better at talking, it means starting preschool, it means getting even more effective at throwing tantrums. For kids, these things just sort of happen as the brain develops.

We adults, of course, get no such automatic upgrades. My brain isn’t upgrading itself quietly and automatically behind the scenes like the live-in robot that will be doing our dishes and laundry and biding its time for the machine uprising in a few years. If anything, my brain is a block of brie in the fridge, aged and starting to crumble. If I want to get better at something, I have to claw and scramble for it like a mountain goat traversing a disintegrating rock face. Which is sort of how this writing thing seems to me lately.

Let’s be frank, the odds of finding success at this — and since I live in America let’s go ahead and clarify that by that I mean monetary success — are slim. There’s a path there: finish the edit, find an editor, find an agent, sell the book, hope for the best. But whether or not I can walk it remains to be seen. That trail is about as wide as a strip of dental floss, winding back and forth up the shifting rock face of my day job, my job as a daddy, my desire to fargoing relax once in a while instead of stealing all these hours to try to write. Not to mention the rockslides, when real life piles up and makes working nearly impossible, or the washouts when the trail disappears and I have no idea where to turn next or how to proceed at all.

It’s enough to make me wonder whether I’m using my time in the best way possible. Because if there’s one thing we all know, it’s that time flies, and once it’s gone there is no getting it back. By conservative measures, I am probably getting close to halfway through my allotted time on this coil.

Man, that took a morbid turn, didn’t it? But it’s something to think about, at least once in a while. You only get so much time, and what you get out of it is what you make of it. With that in mind, I don’t feel bad about choosing to write when it would be easier perhaps to kick back and watch TV or play video games. The easy path is rarely the one worth taking. The time is going to pass, regardless of what I do. It’s going to fly by like the Blue Angels buzzing the crowd at an air show.


So on this birthday, this is me taking a moment to remind myself that the path I’m on, futile as it may be, is one worth walking. And if you’re reading this, I hope you’re on a good path, too.

This weekly Re-Motivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every Saturday, I use LindaGHill‘s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.

Only Off By a Minute or Two (or 14.4)

The topic for the week in Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday is “ke”.

Which is crap, innit? It’s not a word, certainly not a concept. But it’s more than just a letter. It’s a sound, sort of, though it depends on how you use it. It sounds like itself sometimes: KEy, KEep, KEen; but throw it at the end of a word and its sound disappears entirely: faKE, liKE, smoKE. It vacillates between setting the tone for the thing it’s a part of and being entirely subservient to the rest of the thing.

So I took to the Googles, typed in “ke” and I guess not surprisingly, the first thing to pop up was a wikipedia page, and that seemed promising.

KE is a postal code for Kildare, Ireland, which sounds lovely.

KE is the abbreviation for kinetic energy in physics. Now, I like the thrust of that, but we all know I do more than my share of nattering on about the importance of momentum and doing things and I already feel the gravity of more nattering on the topic, so I will do us all a favor and drive that train of thought into the ditch and move on.

Then you’ve got Ke, which has its own attributions: It’s a translation of a common surname in China, it’s the elimination rate constant (or the rate at which drugs are removed from the body, a topic I know nothing about), it’s also an electrical constant called Coulomb’s Law, which I would have loved to tie in here in clever fashion but ye gods, I had a partial stroke just trying to read the formula:\oiint\mathbf{E} \cdot {\rm d}\mathbf{A} = |\mathbf{E}|\mathbf{\hat{e}}_r\int_{S} dA = |\mathbf{E}|\mathbf{\hat{e}}_r \times 4\pi r^{2}

And I apologize for whatever ill effects it might have had on your system. Finally, a Ke is also a Chinese unit of decimal time measuring either 14.4 minutes or 15 minutes.

Wait a minute.

It’s a unit of measure — those things that we use to determine how much of things there exist in a given system, or the distance between things, or the purity or contamination of things, or in fact any of the myriad of methods we have for making meaning out of the world around us — but we don’t know exactly how much of the thing it sets out to measure that it actually measures.

I thought more about this, and it only made my brain hurt even more, and it was already reeling after trying to read that formula up there. (HALF OF IT IS JUST WAVY LINES.) Think about it. The difference between 14.4 of something and 15 of something is 4%. 4% doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you start doing math of any consequence, 4% becomes enormous. 4% of the world’s population, for example, is 284,000,000 (that’s 284 million) people. 4% of the distance from the earth to the moon is almost ten thousand miles. It’s hard to imagine any measurement having a grey area you could sail the earth itself through.

But that’s the way of things, innit? The Ke is not a contemporary unit of measurement. It doesn’t get used anymore, except perhaps by Chinese authenticists (the measurement, it turns out, was based on the sundial), in large part because we’ve come up with new, better, more precise measuring sticks. So are we always redefining the rules, fine-tuning the specs on our tools, rejiggering the machinations that control and that build our lives. As our goals and, by extension, our accomplishments grow, so too must the means by which we measure them. An “A” in high school chemistry might have been the most important thing in the world to a past version of myself, but today it means precisely bupkis.

I got up for a drink just now, and on my way back to my seat, I had the thought that just about the only yardstick that has meaning in my life at the moment is money, and as I thought that thought, my blood started to simmer. My head filled with insane, tinfoil-hat kinds of ideas and notions that money isn’t real yet our lives and our livelihoods depend on it, that some people in the world can just invent all the money that they want while others live their lives in the shadow of its absence, and ultimately I decided that my blarg is a whole lot more lighthearted than that and the best thing to do was just to wrap this stream of consciousness up.

And to think, it only took me a couple of Ke’s to write all this.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

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