Tuesday, November 27, 2012


My psychologist gives me homework. Most recently, my homework was to approach the world with faith. Faith is equivocal here.

On one hand, faith refers to believing that the world will support my weight rather than swallow it or shrug it off. It also means having confidence that not everything is on the absolute verge of chaos, violence, and madness--for instance, that the broad walkway through the campus will not suddenly become a gauntlet of brutal punishment just for me.

For the most part, this is all true. I think I can be forgiven maintaining doubt while riding my bicycle through intersections of truck routes in Turlock. And while one goal of this exercise of faith is to release me from anxiety and behaving like prey, once again I believe it's prudent to regard myself as potential quarry while cycling. I admit, also, that on campus I have never been physically attacked, and only four or five times verbally abused, and only a dozen or so times even sneered at. (Of course, I am omitting interactions with administrators from this enumeration.)

Another sense of the word faith that I particularly draw from is Sartre's usage in Being and Nothingness to name actions with regard to freedom and responsibility. It's important, I suppose, to act as much as possible in good faith--self-consciously acknowledging that every action creates values and an image of how human life should be lived. To a great degree, I see my prey behavior as bad faith, because it is obviously an attempt to avoid what makes me anxious.

I'm reading an excerpt from Sartre's "Existentialism is a Humanism" with my Intro class, so this is coming back to mind afresh. One problem critics see in Sartre's approach is his overemphasis on a Cartesian concept of consciousness. Sartre's stuff often reads as if he imagines that we can have entirely transparent self-understanding and complete conscious control over ourselves.* But, since anxiety is a lizard-brain response (hence its emergence out of no known or visible causes when walking on campus, e.g.), the way to fight back against your amygdala is by being more aware of anxiety, not trying to diminish it by acting on it. In fact, acting on it increases it, because your stupid amygdala watches you skulking around looking for somewhere to hide, and responds by jumping up and down and shouting "See! Danger! If there weren't, you wouldn't be hiding!"

It's tough acting in good faith, as Sartre himself would tell you. Plus, it makes me want to make my anxieties public, as a way to face them. There are certain things I really shouldn't say to people I come across on campus, and my psychologist also told me to do something to make myself noticed, as a counter-strategem. Yet I'm sure it's not the best coping strategy if I want to be regarded as (1) sane, (2) reliably discreet, and (3) reasonably appropriately professional. Maybe I'll keep a little notebook.

It's a misreading, I believe. I think freedom and responsibility come at the point of decision and action. That means that I become responsible for, say, a feeling, when I choose how to value that feeling and how to act on it. For instance, like everyone, I feel very attracted to some people and very repulsed by others. That's not super significant until I do something about it. That doesn't just mean making passes at the attractive people and punching the repulsive ones. I'm still choosing and taking responsibility when I just enjoy being around the attractive people and punching the repulsive ones.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

nano nano nano nano nano nano nano

Hey kids! It's National Novel Writing Month!

Is Doc Nagel engaging in this madness? You betcha! In fact, I'm writing a contemporary, quasi-autobiographical Don Quixote, crossed with Samuel Beckett and Charles Bukowski. For folks that know me very very well, this will make real and terrible sense. I think it's a little alarming to my Loveliest. Working titles have come and gone: Peripatetic, Peripatetics, Picaresque, Walk, and now, for what seems to be the settled version, The Solipsists. (Two solipsists walk into a bar...)

But to hell with it. I'm just jumping in, and whatever happens, happens. I'm having a good time writing about cats and walking.

I'm writing it in fragments, all in first person, that include letters, entries in a diary, and direct narration. There are two main characters, who have the same name, both have cats with the same name, are both in relationships with a woman with the same name, and who both have a best friend/cousin of the same name. At first, I had a hard time distinguishing the two main characters, their narrative voices, or their life stories. Then they became very clearly distinct, and now, they're losing distinction again. So, everything's going along swimmingly.

I am not sure their paths will cross. I kinda doubt it. So far, none of the identically-named cats, friends, or lovers are identical persons.

And this'll creep y'all out: so far, the lover has appeared on one single page. I know whose lover it is, and approximately when in his life she appeared, and disappeared, and when this event took place, but otherwise, of her(s), I've been entirely silent. This disturbs me, but it's how it is.

There's more madness. I wrote and recorded a song last night, when I meant to be writing, that I am calling "Quixotic." It's a whole lotta John Fahey goof.

There's yet more madness, but you don't get to see it.

Monday, November 05, 2012


I'm exhausted. My exhaustion has nothing to do with the content of what follows, but does for the form.

Today there was a preacher on campus. This has happened before, and about it I have posted before. I think that, on some level, campus proselytizers are precious, and I mean that in the most insulting way you could imagine.

Perhaps because of my exhaustion, political disgust, or angst, what came to mind today while this guy lambasted approximately eight students about their terrible, sinful lives, was how much I would love to see some extremely alternative preachers on campus.

For instance, I think it would be wonderful and instructive to have someone speak with absolutely no coherence whatsoever, about moral issues no one considers, for four hours without break. Imagine a preacher explaining why it's the devil's work when you install your toilet paper roll such that the new paper comes out the bottom instead of over the top of the roll. Imagine a preacher instructing the audience in the holy way to make coffee. Imagine the unfurled banner that would say: "God hates things God hates, and even though we're not certain what those are,if you have any problem with that, we suggest you take it up with God."*

Or this: "Stop making shit up about me. -- God"

Or this: "You people really like floods, don't you? -- God"

Or this: "Get offa my lawn! -- God"

Another option would be to have a preacher and anti-preacher duke it out in a barbed-wire cage. Then again, that's been done already.


* Back at UNC-Charlotte, we had the best campus Bible-bangers. One day, a terrific shouter was condemning coeds to death for wearing skirts. I jumped in, and we ended up doing a terrific Vaudeville buddy act. He called all the female coeds Jezabels, and I jumped onto the bell tower base to join him, proffered a nearby alt/goth chick's legs, and delivered Lenny Bruce's classic line: if there's a defect, the blame belongs to the manufacturer. He said God didn't create legs to be ogled (or words to that effect), and I said that settled it, and, in Nietzsche's terms, he had proved that God is dead. Great day.