Who Are You?

Odin's explorations on science fiction koans, writing, politics, life, and nature.

Who Are You?
Taken during my trip to Mt. Shasta this last month. This was a wonderful trip. I love getting to go places where I don’t have constant connections to the Internet. We need freedom. We long for it. There are still a few places on Earth where we can find it without going too far outside our door. This trip contained so much beauty and space that I felt properly rejuvenated by the end (though still not ready to return to life as normal).

Who are you?

This is a reoccurring line in one of my favorite science fiction series, Babylon 5, where it serves a similar role to a Zen “koan”—a meditative focal point derived from a teaching story. In a way, Babylon 5 itself is a teaching story—as are all the best works of epic art.

I’ve been asking myself this question a lot during the last couple of years. In 2021, an old friend passed away. His passing came at the same time of year as the anniversary of my father’s death, and it sent me into a place of deep solitude and questioning for many months. I found myself entering a “meditation on death” a la Thích Nhất Hạnh’s Plum Village tradition.

In a way, I realized, I’ve been meditating on the nature of death for years and years, as a process of coming to terms with familial loss and of coping with my own numerous health difficulties. But to formalize that mediation, to bring it to a keener state and draw its introspection to the fore of my mind… that was a deeper experience still.

And then, this year, I endured some of the worst nerve pain in my life, as my lower back seized up seemingly at random. I could barely hobble three feet, and any posture other than lying on my stomach caused no end of agony. I have been able to recover some measure of physical ability, return to exercise routines, and live with only sporadic moments of pain.

Death is not a bad thing. Death is simply part of living. Somehow, we have to learn to live with life’s end - in order to experience the preciousness of life all the more deeply.

An example:

Lately, my wife has been creating incredible sourdough. The home smells warm as fresh bread and honeyed sourdough pancakes become a regular part of our lives. And yet, the very process of fermentation that creates such abundance is the process of life and death, writ small upon our daily bread.

It is good to appreciate that life comes to an end. It is good to foreground this knowledge for its own sake, and to let it touch our heart. Because out of all life comes death, and out of all death a flourishing of cyclical growth: we are gardens, all of us, amid a grander garden still.

There is goodness inherent in the meditation on death because of what it can unfold within the heart and mind: an illumination of the now, of what matters most about the experience of life.

In a conversation the other day with one of my new coworkers, I struck upon a powerful truth. I told her that “meaning has become my most fundamental drive.” The synthesis of random conversation called for this phrase, and I knew it to be absolutely true.

It has never been enough for me to slave at work for the sake of money, or pursue dreams of acquisition and power. Stability and security are what my animal nature longs for, a commonality I think I share with most of you reading this—and with the whole human race. But we are not merely creatures of comfort. You and me, and all human beings, are creatures of myth.

For all our primary drives, we also year for expansion and synthesis: we yearn for connections holistic; we yearn for meaning. We must, as the mythologist Joseph Campbell said: “follow our bliss.”

Campbell, working from Carl Jung’s explorations of the deep patterns of the human psyche, put his finger on a pattern of human growth as old as our species. A heroic journey, through which we leave the boundaries of the known, delve into the darkness of a Platoian cave, and rise toward a new state of integrated consciousness.

This year feels like my latest cycle in this ancient structure. A keener plummet and a steeper climb, to be sure, but just the latest period of self-reflexive growth. What the actual tide of the future has in store for me, I do not know, but I am more prepared to meet it than I was a year ago.

This is, I think, the way of things. Continual inner development is the most important constant in our lives. We must always be striving to better ourselves (a distinct concept from “self-improvement”). Life will go on, regardless, but our eternal search for meaning will cry havoc if we let stagnation settle in.

So, Who are you? I ask myself. More than a name, a rank, a face, a role, a past, a future… who am I in the most essential sense? I am a becoming, an unfolding, a raw state of unknowing. And I am lurching forward through these strange times, hell-bent on the search for, and creation of, meaning in all the lands I pass by.

Colored drawing depicting a person in a green dress with ribbons in their hair. They are on fire and panicking. Two screaming/meowing cats stand on either side of the burning person, calling out.

Meme text: When you have a fairy tale ending but it's the German version
Found here: https://oliphant.social/@oliphant/110739461923222497

Life Updates: Writing

My novel still progresses, if at a must slower pace that earlier in the year. Still, great strides in plot have made me happy. I’ve asked much of what was originally a 40k novella, twisting it out and shaping it into a far more complicated exploration of concepts dear to me through a plot of the kind that I’ve always enjoyed reading. It’s nearly double that length now, and the shape of a true novel is visible, if not complete.

So, what is its completion date, you ask?

Listen to my echoing laughter….

Truthfully, I am uncertain. Between my MLIS program and two jobs, and myriad other vital projects? Well… soon, but not as soon as I would like.

At the same time, I have renewed my efforts to concentrate on my writing. The Stonecoast alumni workshop was a treat this month (the first time I’ve shared a full chapter of my novel!). I’ve also set up a new weekly “Craft Book Club” at Round Table Writers. We read and discuss concepts from various books on the craft of writing for an hour every Tuesday morning. And, in the fall, I have another alumni workshop and the Surrey International Writer’s Conference to look forward to! So, my mind is still very much attached to the world of my creative work. I’ve fought hard to make it so.

Other writing has been doing fine. In June and July, I wrote a number of articles on various topics. Check them out!

Our Flabby and Inchoate World: A Jungian Glimpse Into Why Things Suck

From the anarchist Knight Sir Herbert Read, to modern psychology, I stab at the heart of our systemic problems with the knife of curiosity.

From the world

A TinTin comic strip: Haddock says: "What a week!" to which Tin Tin replies, "Captain, it's Wednesday!"
Found here: https://bbs.kawa-kun.com/objects/bbef87ee-c023-4858-bc49-db0d3a5fb218

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The world sometimes seems like a terrifying place. You probably feel that the same as I do. As such, I almost didn’t want to share about the various problems out there… but hiding from the problems won’t make them go away. As I pointed out earlier in this newsletter: meaning is the key pursuit of our lives. Not comfort. Meaning. And, right now, the pursuit of human flourishing is fundamentally threatened by the omnivorous greed of the corporations and their oligarchic covens.

The Kids Online Safety Act is Still A Huge Danger to Our Rights Online

Congress has resurrected the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), a bill that would increase surveillance and restrict access to information in the name of protecting children online.

From Europe to the USA, privacy problems and free speech problems abound. There are great strides backwards and forwards occurring at the same time. For instance, take a look at this inspiring piece:

Likewise, the rich and powerful are at least being put on notice, if not outrightly overthrown.

Education Dept. Opens Inquiry Into Harvard Legacy Admissions

An inquiry into admissions preference for family of alumni and donors began after the Supreme Court’s decision last month limiting affirmative action.

And my home State continues to make excellent progress toward socialized improvements that change lives for the better.

Of course, this is all occurring at the same time as global environmental damage leaves horrors in its wake.

Severe burns cases on rise in US south-west as extreme heatwave takes toll

Doctors report busy burns units with some patients having passed out and collapsed on superheated outdoor surfaces

Climate change problems are everywhere. New York experienced the smoke of Canada’s fires, and “wet bulb” temperatures across the planet are putting millions at risk—we’re all really quite connected.

A recent paper in Nature Energy suggests that we can achieve significant emissions reductions by targeting high-level energy users. The study, which looked at data from 27 countries in Europe, found that these high-energy users (who often have high incomes) are responsible for a disproportionate amount of emissions.

The study also found that we could even increase energy use for low-income households without significantly impacting emissions. This is because low-income households typically have lower energy consumption levels, so even a small increase in their energy use would have a relatively minor impact on overall emissions.

The study's findings suggest that we need to focus on reducing energy use among high-level users if we want to meet our climate targets.

So, there are things we can be doing to change our slide into doom… but don’t forget that Covid-19 is still a potent threat to our lives (numbers are climbing once more in California)! As if there weren’t enough in life to worry about, amiright?

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I don’t have a great way to wrap that section up. Times are hard. Things are scary.

But, we find hope through community. The stronger we can build our local communities, the more we can get our friends to take action alongside us, and the more seriously we can hold the wealthiest humans to account for their outsized effect on the rest of the planet… the more hopeful the future becomes. Follow your bliss and build communities: that’s the watchphrase for this Anthropocene moment.

The month ahead is going to be a very strange and busy one for me.

While Katie returns to teaching, I will be concentrating on a heavier course load and these two jobs. I also need to get applications in for grants and scholarships because I want to avoid taking on debt to the extent that is possible in our capitalist society. I’m not really certain what this will look like in terms of free time for writing.

I realized during the last few days that I needed to slow down or risk permanently burning myself out. Taking time to rest, to maybe play some video games, and to return to a little bit of a homeostatic state is key.

So, until next month… go easy, my friends. And, if you can’t go easy, just go as easy as you can.


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