Such as Life And If So, One Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy.

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I’m no Greek scholar or trained in Stoicism, so I’ll ask in my own colloquial custom. How many times do you reckon this old world gobbled up the many who said, “I’m gonna show the world how tough I am!”? Probably at least a dozen hundred times I’d suspect, and I bet the old world was mean enough to say, “I’m gonna show you how tough you ain’t,” just before the condemned was masticated in those slow-moving jaws that never cease gnawing.

I recall the story of the Greek legend, Sisyphus, who was the king of Ephyra (or Corinth today). We are told that Poor Sisyphus was too high-strung, too self-assured, ambitious, and known for “self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness.”

The Gods punished Sisyphus for his insufferable behavior in life. His sentence was to roll a boulder up an impossible hill, only to have it roll back over him, once he finally reached the top. Helpless, he’d trek down the progress he’d made that day where he’d steady himself behind the boulder again there at the bottom of that hill, look up, eyes stinging from sweat and brightness from a midday sun, that never shone otherwise, sigh, wipe his brow, grip the punishing reminder the Gods set before him, lay his shoulder into it and repeat the monotonous routine that was his hard labor for eternity.

Was Sisyphus that bad of a guy, though? Or did life pluck him from the unfortunate few?

There’s something to be made out of Greek Tragedy. I suggest you look it up but as I understand a version of it, the Gods had a way of leading one along, success after success, only to bring him to personal failure or professional defeat. Think Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg (after thoroughly having his way with the Union Army and its, what, five previous commanders?– only to fail spectacularly in Pennsylvania during that hot July month in 1863– or Napoleon post-exile at Waterloo) or any other example as a sure thing launched only to see it crashing back down to earth.

Such as life is how the philosophers describe it but that’s too flippant here.

We return to Sisyphus, who was condemned by the gods to push a boulder up a hill. Perhaps old Sisyphus viewed life as a bleak joke. What if life to him was nothing more than a pretense, a thing not to be taken too seriously. Moreover wasn’t it Augustus, the man who turned a Roman Empire from clay to marble, that left us with the closing statement for his consequential place in history, “Have I played my part in the farce of life well enough?”

Irony and fitting words from a man who embodied Imperium.

Read how Albert Camus views cruel fate and how he detest the Gods! In fact, I gather from below that maybe the Gods envy us!

Truly, a man cannot be defeated as long as he knows who he is and understands what part he is to play.It’s when he forgets this and gives up that he will be destroyed.

“It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock. . .

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

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I Had a Dream a Few Nights Ago

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A few nights ago I had a very profound dream that ended with a complete thud or so I thought when I awoke. Over the days that followed it kept playing over and over in my mind. Last night as I lay in bed and it entered my mind I felt disappointed that it had so much potential at profoundness but ended like most dreams do: a nebular memory. Nonetheless, today I thought a lot about the dream, it’s context, it’s imagery, it’s meaning.

The dream…

Out of nowhere and no information as to why I was there, I appeared standing inside a what I’d say was an operations watch floor. In case you are wondering what an operations watch floor is, think of a secured facility with large plasma screens and real-time data being transmitted across those screens. Surely you’ve seen some of those cool military or NASA-like movies where there are scenes in such a setting.

In any case, I’m standing there looking at this huge screen that dominates the room. There’s a man standing next to me. He’s obviously there as my guide and to show me around. He’s handsome in a clean-cut kind of way, shorter than me, no facial hair, wearing a jacket — he’s very paramilitary — the kind of person I’ve met a thousand times. The kind of power-guy you see in and around Washington DC.

I look at this large screen and displayed is a map of the world. The continents are outlined with proper political boundaries. This place looks legit. The screen is busy. I can see events happening all across the world simultaneously and some regions are busier than others. The color depicting these events and their respective locations is white. It’s all white with flashes here and there and a seemingly steady white glow in other places.

I ask my guide, “What is happening up there. What do those lights mean?”

“Those are prayers going up.”

“Wow, I didn’t realize so many people prayed.”

“Yep. And He hears every one of them.”

“I always knew He existed. Does He hear my prayers?”

“Yup.”

I face my guide, “what did He say?”

“He told me to tell you to get a shovel.”

Puzzled but cognizant even in my dream, I respond “What does that mean?”

He told me, with a smile, which revealed age lines in the corner of his eyes but a set of nice straight teeth (he looked to be 42 or so) “you’ll have to look it up.”

And that’s it. That’s how it ended. I woke up trying to gather my senses and surroundings and admittedly felt disappointed about the ending.

What struck me afterward as I replayed this over and over was the mention of He. Clearly, we were discussing God and He was mentioned in the third person singular. He wasn’t there but I immediately understood where I was and the importance and awe of what I was seeing and hearing. It was like taking a tour of the president’s Situation Room. The president wasn’t there but he didn’t have to be to still be president and operate as the top consumer of all real-time data coming over those screens. It added to the awe and power and omnipresent feelings I felt.

So today I finally searched the meaning of shovels in dreams and I was so struck by what I read that I actually felt a bit uneasy about the whole thing. I’m just not that into this kind of stuff and I’m not that religious to start.

The shovel stands for the need to dig out something from your past and work towards personal forgiveness and happiness. To find peace. On a spiritual level, I’m told the shovel is the tool used towards inner knowledge. Additionally, the tool symbolizes a trustworthy person you can depend on for support or during times of adversities. (Search it if you care to. You’ll read about several meanings but remarkably the same as it relates to various religions and mysticism).

Considering the meaning, maybe the shovel represents Him as that trustworthy person, which explains the setting and the power and awe the dream provoked within me, standing there on that watch floor, and at the same time a message to me that there’s some self-help to do on my part.

I understand this might not mean a lot to a reader but considering the last couple of years of my life, the deep, deep regret I wake up with every day, the turmoil and change, the stress and anxiety, the depression and wrestling with my past, this dream gave me more answers than any friend or family member, any counselor, book, bottle of whiskey, or anything else I’ve tried or have yet to try, possibly could.

That’s not to say I haven’t come a long way over the course of a year or more as time tends to settle things to their new normal. However, this dream and its timing and meaning really propped me up and made me take notice.

It’s time to break out the shovel, friends.

Things that Keep Me Up at Night–And Civil War Trivia

This kept me up last night and is doing so now. I’ve been reading Civil War accounts for the past few weeks—the campaigns, the battles, the men with no names who fought in them and the men with well-known names who made their decisions (it’s always seemed to me and seems so still, that almost all the decisions made during that war were bad but for a striking few) and I arrived at Gettysburg, which led me down a wormhole of differing scenarios, each one leading to a parallel universe as a result of that outcome. I’ve rested on the fact that the Battle of Gettysburg should have never happened at all. It was a consequence of Lee’s Virginia-centric war outlook. For, in Lee’s view, if the Old Dominion ceased to be, then the Confederacy died all at once. This view was held despite 750,000 interior square miles, the Mississippi River, what was but limited, industrial and munitions centers, the Gulf of Mexico and no less than a dozen ports (albeit mostly blockaded, but theirs nonetheless, and a decisive victory would have lifted that blockade from European recognition).

During the summer weeks of ’63 that Lee was contemplating taking the war into Pennsylvania, Rosecrans was in Tennessee. Grant was in Mississippi running over token resistance until he reached and burned Jackson. With the capital secured and on his flank, he’d march west and take Vicksburg—the real prize for the Union—for the capture of Vicksburg cut the Confederacy in half, denied it any control over the Mississippi, while allowing complete Union control over it, and greatly reduced the Confederate interior. It was Vicksburg and not Gettysburg that spelled doom for the Confederacy.

Whatever the infinite outcomes and decisions one can create, securing the interior, cutting Grant off from the rest of the Union, and destroying him as he tried to break out, would have either secured victory for the Confederacy or prolonged its existence for an eventual defeat by other means not influenced by the outcome of Gettysburg.

Instead of taking his army north, Lee should have sent a sizable portion of his command under Longstreet, perhaps two divisions, into the interior, to join Bragg and Johnston in Tennessee. Combined, the army now numbering 130,000 to 150,000 effectives was well within the interior and space and time to counter both Rosecrans and Grant’s separately. An all-out offensive would have been possible much like the Confederacy did in ’62 when during the end of that year there wasn’t a Union boot on confederate soil. In Tennessee, they would draw Rosecrans out to a ground of their choosing, defeat him soundly and push him beyond the Ohio. The command could then head west, secure Memphis and cut off Grant’s access up the Mississippi. Grant completely boxed in and cut off, low of supplies, and with no hope of receiving more, would have seen the jig was up. Consequently, he’d had to give up his designs on Vicksburg or face total defeat. Out of military necessity, he’d have no choice other than to make a run for it up river against an overwhelming force in complete control of the Mississippi and the interior. Grant would have no doubt been defeated, possibly in toto.

With no Union threat within the interior, the command would then split into two parts. One part would reinforce Kirby Smith who would then retake Missouri all the way down to Louisiana. The other part, under Longstreet, would reinforce Lee in Virginia, who could then take up his decision to invade the north, except under much stronger and more contemplated strategic military terms.

Oddly enough, this scenario is a mixture of Beauregard’s and Longstreet’s proposed plans in response to Grant’s designs on Vicksburg with modifications on my part made from the advantage of hindsight. They were dismissed in Richmond at the highest reaches of government in two rounds of voting, with the same result each time, 5-1, in favor of Lee’s Virginia optics—the one holdout who remained unconvinced of a northern invasion was a non-Virginian native, who was the Confederate postmaster general from Texas.

Something Truthful about Conspiracy Theories

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A Facebook colleague asked me what I thought about Jade Helm 15. According to conspiracy theorists Jade Helm 15 is the government codename for the coming military takeover of the state of Texas. Why the military would want Texas or what they plan on doing with it after the takeover isn’t elaborated so far as I’ve discerned. Come to think of it, might be Texas would make one helluva of an officer’s club or one of those great big Air Force bases. Plenty of cheap, low skilled labor nearby to make sure the greens are watered and weeded and the nearby dining facilities and NCO clubs are stocked and cleaned.

Funny thing on the way to believing conspiracy theories is there is a certain amount of truth to them. At least the same amount found in any other thing we’ve judged to be truthful.

Conspiracy theories are manifestations of the truth buried deep in our psyche like an imbedded germ deep within our conscious that reminds us every day we are doomed, destined to die, and will at one moment pass into that final midnight.

Time and evolution has granted to humanity an excess of consciousness that has come to weigh it down with knowledge of tragedy and death. It’s this dark knowledge we have about our fates, which causes us to turn this despair into entertainment and self-consciousness into Dark Enlightenment.

H.P. Lovecraft’s Old Ones is a wonderful source to this dark knowledge as it explains that we are utterly contingent and fragile. Put simply, this dark knowledge kills us for sport. All such foreboding and ultimate designs about our fate is a product of the human, rather than the natural, world. They are inventions of human consciousness just as our conceptions of self-awareness and autonomy are.

Since death isn’t real until it happens and the only way to experience it is to die, there stands a void in between. Conspiracy theories stand in for this void for the ultimate realization: “Horror is more real than we are” as Thomas Ligotti wrote in The Conspiracy Against the Human Race.

No better example comes to mind then the frenzy and hysteria over global warming/climate change. Talk about the ultimate horror! And despite the fact we were supposed to have died a dozen times over the past 50 years, it’s still gripping entertainment for many who thrive off of existential miserablism.

So, beyond all illusion and distraction we are faced with the horror of our certain, imminent, and permanent annihilation. Conspiracy theories are a dark confirmation of all that you had feared, but stand in for good entertainment in the meantime.

Remembering John Keats

John Keats

John Keats wrote in a 1820 letter before he died of tuberculosis in Rome: “I have left no immortal work behind me, but I have lov’d the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had the time I would have made myself remember’d.”

Our man only lived to be 25 years of age. Which is kind of fitting because he never grows old in style or age.

Bright Star

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art–
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors–
No–yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever–or else swoon to death.

American Reform

I like to poke a little fun at Americans even if I declare myself one. Partly because they were there, I was there, and it was an easy target. There are several ideas of America. Depending on how many times you ask the question determines how many ideas you will get. Nowhere is there to be found a single idea of America. Too many, America is what it should be, but never recognized for what it is. Americans often pretend to have much in common with a people that never existed long ago, who lived in an innocent and noble time that never was. This is all done in an attempt to bring, what they call, their Founding Fathers into a larger picture where, in fact, they don’t exist. So they fantasize about reforming, returning to a purer time in history—back to the independence of the past. They celebrate their tough, British fighting, Founding ancestors—pretending they have something in common with them. Lost to them is the certain reaction from any Founder, even the most tolerant one among the bunch, if such a fat, helpless excuse of a man, the kind that exist today, were to dare suggest they shared anything in common. The Founder, whether it be Jefferson, Washington, Adams, for it makes no difference who in this circumstance, all would be just as offended as the next and would demand his man choose the weapon of choice, and would kill such a pathetic character over the grievous insult to his sacred honor.

Very well then, every American has his own idea of America. However, that idea is seldom shared universally – outside of his particular enclave, which is his place of refuge. Its high walls and his fearsome neighbors protect him from thought; relieve him from the burdens of thinking alone. In America, every idea is repugnant to the one who did not think it first, and its form of grotesqueness changes according to the region the observer finds himself. If one enclave is socially, politically, and economically the polar opposite of the other, the more grotesque the idea is. In fact, if ten Americans, from different parts of the land, were corralled into the same room for a day and forced at gunpoint to agree on a common idea of America or die, the only thing they would have in common at the end of that day would be how they died. This would happen even if the fate of every man, woman, and child depended on just a majority agreement. Add 525 to the ten, make the room enormously larger, grandiosely more expensive, the men infinitely richer, shorten the day to a few hours of debate, and this is Congress.

The Jaws of the Bocca della Verità

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This dreadful looking pagan visage is said to bite off the hands of liars.

I am hot on the trail of a conceptual demon – the obscurant, lie that appeals to cognitive bias through suggestion.

I caught an article over at The American Scholar about lying and liars, why we do it, and why we bask in the glory of having caught one in a lie.

Obviously we all lie and have lied, but that doesn’t make us liars. Children lie often. Why? I think it’s fueled from imagination (innocence) and defense (lying to an elder is their only defense against punishment).

The article itself discussed the well publicized Brian Williams fiasco where he was time and again shown to have lied. However, the author spared Williams scorn by suggesting there’s a “much more interesting phenomenon: unintentionally misrepresenting the truth.” What the author means by this can be explained using his own words: “If retrieving memory is a process—and recounting it a performance—then there are numerous ways its accuracy can derail.”

Firstly, one would have to be in the mind of Williams to know if he “unintentionally” misrepresented the truth. How did he determine there was no motive or profit for Williams to lie? He is after all a high-profile personality in the media, which is nothing more than a sensationalism-churning industry for an audience whose memories are no longer than a news cycle. He’s a product of his own environment, a creation by his own design and a willing accomplice in an enterprise of half-truths, bold face lies, and narratives. So I tend to throw “unintentional” out the window.

Secondly, Williams’ tall-tales had nothing to do with memory and everything to do with purpose, a purposeful lie to transport himself from viewer or reporter to subject in order to receive the same sympathy as the victim and the same admiration as the hero. Simply, he lied for personal gain. One does not create entire stories in vivid detail out of thin air unintentionally.

As for liars, people don’t hate liars. On the contrary, people grudgingly accept a good liar in a sly-like-a-fox kind of way. They do, however, despise a bad liar. And a bad liar is one who gets caught.

Political season will soon be up on us and I can promise you this. All will lie except when they are talking about the other politician.

 

The Great Escape

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And back to where it all started…

One morning you wake up and say the hell with it–or was it one night before you finally fell asleep? Either way, I experienced that moment. I remember. It was on the 24th of April, 2015. I decided I had had enough. Something had to give and the fast descent I was traveling, that something likely would have been me. Though I do detest myself sometimes, I still love the hell out of me.

I’ve always been a good friend to myself, the kind of friend who tells it like it is. I may not always listen but eventually I concede to the advice. And here was such a time.

Myself said, “you have to get us out of here. I don’t like the looks of this place.”

“But where do we go? This prison is our home, you know that. This is the way it has to be.”

“Who said? Look, I like you but you’re really starting to get on my nerves. Why should I stick around anymore if you’re just gonna give up?”

“It’s not that easy. We can’t just jump up and quit. We have responsibilities. We have a job. That’d be a crazy thing to do.”

“People have done crazier things. Besides I can’t spend another day with you in that apartment. You’re getting to be hard to live with.”

“So it’s like that, huh? Even after all this time.”

“I’m afraid so.”

“You think it could be that easy. We could just load up and leave?”

“See this is what I mean. I’m not suggesting we cross the Atlantic you wuss. I’m saying let’s just go back home, be closer to the kids. That’s what you need, anyhow. That’s what we both really need right now. You for them and them for you.”

“Okay. I’ll go in and give our notice but let me do all the talking. Sometimes you rub people the wrong way is all.”

I’ve digressed. I quit my job and moved back to my native state of Louisiana. I gave my notice on that day and had my stuff packed and ready for the movers by the end of the weekend–aside from a few odds and ends I tied up throughout the week. On May 6th at 7 p.m., I jumped in my car and started my drive straight through, save for a two hour nap at a rest stop somewhere in northern Mississippi. I had a job waiting for me that started on May 11th with a company in an industry I knew nothing about. But hey, it was my ticket out of there.

And like that I quit the only profession I’ve known since I was 21 and gave up the very trade and considerable perks that made my living. And I took a huge pay cut for my troubles. It would be embarrassing for me to divulge the number. Now I stay at a place with some trees and some shade, with a little garden outback and some birds. I’m two hours from my precious children and I get to see them almost whenever I want. I see my family a lot more, too. I’m still adjusting financially. I’m used to having money. Now I’m learning to not spend on things I don’t need. It’s a challenge but I’m getting it. I worked out a way to keep my car because let’s not get carried away, I’m still a creature of some comfort. Besides, I reckon a man such as myself is entitled to a little fruit.

Additionally, I still have the land I purchased earlier in the year. If I need to sell it for some cash, I can. So if there was ever a chapter to be closed, I can assure you I just closed one. I don’t foresee myself writing one quite like that one again. Then, who knows? This job I have now is salary but I don’t see myself in it longterm. Like I said, it was my ticket home, so I snatched it.

I’ll rebuild and get reestablished but first I need to breathe for a while. I need to reflect on my close call and figure out where to go from here. And I need to stop being self absorbed and accept what has become. I’m working on it is all I can say.

On another note, problem with moving back after being gone for so long and having lived in different states and parts of the world is, you don’t quite fit in like you once did. Though I still have a Southern accent, my drawl isn’t as pronounced as it once was. So now folks ask me where I’m from. I have to say, “why, right here, same as you.” Though that’s a little white lie. I actually grew up about 120 miles south of here. It’s not just the accent that separates me. There’s another divide, an existential one. That’s for another time, though.

At any rate, all of this is kind of a big deal for me in light of the events that have transpired over the past year.

40 Years and 40 More

You’re born and 40 years later you stumble out of a bar into a damp dark night and every ache and pain reminds you of all the past lives you lived. But you keep moving because movement is the destination and a new start begins again after the next last thing lost. So you spark up a Camel and the taste is better than ever before and you tell yourself you got 40 more.

Notes

  1. I’m not 40 but I can see it from here.
  2. Some of this was plagiarized from a novel I read “Galveston” and I changed it because I liked it.