Art and The Truth, Part 1

A few months ago now, I wrote a short cosmic horror story based on Lovecraftian conventions and the indie horror game Layers of Fear. I had some feedback off colleagues who are avid readers and the criticism was that it’s obtuse and self-indulgent; the imagery being overshadowed by my big brain being oh so clever. It meant a lot to me, though, and it holds a lot of themes within it that serve as an allegory to me. It presents an attitude and indulgence of the character a moral to exist within your own nature. It’s a story about falling into ones own obsession and being obsessed with the self and power above all.

I’ll be posting it in sections as it’s quite long, so without further ado, here is my attempt at a anti-vice manifesto…

In the house, it’s considered rude to not pay respects to the household gods. Naturally, in the household, the one whose word is law, is god. In Orphan House, I, Henry Boyd, am God. This would be far more outstanding if, perhaps, if there were more than four residing in the former children’s home turned Olympus, yet considering that its realities and formations still bend to my will, surely that still renders me biblical in nature. My paintings adorn the Victorian walls, bursting from their frames, too weak to hold the nightmares in and keep them from spilling out onto the bare boards. What is art but a reflection of ourselves? A twisting expression of eldritch nightmares on canvas; pure like the massing void. As I bend the space-time of the grey brick husk, its corridors turning like a corkscrew, my art spins with it. The cascading colour and swirling oils form maddening vortexes that scream for me. The wood, plaster and paint scream its sweet noise, like a hurricane of bees in a room of the finest honey.

I had been truly blessed. Blessed with the truth of the real. The outside would demand for rational but they would never understand that the truth is irrational. It cannot be reasoned or bargained with like a market seller, fat on the endless and pointless material trappings. I am enlightened and I know the truth that all is pointless. Over and over again, a million times have we died and been reborn anew, our lives logged and archived in an infinite library until even the volumes themselves are burned away to be rewritten. I am not Henry Boyd. Not really. Nor are you whoever you think you are. We are the sum of all our parts; our parts the sum millions of variables; the variables the sum of fixed odds. Fixed divine odds based on the ticking of a clock.

In the house, I paint. I paint the worlds that I visit through the tempests. Some exist in our own native majesty while others exist as splinters, sanctuaries and graveyards. There are even those that exist as blank canvases themselves, awaiting an artist – or the artist – to mark their endless expanses. They have seen me, the inhabitants of these foreign planes. They inspect me with curiosity as I peer in fear. These eternal creatures, scars on reality itself, undying even in the face of the great inferno at the end of time. Even in my capacity as a sorcerer of the real, God of Orphan House, I am afraid. They are why I paint.

I painted before. I painted beautiful things, things that would warm me in the winter and do away with the scratching in my skull. Now I paint them and their lands for the promises we made, for the wonders I would see, for the raw power that made me a god. It is my tribute for when my temporary fleshy prison expires, I will be reborn and rewarded. While Chiron takes me and Chronos crumbles my fortress, the art shall be exposed to the ignorant. It will adorn their galleries and while they wander about, fat and doe-eyed, they will feel the abyss staring back at them – as I did.

The sixth summer in Orphan House has come and the chains on the doors to the outside are holding steady. While my kingdom contorts to my will and my art stalks the corridors, I sense a plot. The crawling of a horde of ants under my skin comes to me in the night, as I stare up at the void through the wound in the roof. I say to my wife, sitting still by a window in the library, ‘can you see them? Can you hear them?’ She doesn’t respond. Her silence is cold and damning. I give up, time and again, I give up. I daren’t wake the children in the late summer evening to ask them about the outside. They are fearful enough without the worry of the noisy meat threatening their father’s fortress kingdom. So small and gentle, they are too pure for the reality in which they find themselves, those two.

When my wife used to speak to me, she used to sweetly ask for sweet things for me to paint. She wanted me to paint her flowers in the greenhouse – closed off now, the glass proving too weak to defend from the outside. A florist by trade she would create the most beautiful of arrangements of brilliant sunset hues. Everything was brighter then, before the truth of the real was known. Before I took her to see the Eel King on the muddy shores of the Howling Isles. She was silent then, standing in front of the rocky thrown with the eldritch lord upon it.

The giant lord gripped the arms of his throne with white, webbed fingers; his fleshy thick surf slicked tail wrapped around the stone and trailed along the mud and into the shallow. The lord, resembling a nightmarish parody of the beauty of sea sirens with an arthropodal torso and skeletal arms, cloaked in billowing black fabric breathed the cold sea air deeply. The pale god, my patron, demanded satisfaction with not even a word from his wide, fang filled mouth. His eyes, sunken in shadow under the black hood, slowly opened from a deep slumber; each refreshing blink sounding against the rolling of the ocean waves. His eyes, black as night, stare down at me with light from the grey sky above twinkling in them like distant stars. Perhaps they were stars, it would come as no surprise. His long claws scratched gently on the carved arms of his throne, the stone itself scarred by his scrapings. On my knees in the writhing mud, I presented his portrait – and still my wife was not moved. There were no bright colours nor sweet smells in truth. Only monochrome landscapes and the thick stench of fish. The only speaker on the beach of the Eel King was the wind that sung through the rocky crags, cliffs and caves of Howling Isles. So far from the real were we, in that place, that it could hardly be said we were anywhere at all. Scraps of land in an eternal black ocean barely discernible from the void, where the sun was forever trapped behind a thick covering of fog and stormy clouds. A broken reality – a splinter of the whole truth, a truth that neither me nor my wife would ever have eyes wide enough to observe. Perhaps the king knew. Him and his fellows across the starry oceans and fractured dimensions in between. When he swam in those freezing deep waters and into galaxy, I wonder, does my serpentine lord-patron see it all?  Travelling along the infinite universal currents? From this chilly outcrop to the planets of glass tumbling around dying crimson suns.

Of course, I took her to the land of the Eel King. Of all my patrons and visitations, it was the most comfortable and seductive. I had to make her understand this if not the truest further gravity of the eternal, the endless inhale and exhale of the expanding electric jelly. The unspeakable horrors of the void that even I, sorcerer of the art, could not bear to witness for even more than mere moments. The crushing pressure of their voices that thunder through the endless cosmos would begin to tear at the coiling of my brain and hammer at my skull. No, she would not be able to comprehend even the slightness of her own dimensions within the infinitum, let alone that of our divine observers who would peer at us with a million twitching, celestial eyes. The screeching of their songs would burst our fleshy human ears so that we may never seek to hear something so beautiful again.

… End of Part 1.

Z3N0

Falling Forward

I’ve been in discussion with someone tonight about the nature of the mistakes we make and how we respond to our mistakes and other mistakes. Because there are no mistakes and everything happens for a reason in line with our own natural ability to endure. Destiny and choice are not words that come associated with each other yet the way we fall, the way we get up often is. This person I’m talking to described it as falling forward which I’d never thought of before.

It’s such a simple phrase and something that will come up in all facets of the stoic philosophy. When we trust in the universe, we fall forward and get back up with ease because we know that each misstep happens for a reason. Without a faith in the universe, we can even say we fall forward because of a faith in ourselves and our philosophies of constant self improvement. Even naturally, we are hardwired in our biology to be kept safe and learn from these trips to not do them again. Our bodies repair themselves, forming new skin over the old damaged parts. It’s all transient and we all move forward and we fall in the same direction, following the laws of time and space that bind us all.

“Whatever happens to you was being prepared for you from everlasting, and the mesh of causes was ever spinning from eternity both your own existence and the incidence of this particular happening.” – Meditations 10.3

Billy Joel famously sings that we didn’t start the fire and it’s true.

“Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of the lesser men to light the flame.” – The War Doctor, Doctor Who: The Day of The Doctor

It’s how we step from the fire is what defines us. How do we carry those burns forward? Or if we emerge, unscathed, how do we tread? Is it with an ashy coating on our feet or are we victorious like Apollo in the sun? Yet, it’s always forward and always in the singular direction never turning back. We will all meet the same end but we all fall and stand up a little differently.

I like to see myself as a person who walks with my hand held behind me for someone to hold on to and pull themselves up when they need it, without looking back to see or care who it is I’m helping. I needed the same help to stand up in my own time, from my very first stumbling as I was learning to walk to this morning when I needed help at a self-checkout. It’s all altruism that has been offered to me, it would be such arrogance to not think to return the same good will back to the humanity that shaped me.

For others, it’s different: a life of challenge and pain to overcome. They stand up again and again with bruised knees, a limp yet with a determined demeanour. Those are the people I admire and if called, my hand will be held out to them all the same without judgement. We walk in parallel and entwined with each other in this existence, all moving forward, stumbling, standing, and carrying on.

It is our nature. To expect not to fall forward is to expect to never learn. I carry a cactus on my journey – it incentivises being cautious when both falling and standing. What do you carry?

“Dig inside yourself. Inside there is a spring of goodness ready to gush at any moment, if you keep digging.” – Meditations 7.59

Whatever it is, with a smile; always with a smile. Keep finding your own goodness, each fall forward is a gift and a testament to your own strength. Be proud of yourself for each lesson learned and each vice overcome and every virtue met as you move forward, joined in the chorus of footsteps of the universe.

Z3N0

Science!

I got into a rather in depth discussion today with a young person about the importance of science. It seems very obvious later on in life but at an age where science is a means to an end to pass exams it’s all very arbitrary. I must admit, I went on a bit of a ramble and I remember it vividly.

“It all starts with simple physics to push to atoms together to make chemistry and then as more atoms come together to form compounds and tissues you have biology. To reject the study of science is like rejecting the study of your own existence. A scientific mind can exist congruently with the spiritual, it’s poetry in motion. You sat here right now are the product of the science of the universe. Let me demonstrate some astrophysics: the Parallax Effect. Hold your pointer finger out in front of you and close one eye. Now open and close the other. See it move? Congratulations, you’ve just discovered how astrophysicists map the distance of stars from Earth.” – Z

Listen to the music of existence, open your window and stick your head out. Listen to the cacophony of biology and chemistry, feel the forces of physics whip across your face and dance through your hair. You are a part of this chorus. You are a beautiful expression of the universe and you can revel in it. Feel the air on your skin as you read these words; feel the pulsing of blood and the beating of your heart. We are all connected and made of the same stardust.

You are brilliant, it’s scientifically provable.

“I think therefore I am.” – Rene Descartes, Discourse on the Method.

The fact that you can think about thinking is an amazing feat of nature and biological advancement. Each firing neuron and whiz of electrical energy in your cerebral cortex is a homage to the sciences. But what about God, you ask. What about God? Would he not be as amazed by this achievement? From our reaching into the stars to the bottom of the oceans to the deepest recesses of our minds, we grasp closer to divine understanding. It’s an achievement of monumental proportions that you and I meet and excel every single day. Each time you awake you have won the great game. Every time you smile and be thankful for the existence of your very being and the existence of those you love, you are thanking the sciences that made you you.

Stretch your mind with philosophy, open up your senses to the science around you. Break each thing down to its core nature. Look at your phone and trace it back to the factory and then back to its conception on a sketch pad in some office. See all the moving parts and the engineering. See the human biology of those crafting the device. See the forces of nature acting on the shipping vessels and the great waves that crash into the sides of cargo ships. See the chemistry within the device, the lithium-ion battery stirring with each motion. See the chemistry perhaps, between a vendor and a buyer: a spark of destiny bringing two people together in harmony. See how you are a part of it all like a single cell in the conscious thriving ocean of our reality. You deserve to be here.

Science will take us off-planet and save it. Science will make immortals out of fools and heroes out of altruists. Today, I look back and I am grateful for the man now dust: Edward Jenner who has saved the lives of billions and future billions through his discoveries – a hero of our human industry.

Thirst for knowledge of sciences and you are thirsting for knowledge of existence. Who are we to deny such hunger? Perhaps you can even argue that it is philosophy is a kind of science, defined by Google as: “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline” and “a theory or attitude that acts as a guiding principle for behaviour“. Science is the study of our universe and philosophy is the study of how it all ties together.

Tether your philosophies to scientific principles and be scientific in everything you do. Whether you be Taoist, Jewish, Muslim, Lutheran, Hindi or Sikh: notice that the very air you breathe is bound by the same laws of physics that binds us all. We are one in this discipline regardless of faith, culture or race. We are all expressions of the same wonderous Whole.

It may be all relative, from the speed of light to universal truth, yet we are united in that relativity. We will be born the same way and die the same way. It’s a stoic principle and a human principle.

“Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch that illuminates the world.” – Louis Pasteur

Z3N0

What We Don’t Have

Often in life, we find that what we don’t have defines us more than what we don’t. I’m not immune to this as someone could gleam from my previous posts. It’s a sense of loss of things that I’ve never had to begin with. I’ll make a list here of things I often get stuck on, things that seem to irrationally consume my thoughts. It’s a cliched list of clichés, demonstrative once again that all things in the human experience are natural to the human experience and have happened and will happen for as long as we can call ourselves human.

  • Lack of a romantic partner. I’ve for the longest time always scoffed at the feeling of wanting romantic companionship, dismissing the picket fence like some Bukowski wannabe in my floral shirt stinking of hard booze. Now, out of the fog of my own arrogance I see and open field and no one to walk with in it. I see on other side of fences not on my own patch of sunnier times, united times and stable futures. I see nothing in my future but the chasing of shadows.

What does this show but a lack of happiness within myself and my own future if I feel that I need someone to wake up next to? Am I incapable of waking up on my own like I have done so many times before for so many years? What’s there to be found in shadows but the absence of light? Each shadow looks so perfect from a distance, like something I could see myself being attached and tethered to by a silk cord. Yet each time there’s nothing but the absence of my own light in this field. It’s delusion isn’t it?

  • Time. I need more time to do everything at it’s proper pace and with the attention each action deserves. Right now, as I type, it’s 21:44 and I can’t tell you what I’ve accomplished outside of work. I sleep, work, eat, wash, go on my phone, fuck about on the computer with online friends. There seems to be little time for anything else, bound by the constructs of my own routine and work schedule.

More bullshit, isn’t it? The reality is that if I really wanted to finish all of my reading, I could. Every thing on this planet exists within the same 24-hour rotation and same 365-day solar orbit. I have exactly what I need yet I seem to need more. A glutton for more life unspent.

  • Financial freedom. Currently, I live with family due to several reasons yet the taste of independence calls to me from the past and demands a return. I can’t, I simply can’t. I don’t have the financial stability nor the comfortable living situation with another human being just to interact with to be a part of some wider experience. I feel trapped in a routine of someone else’s making, stifled living as an extension of someone else’s life.

Shit happens. If I’m unhappy here, the likelihood is that I’ll be unhappy in a Grand Designs model home designed to my exact specifications on some private land somewhere. I’m not being cruel to myself when I say this but it needs to be said. It needs to be blunt and honest. Covid-19 happened, the world happened, fate happened. There will always be something to be stifled by if I let it. There will always be some unwanted encroaching of my own independence and freedoms. Whether than be a set meal time or mortgage repayments.

  • Serotonin and a constant level of self assurance. I’d want not to be reliant on medication to keep my brain chemistry in order. I want my confidence to be enough that I never have to question or look back with critical eyes on my past. I want to be able to speak to a friend without thinking about the interaction and break it down to tiny anxious fragments of semantics and potential miscommunication.

If I didn’t reflect to a degree, would I be considering myself stoic? Would growth happen? Would learning happen? Where are the mistakes to learn from? As far as my own brain chemistry is concerned – there is nothing I can do. It’s an uncontrollable condition, aided by a daily intake of citalopram. What more is there to do? Get on with it, live my life.

Ask yourself now, what thing that you do not have are obsessing over instead of being grateful for what you do have? Take stock of your own abundance.

“Today I escaped from all bothering circumstances – or rather I threw them out. They were nothing external, but inside me, judt me own judgements.” – Meditations 9.13

Z3N0

Schrodinger’s Douchebag

Urban Dictionary defines this term as:

“One who makes douchebag statements, particularly sexist, racist or otherwise bigoted ones, then decides whether they were “just joking” or dead serious based on whether other people in the group approve or not.
“Oh man women should just stay in the kitchen, it’s the only place they’re useful”
with one group “Haha just kidding, that’s sexist”
with anther “lol amirite”
“You’re a total schrodinger’s douchebag you know that right?””
– theoriginalspike October 23, 2013

Today I found myself in conflict with one such individual and it was remarkable to see it in action from another perspective outside of my teenage self. Of course as an adult it was a massive pain to deal with and entirely unnecessary. We encounter these professional gas lighters everywhere: in our workplace, in our local town centres, in the media, and in our homes. Are we surprised by this?

In a world of unaccountability and limited self-awareness, can we truly be surprised by this kind of behaviour? It’s not limited to individuals either. Entire corporations and governments get up to this sort of thing all the time. This ironic little paradox seeps into every layer of our society out of a refusal to face the music of immoral and unvirtuous behaviour. One such example who sticks out in my mind is Daniel Handler, also known as Lemony Snicket who’s so-called sense of humour has masked a number of rather exposing social faux pas. Another example: Kathy Griffin, who’s depiction of Donald Trump’s severed head was dialled back as a joke not a strange poor taste act of political activism.

In my experience today, I was faced with an individual who made a comment about a friend of mine. When challenged on this, it of course meant that I was the snowflake and couldn’t take the joke – something I have come to expect from this person after getting to know them over the course of the last five months. Admittedly, I lost my zen.

Of course, now, I’m the idiot who got angry on the internet over ones and zeroes by a perfect stranger. While my anger was well intentioned in trying to uphold my own integrity and stand up for a person who I trust as I trust myself, I feel a failure. I, in the moments following it could be accused of being a Schrodinger’s Choleric. I said to the others who were a part of this that I was fine and entirely at peace with the situation and that my tone was not intended to come across as angry. Of course: a lie. Here I am now, alone with myself, unable to justify my own feelings of rage towards someone who means very little to me. I’m also trying to justify how my rage affects the person who means a lot to me. What am I doing for them now aside from being distant and cold in my brooding?

“Anyway, where is the harm or surprise in the ignorant behaving as the ignorant do? Think about it. Should you not rather blame yourself, for not anticipating that this man would make this error? Your reason gave you the same resource to reckon his mistake likely from this man; yet you forget and are now surprised that he went wrong.” – Meditations 9.42.3

In reflecting on my own blame for this situation which has led to a number of awkward social snafus and potential further dramas, I see myself repeating in actions I thought I left behind. I see myself almost enjoying the drama of it all; I see myself indulging the ability to put someone down with words over some slight. It feels dirty and it feels like I need to have a bath to wash off my own stink. Yet, should I be surprised of my own nature to indulge in having a barbed tongue? Or would it be better to accept my flaws and see them for what they are which is a part of me and reflect on the application?

“Constantly test your mental impressions – each one individually, if you can: investigate the cause, identify the emotion, apply the analysis of logic.” – Meditations 8.13

This feeling I have now is shame. A shame for losing my temper and rather than teaching or tolerating kindly, I took a strange pleasure in the moment to be cruel. In defending others, I exposed my own darkness; something I thought fading like the night sky at dawn as I grow closer to my balance. Yet perhaps it was the desire to protect a person I care about that unbalanced me. I need to reflect and do better of course, yet if being unbalanced in the moments where we stand for those we love, then I think it’s entirely forgivable. A lesson to be learned in attachment, expectation of the ignorant and the expectations of the self.

In the end, the situation is resolved and while the offender is dealt with and my friends are secure in themselves and alignment, I feel alone. It’s a loneliness of my own making and I accept it.

Z3N0

Being The Outsider

I’ve recently picked up a new game to play with friends, Conan Exiles it’s called and effectively it’s Minecraft with an emphasis on gratuitous violence and slaughter. You may have heard of it, it’s the game that allows you to fine tune your character’s endowment – I know, I’m a learned and sophisticated man (!). Yet this feeling hit me, a feeling so familiar when I spend time with others. It’s the feeling of being the outsider and not quite fitting in as the rest; being the spare part left on the shelf, only used for the sake of using it; the idiot little brother of the team of equals like the glorified side kick. I became frustrated at the game and frustrated at myself for feeling that way, with an unshakeable feeling of inadequacy and rejection.

It’s my personal nemesis: insecurity. It’s the cause of mistrust between me and my friends because I don’t trust them and in turn they don’t trust me. I’ve spoken before to no end about the need for trust and how vital it is to be a member of the Whole and wider human city yet I’ve not been able to take my own advice for one reason or another. I’m much better at giving advice than accepting, even if it’s my own. It’s an alienation of the self and in turn of others who feel hurt by the questioning of loyalty and little tests and fishing expeditions. It’s not perhaps as destructive as it once was in my life where I would actively commit acts to prove things right to myself. It’s funny, I can look back now and see it and recognize it in so many others that I’ve seen it in since. I can’t judge them for my own sins nor any other, I suppose as in the end it’s all self harm to the soul.

I meditated on it – something I do when I can’t find clarity in the moment, and something I recommend for everyone else. I found comfort in my own disquiet, seeing myself float through the endless expanse of universe alone, an island to myself. I held out my hand, not to reject the experience of it being held but accepting that it wouldn’t be. Then I heard a voice that was not my own and felt a tugging on my physical body. It was calling to me, to remind me that I wasn’t alone and despite by attempts to sweep it away to bask in my own solitude, it was stubborn and wouldn’t leave.

Not even an hour later, I messaged my friend who watched my grow increasingly isolated in myself for something to write about since Sundays can be quite slow for a spark. They suggested this very topic. That from my own perspective that I was a spare part but I was appreciated and was missed when I quit for the day. It made me smile, for a stoic I quit in a rage but then as a stoic reflected on the why and Universe provided me my friend’s insight. I’m grateful to them and fate, and I’m grateful to fate for the friendship.

Sometimes, we are outsiders in life. As stoics, as philosophers in our own right even people who simple wish to experience meta cognition, we separate ourselves to see the bigger picture. We need to to be able to observe the truth of things within ourselves and others and form a healthy and natural poise. Yet, something I need to manage is to not allow that separation to alienate me from the people I care about the most, my fellow human beings beyond that and my environment beyond that, et cetera.

Fellow outsiders, something to take notice of:

Batman can’t exist without his friends. Not without: Alfred, the first Robin, the second Robin, the third Robin, the fourth Robin, Catwoman, Oracle, Batgirl, Spoiler, Nightwing, Batwoman, Batwing, The Signal, Lucius Fox, James Gordon, even the Justice League.

And that’s Batman.

“‘I shall show you,’ said Hecato, ‘a love philtre compounded without drug or herb or witch’s spell. It is this: if you wish to be loved, love.” – Letters from a Stoic IX

Z3N0

Quick Quote Post: 7

I want to take today to share two verses from the Tao Te Ching on the balance of character. A friend spoke to me last night about having relationships that are unbalanced, unequal in their respect. For as long as I’ve known this person, they have been one of the most quietly strong individuals I’ve ever known, my best friend throughout my darkest time and perhaps there may have been more had I not in my arrogance neglected them too. They feel complicit in the behaviours of others for being a passive supporter of the relationships yet I disagree with that belief. I think this present moment and this very time is when they have been able to instead reassert a balance between integrity and passiveness. Now is the time for the archers on the walls to fire back at the invaders to the kingdom, dismissing trifling perceptions and immorality before they can reach the city. Like Bukowski said about success, these kinds of revelations are like flies: let them come to you before you can swat them. Don’t try.

“To use words but rarely is to be natural. Hence a gusty wind cannot last all morning, and a sudden downpour cannot last all day. Who is it that produces these? Heaven and earth. If even heaven and earth cannot go on for ever, much less can man. That is why one follows the way! A man of the way confirms to the way; a man of virtue conforms to virtue; a man of loss conforms to loss. He who conforms to the way gladly is gladly accepted by the way; he who conforms to virtue is gladly accepted by virtue; he who conforms to loss is gladly accepted by loss. When there is not enough faith, there is a lack of good faith.” – Tao Te Ching XXIII

“He who tiptoes cannot stand; he who strides cannot walk. He who shows himself is not conspicuous; He who considers himself right is not illustrious; He who brags will have no merit; He who boasts will not endure. From the point of view of the way these are ‘excessive food and useless excrescences.’ As there are Things that detest them, he who has the way does not abide by them.” – Tao Te Ching XXIV

Find your faith in yourself, find your way, find you middle path, find your balance and you will be the happier for it. It’s a natural thing, the natural state of being to be one with your own flow, synchronised with you chi and spiritual path.

As Bukowski said: don’t try.

Z3N0

A Strange Dysphoria

Recently I took part in a training course investigating autism and gender identity. It was extremely comprehensive and educational. Scientifically it is a fact that around 1-3 births in a 100 have non-binary chromosomes determining biological sex which impacts gender identity later. It also means that we are inherently as a species far less black and white as we like to admit when it comes to our own identity. Who knows, perhaps people can exist with biologically female traits as a male their entire lives and never notice nor think about it. This course focussed on how to support young people with autism and their concept of identity and gender which, for a neuro-divergent individual. These people statistically, are seven times more likely to identify as transgender than neurotypicals. It was all very well and good, I thought, to educate ourselves and turn the spotlight on them. I thought instead, I would turn the spotlight inwards onto the operator to examine, in the stoic sense, a thing at its root. The thing: my own perceptions of identity.

It made me uncomfortable because it was such a new feeling. It was like going to the gym and working a muscle untouched before.

I enjoy feminine things. My perfect night is a face mask, foot rub, a Hugh Grant movie, a chat about life, and pizza and wine. I feel a strange alienation when I see same-sex romance on screen, particularly between two females that’s not some sexual need but a feeling of spiritual absence from myself. It’s a longing in my skin and feeling of something lost, something I had but longer have in this existence – a loss of something indescribable. A strange sadness, and something that I’ve never felt before and cannot put a name to. I’m lying, I’ve always felt it, but I’ve never looked at it.

The soul is genderless, the rest is just a vehicle. Why wouldn’t I feel somewhat female at my core? Yin and yang resides in all of us – the male and female. The balance of that is the source of our chi in the Taoist sense. It’s not a new concept.

It’s not a superficial surface feeling of insecurity about my hobbies nor a sexual inadequacy, it runs deeper into my marrow. I’ve just never stopped to look at it before.

I spoke to a close friend about this who is non-binary who explained to me that they have heard about similar feelings before. That it’s a specific kind of sadness. I boil down my experience of sexuality and gender into a catchphrase: “ass is ass/it’s all meat and mucus” yet as my friend said:

[They] have been comforting for you to say, because the help things feel less complicated. But I prefer to say that, for me, attraction is a science? It’s always more about chemistry than biology.” – X

Another friend was said simply that some are more in tune than the true soul than others.

“Only you know who you are and how you define yourself but, you don’t have to. You don’t owe an explanation to anyone.” – Y

Simply: I am.

It’s less about what more about who. Who we are, not what we are.

For me, I am a human being. Biologically male and with a male gender identity. Do I need to feel more to be me? I am who I am, whether I inhabit this body or another. I am still a human being, experiencing all that is allotted to me by nature to experience. Perhaps it’s my time to look in this mirror and accept what’s there within and without because my feelings of a strange dysphoria (whether this can be truly described as dysphoria) are a part of me and a part of me I can accept. I may not fit conventionally into the box of a machismo hero yet that’s ok. I look back over what I’ve done in my past, and my theatre of arrogance and all I see now is someone desperately trying to live up to a patriarchy in which I exist on the fringes of.

I accept my exterior, I accept my interior. I am a human being. This skin of mine, while my soul may feel wanting if I let it and it craves for renewal: I wouldn’t want it any other way. This mind and soul of mine, as complex and seemingly labyrinthian as they are: similarly, I wouldn’t be me without them. For others, the experience is different, and unliveable. It is theirs and not mine and that’s ok. We all walk different paths in this life and live different lives but we all born and die the same way. We are all one in our collective experience of humanity from our first breath to our last. Despite all the labels we may attribute, perhaps the truth is that we, as expressions of the divine, are far too infinitely complex to ever be tied down or put into boxes.

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” – Meditations 10.16

It goes without saying if we are to be nit-picky with semantics, when the Romans reference “man” I say: “human”.

Z3N0

The Cactus

Today I won’t be quoting or taking lines from the philosophers because this topic is something I need to face alone. It’s something that I need to speak about and release from my energetic field, from my higher mind, from my subconscious and rational thinking mind, This thing: a cactus.

A few years ago now, an ex of mine bought me a potted cactus out of the blue as a nice little present. I was low maintenance, had a soothing presence, a beautiful thing and made my home feel warm. I neglected it. I let it die on my windowsill, hidden for months behind eternally closed shutters collecting dust. I forgot about it and disregarded it and in the end, I threw it away. It was not just a cactus, it was my ex’s heart personified. It was them presented as a metaphor: low maintenance, beautiful, a little prickly yet endearing, a warming presence with unique colours of thought and presentation.

I threw it away and neglected it. I threw away and neglected them. I treated them like the cactus and left them on the shelf to collect dust and wither away as a background element in my life. I disregarded my duty of care and self-absorbed lifestyle.

It’s such a silly thing, a potted cactus yet when I think about it I feel a deep swell of self-loathing, pain, regret, sorrow, vemod. I say often that there are no mistakes yet, this one is harder to mull over casually. Perhaps because it was such a profound moment when I realized that this cactus, this silly thing, was the singular focal point of my vices. I think of all the people I’ve hurt along my journey to get to this point where I can look back and accept my wrong. I think of every word, every act, every flash of needless rage. Life is not like Sims where you can just say “well fuck it” after each failed relationship and start again or go back to a previous save to before when things were fine. There is no right or wrong just consequence and my consequence was inflicting pain on others and myself through that.

I actually cheated on this person, can you believe that? Every time I went to work and got drunk bartending it happened and eventually it happened more times than it didn’t. It was an arrogant disregarding of my ex’s feelings and total disrespect of their emotional sovereignty. They were perfect, you know? A perfect being, so mature and wise and beautiful in mind and body and spirit. My only comfort is that they are now so learned from the car crash that we were (thanks to me), that they will never stoop to share their life like they did with me with someone like me again. A strength born from a test of faith in self-worth.

The truth is that I fucked up and killed something that will never exist again within my material experience. So many things I can say that to, so many mistakes and so much pain inflicted with each harsh word or unvirtuous act. This cactus, now a shadow in a sea of landfill, was me and is me if I allow myself to be. This cactus represents my arrogance and reckless pride.

I fucking love that cactus.

It makes me feel so hollow and so exposed and so dirty. It keeps me grounded and keeps me from ever being the one to be so callous again. It pains me, this silly memory and this silly thing yet I hold onto it and its spines as they cut my hands to shreds. Right now, as I feel the weight of cold sadness above my brow and heaving onto my shoulders, I am grateful for it. It’s like a scar on my soul in technicolour. A self inflicted scar that I can only hope has strengthened another in its presence on them.

I lost contact with a friend recently. It was my own neglect again and it reminded me of the cactus and it stuck me with its spikes in the heart chakra. I just opened up a message one day and was so wrapped up in my own bollocks that I just didn’t reply. Here we are nearly three weeks down the line and there’s nothing but a pervasive hollowness. I reached out, I made my case to repair, to never leave a thing unattended again.

We all have a cactus.

They mean so little and so much. They are defining moments, metaphors, ghosts that haunt us. Ghosts that we wouldn’t be the same without. It’s not particularly stoic to carry ghosts yet what are we but the sum of our parts, and what we chose to do with those parts?

Z3N0

The Stoic Employee

Today I had an interview to determine whether or not I would be in continued employment or not. Before hand I was asked by several people if I was worried or if I was panicked. The answer was and is no. My body may have been full of adrenaline before the talking part but ultimately, the stoic employee is not worried. The stoic employee does their best and knows that is the only aspect of the role that they can control so worrying about what exists without that control is a waste of everyone’s time.

We are not career people, in my opinion. Ambition and pride are deceivers of ones own ability in life as well as office. Ambition is not a welcome thing in my life, yet purpose is. I said to my interviewer:

“I don’t want to be climbing the highest mountain of financial and career success if that is not my path, I want to perfect the service I can provide from the ground I’m on now” – Z

How can I do my job efficiently, with purpose and virtue if my entire mission is to climb up? Of course it’s nice to be recognized but that doesn’t affect my virtue either. Confucius speaks about this quiet effectively with the subject of office being important during his time of Ancient China.

“The Master encouraged Qidiao Kai to take office. Qiadiao replied, ‘I am not confident I am ready to take this step.’ The Master was pleased.” – Analects 5.6

“The Master said, ‘Do not worry that you have no official position. Worry about not having the qualifications to deserve a position. Do ot worry that others do not know of you. Seek to be worthy of being known.” – Analects 4.14

“Ziyou said, ‘In serving your ruler, if you reproof is unrelenting and tiresome you will end up being humiliated. If you are that way with your friends, they will drift away from you.” – Analects 4.26

While there are key differences in the stoic school compared to the practice of Confucianism, ultimately some core principals overlap with the seeking of a balanced and moral approach to life and each other. In office how can one do this without an ability to see truth within themselves. If you are not qualified for a role, do not go for it. In times of need, you will adapt like all humans. As I said to my interviewer when asked about my ability to reflect and develop my professional skill set:

“If I’m not learning, I’m dead. Growth, in my opinion is not just for the trees.” – Z

Amazing that I got the job right? My feedback however was that I have a reputation for having a black and white outlook, that when I speak and the hammer of judgement comes down that it’s final. Perhaps it was my reaction to the formality and the process that added a little strictness to my tone but it was something new that I’d never considered before. When asked on my practice and how I respond to mistakes, perhaps my response gave proof to the allegation:

“There are no mistakes. I have grown and learned lesson and adapted from the missteps so I don’t begrudge them. How can I? When faced with something where I’ve gone wrong, I can only adapt and learn from it, what else can I do?” – Z

Most likely a fair comment but, as is the right thing to do, I accept the criticism and adapt to meet it with the help and support that they can provide me.

“We all work together to the same end, some with conscious attention, others without knowing it – just as Heraclitus, I think, says that people asleep are workers in the factory of all that happen in the world.” – Meditations 6.42

Find your purpose and service and a career will form around you. Don’t go looking for a career without service or purpose or it will be a hollow and fleeting thing.

Love your purpose, love your service. Be a stoic employee which is to say not blindly shut up and put up with bad practice. It is to act with the stoic disposition of moral integrity for the self and the Whole in what you give to the world.

Of course, a decent pay is always nice, helps with the roof over my head. Yet to quote Seneca:

“… thatch makes a person just as good a roof as gold.” – Letters from a Stoic XIII

Z3N0