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Confiding in the Void

We’ve reached the 11th month of 2018, so I can say that the theme of this year has been community. From my perspective.

What does the average specimen of Homo sapiens need to be satisfied with their group and their own prospects within it? What are we currently lacking, we atomized modern creatures? (Please read the whole Samzdat series.) I’ve been trying to figure that out, and although I’ve gained some insights, I can only speak authoritatively for myself.

The following is a personal account of anomie.

As young as I am at 24, I’m still astounded by the amount that I learn over relatively small timespans. Human nature has long fascinated me, but during the past year I have dealt with it more intimately and dwelled on it more deeply than in the past.

Notice that I use the word “it” and refer to human nature in general, rather than citing specific connections with individual people. I have deep emotional relationships with my fiancé and immediate family, but my friendships remain primarily intellectual. Even with my dear partner, I struggle to be raw and vulnerable when I’m not intoxicated. Alcohol loosens my tongue and enables me to express the sentiments that scare me.

I would say that I love my friends, and they greatly enrich my life. Yet I remain puzzled by the easy camaraderie and affection that people seem to share with each other. I don’t know how to put this into the right words, the words that would properly convey what I mean. It’s a discomfiting sensation because words are supposed to be my forte.

Over the past couple of years, I have become more familiar with that which I cannot articulate. I’ll try anyway.

Here’s what I want to tell you: I remember the profound closeness of my childhood and teenage years, when platonic intensity bound me to a handful of other girls. I didn’t fully appreciate those friendships at the time. I feel their absence acutely, and it hurts to remember, because I know what I’m missing. I still haven’t figured out how to make true intimacy part of my adult life.

I used that word earlier — I said that now I understand human nature “more intimately.” I wasn’t wrong, per se, but my peer-to-peer connections are anchored by shared curiosities rather than bare feeling. My friends and I have little bearing on each other’s hearts. If we hold more than that between us, it’s hard for me to see.

Again, I sincerely love my friends, but I don’t think that we know each other at the core. We rarely offer that level of exposure, although I suspect that most of us would readily accept it from someone else. Tossing around ideas is safer than revealing angst in less-than-sardonic terms.

I come across as an open person, as far as I can tell. People have commended me on it. I don’t think that I give the impression of being reserved. But I am; I have secrets that fill me with inexpressible shame. That’s normal. Usualness does not reduce the burden.

I think that my brethren — my fellow thinkers and discussers — tend to be afflicted in this way. We prize cleverness and abstraction to the extent that we suppress our yearnings for human-to-human communion.

On the other hand, I could be committing the typical-mind fallacy. (Is it ironic to include that caveat?)

I have a guess about why I’m pondering this subject, why I feel bereft of true connection beyond my partner and family. It’s probably because I’ve reduced my dose of psych meds. The underlying realities are the same, but how I weigh them has changed.

I’ve been taking venlafaxine for five or six years, since I was a teenager. The drug saved my life; I would be an addict on the streets or otherwise miserable without the boost that it gave me. At a time when I was mired in despair, venlafaxine restored my energy and optimism enough for me to drag myself toward adult functionality and eventually happiness.

Granted, the upgrade was accomplished with plenty of support. I still resent my parents for creating me without my consent, but the anger has lost its potency. I owe them an incalculable debt for helping to transform my life into a good one. My fiancé deserves gratitude as well.

Despite all of the complaints above, I am cheerful most days — often productive! I love my job, am thankful for my luck in finding it, and cherish the belief that I am helping to build a future where autonomy is paramount and accessible to all.

I hope that the trend will continue. I want to believe that my brain is going through some kind of chemical adjustment period and I’ll be able to come to terms with a self that has emotions surging under the skin. I want to feel what I feel without being overwhelmed.

It may turn out that I need to stop tapering. I may decide to jump back to 225mg daily instead of my current 150mg. I can’t pinpoint why I hope that my mental health won’t require a reversion.

As a transhumanist, in principle I see nothing wrong with relying on medical technology to feel okay. Apparently despite my beliefs I’ve been nursing a latent hope that venlafaxine actually “fixed” me over the past five years, as opposed to being a treatment that I will need… forever?

In conclusion: I’m glad that I wrote this blog post, but I’m slightly fearful of the reactions. Despite my trepidations (or perhaps because of them) I’m going to solicit thoughts from a few of the people I like and respect. It’s a way of being intimate — there’s that word again! — without addressing them directly.

Am I being cowardly or brave? I think the former. Laudable courage would be publishing the secrets that I mentioned before. Alas, that is more than I can offer, although I would readily accept such disclosures from others.

Drawlloween Postmortem

It should be obvious to anyone following this series (so… just me) that I failed at my Drawlloween attempt. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, I hate not living up to the expectations that I set for myself. On the other hand, it was a learning experience! Two key takeaways:

  • My desire to create visual art is quite sporadic. As I’ve stated before, writing is a medium that comes much more naturally to me.
  • Daily challenges are hard! (Is that self-evident? Maybe I should have known!) The difficulty seems to scale linearly with the time commitment required. I think a daily Halloween haiku would have been conquerable; a daily short story would have crashed and burned.

I’m running a D&D campaign this week, so I may use the remaining prompts as monsters for the players to encounter. It depends on how well they would jibe with the rest of my plans. We’ll see.

In conclusion, I would try another themed challenge, but I’d be more careful about tweaking it to suit my strengths and creative inclinations.

Drawlloween (in writing) Days 12 – 24

It turns out that doing a challenge that requires you to draw a lot, when drawing isn’t your natural medium, is difficult??? Who could have predicted such a thing!

Instead of catching up properly, I’m going to write little vignettes for each prompt. Undeniably, I’m taking a shortcut. My justification is that, uh… cheating is okay, because… fine, I don’t have a good excuse. But I’d rather complete the challenge in some form than drop it altogether!

To add another dimension of meaning, I added a Tarot card to each prompt. I used Tarot by Seven’s Deck of the Bastard — third edition, Samhain version. That one isn’t available anymore, but the standard version and a 2017 Samhain version are still for sale. The Deck of the Bastard’s aesthetic is appropriately spooky, plus the cards have helpful interpretation hints written on them.

Without any further ado…

Day 12: Vampire

Six of Wands reversed — betrayal, fall from grace

The elders tell you, when you come of age, that seduction is one of our ancient arts. The tell you that humans are unable to resist the wiles of a vampire, that your ineffable scent and eldritch grace are enough to disarm the survival instincts that our prey have honed for millennia.

Well, apparently the elders forgot to remind the humans. Here I am, lightheaded with thirst, while the women at bars stare at those damn portable screens. The veins in their necks throb with blood; I can hear their heartbeats.

And yet I keep striking out. What’s a vampire gotta do to attract a victim these days?

Day 13: Grave or Coffin

Nine of Coins reversed — entrapment, setbacks

Do not call up what you can’t put down. I’ve done it before and honestly, it was a huge hassle. You try explaining to the senior sorcerer that an entire demon horde is wrecking their workshop as you speak! And no, you don’t have time to explain, because the ancient evil needs to be banished right now.

This time around I had a coffin cage prepared. Plus I was in my own workshop — I’d saved up enough gold to rent one. As I spoke the final incantation, the spirits began to rise from my pentagram in a whirlwind of acrid smoke.

“Into the coffin!” I cried, directing the demons with my staff. They surged toward it and slowly settled into the kernels of frankincense that I’d heaped within. (The materials for this spell were nearly as expensive as the workshop space.) Coils of grey smoke hovered above the frankincense.

“I bind you to this substance,” I commanded.

Wait, was the frankincense melting? I felt a pang of concern. Was I seeing that correctly? Was the frankincense now rising in liquid ropes, intertwined with murky demonic ectoplasm?

Yep, it definitely was.

“This could be a problem,” I muttered. But I was so sure that I’d enchanted the coffin cage correctly!

Day 14: Skeleton

Two of Swords — uneasy peace, fence-sitting

The music of the Danse Macabre
calls out to every corpse.
Follow, follow the candelabra,
its eerie light and sparks.

The bones are rising up again.
Soon they’re shedding flesh.
Clacking as they weave and spin,
unable now to rest.

The dead are dancing, dancing on;
respite from hell is brief.
Skeletons, back to the grave by dawn.
We living keep our grief.

Day 15: Owl

Two of Wands reversed — miracles, fear of the unknown

The owl lay still on his porch. The first thing he noticed was the softness of her shape. But when he reached down to touch the body, it was stiff with rigor mortis beneath the feathers.

“Oh no,” he whispered to himself.

What would make an owl die suddenly? Did owls fly into windows? John had never heard of such a thing happening, but he was still new to country living.

The owl’s eyes were tightly closed. Nevertheless, John marveled at her distinctive features. With the pad of his forefinger, he touched the beak, feeling its rigidity.

Beyond the porch, pine trees bowed their tips as they leaned with the wind. John looked up at them, suddenly shivering. The dead owl has been such a surprise that he hadn’t grabbed a coat.

The bird once lived in those trees, so close to his home. And yet John could not recall hearing the melodies of her kind.

Day 16: Goblin

Four of Wands reversed — social flubs, unsanctioned marriage

Goblins don’t excel at etiquette. They hardly try to, although limited manners can be taught if you catch the creature early. Why bother trapping and training a goblin? Well, fashion is fickle. The latest crop of the upper crust has decided that goblins are not horrible little mongrels.

Rather, goblins are amusing companions to show off at dinner parties! Clearly! Supply for yourself the image of me rolling my eyes.

When I first heard of the trend, I knew that a man with my skills could milk the opportunity. Now I make too much money in this business to switch markets. Please, ask me who I detest more, the fetid goblin whelps or the simpering socialites who buy them.

Day 17: Werewolf

Death reversed — stagnation, plagued

The fiend lies on the floor, convulsing. The moon has been full and swollen for a week. No werewolf can sustain its madness throughout seven whole days. Seven bright-lit nights — unrelentingly bright and clear nights.

The canine’s body consumes itself. Its flesh degrades minute by minute.

Horribly, the werewolf howls. This howl is not the lusty one emitted by wolves for centuries, for eons. The sound does not evoke fear. Nor does it rouse a listener’s pity. Any human present to witness this creature would be purely revolted.

The blue-white moon shines on, glinting against the werewolf’s wretched fur.

Day 18: Rats

Page of Cups — synchronicity, emotionally naive

The pitter-patter of little feet.
It is no child that passes here.
The teeming rats are driven to eat.
A ballet swarm, it disappears
when confronted by the master.
The thrall of his harnessing charm
melts the thronging masses faster
than rats can squeak their wild alarm.

Day 19: Seance

Eight of Coins — apprentice, diligence

The blind seer gestured abruptly to her servant. He sprang to her shoulder, bearing the stone bowl. Eli surveyed the audience as he moved, and noticed their eyes. Each pair followed the motion of her arm, briefly rested on him, and then jerked back to her face.

The seer’s eyes were closed. Her face was creased in seeming ecstasy.

Eli knew this game. He was familiar with the entire routine, including the dramatic way she beckoned him. Not because their ritual was rehearsed, but because its requirements were deeply ingrained in her. And through her, ingrained in him.

Day 20: Serpent

Eight of Wands — swiftness, falling in love

The snake writhes around your finger,
an ending grace.
The grace that terminates.

Small dragon
of an ancient pattern.
Its body is rough against your skin.

The call of eons past
in your fascination.
Captured by the creature’s own
ability to capture.

Day 21: Alien

Ace of Swords — mental clarity, victory

The humans might have imagined that their conquerors would feel remorse. If the humans remained to do any imagining, that is. But they didn’t, and the emissaries of a foreign civilization rejoiced in their absence.

Feasting. The humans understood that — they understood celebration. They even understood land disputes. They understood zero-sum games and competition for resources.

What did the new lords of the planet see? Possibility. They’d found a wasteland to be rejuvenated, and they had cleared out the resident vermin. Homo sapiens hadn’t done wrong, exactly… not by the species’ own criteria.

The aliens liked their new property, but its previous tenants’ preferences were distasteful. Remodeling proceeded swiftly, and it was glorious.

Day 22: Pumpkin

Wheel of Fortune — turning point, improvement

When a pumpkin rolls down a hill,
bumping against grass tufts and dirt ruts,
it expresses the gravity of God’s will.
The divine has proved to be a klutz.

When a pumpkin crashes to its end,
against a boulder, conveniently placed,
its guts are spilled, thus to send
out seeds and nourishing orange paste.

Day 23: Monster

Four of Swords — sleep, self-observation

Medusa stares into the mirror. She is the only one who can regard herself this way, head-on. Even her sister Gorgons turn away. Is their caution borne of respect? Perhaps fear? Medusa does not recognize the distinction. On her island, solitude is a strength, however excruciating.

Medusa reaches toward the mirror and traces her reflection. Her fingers are long, extensions of fine-boned hands. Everyone turned to see her beauty in years past. No, that is a distortion. She was pretty. Never beautiful.

Fond memories are to be acknowledged and dismissed. Medusa does not allow the bittersweet pangs, which border on regret, to usurp her pride. The queen of serpents must recognize her power… or it will dissipate.

Day 24: Hunter’s Moon

Ten of Coins — inheritance, family

“The sky will fall,” the crowd chants. “The sky will fall. The sky will fall.”

Of course it will. The sky always falls. The sky has fallen, the sky falls, the sky will continue to fall.

It is morning. Hard yellow sunbeams bear down on the people, and heat pulls sweat from them. The crowd is redolent with soup smells and oily perfume.

“The sky will fall. The sky will fall.”

Their refrain grows, it multiplies, it becomes louder and larger. Fluffy mounds of clouds that were once calm are twisting and dissipating.

Above the human clamor, expanses of blue turn toward grey. Then indigo. Soon true darkness begins to spread and subsume the daylight.

A red, angry moon fades into view, first rising gradually. Its ascent accelerates. The crowd becomes frenzied as the moon crests the horizon and its bloody color intensifies.

“The sky has fallen. The sky has fallen!”

Drawlloween Days 5 – 11

I got very behind on Drawlloween. So this afternoon I spent some time sketching in an attempt to catch up. Currently I’m not planning to finish these drawings. I suppose that’s fine since the whole exercise is for my own pleasure anyway.

Drawing by hand is still much easier than drawing on the computer, despite my lack of practice!

Drawlloween Days 5-11 sketch page

Found on the page above:

  • a surprised ghost emerging from an Erlenmeyer flask
  • a mysterious amulet (the laziest possible example of a haunted object, I admit)
  • a cartoonish but definitely hungry mikoshi nyūdō
  • a femme spider (she’s probably also hungry)
  • three curious tentacles reaching into a canoe
  • a royal bat with huge ears and fancy bangles

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