Friday, August 5, 2011

Live Oaf On Friday 12

I don't want to have to work the space bar with my forefinger!

Jesus, I'm getting ahead of myself. Okay, deep breath.

On Friday the twelfth, I will be reading at Lip Service West, Joe Clifford's ongoing series of readings. Literary writers reading transgressive autobiography. It's an impressive series. It's my second time reading there. I am all excited and shit.


Please come. If you live in the Bay Area come, and if you don't live in the Bay Area, please spread the word.

Sean Craven
Lip Service West
Friday, August 12
5512 San Pablo Ave. Oakland, CA
7 p.m.

Why should you go? Well, the show is solid. Joe gets good people in, and makes them work. While I've seen some insane performances elsewhere (John Shirley, who proves that there is real punk in cyberpunk), from beginning to end this is the best live literary experience I've seen.

And I, he said with no trace of false modesty, will be devastating. I am candid about my weaknesses; forgive me if I am candid about my strengths.

My piece is one of the very best things I've ever written, and I wrote it in blood and at great personal cost. I have taken one of my most shattering personal experiences, and one that I have not shared with many people, and turned it on both myself and society with as much honesty as I am capable of.

I talk about things you aren't supposed to talk about, and I do so clearly and at volume. If you've ever spent time with me and had the experience of getting a sudden, nasty time bomb/pit bull vibe? This will give you some idea where that comes from.

I was confident before my first reading; that confidence was accurately placed. I will be better this time -- the work is stronger, and now I know that when I am in front of an audience, I am in my proper place, and I have power, and I know what to do with it.

It's not often you get to see someone's balls drop in public. Don't miss the opportunity.

And besides. If I don't get enough people to show up?

Joe Clifford takes my thumbs.

And I don't wanna work the space-bar with my forefinger.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Love And Hate And Other Chimps

My dad's recovered enough from his back surgery so that today we were able to take a walk. I was explaining to him that I'd recently figured out the main reasons why the past few years have been so hard on me, despite my finally beginning to get my art and writing out into the world.

For whatever reason, I have always admired artists and scientists more than any other type of person, and I have always mentally linked the arts and sciences as being representative expressions of a particular quality of mind.

I spent my whole damned life sitting in my room studying the arts, going to school for the arts, thinking that if I ever got to be good enough, I might be allowed into the world of the arts. I lost the sciences when I lost the university system, but the arts I could do on my own.

And I thought the world of the arts was going to be The Arts. That once in the door, I would bask in the glow emitted by my superiors, contaminating myself with their glorious radiation until I, too, was luminous. We would do the art and nothing but the art!

Well, yeah, as far as it goes. But it turns out that the world of the arts is like any other human endeavor -- it is primarily social. The arts serve an organizational and focal function, and are frequently central in the lives of individual participants, but the actual world of the arts is a club, or a gang, or a trend, or a hangout far more than it is an activity.

"The thing is," I told my dad, "I feel like I've pissed some people off just by showing up to play."

Dad got a little solemn. "Well, there's something that I think nearly everybody pretty much knows instinctively, and I don't think you do," he said. "Every group of human beings is going to be more concerned with hierarchy than anything else, and just about everything they do is about figuring out who goes where."

I was not prepared for this. I mean, I heard it and it made perfect sense, but. If you had told me ahead of time in a way that allowed me to actually understand? I might have simply evaporated from terror on the spot. I certainly would have wondered if it would be a good idea for me to follow the path I've taken.

I am not good with groups. I strongly prefer to interact with people one on one, as equals. I assume that I am on the outside of any group, and above the top or below the bottom of any given hierarchy. I am very emotionally vulnerable, and have a desperate need for affection and attention. I have very poor boundaries. I am quite naive about a lot of things, particularly sexual things. I do not expect to flirt or be flirted with; I expect to be treated as a neuter by women.

And there is no way to say this without sounding like a caveman, but you know what? I'm a primitive motherfucker. I expect men to behave as though violence is a natural arena for contention -- in other words, if someone's acting like a dick it means they think they can fuck with you, and if you let them keep acting like a dick, they will escalate to violence -- dickishness is just the soft edge of violence, and pulling it out is starting a fight. So men are polite to one another if they aren't interested in fighting. I mean, this is how it is, right? Right?

Guess what.

There are some folks I have run across that have been snipey, snipey, snipey, nasty, guilty apology, snipey, apology, etc. And I never believe they're being rude to me at first. I think about it, I ask any witnesses for opinions, I grill the missus, my dad, the hon. Richard Talleywhacker for their opinions before I feel anything but hurt.

This is a pattern. It's not just my writing, I've gotten this reaction with my prints as well. It has repeated four or five times in the past three years, and it honestly seems to be antagonism based on my ability or my modest successes -- people who actually dislike me on a reasonable personal basis don't behave this way.

And this comes from people who are hypothetically on my team, and who are in positions where we are supporting one another. People who are poorly served by their antagonism. It feels like a betrayal to me, it makes me wonder what I've done to deserve it, and it has cost me more topsoil over the last three years than anything else.

The only way I can cope with these situations is to emotionally place those people outside my circle, to say, 'I work with them, but they are opposed to my best interests, and in any emotional conflict they are regarded as opponents. I will not choose to hurt them, but I do not actively support their interests.' A friend who hurts me? I can't do anything about that. An enemy? That I can understand. It makes me feel coarse to categorize people in this fashion, but it is also invigorating. Necessity!

I need to recognize when people are actually being rude to my face. I've put up with things from people in classrooms and labs that would have gotten them terrorized if they'd tried it on the street. I absolutely will not pull any tough guy crap around this, but I shouldn't be taking shit just because I'm scared of being a bully.

I need to make room for this so that I don't shred myself every time someone fails to love me to a sufficient degree. It ain't their job to love me.

And too much love is hard to accommodate, too. Oh, it's turning out I ain't neuter. I need to be conscious of this. Not hitting on women and not cheating isn't the same as being sexually continent, and I prefer to be the latter.

For instance, did you know that some women interpret genial, good-natured bullying as a form of flirtation? And here's one I only figured out about six months ago.

I talk to people one-on-one, remember. Most of my friends have been women. If a woman and I are pals, we will spend a certain amount of time talking by ourselves alone, and that is a sexual safe-zone. I assume that sexual neutrality.

But recent readings and reflections suggest to me that when a woman goes into an isolated location with a man, much of the time she's going to be very conscious of being either vulnerable or available, and she's not always going to feel comfortable about that, and sometimes she's going to feel entirely too comfortable about that.

I am not going to go into details, but based on those two revelations I can now see how I have been a horrible, baffling tease at times. I don't want to be that kind of rotten person! I didn't even know you could do that to girls!

On the other hand, a little harmless flirtation isn't something that should cause me to bolt like a startled horse, writhe in guilt at my unfaithfulness, or fall hypnotized with my mouth hanging open. I'm gonna get flirted at, I may as well learn to enjoy it.

Having people look up at you and go, "Ooooh!" is a drug. When those people are attractive women, that drug is freebased. I am officially hooked, and I now need a certain amount of admiration in my diet. It makes me feel gross, but there it is. I am now doomed to go out into the world every once in a while and impress girls if I don't want to wither and die.

But having people admire my talent also feels kinda wrong and creepy. It's a freak show feeling, as though what's being admired could be easily detached from me and idolized on its own. I suspect this is how it feels to have an admirable bosom. It's fun, but you can get too much of it and it could lead to feelings of disrespect toward the admiring, and that sucks. Who wants to be admired by people they look down on? Defeats the whole purpose.

So, basically what we're facing here is the collapse of my previously-adequate Jane Goodall posture, where I regard humans as a fascinating alien species demanding compulsive study despite the obvious dangers involved. I have set down the clipboard, and set out to establish my place in the troop.

Pray for me.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Attention: I'm OK Now

Well. It's been weeks since I've had a mood swing or an episode of vomiting. I'm feeling consistently optimistic and excited, and I've never written stronger material than what I've produced recently. My episodes of paralytic confusion have almost entirely dissipated, and I've recovered from my withdrawal from psychiatric medications.

So I'm declaring myself officially well, for the foreseeable future.

The missus has said all along that this period of crisis has been about my fear of success. That's not quite right, but it's definitely leaning in the proper direction. I've got another piece to write about this, but essentially, my journey into the world of professional fiction has been much more complicated than I thought -- I am being forced to change my relationships with both myself and society in general in radical and expansive ways.

I was able to tap-dance around the increasing levels of stress in my life until I started puking. Hospitalization and my first round of treatments left me feeling like a psychiatric patient instead of an artist, and that period of last winter and spring was one of the points in my life where I really hit bottom.

Interestingly, I did not experience true despair. The burden of self-hatred that had been lifted from me at the Viable Paradise workshop has made these times dangerous for me in the past, but now the temptation to self-destruction is much weaker. And the missus, rather than drawing away from me, treated me with a sort of tenderness that hasn't been part of our relationship before.

But I'm better now.

I've started counseling in the last few weeks, and that's helping to solidify the gains I've made over the past months. The missus, bless her heart, decided that I had fallen through the cracks in the system, so she found a counselor who would trade for bodywork. This does make me feel a little weird, but very grateful. I'm still on the lists for public assistance, because it would be a good idea for me to have access to sleep aids and tranquilizers, but I feel good about the person I'm working with now.

My counselor is not a psychiatrist, so she does not see me as a collection of fascinating symptoms, a sort of living crossword puzzle, which is the reaction I get from medical types. Her position is that I'm in the process of assembling myself into a functional human being, and she seems excited by the prospect.

I've decided that the optimum state of mind for me is not that of conventional mental health. That just isn't an appropriate ambition for me. Rather than fighting my nature, I'm learning to embrace the positive and ameliorate the negative.

For instance, rather than struggling with my sleep, I've gotten in the habit of going to bed between nine and nine thirty, then waking up at two or three, going to my studio to listen to music and look at art books for an hour or so, then go back to bed and lay down. I don't always get back to sleep. I don't usually get back to sleep. But if I lay there quietly in a meditative frame of mind, I get enough rest so that the next day has a warm fuzzy hallucinatory edge rather than a sharp, brittle one.

And right now I'm getting my eating habits in order. Cleaning up my studio. And so on. And so forth. Regaining a sense of control over my life.

I know I'll go through the cycle again -- it's pretty likely that I'll be useless for a month or two in the middle of the winter, for example -- but things feel different. Even when the recent situation was at its worst, I didn't feel as threatened or endangered as I have at comparable earlier points in my life.

One of the reasons for this is that I felt as though I was part of a community. Both the science fiction world and y'all here on the net have formed some attachments with me, so I felt a continual sense of...

"Well, I guess I can't afford to lose here. It'd fuck shit up for too many people."

I know when I contemplate everything from your health to your careers, there are times when I feel concern. Sometimes I let people know, sometimes I don't, if it doesn't seem quite needed.

But I have also felt concern from you, and that helped keep me focused on getting past the situation rather than sinking into it.

One very interesting aspect of this whole thing is that I turned to a lot of self-help and popular science books for assistance, and I am damned lucky to be going through this during a time when cognitive science is starting to really understand how the mind functions.

I have been doing some very deliberate skull hacking, and have even been integrating this information with the techniques of meditation and ritual I learned while studying occult traditions. As the man said, "We place no reliance on virgin or pigeon/Our method is science, our aim is religion." (Yeah, I know, he was an asshole. All my heroes were assholes. This is key to my identity crisis.)


Right now, the process of reconstruction has advanced to the point where I am working again, and substantial improvements are being made to my support system. I have greater stability than I did before going through the crisis. I am happy-by-my-standards, and pleasant company.

Yes, my life situation could be better. Sort of. Yeah, I would like to be financially stable, and not a lunatic, and so on. But when you have a life filled with good people, a sense of purpose, and the ability to pursue that purpose effectively?

What the hell is there to complain about?