Linger in any medium of art for long enough, and the internal saboteur will find you.
Whatever form it assumes—paralyzing perfectionism, existential questions about why you even bother, suppression of your personal tastes in favor of the “serious” styles, etc—its mode of attack is the same: it moralizes the art process. It ties your results to you and measures you by them.
Before my first foray into art for art’s sake, I looked askance at talk about the art process. It sounded like obscurantist sales speak for art buyers. There is some of that, but there is also something real to discuss. When we immerse in our craft, we find a vast non-euclidean terrain inside ourselves, and while our personal terrains differ, they share some key features: tall mountains, dangerous beasts, bogs you can’t step out of the same way you stepped in.
These features are worth talking about, and the one I want to talk about today is that shape-shifting beast, the internal saboteur.
That the United States is riven into two cultures who won’t date each other is so circumambiently obvious to every American that when someone points it out it’s hard to respond with anything other than rolled eyes, because it’s sort of like pointing out the air. Yet even though we’ve been going through this for hundreds of years on-and-off, we’re still using naive enlightenment-era persuasion tactics to address the problem:
People don’t want to take the vaccine? Let’s tell them how it works, tell them about the safety studies.
People think the earth is flat? Let’s do the experiments that demonstrate its curvature and share the proof.
People think globalization and entitlements are the prime movers of job loss? Let’s point them at the Department of Labor’s studies on automation.
Think back to a time, any time, when you presented someone with evidence that one of their core beliefs was incorrect, or at least sloppy. Or more difficult, a time when you yourself were demonstrably wrong and put on the spot about it. Did either scenario lead to courteous conversation and a changed mind?
Interpersonally, most of us learn not to challenge others in this way after making the mistake once or twice. It goes nowhere. The evidence-based strategy turns two interlocutors into greased hogs grasping for purchase on each other with inarticulate hooves. In this essay I attempt to explain why that is, and what alternatives are available.
There is something troubling going on in the politics of the Pokemon universe. In the first four RPGs of the main series, the antagonist is a shadowy organization with curiously loyal grunts setting out to harness the power of some legendary Pokemon in order to establish a New World Order. Team Rocket, Team Galactic, Team Magma, et al., all of them want to bring “peace” through domination.
If the Pokemon world were decimated by internecine conflict or even going through some kind of economic recession, I could understand why so many young people might be vulnerable to the promises of a cult like this. But in all my conversations with NPCs, I have never heard someone complaining about not being able to find a job, or having insufficient disposable income to satisfy their basal requirements, or really anything at all other than the death cults. We play these games through the eyes of adolescent protagonists, so maybe the adults are all sparing us the complexity of the social issues, because it makes no sense that a pattern of death cults is a society's only problem. They are an effect begging for a cause.
Last April I started writing fiction. I have burned out on other modes of art before, so I knew getting my process right—right as in yielding improvement but also enjoyable and sustainable over many years—was essential to achieving any long-term goals. I had questions. Do I write every day? When I start a second draft, do I start with another blank page? How do I know when it's time to move on from the story?
The virtuous die young, or cling to life and putrefy. This is the philosophy that undergirds The Sea of Fertility, the master work of accomplished Japanese playwright and novelist Yukio Mishima. It's an aphorism you’ve heard before, but the tetralogy’s feat is not proposing the idea for the first time, rather tearing it open and showing you its insides, the vast and fractal-like machine of philosophical understanding it contains.
I am an American with an insatiable appetite for romantic drama. My quest for ever-more-complex geometries of love—you’ve heard of love triangles, but have you heard of love pentagrams?—has lead me from medium to medium, country to country, and after a fifteen-year journey I think I have at last found the frontier of romantic drama in the modern world.