Ask yourself very rigorously what you need to be happy every day. Committing to action before you know could be disastrous.
Humans have had 300,000 years to get used to how beautiful women can be and we still haven’t managed it—one can come along any hour any day and just knock you flat. And that’s a human fact, that’s the human experience: we try to think of modern, productive things to do all day and then just there’s women and all the things women can do and it’s this neverending miracle that makes the world keep moving. And it’s terrible: not “terrible” in the sense of “bad” but in the old old sense way back in the etymology: “terrible” as in the trembling you feel in front of something divine.
If I could see where [my writing] was going there’d be no point in doing it. You make things because there’s a hamster in your head running on a wheel telling you to make them. You keep hoping The Next Thing will shut it up. I would love to never write anything again. I’d love to never draw anything ever again, but the hamster hates me.
You have made a huge difference in my life. Your Crohn's diagnosis and writings made me feel kinda close to you. I shall miss you. Always. From a fellow Crohnie.
Thank you. Wish I could cut through the anonymity and give you a full-press hug. (And don’t worry; I’ll be around, just less. You can always email me.)
I've gotten used to having your work around. I'll be sad to see less of it. But your reasons for diminished presence make sense, and feel right. I guess I just want to let you know you're appreciated before you leave. -A reader
Thank you so much; I’m flattered. But you’ll be beyond fine without me.
I start studying at St. John’s College in a couple weeks. After cooking lasagna and reading the Lattimore and Lombardo translations of The Iliad, I’m beat—yeah, real hard work, Ken—but want to blab. Here are some errant and likely-to-be-dashed thoughts about the next four years.
1. I want to—need to—be quieter. Meaning I want to publish less, mainly online. Less Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Goodreads. (Jesus.) Less email, but more postcards. And less stories, and way less opinions.
2. What I will keep talking about: Sator Press, Boss Fight Books, a secret project two years in the making, what I’m reading, and my never-cooling urge to fist fight Goldman Sachs executives.
3. I need to be quieter for the next four years because three books I wrote were published this year. Three books, from one guy, in a year. This is an ecological crime. (Or it should be considered one.)
4. Ecology: not only including materials; ecology including attention.
5. I have claimed, asked, and bargained for too much of your attention.
6. This essay by Cooper Levey-Baker is interesting: engaging boredom, art as an event, opting-out. I don’t think it gets right at the end, though: The ultimate transgression isn’t to “read on” or to stare with purpose. I mean, when you’re reading there’s still a brick of culture in your hands. Literature isn’t involved in the ultimate transgression. No: now—when you’re swimming through advertising every day; when you’re valued most as an opinion factory with a line of credit—the most radical act is to close your eyes and sit. “Godless contemplation” is what John Gray calls it in The Silence of Animals.
10. To see. To see without the screen or designs of thought. To uselessly see the purely ephemeral.
11. Not meditation, because diving into the chili of leftover selves isn’t that radical. Soothing, sure, but easily subsumed into the market for self-health.
12. Not that radical is the point. Peaceable and non-consuming is the point. To be still and contemplative.
13. To sit and watch. To see the world rightly instead of feeling that you have to act upon it. To realize that the desire to change the world is mewling-new and kind of deadly.
14. The Law of Unintended Consequences being so swollen and cancerous in this insanely complex, pre-collapse society as to become its own malignant god.
15. Sorry. Went a bit too Cioran there.
16. But I’ve been thinking a lot about this advice: “Just do what you love!”
17. “Do what you love; that’s what’s important.”
18. The infallible truth in this advice is that yeah, you live a single life (probably), and so you shouldn’t live as if you were acting in a poorly written, shittily staged one-act tragedy. (If you can help it.)
19. That said, I also think that this advice—”Just do what you love!”—is Uniquely Modern Bullshit.
20. Uniquely Modern because the idea that we even have autonomy is brand new and mostly undermined (cf. the subconscious, the reign of habit, pre-thought bodily action, etc.).
21. And Bullshit because… Well, let’s take Bullshit to mean this: advice meant to appease personal and cultural appetites; advice that ignores vital demands for the sake of simple pleasures.
22. In 2014, there are more than enough signs of the human animal’s terrible consequence upon Earth and all its biological life. More than enough evidence for most people to gut-feel that they should always be “doing something” for the planet, their environment, their animal kin, or for other ailing humans or whatever. But then what?
23. (If you meet someone who thinks that humanity should proceed apace, commit them.)
24. “Just do what you love!” is too vague and situation-blind to actually be useful or true.
25. Kim Kardashian is just doing what she loves.
26. For awhile there, Hitler was too. (Pulling the Hitler card: I know, I know.)
27. Might the better advice be: “Just tangibly and simply help other people!”?
28. Tangibly because you don’t want people pursuing utopias in the name of grand improvement (e.g. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc.). Face-to-face help is a safe bet and a good rule to keep you honest (i.e. local).
29. Simply as an added layer of protection against complex justifications (e.g. “But eating this can of mayonnaise on YouTube benefits charity!” (Though I do have a soft spot for Shoenice.)).
30. In other words, it might be time to again pitch art-making as pathological, and not as societally corrective. Or in the words of Zak Smith: “Paintings shouldn’t appeal to the responsible, humanistic, self-improving part of you that thinks you should do more yoga. Art’s a vice.” (I mean, if we equate a culture’s success with its longevity, then a complex culture’s art and religion and song and myth hasn’t yet diverted its tip over the waterfall. (Cf. Joseph Tainter’s work).)
31. The better advice might be this: “Spend most of your time helping people in pain or in danger.” (Instead of helping people appease or distract themselves.)
32. But I’m tired, and likely preachy. A gist: I hope you’re reading much less of me these next four years. I hope you will be attending to much less of everything screen- and paper-based.
Quieter, simpler, smaller, kinder.
When I was excited about life, I didn’t want to write at all. I’ve never written when I was happy. I didn’t want to. But I’ve never had a long period of being happy. Do you think anyone has? I think you can be peaceful for a long time. When I think about it, if I had to choose, I’d rather be happy than write. You see, there’s very little invention in my books. What came first with most of them was the wish to get rid of this awful sadness that weighed me down. I found when I was a child that if I could put the hurt into words, it would go. It leaves a sort of melancholy behind and then it goes. I think it was Somerset Maugham who said that if you “write out” a thing… it doesn’t trouble you so much. you may be left with a vague melancholy, but at least it’s not misery—I suppose it’s like a Catholic going to confession, or like psychoanalysis.
Hi there, I'm currently a Junior at St John's Santa Fe, and I just wanted to say I really appreciated your post; the reasons are the same reasons I came to St John's (not in what I want to do vocationally, but in what I'm here to learn and find in myself). This might come as a surprise to you, but sometimes I fear that not very many people share this opinion of the program and its importance. anyway, I hope you'll really love St. John's and will find fulfillment in the work you do here.
Thank you. I hope the rest of your time at St. John’s is invigorating, and I hope to find a similar energy come January. (And hopefully I’ll see you around on campus!)
About three years ago, I got a call from my friend Sabra. She and her boyfriend had moved to Los Angeles—just that day—and the apartment they were supposed to stay the night in appeared to be, according to Sabra, “decked out for a porn shoot.” She humbly asked if I knew of any hotels that weren’t lubricated and weird. I asked them to stay the night at my house. They obliged me.
At that point, I knew Sabra and her best friend Nick better than I knew Ned. My friend Blake and I had published a short story of Nick’s in a literary journal we edited, and we met Nick and Ned at the journal’s launch party in New York. (Ned showed up wearing huge headphones around his neck.) Through Nick, I came to know Sabra, and then I came to admire all of their writing. Little did I know that Nick and Ned were writing partners, and that the three of them would move to Los Angeles—driven by Nick and Ned’s desire to pursue screenwriting—soon thereafter.
Over the last three years, coming to know and love the three NYC-to-LA transplants has been one of the most bountiful experiences I’ll ever know. Because I’m still lucky enough to know and love Nick, Sabra, and Sabra and Ned’s son, I want to remember Ned a little bit; I want to share with you some moments of his wonder:
Ned was great in the classic sense of the word: adventurous, brave, hard-working, boisterous, humble, charming, sincere. I thought and will think of him always as one of the most interesting, brilliant, and supportive people I’ve been able to share this glint of time with. I feel unconditionally fortunate to have known him.
His writing—thoughtful, wild, empathic, consolatory—will last for many years. He built worlds that are a pleasure—that are invigorating—to inhabit, and these worlds in turn have made ours a bit richer, a bit more fun, and undeniably more possible. For that, we are all lucky.
Is it common to smoke weed to help with Crohn's? Did you ever talked about that? I can't seem to find something about the subject coming from you and just wondered if it's something that I can bring up with relatives in a reasonable way. Thanks!
Howdy. I know a lot of people with Crohn’s that use marijuana to manage their symptoms. Nice thing about weed is that it’s a significantly safer drug than biologics and immunosuppressants. So yeah, please don’t hesitate AT ALL to bring marijuana up to your family as a viable (and empirically proven) medicine for our disease. Good luck!