The Art of David Coffey

Written by Alexander Greco

July 20, 2020

Hailing from Dallas, TX, David Coffey’s is an artist whose figurative style and darker undertones and themes I quickly resonated with. Ranging across themes of power, abuse, human duality and beauty, David’s artwork expresses tangled and conflicting aspects of human nature, much of which we are averse to confronting in our waking lives, but are ever-present in our psyches.

David has been creating art since childhood and, as with many underground artists and creators, is self-taught.

“I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember. My love for art began with sketching during class at school, continued into drawing while lying on the carpet floor of my room as a boy, and I’ve never stopped drawing since. I didn’t start painting until just about 2 years ago, so that’s been a learning experience. I never have had any formal training. I use a lot of books, tutorials, and such to learn. I also just experiment a lot to see how things turn out. I try to imitate things that I really like. My greatest inspiration is other artists both living and dead. They are my teachers.”

Despite the many faults of living in this Digital Era, one of the great benefits—possibly one of the greatest benefits—is the access that everyone now has to information and education that might have previously been barred from many because of money or circumstance. While books and various forms of public access to them have been around for hundreds of years, the sheer level of information that can be accessed now is unprecedented, and it’s a tool that few seem to really appreciate.

So, I wonder how many artists and other creators like David—how many people even outside the arts—we’ll hear about in the coming years who found success from circumventing traditional routes of education and taking their talents and ambitions into their own hands.

Picasso Portrait
Acrylic on Canvas

David spoke quite a bit about some of his influences and inspirations, which span across historic eras and artistic genres:

“[…] my love of art began with comic book art as a boy. I still adore comic book art. Since around my teenage years I’ve been enamored with a number of famous artists: Picasso, Van Gogh, Francis Bacon, Bosch, Baselitz, Philip Guston, Max Beckmann, and others. I pretty much like anything that’s in the modern art time period. I also adore Japanese art of all flavors from the old school landscapes to contemporary stuff and Manga art.”

“[…] I’ve been reading [comics] ever since I was a boy and still at it. Swamp Thing (old and new), Watchmen, Sandman, Hellboy, anything by Charles Burns, Fables, Books of Magic, Paper Girls, Saga, Buddha (by Tezuka), Bone, Amulet, The Walking Dead, to name a few in my collection.”

“Yes, my Doppelgänger and Nephilim [series] definitely have some Bacon influence. They are dark in theme, have a fairly solid background, and involve a lot of chance and improvisation both within the body structures and the textured backgrounds.”

In David’s first figurative series, his “Artist Portraits” series, many of these famous artists emerge on canvas in a blend of David’s and the artist’s style. His comic book and manga influence likewise can be seen throughout many of his series, whether as reference material or as thematic inspiration for some of his work.

Regarding his art process and how he plans or organizes his pieces, David discussed quite thoroughly how his pieces come to be:

Nephilim #3
Acrylic, Sharpie and Sealant on Canvas

“I think about a larger general idea I’d like to explore, such as power or exploitation, I think about what sort of human figures I’d like to experiment with, some general thoughts about style and composition, and how many I’d like to include in the set. […].

“I don’t tackle any details at all until I start working on an individual painting. When I’m focusing on a single painting, I usually begin with source images that I want to use for composition. […] From there, I start making vague decisions about other elements that I’ll include in the painting (such as including snakes to the interact with the main character) and what colors I might like to use.

“On the actual canvas, I usually begin with a pencil sketch that is very close to the original pic I’m using as a basis. From there I alter the pencil markings. This is pretty intuitive, so I just keep changing things until I see what I like. The pencil serves as a basic sketch for where I might place paint. The painting process is super intuitive. I have ideas about what I might like to do, but I rarely make decisions beyond what I’m doing in the moment. I change colors often, experiment with movements and blends, add, cover, etc. It’s really just a constant work of adding and covering elements that I don’t like. I evaluate the work about every 30 seconds or so.”

The process of creation is something I’ve personally been interested in. The mechanical aspects of various forms of creation are endlessly fascinating. Composition, color arrangement, grammar, narrative structure, chord progressions—these are all the architectures of paintings, music and stories we’ve all come to love. But then there’s this sort of black-box of intuition, where the mechanics of art end and the subtler mechanics of the psyche begin. There’s a sort of jumping off point, a place where you’re swimming in open water.

With David’s work, this jumping off point comes as soon as the brush begins spreading color across the canvas. There’s the underlying structure of the sketch, and the themes he plans to incorporate, and then it’s all based on intuition from there.

Da Vinci Portrait
Acrylic on Canvas

Beginning with his “Artist Portraits” series, there is a lean towards figuratism, as well as expressionist and impressionist styles. For each different artist, David mixed the style of the artist with his own personal way of painting, making portraits that reflect both his and the artist’s work.

“The artist series was an attempt to explore some of my favorite artists by incorporating elements of their style into a portrait. I was the one making it thought so it actually was more about me than them and how I thought about them, what I wanted to learn from them and their lives. […] I mostly chose artists that I admire and that I personally felt provided major breakthroughs in the art world, but that’s just according to my own bias.”

These portraits include Egon Schiele, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh and William de Kooning. The one exception to this blending of styles seems to be with Leonardo da Vinci, where, rather than blend styles, David includes personal, childhood icons with his portrait of a man who made incredibly iconic pieces of art.

Nephilim #5
Acrylic, Sharpie, Mixed Media on Canvas

In the next series, the “Nephilim” series, David pushes his artwork into an almost surreal space of impressionist figuratism—which carries on into the series after it, “Doppelgänger”. This series consists of incredibly muscular—at times grotesquely muscular—figures painted in a style that blends abstract with impressionist. The figures in these paintings strike intimidating and violent poses, and are presented over backgrounds of layered and textured color. However, the most striking feature of these paintings are the unreal, bulging, chorded muscles of the Nephilim—showing the unhealthy excess of power each possesses.

“The Nephilim is basically about power and how it leads to destruction and isolation. Some of the stories of the Nephilim were based off of biblical accounts, extra biblical accounts, and some of it I just made up in a growing narrative. […] The figures were all inspired by comic book art. I chose some of my favorite comic drawings as source material for the forms, mostly coming from modern Swamp Thing comics and Animal Man.

“I did a lot of experimenting with using markers, various acrylics and sealants to get the affects. Lots of back and forth between drawing with black sharpie, covering it with white paint, letting it dry, adding a sealant, adding more marker, etc. They are better to see in person because they have so many layers they actually have very thick textures. Some of them are actually quite heavy and have deep grooves.”

In much of David’s lore surrounding the Nephilim, there are themes of isolation and corruption, and we spoke about these themes in tandem together.

My primary thoughts were, does corruption lead to an isolation from the larger community? Or does isolation lead to corruption? Do we seek power because of our own corruption? Or does the search for and eventual gaining of power corrupt us?

Or, coming around to the first questions, is it powerlessness and isolation that urges us towards seeking power, and having that power as an isolated, “evicted” individual spurn us toward abuse of that power onto the community that expulsed us?

These are a complicated tangle of ideas to parse apart, and it was interesting hearing David’s take on the themes:

Doppleganger #9
Acrylic, Sharpie, Mixed Media on Canvas

“[…] I believe the corruption is both passed down and generated through personal actions. […] Though perhaps they desired to use it for good, the nature of the world must win out. Yes, their form does evolve over time. The more they use their power for evil, the more deformed their bodies become. The black form (the last in the series) is almost a purely spiritual form, but, in a sense, in the end the nephilim become fallen angles just like their fathers.

“I think power pretty much always lead to corruption, at least that’s all I’ve ever seen or experienced in this life. But I like your point that isolation could also lead to a hunger for power. A desire to change one’s destiny or perhaps hurt those who put one into a position of isolation. The thought that the ability to change circumstances and overcome others would lead to happiness is an interesting one. It’s very natural to think that way, but false I believe. […] All that being said, I don’t believe power itself is bad. I think there is a possibility of it being used for good…”

This corrupting influence—whether an inherited disfiguration or a maladaptation evolved across time—can be seen in the bodies of the Nephilim and in the heads and faces.

While the bodies certainly do have grotesquely muscular, powerful forms, it’s their heads transformed the most, and in many ways heads and faces communicate an individual’s identity.

With Nephilim #3 and #5, the rectangular and spherical-headed Nephilim, there’s a transformation to simplicity in shape, expression and simplicity, and a sort of self-dehumanization.

With Nephilim #3, the rectangular head reflects a flatness—an almost uni-dimensional, machine-like personality, devoid of warmth, compassion or empathy. It looks cold and calculating, like a computer screen, and the narrowness of its eyes and mouth might be the narrowness of its vision—it’s vision of power—and the narrowness of its ability to communicated with others—a narrowness of empathy and an inability to socially connect.

With Nephilim #5, the shape of its head is roughly spherical, but it’s like a head that’s been crudely molded and can’t decide what it is. It lacks any expression except for it’s tiny, slitted eyes and enormous, toothy mouth. This giant has lost any defining features, its vision has been narrowed to a tiny slit, and its mouth appears to be useful for little more than violence, consumption and animalistic vocalizations.

Doppleganger #8
Acrylic, Sharpie, Watercolor, Sealant on Canvas

Following a similar thread as the “Nephilim”, the “Doppelgänger” series features surreal, heavily muscled figures over a textured background of simple colors. With the “Doppelgänger” series, David pushes both the surreal musculature of his figures and a darker, more abstract vision of human nature through their entangled forms.

“The doppelgänger series is about a personal belief in the dual nature of humans. I personified it in these figures. A lot of it relates to personal inner conflicts I’ve had throughout my life. The forms are inspired by comic book art again. I did get more experimental with the forms than in the ‘Nephilim’. […]

“In my view most of the interactions are negative. Either one form dominates the other or the forms are in conflict. There is a very strong undercurrent of violence and domination. When I drew details on the forms, I got more abstract with the muscle forms sometimes making it close to a vegetative or organic bubbly form. This was all very intuitive. I used the basic shapes as my guide but created lines from a moment to moment basis.”

The “Doppelgänger” series immediately struck me when I first look through it. There’s a tremendous intensity to many of these forms, and the various emotions of each piece seem to be ripping out of each figure’s bodies (perhaps the internal force that’s turning these subject’s muscles into such grotesque shapes). The extreme musculature shows the power of these forces, but their inhumanness and occasional grotesqueness show how they warp the subject into something equally inhuman or grotesque.

As David alluded to in his explanation of the pieces, with the doppelgängers, there seems to be this sort of reversion into a chaotic state, where the bodies of the figures are turning into stringy, tubular, or wet, bubbling, oozing states. The figures seem to be returning to the chaotic state of nature—to the bubbling, swampy morasses of life that we come from: the violent, grotesque state of nature modernity often tries to ignore, but that is ever present.

Doppelgänger #7, the white-background doppelgänger, is beating its identical twin—its clone, copy or its self—into a thick, viscous, frothing foam. The muscles on its body are on the verge of bursting—of popping with blood and bulging flesh—and even parts of its body seem to be turning into this bubbling, oozing material.

Doppleganger #3
Acrylic, Sharpie, Sealant on Canvas

There’s this blend of violence done unto the self, or possibly of self-domination and self-submission, and this reversion into a primordial, hyper-violent chaotic state—the animalistic and grotesque reality humans have emerged from.

Doppelgänger #3, the red-background doppelgänger, similarly has this reversion into a dissolving, deindividualizing state. The muscles have lost any real resemblance to a healthy body, and are more like piles of intestines strung up on a skeleton frame. The two bodies are intertwined to the point where its difficult to tell which limbs belongs to which body, and, at certain points, there seems to be an entire dissolution of a concrete, bodily form. There’s just this fleshy, dripping entanglement where individuality reverts to primordial flesh and organs.

Finally, there is David’s “Siren/Muse” series, which is David’s latest and still ongoing series. Here, David takes a large leap from the style of his previous two series, but still retains elements of his figurative style, and explores similarly dark and all-too-human themes.

“For the ‘Siren/Muse’ set, I really wanted to go with more colorful figures that were females. I didn’t want them to look aggressive or violent, so I gave them more of an anime inspired smooth appearance. I also wanted to convey a sense of ‘fake-ness’. […].

“This series is basically about a potential danger in the pursuit of beauty. Hence the toxic creatures. It made sense to meld music and art. They accomplish a lot of the same things. I also liked exploring the myth of the sirens and the myth of the muses. I do think they’re related. I guess with the siren there’s a draw toward sex that ends in destruction. With the muses there is a desire for inspiration and the ability to create perhaps at the expense or abuse of the muse herself. I think those are both about creation in a way. Both can end in the abortion of a desire. Both can consume and ultimately destroy. I really love contradiction and contrast.”

When I was first reading David’s explanation of this, I was reminded of story arc in the Sandman comic book series where an author has kidnapped one of the Greek muses and sexually exploits her in order to find inspiration for his books. I brought this up with David, and found that this was indeed part of the inspiration for this series.

“So glad you mentioned the Sandman story about the muse. That actually was what first got this idea for the siren/must series percolating in my mind! What an amazing story (by the way, Sandman is probably my fav comic series of all time). I was so drawn to the idea of someone abusing a muse in order to get inspiration it made me think that perhaps that is a deeper truth about the lengths people will go to grasp fame or fortune, much like the writer did in that story.

“It also melds the idea of sexual dominance, but really again just a picture of abuse for personal gain. I guess when you think in terms of a siren though the tables are turned. The female is in the position of power.”

Siren/Muse #1
Acrylic on Canvas
Siren/Muse #1
Acrylic on Canvas

As with our conversations over David’s other sets, our conversation of “Siren/Muse” delved down its own rabbit hole.

In modernity, there is a tension between fact and opinion. This tension likely goes deeper than most people realize, but one of the most obvious tensions comes from beauty and aesthetic. Can something be objectively beautiful? Is there anything that can be said to be truly beautiful?

Or is everything regarding beauty and aesthetic just an arbitrary illusion of the mind? Is there a tangible reality or truth to beauty? Or is it all arbitrary opinion?

“I do think there is definitely something objective about beauty, but I’m not really sure what it is. I just know that people often agree on what is beautiful, but if it were totally subjective maybe that wouldn’t happen as often. For me though, beauty is just what I find physically appealing to my eyes. The structure, composition, color, framing, etc. so many things go into it. And the more refined your eye becomes the more you are able to appreciate beauty, like a fine wine.

“Personally, I’m obsessed with beautiful things because I love to consume them with my eyes. It’s much like enjoying a good steak or tasty beer. It’s very visceral to me and just flat out pleasing to my soul. But beauty can also be a marker that points to something beyond it. A deeper truth or a more lofty ideal. This is what creates such strong emotional reactions and perhaps has something to do with why people sometimes seek to destroy it.”

David’s “Siren/Muse” set has only just been started, with two completed pieces so far. One features a blonde-haired pop singer with green snakes emerging from behind her—similar, I would say, to not only the sirens and muses, but the gorgons as well. We have a beautiful woman, whose face implies pleasure, in front of a microphone onstage, with snakes surrounding her and facing the audience while her eyes are closed.

There’s a sort of narcissism here, being the center of attention and finding pleasure in one’s own existence as the center of attention. There are also a number of quasi-sexual phallic elements here, one being the microphone in front of the woman’s lips, the others being the snakes emerging from the woman herself. The microphone is where the singer projects herself—the center of her self-pleasuring narcissism, as well as the tool by which she holds the crowd’s attention.

Every man in the crowd might wish they could take the place of the microphone, and let the singer speak—or more—to them. The microphone might actually be the stand-in or an idol representing every man in the audience, almost like a voodoo doll by which she can manipulate from afar.

But this also comes at a cost, as everyone in the audience is ogling her. She loses her identity as well, and becomes simply an object of desire, just like the microphone is every man being turned into a tool to derive attention from. She is no longer who she was before she got dressed, put on her makeup and went on stage, she has become a sexual and artistic or musical object—her trade for siphoning the audience’s attention.

The snakes also hold additional meaning, as the snakes are what make her unapproachable. Though all eyes are on the singer, though every man in the audience wishes he could be the microphone she sings to, she is also writhed in fear and danger. Just as when we see someone we are attracted to, and freeze in fear, unable to think clearly or do anything but act like an idiot, we see the beautiful woman on stage singing to us, but we also see the fear of death around her like a venomous halo.

How often then do we seek to abuse, deface and destroy these beautiful things we are afraid of?

At times, these living idols, these people made living statues, are sources of inspiration. At other times, they are source of zealotry and obsession. At other times, they are the sources of our fear, contempt and resentment—the objects of our hate as much as of our love.

The second “Siren/Muse” piece possesses similar elements, though I won’t delve too deeply into these. The emotion of the singer is more lively, more energetic. Rather than snakes, the singer is surrounded with bees like loyal drones. With the first painting, the color scheme is roughly green, black and golden/yellow, which is somewhat suggestive of a dragon guarding gold. The second painting, by contrast, is primarily violet, blue and yellow, which contrasts cooler colors with the more energetic yellow body and red eyes of the bees. So, there is a calming effect, but there is still an awareness of danger. In the second painting, there is also the sexual implication of the microphone.

David’s art journey is still relatively early in its story. His works are still experimental in many ways, and his style and talent are still developing. However, the works he’s made so far are quite impressive. The emotions and ideas he’s able to capture in his paintings have drawn my own eye, and seem to be catching many others’ eyes. It will be interesting to see where he goes next with his “Siren/Muse” set, but it will also be interesting to see where he goes both with his work and with the themes he explores after this set.

There was much more we both could have talked about with each other regarding both his artwork and the themes surrounding his artwork (and, also, the long list of comic books we both love). Hopefully we can extend some of these conversations in the future.

In addition to his artwork on @davidcoffey_figz on Instagram, David also has many other pieces, primarily commission pieces, on his Instagram page @davidcoffey_artstudio. There are many beautiful paintings here as well, many of which follow a more impressionist or post-impressionist style. Please give his work a look and a like, and if you enjoy his creations, give his pages a follow.

The Art of Pierre Lucero

Article Written by Alexander Greco

June 5, 2019

Pierre at the Grand Canyon

Pierre Lucero is an artist from Aurora, IL, who creates wild explosions of colorful imagery with marker and pen. Each of his pieces showcase a command of color theory and detailed linework, while also displaying insane supernovas of psychedelic visuals. With artwork that spans across a vast multitude of subjects, and near-infinite variations of his style, it’s difficult to know where to begin with Lucero’s art.

“Zig Zag”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2018

For each piece of art, Lucero seems to open a small bottle of inky chaos, then pours the contents of that bottle over a blank sheet of paper, until all the irrational contents of a dozen dreams and a dozen nightmares cover the page. Many of Lucero’s pieces show a storm of multicolored guts and flames, and fluids and brains, all radiating from some insane epicenter. In some pieces, the images converge at the center onto an eye, or a mouth, a skull, or an alien head. Other pieces have more concrete images or designs, while others portray landscapes, creatures, or people. Many pieces are just nightmares emerging from fever dreams, with no primary subject or object to focus on.

Then there are pieces like “Spongebub”, where Lucero takes everyone’s favorite sea sponge, and transforms him into a tornado of texture, objects and imagery.

“Spongebub”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2018

“A tribute to one of my favorite cartoon characters growing up as a child, “Spongebub” is a psychedelic doodlebob originating from none other than Nickelodeon’s classic SpongeBob. I incorporated transparencies as the arms flailing throughout the piece, since I didn’t know exactly what to do with them from the start. The effect is achieved by not adding any line work inside the shape, but still coloring it in as it would be, then outlining it with white highlight. Maybe I’ll return to this little series with a Patrick.”

Much of Lucero’s art is seemingly pulled straight from the ether, with only a small thread of reality being cast into a gulf of imagination, where some irrational leviathan is caught and hauled onto Lucero’s blank bristol. On “Bloomer”, Lucero had this to say:

“Bloomer”
Watercolors/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2016

“This piece means a lot to me in terms of the direction I try to achieve in my artwork. An obvious centerpiece filled with an explosion of random objects protruding outwards. I made it in the summer of 2016. The idea was given to me by my girlfriend when we took a photo together, and I had put a flower over my eye. The bottom pyramid piece was made to poke at the Illuminati joke I always get from people, claiming that my art is so good I must have sold my soul to get to where I’m at. Or maybe I actually did sell my soul at one point, who knows.”

A few glances at his work, and it’s not difficult to believe Lucero’s ideas might come from some sultan of a yawning, artistic void.

Yet, calling Lucero’s work pure chaos, or chalking it up to infernal intervention, would not do it justice, as each piece is a feat of time, effort and creativity. Lucero’s artwork is meticulously detailed and colored—with Lucero pulling infrequent all-nighters to finish various pieces—yet much of his artwork comes from spontaneous imaginings, rather than planned pieces.

“I’m still unsure where my ideas come from… …Very often do I have any idea what I’m actually going to create next. It’s always a blank sheet and continuously caking things on that I think would look unique bunched up together.”

On his piece, “Broken”, Lucero said:

“Broken”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2018

“This is another random drawing that probably has no real meaning, just solely for the purpose of looking weird. Repeating hands didn’t become a thing in my artwork until 2018, and I’ve been addicted to incorporating them ever since. This also makes me more interested in animation. I think this piece also is a good example of how bright and vivid my work can look when there is no limitations. We may be finite physically, but our imagination is endless.”

Lucero typically utilizes graphite, copic markers, and ink, though he also uses watercolor and acrylic in some of his work. His pieces typically begin with a small idea drawn with graphite, and then another small idea, and then, perhaps, another, until a pile of ideas are laid out across a formerly blank sheet of paper. From there, Lucero goes over his initial drawing with a size 1 micron (if he hasn’t already been going over them), and then goes over everything with thicker microns and fills in any black space. Lucero then begins with the base colors of the image (almost always starting with any hands or mouths), before filling in the entire image with color. To finish each piece off, Lucero shades all the images, goes over them with different shades of gray, and finally adds highlights to the piece.

Though many of his pieces are wildly ambiguous, and filled at times with seemingly arbitrary images, much of Lucero’s art coalesces into themes present in all our lives.

For “Caterpillar”, Lucero said:

“Caterpillar”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2018

“I created this piece with the thought of insect evolution and how far it may go. Exaggerated for dynamic effects in the art piece alone, but the idea remains. I’ve always wondered if certain animals or insects would follow the same evolution path as humans did. Will any species’ make it past a point where their ancestors branch out a different route and become as highly intelligent as humans are? Extinction plays a big factor in this question, seeing as every living creature’s goal is survival, so what is the pinnacle of intelligence and are humans #1 when it is all said and done.”

In “Caterpillar”, we see a tangled mass of multicolored brain matter (presumably) in the bottom right corner, and arms reaching from the same corner. Then, swerving across the page, we see a series of images, all eventually converging into a caterpillar head. It begins with octopus tentacles and a butterfly, then morphs into a strange face, then a demon-like head, mouths, skulls, fluids, hands, eyes, and a pharaoh’s mask. The last leg of “Caterpillar” is a flaming head, roses, a variety of ribbons, colorful spheres, a burning animal head, and finally the caterpillar head.

Lucero demonstrates a sort of evolutionary shift from one image to the next—from a brain, to tentacles and a butterfly, to peace signs and angry, gaping mouths, to a caterpillar. It shows the movement of evolution as one continuous thread, the movement of states of being across thousands of generations of existence, and ends with an insect that naturally shifts and metamorphoses across time.

Just how the caterpillar evolved across time to become something which metamorphoses throughout its life, humans are a creature who’ve evolved across millions of years to become what we are now—a creature with the capacity to metamorphose itself. And yet, it’s possible something else may take our place at the top of the food chain. Reality is not static, it is dynamic and ever-changing, and the lives we all know and believe to be firm may one day fall out from beneath our feet.

For “Fallout”:


“Fallout”
Watercolors/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2017

“This drawing was made after the election of Trump. The idea of mass destruction and nuclear weapons didn’t become a reality until that for me. Although I’d rather not be right about the situation, the idea of it will always be there. Its crazy to think how many nuclear weapons are already made and ready to detonate, I find it highly, highly unlikely that nothing will ever be set off again. But I also fear that in this modern are, it’ll be the last time they do, when they do.”

“Fallout” depicts a skeleton flying through the air, filled with multicolored organs of some sort. Though this presumably depicts the physical effects of a nuclear war, I wonder also if this depicts the psychological effects of the threat of nuclear war. Since 2016, how many of us worldwide have been affected by the political and cultural shifts we’ve seen? How many of us still regard life in the same way? How many of us—right or left or center—have walked away from the 2016 elections unchanged? How many of us have returned unharmed and unmutated by the bombs that were so carelessly dropped—from the left, right, and center—and how many of us have escaped the fallout that remains today?

And, for “Mankind”, Lucero says:

“Mankind”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2017

“Sometimes I wish I could see the linear timeline for the human race. What will eventually make us extinct? Future discoveries/inventions, wars not yet had, evolutionary traits, space exploration/alien contact, and so on. I wonder how different the year 2019 will be from the year 14780—if we’d be living far more advanced lives, if we’d nuke ourselves back to the stoneage, or maybe we’d colonize another planet by then.”

“Mankind” is a head melting away from some internal explosion of information and chaos. It almost harkens back to “Caterpillar” and “Fallout”, and depicts our minds as we grapple with life. We see the good in here, we see the bad in here—creativity and progress, spaceships and confetti, and gnashing mouths, barbed-wire fence and melting brain matter. We see the future, and the progress of mankind. We see extinction, and we see lost civilization. And we see us, staring out at the world from a ruined head, wondering what we’re looking at (though we can’t seem to turn our eyes around and gaze at the realities in our heads).

However, try as I might, Lucero’s art isn’t intended to have one, specific meaning. Some of his artwork isn’t intended to have any specific meaning, other than what we see when we look at it.

“People are free to think about whatever they’d like when they look at my art. I hope people can take away more than the usual “I wonder how long this took him!” Not saying that’s a bad thing, but its often what people are left wondering with. I believe there’s so much more in each piece of mine that makes it hard for people not to take away something. Some objects in my work, or entire pieces, might correspond differently to different people and vice versa. I only hope people are left inspired to create something themselves after viewing one of my pieces. Not only that, but to view composition and contrast differently, being able to alter reality through a piece of paper on canvas holds tremendous power.”

“Blue”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2019

This last piece, “Blue”, seems to show everything that makes Lucero’s art his own. It’s an amorphous, tumbling and roiling glob of texture, images, objects, and forms. We see a skull at its epicenter, and Lucero’s somewhat-signature mouths and hands. We see chains and spires and eyes and signs and organs and fluids and tendrils and limbs and stars, and even a fetus near the center, still in the placenta.

And this is the art of Pierre Lucero. It’s wild, it’s chaotic. It’s amorphous and ambiguous. It’s mildly insane, but it also come from much discipline and practice. It comes from hours upon hours, multiplied across days, across months, across years, and the result is a portfolio of incredibly detailed and fascinating images. Do they all have a purpose and meaning? Perhaps not, but they’re all capable of eliciting some deeper, internal response upon seeing them, which makes you wonder, “Where do these ideas come from?”

Pierre Lucero has been included in a number of expos and galleries, so, if you’re in his area, look him up, and try seeing his art in person if there are any shows he’s currently in. If you’d like to buy any stickers, prints, pins, shirts, or original artwork of his, you can find his work here:

www.AbnormalPerspective.com/PeeAirs

If you want to see more of Pierre Lucero’s work, you can find him on Instagram @peeairs. If you’ve enjoyed his work, give his work a like, or leave him a comment letting him know what you think.

Silence Pt. 1

Written by Alexander Greco

May 31, 2019

Three minutes. I told myself to keep my mind silent for three minutes, and then I could stop meditating for the day. Just three minutes of silence. Then, I quieted my mind. I listened to my breathing. I felt my body sitting against the ground beneath me. I listened to the groans of all my subtle aches and pains. I let my emotions drift through my mind, and noticed how anxious and frustrated I was. Then I imagined it all dissolving, and that I was alone with my consciousness.

I was alone. And I was quiet. And I was at peace.

And I remembered deciding to start meditation after the editor-and-chief of our small-time newspaper emailed me. It was something along the lines of, “Angela, I’m sending this as a warning in advance. You’ve done great here for the last few years, but you’re starting to fall apart a little. What’s going on? You’ve had three weeks of poor decision after poor decision. I don’t want to call you in–I don’t want this to become a ‘thing’—but I’ll have to if this keeps up.”

How do you respond to that? How do you deal with that? What do you do after that? I guess you get better, somehow—obviously—but what do you do to get better? I didn’t even know I’d been making “poor decision after poor decision”, no one had told me! And…

And I have to let go of that for right now.

Return to quiet.

Return to peace.

Return to being alone, and imagining myself dissolving.

I imagined that I was sitting with the silence, as a sort of friend and companion. I breathed in all my worries, where they filtered through my lungs like tarry particulates…

Then breathed out all the worries, retaining only peace and goodness…

Then breathed in all the worries…

Then breathed out.

Then breathed in.

Then breathed out.

Then a stray thought entered my mind.

Something trivial—something about a YouTube video I‘d watched the other day.

Well, I guess it was more the memory of the video popping up in my head, not so much the thought of the video. I could hear the two girls in the video talking in my head, then laughing. I think it was about Yoga?

Yoga would be good today—Yoga and meditation. And museli and dates—Ah! What a day that’d be… …but the carbs. Oh, the carbs! What if I slowly gain more and more weight eating more and more carbs? But museli and dates, those have good carbs, right? Fiber and whole grains, and good sugar. Is there such a thing as good sugar? As good carbs?

It doesn’t matter. We’ll think about it later.

Breathe in… my lungs expand with a windy whooshing sound…

Quiet the mind.

Breathe out… with a groaning relief of pressure.

Silence.

Breathe in…

…the worries, the anxieties, the troubles…

…breathe out…

…retaining peace and goodness…

…Breathe in.

Gently bring yourself back to a state of calm and quiet.

Gently.

Quietly.

In.

And out.

In…

Out…

And silence…

My dog. I forgot to feed my dog this morning.

Shit, that’s an important one. I need to do that this morning before for work. I should do that sooner than later, before I forget. I almost started standing up to go feed my dog, but then I remembered, and sat back down. In and out. In and out.

In and out.

I had listened to a podcast once, with the host and his guest talking for almost half an hour on how hard it is to get into meditation. They said for a while it’d be tough, but then you get to some sort of breakthrough, or you notice it getting easier, or you work out your own routine or technique or whatever—something personalized that works just for you. I wonder what’s not working for me? Because I keep getting distracted. I’d been sitting still for seventeen minutes, and I probably couldn’t keep my mind silent for more than thirty seconds. Seventeen minutes after I started meditating, I realized I’d wasted seventeen minutes, gained nothing, and had three minutes left to be “productive”.

I began meditation because I’d been having a slew of issues. I guess the tipping point was work, but really it was everything—it was a life riddled with problems like worms in an overripe apple.  It was not being able to sit still at work. It was not being able to focus while I wrote. It was acting anxiously around co-workers. It was making impulse-buys at the grocery store. It was getting on my phone at all hours of the day. It was—

Dingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingding—Tngk.

It was my wind-up alarm going off. Three minutes was over. That was that.

I sighed… Then… I sort of gave up for the day and stood up.

Before I leave, I’ll grab some food, maybe start listening to a podcast, and—oh! My dog! I still need to feed my dog. I hope he still has food left—he should, I bought some not too long ago (right? Didn’t I?). But I need to go to the grocery store anyway, I was almost out of milk, so I could grab some more then. Ooh, and after work today, maybe I could…

I opened the refrigerator.

The light didn’t come on, no Freon-infused air came out, and there was no sound of internal humming.

After a moment of hesitation, I closed the door. I walked around to the back of the refrigerator, and it was still plugged in. Huh.

I turned and looked at the microwave. There was no time on the microwave. There was no time on the oven either. Something had happened to the power, I suppose, but I wasn’t too worried. I figured I’d go check the breakers downstairs. My cellphone was laying on the kitchen counter, and I grabbed it before I began walking to my basement.

Along the way, I thought I’d check the time, maybe see if I got any Facebook notifications, see if anyone I subscribed to on YouTube posted something neat. But, my phone wouldn’t turn on. Strange. I thought I charged it overnight. It should be radiating with life right now. Maybe it was just turned off?

I held down the power button down. And I held it down. And I held it down. And I stopped at the doors to my basement. My phone wasn’t turning on. My heart dropped, but I consoled myself—I can just…

I can’t charge it. My power is gone. And I can’t go into the basement now, my only flashlight is on my phone.

Dread rolled through my body. I tried to calm myself down, tell myself how silly I was, but it didn’t help. I even felt like I might start panicking. What the fuck do I do now? My car! My car has a USB port. I’ll just turn my car on, plug my phone in, let it charge long enough that I can use the flashlight and check the breakers, then call someone and head to work. I walked back through my house, into my living room, grabbed a USB charging cable, my keys, and walked out the front door to my car.

When I pressed the button to unlock my car, nothing happened. I pressed it again, now coming to next to the car, and nothing happened. I put my key into the door lock and turned it. The door unlocked. I sat down in my car, put the key in the ignition, and turned the key. Nothing. Nothing happened. My heart skipped a beat. I told myself that nothing bad was happening, that this situation would sort of magically fix itself

I turned my key again. The situation wasn’t magically fixed.

I kept turning my key and turning my key, but the car refused to turn on. Finally, I reached down and pulled the little lever to pop the hood, then got out of the car and walked around to look under the hood. I knew next to nothing about cars, but upon first inspection everything seemed fine. I checked the battery terminals, and they seemed to be on pretty tight. I looked around at all the various parts, but I didn’t know what to look for. It seemed fine. That’s the best that I could say.

Dazed and panicking, I closed the hood. I tried not to worry. I tried not to begin stressing. I tried not to freak out and have an anxiety attack. I told myself it was silly to do a thing like that—I’m an adult, a modern adult, and I don’t have anything to worry about—but I couldn’t console myself. Then, from the edge of my peripheral vision, I saw them all. I looked up.

My house is at the very end of a cul-de-sac in a nice, suburban neighborhood. My street—my cul-de-sac—is pretty long. There’s quite a few houses on it, with quite a bit of distance between all of them. From where I live, I can see all the houses on my street without having to turn my head. From where I stood now, I saw people from at least half of the houses standing on their front yards, their driveways, and on the street.

It might be an overstatement to say my jaw dropped, but it was ajar when I regained any sort of self-awareness. The sight of all these people frightened me. From where I was, they all looked as dazed as I was. I almost didn’t want to approach them, as if doing so might be an admission some dark, unknown truth pressing against me at that moment. Terror—actual terror—crept through me. Something was going on, and I didn’t know what—andmy car wouldn’t turn on, and I had no power in my home, and my phone was dead.

Then, a thought occurred to me. Maybe they know what’s going on. Maybe they’ve got it figured it out. Surely they’ll have the answer, and, besides, we’re all adults. We’re all grown-ups here. We can help each other out. We’ll be alright.

Among the people around the cul-de-sac, I saw a small cluster of five people, and I recognized three of them. One of them, a guy named Paul, I knew rather well. Then there was a couple, John and Mary—whom I had talked to a few times—and I recognized the other two people- an older man and middle-aged woman who both lived alone -but I didn’t know their names. I began walking over to them. I was still anxious, but I knew there were other people dealing with all this—other people who probably knew what was going on (whatever was going on).

Paul noticed me when I was about twenty yards away and began waving at me. I waved back, then the rest of the group turned around and looked at me. Their faces told me they shared my worries. When I was within twenty feet of them, Paul called out, “Do you know what’s going on?”

I slowed for a moment and almost stopped, then picked the pace up again to reach them. I shook my head as I approached, then stopped about six feet away from their small knot. “No,” I said, “I was hoping you all might know about… Whatever… Whatever seems to be happening.”

We all looked at each other for a few seconds, and, in the silence of that moment, everything felt incredibly real and deceitfully fake at the same time. I broke the silence, trying to get on the same page as everyone. “Is the power out at all of your houses?”

They all nodded.

“What about your cars?”

They nodded again.

“And your phones?”

Reluctantly, almost painfully—almost tragically—they all nodded.

Wheels in my head began to spin. “So, none of you know what’s going on at all?”

They all shook their heads.

“None you can go anywhere unless you go on foot?”

They shook their heads. “Or bike,” Paul added.

“And you can’t get in contact… With anyone?”

Once again, they shook their heads.

Panic began to creep into my nerves again. I felt cold and hot, and confused, and angry and scared, and lost—like I didn’t know where I was anymore. “What… What the fuck?” I said, “Why? Wha… What’s… What the hell?”

Reality seemed to fall out from beneath me. How could these other adults not know what was going on? We were all well-educated grown-ups living in a nice, suburban neighborhood—how could we not know what was going on?”

Paul spoke up, “We were talking about walking into the city, seeing if we could find some cops or something. Do you want to come with us?”

“I have to go to work,” I said.

“How?” asked Paul.

I hadn’t thought about this. I panicked even more, thinking that I might miss work. “I don’t know,” I said.

“So, come with us,” said Paul, gently and cheerfully. I think he could tell I was stressing out. I think they could all tell.

“But, I mean… I have to go to work.”

“I think they’ll understand­,” said John, “especially if this is happening in the rest of the city.”

“Come with us,” Paul spoke with a smile. “We’ll figure this out.”

I thought for a moment, then slowly nodded.

“Yea,” I said, “sure.”

We talked for a little while—talked about where we might go, how we’ll get there, who we might see, what might be going on—and then eventually set out for the city. This was good. We were all adults, working together. We had a plan; we were going somewhere with the purpose of… Of figuring out what was going on and finding… Finding someone, anyone, who might know how to fix any of this… So that… So that I could go to work, then go home, then watch YouTube videos about Yoga, then set the alarm on my phone for 5 AM, and then go to sleep We were good.

A Collection of Essays by Tara East

Written by Tara East

Re-Published May 27, 2019

A World Worth Writing For

Unfortunately, writers’ guilt is all too common. When we are working on a project, we feel guilty that we aren’t doing something more practical or useful – even if that task is nothing more than basic domestic chores. Ironically, as soon as we leave our desk to carry out said useful task, we feel guilty for abandoning our project. “I should be writing!” is the familiar, tedious mantra that plays in every writer’s mind.

Lately, though, I’ve been struck by the other type of guilt creatives suffer from. Perhaps you are familiar with it? The “Is my art doing anything?” guilt.

Part of me believes in art for art’s sake. With so much ugliness and helplessness in the world, I believe there is a place for aesthetically pleasing art. What harm can come from admiring something that is beautiful? What’s wrong with reading fun, frivolous fiction and indulging in the escapism it offers? Then there is the other part of me. The part of me that scorns this irresponsible reader. This placid person who chooses to read the latest bestseller while soaking in a tub of Epson salt as the world burns outside their window.

A vision that spurs the question: how can reading and writing contribute to solutions?

The “civilized” world has never been perfect. For better or for worse, technology’s omnipresence means we can no longer remain ignorant of our imperfection. In the face of these serious and urgent global issues, how can writers contribute to the crafting of solutions? Do their storytelling and communication skills offer anything of value?

Some argue that the publication of books reflecting current global issues is vital. Of course, these people tend to be authors. Ann Patchett (author) recently stated that she has moved away from reading classic literature in favour of contemporary texts. She believes that the accountability and challenging themes presented in recent works have once again made reading a political act.

To contradict Patchett’s point, I recently started reading Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ and I have been shocked by the timeliness of the commentary. Many of Esther’s existential concerns remain relevant today.

“I felt now that all the uncomfortable suspicions I had about myself were coming true, and I couldn’t hide the truth much longer.” (31)

“A million years of evolution […] and what are we? Animals?” (87)

This modern classic was published in 1971. A fact that saddens me slightly, as it illustrated how little we have evolved in the last 47 years. As an aside, I bought my copy of ‘The Bell Jar’ from a second-hand bookstore. The previous owner had unlined the above passages (and others) in pencil.

I wondered why someone who loved a book enough to read it with a pencil in hand would ever part with said book. This question was immediately followed by the thought, “Maybe they died?” Given the sombre tenor of these passages/the whole book, and the former reader’s obvious identification with them, I hope their ending was happier than Esther/Sylvia’s … That being said, I was constantly impressed by Plath’s ability to clearly articulate what depression felt like. I’ve never experienced depression (though the evening news does test me…) but Plath’s considered descriptions of Esther’s mental state bridged that divide. I got it.

If nothing else, this is what writers can do. They can communicate ideas. They can shape messy and complex emotions into tidy sentences. They can shatter binaries and expose hidden nuance. They can repackage complex problems into comprehensible forms. But. Is this the only irrefutable claim that writers can make? That they can present readers with information?

As the saying goes, if information was the solution, we’d all be happy millionaires with ripped abs.

You can write about the issues that trouble you, but you can’t make people read your work and you definitely can’t make them do something. While the publication of cli-fi and other challenging literary works are appearing more and more, the market isn’t exactly flooded. (No pun intended).

In a recent episode of The Garrett Podcast, Jennifer Mills, author and literary editor of Overland said that while the magazine has been successful in the publishing of marginal voices, few submissions address our present-day issues like the Anthropocene (humans impact on non-humans). Instead, most of the submissions received are concerned with relationship dynamics.

Is this because readers want escapism or because writers do?

Mills, who has published her own Anthropogenic work, Dyschronia, says that she intentionally constructed a plot that offered little in the way of solutions or action because that is what she sees in society: passivity. An observation that is no doubt reinforced by the submissions she vets.

Information is key. Without it, people may not understand the depth of a problem or how to fix it. Historically, the publication of good writing has played a vital role in the mobilizing of populations and the igniting of revolutions. Within our current culture, the problem is not a lack of information but our passivity and denial in the face of it.

Perhaps this is where our writerly self-consciousness stems from. Words are the tools wielded by skillful writers, but are we simply hiding behind our profession? Perhaps we should accept the fact that the gap between information and action is too wide? That our culture is passive. That a challenging book is likely to achieve little more than a 3.5 star rating on Good Reads. That it is time to close our laptops, start a biodynamic farm, become vegan and trade our cars for bicycles…I’m not being facetious; sincerity rests in this hyperbole.

It is true that the grandiosity of the world’s problems is overwhelming, but none of these issues occurred in isolation. We are all driving cars, drinking takeaway coffees, shutting our mouths instead of speaking up, lying to our kids about where the steak on their plate came from and buying caged eggs because they’re a dollar cheaper.

We need to do better. We need to do something.

Writers can offer solutions in their weekly columns and fiction. They can encourage readers to re-evaluate their opinions and behaviours by holding up a mirror. While a single blog post cannot change the world, our combined voices do have the power to shift culture.

Together, we can aspire to create a new culture. A culture that carries re-useable cups, that walks to work and eats ethical, sustainable food. A culture that votes. A culture that allows minorities to have space without slipping into fear that they are ‘taking over.’ A culture that questions why education hasn’t changed in 150 years. A culture that swivels its gaze away from the individual to focus on the collective. A world that is less about stuff and more about substance.

That, my friends, is a world worth writing for.

How to Produce Art when the World is Falling apart

Sir Philip Sidney stated that poetry was “the first light-giver to ignorance, and first nurse, whose milk little by little enabled them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges.” Ezra Pound believed that “The arts, literature, posesy are a science, just as chemistry is a science. Their subject is man, mankind, and the individual.” And yet, still, sometimes, we struggle to justify our creative practice.

If you’re in the middle of a personal crisis, it’s unlikely that you will have the energy or the mental bandwidth to produce art.

If you stop to consider big problems like climate change, terrorism, refugees, our shrinking job marketing, rising house prices, the privatization of health care and a multitude of other issues, sitting down to work on a short story or novel can seem self-indulgent and pointless.

What good is a novel when the world is falling apart?

It’s important to acknowledge these feelings of inadequacy because simply ignoring them won’t do anyone any favours. However, it’s equally important that artists continue to produce work despite this feeling of inadequacy. Art itself may not be able to solve our complex, incomprehensible social, economic, political and educational problems, but artists must continue to use their skills and ability because we need art, even if the world is falling apart.

At their most basic, novels provide a space for escapism and entertainment. At their best, a novel can inspire us into action by forcing us to confront our own behaviours and beliefs. We may ask ourselves why we do the things that we do, whether our behaviour is contributing to the solution or to the problem, and how can we change for the better both individually and as a society.

Stories don’t have to change the world. If you want to write stories for the sole purpose of escapism, both for yourself and your reader, then that is an honourable use of time. We need a little escapism. We need books that we can read at the end of a long day; books that offer comfort instead of further confrontation. It’s okay to read funny books or adventure stories or mysteries. Not only is it nice to escape into a different world with different people and different problems, it is also nice to see those problems get solved.

Here’s the thing though, even nice books have value beyond mere entertainment. Whether consciously constructed or not, narratives contain the observations and reflections of their author. They are stories about people living with other people. They contain insight and knowledge about human behviour, our relationships with ourselves and others, our desires, strengths, and weaknesses. A novel is a response to the experiences an author has had and the observations they have made. They contain magic, and though this magic is unlikely to reverse climate change, novels can still teach us something about ourselves and the world we live in.

Novels have purpose.

A well-crafted and thoughtful novel that asks hard questions may not alter the general public opinion, but it can cause a shift within a reader. You may choose to write a dystopian novel based on scientific fact about where we’re heading environmentally, or you may write a speculative fiction novel about what the world would look like if women became infertile (The Handmaids Tale – Margarett Attwood), or if we intentionally used clones as a means for organ harvesting (Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro). Stories such as these act as a type of role play. They allow us to ponder and explore potential future spaces. If we continue to remain passive about particular issues, what will happen? Additionally, they provide a container for our personal and social fears. Not only is the writer able to unburden themselves, but it also allows the reader to experience their innermost fears while remaining within the safe, imaginary confines of a story.

The world may have a lot of problems, but when has it not.

If you’re still struggling to justify your need to create art, perhaps my final point will convince you. When we look back on the type of art that was produced at any given moment in history, we can see the prominent concerns of that time through the themes, structures, and styles that are repeated across different works by different artists. We need to write stories that capture this moment in time. That explore our societal concerns. That showcase our collective psyche. Artists need to make their contribution to the historical record because we have skills that scientists and politicians don’t have. We can take incompressible problems and present them in a consumable format that will make you feel something, and that is a very special skill indeed.

Why Writers are so Obsessed with Process

Whenever two or more writers find themselves in a room together, there are a handful of topics that inevitably bubble to the surface: money, publishing, current projects, favourite authors, latest reads, and most importantly, process.

If you are new to creative writing and developing your craft, an interest in other writers’ habits is understandable. We’ve all been a beginner at some point in our lives and we all know that the best way to develop our own skills is to learn off someone who can do the thing that we want to do. Of course, it’s also advisable that you actually practice the craft you intend to become good at.

If you want to learn the piano, you go to a piano teacher. If you want to learn another language, you take classes or buy an audiobook. Whenever a known author is interviewed, questions regarding their process inevitably arise. You could say that ‘Tell us about your writing routine’ is the literary equivalent of talking about the weather, but this frivolous question serves as more than a mere icebreaker because within this small request lies a myriad of even smaller questions:

  • Do you write in the morning or at night?
  • Do you write longhand or use a computer?
  • Are you a pantser or a plotter?
  • Where do you prefer to write?
  • Do you aim for a specific word count, page count or a set number of hours each day/week/month?
  • Do you research before, during or after the first draft?

Writers have a lot of questions when it comes to process, but this fascination is not limited to newbies.

Two years ago, Charlotte Wood, a successful and established author herself, released her book The Writer’s Room. Here, Wood has curated a myriad of insightful interviews between herself and some of Australia’s best-known authors. Though the content of each conversation varies, Wood always encourages her interviewee to talk about their writing process. Though some authors respond to such probing questions vaguely (perhaps because their process is loose or frequently changing), others describe their rigid or elaborate routines in fine detail.

These conversations were initially only available online. However, the interviews were so popular that the publication of a print edition became viable, which proves just how hungry writers are for this conversation. We don’t want to read these insightful interviews on our laptops and forget about them, we want a physical copy that we can highlight, dog-ear, and return to again and again whenever we need a touch of guidance or inspiration. Writers not only love talking about process, they love reading about it too.

Despite the almost cliché nature of the topic, writers continue to ask each other questions about process. Fortunately, we’re also happy to answer them. Sometimes these answers are dull and predictable, but sometimes they are surprising, ingenious, and entertaining. By exposing ourselves to other writer’s approaches, we may gain insight into our own creative routine or learn new techniques that can be adopted into our own practice.

Our continuing obsession with creative practice is driven by our need to understand how writing works. We’re all looking for a way to articulate what can sometimes feel like a very mysterious and fickle practice. All artists struggle to explain how they transformed an idea into a creative artefact. This discussion of process helps give shape to what can otherwise be perceived as an almost mystical unfolding.

That being said, the question of process also contains a subtle and self-conscious subtext: “Is your process better than mine? If I adopt your habits, will I become a better writer?” Deep down, we all hold the same subconscious belief: there is a secret to writing, we just need to find it.

However, discovering this secret is impossible as every author has a different answer. Lee Child writes his Jack Reacher novels without an outline and without revision (jerk). Stephen King is a panster too, but he typically produces three drafts of each novel and prefers to write at home. J.K. Rowling using outlines and writes where and whenever she can.

In terms of hours clocked, Maile Meloy, Kate Morton and Steven Pressfield stick with two to four hours a day (typically in the morning). Others like Chuck Wendig, Dani Shapiro, and Margaret Atwood keep standard working hours, starting at nine in the morning and finishing at five in the afternoon.

Despite advances in technology, we are still weighing the pros/cons of longhand vs typing. Jackie Collins writes all her books by hand, as does Quentin Tarantino; two names I never thought I’d see in the same sentence! Joe Hill writes his first draft by hand, but then edits the work while typing the second draft, and J.K. Rowling has experimented with both longhand and typing.

Every writer’s process is different, and yet we keep asking the same question. We keep searching for some kind of hack in the hope that there is a hack. We want to hear a clever sound bite that promises an easier way to get inside our own story. One simple tool or word of advice that will guarantee our success.

No one wants to hear, “just write.” No one wants to hear, “if you do the work, the work gets done.” No one wants to hear, “finish writing the novel, edit it, email it out and maybe you’ll get published.”

When asked about her own process, Elizabeth Strout recounted a conversation with her neighbour who had just finished painting his apartment. When she’d finished gushing over this domestic accomplishment and complimenting him on the tremendous achievement of painting an entire apartment by himself, he replied: “There’s no magic to it.”

The same can be said of writing: there is no magic, you just do it.

Wonderland

Written by Alexander Greco

May 24, 2019

I was new to this. It was my cousin who got me started. I told her I needed money, and couldn’t find a job. Instead of giving me any of her money, she taught me how to “fish”. She taught me how to pick up clients—how to present myself, how to tell which guys were likely to be clean, and which guys wouldn’t beat on me. She let me borrow her, um, toys and, well, practice—which is good, because I wasn’t very… practiced.

I was afraid of all the men at first—afraid of what they might do to me, of how this could go wrong, afraid of who they might all be—but none of them were ever mean, or abusive, or malicious in any way. I suppose I was still always afraid of the men, but they were mostly blue-collar workers who couldn’t find a girl who wanted them back, or white-collar men who had wives and children they didn’t want to think about for a night. They were almost all balding and quiet, and unsure and fidgety, and nervous and quick. I was only so afraid of them for so long.

Well, anyway, after almost a year of doing this, I met this Man at a bar. I dropped a few hints, just how my cousin taught me, and I had him hooked quick. I was surprised. He was handsome, and looked well-to-do—not the kind of guy I’d expect to, you know, be with girls like me.

So, we went to his hotel room. I sat down on this Man’s bed. He gave me a glass of water to drink, and said he needed to use the bathroom. I nodded and thanked him for the water. While he was gone sipped at it pretty conservatively. I was a bit nervous, and really only drank it to be polite. However, after ten or twenty minutes of him being gone, I’d finished the glass

I looked around the hotel room looking for anything to distract my nerves while I waited for the Man. My eyes fell on two bottles sitting on a table next to the bed. One had a red label, the other had a blue label. I picked the red one up, but couldn’t recognize the name—or even pronounce it. The other one, the blue one, was some sort of Benzo—I had known guys who liked them, and a few who had tried to give me some.

I set the blue bottle down just as the Man came out of the bathroom. He walked toward me, and gestured to the bed. I sat down. He sat down next to me and pulled a small, plastic bag from his pocket. I recognized it—Cocaine.

The man pushed the two bottles aside, and laid the bag on the table. “Come here,” he said, excitedly.

“No, thank you,” I replied.

“Come on,” he said, opening the bag, “you ever done it before? You’ll love it.”

I hadn’t done it before, and I didn’t really want to try it. His tone was still cheerful, and I hoped he would stay agreeable with me if I refused. “Please,” I said, “I’d really rather—“

The Man whipped around to look at me. “I said, come here.” The cheerfulness was gone. His eyes were cold. He didn’t care about me at all. He was just here for fun. So, that’s what I’d have to give him.

For a moment, I hesitated, not knowing what to do. Then, I got up and knelt down beside the table. The Man had poured some of the powder onto the table, then pulled a dollar bill from his pocket, and rolled it into a small tube. With his finger, the Man made a small line of powder. He leaned forward, put the tube into one of his nostrils, put a finger over the other, then inhaled the powder into his nose with the dollar bill.

“Ooh, damn,” he said, leaning back, “oh, shit. Here, try some.”

The Man handed me the dollar bill, which I took. Then the Man sectioned off another line of powder for me. As he did this, I noticed my body feeling strange. Something felt… changed. But then the Man was done. “Come on,” he said.

I figured the strange feeling was just my nerves, so I leaned forward, put the end of the dollar tube up to the powder, just as the Man had done, and inhaled. I sniffed only a small amount of the powder, but the sensation took me so off guard that I pulled away instantly. I sneezed, blinked, and shook my head. The Man laughed. I didn’t like his laugh.

“Come on, girly, finish it up,” he said.

I complied, hesitantly. I leaned forward, and inhaled the powder as quickly as I could. Same as last time, I pulled away as soon as I was finished. I felt buzzed almost immediately. Everything was a little lighter. I was happier, my nervousness was gone. I felt wide awake, happy to be here, and energetic, like I had just drank a few cups of coffee. The Man was laughing again. This time, I did like the sound of his laugh.

“There you go, good girl,” he said.

I smiled when he said that. I don’t know why, but I liked it.

“A little more,” he said, dividing some more with his finger, “before we get the show started.”

While he was sectioning off his little portion, I noticed the strange sensation again. It wasn’t nerves, I knew that now, I didn’t feel nervous at all. I liked the feeling—though, I liked everything at that point. It was just that… Well, something was different. I don’t know—I don’t know how else to describe it. Something was different about everything, but there was only a slight change 

The man finished his line, and had already divided one for me. He handed me the bill, and I was far less hesitant this time. “There you go,” the Man said, “chase the rabbit.”

I did what he said. I reacted almost the same—it was disorienting inhaling the powder, and it didn’t feel right going in my nose—but now I was growing far more energetic. Hyper, I was hyper. And happy. I don’t know if I had ever felt happier. I felt almost like a child.

At this point, the strange feeling I had noticed before seemed to lurch forward from the corners of my perception, and began filling my body. First, it was some sort of euphoria—like the feeling you get when you’re outside, on a hill or in the woods, and a cool breeze blows by. You forget for a moment where you are, what your worries were, and something about this breeze is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever known.

I turned and looked at the Man, and he seemed to far away. I knew he was looking at me, and I could feel his hands on my body. They were herds of sensations, like herds of antelope or bison, running across my body—if my body was a field, or a savannah in Africa. He smiled at me, and my thoughts laid down in a field—I could feel grass, bushes and flowers at the back of my thoughts. I smiled back at the Man, and something indescribable flowed through me.

When I smiled, it was like the moon had been melted into a cup of glowing fluid, and poured into my veins. I thought the sun started setting in the room, or at least that it was twilight. I don’t know why. It might have been the light, or the colors. But it also felt like summer. It was warm in here, I could feel everything in my body without thinking of it, it was just there. But that’s not why it felt like summer. It was out of school and down the road. It was somewhere we were laughing.

The Man was kissing me, I realized. I thought our mouths felt like whales swimming in the deepest oceans, except it was Summertime still, even in out oceans. But I had never felt whales before, how would I know? I was moving—a sky full of stars proceeding across a hundred years of nights. Then I think my dress came off my body.

The breeze passed and calmed down. The flowers went away for a moment. The warmth was uncomfortable now, clammy and humid. I looked down, and the man’s hands were beneath my bra, groping my chest. He was on his back, I was straddling him. What was I doing? I looked down at his hands, and it all looked wrong.

Something soured, and whatever music I had been listening to before went cold and sharp. The air clouded with violent fluids, racing through my thoughts. I looked at the man’s half-undressed body. He was some sort of animal, I thought. And I didn’t know him. I didn’t know this person at all. Why was he doing this to me? There was nothing human in how he touched me, nothing but an animal in his eyes.

He shifted his body, and I realized he was already inside of me. I hadn’t felt him enter me. I didn’t know. But there he was, to the hilt.

The Man smiled again. It was all wrong. His smile was too wide. His teeth weren’t human. His eyes opened up like sinkholes at the same time they shrunk into black pebbles. He laughed, and the air cracked like splintering wood as a house fell around us. “Having fun?” he asked.

Fun. He wanted me to have fun. He wanted me to enjoy this.

The Man has his way with me. He gives me money, and he leaves. I buy my food—or else I starve—and then I come back to the Man for more. He has the money: he has me. And I’m supposed to enjoy it. I’m supposed to love it. I’m supposed to let him smile at me and let his stranger’s hands crawl across me like herds of cattle and swine, and I’m supposed to smile back.

Was that what he wanted?

His smile grew wider, and his face distorted. His eyes sunk into dark pits, and his grin threatened to consume me. His smile wanted to eat me, eat my skin, eat my thoughts, eat my name.

I pushed myself off of him, and jumped off the bed.

He sat up in bed and stared at me. He said something frustrated, but the words danced into shapes I couldn’t read.

I backed away from the bed, and looked around for my clothes, but nothing was familiar anymore. It was all the same—it was all right there—but it was all something different too.

The Man was trying to calm me down, but I doubt he really cared. Two other men stepped out from the bathroom and started walking towards me. It didn’t understand it—had they come from Nowhere? I saw one of them step next to the bed and grab the blue bottle. Some gear far inside my mind clicked into sense. I didn’t hesitate. I turned around, opened the door of our room, and burst out onto the walkway outside.

I was only wearing a bra, but that didn’t matter. I heard footsteps coming after me. We were on the second floor of the motel. In front of me there was a metal rail, then a wooden fence down below. Beyond that, trees and bushes. There was only one way forward that I could see.

The men were coming to the door, I had a couple seconds at most. I leaned onto the rail, put my feet on top of it, and kicked forward with my legs.

The men were yelling somewhere behind me, but I didn’t understand or care. My torso cleared the top of the fence, but my legs didn’t. My shins slammed on the top of the wooden boards, I tumbled forward into the branches, and crashed through a bush to the ground. My body hurt all over, but it wasn’t a normal hurt. It was a storm of sensation—lightning crashed all over my body, and a dull thundering throbbed through my body.

I got up off the ground, and something told me to run, so I began tearing blindly through the trees and the brush. My body was wracked with pain­—my shins screamed at me with each footfall—but I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t even be bothered to care that it hurt.

An animal—a dog maybe, or bear, or an ape; something big and heavy and warm—was sitting in the back of my thoughts. It was making some sort of noise at me. It was barking, grunting, or roaring at me, but it was silent at the same time. From its mouth came branches of a tree, covered in vines and lichen and moss, and from each branch, small twigs like arms with searching hands.

It was the thing in my head telling me to run. I trusted it, so I ran. As I ran, I could hear it whispering things to me. I trusted it, so I listened. As I listened, I could feel its warmth spreading through my body, soothing me. I trusted it, so I embraced a rushing sort of calm.

These trees I ran through were no more than a small patch of woods—maybe a half mile deep—that emptied out behind a few square miles of suburban maze. I could hear the men far behind me as I approached the other side of these trees. In the corner of my eye I could see the rapid bobbing and swaying of their flashlights through the trees.

Though it was night, I thought I could see everything clear as day. No, seeing wasn’t the right word. I just sort of knew, like my eyes were telling my arms and legs secrets, even if I couldn’t see what the secrets were. I knew where everything was, or maybe everything put itself where I knew it should be, and I didn’t trip on anything or run into a single tree or bush.

Once I made it to the edge of the trees, the men’s flashlights had closed half the distance to me. There was an open field that stretched two or three blocks to my left and right, and across the field were homes. I turned left, and ran across the edge of the field, just along the tree line. I kept looking behind me in my peripherals, and as soon as I saw the flashlights emerging near the edge of the trees, I came to a stop, and stepped back into the darkness of the trees.

Two men emerged from the tree line, with two flashlights. Together, they formed some sort of monster with wild, disembodied eyes that illuminated the ground around them. They split apart, and the one monster became two. They each turned their own direction down the field and began walking—one down the right side, and one toward the left side, toward me.

I watched the man coming in my direction. As I did, the whole air seemed to hum—quiet at first, then louder and louder. The night sky above all the houses seemed to shimmer, like the air was made of indigo spider’s silk that a million painters brushed over the suburbs. From my peripherals, I saw movement all around me. Green trails of trembling sensation—sensation I could see in front of me—snaked through the air and through the trees, and small marbles of red and yellow thought rolled through the air and down the trees. However, I didn’t turn to look at these. I kept my eyes fixed on the Man.

The air around him shimmered with a blue color. Then it got darker, and turned into a violet. The violet closed in on the Man. The violet charred and congealed onto the man’s body like a new skin. This violet light turned into an oily black suit, encompassing the Man’s body. A new body grew from his back, with hind legs so he could pad along on all fours.

The Man was something new now, an oily, black creature with a single, shining white eye, which beamed light from the end of a bent and craning neck. Its skin bubbled and churned like boiling tar. Its limbs swung like frantic cat’s legs across a roaming pocket of void.

Where it walked, the ground moved to avoid being trodden on by the one-eyed creature. The brushstroke skies seemed to lift themselves up where the thing passed, and the grass and dirt disappeared around its feet. In this way, the creature walked across Nothing, and its pitch body could only be seen against the suburban houses, because Heaven and Earth refused to touch it.

Soon, it came by me. It was never closer than thirty feet, even when it was right in front of me. A ringing noise came from the thing’s body, and at the same time I felt invisible hands clawing at my thoughts. They all came from the thing, I knew that, as if I knew it in a dream, and they were the ringing noise—though it didn’t make sense, I knew it to be true.

As if in defiance, I felt the branches of all the trees around me crowd into the back of my head. I heard them whispering things—though they were not whispers in a language as we knew it. They spoke in words made of shapes—edges, bodies, and curves—intonated with shifting angles, and articulated with spiraling geometries. These branches were crowding my thoughts—a whole tree, perhaps, was inside of my head.

The branches pushed away all of the creature’s hands, and cleared my head from all its ringing. The creature kept walking, never noticing me, and went further and further down the field. For a moment, it was just the tree and I. It was still speaking to me, and now I thought it was speaking in colors, colors that vibrated and climbed through your head like ladybugs and crickets climbed through leaves and twigs.

For a moment, something much larger than both I or the tree seemed to fill my body. It sort of came from the tree, but it was more than the tree at the same time. They were hundreds and thousands of glowing worms, or snakes, or roots—it was an entire forest of them, an entire glowing forest—but they all formed one cohesive feeling, one cohesive body.

Then, the tree retreated from my thoughts. It slowly climbed out through the back of my head, back into some wilderness, and I was left alone at the edge of the trees. I looked to my left and to my right, but I didn’t see either of the men. I looked around at all of the houses. A few had clotheslines in their back yards. I thought I could see a white dress in one of the nearer ones. I looked around once more, to make sure I didn’t see the men anywhere, then I sprinted across the field to the backyard of this house.

The men didn’t come out of hiding from anywhere, and I don’t think anyone saw me. I stepped up to the clothesline, and saw that there was indeed a white dress hanging outside. I grabbed it, and pulled it over my head and down my body.

When I’d finished, I looked around the yard to make sure I was alone. Then I walked carefully between the house I had stolen the dress from, and the house right next to it. On the other side of the two houses, I checked to see if the streets were clear. They seemed to be. I stepped carefully out between the two houses, through their yard, onto a sidewalk, and across the street.

I knew there were some more woods on the other side of this suburban area—much larger than the small strip I had passed through. I could take a shortcut through those woods that would take me only a few blocks from my house (I knew my way around, having been invited to several of these houses on nights when mothers and children had gone out of town).

After I crossed the street, and stepped onto the sidewalk of the next block, an odd sort of calm came over me. Everything in my head was quiet, except for this cool stream of—I don’t know—existence? Being? A small, clear pool of living, and that was all I could hear. Around me, the incandescence of the streetlamps and the colors of the night sky seemed to form this landscape of light around me.

Black and white contrasted in dancing tableaus. Reds and yellows blended in rivers running across the road, up the trees, and across lawns. Then, like a lord of these colors, the indigo sky descended upon them with rich blues, violets, grays, and blacks. From the windows of some houses, I saw lamps inside their windows, and these lamps were like small angels beaming out white-gold, electric ecstasy in every direction through the night.

It was like this for quite some time—though I couldn’t tell you how long quite some time lasted. A few blocks down, I could hear a small storm of chirping. Then, further down, I saw a tree that had grown up alongside a streetlamp, so that the light of the street lamp cascaded through the branches of the tree. In this tree, and a smaller one next to it, there had to have been at least a couple hundred small birds, if not more. I was close to the woods now, and, though I didn’t know where the two men were, I felt safe here, so I decided to stop.

They were all chirping together. There was no real rhythm to it, no pattern I could extract, but something about it fascinated me. I walked up to the tree, and stared at them. It was beautiful­—the light piercing through the branches, and the birds flapping energetically in the dark—but it was the sound that entranced me. The bird’s chirping consumed me—it was all I could think. It was all I could feel, and all I knew. The sounds churned in my head, and something rose out of it.

On the edge of my thoughts, I swore I could understand what they were saying. There was something meaningful about the noises they made. They were all talking to each other. Maybe not how humans talk to each other, but talking to each other nonetheless. Some melody, some song, some harmony they were forming in unison that spoke back to them all—the voice of the flock speaking back to each bird, as each bird joined in articulating the voice of the flock. What were they saying?

Something broke my train of thought. Out of some instinct rather than logical thought, I turned and looked down the street to my right. There, I saw not two but three men. My lover had reunited with them.

As we saw that we saw each other, they broke into a run after me. I turned and began running as well. I was only a couple blocks from the woods, and the men were still almost an entire block behind me—if I could just make it to the forest and to my apartment, I would be safe.

Tonight, I felt as though I could run faster than I had ever run before. My body didn’t get tired, or maybe it didn’t care. I was scared, I suppose, but I felt this fire inside of me as well—something brave and fearless, naked and free. I soared across one block, and the men had hardly made any ground on me. I soared across the next one, and then ran through someone’s yard, past the other side of their house and out into the woods.

How beautiful it was—like a wall of living truth and growth. The darkness between the trees reached out to greet me, and I fell into its grasp. I couldn’t tell you if I ran or not—I seemed to soar more than anything. My body and my thoughts fell into a kaleidoscope of branches and leaves, of colors reaching out from the night, and music playing in the darkness.

The cool breeze I had felt came back, and it lifted me like air beneath a bird’s wings. The whispering of the tree came back, except now it exploded like a symphony of music from my chest. I leapt over roots and rocks, and felt the ground carry me like a parent carrying a child.

Something went wrong, however. I couldn’t quite understand what had gone wrong until I crashed into the ground. I must have tripped over something, I suppose, but nonetheless I had fallen, and fallen hard. I couldn’t breathe—the wind must have been knocked out of me. I crawled up to a nearby tree, and leaned against it. There, I waited for my breath to come back. My right ankle hurt horribly, I don’t know what happened to it.

After a short while of panic and pain, I could breath again. At first, I gasped in air, but then it slowed, then slowed, and slowed some more until I was calm again. My ankle was wracked with pain, and it felt wrong.

I sat up, and tried putting my weight on my feet, but my ankle hurt too badly. I collapsed to the ground, panting and terrified at first, but then I calmed down. Something in me accepted it all. Something in me understood it all. Something in me saw it all.

When the men finally found me, the song in my chest had started playing again. I looked at the men, and the song told me who they were. It told me about the lights they held in their hand. It told me about the guns at their sides. It told me who I was, and it told me why that was okay. I could only halfway hear the men, because I only halfway cared about them. “…we don’t have to… …right away, do we?”

“No, no. I… …she’s contained… …won’t be mad if we take our time.”

I was a deer in the jaws of Man. I was a doe being masticated by a crop thresher. I was a prey animal in the salivating mouth of a machine.

I heard a belt buckles clatter, and a new reality descended upon me like a pack of wolves.

And I didn’t care.

I don’t know what they had done to me, I don’t know what they are doing to me, I don’t know what they have yet to do to me, but my song was playing in the wind in the trees in my head. Whatever has happened, whatever is happening, whatever will happen, I became what is becoming what will become fearless. I am that has, I am that is, I am that will, and I am another tooth in the mouth that eats me.

What Do We Know (2.0)

By Alexander Greco

April 22, 2019

What is real? What’s just fantasy?

What is fact? What’s just theory?

What is true? What’s just fabrication?

What do we know about the world we live in, the people we live with, and the person we are?

Light comes in through the cornea, and is refracted into your pupil, then through a hard lens, where the light is focused into the retina. Our retinas capture this constant bombardment of trillions of light-waves/particles, and process this light with millions of special nerves called rods and cones. These rods and cones convert light stimuli, which are picked up by the optic nerve, and sent to the brain.

Your brain processes the optic signals with the limbic system first, where our brain scans for threats or rewarding opportunities. The limbic system first “communicates” with the Automatic Nervous System, which governs our fear response, our fight-or-flight instinct, and our sexual attraction instincts. If there’s an immediate threat, such as a snake on the ground, or a potentially rewarding opportunity, such as a person you find attractive, your brain and body begin responding before you know what you’re looking at.

Finally, the processed light-signals are sent to our neo-cortex, where we consciously “see” the light.

Similarly-complex sensory systems detect what we smell, what we hear, what we feel and what we taste, and this is the foundation of how we understand the world around us.

These senses alone are nowhere near what you need to actually understand what’s happening around us. Humans have an incredibly weak sense of smell, we can only detect a narrow range of light waves, our easily-damaged ears can only hear a certain range of sound, and we only see so far, or so close, with limited clarity. The parts of our brain that process these signals can misfire, or misunderstand what it’s looking at (optical illusions).

In addition, our senses alone don’t tell us how a thing works.

We only began to understand gravity in 1687 with Newton, then with Einstein in the 20th century, and we still don’t fully understand how it works.

In fact, we don’t understand how most of the universe works.

27% of the universe is made of Dark Matter, which constitutes 85% of the total mass in the universe. 68% is Dark Energy.[1] That’s 95% of the universe that we don’t understand. All the stars, planets, black holes, comets, asteroids and space debris make up only 5% of the universe.

But let’s go smaller.

The universe is much so much bigger than what we experience normally, we at least know what’s happening on Earth.

Do we?

As a species, we’ve all but mastered mechanical, electrical, optical, thermodynamic and nuclear physics… To a degree.

We now know vast amounts about of biology, evolution and genetics… Relatively speaking.

We have a deep and accurate understanding of psychology… In some ways.

And we’re more informed about the world around us than ever before…

Except we’ve learned enough to see how little we actually know.

We now know enough about quantum mechanics to know that the subatomic world is bizarre and nonsensical, and often violates “laws” of nature, such as the Law of Conservation.[2]

Not only does it violate the Law of Conservation, but quantum mechanics is incompatible with Einstein’s Relativity, and has led to decades of scientists trying to reconcile the two.[3] Decades later, we still haven’t reconciled the two.

Do we at least understand how people work? Why we are the way we are? Why we act the way we act? How we’ve come to be who we are?

Well… Yes and no…

To a certain degree, we understand how humans work. We understand what our bodies are made of, how our muscles, bones, cardiovascular system and so forth work, and how our nervous system works.

We understand that genetics and the environment affect our physical and psychological development.

We understand that genetics, our brain, past experiences, learned behaviors, hormones, psychological states, emotional health, and physical health all play roles in our behaviors and decisions.

We understand how evolution has shaped and changed us over billions of years into modern humans, and how epigenetic adaptations on the individual level.

We have a pretty solid, foundational understanding of how the human body works, but this foundational understanding has shown us the vast amounts of our genetics, biology, physiology, and psychology that we don’t know.

Let’s take something as simple as hair. We have hair follicles in our skin. They grow using nutrients from our body, and they grow according to chemical signals from our nerves.

However, everything is also controlled by our genes. Everything from the follicles, to the structure of each hair, to how fast each hair grows, is coded by genes. And, there can be multiple genes that code for the same thing. You can have multiple genes controlling the color, length and coarseness of your hair, or one gene that codes for several different traits. These genes can be turned on or off, they can perform different functions based on the hormones in your body, and they can also code other genes.

However, genes are only one part of the equation, and things like your diet or how often you exercise can affect individual traits. Everything in the body is interconnected, and it’s highly

We’re only just beginning to know the ins-and-outs of our body.

There are still mysteries to evolution, unanswered questions, and long-debated ideas.

There are still mysteries about genetics, how genes work, and how genes affect our anatomy and psychology.

And there are still mysteries about the brain. We’re still trying to understand all the ins-and-outs of brain function, of how we think and process information, and why we behave the way we do.

Consciousness is a perfect example. We still don’t even know what consciousness is, or if consciousness is real or an illusion. We don’t know why we’re conscious, or what causes consciousness. Yet, consciousness is one of the most important aspects of being a human.

But what about the basic world around us. What do we even know about something as simple as a desk-lamp?

It’s an object that “stands” on our desk. It has a “lightbulb” you can put in or take out. You can “turn it on” to make light come out of the lightbulb.

But how does it stand without falling? How is it constructed? What materials does it made of?

What even is a lightbulb? How does it work? Why does it work the way it works? What is it made of? Is it incandescent? Is it an LED bulb? How does an LED work?

Yes, you can take the time to answer all these questions, even down to what metals and gases are used inside a bulb, and the reasons why they are used, but can you do that for everything? And can you do that for everything all the time?

What is the desk made of? How is it constructed? What materials? Why does it even work?

What about a flash drive? Or headphones? Or your computer?

Why are we able to look out a window and see what’s outside? Why does one flower look prettier than another flower? Why are the walls of a room painted the color they are, and, for that matter, how does paint even work?

Yes, we can stop and explain everything around us, but how often do we do that? How much do we actually know, from one person to the next, about the fundamental objects of daily life? How much do we take for granted when we walk out the door, or even when we wake up in our bed?

Jordan Peterson has a great explanation of this. A car is a thing-that-gets-us-from-one-place-to-the-next, until it stops working. As soon as it stops working, it becomes a chaotic-object-of-anxiety-and-ignorance—a terrifying monster made of valves, wires, pipes, pulleys and gears. But as soon as the car gets fixed, it transforms back into a thing-that-gets-us-from-one-place-to-the-next.

Even more basic than basic objects around us, do we even know what’s going on half the time?

What’s happening on the other side of the four walls around you? What’s happening next door? What’s happening down the street? What’s happening in the next town over? What’s going on in your state, or your country, or the rest of the world?

Unfortunately, we barely even know what’s happening outside our front doors.

When we do see something happening, how much do we actually know about it?

If we see two strangers arguing, do you have any clue what it might be about?

What’s going on in those people’s heads?

What’s going on in anyone’s head, for that matter?

A friend of mine explained something called a “black box” in computer programming. A black box is a piece of code where you can see what information goes in and what information goes out, but you can’t see what happens inside that code. For example, you input X into the black box, and the black box outputs Y, but you don’t know why the black box took in X and put out Y.

Humans are a lot like this.

As I’ve already mentioned, we’re complicated motherfuckers. We barely know why we do the things we do, let alone why other people do the things we do. We barely even know basic information about people and their lives.

What was someone’s upbringing like? How did their parenting, their early experiences, their education, their environment, and so forth affect their personality? What’s their health like? What matters to that person? What does that person go home to each day? What goes on in that person’s head?

Even things like what a person ate on a given day, how much they slept, or the state of their gut bacteria on a given day can alter their personality.

So how much do you know about the person you’re talking to?

How much do you really know, and how much do you make up, or assume?

How often do we make assumptions about people we know? How often do we make assumptions about who they are, what kind of person they are, and the reasons why they behave how they behave?

How often do we project an easy-to-understand, cookie-cutter identity to a person? How often do we then treat them as if they were a cookie-cutter person, instead of treating them as the complex, dynamic human they really are?

The problem is, we can’t do this for everyone.

We can’t take the time to deeply understand each and every individual we come in contact with. We have to make assumptions about them.

At the very best, we have to make educated guesses about a person, but even these guesses can be way off the mark.

Let’s take it a step further.

How do we know how we know things?

How can we be sure we know what we know?

How can we be sure we know anything?

It seems almost stupid to ask (“You just know, you know?”), but it’s really hard to pinpoint how we can be sure of what we know.

Even asking, “What does it mean to ‘know’ something?” is a rabbit hole in and of itself.

We only know what our brain tells us to know. We only know this because our brain tells us we know this. Our brain can be wrong, our brain is forgetful, and our brain is biased. Our brain can be lazy, tired, confused, misguided, and deliberately irrational.

Beyond that, how sure can we even be about the things we “really” know.

There’s a thought experiment about a brain in a jar (which may or may not have originated with HP Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in the Darkness”).

Let’s say you’re a brain in a jar, with all these wires hooked up to your brain. These wires send signals telling you what you see, what your body looks like, what you’re doing, and what emotions you have. As far as you know, you’re a person walking around in the world, doing your thing, but in reality, you’re a brain in a jar.

This sounds sci-fi-ish (it’s one of the ideas behind The Matrix), but there’s legitimate speculation in the scientific community about Simulation Theory. Simulation Theory states that we may be in a reality simulated by a computer-like technology, or some higher form of technology that transcends our knowledge of physics. We could be living in a computer-fabricated universe, dictated by lines of 6th-dimensional computer code.

We are reaching an age where our technology and our computing power will be so powerful that we ourselves might be able to create our own simulated realities. We already have virtual reality goggles, we can already create computer-generated realities and interact with these realities (video games), and people like Elon Musk are already creating technologies that can directly link our brains to computers.

What’s to say a civilization before us, or a civilization “above” us, or an indescribable entity in some multi-dimensional tangent of our own reality, hasn’t already created technology that can simulate a universe?

What’s to say some civilization hasn’t created our universe in one of their computers, and has made a simulation that is so sophisticated it replicated consciousness and physics? (Except it starts to fuck up in black holes)

We kinda don’t know.

Many great minds have pondered, many great minds have searched for answers, and many great minds still haven’t figured it out.

We simply don’t know. We don’t know a lot.

We know some things. We know coffee makes people (not all) hyper. We know some people shouldn’t eat gluten (actually, probably no one should eat it, but it’s whatever). We know monkeys and humans both get weirded out by direct eye contact.

We know the Earth spins, and we basically know why, but we don’t really know why gravity works, and we’re still arguing about how gravity works.

We know humans only live for a short amount of time, and then we die, but we know this is controlled by genes and our biology, and we’re starting to be able to control our genes and our biology, but we know enough about genetic editing to know we maybe shouldn’t fuck with our genes until we really, “really”, really know how our genes work.

We know enough to know we don’t know much.

We know enough to know the world is a crazy god-damn place. We know enough to know humans are crazy motherfuckers. We know enough to know the universe is stranger than fiction.

And beyond that, we don’t really know.

Which can be scary to think about. It can be terrifying to know that our world may not be what it seems. It can keep you up at night, thinking about all the people around you that you barely understand. It can be anxiety provoking to think about what will or won’t happen tomorrow, or in the next week, or in the next year, or what will or won’t happen before you die.

But it’s also kind of fantastic that we don’t know.

How boring would it be if we knew everything?

Einstein isn’t one of the greatest historical figures ever because he knew exactly how the universe worked. Einstein went down in history because he explored the unknown, even to his death. He relished in the things he didn’t know, in the things he couldn’t explain, and devoted his life to uncovering the secrets of the universe.

We don’t like spoilers because we want to find out the end of movie for ourselves.

We don’t like people telling us what to do or how to do it because we want to figure it out on our own.

We don’t like learning about the same thing over and over again, because it doesn’t get us anywhere.

It’s okay not to know things. It’s okay if there’s a little bit of fantasy in our reality. It’s okay if life is more theory than fact. It’s okay if we have to fabricate a few details along the way (so long as we can un-fabricate them at some point).

It’s okay, because what we don’t know is far more interesting than what we do know.

We don’t know where this ride’s gonna take us, and that’s half the fun.


[1] https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-area/what-is-dark-energy

[2] https://www.physlink.com/education/askexperts/ae605.cfm

[3] http://m.nautil.us/issue/29/scaling/will-quantum-mechanics-swallow-relativity