“To get a leg up, you must put your foot down”Toadies “Motivational” – Hell Below/Stars Above
When I look around me, that seems to be the default approach to attaining “success” in life, but it’s always been anathema to me. Pushing down on the ones below you is the desperate act of an animal fighting for its very survival. I thought we had moved beyond that condition long ago.
In this world there are competitors and cooperators, and I’ve always been a cooperator. I want to surround myself with other humans who seek cooperative solutions before competitive ones. And when it comes to those below me, it feels terrible to push them back to launch myself forward; one of the best experiences in life is to reach down and pull someone else up.
Short of that, we can always turn to any peers that we admire and try to give them a boost.
This introduction is overdue. I have in mind a series of tribute articles celebrating longtime personal heroes on my list of Off the Beaten Path creators. That’s a bit intimidating so I have procrastinated. I’ve also decided that limiting my promotion to those on that list would be contrary to this site’s mission.
I promise I will never ask any reader to “like and subscribe!” to my site. But do urge any readers to visit all the sites discussed below. If you appreciate them, please do “like and subscribe!” (P.S. – I’ve decided that “Freelance Essayist” sounds a bit more dignified than “blogger.” Consider yourselves promoted!)
Freelance Essayist 1 – A Little Unsettling
Life may offer an occasional glimpse of another human authentically embodying your personal ideals. If you’re really lucky it’s a person living and expressing these more fully than you have ever managed yourself. It’s rare that you will find someone doing all of that in a more challenging environment than you can endure. And it’s a humbling and moving experience. Alexandra Ross has given me that gift.
Her site is at the top of this list for a reason. If you ever do anything on my behalf, please visit her astonishing blog. Her latest post is a beacon of light in gathering shadow. I have read and re-read it again and again. Witness the reflections of a powerful and independent mind committed to surveying the breadth of human experience, alongside a heart convicted to walk the corollary path such a deep and honest contemplation reveals. The tragic undersubscription to her commentary is a testament to the abject disgrace of a civilization teetering on the brink of profound reckoning.
The Danger of Strong Praise
It feels like I’m coming dangerously close to pronouncing “greatness” here. Stark praise like this makes me uncomfortable because it can place unrequested and undesired pressure and expectation on the recipient. For the rest of us, we can find ourselves in the position of a tough act to follow. This is an occupational hazard for any variety act. Especially so for a Preachy Variety Act; your sentimental MC is bound to highlight those preaching to his personal choir.
I haven’t interacted with Alexandra to the same personal extent as some others noted here. Of course she is just another flawed human being like all the rest of us. What I’m trying to say that I haven’t singled her out because of exceptional creative expression. Rather, I consider myself a messenger, and Alexandra is expressing my message better than I can.
On That Note
A quote came to mind recently. It’s been banging around my mental Oort cloud for years like a respected advisor roaming the gathering at a large wedding. I sense an important message to be relayed, but despite periodically gaining my attention by dropping a plate or knocking over a drink, we’ve never been able to connect
To make things more confounding, I can’t decide whether I should feature the author of the quote on this site. The human in question is the sublime artist, designer, philosopher, and naval architect Phil Bolger.1 And his quote is most enigmatic because he applied it to the very subject of his life’s immense work.
I think get it now. In fact, I think the quote has been working on my unconscious mind this whole time. It probably forms a significant part of this site’s genetic makeup. By this point it doesn’t matter what Phil meant by it. It no longer matters if he even said it in the first place. All that matters is, rephrased, it expresses what I am always using far too many words to try and say –
“Some [creative expressions] are better than others; but it’s not important that they be better.”Duckworks Magazine, Phillip C. Bolger – Boat Designer, Gloucester, Massachusetts
By Joseph Gribbens
Freelance Essayist 2 – The Russian Patient
I have experience with mental illness, both personally (to a lesser degree), and as the former life partner of someone afflicted in far greater measure. A strange curse, it also comes with blessings (always in the form of unique perspective; sometimes in the form of extraordinary gifts). And it’s always accompanied by great suffering. I have deep admiration for those who make their passage with this thorn in their sides. I also feel tremendous compassion, and even gratitude towards them.
Growing up, Ekaterina Netchitailova lived through the fall of the Soviet Union. Whatever your beliefs about it (a truly complex subject beyond my command to discuss), the West celebrated the collapse from the outside. The experiences of many humans inside who were forced to live through it, and the transition that followed, might come as a surprise. Many enjoyed an almost idyllic life before the collapse, only to endure great hardship afterward.
(Furthermore, when governments collapse it’s the most violent gangsters who are quickest to fill the void, while the most selfish and ambitious opportunists swarm over the remaining scraps. Any advocates of “regime change” would do well to bear this in mind).
Adding to Ekaterina’s unique point of view on a critical time in the 20th Century, she offers the alternative perspectives and extraordinary talents bestowed in tandem with her mental illness. Her form of Bipolar Disorder (Type I) is different from that shared by me and those close to me (Bipolar II). With Type I it’s easier to receive SOME kind of diagnosis (even if it’s the wrong one), due to the mania that characterizes Type I. (It’s different from the hypomania of Type II).2
Ekaterina has lived throughout Western Europe and is fluent in four languages (a wonderful form of self-development that Europe, by its very composition, encourages, and that the US never could). She shares her experiences on her blog with honesty and vulnerability. I promise you will learn fascinating things from her!
Freelance Essayist 3 – Strange Happenings in an Old English Village
Wilf is a new friend from England. He has a wonderful perspective on our modern world, which you can share via his delightfully anachronistic writing. I think he meditates wistfully upon simpler and healthier ways of living common throughout Europe right up to their wholesale, post-war abandonment. Walking is the habitual mode of travel used throughout his adventures (and they ARE adventures!) in an Old English Village. Through his experiences the reader encounters the lovely and timeless character of simple country village life juxtaposed with the jarring, hard-edged and alien “progress” furnished by late-stage capitalist modernity.
Apart from that, the title gives you a clear picture of what else to expect from this blog (written by both Wilf and his mother – affectionately known as “Old Ma”). They publish the story episodically in chapter format, which lends a lovely literary flavor to a strange tale. It’s still unfolding so I’m not quite sure how to describe it. There are elements that feel like a ghost story, hints of Lovecraftian cosmic horror, and notes of The X-Files. The episodes pass through such a range of unpredictable oddity that, were it a film, you would imagine David Lynch had directed it. (Don’t let David Lynch direct your movie Wilf; he’s far too overattended already).
This is the strangest real life account I have read. If you are a fan of Weird Fiction, you should visit. (Ideally during the evening, from a cozy chair – by the fire, if you have one – with a warm drink in hand).
The Daily Stone
- If he were only a bit more Mediocre, Phil Bolger would present an ideal representative for this site, but it feels like maybe he flies too close to the sun. He only avoided the universal acclaim of the Hive Mind because his radical authenticity drove him to gleefully disregard convention – an intolerable offense to Society. There are some who are too great to be acknowledged as “great.” His original quote was, “Some boats are better than others; but it’s not important that they be better.”) ↩︎
- Mania can be a euphoric experience for some, and a terrifyingly painful experience for others. During its expression those on the outside perceive it as distinctively ‘crazy,’ so it is accompanied by societal horror and rejection during its course, and terrible shame in its aftermath. From my own experience on the outside it can be tragically sad to witness an admired acquaintance in the throes of mania. And whether the experience is euphoric or agonizing, the side effects of the medications prescribed to control it can be dreadful and debilitating.
My own hypomanic expressions have only been met with puzzlement and a bit of self-protective distancing by those around me; still enough to induce embarrassment and shame in the aftermath. From the outside I imagine it’s like interacting with someone who’s a bit coked up – excitable and overly talkative. I’m sure it comes off as intense and somewhat off-putting.
From the inside? By order of increasing measures of attendant embarrassment and shame, in my hypomanic states I have:
– Launched a website with the lofty mission and probably delusional aspirations of “transcendence of artificially imposed dysphoria via disengagement of social conditioning through community with radically authentic humans,” with DAILY blog posts, some of which include fucking footnotes. FOOTNOTES?!?! Really?! You are out of your goddamn mind…
– Extensively developed an app (called WeenieGenie) for defacing all those obnoxious social media photos conceived transparently to provoke viewer envy, via digital “stickers” of hot dogs applied in sexually suggestive fashion. (Yes, this was so thoroughly developed across several hypomanic episodes that it will be covered extensively in a future post, or series thereof. Your favorite [and still only] Preachy Variety Act will continue to develop along various lines of escalating absurdity).
– Spammed everyone I know with songs I’ve written, which at the time I’m copvinced are both musically magnificent and lyrically astonishing. Then I imagine imminent outpourings of gratitude and awe from all corners, only to be met with the distant chirping of crickets. (This happens regularly enough that I’ve learned to just pretend it never happened and continue normal interactions with all parties on their regular schedule and in the most casual style, with no acknowledgement of the event).
– Contemplated creating a magazine called “Weep” intended to cast the horrifying incomprehensibility of society in comedic light, sort of a “let’s laugh at our clear and impending doom!” kind of thing. Apparently another vanishingly tiny niche market…
– Descended into sleepless round-the-clock madness while building my first boat, forever souring my family’s interest in my passion for spending time on the water.
– Devoted myself entirely to the writing of an “opera” that I was convinced was going to save the world. Persistent shame endures regarding this one, even though none of it ever saw the faintest light of day. But it happened 20 years ago and I talked about it so much that it’s still the subject of occasional curious inquiries.
– Given frank consideration to the possibility that I was the Anti-Christ. This involved delusions of grandeur related to the aforementioned “opera,” as well as a lengthy thought process involving the logical impossibility of free will within conventional interpretations of Christianity, and meditation on the phenomenon that “History is Written by the Victors.” “That’s something that I haven’t shared with many people (I only remember one), but in the interest of authentic discussion of mental illness, there you have it. ↩︎