Dear Generous Readers, –an open letter introducing myself and my diary blog

Table Of Contents

1. Dear Generous Readers,

I wish to dedicate some time and cyberspace to welcome you to my diary blog, introduce myself to you, express my immense gratitude for your willingness to take a look around, and explain why I’ve gone to such elaborate lengths to persist in tweaking, preserving, adding to, and sharing this literary/creative writing/creative non-fiction diary blog project.

My name is Sean O’Connor. I’m 34 years old, married to my favorite lady and person, whose name I’ll keep out of this, at least for the time being, I have a nearly five year old dog (exactly what kind of dog remains a mystery for now as we await what upcoming test results may reveal), I am working towards my MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at William Paterson University (where I received my BA in Liberal Studies), and I work as a writing tutor at Raritan Valley Community College.

Despite several twists and turns that might suggest otherwise, my “dream,” since I’ve been roughly 16 years old has been to succeed both in the “technical” or aesthetic sense, (i.e., to be an “excellent” in my execution of my craft) and in a socio-cultural- financial sense, as a “creative writer.”

I have experimented with writing in virtually every genre (poetry, fiction, non-fiction, drama, film, hybrids). Courtesy of decades of experience and an education, which I’ve been extremely privileged to receive, I believe I have finally found the genre most suitable for the kind of writing I aspire to do– that is, “the diary.”

2. What’s the diary got that the other genres don’t have?

There’s both intuitive and logical angles to the diary’s appeal to me. Regarding the intuitive, the short answer is that my therapist asked me what I visualized for myself career-wise and happened to do so around the same time I was reading a book by the neurologist Tara Swart– The Source— which explains in scientific, neurological contexts, just how powerful “visualization” and related Positive Psychology Interventions, mind optimization exercises, et cetera, can verifiably tend to be.

It is perhaps no “secret” (to play on that book about the “law of attraction” which hijacked the concept of its scientific basis in favor of delusional mysticism) that visualization is so powerful that gold-metal Olympians do it often and elaborately.

So, if I could just “let go” of all my anxiety and preconceptions, what might I see in my “mind’s eye” if I were to fantasize about exactly how I’d love for my career to move forward?

Over and over again I saw myself blogging. As for my stumbling upon the idea of a diary-blog for a blog type, one factor was Tara Swart’s confidence in keeping a diary as one goes about priming one’s mind/brain to put one’s self in the best position to live how one most deeply hopes to.

Experimenting on the basis of that advise and beginning a diary, a most profound feeling came over me.

Think, say, and do what each of us shall–(“sooner or later, one of us most know that you just did what you’re supposed to do”–Bob Dylan, ‘One of Us Most Know [Sooner or Later]’)–? –soft determinist that I am these days, I feel both the pushes and pulls of my own interests, preferences, et cetera, and acknowledge that no matter how free I may feel, I cannot control the universe’s/multiverse’s laws of physics and since I am no deity anyway, it wouldn’t be for me to do), and in response to those pushes and pulls, as I noted via introspection, I jotted down in my dark blue 5 X 8 Moleskine notebook the following sentence:

“For now, the most peaceful thing I can think to do is journal”

(Or, worded differently, “write in a diary.” What is the difference between a diary and a journal anyway? That troubled me somewhat over this last year– between this summer and last summer. In my mind, since we refer to a news person as a journalist, and we refer to one who “keeps a journal” or “diary” a “diarist,” why not stick with the word “diary”–?)

That was on Thursday, July 16th, 2020. (While I’m somewhat near the subject, as suits the medium of the diary, I do quite love the aesthetic beauty of that “date”– that month, day, and year– the diarist jots down, causing fragments of that very day to succumb to the form of words, preserved for as long as the diarist and/or those with an interest in keeping it preserved, and oh, so beautifully helping the day, in a more spiritual, mental, or archival way, outlast its initial emergence or persist in emitting its complex– typically in my case, at least– aftertaste.)

In tandem with my private diary, I changed this website from a general hub for my miscellaneous “creative writings” into a “public” or “open” or “online” diary or… “diary blog.”

3. What’s the difference between what I keep private and what I share with you here and in future e- and print books?

It’s private! “For me to know and you to find out.”

It permits me to write an entry for my eyes only and I enjoy having entirely private diary space.

On a more practical level, I hand-write in my private diary and use it as a “springboard” for my diary blog where I can share with you some thoughts that mix spontaneity with a bit of vetting beforehand as to grant these thoughts a touch of filtering so that I might articulate them with at least some familiarity.

As some glances at the dates attached to most of my diary blog’s posts would show you, this is in several respects 1)in the past I have done a few experiments with keeping a diary, sometimes just for personal purposes, other times with literary ideas in mind quite a new project, not yet even half a month young (it’s a puppy! oh, how I yearn for more dogs, a puppy or puppies among them!) as I begin sketching and drafting this introductory essay. Thus, I write to you from the vantage point of “the early days” and I know “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

For the first time in my life, as far as I can remember, including even childhood, finally, I’m in no hurry for my diary blog and books to reach their masterpiece primes. I have not the slightest speculation as to whether or not this diary blog ever reaches more than 250 views, whether it will make me any money at all.

Alas, many of my favorite writers who have most influenced me did not see their works significantly embraced by their literary cohorts. Take Robert Musil for example. Despite being, in my opinion, in the top ten list of greatest fiction writers of all time, even today he is not widely read and his name is not widely recognized. There is ample evidence (and experience, also alas) to deduce that it’s damn hard for artists, writers among them, and even the artists’ relatives, the academics, to “make it.” As in, forget getting rich and becoming a “best seller.” A writer is lucky just to have someone acknowledge they write at all.

I’m not being felicitous when I say that. In my experience, telling people you are a writer often results in a response along the lines of, “yeah but what do you do for work” as if to imply that writing isn’t “work.”

If you really care about what you write and seek to dress up your thoughts in words for others to take a look at just like they would look at a painting at the Met and trade speculations as to its meaning, it’s hard work.

It’s also a line of work that leaves one uniquely vulnerable. Arguably a fundamental purpose for literary writing is very specifically to present to your readers your vulnerability.

Your imperfections, especially if you wish to explain them clearly and vividly, are before a microscope for complete strangers, some of them harsh critics who don’t really care what you really mean and get paid to tarnish some of your reputation with little no consequence– no skin of tehir backs. Many branches of creative writing are fields of outright exhibitionism of sorts.

And this leads me to my next point. I don’t write to indulge, vainly, in the warm whirlpool of my arbitrary thoughts about my self-hood. I’ve done it before, a lot when I was younger.

4. Because my two greatest interests beyond the diary as literary medium, are self improvement and cultural criticism, I’m able to write while walking on my two feet, I’m upheld with foundation and from that vantage point I am reaching up and mountain climbing towards summit-ideals.”

Each summit-ideal is only ideal until it’s been reached with a view of still higher mountains to climb out yonder. The perspective from there thus revises itself by virtue of mere consciousness.

THIS, you see, is one of the metaphysical roots of extreme confusion over how to do something right and when to know to trust a claim or appearance (with the exception of my Objectivism phase– ha-ha.) and “rest assured” that “THIS IS IT! This is what I wanted to be when I grow up! This is how I wanted to make that canvas look with my paint and brushes!”

How to get on when reality is in flux? Do I thus gaze at my spontaneity and try to concretize that? Do I “think on it” for a good amount of time and “polish” a thought on concept so that I can essay about the approximated truth? How do I know? How can I thus establish myself as a writer, how I can I start “submitting” a piece when I’m trying to write something that can both keep up with realities flux and thereby capture a slice of contemporary and resonant context all the while chisel out that even harder to find oasis of timelessness so that I can feel I’ve done my job well as opposed to just doing something to do it?

5. I have arrived at my principle!

For the artist to think freely and spontaneously, reflect it, but compliment or supplement it with revisions, explanations, clarifications. That is what I’m going for; in other words, to keep a diary blog that tracks the day to day of consciousness in its pursuit of self improvement and cultural criticism all the while supplementing it with essays informed by a bit more hindsight than a day’s entry can offer; that, put aesthetically, is the creative or “literary” non-fiction/creative writing project I’m trying my best to commit to for as long as I can.

If it is “peace” or “the most peaceful thing” in the abstract that I, as a “diarist” doth chase, well then, what is, if not quite concrete but at least slightly less abstract, the tone, mood, essence, content (i.e., “stuff”) of such peace…peace of mind at least (no rhyme intended but no rhyme upended)?

I’ll at least offer my suggestion:

This “literary”- “creatively written” diary blog privileges me with an open and public space where I may share whatever thoughts, feelings, experiences, et cetera, with as much openness as I can muster (and get away with ethically and legally since I’m not a privacy buster for others just because I bust up mine a little more than I otherwise would if the diary as a literary genre and thing of value to offer and share with others as to liberate and open our minds and chitter-chatter did not seduce my love like any other mode of culturally valuable productivity and fusion of art and academia and journalism).

Virginia Woolf, one of the diarists I’m reading and studying, begins her diary in a most poetic manner of speaking.

“To start this diary rightly” is how she worded it. Rather serendipitously, (because also inadvertently or unconsciously for I knew not where my diary blog was headed, aesthetically speaking, when I first took to it) I believe the beginning of this diary starts rightly! Eerily and uncannily “rightly” … (and writing teachers from all levels of instruction may be feeling a slight nails on the chalkboard with all my ADVERBS, (got to get some of that rebellious energy flowing like blood as to think for one’s self, right?)– I mean that it seems as though I just happened to be writing the right thing at the write time when I initiated this endeavor.

I shall explain:

6. “I would love to feel and think and act with less self-evisceration.”

By a stroke of luck I spelled out, really, in that one sentence above, the entire purpose of this diary, and let me reiterate, this happened despite not yet knowing exactly where I envisioned myself perhaps wanting it to go.

By this, and it frustrates me how hard this remains to articulate, despite being a “thorn on my side” since I was maybe 10 or 11 years old… I mean that right before I began this thrilling undertaking, I was awfully, almost pathetically in fact, “beside myself” when, like a suddenly appearing planet in the depths of the most barren parts of outer space, I decided to start writing this– not so much drowning in my own self pity (well, I waded in some self pity, I confess) but rather in reaction to a confusing feeling that I did not and could not, no matter how many different iterations I experimented with in my creative writings, political activism, and other projects, feel sufficiently “free”/”liberated” and thus “myself,” –whatever that might mean or be…for “within” that so called “self” of mine was a stew of “third space”; you know, obliterations of binaries, my “inner hybridity” where I was philosophical but not exclusively, political yet aesthetic, academic yet personal, esoteric and elitist yet populist, poetic and yet prosaic, a writer, if describing myself in broadest terms (creative and artistic at that, with imagination and outside-the-box thinking but still critical and non-fictional) however, in my view, the most pleasurable writers are almost always something not so “writerly” or “literary” like Hemingway at war, like T.S. Eliot at the bank, Wallace Stevens the insurance company executive, like William Carlos Williams the doctor (or even John Locke the doctor, Michel de Montaigne the mayor, Walt Whitman the nurse, et cetera); this, you see, IDENTITY CRISIS, tripped me up plenty enough in life! Who am I? What am I? And how can I make money by keeping myself to my convictions and holding on to my “soul?” It’s a complex idea I’m still working out.

7. Indeed, as those who have known me the best and for the longest time can attest for you

I’ve suffered chronically from the tendency to change my mind in the midst of some creative, intellectual, or political project or another thus leaving many projects lauded and touted by me for their progress and potential but then abandoned.

I really do mean it when I say: that mind-changing I’ve too often done is often enough the result of really intense thought processes striving for meticulousness as a set of options for future action– to make the world a better place in the best way I can visualize– are set beside each other, compared, contrasted, and since no human creation can be perfect, striving at least for the best that a human, or I (for many a human I know shall surpass whatever achievement I might be fortunate enough to be the agent of) can muster.

I think that some of the anxiety attached to art and creative writing (the sort at least, that one feels a moral motivation to draft, hone, and share) has to do with the tendency for the content to be, as much as it can, “outside the box” in its thinking and approaches and by virtue of so much of it sparkling to life in solitude and being often a little more than your usual conversation material but yet not known, so unvetted, at least by others.

Then come the other anxieties, some of them societal, others self imposed, sometimes overly pedantic, sometimes aspirational. Let me try and frame it this way: you want to “make a difference” or “make the world a better place.” If you are like me (I don’t qualify that as good or bad but rather my hope here is to make this point personal, that’s all) it just happens to be motivated by inherent interest in basic philosophical principles.

When I first delved seriously into poetry, the thinking behind it, much of it outside my capacity to articulate, was aesthetic.

8. Of all the philosophical frustrations and preoccupations in my life, they have always accompanied aesthetic concerns.

Actually, the reason why is simple. When you’re a teenager/young adult, it’s not made abundantly clear what makes for good “art” or “good writing.” When I began participating in the creative writing club I never could understand what made this or that writing “good” or “bad,” nor could I fathom how such a thing could be proven. It was not only ambiguous and in the gray– it was bloody arbitrary and mystical and intuitive.

When the occasional person read something of mine and said “that’s good” I had no tangible interpretation. What’s good might as well have been the same thing as a jackpot, winning a lottery ticket– “for christ’s sake!’ (Instead of Mark Knopfler “calling Elvis” I’m calling Dostoevsky– see his novel The Gambler which I am yet to read, myself)

I felt, thus, rather horrifyingly “on my own” to make sense of poetry both as it is defined and as it is presented according to “standards.”

What begins as experiments in the aesthetics of writing however, when one does not have the proper discipline or education, can turn into troubling philosophical ideas or inner-chaos, or a feeling of being OVERWHELMED by what feels like 10 trillion different claims as to what is right, what is wrong, what is god, what is truth, what is worth a million dollars, et cetera, all contradicting one another. How can your professor be more than a “voice in the wilderness” if everyone else’s is framed as such?

Ah…so then comes the scepticism!

And then?

9. You wish to do your own “independent studies.”

You’re professor is asking you questions about subject-verb agreement while you’re wondering if Jack Kerouac was “on to something” with his epic On The Road. You and your professor could not be more opposite in terms of wave-length, it can seem. And furthermore, Allen Ginsberg says “cock” “cunt” “pussy” “assfucking” “cocksucking” and “the critics”– enough of them– laud it, but you never had a professor even mention the Beats.

Yes, so then the skepticism!

And then you discover Bob Dylan and all of the 1960s revolutions and you can’t seem to find a revolution to be part of in your own time and place. You are seeking to have some kind of clear cut fundamental principle. ALL THE WHILE, because now you are getting a little older, people start to think you’re head’s in the fucking clouds while everyone else in your family is making money and you’re questioning why academia is said to be “where it’s at” when you see for your own damn self that like hell, it’s not!

You think you’re doing the right thing. You TRY so damn hard to do “the right thing.”

And then you discover Nietzsche who says “fuck it all! Make up your own values.”

Okay, Mr. Nietzsche sir. I’ll get right to that. How?- pray tell!

And then you discover Ayn Rand. You pay more attention to her epistemology and aesthetics while most others are discussing her politics. And Ayn Rand is a funny one because she calls herself an “Objectivist.” Who among us that wishes to see an airplane sustain itself in a state if flight and wishes for the best doctor to take care of dad and grandma, would say “no” to that? And so, Ayn Rand has suckered’ ya’!

Until you see that what she says about ethics and politics and aesthetics just don’t align with how things are. Ideally of course we would not need much government because ideally we’d all be rational and virtuous and beautiful but alas we are so imperfect (we see rampant exploitation, fraud, corruption, unjustified invasions of other countries, terrorism, the persistence of white supremacy, misogyny, bigotry, all USING …hijacking…. the LIE that if you give people pure freedom they’ll do right by their fellow humans)– but at least rather constructive when we put our all into it!

The real world, by the way, starts obliterating your abstractions. Even your local politicians do not seem to care about “justice.” They care about campaign funds and staying in power. Meanwhile, they get paid to lie and you’re bagging groceries, thinking you meant only to get at the truth of things but you just can’t seem to get it right!

You get your degree. It humbles the hell out of you. You graduate. You need a job. You need money. You get anxious as hell. You feel these strange conflicts– do I go where it seems like the most money is today or do I stand for how I want to make the world a —

10. hold that thought because you have college tuition loans to pay.

Your friends don’t seem to be your friends anymore.

You resent them. Then you blame yourself. Then you experience an intense nostalgia and say to them they’re on your mind. They miss you too. Hey, let’s catch up.

How were we ever so close when now we’re so different?

And now it gets even more complex. You’re horny and vulnerable, balancing a wish for a deep spiritual connection and a fuck. You keep screwing up with it. You get into fights. You think you actually hate the one you love more than anyone else. And as Bob Dylan sings: “I know you’re sorry, I’m sorry too” (“Mississippi”). Dad dies. Grandma dies.

Life is now surreal because there was no such thing as a universe where for so many decades such and such was a live. You’re entire consciousness is forced to adapt.

And you want to make art.

You want to be academic.

You want to be rich.

You want to be sexy.

You want to be “good.”

You realize you have mental illness. Some part of your body doesn’t work as it used to. You feel at your worst.

Add to the mix our new president– Donald Trump. Friends with dictators. Gets away with crimes. Insults all who dare criticize. And then there’s the covid pandemic.

And you want to make art.

Make love.

Be rich.

Be good.

Have friends.

Get a pet. Have kids. Buy a house. Take a vacation to another continent. Feel important by contributing something constructive.

You feel you have so much to lose that if you fuck up a great opportunity to do something GREAT …you’re on the bloody streets again, figuratively and/or literally.

If you go the more political route, frankly, you “kiss a lot of ass.” Rules are broken.

11. The one and only true rule is to do what ever the fuck your boss tells you to fucking do.

AND…when you get presented with something no one ever gave you a policy for, no matter what you do, you’re gonna piss somebody the fuck off!

You worry about that job. You worry your coworkers will hate you. Oh, too late on that one. You DO have coworkers and people in your field who hate you. There are people who used to act as though they loved you…until you offered the devil’s advocate to their convictions. You’re like the protagonist in the movie The Paper Chase. You have a mentor who can make you all you ever wanted to be– so you think and so you are led on to think…until your mentor, you realized, was full of it.

You don’t trust anyone now. It’s like young adulthood all over again, except when you are in your thirties and not 19 anymore you wonder if maybe all your aspirations should just get tossed in the dumpster.

But you don’t want to. As a consequence, ya’ dirt poor! You hate how incompetent and undervalued you are and so you contemplate killing yourself. It’s immoral and attention seeking you know but you’re actually thinking about it because you want attention. You think about it because you feel you have failed in almost every aspect of your life and you can’t figure out how to do anything right and you think you must clearly be a burden. Your significant other and your close family whose money has kept you alive…

Then you either sell out to a clique in your niche, or you get therapy go Henry fuckin Miller and say…”oh…”

….”oh, that’s what he meant when he said:

I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I AM. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God

-see the first page of probably, virtually any edition

12. It’s like that Australian TV show Rake. One of the characters says she’s just “sick of the bullshit.”

Ya feel maybe kind of Buddhist in a way. Paul McCartney singing “Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.”

You think it comes down to this: be as honest as you can and keep your soul and do your best or… you know what? To quote Jim Morrison: “I’ve been down so god damn long that it looks like up to me.” I’m gonna keep my poise and smell the roses, enjoy the smell, and share my still over-thought thoughts with she or he or they who happen to “catch my drift.”

13. Forgive me if any of that happens to sound pretentious to you.

Oh yes, I am defensive. I am overly defensive. It comes with having made so many mistakes and witnessing so many different types of criticism that one does not want to be misconstrued. Why do I worry that I might be misconstrued as pretentious?

Because some of my critics have pointed out that I came across as pretentious. A few people have said it explicitly. But others have used “softer” and “gentler” words like “cerebral,” “heady.” Others have suggested I speak like I’m from the 19th century, overly formal or antiquated in style for my attachment to Dostoevsky, Proust, Musil, and Mann.

Also, because I’m verbose. That in itself may have lost me many friends. I write long winded messages. Can’t seem to help it just yet. But again, it’s because I don’t want to be misconstrued. I don’t want to miss something. I want to be clear. I want to be aware. I want to be honest. I want to be holistic. I want to speak with a tone that suggests I’m inclusive and universal and objective-ish and trying not to curse but still personal, liberal, horny, (ha-ha)…”authentic,” let us say.

Furthermore, would you not agree that one’s authenticity is usually rather quite complex? At least for me and that which I deem worth saying, there’s usually an overwhelming flood of context necessary if I am to put it to you authentically.

So, when I discuss my perfectionism it can come across as pretentious regardless of my intention for it not to. It is just that the context tends to be complex.

For example, take one’s day to day necessities and how we may intend, let us say, to make time for so and so or to do such and such, but the day’s necessities are prioritized. You know, paper work. Bills. Cleaning. Work. Exercise. Meditation. Immediate family. Food and drink and sex. If you can even fit all of that in a day I’m impressed as I cannot.

Meanwhile, even my damn reading list gives me anxiety because I feel insatiably curious about this array of fascinating writers and other inspirational figures.

There are so many points of view. And when one wants to get one’s own point of view right one wants to synthesize as many relevant points of view as one can. So you’ve Nietzsche whispering in one ear, Anais Nin in another. Bob Dylan is singing in the background. Philip Lopate is teaching you Montaigne and Emerson. Barack Obama is reminding you of better days. You discover these names you never heard before: Cesar Pavese, Witold Gombrowicz, Andre Gide. You feel bad that Thomas Mann and Robert Musil intrigue you more by their diaries than their “masterpiece” novels. You want to know how to blog in such a way as to be accessible and compelling but not a gimmick. You’re nonplussed that it took you so long to appreciate Susan Sontag. You admit it would be cool to feel like a peer to your favorites at Columbia University– Leslie Jamison and Philip Lopate, I’m talking about you two. (I met Philip Lopate and was star struck. I was nonplussed, nearly, and stumbling upon my words. That day I saw Leslie Jamison and she asked me if I was being helped. I wanted to say “You’re Leslie Jamison. I love your essays. I’d love to talk to you more some day.”

14. I sometimes wonder if I should have applied to Columbia University.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love William Paterson University. To be honest with you I much prefer William Paterson University to Columbia University 1) in terms of campus (Columbia made me feel claustrophobic and there was an overly old fashioned feel to it, even for me; William Paterson University has very new buildings, it’s in a mountainous area and I do love the writing of Dr. Martha Witt and Dr. John Parras. 2) I really just didn’t have the energy or frankly, the money, to commute from Basking Ridge, New Jersey to the West side of Manhattan and then back home. 3)I was intimidated, I admit. I was intimidated at William Paterson too. 4) At that time I was SO DAMN CONFUSED about where I wanted to take my creative writing that I was embarrassed. As was the case with the professors at William Paterson. The difference was that at least at William Paterson they knew me because I got my BA there.

Something else I want to say here…I am perhaps somewhat repeating myself but like a song let my essay have a refrain if it must; the most frustrating aspect of social life for me, and most of all as it pertains to those I most admire, is that I always want to say more and explain myself better than I did there and then. Just as, in my thought process more generally, because the logical premise is our inevitable imperfections, I am always vigilant of catching them– finding the “holes” and trying to patch them up.

But if you want a good way to experience really brutal dissociation try to imagine the universe/multiverse in all its constant and infinite (theoretically) expansion. At least for me, I feel not only a miserable loss of self and sense of control, I feel frightened.

It induces panic attacks.

What’s the nature of it?

It’s complex. Part of it has to do with noting one’s mortality. Part of it has to do with this actual awareness of your mind’s limitations or sense of temporary limitations.

15. It’s fucking trippy!

Consider this: where the fuck do these thoughts even come from? I just “think” them. I just HAVE them. My hands push the buttons on the key board and integrate these words as I type and I want to cry at that sense of dissociation, detatchment from one’s sense of SELF, CONTROL, LIVING, CONSCIOUSNESS, SOUL.

I would compare it slightly to meditation except in meditation I think there is more of a mantra that this is just a thought. Even the “weird feelings” are just that.

I am reminded of David Foster Wallace’s terrifying and depressing yet darkly funny at times and well put short story:

What if all the infinitely dense and shifting worlds of stuff inside you every moment of your life turned out now to be somehow fully open and expressible afterward, after what you think of as you has died, because what if afterward now each moment itself is an infinite sea or span or passage of time in which to express it, and you don’t even need any organized English, you can as they say open the door and be in anyone else’s room in all your own multiform forms and ideas and facets?

…What exactly do you think you are? The millions and trillions of thoughts, memories, juxtapositions– even crazy ones like this, you’re thinking — that flash through your head and disappear? Some sum or remainder of these? Your history?

…What if no time has passed at all… The truth is you’ve already heard this. This is what it’s like. That it’s what makes room for the universes inside you, all the endless in-bent fractals of connection and symphonies of different voices, the infinities you can never show another soul. And you think it makes you a fraud, the tiny fraction anyone else ever sees? Of course you’re a fraud, of course what people see is never you. And of course you know this, and of course you try to manage what part they see if you know it’s only a part. Who wouldn’t? It’s called free will, Sherlock. But at the same time it’s why it feels so good to break down and cry in front of others…

From his book of short stories Oblivion; the story “Good Old Neon”; pp. 178-179

Indeed, there’s an almost-irony (or paradox?) to wishing on the one hand, to see the full extent of available facts acknowledged and weighed as well as informing what one is to do and how one is to do it for upholding the highest of standards and yet, on the other hand, striving for excellence can’t, in my opinion, quite help but succumb to, actually, a bit of elitism; if you are pointing to an ocean of knowledge and insist to others that they consider this knowledge, holding them, in certain respects, to your own intellectual standard, if you value your standards and insist upon them, even with the utmost politeness and courtesy, it necessarily entails whiffs of pretentiousness, snobbery, and arrogance because you know and we don’t and your standards, we fear, worse than supercilious, are PEDANTIC!

(I always prefer “fastidious” over “pedantic”)

A writer must then, surely, hold her or himself to that same standard whether or not it comes across as pretentious because it strives for that nearly pedantic but quite hopefully more-so fastidious quality, right?

16. So the writer’s attempt at fastidiousness may be or appear as vain as it is in-vain.

For that inevitability I hope you are so generous as to pardon me. In fact, I deeply dislike cockiness, condescension and the sort and I’m guilty of failing to grant others what I ask from you.

For example, briefly I came to dislike Proust because he wrote too elegantly and described so vividly the aristocratic life in 19th century France. Ha! But I think it was one of my professors, Dr. John Parras who helped me realize: what would I have the man do!?! Abandon his own brilliance and his long accumulated experiences just because they don’t resonate with my more staunch and explicit assertions of normatives? (Anyway, now I adore Proust. I’ll get to more of him at some point. Between his In Search of Time Lost and David Wallace Foster’s Infinite Jest…)

Anyway, regardless of the field of life we consider, I believe this applies as a universal. How stupid do you suppose your electrician might think you are, not realizing things which to her or him seem so basic that the most virtuous among them almost (or maybe even DO) feel guilty making money off of you? We KNOW that many politicians (especially of the Republican sort, especially in the national congress) think we the people are stupid.

To be fair, I actually dislike the word “stupid” as I think it implies that a person is not only lacking knowledge/skill in this or that realm but is somehow deserving of being degraded or insulted because of his or her ignorance. I’m not Christian but love that principle that many allege Jesus said: “forgive them their sins, for they know not what they do.”

It seems to me, except for perhaps a very few instances, an utter contradiction in terms to suppose that someone can KNOW (to “know” as in accept as fact or virtue with complete conviction) a thing and yet act contrary to that KNOWLEDGE, for if you knew, why the heck, REALLY, would you do it? Here’s an example I have in mind. Take the consumption of alcohol. The science offers a compelling argument that drinking more than 2 or 3 drinks a night and doing even this much every night is not the BEST thing you can do for your liver, et al. I say that’s fair enough. We can, you might thus deduce, “KNOW” we ought to drink rather conservatively.

Here’s another take: is the relief one might gain from slightly more drinking than medical advice typically insists upon possibly worth it, supposing that maybe in so doing, stress one feels, which might have otherwise caused who knows what other sorts of damage (the science also paints a nasty picture of stress, does it not?), thanks to Bacchus, Dionysus, et al., is dissipated by the alcohol. So my suggestion is this: the person who hesitates in curbing her or his alcohol consumption does not KNOW in the fullest possible extent, with complete and utter conviction, that alcohol is absolutely, when consumed beyond the suggested limits, bad for you. (Nihilists may take this even further and argue YOLO and that they’re willing to cut of years and even decades for the pleasure and absence of pain and stress.)

I mention all of this in order to distinguish the awareness of knowledge, that some are rich with it, others impoverished, and that neither ought to be elevated above or degraded below others despite that paradoxical sort of “elitism” that any high achiever or very ambitious person might exude. The even broader point I hope to convey here is that while I strive to be like my literary heroes– Thomas Mann, Virginia Woolf, Michel de Montaigne, et cetera– who are no doubt, in my estimation at least, brilliant, and while I love the thought of possessing a competent capacity for critical thought and the knowledge necessary to serve as it’s generation of power, my purpose is not to present myself with any airs.

I’m just sharing my thoughts…

How did this public-open-online diary blog project even come about? Why all of a sudden and how much can I trust that it will endure and persist long enough to become, if only in my own Utopian and dreamy interpretation 2)as a general principle I no longer tend to put fantastical lenses over things as I used to up until…until when, exactly? Perhaps back in 2018 when calls for Trump’s impeachment made no significant impact in deterring or in any way holding him accountable, when it appeared most clear that ideals like “justice” do not suffice even a country like America founded on “liberty and justice for all”–? –added to draft on July 30th, 2020 After all, What makes it so important to me? 3)added to draft on July 30th, 2020

As a general habit, some people suggest keeping a diary citing multiple benefits. Former psychiatrist turned neurologist and writer Tara Swart mentions in her recently published book—The Source—about a time when she was “struggling with my sense of self, what I was going to do with my future and trying to understand” the nature of her recent divorce and burgeoning desire to break from psychiatry to something else she felt more aligned to. During this time she said she “kept a journal to track my thoughts and emotional responses to everything that happened, slowly counseling myself towards trust and gratitude rather than blame or avoiding true responsibility” (xiii-xv).

She has yet even more to say on journaling, which she calls a “important habit” enabling us to deepen our awareness of out thoughts, “emotions, motivations, and behaviors” (12). Throughout the book she offers suggestions to prompt diary entries not only for the purpose of gaining awareness, but additionally, so we can look our minds in our eyes and frame them by checking them for accuracy and/or destructive biases. Thus, ultimately, the habit seemed like a healthy and practical one to me.

But then there are some logistical questions! For example, how much time should I spent writing a diary entry? Why that amount of time versus another? Even more generally, the task of devising a working daily routine—not one I have to adhere to otherwise face demons from Hell, but just a template with guidelines suggesting a reasonable way, if a day goes at all according how it could be theoretically planned, that I could, for the most part, go about my day.

And here’s more context yet! I’d been thinking deeply about “positive thinking” and self-esteem, especially because in some respects, these qualities are challenging for me to maintain. I mentioned the ironies of how complex self-esteem and positive thinking could be when considering how there are certain things one can do with rather striking audacity and yet cower at the prospect of other things. For example, I ran for political office three times and looked my opponents in the eye, sometimes confronting acts of blatant corruption and illegal practices. Though I could get nervous (I sometimes shook as I spoke at town council meetings, as if an empath who could feel (had I the drive in the long term) the fear I could bring to the mayor as I systemically exposed her corruption as people, though “off the record” confided with me about the mayor’s work-place abuse.

Yet…you should have seen me during the first few months of my studies as a graduate student in a Creative Writing program. Every time I pushed myself to share a thought I’d worry about others dismissing my ideas as failing to meet the conventional and widely agreed upon standards of what literary works must include. I worried, frankly, that I’d end up saying something way too theoretical and abstract for the “creative” and “artistic” realm. I just waited for someone to say “if you want to write with such an academic tone, get your Ph.D. in philosophy or something.” This and/or thinking me a sexual deviant for writing about polyamory and pornography. I would sweat, my heart would pound, my mouth would get dry. I’d devolved and regressed from an A student who didn’t hesitate, not only to email a professor, but dare to argue, as I once initiated a process of appealing—yes, I may come to sound pedantic to you—an A- that put a hole in that 4.0 I hoped to get. (I got a 3.98. If one permits one’s self to get a just a little overly subjective about one can think to one’s self—it’s so close, just give the guy a 4.0. It’s almost worst than a 3.8 because of how very close you were to a perfect GPA; you see, as the guy who failed math in fifth grade, spend a decade very poor and in retail having dropped out of college numerous times, that GPA, if the money’s not-a-comin’ in the meantime, was something concrete I had that I could look at and find confirmation that I was not utterly incompetent and a fuck up. Indeed, there is perhaps a PTSD element here since I would get these flashes of losing my place in the Creative Writing MFA program as I love it so very much.

17. “The lord giveth and the lord taketh away”

–No, I’m not a religious or Biblical fellow. In fact, I am agnostic in most senses of the term. Either way, the universe, fate, chance, whatever you will call it, it can bless you with stunning luck (perhaps this is how Bill Gates feels? And President Trump—he’s…in some respects… lucky not to be in jail in that…but for the blatant and widely known moral depravity of the Republican members of congress and their donors… he would be in jail!); this universe can also do things I simply do not want to utter aloud out of hope that there is, in some way, shape, or form, just as I hope a Deity receives our prayers and… in ways beyond our comprehension or even imagination, pursues making them “come true”… I hope that similarly, something between “karma” and that which they call “the law of attraction” have a shred of physical as opposed to mystical and imaginary truth to them.

This is why I’m lately embracing the practices of turning my thoughts positive, making, reading, and revising affirmation flash cards, writing out “ideal scene” visualizations, studying the whole range of takes on “positive thinking” from the wildly mystical and unsubstantiated Napoleon Hill and The Secret to the Positive Psychology (a la Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, and Martin E. P. Seilgman) and fascinating neurological writings of those who explain neuroplasticity and how to work it, like Tara Swart who I cited earlier.

18. To quote of my favorite song-writers, Alanis Morissette: “I am not the doctor”  

(By the way, on that note, I want to make it emphatically and utterly clear—while self-improvement is one of my grand motifs, and while I have a great interest in the relationship between neurology/the physical properties of thought, theoretical karma, and whatever potential empirically identifiable “law of attraction” just might linger beyond our current knowledge like our present use of electricity was until those like Benjamin Franklin unleashed it before their culture’s eyes— I do not claim, not in the least, to offer any technical guidance on these things. I mean to say, I am not selling any theories on how you are going to make money, live longer, and enjoy the beauty and thrills of romantic love on your terms. I’m also not a philosopher. That means, even if I strive for virtue, as I do, and even if I have relatively informed ideas on the more basic philosophical ideas, I don’t offer you any wisdom on how to live the good life. Well…all things said, my life IS “good” but I give the credit to the Deity I hope exists and the nature of karma that I hope exists as opposed to anything I think or “do.” Moreover, you might not find my life to appear “GOOD.” You might find my circumstances not only lacking in anything compelling, anything so exceptionally noteworthy in contrast to every other “voice in the wilderness” trying to fit in her or his niche by appealing to those whose connections guide them into it. In other words, I don’t have  much money or power or influence and like I told you, I struggle with confidence and self-esteem.)

Anyway, at long last, I believe I may be settled on my life’s work as I do feel so very compelled of late to document, explore, and gain insight into my daily, evolving self-improvement focused introspection and constructive, humanistic cultural criticism that may serve as a record for the curious– both in the present and among posterity, with regard to the phenomena of thought process.

19. *Footnotes

References   [ + ]

1. in the past I have done a few experiments with keeping a diary, sometimes just for personal purposes, other times with literary ideas in mind
2. as a general principle I no longer tend to put fantastical lenses over things as I used to up until…until when, exactly? Perhaps back in 2018 when calls for Trump’s impeachment made no significant impact in deterring or in any way holding him accountable, when it appeared most clear that ideals like “justice” do not suffice even a country like America founded on “liberty and justice for all”–? –added to draft on July 30th, 2020
3. added to draft on July 30th, 2020

By Sean O'Connor

Hi, I'm Sean O'Connor, a poet and writer pursuing my MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at William Paterson University, where I also work as a learning generalist and where I received my BA in Liberal Studies.

Currently. I also work as a writing tutor at Raritan Valley Community College and Mercer County Community College.

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