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Archive for August, 2011

It’s hot and dry and gorgeous in the desert.

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The photo is from a house Cathy closed on today. That’s what they call a street, out in the sticks. You can measure how clean the air is by the definition of my shadow, maybe sixty feet away. On the way home, we saw a yearling coyote on Dear Valley Road.

Our annual late summer “monsoon” is being pushed out of the valley by very hot, dry weather rolling in from the Mohave Desert. Within the next couple of weeks, we will shift back to the dry heat that makes Phoenix so perfect all winter long.

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  • Whatever you do, don’t dance: Pinal county restaurant fined $700 a day for encouraging its patrons to dance outdoors
  • Writing better descriptive real estate copy as a path to building character . . .

  • 2 comments

    Reuters: “Homeowners without a job or good credit histories have been essentially shut out of the refinancing process.”

    And this is bad news?

    That entire Reuters article is interesting, as will be the forthcoming stories on President Obama’s big, big plans to put Americans to work.

    Two important facts emerge, I think:

    First, no one in the entire ruling class has any idea how jobs are created. Stimulating demand while you stymie production is just another way of driving up prices at the cash register.

    But second, I think Obama is managing to do what decades of conservative and libertarian ideologues have failed to do: He is demonstrating the futility of the entire Keynesian approach to government.

    It’s an internet effect, of course. The massive increase in information velocity makes smoke-and-mirrors academic obfuscation more and more difficult.

    But Obama’s uncanny political ineptitude is making it that much easier for Americans to discover that, for all the hype, the emperor has always been naked.

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  • The Rates Aren’t The Only Thing That Matters….. (My thoughts on how to create healing in the housing market)
  • The bad news: Obama’s housing relief plan is a giveaway to lenders, not homeowners. The worse news: It won’t work, anyway.

  • 3 comments

    What Willie’s Roadhouse taught me about being a Niche Biche.

    Yes, yes, I’m late to the SiriusXm party I admit it, but we recently got rid of a car with a cassette player, so that should tell you a lot. Honestly, the only thing I knew about satellite radio was Howard Stern so you can’t really blame me, can you? But that’s the past. Now that I’m here, can I tell you how much I love it? I do! I love it! A channel of nothing but Broadway show tunes? What, are you kidding me? My gay clients and I have sing-alongs, but that’s not why I love it. Here’s why I love it: It’s specialized. I don’t know how many channels there are altogether because I only listen to two. I flip between OnBroadway and Willie’s Roadhouse. I’m not interested in Spa, POTUS, or Hair Nation (If you’ve ever met me you know I live in my own private Hair Nation, thanksanyway), or any other of the bazillion channels available, each so freaking specialized and focused that it blows my mind! On the way from OnBroadway to Roadhouse, I have to pass Prime Country, Outlaw Country, Bluegrass Junction, and The Highway. No thank you, I’m not interested. I want my Roadhouse. I want my George and Tammy, my Johnny and June, and a little lite Texas Swing thrown in to mix it up. I’ve been laboring under the false impression that C&W was C&W but no, not even close. And each radio station taps into one tiny segment of the entire car-driving radio-listening population, each driver getting their own unique radio itch scratched in just the right place- it’s ecstasy. Pure unadulterated radio ecstasy. But this is a real estate blog so let’s talk Realtor talk.

    Last week I was referring a lead to a Realtor and she informed me that I’m too quick to limit myself to one area. Not really true, but I remembered Ryan Hartman’s post that gave away the blue print for a broker’s market domination plan. You should go read it, I’ll wait. Done? Okay, see where I’m going with this?

    You know how much you love satellite radio? Because it’s so damn focused on one little segment of the entire listening audience and it scratches your itch in just the right way? You could be doing that with your blog. Focused on one little area, or one unique niche, biche, or one long tail search, giving a potential client just the right information, just the perfect combination of insight and expertise so that you’ve scratched a real estate itch that only you can scratch. Satisfaction. The IDX can only do so much, just like the music can only do so much, it’s you putting the whole package together: Restaurants, retail, Little League, market reports, and houses for sale, to create one unique and highly and perfectly specialized niche.

    The area that I was told I shouldn’t limit myself to? 438 homes were sold in that area last year. It’s just me right now. I could sell 5% of those homes and have an okay year. Specialize? Limit myself? I believe I’ll take a cue from satellite radio and follow Ryan’s advice, because that’s an itch I know how to scratch.

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  • 9 comments

    Why Build “The Pearl” in Solana Beach When Buying Existing Resale Housing Would Save Taxpayers Money?

    My little slice of Heaven, Solana Beach, is developing  A $6 million, ten-unit, low-income housing complex:

    The three-level building would have a 1,300 square-foot market on the ground floor, and 10 housing rental units above. The site is now a parking lot with 31 spots, used heavily for beach access and for the junior lifeguard program. A lot with some underground parking with 54 spots is proposed.

    “The Pearl” will be a mixed-use development, with a small market and ten housing units which can house up to 44 people.  Ginger Hitzke is the Temecula-based developer.  Her work history includes various “public/private developments”, as a Vice President with the Affirmed Housing Group and now, as a lead developer with Community Collective.

    Naturally, the coastal residents are up in arms about the affect on the neighborhood:

    Residents packed the City Council chambers, many complaining that The Pearl would increase traffic, loitering, reduce property values, and wouldn’t mesh with the surrounding blufftop condominiums that line Sierra Avenue.

    “The city just seems too desperate to fund the building of 10 units to complete the settlement of a bungled lawsuit regarding the loss of 13 low-income units,” said Mark Tiddens, an area resident.

    The Condominium Organization of South Sierra Avenue will vote by Sept. 2 on whether to formally oppose the project. Story poles indicating the outline of the building are now in place at the site, a public parking lot near a beach access.

    The morality of redistribution of wealth schemes, and the efficacy of Keynesian stimulii notwithstanding, wouldn’t it just be easier to buy ten listed homes for sale?   I searched for Solana Beach homes for sale, under $600,000, and found 24 active listings. To purchase existing listings meets the ideals of “integrating low-income residents” throughout the community, would be easier to manage, and can be accomplished quickly.

    The City could make a public announcement that it intends to purchase ten homes for less than $550,000, offer a 4% co-brokerage fee, and suggest that it will give preference to short sales or foreclosure situations,  My guess is it would be flooded with offers to sell.

    Solana Beach is stuck with the State’s mandate so we might as well get it completed as inexpensively, and as quickly as possible.

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  • 15 comments

    Unchained melody: For our friends back east, the Derek Trucks Band covering Bob Dylan’s “Down in the flood.”

    Good luck, y’all. Definitely interested in hearing your how-we-survived stories.

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  • Comments are off for this post

    Saying goodbye to Shyly…

    She loved me better than any dog I’ve ever known. She loved me better than I deserved, more than I ever did anything to earn. She was with me at my desk all day and on the floor beside my bed all night. When I left the house, she would wait for my return where last she saw me, and when I came home she would yip and scamper and dance and rejoice with every fiber of her being.

    I loved her better than any dog I’ve ever known, but I loved her nothing like she deserved. I loved having her with me, but I ignored her almost all the time. But I always knew where to drop my hand when I wanted to touch her. I didn’t have to look for her. Her love and her loyalty were so complete, I always knew where she would be.

    She taught me so much just by being alive, but what she taught me best was how to be that completely, that unreservedly, that rapturously alive. She was beautiful inside and out, and she was exuberantly delighted every day of her life — even this one, the last day of her life.

    The photo montage above is from the out-takes from our Christmas Card for the year 2000. Shyly is the gorgeous black bitch in my arms who can’t sit still — who never could sit still.

    She was a mutt, half Chow, half Labrador, but she was a proud and perfect puppy for every minute that she lived — always eager, always excited, always involved. She died at peace, as dogs can and as human beings so often cannot. I know she had a happy life, and I’m glad she had a painless death.

    She was with me for thirteen years, but she’ll be with me for the rest of my life. I’ll never love another dog as much as I loved my Shylygirl. I’ll miss her every day.

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  • 15 comments

    Thank different…

    Good Jobs reading:

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  • 1 comment

    What we can learn from Steve Jobs…

    Warning long post ahead.

    First of all, I was saddened today to learn of Steve Jobs’ resignation as Apple’s CEO. Below is the resignation letter which is making its way around the internet at lightning speed right now.

    To the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community:
    I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.
    I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.
    As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.
    I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.
    I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.

    Steve

    I have copied it here because I respect the man greatly. I spent several rough months of my life being diagnosed with the same illness that he has only to find out that I was fortunate and did not have cancer and he did. In the darkest hours of that time for me, him toughing it out helped me tough it out.

    What impresses me the most about him is that he has kept his focus on doing his business, in building things to make peoples’ lives better and it helping other people through capitalism.he is everything I admire about the dream of taking things on because they are there and in building more in spite of all odds. He epitomizes the term “Do your worst, I will not kneel.” I am grateful for the example of a really bright guy doing extraordinary things.

    Note to the East Coast media currently whining about a 5.8 earthquake…Japan’s was 1,000 times as severe. Let’s have some priorities OK? Quit whining. You do not have problems. Steve Jobs has problems…and yet he does not whine. Neither did Japan. I think there is a lesson there.

    For those who whine about capitalism and how bad it is…and how these “corporate jet” CEOs are such evil monsters who are not paying their fair share, I would ask you to consider Steve Jobs. When you think that he built his company once, make a fortune, and then it almost went under after making it the first time and so he came back, reinvested and built it again…bigger and better and employing more people…And improving more lives. In the last few years, all while dealing with the ultimate of health issues. Pretty impressive in my book.

    I’d like to offer you something to consider before you look at entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and say that the freedom we give them to build massive companies is a bad thing…when you are writing that criticism, make sure that you are doing it from an iPad or a Mac or an iPhone. That way the hypocrisy will be complete.

    Before we think about how many ways that we can restrict more Steve Jobs’s out there with regulations and red tape to make it “fair”, I would suggest that we would best be served by turning them loose to dream, build, invent, create and do. They will succeed most times anyway, but why create obstacles that slow the progress and improvement in our lives?

    Happy retirement, Steve. May you live each day to the fullest. Thank you for making my life (for one) all little brighter, my resolve to celebrate every day a little stronger, and my love for the freedoms and opportunities that I have a little deeper.

    Well done.

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  • Steve Jobs at All Things Digital: What people want is the real internet on their phone

  • 13 comments

    SplendorQuest: A rallying cry for the Tea Party rebellion: “You’re not the boss of me!”

    I’m kicking this back to the top, which I think means no one will read it. ;) In fact, I’m moving stuff like this to SplendorQuest.com, going forward. I think this an insanely-great essay, but it reads better elsewhere.

    But: The comments to this post are amazing, BloodhoundBlog at its very best. Here are two of my remarks, illuminating why I am moving content like this and what I plan to do at SplendorQuest.com:

    Celebrating my self: I have amazing things to say about the ontology and teleology of egoism and individualism, and virtually no one is paying any attention at all. I would be frustrated, except I can’t be: It’s raining soup in my mind, even if in no one else’s.

    And:

    I don’t have any organizational goals, I just want to induce people to think better, if I can. It’s a good thing for me, in the long run, since I stand to do better when other people do better — and since I’m pretty much incinerator-bait if things go to hell. But I know that the people I’m talking to will do better if they learn to seek Splendor in their lives. If I give anyone any time at all, my objective is to get that person to question his most basic assumptions about how the universe works. That much is not a kindness, at least at first, since people don’t generally love having the stilts kicked out from under them. But that’s “how much and how far” I want to go. There is no other way to get here from there.

    “Save the world from home in your spare time!” I love that joke. But that’s what I plan to do, as time and minds permit. Come play with me, if the quest for Splendor moves you. –GSS

     
    A rallying cry for the Tea Party rebellion: “You’re not the boss of me!”

    I love that phrase — “You’re not the boss of me!” — those words, that order, that emphasis. Children say it when they’re put upon, and I love it so much I write it into their mouths in fiction, too.

    The sentence has that structure because the child has self-abstracted the genitive idea, the idea of “of-ness” — the relationship of dominance defined by every form of possession. “You’re not my boss!” is a learned shortening of the same idea, but “You’re not the boss of me!” is a completely self-abstracted, self-constructed sentence, which in turn expresses in the most succinct possible form a completely self-abstracted philosophy.

    We spend a lot of time laughing at how silly children’s ideas are, but we never stop to marvel at everything they had to work out in order to have ideas of their own. To say that one simple sentence — “You’re not the boss of me!” — the child had to work out the idea of his own undeniable, inescapable ontological autonomy.

    I could spend a month defending the idea of an “undeniable, inescapable ontological autonomy,” but I had to understand the raw essence of that idea as a four-year-old — and so did you!

    We were all children once, and we had amazing minds — before we trained ourselves to be stupid. And we were vessels of pure truth — before we learned how to lie. Before we learned how to say anything other than “You’re not the boss of me!” Or, worse, learned how to say “I am the boss of you!”

    The world is wide, and I have seen it in little more than glimpses, but it would not surprise me if the first complete sentence to emerge from the mouth of any normal child would take this form: “Mine!” It amounts to using the imperative to express the genitive: “That is my property, and I will thank you to get your grubby mitts off of it!” Compared to a child of that age, just about any dog could do better job at making the point, but the child has already done what the dog can never do:

    The child has conceptually abstracted the idea of personal property as a value.

    What was the first day you were alive as a human being? On which day of your life did you come to be awake as a self-aware free moral agent, motivated by nothing but your self, by nothing but your own self-abstracted idea of how you should behave? You may not be convinced, by now, that you are, in fact, a being of undeniable, inescapable ontological autonomy, but it was that idea that you were expressing the first time you said “Mine!” or “No!”

    You had expressed those sentiments physically, in mothertongue, many times before — just as the dog had done. But when you expressed those ideas in words, in concepts, it was at that instant, if we must draw a bright line, that you stopped being an animal and became a human being.

    Do you need a continuum instead? Fine. That instant marks the first positive number on the continuum of your graduation from being an animal into becoming a human being. And by the time you got around to expressing an idea so complex as “You’re not the boss of me!” — by then you were nearly done understanding the world on your own.

    I call this the age of conceptual fluency, and, like every other metamorphic process, it really is more useful to think of it as a continuum. It might begin when the is child two or three, with expressions in fathertongue — “No!” or “Mine!” — even if reinforced in mothertongue. I expect it to be done — a child who lives life in fathertongue virtually all the time — by age five.

    Keep this fresh in your mind: By age five, you yourself and nearly every other person you will ever know, had abstracted in its entirety a complete — and completely captivating — philosophy of individualism.

    At five, you could not have defended the idea that “You’re not the boss of me!” the way I can do it today, but at that age you and they and everyone regarded that expression as a completely obvious, completely indisputable political philosophy. What you and everyone actually said was this:

    “I am a being of undeniable, inescapable ontological autonomy. It is wrong for you to attempt to dominate me, not just because that would be morally wrong but, most importantly, because my nature as a thing forbids it.

    “This is a statement of obvious fact — obvious to observation, but, most especially, obvious to self-observation, to introspection. You know that I am a being of undeniable, inescapable ontological autonomy because you know that you yourself are a being of undeniable, inescapable ontological autonomy, and you know we are alike as things.

    “This fact is undeniable, which means you can deny it only by being knowingly deceitful or in grievous error.

    “This fact is inescapable, since no matter what deceitful or erroneous statements you might make about the idea of human autonomy — volitional conceptuality and concept-driven volitionality — free moral agency — free will — it is nevertheless always the case that we each are never other than and never more than beings of undeniable, inescapable ontological autonomy.

    “Therefore, my own autonomy — and hence yours — is an ontological fact — a property of my being as a thing — an inalienable manifestation of my identity as an entity.”

    That’s a boatload of philosophy for a child so small, isn’t it? You should pat yourself on the back. You couldn’t express those ideas in those words at that age, but it remains that you understood every principle of that argument when you were three or four years old. You had to have understood those principles in order to have said “You’re not the boss of me!”

    Now when you were four, having declared, “You’re not the boss of me!” very probably someone scooped you up and carried you off to whatever fate you were resisting. You screamed and writhed in outrage, correctly identifying this as a crime against your autonomy, but your parents or an older sibling proceeded to push you around anyway. You may want to claim that this was dominance, even though we just established that it is not possible for one person to dominate another. In fact, what was done to you was not dominance but simply coercion.

    If you are big enough, or if you run in a gang, you can coerce my body, pushing me around like a mannequin. You can bind my limbs or lock me in a jail cell. You can beat me, torture me, even kill me. But what you cannot do is cause me to take any sort of purposive action. I can voluntarily relent to your demands out of fear of even worse pain, but, if I choose to resist you, there is nothing you can do about it. You cannot dominate me, not ever.

    Want proof? If you believe you can dominate my will, raise my hand.

    I am free from you ontologically, as a manifestation of my identity as a thing. You can enslave my body with chains, but you cannot ever enslave my will. You are not the boss of me, not ever.

    You are not the boss of anyone except yourself. I am not the boss of anyone except myself. Adults can have a caretaker responsibility for children — or for mentally-defective or ill or severely-injured relatives — while those folks are unable to manage their own autonomy. But no one ever has the power to control another person’s purposive actions from the outside. As human beings, we are each one of us free from all the others.

    So suppose you take it into your head that you should be able to tell me which weapons I can purchase, how many I can own, what ammunition I can use with those weapons, in what loads and in what quantities? Suppose you resolve to dictate to me how many rounds of ammunition my firearms can deploy at one time? Guess what? You’re not the boss of me.

    Do you imagine that you have the right to tell me what work I can do, how I must do it and at what rate of pay? Not likely. You’re not the boss of me.

    Have you determined that it’s your business what food, drink or other substances I put into my body? Think again. You’re not the boss of me.

    Can’t get your mind off sex? Are you obsessed with dictating to me whom I can make love to, how, with which organs or artifacts? You should seek help for your mental fixations, but, in the mean time: You’re not the boss of me.

    Is it your plan to insist that you can rightfully take my land to do what you want with it? You had better bring a big gang, because you’re not the boss of me.

    Do you claim that your poverty or your poor health are somehow my responsibility? Ask me for money and I might give you some. Demand that money at gun-point and you’ll find out why I didn’t let you take away my guns. I’m sorry your life is not all you wish it could be, but your suffering is not my fault. No matter how pitifully you portray your condition, you are not the boss of me.

    Stripped of all the confusing rhetoric, the Tea Party is a slave rebellion. American taxpayers have finally had enough of being ordered around by any charlatan with the chutzpah to declare, “I am the boss of you!” Ours is a tyranny by proxy. The guns and prisons belong to the state, not to the ugly ideologues who are constantly threatening to imprison you for daring to defy them. But it is a tyranny nevertheless, and the Tea Party is the first meaningful resistance to government to be seen in America for many, many decades.

    But the Tea Party is a slave rebellion enshrouded in a fog of confusing rhetoric. Cut my taxes, but don’t cut me off from the Social Security ponzi scam. Get your damn laws out of my gun safe, but you-betcha-by-golly I plan to censor pornography. Don’t you dare tell me where I can build my church, but don’t you dare let those heathen bastards build their temple of heresy in my town!

    Here is the way the world really works: When you say, “You’re not the boss of me!” you are making a very powerful statement in support of human liberty. But when you say “I am the boss of you!” — then you are the enemy. The enemy of human liberty, but, ultimately, the enemy of human life on earth.

    We are what we are ontologically, as objective entities. You cannot control my purposive behavior. All you can do is damage my life — and your own — in your futile attempts to dominate me by means of criminal coercion.

    What should you really want from government? How about this? No crime.

    We can argue elsewhere about coercive responses to thugs or rapists or thieves. In reality, almost none of us are criminals, seeking to live a life of havoc or predation. The question everyone interested in the Tea Party should ask himself is this one: Under what circumstances can I declare myself to be my neighbor’s boss?

    By what right do I presume to tell my neighbor what weapons he can own?

    By what right does he tell me which books I can read?

    By what right do I dictate the terms by which an entrepreneur can run his business?

    By what right does he tell me what goods I can and cannot buy?

    By what right do I tell strangers that their love is wrong?

    By what right do they tell me what to teach my children?

    You knew the answers to all of these questions when you were five years old: You are not your brother’s keeper, but, much more importantly, you are not your brother’s boss.

    You say you want a revolution? Here’s where it starts: You don’t want less government, you want no government, as little as you can achieve today, and still less tomorrow. You don’t want anyone pushing you around, but what that means is that you don’t want anyone — including you — pushing anyone else around.

    Are you waiting with bated breath for Congress to fail to repeal socialized medicine, so it can get busy failing to defund public broadcasting? How about you do this instead? Get rid of every regulation on business or labor in your town. Repeal the zoning and planning laws. Depopulate City Hall and then sell the building. Get every government in your state out of the education business, out of the marriage and family business, out of commerce, out of the real estate business, out of the roads business — out of the busy-body business in every conceivable way. Reduce every tax you can, and then keep reducing them, any of them, all of them, all the time.

    When government uses coercion against people innocent of all wrong-doing, this is crime. How much crime should you be willing to tolerate in your life? How much crime is the perfect amount? My answer is zero. Before you name any other quantity, stop to think about how the criminally coercive power you propose to unleash will be used on you and the people you love.

    If you want to be free from government coercion, you have to rid your life of slave-masters, of people who insist that they somehow have the right or the power to order you around. We are lucky in this country that we can effect our revolution peacefully, at the ballot box. But it is a revolution we must undertake, unless we are to live as slaves forevermore.

    And what should be the rallying cry of that revolution? I vote for this profoundly important philosophical principle:

    “You’re not the boss of me!”

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  • 41 comments

    Shyly’s delight: “The Secret” to man and god in the universe . . .

    Kicking this back to the top from February of 2007, although the underlying essay is much older than that. This is the shortest statement I have made, so far, of the ontology of human behavior. –GSS

     
    Russell Shaw has mentioned the film The Secret a couple of times. Cathy bought the DVD, and we took the time to watch it tonight. As an expression of the right attitude to take toward life, it was right up my street. As physics, metaphysics, epistemology and ontology, it struck me as babbling word salad. The Law of Attraction commended me to The Eyelid Show, as television often does, so Cathy saw the whole thing, and I saw about half.

    What the movie would seek to ascribe to a volitionally-caused physics (this is solipsism, right there), I would argue is simply the secondary consequences of particular habits of mind. Russell wants to freely and very generously share all that he has learned in his career. To do this, he needed me as his amplifier, and the two of us needed Allen Butler for his technological prowess. A great many other very talented people will be involved in this project. Are we drawn to each other by a Law of Attraction, or all we all simply oscillating in our own minds at around the same frequency — birds of a feather?

    I wrote a book about the ontology of human social relationships, but it’s dense, tough sledding. Appended below is a easier-reading summary of some of these ideas. I wrote this as a speech for my Toastmaster’s Club in August of 2001. In the weblogging world, I’ll throw out details about our lives, but that’s really just so much plastic fruit, local color. This is the world that I live in, the world I wish everyone lived in…

    Shyly’s delight

    or

    Manifesting the secondary consequences of splendor

    I have a Labrador mutt named Shyly. She’s about three years old, but because she’s a Lab, she’ll always be a puppy. Always busy, always involved, always eager to be right in the middle of everything.

    Shyly is the world’s greatest master at expressing delight. She has a fairly limited emotional range — sadness, boredom, territoriality and contentment. But at expressing delight, Shyly is unequaled. When I come home, even if I’ve only been away for two minutes, Shyly races back and forth through the house, her every muscle rippling with undiluted delight.

    It’s an amazing thing to watch, funny and charming and sweet. Shyly’s joy is clean and whole and pure and perfect. Uncontaminated by memories of past pain. Unfiltered by guilt or shame or doubt or self-loathing. Untainted by envy or anger or malice. Unaffected by affectation. Shyly’s delight is impossible to doubt, and the day she fails to express it will be the day she has scampered off this mortal coil.

    “What,” you may ask, “does this have to do with me?”

    Here’s what:

    Friedrich Nietzsche said, “god is dead.” By this he did not mean that there had once been an omnipotent universe creator but that he had since expired. What he meant was that the manifestations of modernity had rendered religion unable to provide significant moral guidance to educated people. Unexpurgated religion had become inoperative as a moral lodestone.

    This is actually non-controversial. When we make reasoned arguments about what one ought and ought not do, we do so by reference to philosophy or psychology or practical consequences, not to religion. Even members of the clergy do things this way, precisely because it is not possible to motivate educated people to take certain actions and refrain from taking others with promises of heaven and threats of hell. Received knowledge is no longer well-received.

    I have a problem with this, actually. Reason is a much better guide to rectitude than is divination, surely. But half a truth can be worse than a lie.

    I think god is not dead.

    I think god has never yet even been discovered.

    I know god. I have an on-going experience of god. I live in a state of the most devout, most enthralling worship of the one true god of human existence, the god humanity has always yearned to know and yet has never found. In the best and most perfect minutes of my day, in the cleanest and purest and most exquisitely splendorous days of my life, I am one with my god…

    This is a fact: You are alone. This is the horrifying Existentialist wail, “The Scream”, the badge of honor of those who rationalize their lack of honor. But their despair and ennui notwithstanding, human beings are organisms, and all organisms are discrete, separate, unattached, unconnected. This is true of an amoeba and of my dog Shyly and of you. What is unique about you, compared to Shyly, is that you have a reasoning, recollecting mind, and therefore you can discover and acknowledge that you are alone.

    Here is another fact: The “you” that is the real you is invisible to me. Shyly is who she is, and she can’t hide who she is. She can’t conceive of disguising who she is because she can’t conceive that she is. She just is.

    You, by contrast, exist most fundamentally as you only within the silence and solitude of your mind. You have a body and I can see it. You do things and I can observe them. But I can only observe you doing those things that you choose to do in my presence. I can know you only by what you make manifest, reveal in your actions. Anything that you might choose to conceal or withhold is unknowable to me.

    The you that is you most fundamentally — your soul, your spirit, your self, your ego — is never evident to anyone but you, by your own introspective consciousness.

    Moreover, the actions and behaviors that you do make manifest — these are never more than secondary consequences of your life.

    Every action that you take in your life is first taken by your ego upon your ego.

    Not only are you alone with yourself, the sine qua non relationship of your life is with yourself. With your self, with the you that is the essential you, which only you can see, only you can know, and only you can act upon.

    You are all there is to your life. The universe is everything there is, but the universe of your experience starts at your skin and goes inward. The actions you bring to the world outside of you are secondary consequences, and all of the events that happen outside of you are only as significant as you make them. By your choices, inside your mind.

    Clouds don’t darken my mood. I darken my mood, then blame it on the clouds. Shyly’s delight doesn’t cause mine.

    Do you want to see god? Close your eyes. Imagine yourself clean and whole and pure and perfect. Imagine yourself completed, burnished, glowing in exaltation.

    Do you want to worship the god who is clean and whole and pure and perfect? Then be it. Be that god.

    My Shylygirl can do things that are wrong, but she can never do evil, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because evil is taking an action that you know in advance is wrong. I’ll say that again: Evil is taking an action that you know in advance is wrong.

    But I’m not here to threaten you with hell but rather to bring you the promise of heaven. So I’ll give you the complementary definition of rectitude: Rectitude is doing everything you know to be right.

    In every choice you make, in every action you take, in each of your thoughts and in each of your deeds, you are acting upon your self. By your attitudes and your habits of mind and your internal and external behaviors, you are acting either to complete and burnish and exalt your ego — or to dismantle and deface and destroy it.

    This is an inescapable ontological fact. This is what it means essentially to have a reasoning, recollecting mind. Skyscrapers and symphonies, on the one hand, and squalor and slaughter, on the other — these are secondary consequences. Every action in every human life is first taken by the ego upon the ego.

    So do you want to worship your god, the only god who can exist in the universe of your experience? Then be that god. Behave always, constantly, in such a way that you will have earned and deserved your own self-adoration. Act always to complete your self and never to dismantle it, always to burnish it and never to deface it, always to exalt your ego and your body and your mind and your life — never to destroy it.

    You’ll have to do this by yourself. The world outside your mind is at war with these kinds of ideas. Your pain, your guilt, your shame, your doubt, your self-loathing, your envy, your anger, your malice — these are the attributes of your character the world loves to see you manifest. These it will support and rationalize and subsidize. But to argue that self-destruction is not a worthy use of the precious gift of human life, to argue instead that the purpose of human life is to love one’s own self and to be a self worthy of one’s own unlimited adoration and devotion — merely to utter these words is held to be the worst kind of heresy.

    And don’t be fooled into following false flags. Self-worship does not imply the abuse of others. This was Nietzsche’s egregious error. To the contrary, rectitude is doing everything you know to be right.

    Nor is the modern canard, “self-esteem”, a substitute for self-love. Self-love is the joy and reverence you earn and deserve by the relentless pursuit of everything you admire, everything you desire, everything you aspire to. Self-esteem is the high regard in which you presume to hold yourself in appreciation for the accomplishment of absolutely nothing.

    We are talking about self-adoration, not self-absorption. Egoism, not egotism.

    But we are not talking about religion or philosophy or psychology. We are talking about ontology, what you actually are, in fact, irrespective of what anyone thinks about it.

    I stand before you as witness to my god. I speak not from divination, not from revelation, but simply from direct introspective observation:

    If you want to know Shyly’s delight, live it.

    If you want to manifest splendor — unlimited, uncontaminated, untainted, unfiltered joy — then be the person who has earned and deserved undiluted delight — mental, physical and emotional — earned it and deserved it as the enduring secondary consequence of your choices…

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  • 34 comments

    Reasons to be cheerful, Part 3.1.1: Psalm.

    Art is demanding, and that’s good. But art is petulant and importunate and presumptuous to a fault. Art is that damned nuisance of a snoopy neighbor who keeps knocking, knocking, knocking on your cellar door. Art goes straight for the places you forbid yourself to think about and rummages through your most terrifying secrets like a burglar tearing through your underwear drawer. Good art makes you hate it as you devour it, shun it as you immerse yourself in it. Good art makes you restless and jagged and ragged and inspired. Good art makes you shiver. Great art makes you cringe.

    Art is a vanity in precisely this way: I presume to recreate reality in my own image and likeness, and I have the effrontery to demand that you not only acknowledge that reality but prefer it. I presume to seize the universe and squeeze out of it a tiny seed of truth. And I presume to plant that seed within you — without your consent, perhaps without even your knowledge. And I presume to nurture this new universe I have caused to grow within you until you scream — if I am good enough — scream from agony and delight. And I presume to do all of this for no purpose of yours, but only for reasons of my own devising. And at the end of it you may thank me or damn me, but you will never have been more than the means to my end: I sought not you but only to spawn myself anew within you — immaculate conceptualization. Art is a vanity because it is the means by which the artist postures as a god — and not a very merciful god.

    I see all of this and yet I embrace it. I am as much art’s victim as you, although on my best days I am lucky enough to have a bit of my own back. But as a species and as individuals we are unwilling to forswear the worst of our vices without that resounding blow to the head that art alone provides. Our artists are vain and petulant god-impostors, but they do for us the job we demand of gods: They fill us with awe and wonder and terror and they give us the excuse we seem to need to repent of vice.

    As a species, as individuals, we are born enormous and we waste the span of our days and our years shrinking, shrinking, shrinking until we vanish away to nothingness. And while it would be vain and petulant and importunate and presumptuous to a fault for me to call any work of mine art, nonetheless I am come to you to give you a most resounding blow to the head in the hope that it will give you the excuse you seem to need to repent of this awful vice of shrinking.

    I love humanity in principle but I loathe much of it in practice. And that is the sort of statement I normally rebel against. The implication is that there are two universes, one perfect but unreal, one real but inherently imperfect. I don’t believe in unreality and I don’t believe perfection is beyond our reach. I love what humanity can become, but for the most part has not. One of the reasons we revere great artists is because they have nurtured the seed of greatness that each of us carries within us. One of the reasons we despise great artists, sneering at their human imperfections, is because we despise ourselves for having failed to nurture the seed of greatness that each of us carries within us. I love to envision a humanity that rejoices in its potential for greatness and therefore never has cause to despise itself.

    Is that not a godlike vision? Do not dare call it a merciful vision. I seek for you not ease, not comfort, not quiet, but their polar opposites. I would wish that you work ceaselessly, obsessively, beyond every standard of human endurance, to writhe and seethe and bleed giving birth to your greatness. And I would wish for you to undertake all of this at once, without delay. I have seen enough of this shrinking, and I want it to stop.

    Is that not sufficiently demanding? I presume to dictate to you the terms of your existence, and I do it with the utmost effrontery. I demand not just that you repent of vice, I expect you to punch out some hefty virtues, and no half measures. I am importunate by any interpretation and I am petulant beyond dispute.

    Is that not presumptuous enough for you? Surely it is, for you and I both know the nature of those most terrifying secrets, but I alone am presumptuous enough to reveal them. I am no mere snoopy neighbor, no mere rummaging burglar. I am you, you in your most furtive and delicious and concealed and coveted moments. I am you in principle, never in practice. Perfect but unreal, burnished to a glow in the utter secrecy of the imagination, hidden from every eye in the universe, even from your own. I am the seed of that greatness within you, fully grown in another garden.

    Is that not vanity personified? Indeed. But exactly. I am vanity personified, the word made flesh, the world made fresh. Infuriatingly fresh. I am a resounding blow to your head with a cold, wet fish. I don’t want to knock some sense into you; that’s not possible. I want you to unlock that horrid dungeon of the mind in which all the sense is imprisoned. You know what I am because you know what you are — in principle. I want you to be what you are in principle in practice.

    I want you to stop shrinking, shrinking, shrinking and instead nurture the seed of your own enormity. I am not another empty-headed little door-to-door salesman peddling self-esteem or self-improvement or self-advancement or self-delusion. I am a thundering god-impostor and I demand from you self-love, the total worship of the ego by the ego. Self-love cannot be bought or sold, it can only be earned at the price of enormous effort. And I demand that you make that effort to deserve your own adoration.

    The words that are running through your mind right now are the words by which you have made war on your life since your childhood. Those words are the means by which you endlessly shrink away to nothingness. You will not grow merely by ceasing to despise your potential for greatness, but you cannot grow as long as you persist in this hideous self-annihilation. You are born to live, no less than any tree or bird, and you have the potential to live in a way impossible to the plants and the animals, to live a life of beauty and meaning and achievement. But you cannot live that life while you are pursuing its destruction.

    I am a student of the base and the squalid. But I am a poet of the glorious, the immense. I imagine for myself a radiant universe and I people it with giants. In my work I write about this failure of humanity or that error, this vice or that sin, and it would be easy enough to suppose that it is humanity itself, the stuff we’re made of, that is imperfect. But I know this is untrue. Humanity’s failure is not a failure of materials, not a failure of design. It is a failure of nerve. At least until now, we have lacked the courage to become what we truly are, reasoning animals.

    I gaze into the squalor and I would wish that people stop indulging their stupidities, stop gathering into herds, stop pandering to their craven appetites — stop behaving as animals. But there is no end to the vices we could forswear and it would never be enough. We require not an end of vice, but a commencement of virtue. We need not to stop behaving as animals, we need to start behaving fully as human beings. All the time.

    Good art makes you shiver, gentle reader, and great art makes you cringe. The very best art makes you change, and I am vain enough to hope that this day and these words will mark a change in your life that will last forever. If you will dare to be as enormous in practice as you furtively imagine yourself in principle, you will have a treasure that no one — no artist and no god — can ever provide for you: A life that you will not have to affect to despise by shrinking, shrinking, shrinking away to nothingness, a life that you can revere — openly, joyously, gloriously. And if you come one day to the perfect complement of this day, the day when you birth for yourself a universe as radiant as the one I would plant within you, I hope that you will share your self-reverence as I have shared mine with you.

    Living is what you’re doing when you’re too enthralled to notice. Dying is what you’re doing when all you can do is notice. Our destiny is not to die without ever having dared to live. Our destiny is to thrive. Without shame. Without apologies. And without one instant of shrinking. I worship what you can become. I beseech you to become it and rejoice boundlessly in your enormity.

    Greg Swann, 5/20/96


    Reasons to be cheerful: Defying the specter of ugly fates.

    Manifest your own destiny: You say you want a revolution? Yeah, well anyone can piss and moan about how bad everything is. If you want things to change, I’m making a stout effort to show you how to achieve revolutionary change — from the inside out. But your own efforts at self-improvement will bear sweeter fruit sooner if you share what you’re learning with other people who love to live. You’ve never heard anything like this before. Why would you hoard it to yourself?

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  • 1 comment

    SplendorQuest: “You behave in certain ways and you lead people to have certain expectations of you. If you’re comfortable with those expectations and if you want to make everything that much more secure you say the words out loud: This is what you are to me and this is what you will always have from me and I give you my solemn vow that I will never withhold from you anything that is yours to demand. That’s what we do at our very best. But what if you’re not comfortable with the expectations? What do you do then? Maybe you follow through anyway, but you never take that extra step, you never put it into words. You’re accountable for what you do as well as what you say, but if you don’t come right out and say it, you can always deny things, you can always claim you were misunderstood.”

    This is an extract from a book I wrote in 1997 called The Unfallen. This amounts to me letting people I make up speak for me, too, but it’s apposite to the larger conversation, and it’s good, I think. I like art about adults, and this is fun for me because we get to watch a teenage boy growing into his adulthood. I have never yet written a good book, and I don’t know that I ever will; the last chapter of childhood consists of coming to grips with your own mediocrity, after all. But The Unfallen is concerned with nothing but my world — my kind of people tackling my kind of issues. I hope this book is not the best I will ever do, but it’s the best I’ve done so far. And if you want to get drenched my way, it will do that job from the very first page. –GSS

     

    Devin stood with Spencer as the car pulled away. He said, “Are you cold? Can you stand to walk?”

    “I’m all right.”

    “Let’s just walk, then. I learned how to think on the streets of Boston and Cambridge. I don’t always find the answer I’m looking for, but I can always walk my way to peace, to serenity.” They walked their way to the Harvard Bridge across the Charles — named the Harvard Bridge because the students of M.I.T. thought it was too badly designed to be called the M.I.T. Bridge. Elements of the more-or-less perpetual repair crew were out in their orange vests and traffic was backed up in both directions. The walkways were free, though, and they walked, one foot in front of the other, without speaking.

    Finally Devin said, “Are you a boy or a man, Spencer?”

    “I’m not sure I get that…”

    “It’s yours to say. People will treat you like a boy for the most part, I guess. But if you decide you’re a man, and if you decide to behave like a man, who can stop you?”

    Spencer grinned, his smile as bright as the sun. “There’s that, isn’t there?”

    “I ask because I think it’s a very brave thing you’re doing today. A boy might just let things slide, decide it’s not his concern, decide there’s nothing he can do. Are you being a man today?”

    “…It’s just that she’s been so — am I telling you more than I should? She’s been so sad.”

    Devin nodded, a grim acknowledgment. Facts are facts.

    “What about you? You seem to be holding up well enough.”

    He shook his head. “I do my crying in the rain… I don’t know how she feels, but I feel pretty rotten. I look at myself and I see two arms and two legs, but I feel as though huge chunks of me are missing, just gone. Cut away, cauterized, numbed, but gone…”

    “Can I… Can I ask what’s gone wrong?”

    “I wish I knew. One of the things I try to do, one of the things I resolved to do when I decided that I was a man, is to try to figure out what I’ve done wrong. It’s so tempting to blame other people or god or the malevolent fates when things go wrong, but usually it’s something you yourself have done, something you could have and should have done differently. The worst of it is, most of the time you know you’re doing the wrong thing but you ignore that knowledge and then later you try to pretend to yourself that you were ignorant all along, that you couldn’t have foreseen what was coming. It’s a comical business, sometimes, being a human being…”

    Spencer said nothing, just walked along with his hands stuffed into the pockets of his parka.

    “You’re waiting for me to tell you what I did wrong. The trouble is, I don’t know. Maybe I let things go too far too fast, and maybe your mother did, too. But everything seemed right until all at once it seemed all wrong. I can conjecture about what should have been different, but that’s all I can do.”

    “I’m listening.”

    “Are you a boy or a man, Spencer? You’re asking questions, but the answers to those questions might reflect badly on your mother. Are you sure you want to continue?”

    “…I want to know if there’s something I can do to help.”

    “That’s a good answer. A very manly answer. I’ll do my best to live up to that.” Devin took a deep breath and let it out very slowly. “My problem was that I stopped trusting your mother. No, that’s too strong. I stopped feeling as safe as I had with her, and the change was enough that it scared me very badly. I don’t know what’s going on with her, and no matter how well we might guess, we can never know what’s going on in another person’s mind. But if she were a man, I’d feel a lot more confident about my conjectures. That’s what scared me, I guess, that she looked to me like I had looked to myself before, a long time ago…”

    “I’m not following you.”

    “It’s about marriage, Spencer. You know that, right? I don’t know that your mom and I were going to get married, but until a couple of weeks ago I thought for sure we were. We hadn’t talked about it, hadn’t planned anything. It was just the road we were traveling and I didn’t see anything to throw us off that course. I was married before, to Hunter’s mother, and Gwen started to feel to me like I had felt to myself when I was married… That’s not clear at all, is it?”

    Spencer grinned and that was answer enough.

    “Okay, let’s do it this way. My grandmother taught me to tell stories as a way of demonstrating ideas, so I’m going to tell you a story. When I first got my lab at M.I.T., I was delighted pretty much constantly. I didn’t have much in the way of funding then, and I was working around the clock, but I was getting results and the results were right in the zone, right where the theoretical model said they should be. I got hardly any sleep, but I made up for it with coffee and elation. I just walked around on clouds.

    “One night I left the Institute very late and I hailed a cab right there on Mass Ave, right where we said goodbye to Winnie and Xander. The driver was a Palestinian and he was busting ass just like I was, a different job but the same total commitment. We were made for each other that night. I love everything this country stands for — everything that it used to stand for — and the people I love best are the immigrants, the ones who know how good they have it by being here. I can talk — can you tell? — and when I’m in the right kind of mood I can sell ice to Eskimos. I was just soaring that night and I needed to sing the praises of America and that was exactly what that driver needed to hear.

    “You know how this works, right? People come here from Palestine or Eastern Europe or Africa or Taiwan and they take the dirtiest, most awful jobs and they bust their asses night and day and the lazy slobs who were born here just treat them like shit. This was my grandfather’s life, this isn’t something I had to discover on my own. Anyway, they come here because they’re willing to work hard and they want to live where hard work pays off and they work and work and work, driving cabs, running fruit stands, pushing food carts downtown. And they bust their asses and they lean all over their kids and the kids go to M.I.T. and Johns Hopkins and become the next generation of first-rate doctors and scientists.

    “But still the lazy slobs treat them like shit, and that’s why I knew that driver needed to talk to me. He was taking care of business, and that’s what matters at the end of the day. But if you’re right, right in your soul, right in your bones, it doesn’t hurt to have somebody say so once in a while. And that’s a job that I can do…

    “So he drove me home and I talked to him. Without coming right out and saying so, I told him all about why he was right, why the things he was doing were good and noble and admirable, why he should be proud of himself and why he should never be ashamed of being proud of himself. Make money. Provide for your family. Educate your children. And never apologize. That’s the American dream, and the people who dare to live it are the true Americans. By the time we got to the house he was soaring, and that was just what I wanted. I love my life, and I was proud of myself for sharing that love with someone who deserved it.

    “Okay, that’s the happy part of the story. Maybe fifteen months later, a lot had changed. I was married and my marriage was a frozen wasteland — my own fault, don’t ever think otherwise. Things weren’t great at the lab, either. The numbers weren’t always in the groove and I didn’t know why. We had more money but that just meant there was more bureaucratic bullshit to plow through. We had ramped up from a pilot program to the full project and we were doing fussy little monitoring jobs on equipment all over the world, plus some in orbit. One night I got out so late I might as well have not bothered to go home. We’d been having transient hardware failures and the data was corrupted and we had no idea how far back we had to wipe it and finally I just gave up and let it lie. I was grumpy and tired and useless and I knew I couldn’t do anything anyway, not the way I was feeling. I growled my way out the door and went home to sleep.

    “I grabbed a cab and got that same driver. He remembered me, of course, and I could see in the mirror that he wanted it again, wanted me to take him soaring with me. But I couldn’t do it that night. I didn’t have it in me, nothing like it. That’s no sin, I guess, but the sinful thing is that I didn’t do anything. I knew he wanted me to talk, but he didn’t come right out and say so. He hinted around a little, made a few small overtures, but I just froze him out. I was pissed off and grumpy and I argued silently to myself that he had no goddamned right expecting me to lay on a show for him the way I felt. I sat in the back of that car and sulked — that’s the right word. I sulked all the way home.

    “That was shameful, Spencer, one of the most shameful things I’ve ever done. I’ve never forgotten that night and I’ve never stopped feeling guilty for it.”

    Spencer looked confused. “Perhaps I’m missing something. What was the big deal?”

    Devin shrugged. “Maybe it doesn’t seem like that big a deal, but it is. We hadn’t had a silly little chat that first night. I had shown that man my soul and I had coaxed him into showing me his. There weren’t any promises between us, but I had given him the right to expect a certain kind of intimacy from me — so much more remarkable because he was a cab driver — and then I had pulled that intimacy away without even the courtesy of an explanation. Do you see where I’m headed?”

    “Frankly I don’t.”

    “It’s marriage. That driver and I were married in our odd little way, and I pulled back on him, pulled back without a hint at a reason, just like I was doing in my marriage to Hunter’s mother. You behave in certain ways and you lead people to have certain expectations of you. If you’re comfortable with those expectations and if you want to make everything that much more secure you say the words out loud: This is what you are to me and this is what you will always have from me and I give you my solemn vow that I will never withhold from you anything that is yours to demand. That’s what we do at our very best. But what if you’re not comfortable with the expectations? What do you do then? Maybe you follow through anyway, but you never take that extra step, you never put it into words. You’re accountable for what you do as well as what you say, but if you don’t come right out and say it, you can always deny things, you can always claim you were misunderstood. Come on, Spencer. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know…”

    “I guess not. …Are you saying this is what she’s done?”

    Devin shook his head. “I don’t know. It just felt like that to me. I felt as though we could soar forever so long as I didn’t ask her to make it a promise.”

    “Well, you can’t have that, can you? I mean, you can’t both be in perfect form every day. What happens when you have another bad day? What happens when she does?”

    Devin smiled, a tight, bitter little smile. “The problem with the cab driver wasn’t that I’d had a bad night. The problem was that I wouldn’t acknowledge our ‘marriage’. The honest thing to have done, the honest thing to do in a real marriage is to say, ‘I’m not up to soaring today. If you are, I could sure use your help. And if not, let’s find a way to help each other back to the sky.’ That’s what men do. That’s what women do. That’s what grown-ups do.”

    Spencer made no reply and they walked in silence through the Back Bay of Boston. At the Auditorium stop of the T Devin said, “You can get a train home from here.”

    “Are we finished then?”

    Devin smiled to himself. “God, I hope not… Listen, the Phoenix Suns are in town in a couple of weeks. I promised you a basketball game and that should be a good one. Battle of the coaches, Pitino versus Ainge, two of the smartest guys in the N.B.A. You want to go?”

    “Sure.”

    “…Spencer, this is a very good thing you did today. A very manly thing. It took guts…”

    The boy reacted boyishly, but Devin knew that was just from habit. There was a sadness in his eyes and a resolve and a measure of pride and he was every inch a man.

    ‘Soul food,’ Winnie had said. ‘Read it when you’re feeling hungry.’ Devin felt very hungry in his soul and he dug into his pocket to see what she had written. It was two quotations, written in pale blue ink in Winnie’s delicate hand.

    The first was from Robert A. Heinlein: “Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”

    The second was by Luciano De Crescenzo and Devin read it over and over again, blinking back tears. “We are each of us Angels with one wing, and we can only fly embracing each other.”

    Devin looked at Spencer with glassy eyes and said, “I’ll do something. I don’t know what right now, but I’ll think of something to do…”

    Spencer nodded and there was so much strength in him and so much confidence and Devin felt very young and weak and he was glad he had someone as strong as Spencer to help him find his way back to the sky, to help the two of them remember how to fly…

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  • 3 comments

    SplendorQuest: My world…

    [This is me in February of 2004. It's fun for me to read now, because we were selling a lot then, and -- like a lot of folks -- the next year, 2005, was my best year so far. I'm not selling success as a matter of dollars and cents. That matters to me, but not as much as Splendor does, not as much as integrity and follow-through and a comprehensive commitment not just to the good but to getting better -- all the time. I have an essay aborning in me about everything I have learned about sales in the last ten years, but even that's not as much as I want to do -- as much as I want to have done. I want better money, yes, for us and for everyone who listens to us. And I want for Realtors to be better. I want for us to have an earned and deserved reputation as honest brokers who put our clients' interest first. But before all that, I want for people to do better, to be better, to experience life more as a rapturous treasure and less as an unwanted burden. I want for the world to be better, remarkably better in every conceivable way.

    This essay is me, the real deal, entirely unedited. I know I'm not alone in being like this, but no one dares to talk this way. We are children of Abel in every way that matters, and we are too much ashamed of being alive to celebrate the simple fact of our vitality. And yet this is the change that matters. To be free of other people means to be free of them in the silence and solitude of your own mind. If they can't get at you there, then chains and walls are nothing but expressions of their inevitable failure. But if you forebear to be who you really are at the command of some internal editor, you are imprisoned everywhere -- even when you are completely alone.

    If you want to buy or sell some real estate in Metro Phoenix, I'm your guy. But the best gift I have to bring to the marketplace is this one: The practical expression of Splendor as a philosophy of being. --GSS]

     
    The world I live in, the world I love to live in, is a place of the most intense concentration. To a degree, it doesn’t even matter to me what I’m concentrating on, provided it commands my fullest attention. What I like best is to think about one thing and to think all about that one thing and to think about it exhaustively, until I understand it as if I were inside that thing, as if I were that thing.

    The world I die in, the world in which I hate to find myself enmired, is the place where there is nothing to be thought about, nothing to be understood, nothing to be accomplished but the rote, the obvious, the useless and trivial. I am twice lucky, though, because I can live in my world even when I’m stuck in that place of dusty death, and because I cannot for the life of me remember pain in the instant after it goes away.

    I live on this page, this temporary parchment of agitated phosphors, but I live at the same time in so many otherwheres. I wrote Macintosh software for years, the years when I couldn’t make the phosphors dance. My essay on Ibsen is the pride of Norway and a day off from work for lazy American literature professors, who assign it year after year. My study aids for the Oxford Latin Course and my partial rescue of the Interlineal Horace win me the acclaim of bleary-eyed young Latinists all over the globe. The absolute best work I have ever done, I think, is Anastasia in the light and shadow. But the most popular opus in my corpus — in terms of raw bandwidth — is not my weblog, not a political or philosophical essay, not a short story, not a book or a novel. It is a very crude animation explicating Catullus LVIII — and Lesbia just struts, she doesn’t even strip!

    But this is my world, a world where all that exists is what I am concentrating on right now. I love it better than absolutely anything, and when I find it, that vast, pulsing orb of effortless energy, I can work forever, I can work until there is nothing left in me or of me or to me. I can work until I collapse, then sleep the sleep of the blessed, then wake to do it all over again — again and again, forever.

    I love, love, love to write, and when it comes for me, when it’s right, I can write a thousand words an hour for six or seven hours a day. I stink like the dead when I stop, and I babble on senselessly, but when I sleep it’s as if the next day’s work is done for me in the night — by elves! — and the words just pour out of me when I sit down to work again. The things that I’ve written that are heartbreakingly beautiful — to me, at least — were all written that way — this way — as fast as I can type the words, constantly racing to catch up with my uninterruptible concentration.

    But as much as I love to write, I love, love, love almost everything that I do. When I was writing that software, I wrote it to infinite perfection. I solved the mission critical problem. I solved all of the ancillary problems. I error-trapped for things that could never happen. I wrote jokes and poetry in the source code for my own amusement, and I built in Easter eggs for the end users, with other treats kept secret just for the people who helped me design and test my programs. I wrote my own manuals, and the manuals are fun reading — useful, practical, whimsical, cautionary, sometimes even wise. I made my own icons and designed my own packaging and did everything the best way I could, and I got better consistently through time. And all through all of that — all through everything, everywhen — there was within me the quiet and perfect and unquestionable conviction that working any other way would be hellish. That doing anything less the best I could do in functionality, in elegance and in pure enjoyment would serve only to enmire me in that world of dusty death. I would betray everything I had done by failing to do what I could have done — what I might have and should have done.

    And I do everything that way. And I hate doing anything any other way. I hate having anything to do with anything that doesn’t need to be done, and I hate for things to be done half-way, half-measure, half-assed. I don’t even want for tasks merely to have been accomplished competently and proficiently. If there is nothing of delight in the doing, then the chore is not done. If there is nothing of me in the doing, then I might as well have been dead.

    I would see myself reflected in everything I touch — not as a vanity, not as a self-indulgence in appreciation for the accomplishment of nothing, not as an accident of nature. I want to see the evidence of my hand — my own hand — in the things I have done as a measure of the value I bring to and seek in my life. I want to look upon my work and say, “This is well done. This is properly done. This is superbly done.” I want for the things I do to be distinct in every way from the natural, the accidental, the random, the dusty and the dead. My work is my life and my life is my work and the full evidence of my effortless energy must be present in each of them — or both are dead.

    I think about all of this now — a point on a line of time named ‘always’ — because of the people I am working with right now. I so much love nearly everything I do that I have never cared very much about remuneration. Enough to live on was more than enough, and the rest was mere score-keeping, a vanity at best. But my son has developed a taste for expensive education, and my wife and I will need to retire in due course, and the simple fact of life is that I can reap just as much delight working at peak intensity for money as I can working at that same intensity for free — or some small sum in the immediate neighborhood. To that end, I have consciously directed my attention to learning how to be a truly fearsome sales monster. I approached this like everything else, with a ferocious concentration, and it looks like it’s about to begin to pay off.

    But what I’ve been thinking about is how much I enjoy it. It’s like everything else for me — everything is like everything else for me — thoughtful effort is thrice repaid. I think about everything associated with this one little thing, and I think all about what I think is wrong in everyone else’s thinking. It’s the same approach I used with Latin demonstrative pronouns, master the base and overlay the exceptions, a very programmatic style of ratiocination. I plan someday to know more about this than anyone. Not for the sake of knowing. For the sake of doing. I want to be able to do this job so well that I end up turning away more people than ever I can help.

    And I love, love, love the people I get to work with. I spent the first third of my working life in salaried jobs, and half the people I worked with were half-assed at least half the time. The others were exceptional, and I loved working with them and learning from them — or simply admiring their delightful competence. But now everyone I work with is a sales monster in some respect — a person who is paid only upon the successful completion of an intricate and volatile task.

    Mostly these folks are not what I would call contemplative. Like my lovely Gwendolyn, I go to some pains to edit the full glare of me in their sight. But to a man, to a woman — they are focused. Each one of them, every day, is presented with this challenge: Do each and every task your job requires, perfectly and as soon as it must be done, without failure, all on your own motivation — or starve to death! This is reality, the reality that is never absent in random, accidental nature. That most people, most employees, most time-servers — half-assed at least half the time — are insulated from this reality is a gift from exceptional people like the ones I get to work with every day. If I might wish to make a deeper sort of conversation with them, I could never ask to experience a deeper admiration for them.

    They are of my world. I don’t know what they think about epistemology or ethics or economics or esthetics. I don’t know if they agree with me about anything away from the world of our business. What I know is that when we are in that world of our business, they are in my world and I am in their world and none of us is in that world of dusty death.

    I believe in Splendor, and what I mean by that word is the state of being — the state of mind and the intensely physical, palpable oscillation of the body — that comes from doing whatever it is you’re doing so fully, so completely, so consciously that you are not doing anything else — not anything else. The mind is focused by an act of will, but true concentration is not a focused mind. True concentration is a focused everything.

    That sounds harsh, but of course Splendor is delight — undiluted, undiverted, undivided — undiminished and inextinguishable. I love it when I live it, and I live in my world because I love it so much. I have my wife with me and my son and my dogs. I have the wonderful people I am privileged to work with. I write psalms for those who shun my world, or who seem to, but in truth I don’t miss them. I can’t. I am enthralled by a vast, pulsing orb of effortless energy — the object, the subject, the essence of my devout concentration. I can’t bear to look away. And I never, ever look down…

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  • 12 comments

    Online Reputation Management for Realtors (and everyone else for that matter)

    Recently I was asked to participate on a speaker’s panel at an upcoming real estate conference in Columbus. It’s always nice to be asked to participate and I even had a disturbing but fleeting Sally Fields moment. Conventional conventions are not my thing, but I got to thinking about the subject of the panel- Online Reputation Management and while in the end I demurred, I knew I had much more to say about the subject than my share of a speaker’s panel would allow. Here then, is what I might have said about ORM in 15 minutes or less:

    Online Reputation Management. Interesting concept. I know what it means, I’m just not sure it gets to the root of the problem and the problem isn’t that people can post horrible and hideous things about you online, because if you spend enough time online speaking your mind, not hiding who you are, well then girlfriend, someone, somewhere is bound to say something hideous and horrible about you. The focus should not be that you cannot control what other people say, that’s reactive thinking. The focus should be on the only thing you can control- your own thoughts and actions.

    It occurs to me that once upon a time a Realtor’s reputation was theirs to control through advertising alone. They wrote smarmy or vague advertisements about being the Neighborhood Expert, and who knew any better? What were you going to do- go around to each of your neighbors for verification? “You know this guy? Is he the expert?” It’d take for friggin’ ever to get a consensus on whether or not Joe, the Friendly Neighborhood Expert (FNE), was in fact, a) Friendly, or b) an Expert, but the interwebs changed all that, sort of. I mean you can still say whatever you want about yourself, but now your clients can turn to the ultimate FNE, aka Google, and in the blink of an eye, all is revealed.

    This is a good thing. It’s good for us. It’s good for our industry. But most importantly it’s good for our clients because now you really do have to be an FNE if you are going to call yourself one. If you talk about customer service, you’d better deliver the goods. If you claim to be a top producer, you might want to make sure that jives with the facts. This isn’t bad, but it might be a different way of thinking.

    We’ve been having some amazing conversations about privacy here on BloodhoundBlog, mind-bending conversations about a world where privacy doesn’t exist and why it shouldn’t. I confess I was not on board with this at first.  I’m sure there is something in my lily white bread past that I’d be horrified if you knew. I’m sure there is something in my Midwest, middle class, psuedo-Catholic upbringing that you’d be horrified if you knew. Like… I once cheated on an Algebra test. Okay, you caught me, I did it twice. And… I would, on occasion, buy booze at the local drive-thru when I was only 16. Heard enough? No? Okay, how ’bout this- I own an entire Time-Life collection of Cowboy Songs. On cassette! Think what you will, think less of me if you must, now you know my deepest secrets.

    What does that have to do with ORM? Transparency. Did you ever read Greg’s post on the Implied Accusation? He suggests that you treat your clients as transparently as possible, something like this:

    “I make my living effecting real estate transactions, and I don’t get paid until every step of the process is completed. But my legal and moral obligation to my clients eclipses every other interest in my life, including my own self-interest. I want for you to be happy at the end of this process — no matter how it ends. I want for you to be delighted with the work I’ve done for you, even if we end up not buying or selling a house. You are my client now, and I want you to be my client forever. I want to do everything that is right for you, first and always. And I want for you to bring me all your business — you and everyone you know. And I want for you never to feel the need to sue me. The moral is the practical, always, no matter what business we do — or don’t do — right now.

    “Why am I saying all this to you? For two reasons: To make it explicit, and so you can feel comfortable holding me accountable to it. These are the terms on which I do business with everyone, and this little speech is your warranty that I will do business with you this way, as well.”

    I bring this up because this gets to the heart and soul and brains of Reputation Management. You must be honest, open, transparent, throughout every aspect of a real estate transaction- hiding nothing, revealing everything, working in a completely open manner in real life, otherwise your online reputation is worth the paper it’s written on.  In other words, how we conduct ourselves offline is really the only way to manage our reputations online. Last week, Greg Swann wrote in an email about privacy:

    “Transparency means never having a motivation you hope to conceal from discovery.”

    Our clients are not idiots, we must stop treating them as if they are. The transparency needed to earn your client’s trust and keep your reputation polished will not come from the top down in this industry so don’t look to the NAR for an example on how to conduct business that minimizes your risk of reputation damage. The past few years have done nothing to elevate the reputation of the real estate industry, but we can move beyond that by considering how we conduct every detail and aspect of our own business and our own dealings with our own clients. ”Transparency means never having a motivation you hope to conceal from discovery.”  If you do this one thing, or make every attempt to do this one thing, it won’t matter what anyone says about you because in the end, the truth will always speak for itself. Want to know how best to manage your online reputation? It begins and ends offline, with this: Mind your motivation and your reputation will mind itself.

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  • 23 comments

    Escaping Room 101…

    [I wrote this in the late Summer of 1995. --GSS]

     
    I moved to a new apartment this Spring, and it happens that my new apartment number is 101. We live by symbols, like it or not, and I can’t look at my door or write my address without thinking of George Orwell’s “1984.” For in Room 101 is housed one’s greatest fear, the secret dread that, Orwell implies, will drive a person to betray every value in his life. Nothing like that here, thankfully, but there’s nothing so fine as a metaphor to focus the mind.

    I spend a lot of time thinking about the love of life and its antithesis. For me, the quest for human liberty has little to do with laws or strictures or jack-booted thugs hiding behind mirrored shades. We are not enslaved or set free by other people, and we will not change our interior existence by convincing other people to change their behavior. We are free as we dare to rejoice in the beauty and glory of life, and we are enslaved as we shrink from that rejoicing. The ego is a realm infinite in extent, and it cannot ever be invaded from the outside.

    And thus, some of the secret desires of libertarians seem a little silly to me. Assuredly we need to stand firm against new statist encroachments and complain incessantly about those already in place. But the Minerva fantasies and Atlantis fantasies are a bit much. To the world, we speak of free countries where free men and free women can produce untold wealth in free markets by the free exercise of free thought. But I suspect that in the privacy of imagination what is foreseen is the Neverland, where one can play forever and never grow weary. That’s fine, I suppose; life would be dull without daydreams. But the essence of a daydream, or the vice at least, is imagining a universe where one is not oneself, where one is not who one really is.

    “‘I like people who live their dreams in the day.’” I made a fictional character say that a long time ago, and I still love her for saying it. The antithesis of the love of life is not hatred but indifference, anomie, blank-faced apathy, the lifeless pursuit of death. And that, I say, is a public response to a very private fear, the fear kept locked away in Room 101 — the fear of life, of risk, of failure. And the opposite of one’s greatest fear, I think, is one’s deepest desire.

    This really happened: An outrageous evil was done to a very bright child. The child asked later, in essence, “How can you explain this incomprehensible act?” And the answer was: “Sometimes we do what we fear.” This is a form of the argument that we become what we despise, a piece of psychopatois of the Marxo-Hegelian variety. I hate the statement and I hate the argument and I hate the depths of self-destruction that must be plumbed to arrive at such a horrid opinion of one’s own soul, and, truly, I cringe in revulsion whenever I think about any of this.

    But I must think about it. I won’t cower in Room 101 and hide from life. The deed was done and the words were said, and the challenge for the mind is to discover why.

    Here’s a dirty little secret: We like to think in terms of “us” and “them,” but in reality there isn’t any “them.” We want “them” to be distinct from “us” in every way we can imagine, but the truth is that they are just like us, right down to the last tooth and toenail. I am what you are and you are what I am, and if we draw any distinctions, they are meaningless if they originate in nature and arbitrary if they originate in volition. When we speak so lovingly of “us,” we aggrandize ourselves by excoriating “them.” We are celebrating not so much our virtues as their vices, in which they are gracious enough to persist.

    And here’s another dirty little secret: I have a fair idea what goes on inside your mind.

    Yikes! Pull the curtains! Draw the blinds! Call out the Pinkertons!

    Scary, isn’t it? We know that the ego can never be invaded, can never be groped at and pawed by the hands of strangers. Our elemental privacy is our secret solace: We risk only what we make manifest in our words and our deeds. That which we leave unspoken, undone, unventured, unexposed — the treasure we keep locked away in the jewelry box of the mind — is forevermore safe.

    And yet nothing is hidden, really, for you are no different from me. I know in a general sort of way what’s in your mind because I know what’s in mine. And I know that not everything locked away up there is a treasure.

    “I resonate in the quiet recesses of your mind, And Yet I Am Sound, a thing made undeniably real in your spirit.” I have Ayn Rand’s disease, an irresistible urge to quote from my own corpus; I come bearing news and all of it is good and much of it is unsettling. I am not asking you to bare yourself, I am stripping you unasked. And you thought the jack-booted thugs were a peril!

    For the question arose later, “If they do what they fear, then why don’t they just kill themselves? Don’t they fear death the most?”

    And the answer is very unsettling:

    Worse than death they fear exposure.

    They are evil — and they are just like us. They are vile and venomous and insufferable — and they are just like us. They are repellent, repugnant, revolting — and they are just like us. We cringe and in our cringing seek to put a distance between “them” and “us,” but the differences we observe are all products of choice, man-made and readily malleable. We shrink from their vices because we know we are just like them, just as much at risk to temptation, just as much imperiled if we succumb to that Siren’s song.

    You live inside your mind, and your life is not merely your body, nor your body and mind right now. Your life is your awareness of your life — your conscious awareness and subconscious mental processes right now, your memories of your past awareness, and your anticipation of future awareness. Your ego — your soul, your spirit, your self — is the idea of your life you nurture into being in the quiet solitude of your mind.

    The love of life is expressed by building and sustaining and maintaining and improving upon your ego. And that is done by pursuing your deepest desire — and in no other way.

    And we love to daydream, don’t we? In daydreams one is always the star. Rushing out of the burning building carrying a coughing child. Poised and perfect, arms enfolding an enraptured lover. Pontificating before a hushed audience on a TV talk show. The reward is immense and the effort is nothing, for a star is a celebrity, a person who is renowned and revered for no reason whatever.

    Daydreams can be a wonderful thing; everything new under the sun owes to their indulgence. But they can be a curse, too, a putrescent sinkhole into which you pour the precious time of a finite life. Indulging the daydream, you don’t save anyone else’s life, you simply squander your own. You don’t leave your imaginary lover palsied with pleasure, you palsy your mind with a saccharine fantasy. You don’t stun and amaze a horde of indolent mouth-breathers, you merely tickle your vanity with an empty dream of confounding the hopelessly credulous. You will be a star, though, by the exact and literal definition: An imploding ball of hot gas.

    When you attempt to live your life within your daydreams, you exchange the irreplaceable hours of your day for nothing, for imaginary checks drawn on imaginary funds deposited in the imaginary bank of your mind. You sate yourself on candy — sugarless candy at that — and ignore the feast of life. You hide in Room 101 and fancy yourself to be a doer, an achiever, and yet the purpose of the daydream is to lend you the smallest taste of the satisfaction that can come only from achievement. You miss out on the feast, but you don’t have to make the effort — and face the risk — it takes to earn your place at the table. You know you can’t thrive on sugarless candy, but you know you won’t starve, either.

    And thus we can draw a distinction between self-love and self-esteem. Self-love is the joy and reverence you earn and deserve by the relentless pursuit of your deepest desire. Self-esteem is the high regard in which you presume to hold yourself in appreciation for the accomplishment of absolutely nothing. Self-love cannot be faked, and self-esteem is nothing but a pitiful little fraud.

    But it gets worse: For the person who is defrauded by your daydream of virtue is yourself. We have but one life, and we can spend it daydreaming or doing crossword puzzles or reading bad novels or musing over wistful infatuations or watching television, but we cannot cheat ourselves of life without trading away the most precious of treasures for nothing. A dissipation is not something we pursue for its own sake. No one lays awake at night fretting about the crossword puzzles left unsolved or the sappy mash notes left unwritten. The purpose of a dissipation is to provide us with an excuse for failing to pursue our deepest desires.

    And you know that. Everybody knows it. I distinguish myself — make a “them” of myself — by naming everyone’s dirty little secret. Life is not merely existence, and life is not purchased with the product of idleness or dissipation or spite. We all know this, and we tell it to ourselves all the time, and we try all the time to tell ourselves that it’s not really that way, and we fritter and we dither and we writhe. Man is the only animal capable of comprehending what his life requires, and he is the only animal capable of failing to do what his life requires.

    Not fundamentally, of course, since we would perish at once if we refused to act for survival. But we scamper out a secret little soft-shoe in the the quiet of the mind: We can escape the necessity of pursuing our deepest desire, we can file the serial numbers off mere self-esteem and pretend to the world that our behavior expresses the love of life. But there is someone who knows the truth, isn’t there? Even in solitude, there is a witness to every human action, a witness who is unimpeachable: Oneself. Lying to others is something we do to pretend to ourselves that we are justified in lying to ourselves.

    And recall, the answer was: “Worse than death they fear exposure.”

    I am stripping you unasked and no one can see. Do you cringe? Do you quiver? From whom do you seek to hide? No one can see, and, after all, I can’t see inside your mind, can I? I can see only inside my own. And yet I am tromping right into Room 101, the home of your greatest fear, and I am stomping around like a jack-booted prison guard. Our treasures we hide away to protect, and we might venture once in a while to reveal them to people we trust very much. But our secrets — our lies, our wounds, our crimes, our humiliations — these we bury as deeply as we can, in places we hope never to find again. We never reveal them to others, and we strive mightily — and fail — to keep them secret even from ourselves.

    So is this what I mean when I say, “Worse than death they fear exposure”?

    No.

    For I really am talking about “them,” the “them” who are not like “us.” We are human, and we all — myself included — defraud ourselves of life some of the time. But there are among us people who defraud themselves of life all of the time, whose lives consist of lies, frauds, betrayals, crimes. They live behind a mask, and every moment of every day is devoted to portraying a mannequin of an ego. The real ego is imprisoned in Room 101, a horrid dungeon of the mind, and the exposure they fear is the exposure of the horrible crime they have committed, the willful destruction of the precious gift of life.

    They cannot permit it to be known that this is what they have done. Each of us knows that we have but one life, and that someday it will end. We blanch in horror at murder or rape or torture, but in our secret heart of hearts we suspect that the worst crime of all might be suicide. What, then, can we make of people who refuse to die and yet refuse to live? It’s the perfect murder, isn’t it? The life is dead, yet the corpse is animate. Who could suspect a thing?

    Anyone with an ear for contradictions could raise a suspicion or two, of course, which is one source of the fear of exposure. But there is another, one that is far more menacing. For “there is a witness to every human action, a witness who is unimpeachable: Oneself.” Imagine the frenzy of living in fear of your own mind…

    We have each of us told a lie before, some of us today. We know the dread that worms through the intestines, the dread of discovery, of exposure. It’s not the exposure of the lie we fear, but the exposure of ourselves as liars. We can tolerate the self-knowledge — by ignoring it — but we cannot tolerate the thought that someone might discover our secret shame. Most of us learn from that dread — and not from being repeatedly found out — why we must not lie. But those of us who refuse to learn that simple lesson move eventually to the opposite extreme, and their every thought and deed and utterance becomes the expression of a lie, the lie that has consumed what was once a human life. And their dread of discovery, of exposure, is whole and total and undivided and unrelenting. They live in terror, continuously, a terror masked by the continuous performance of the lie, with no respite this side of the grave.

    They portray a lie to spite the truth. An actor or a con-man is a fraud with an objective, but the life-liar has no objective, no goal or value that justifies his ceaseless deceit. He is motivated not by what he seeks to gain, but by what he seeks to lose. The performance will ordinarily include some sort of elaborate value-pursuit, but this is mere camouflage. He will fight tenaciously for his ostensible goal, often unscrupulously, frequently criminally. He intends to fool others, of course, but his primary purpose is to fool himself. For, while he dreads your discovery that he is a fraud, he lives in abject terror of his own discovery of this fact. Not discovery, really, but acknowledgement. He knows but cannot admit to himself that he knows that he is the embodiment of human corruption. Even if you make it plain that you see right through the nothing he has become, he will refuse to acknowledge the truth of his life, will attempt to freeze the universe with an icy glare.

    “The challenge for the mind is to discover why.”

    “They don’t want to live. They want you to die.” My disease has progressed to the point that I am now quoting directly from Ayn Rand’s corpus. And that is one of the scariest statements I’ve ever seen in print. But, while I agree with it, I think it describes the consequence of corruption and not the cause. I think the life-liar does come to wish for destruction — not just the destruction of his enemies, but the annihilation of the entire universe, the universe of unavoidable fact that is open to the apprehension of any observer. We can live our dreams if we take the risk and make the effort. Or we can indulge our daydreams instead. But we cannot live our daydreams, portray with the body what we contrive to invent with the mind. We are each of us observable to everyone else, and if our deeds should contradict our description of them there is no barrier to anyone — oneself included — taking notice.

    To tell a lie is terrifying, but to portray continuously a lie that can be discovered at any moment by anyone — Winston Smith knew no fate worse that this. And yet we are all alike, and we are all value-seeking beings. They embrace this corruption, this vile and incomprehensible fraud of life, and they do it in preference to an alternative. And the course they reject, as absurd as this may sound, is living life the way it really is…

    They are at war with the universe for being what it is, and they seek their fanatical retribution by attempting to destroy the thing that is, for each of us, the locus of the universe: The ego. Every action, fundamentally, is taken by the self, upon the self. They may come to hate the productive, as Rand says. They may come to hate the universe, as I say. But they begin by hating the ego, by engaging in self-destruction in the most perfect sense of that term: By attempting to dismantle the ego. The mask and the mannequin are decoys intended to allay the suspicions of gawkers, including the life-liars themselves. The real action is in Room 101, where the screams echo silently and the blood drains out through a hole in the floor. They don’t want to die. They want to kill the source of life.

    And, obviously, this is a death-pursuing way of life, and death is ultimately all that comes of it. Rarely soon enough, I’m afraid, since the people who live the life of lies shed tragedies like a cat sheds fur. They must silence that witness they can never escape, and they wreak boundless havoc in doing it. Often only to themselves — if we can credit them in any way at all — with drugs or drink. But more often by inflicting the most unconscionable of crimes upon innocents. The crimes we read about in the newspapers, yes, but also crimes of emotional violence committed against anyone who might unmask the liar or cause him to disbelieve his own performance. Human savagery is what happens when a life-long liar tries to exorcise his fear of exposure.

    Now the intelligent question to ask is this one: Why am I talking about this? I don’t hate my enemies, I love my friends. I don’t fear these pitiful wretches; my infinite ego is forevermore beyond their reach — and so is yours. I write about them not because I hate and fear them, but for a much more compelling reason:

    Because they are just like us.

    They are alike to me and to you in every natural respect. They differ from us only as the result of the consequences of the choices they have made, the bad choices they have made over and over again.

    They are just like us, and the only thing that distinguishes “us” from “them” is the better choices we have made. And to maintain the distinction, we must continue to make those better choices.

    Freedom is not freedom from the state. Freedom is not freedom from other people, from your neighbors, your boss, your pushy relatives. Freedom is freedom inside your own mind, freedom from the torture and imprisonment of your ego in Room 101, the dungeon of the psyche. If you are free in your mind, you can find a way to liberate yourself from your pushy relations and your snoopy neighbors. If you are free in your mind, you can work by whatever means seem best toward liberation from the state. But if you are enslaved by lies or shame or humiliation or doubt or fear, you cannot be free no matter what your external circumstances.

    And I am pushier than your pushiest aunt, am I not? I have laid you bare for none to see and hectored and lectured you and told you nothing that you did not already know. I did it for a reason, and, though that’s hardly justification, it’s the justification I have. The reason is this:

    I want you to live.

    I want you to thrive, unashamedly alive, knock twice, pay the price, don’t give up ’til the walls come down. There’s a song I know, a song for a choir composed wholly of soloists, and I want you to learn to sing it.

    I seek to warn you about the risk of becoming one of “them,” the peril of so completely habituating deceit that you become a lie. But that seems a small threat, given that we are all already so perfectly “us.” But more importantly, I seek to induce you to become more completely what you already are.

    I am crazy enough to write to infants, and when my son Cameron was born, I told him, “Be the man you love to imagine and you will have all you need. Fail him, and no mere treasure will satisfy.” And you know that, too, don’t you? But here’s something you may not have thought about: If you dare to live the life you love to imagine in such exquisite detail, you won’t have to imagine it any more.

    “And that is done by pursuing your deepest desire — and in no other way.”

    We use our daydreams to tell ourselves lies, and we use our daydreams to tell ourselves the most perfect and loving truths. When you are not rescuing children or regaling TV talk show audiences, when you are not being a star — that is when your daydreams tell you what you really want. We imagine for ourselves a million options and we pursue none of them and we tell ourselves that our paralysis results from the inability to choose among too many inviting destinies. But, in fact, there is only one thing that you are burning, yearning to do, and that vast array of alternatives is simply an excuse to mask your fear of risking failure.

    And yet to refuse to pursue your deepest desire is to fail by default. It is a great big scary world out there, but you cannot conquer even the smallest of your fears by cowering in Room 101. You cannot live by refusing to. It’s hard, I know it, the second hardest thing you could ever do. But the hardest thing, by far, is trying to convince yourself you don’t really want to.

    I said this to my son, also, and I yearn and burn to write it in ten-mile-high letters all across the sky: “Be who you are. Do what you want. Have what you love.”

    And elsewhere I said, “‘It’s not easy, but the reward is worth it — life. Your life, the way you want it — and the serenity of knowing that it is right that it should be thus, that you have earned the joy that can never be stolen.’”

    In Room 101 we cherish death as a way of absolving ourselves of the fear of life. For my own sake — in pursuit of a true Atlantis peopled by giants who can never be enslaved — I want you to escape forevermore from Room 101, from deceit and shame and humiliation and doubt and fear. You are a hawk raised by pigeons and you waddle in squalor only because you have been taught by life-liars to fear your own glory. Dare to soar, and rejoice in the enormity of your power to rejoice.

    “To Life! To the life that is a doing, a being, a becoming!”

    I love what you can become, and I hope you will permit yourself to become it. I want you to live, and I hope you will let yourself escape from death.

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