How To Be Alive

This will be the last blog post. So let me end this on a personal note. With, as Faulkner would say, the old verities and truths of the heart, “the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed”: Love and honour and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.

 

Perhaps that seems a tad dramatic. Our lives tend to be pretty unexceptional. In the whole, we just exist, slaved to the same 9-5 rhythm. Tethered to assignments, unleashed briefly to raise hell in neon lights and blurred music.

 

But that’s just the physical part. In the end I believe we’re just animals gone one step above. We have the need to self-actualise. To understand the why, when in truth, there might be no why. Only an ‘are,’ in the sense that we just are, and that’s it. Perhaps our lives are shorn of significance, or perhaps we impose some meaning into them, screen ourselves with our own fabricated perceptions of our ultimately mortal predicament.

 

I can’t give you an ultimate truth. I’d love to find one. I just don’t think it exists. I believe truth is a construct, essentially a judgement on what is. That’s my only truth, things happen and we just do things.

 

However, even though ultimately we may mean nothing, and our lives are essentially meaningless in any grand, cosmic sense that doesn’t stop us enjoying it. To live in the most nourishing, liberated sense. To see the world, touch it, feel it pounding through your pulse as the sun and moon swivel on their axis across the trackless sky. To laugh, and smile, at the beauty of it all, and life can be truly beautiful sometimes.

 

This is my advice, which I myself learned from better human beings: do what you love, no compromise.

 

It’s easy to forget, but I believe we’re only alive once. And spending the coin of your life away on something you can’t stand is ridiculous. But that’s beside the point because if you truly, passionately love something then there is no way to live.

 

When I first entered uni I was locked into misconceptions that life had to be commerce and economics. The degree was painful, and it was only when the pain of not doing what I loved became greater than my fear of failing that I enrolled in media. And I still hated myself, and all the people in the course.

Oh, publication. As if that's a victory. As if there's an end. As if, for a moment, I could win.

Oh, publication. As if that’s a victory. As if there’s an end. As if, for a moment, I could win.

 

I hated the idea you could live doing what you love. I detested freedom and happiness. I kid, but in a way I was jealous of all those happy people doing arts. And of course, like all hatreds, it was rooted in fear that maybe I could be wrong, that a magnificent life away from sterile numbers was possible. That maybe I didn’t have to live in pain and fear and could do what I love.

 

And in the end that wasn’t the point. It wasn’t a choice. It wasn’t a maybe. It was this simple: if I didn’t write I was going to go insane. I embody my work completely. I am defined by what I create. I see life in sentences, I can grasp the threads of feeling, and articulate them into words, the translation of the universal language into English.

 

I fucking hate it, at times. I hate spending days on a paragraph. I hate screaming at the screen, blanking on the phrases, my creative chamber empty and hollow, click, click, clicking at the keyboard but the products are hollow, empty, no imaginative bullet to detonate colour into reality. Or perhaps I can use the metaphor of a palsy, where the engine of my mind shapes these scented, gleaming dreams and my flawed hands cannot sculpt them into being. I’m not good enough. I’m not smart, not strong nor sympathetic or vicious enough

 

But even as I hate it, it’s the only thing I can do. The only thing I vaguely do well. And hate and love are flip-sides of the same coin. The same emotional investment, the same care. When it works, it really works. I feel I’ve discovered something internal. There is no other feeling like it. It’s like love, all over again, that girl, but more because I strove for it, I poured effort and skill and craft to birth this mad creation, this fucking thing, these thrice-cursed words rather than some vague social interaction based on character compatibility and physical attraction. But oh my god, it’s like discovering fire. I’ve never felt anything like it.

 

I understand not all of you have the same drive or the same depth of love for a thing. But if you truly, really feel it, there is no other way to live than growing and fully exploring with your love. It’s not a choice, it never was and you’ll naturally gravitate towards it anyway. If writing wasn’t an occupation I would have fucking invented it anyway, or have done it regardless. I would ply another trade, but it’s all I know.

 

And if you don’t know what you want, you should find it. The secret I’ve found, is in people. The good people, those with genuine love and ambition and character. Keep them close. Those are the ones that matter. The mad ones and the broken ones were always more interesting to me anyway. The most boring trait I’ve found in people is happiness. Don’t misunderstand me, happiness is great. But it means their struggle is won. What more could they want? There’s no more pathos in their lives, no great inner war which “alone can make good writing, worth the agony and sweat.”

 

I never want to be comfortable. I want to be discovering. I want to be impressionable, to be insecure, to always want and discover more. That for me is not the happiest way to be, but the most rewarding.

 

I was published this year in a uni literary journal. It means nothing at all. It doesn’t matter, because it’s just validation. And I’m too busy writing to give a shit about something as trivial as validation. I’ve got a novel in me, or several. And after that something else. But I never want to stagnate. I want to win. I want to win so badly.

 

That’s what reading means to me. That’s what writing means to me. It’s a matter of life. Not death. This campaign is about what I care about more than anything else in life.

 

I don’t know my end-point. Who does? Well, we all do, we all have the same ending. But before that, I’ve made my business capturing life, and creating by labour the closest replications of love I can through the riddle of language. That’s what I love. That’s what I’m going to do.

O.C.

Find Read Well. Live Better on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Read-Well-Live-Better/345675895597962?ref=bookmarks

and Twitter: https://twitter.com/readwellandlive

and Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/readwelllivebetter

“You’re a real brother. Do what you love, no compromise.” – The greatest human being I know.

Reading Well to Live Better

I was in London. I was alone in hostels, watching the crowds slide by behind panes of silent glass. I woke up aching to breathe in the bustling streets, the air so cold it stung. It was somehow brighter in the night, when the lights came on and the city was towers of light and muttering backstreets. The night floated by in memories of light and laughter.

 

I was in Hong Kong, again. Again, again. I am drawn back there, because there is history there, old families and old memories. I saw neon signs, the air warm with smog and horns and life. This was a loud city, hooked on insomnia, raucous dining and electric lights. This was a city that was a breathing advertisement, vibrant, the end-point of what a city could be, worn out, so tired and worn out.

 

I was in Fiji, with friends I will never see again. Beaches at night. The wind picked up, and drew us in, dragged us by hair and dresses and our own excitement. We talked and sat and laughed and watched the rhythm of the waves, everything soaked in that dark blue, and there was a sense that everything was going to be okay, that the World was huge and good and hummed with mystery. Somewhere the wind was cool on skin and wide eyes, cratered sand and the sighing waves.

 

Through all these memories that I have bottled away of noisome nights, the endless chatter, the optimism and the hope, I think back to how to live a better life.

 

Ultimately, there are many pathways to living ‘better.’ Indeed, the idea of a ‘better’ life implies judgement and comparison. What is better? There’s no objective standard. There’s only a personal, subjective, emotional measurement. And that’s the way it should be.

 

It’s the same with writing. There is no objective measurement of what constitutes ‘good writing.’ A friend and I once discussed the merits of the arts based on subjectivity (these are regular conversations in my world, welcome) and his conclusion was that because art is subjective, the mass consensus of what is good is what makes it good, because overwhelming opinion is what sets in the standard within the context of our society. I agreed, though I still think there is nothing objective about it, that it’s all our subjective impositions upon a reality that is unhampered by thought.

 

Reading in Amsterdam. I miss those days.

Reading in Amsterdam. I miss those days.

Writing is not the key to a good life, thought is. Consideration and knowledge and empathy are. But writing is one of the mechanisms by which we can learn these values, and better yet, articulate them so we may share our worries, ideals, hopes. This is important, as in the words of Herzog, we must articulate ourselves because it might be the inner chronicle of what we are, or we would be cows in a field.

 

And that matters. It matters a great deal. All my life, I’ve guided myself by principles, because I can’t stand the idea that there is no meaning. I believe there is no objective meaning, but at the same time I hate that. I need to be living beyond eating, drinking and sleeping. I’ve mentioned a prosaic life is anathema to me. I’ve never found the people I wanted to find. But I found the next best thing.

 

Reading opens us to possibilities. At best, it gives us a magnificent vision to strive for. It gives us ideas that inspire us to be better, more compassionate, wiser, sharper. One of my favourite lines of the second favourite book I’ve read (Gates of Fire) is simply, “the opposite of fear, Dienekes said, is love.” I never considered it like that.

 

The magic of reading is escapism, much like travel. I consider it to have the same quality, really. Discovery, self-learning, adventure. London. Hong Kong. Fiji. Countless other landscapes.

 

I have a magnificent vision of my life and it doesn’t die until I say it does. And to shape that vision I have considered what I love above all things. And the answer is always simple. Good people. Thinking. Kindness. Ambition. These nebulous values, sculpted into their physical form end up being friends, writing, a desire to explore and try new things.

I am reminded time after time, that books matter, that they are truest way of reflecting ourselves because they are shed of vast institutions that control their creativity that it is with the way of television, that do not need to pander to the lowest denominator but are allowed to express the truth of their vision according only to the whims of the creator without the need of industry backing. If you want the freedom to say anything, write a book.

 

Wherever we go and whatever we do we need to internalise the why. Ultimately we all want to live a richer, better life. What is that? A life of virtue, of ambition, of boundless kindness and the courage to stand-up for the right things and for the right reasons. These are lessons you have been learning in books, from fairytales, to novels and plays.

 

Read well to live better.

O.C.

Find Read Well. Live Better on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Read-Well-Live-Better/345675895597962?ref=bookmarks

and Twitter: https://twitter.com/readwellandlive

and Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/readwelllivebetter

 

I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things.” – William Faulkner

The Meaning of Life and Branding: Campaign Posters

I’ve made a few campaign posters to promote Read Well. Live Better. Some of them are profound. Most of them are inane. I always have a point behind them, even if they’re not readily apparent. I’m going to attempt to explain my thought processes behind their creation, and show that even in madness, there is method. I thought to endear writing to a wider audience I would have to use the instant gratification of visual stimulus. It worked, I recieved a greater reach, but I didn’t get people engaging with the ideas, which is a shame. That said, the ideas are a bit left-field.

Please note that there is explicit language from here on now. My personal stance on coarseness can be summed up by Vonnegut’s musings: “It is true that some of the characters speak coarsely. That is because people speak coarsely in real life. Especially soldiers and hardworking men speak coarsely, and even our most sheltered children know that. And we all know, too, that those words really don’t damage children much. They didn’t damage us when we were young. It was evil deeds and lying that hurt us.”

Fuck yeah, Vonnegut.

The Meaning of Life and Understanding: Golf

The Meaning of Life and Understanding: Golf

The Meaning of Life and Understanding: Golf: The current banner of this blog was created to show the absurdity of everything. I’m not treating it seriously, perhaps you shouldn’t either. I use the motif of wings as a metaphor of creativity, hence the eagle wings on my companion’s back, the winged lion, and the appropriation of Man in a Bowler Hat by Magritte. It also references Blood Meridian (my favourite book) and there’s a physical link with all the winged characters while the creative muse of the book hovers with its own ‘wings.’ This, I suppose, is like Red Bull. Which also gives you wings.

High on Books

High on Books

High on Books: The first poster I created featured Mike, who’s also featured in the Youtube Video at the bottom. The collage of tone-rich images deliberately utilises various colours and textures to symbolise the richness of creativity and reading. I tried to use humour because I thought the reception would be better. And it was.

Originally the Facebook status update was: “Read Well. Live Better is proud to announce Mike Pearson has been chosen as our new brand ambassador. Mike’s reaction could only be described as excited, and he was so overwhelmed he was speechless before he walked away, no doubt planning to call his family and closest friends. It was Michael’s unique profundity of thought, his superlative passion for lyricism and his size which requires the daily consumption of an adult bull seal’s weight in protein to maintain that led to his nomination, but it was his obvious passion for literature which won him his position. We are proud of Mike for sharing his story. When he first told it, I left the room in tears, it was that bad, but after months of editing we have helped him find his voice to better inform humanity and By the Power of Greyskull, possibly save all of the known universe.”

When I first showed it to Mike he laughed, so I’ll call that a win.

Extreme Naked Lunch

Extreme Naked Lunch

Extreme Naked Lunch: This poster plays on the joke of ‘extreme advertising’ where products are overblown to the point of absurdity. I think I’ve developed a theme of absurdity in all my posters, really. The poster is quite appropriate given the explicit content of the novel, but really it’s just a parody and general exaggeration.

Sus

Sus

Sus: The point of Sus is to be self-depreciating, but also to show the application of language. The narrator starts off with basic insults, but with a vocabulary that is supposedly gleaned from reading, he progresses to a level of profundity with his abuse, to the point it almost becomes poetic. And that’s the point of the campaign: to help us reach profundity in our lives. Even if it’s with our word-slinging capacities.

The Last Struggle of the Sailor Soldier

The Last Struggle of the Sailor Soldier

The Last Struggle of the Sailor Soldier: promotes reading as a method of escapism, and obviously exaggerates it until it’s ridiculous. I played upon ‘geek’ tropes to make it as nerdy as possible.

Originally the associated Facebook status update with it was: “I first met Chris while Salmon fishing in the Yemen. I still remember the wetness, the slippery tension of the fish and the laughter dashed against the howl of the waterfalls. It was on the third day that a bear espied us on its territory and we clambered up a tree to escape. We remained there for four days, debating the best way to get back home, the magnificence of bears and whether the remastered version of Apocalypse Now was better than the original. The nights were cold, but we remained warm through the power of friendship and when we hugged, it was not gay because we are both straight.

Chris remains a fervent companion, and is now our public relations officer and we both love every colour of the rainbow because they are all magical. Almost as magical as reading. If you read you could almost be as ‘down with the streets’ as I am and your friends will think you are cool as ‘yo mama yo.”

Our original meeting was actually less eventful. Hard to believe I know. But History class isn’t exactly the illest thing you can do.

Woodsman

Woodsman

Woodsman: I became sick of funny posters and wanted to write like I usually write; in an overly dramatic, figurative fashion. This was an attempt to showcase the beauty of language, but of course, that is subjective. I would like to think I opened minds to the possibilities of words and the emotions they evoke.

Stare of Being (2014)

State of Being (2014)

State of Being (2014): Another serious one, this time critiquing mass culture. I have serious concerns about the direction of fiction, and the general fashions that audiences latch upon. It seems the values of good writing are no longer universal concerns. This pains me, but I can’t say I’m surprised. The point of this poster was to showcase a celebrity, because it varies up the subject matter and also introduces a famous face. I originally contemplated Coldplay, but I wanted to make a serious statement, rather than another joke poster.

Read Well. Live Better.

Read Well. Live Better.

Read Well. Live Better: was not created by me, but by a dear friend who posted in on the Facebook page. He offered to make it after believing in my values, which was very touching. I want to end with something genuine, and this is the closest I’ll have. The colour composition separates the one who reads with those who don’t and I love the cartoonish style.

Lastly, I’ll be embedding my first Youtube video here: Comparing fiction quotes to Facebook Statuses, since we’re going so far with the visual today. My point was to introduce a mass audience to classic/ great books and to show the banality of what they read everyday, and to suggest alternatives.

As always, you can find me on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. Feel free to share, comment or do whatever. I will respond to anything vaguely stimulating, including bright lights and loud noises.

O.C.

“Just once in my life- oh, when have I ever wanted anything just once in my life?” – Amy Hempel

On Brand Point (Part 2)

So at Part one, I ended with:

“So if the best fiction is about universal emotion, why is it important for the purposes of self-improvement? How does it do this? I’m going to leave that analysis for part two because making this any longer would be obscene and I seriously doubt anyone’s even here at this point. I’m not writing a novella.”

Let me continue the line of thought of why emotion is important. I’m going to draw upon an inspirational article I found once: Why I teach Plato to plumbers” by Scott Samuelson: (http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/04/plato-to-plumbers/361373/) It’s a brilliant article and it articulates many of my key beliefs. The article muses ‘why should we study the arts?’ Samuelson asks:

“If the goal of an education is simply economic advancement and technological power, those disciplines, just like the humanities, will be—and to some degree already are—subordinated to future employment and technological progress.”

Samuelson believes that the arts are for the purpose of building character so we may, collectively be a “society of free people.” So we may develop our minds to be culturally enriched individuals rather than compliant labourers. (His anecdote at the end of the article is truly moving, take a look.) Essentially, we study the arts so we may become better people, and part of that process is emotively engaging with it.

See. This picture is on brand point. It promotes reading, but also captures the absurd, self-depreciating spirit of the campaign, which are admittingly derived from my values.

See. This picture is on brand point. It promotes reading, but also captures the Absurdist, self-depreciating spirit of the campaign, which are admittingly derived from my values. Because screw it, meaning is subjective and I don’t matter in any grand cosmic sense. It’s hard to take anything seriously.

I’ve already said in part one that reading builds empathy. But why is empathy and emotion important? Well, apart from them being natural processes of most human beings, emotion makes us better human beings only when harnessed for positive ideals.

I believe most emotions can be used in a useful capacity. Use your melancholy and create something. Write a poem. Paint a landscape. Use your euphoria and brighten your friends’ day. Use your calm to be introspective, to contemplate the issues in your life with a clear mind. Shaping your internal mechanisms within to produce change without is the most practical course of action.

I believe the emotive engagement created in books allows us to learn in a more memorable way through the process of narrative. The age old adage of “show don’t tell” for writers is all about this. If you show someone something, craft an image in their mind, imbue it with the senses of texture and touch and scents, then it is infinitely more memorable than something that is just listed. We may pick up odd tidbits of information from the books we read, but more important than that is understanding of character.

When you become immersed within a novel, it is because the novel captures you with the richness of its writing. To do this it has to craft a believable, engaging world. It can do this in any number of ways, but the point is you’re always consciously or subconsciously learning. You’re learning how we should act as human beings by the actions of characters and the consequences that befall them.

This may be an extreme example but Fight Club taught me that living a job you hate so I can buy shit I don’t need is the worst example of living I could aspire to. “The liberator who destroys my property is fighting to save my spirit. The teacher who clears all possessions from my path will set me free.” I learned the idea of impermanence; that things are not important but what we are as human beings is what is most rewarding.

It’s like the idea of the sand mandala, where monks spend days crafting intricate patterns out of coloured sand, and then ritually destroy the art work. Art, like all things is impermanent. Art, like things, are not as important as who you are, is not conductive to your inner happiness but a manifestation of your emotions and education and ideals.

Emotion made manifest takes many forms, and my favourite is writing. Through this writing we may make our reality both within and without a better place. Better in whatever definition you want to place it in, but you have to work for it. So do it. Work for it. Make yourself into a better human being, even if the process is boring or painful or arduous.

As always, do like, share and comment. Show you’re not a robot but taking a stance on ideas about how to live.

O.C.

Find Read Well. Live Better on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Read-Well-Live-Better/345675895597962?ref=bookmarks

and Twitter: https://twitter.com/readwellandlive

and Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/readwelllivebetter

May I propose a Herzog dictum? Those who read own the world, and those who watch television lose it.” – Werner Herzog

Guest blog post: Growing with the nunga-nungas and the cosmic hoooorrnnn.

Introducing the lovely Steph Ruffles to break up the mood of despondency, melancholy, general existential sorrow and the sads with a guest blog post about really girly books. This might be hard to believe, but I generally don’t read really girly books. Once I bought a woman’s weekly, not because I wanted porn at first grade but because our homework was to buy a magazine so we could papier-mâché it in class. Remembering the comment “Well that was unexpected,” exchanged between the two staff members who shared knowing looks as I left scarred me for life and now I have a fear of anything unmanly and soul-nourishing, like hugs and small dogs.

This is an anecdote about working out who you are, finding something to be enthralled by, and building a community around that thing. And we all do that, even if we find different ways to do it. Like “having the cosmic hoooorrnnn.”

If Harry Potter was my childhood, then Georgia Nicolson was my adolescence. Growing up lost in the fantasy worlds of Hogwarts and Middle Earth, the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson were a shock to my system. How books could be so damn funny was completely beyond me.

I was introduced to them by a new friend I had met in high school. She subsequently stopped reading them in favour of the classics because at 13, she was so obviously an intellectual. Yes, I was annoyed that she thought she was more intelligent than I was, purely based on her choice of books. But then, 5 pages into the first book, I was hooked and no longer cared. As they say, there was no turning back.

There was something about them that was so familiar yet so foreign to me. I could kind of relate to the Georgia and the Ace Gang, as we were all 13+ year old girls. But the similarities stopped there. They were so utterly different to myself that I was basically entering another fantasy world.

Then I started picking up her often used phrases “double cool with knobs on”, “loon on loon tablets” and “nippy noodles”. I incorporated the words “nunga-nungas” and “aggers” into my vocabulary. I lived by the concepts of being in “the cake shop of aggers” and “having the cosmic hoooorrnnnn”.

I forced the books onto my other friends so they could join me in my insanity. It was fun. We basically had our own foreign language, always talking about boy entrancers and sex kittyness. They definitely influenced me more than I thought, even more than just repeating insane words. I attribute my romantic awakening to those books. They taught me to stop being so uptight and, I’d like to think, gave me a sense of humour.

This scares me a little. But one person's fears are another person's passions. I just made that up, my axiom could be completely untrue.

This scares me a little. But one person’s fears are another person’s passions. I just made that up, my axiom could be completely untrue.

Following the books to their online home, I made new friends, ones I kept apart from my real life ones. It made me feel special. We would all talk on this amazing forum, co-writing ridiculous, nonsensical stories (a sentence each), asking each other for advice, talking about mundane daily life in our parts of the world. It was fantastic and I think, even now that we’re all 18+, we would still be there if it hadn’t been removed. I’m not sure who it was, quite possibly a passerby, but someone complained about bullying and the forum was taken down. As Facebook was becoming popular, I had managed to add a few but as we were all under pseudonyms, I’ve never heard from most of them again. Out of nostalgia, I returned to the site just now. It made it worse. It’s all but completely disappeared. Guess the author moved on.

But I haven’t. So for the last eight years, whenever I’m down and need a laugh, I turn to those books. In fact, I relate to them more now than I did when I was 13. I’ve stopped saying the stupid words though. Guess that’s what happens when you grow up.

Like Harry Potter, these books will always be one of my favourite series. If not for their proper literature quality, then for their hilarity and prominence in a significant period of my life. Give them a read if you want a laugh!

For definitions of the words I’ve included and a whole bunch of others, you can go here (http://www.georgianicolson.com/definitions_new.html) You can also follow me on either of my Twitter accounts: @stephruffles (https://twitter.com/stephRUFFLES) and @RealGrannies (https://twitter.com/RealGrannies) or check out my blog here (http://therealgrandparentsofaustralia.wordpress.com)

O.C.

Find Read Well. Live Better on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Read-Well-Live-Better/345675895597962?ref=bookmarks

and Twitter: https://twitter.com/readwellandlive

and Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/readwelllivebetter

 

“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

The 10 Best Books I have read. (My Life in Books)

Everyone’s top 10 lists are different. And of course there are different reasons for the books to be there. I do find that people’s favourite books reveal something about their character and even their values. We do not always know why we like a piece of fiction because the appeal may be emotive. Here are mine, and I’m going to explain why these are the best books I’ve read. I’m defining ‘best’ as the fiction that has shaped me, stayed with me, helped me get through the labour of days that drag on, on. These are character shaping books for me, and they’re all immensely personal.

My taste changes, of course. In fact the list changes every now and again. I don’t think a list should ever be definitive. It’s only right an evolving list reflects a growing, learning human being. The books are ranked in order of importance to me.

IMG_5237

  1. Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy): Ah Blood Meridian. My first cerebral foray in literary fiction. This was the book that inspired me to write, that set the magnificent standard of what words may achieve. It is gruesome, poetic, archaic. It is so carefully crafted. It evokes horror like nothing else I have read. I have needed breaks to keep going, it is that overwhelming and that visceral. I believe this book should be taught in schools.
  2. Gates of Fire (Steven Pressfield): This book forms the philosophical and moral basis of what I believe is important in life. Courage, loyalty, integrity. It is a parable to show honourable conduct, not to mention passionately written, with the best treatises of the nature of brotherhood I have ever read.
  3. Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk): Nihilism. The fight against Capitalism. The fight club. Soap. This novel has such a snarky tone, it feels modern to me, I love it. It’s so clever in its phrasing, so keen with its style. I’ve learned so much about style from this novel. It’s also wildly entertaining, and I’ve given copies away too many times. Dark yet funny.
  4. Money (Martin Amis): Amis is a great writer, and this is one of his classics. Amis has a distinctive style of narration that relays the everyday man, interlaced with poetic observations. This novel is also an examination of life, and business and I love its earnest depictions of the movie industry.
  5. Alexander: The Virtues of War (Steven Pressfield): This book is such a masterful portrait of a man with the burden of empire and command. But more than that, it shows an ideal to live for, a code of conduct of matchless honour. I’ve wanted to be like Alexander for quite a while now. A very personal book for me.
  6. Jarhead (Anthony Swofford): Definitely not a universal choice, but it remains because its depiction of ordinary people in desperate situations, in boredom, in the relationships you form in those situations are universal. It also contains decent history background, but I do love its narration and tone once again. So mournful, bitter and excited at different times.
  7. The Road (Cormac McCarthy): The story of a father and his son in post-apocalyptic America. McCarthy’s minimalist prose is so starkly beautiful. Stripped of verbosity, this is simply one of the most beautiful books I have read, and only rates at number six for personal reasons. Objectively on writing quality it should be much higher.
  8. Fear and Loathing in Last Vegas (Hunter S. Thompson): Maniacal journeys through the desert, injected with drugs, vicious in social commentary and clawing at Capitalist values. Senseless, overwhelming, hilarious. Read it.
  9. Know No Fear (Dan Abnett): I’m going to get flak for this; so be it. The premise is tightly contained, the writing tone shifts for each character, it’s fast and exciting, the description is vivid, the plot is so front and centre you can feel it. The book is divided in time stamps, and you can feel the damn progression. I love this book.
  10. The Lady with the Dog (Anton Chekhov): One of the best short stories every written, simple premise, masterful grasp of language. Very charming, and excellent imagery. It is one of the best short stories every written, I really don’t have to talk it up.

Share your favourite/ best books you’ve read. Give some reasons. I believe we do not control what we like, we simply do based on our contextual education and development. Hence what appeals to each of us as individuals reveals something about you. Give me your best, I want to learn what’s out there.

O.C.

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“I hope the world is slightly less harsh and absolute than it must be and somehow everyone remains a particular person & not just a function.” – Elizabeth Wurtzel

Short Story: Of Codes and Khans

It is said by the oldest texts, knowledge is power. I relay this account so others may learn the deception of power, which is knowledge and recognising this failing, take heed in their future dealings. I name myself in this account Egail Gorod called Wyrdshaper of the Marukul Tribe. I am sworn to this telling, and I have become it, and I cannot cut myself out.

This tale concerns a text. Its origins are unimportant, its inheritance for me passed down from the previous Wyrdshaper. For whatever reason I could see into the souls of others. They manifested as colours, as visions imposed over their faces until it seemed as if the visions were real, and the people were blurred, like smoke, like dreams.

Toghi was Khan then, for the past thirteen summers. He was old, worn as the plains we trampled. But he was the strongest, and we lived by the rule of the strong. It was Jujak I did not like.

Jujak was night black and iron hard. He radiated energy, not light. He smouldered like oily smoke with the fires of ambition. I saw control and viciousness. I saw a threat. I saw him crowned as the Khan. Toghi only saw Jujak as a loyal warrior of the fief.

“I have read Jujak’s soul. He plans to take the crown from you. He wishes to become Khan.” I told Toghi once, in discussion.

I was sworn to Toghi as the Khan. I would not lie to him.

“I do not need a seer,” Toghi said, as slowly as he smiled, “to tell me that. Jujak is the rising star to my setting sun. He will take Khanship when I am gone.”

Oh he would take Khanship, I was certain. Whether Toghi would be gone when Jujak tried to become Khan, that I was not so sure of.

I knew Jujak’s wyrd was black and twisted. It was like the ice oceans in the winters, dark and still beneath the transparency but would suck you under and flood you down, thread into you with fingers of chill if it could.

But onto the story. We were once ambushed by the Jetsii tribe. This is where the story continues. It begins, as always, with death.

Arrows flew, like a swarm of diving crows. Men roared, we could hear the whining accent of the Jetsii Tribe above my shield. I saw them stride in, hollering and metal rang on metal. Shields punched against shield, sword struck sword. Over above all, you could smell the animal scent of fear. You don’t control it. It just happens, over the blurred vision that shakes with each sucking breath, each screamed battle cry.

Laugh as you kill. The supreme virtue of a warrior is to show no fear. Laugh in death’s face to show her your thread is iron hard and difficult in the cutting.

Jujak, whipcord-thin and in his prime, danced against the huscarls of the Jetsii. You may think you know warfare now, but much as I hated Jujak I was in awe of him. He elevated bladework to the dance. The warrior is the most glorious occupation upon the soul of man, and Jujak was a warrior to make the poets sigh at the pinnacle of martial ascendancy. He was ahead, and I was determined to watch him. I charged, blade swinging, howling. A huge Jetsii blocked my path, swinging a two-handed tulwar and obscured by a demonic fright-mask. I saw the shift of his muscle, I telegraphed his swing. On instinct I dodged right, felt the aftershock of his missed blade and lashed out. I felt armour then the satisfying sinking of blade into flesh. The man screamed, and I spun, blade ending his misery. This happened in a moment, and my blood was up. I could smell the coppery tinge of gore, the scent of terror which at this moment was not terror but elation. More, I could see their souls grasping their dying frames, fading like smoke.

Laugh as you kill. Laugh as you kill. I choked a laugh to the surface, following the momentum of our warriors as we dove into the Jetsii as wolves into the flock. I felt the burn in my muscles, the burn of a cut on my cheek, the burn of fury and vengeance. We scattered them. A massacre sounds different from a fight. It is somehow louder. Fear is stronger than anger. A soul unthreaded from a body while in flight makes the most mournful sound.

I saw Jujak and Toghi. Toghi was wounded. His side was red. Jujak was untouched. Jujak could not claim the Khanship. A simple challenge duel, and it would be his. The rule of the strong permitted it. But even then Jujak did not say a word. He held himself rigid, guarding his lord. He saw me looking then. He said not a word.

Jujak sought me out in my tent afterwards. He slid in, with my permission. His hair tightly bound and oiled, his dark eyes blank and guarded. I confess my hands almost strayed to my blade. I thought I was going to die.

“You think you know me, Egail. I know you can read my soul,” He said. Jujak was always blunt and to the point.

I affirmed this.

“Knowledge is power, Egail.” He smiled at my shock. “What? Did you think me some loathsome barbarian ignorant of anything beyond the tribe? Recall the first tenant as laid down by Lord Marukul the First. ‘Only a poet may be a true warrior.’

In the Marukul we do not differentiate between poet and warrior. They are one. To learn the verses and play the sword is their calling, although the tradition had fallen out of favour in recent history, and is all but forgotten now.

“I thought you a usurper.”

“I thought about it,” Jujak shrugged. “The crime of regicide tempted me. And I suspect I will have Khanship one day. But I live as a warrior. And fundamental to the warrior is the code. In these dark times, with despondency in the hearts of the people the code is required to govern us. It is required to keep us human. Compassed within it are the all the warrior virtues of honour and courage. Laugh as you kill. But also the virtues of the poet. Self-control. Mercy. Thoughtfulness.

“That magic book of yours. You claim you know the hearts of men. To read my soul. Perhaps you know remnants. You see ambition, and cruelty, true. You see bloody-mindedness and bloody deeds. You see iron. Perhaps in a time of blood we must be bloody. To not relent in the pursuit of a victorious ideal.

“Furthermore what you may know you may glean from your texts. But there is a value in truly experiencing something. How many of the warriors have you spoken to? Even if you know their stories do you know what they are as men? Perhaps your book shows you them as men, but it recaptures life. It does not reciprocate. You form no real connection. You only see, and perhaps you feel. But you must use this in life for this to be useful. To know and to act are the same. Knowledge and its application to life are married and useless if they are not.”

And thusly usurper spoke and taught me, named Egail Gorod, Wyrdshaper, that character and action are different. That character may be misread. That Jujak, named Khan of the Marukul Tribe waited for his inheritance and did not act dishonourably. I am sworn to this telling by his order, and I have become it, and I cannot cut myself out.

Knowledge is power. In texts, not even magical ones, one may find explanations for the great and the trivial. But knowledge and reality need not be the same. And knowledge does not force character. It encourages it. I have seen into people’s souls. That knowledge is no certainty of the future, though it is a good prediction.

More, the Khan holds us to his same magnificent standards. We live to a code, because we are human. We cherish the discipline that binds us to civilised conduct, even in the uncivilised business of warfare.

Jujak, Former Fiefguard is Khan. Knowledge is power. Know his name, so when we come for your weakling nations, you will know by his will and his sword that your cities will fall.

 

(informal) I wrote this story as a parable of the value of knowledge and also its limitations on reality. I’m insane like that. The Marukul are a combination of Ancient Mongols, Norse, and Samurai, where I’ve derived inspiration from. Feel free to share this post, leave a comment critiquing my pulp fiction, (I miss writing fantasy, everything I write is too modern and concerned with the meaning of existence. This is liberating.) or engage me in dialogue. I won’t bite. Actually, I might, but I bite with the fury of words and logic, so I’d like to think that would be fun.

A fierce hound of the Marukul, named Serpent Shredder, for his mighty battles against snake-kin.

A fierce hound of the Marukul, named Serpent Shredder, for his mighty battles against snake-kin.

O.C.

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I WALKED IN MY ROOM YESTERDAY, IT WAS 6 PEOPLE SITTING DOWN, ALL ON THEIR PHONES. WHAT THE FUCK, WE NEED TO STOP. LETS TALK TO EACH OTHER.” – Tyler, The Creator

I’m 21 and I’m writing. I’m 21 and I’m terrified I’ll never be content.

I’ve been alive for 21 years and I’ve travelled, got high, slept in parks, woke up in the silence of night, haunted by after-tremors of old memories. The older I get the more I realise we’re all the same. Wanting to be loved. To be saved. The more things I see the more I realise it’s internal. And the things we do, the people we see are just a way of coping and finding ourselves and all that bullshit. And I’ve been saying books are a way of understanding. But what if all I understand is more names, more facts and that in reality, it all means nothing. That even if I feel human, really fucking feel it, there’s no comfort in that. That names pass like ads, that people being alone together drink to the glittering lights and strobing music and we are in fact, just are and there is nothing more. That’s it, and somehow understanding that should make me feel better but it fucking doesn’t. Knowing all the things I know and feeling all the things I feel I don’t feel saved.

A friend told me once, when we were told another friend was hit by a train, that happiness is internal. That with proper stoic moral training one could be happy even if being tortured. And it is true that we construct our inner landscapes. But I’ve never accepted that life is just about self-control. Books never advocate that. I’m not a monster. When my friends triumph I am ecstatic. When they suffer, they’re not alone. I don’t control what I feel, I just feel it. All my life I’ve been looking for understanding, and I thought writing was it. But if this understanding is simply that things are this prosaic then I don’t fucking know what to do anymore. That’s the truth of it.

All my life I’ve been looking for my people. People I could just be comfortable with, and I’ve never found them. I don’t know why. I’ve found people who are close, and they tend to be writers, artists, creatives of all shapes and moulds. But the closest I’ve come is understanding.

I’ve never found someone with the same ambition, the same yearning to not be afraid. Or maybe no one does, and we’re all fundamentally alone. As Thompson said, maybe not lonely, but ultimately alone.

I’m tired of being afraid. I’m 21 and afraid and can’t accept that this state of yearning can be called life. And the thing is I don’t even know what I’m looking for. I don’t know how to find peace. I just know something is missing. I have everything I need and want, even. I feel I’ve reached philosophical completion, but that doesn’t satisfy. It’s not a balm.

So I’m reading and writing with a desperation to find this thing, this thing I want that I still don’t know what form it will manifest in. I’m asking friends how they live and apparently everyone just does. Everyone’s just fine. They’re okay being who they are, that it will all turn out okay. There’s not an eruption where their heart should be, so their words are so calm and don’t spew out, red-passionate, sharp with hunger.

It is said that writing is born of pain. I believe it. Why else would you commit to the twist of a phrase for days? Why else would you slave over the placement of a comma? But there is something other, the drive to get the words on the page. It’s this pain I’m trying to find. It’s buried deep. It doesn’t have its roots in childhood trauma or anything physical.

I’ve been saying reading can make you a better human being. I stand by that. But understanding doesn’t solve anything. The only lasting comfort I’ve ever found are in the people that are still here. I need my friends more than they know. And no, they’re nothing like me, but they help. If I didn’t have anyone to talk to about these things I think I’d have gone insane years ago. Reading may be a representation of human life, but ultimately it is a simulacrum of what we really need, and that is genuine human contact.

I’ve given up trying to find anyone like me. That’s okay. The yearning comes and goes, always comes when I’m in despair, but sometimes at odd moments in the day, thinking I’m wasting my time studying for a useless degree. I want to say I’ll be okay, and I’ll find peace but I probably won’t and I’ll continue having this fucked up obsession to want more, to feel more, to not be so alone. Writing this has been liberating. I guess that’s a benefit of reading, communicating ideas across time and space. IMG_5188

O.C.

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“Love is an abstract noun, something nebulous. And yet love turns out to be the only part of us that is solid, as the world turns upside down and the screen goes black.” – Martin Amis.

 

Book Review: Alexander, the Virtues of War

This will be the first in a series of small book reviews where I review novels that have impacted me and have shaped me into a better human being. Big claims I know, but some books really did help me gain an insight into this ridiculous ballet of emotions we call life. Usually they’re subtle lessons through allegory, but you take what you get.

Alexander: The Virtues of War (2004) by Steven Pressfield is a sprawling, historical epic that spans wars across Europe and then Asia yet manages to be an intimate portrait of what the titular conqueror may have been as a man. I don’t use this term in a nebulous sense, but as the idea of his character stripped of the politics, the momentous events of his history and the technique of warfare.

This book shines best when it lives up to its title; in the examination of the virtues of war. Alexander is depicted as a man obsessed with honour and personal integrity. For him warfare is a virtue, a means by which strong and honourable character is developed.

“You have wondered, many of you, why I sleep with a copy of Homer’s Iliad beneath my pillow. It is because I emulate the heroes of those verses. They are not figures of lore to me, but living, breathing men. Achilles is no ancestor, nine hundred years gone. He strides here, this instant, in my heart. I hold the example of his virtue before me, not in waking hours only, but undergirding even my dreams. Do we make war for blood or treasure? Never! But to follow the path of honour, to school our hearts in the virtues of strife. To contend chivalrously against the chivalrous foe refines us, as gold in the crucible. All that is base in our natures – cupidity and greed, timorousness and irresolution, impatience, niggardliness, self-infatuation – is processed and purified. By our repeated undergoings of trial of death, we burn the impurities out, until our metal rings sound and true.

“Nor are we ourselves as individuals only purified by this ordeal, but its demands bind us to one another by such a depth of intimacy as not even husband and wife can know. When I call you brothers, it is no figure of speech. For we have become brothers in arms, you and I, and not hell itself holds the power to divide us.”

This ideal is reinforced over and over again, and the tragedy arises from Alexander’s virtues and the too-human excesses of his troops and commanders. Alexander essentially strives to be the perfection in his own head. This is what fascinates me: his ambition is driven by altruism. And what ambition. Unable to be contained by the limits of Europe, or even Asia he intended to drive his armies to the ends of the Earth.

This book makes it believable that he could have done it. He is the very incarnation of the warrior commander but more than that, the book makes you believe in his cause. Alexander holds himself in the highest standards of behaviour, striving to be a knight and a gentleman. It could seem absurd to compare chivalry with warfare (and this juxtaposition is discussed with a dialogue with Hephaestion) but this contradiction is what Alexander is, and that is what makes him an interesting character. He struggles with leadership. He jokes with his men. He is wrathful, commands massacres in one scene yet is introspective and thoughtful the next. He is above all, an honourable man.

Perhaps I seem to be talking about a character as if he is a real human being, and in this book he is. Perhaps his portrayal is a tad

See, I actually bought the book. I am truly a patron of the arts.

See, I actually bought the book. I am truly a patron of the arts.

idealised, but it is believable to me and it is deeply moving in its depiction of the man’s psychology, and how he loves and bleeds for his comrades in arms.

This book gave me something to strive for, which sounds childish, I know. Emulating what could be a fictional portrayal of a historical figure may be foolish, but all my life I’ve wanted to be a good man. What does that even mean? To be a good man? That’s an end state with a nebulous definition. I’ve always found that to be in virtue. And rather than a dry list of what to do, story enables us to learn through emotion.

Learning through emotion is far more memorable, because emotion is the fundamental driving force of what is important to us. This book holds meaning for me in how I conduct myself as a man and a human being. I don’t care about using celebrities as role models, or watching TV to entertain myself. I need to think. I need to work it all out in the traffic jam that is my mind.

And sometimes it’s simpler than that. Sometimes we just know what the right thing is, what being a good human being means. Strive harder, suffer more, love those who love you, hold yourself to an ideal of unattainable perfection. That’s what Alexander tries to do. It’s a great lesson in character.

Near the end a character states:

“I would add of Alexander that he was human, if anything too human, for his glories and excesses alike were spawned of passion and noble aspiration, never bloodless calculation. The inner plane upon which he dwelt was peopled not by his contemporaries but by Achilles and Hector, Heracles and Homer. He was not a man of his time, though no one ever shaped an epoch so powerfully, but of an era of gallantry and heroic ideals, which perhaps never existed save in his imagination, spawned by the verses of the poet.”

This matchless ideal may not exist in life, it may be but imagination, but it’s a beautiful vision that I want to impose upon my reality.

Go and read the book.

O.C.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Virtues-War-Novel-Alexander/dp/0553382055

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“All of us failed to match our dreams of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible.” – William Faulkner

Homeless and reading after Splendour 2014

I was at Splendour 2014. I pounded near the front of stages and was transfixed by lights and Indian headdresses and body-paint and the crowd screaming. The same rapture of music, feeling heady and young and saved. That’s the reason I go to music events; to turn off my thoughts and just be, for a while.

I was in Byron Bay when Splendour had finished. We had been staying at a friend’s house in Queensland but our flight was the morning after and transport wouldn’t be practical at Queensland.

My hostel in Byron double-charged me for the last night. Then they were full capacity. Turns out my friend didn’t book my room for that night. So I slept on the beach.

I slept on my broken laptop and clothes and a bottle of Baileys Irish cream. Looking for gaps in the stars above. A silent disco party happening somewhere down the beach on my left. Maybe light pollution hadn’t reached Byron yet, but the star-field was what you could imagine in a movie. Vast and whole and perfect. Shimmering points in the midnight blue that stretched across the horizon. The waves whispered and burbled.

What the movies don’t tell you is how cold it gets. It got so cold I couldn’t sleep. Dew formed on the outside of my sleeping bag, and I was wiping it down at three in the morning. To get through it I listened to music, read on my iPhone.

I read science fiction, something by Dan Abnett, I think. Science fiction is my default go-to when I want to just enjoy myself. I like a good action sequence, exaggerated character development where everything is obvious. When it’s three in the morning I’m not at my brightest.

I walked on private property, walked around tents, waiting for the sun to come up. Everything was lit that neon orange from streetlights. I was the only thing that moved. I ended up at a playground, swinging and swigging on Baileys, then spread on a pack bench because it was somehow warmer, listening to Calvin Harris.

I was listening then reading again. The great thing about reading is it doesn’t use much battery life, but it can be damn engaging. When I really get into a story I can just keep the momentum going because something’s happening in a sequential order and there’s a build-up to something big.

I like music festivals but I can’t handle too much of them. They don’t fit within the order of my mind. My thoughts can’t be inactive for that long, and perhaps that’s just the way I’m wired, to be constantly thinking, to be looking.

Lights and sound and visual stimuli don’t interest me in the same way as other people seem to be interested. I love ideas and thoughts. I love abstractions. I read a lot, as a result.

The most enlightening kind of reading however, should be connected to life, and not be entertainment for its own sake. Knowledge unconnected to life seems to be delusion, which is not necessarily bad, but without any real application to guiding us in personal matters.

I quote from Inazo Nitrobe’s Bushido: Samurai Ethics and the Soul of Japan, because it has a pithy and simple explanation as to an outlook of knowledge I admire, and is in the spirit of Read Well. Live Better.

 

“Knowledge becomes really such only when it is assimilated in the mind of the learner and shows in his character. An intellectual specialist was considered a machine. Intellect itself was considered subordinate to ethical emotion… Bushido made light of knowledge of such. It was not pursued as an end in itself, but as a means of the attainment of wisdom.”

I used to draw my lessons from heroic fantasy, basic concepts of loyalty and honour and honesty. I tend to be more abstract nowadays, and I admire the constructions of sentences because I’m interested in form as well as concept.

When I read, I feel I’m seeing a human story, even if they’re post-human characters. I’m learning a story of characters that evolve and feel and want, yearn for something and are brought down but have the courage to keep fighting. These are lessons that must be told, and repeated again throughout our lives because we forget easily, and the formation and maintenance of character is a process, not an end state.

That’s the hardest lesson I’ve learned. Happiness and achievement isn’t just won. It’s not as if you write that novel, or get that job, or finish the bucket list. Life is motion, and throughout its process you have to keep striving for whatever it is you want to be doing, because it doesn’t end until you do, but at the same time you decide when your dreams end, you do. Your dreams don’t die unless you say they do.

I saw the sun come up in Byron Bay. I saw the city slowly wake, I saw a squadron of rowers carry their kayaks out at six. I felt cold, then warmth and was so damn tired. I felt as if I had achieved something.

Read to share perspectives and to learn something. I’ve given you mine, but diversity of opinion is the foundation of wisdom. Read to improve yourself, to purge ignorance and to transcend your own perspective.

Byron Bay at 6:52. I was waiting from 5 because I was too cold to sleep.

Byron Bay at 6:52. I was waiting from 5 because I was too cold to sleep. I just pretended I was homeless I guess. And technically I was.

O.C.

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“If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.” – Charles Bukowski