I Have Not Forgotten Myself

a newsletter by which to start writing again

An apology first to anyone who paid me $7 for a month of nothing, and an especial apology to anyone who paid me $70 for a year. But this is to reaffirm the fading afterimage of a particular persona; even if I have forgotten to write anything for a long time, I have not forgotten myself.

My Sleeping Silhouette in the Double-Mirror, Re-digesting Ouroboros

Every time I have fallen out of love, whether by a sudden crisis or by a more gradual forgetting, I have tended to sleep for a long time. Sometimes I would lay in bed and look back at relics of my love: messages, poems, notes. So lately, gradually falling out of love with writing, I happened to find this old poem again:

Invocation to Growth

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That not-to-know is a place of hiding. Incompleteness coming before an acknowledgment of simultaneous so and not-so, in which both disappear into the ? of meaning.

And that nirvana is as scary as they say, the revolt against its witnessing as natural as the impetus away from what came before. That defense of “I don’t know I don’t care,” which even I don’t remember when and wherefore disappeared, into the ? of no-meaning.

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I don’t remember if this was the gateway to wonderland, terrible nothing leading alike to death and paradise. If paradise, it was only paradise-in-the-mirror—invisible, hinted at, even now unclear.

But here I am now, seeing clearly, cruelly seeing That as not-where-I-am. And I am often tempted to extend my hand through the mirror which distorts me into a monster, laughing at the world-serpent Ouroborous, coiled oh-so-ridiculously around its own happy end.

I, thinking that perhaps I had in fact forgotten myself to become something new, was somewhat surprised that I still understood the poem. Yet nor did my words feel fresh, and I could pick out some particular changes. I noticed that I laugh less now, or at least less monstrously. I am not so tempted to extend my hand, and even when I do, that I am not trying to pull towards where-I-am through the mirror.

Then I found myself on the other side of the mirror. I found myself in a new place of hiding, revolting again against witnessing another nirvana, saying again a new “I don’t know I don’t care.” Reflecting further, I saw my sleeping silhouette endlessly mirrored, laughing at myself, hand extended, as I had laughed before from a familiar false sense of finality.

So it was that I, laughing at Ouroboros, became Ouroboros again with a familiar feeling, and beginning to chew and digest, thought to write something again. If my past and future are coiled in a spiral, it is quite easy to see at a distance from end to end—yet somehow I am surprised every time when the next turn actually comes by.

Fabled Immortality—The Phoenix, The Hydra, and The Saint

The path of cultivation is often a cultivation toward immortality. It is easy to feel immortal, or as if immortality is somewhere along the path, while I am engaged actively toward some aim, and am filled in daily work with purpose and pleasure. Yet these phases always come to an end, and as I die a death I question the nature of immortality.

There are different kinds of immortality. The phoenix dies and rises again from its ashes, and repeats. The hydra grows two more heads from its severed one. Among saints there are again different kinds—the martyr is immortal in heaven, or in memory. Some other saints evade death more mysteriously by God’s intervention. The sage-saint of eastern legend attains a state stable beyond death, invulnerable to harm or decay.

So if my life is determined by continuity of action, perhaps any kind of immortality attained would be like that of the phoenix. I make, then I stop making, then I make again. Even the action of thought follows this pattern—I find myself in some perspective, then in another against it, then somewhere more like the first again. The double-mirror reflects my past lives.

But my personal narrative to myself, for example, would have a different kind of continuity. It adapts itself steadily. It reacts to crises by spawning the extra head of the hydra. I tell a story, and when flaws appear, the story grows but does not break.

The other kinds of immortality to be cultivated are further off, and I wonder if I wish to be immortal at all. It is not the same to be immortal vs. to just be there for a long time, and in phases of having nothing to do, just wanting to want to do something, even the short times become long.

The Mundanity of Unnarrated Execution

There’s a huge qualitative difference between talking about doing something meaningful and novel, especially explaining a big long-term project for the first time to other excited people like entrepreneurs or want-to-be-entrepreneurs, vs. actually working on such a project. 

For example, I’ve described my time with the Daoist mafia-sponsored company in China in a grand narrative. The idea is to create a new self-sufficient community rooted by decentralized commitments between families. So, inspired directly by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we sell food, social experiences like multi-family vacations and parties, and education.

In communication with potential investors or collaborators, I’d go even further. A central idea was that the peak of Maslow’s hierarchy, “self-actualization”, then connects with Peter Senge’s five disciplines. So upon having good food to eat, other families to have fun and share meaning with, and a good future-oriented education for one’s children, we then move towards expanding the network by transforming each family itself into a learning organization…

And yet, each day, we made and delivered food. We tutored children. We hosted parties and group vacations. It is hard to convey the mundanity in words after having told a story, but mind that these are fairly common things out of context—and the context of real life is quite unlike the context of a good story, especially after being somewhere for a long time, so that things have had time to complicate and nuance themselves beyond description.

Similarly, especially when I write, there is an important meta-narrative told. I make things worse by writing explicitly about meaning, so that I too easily find myself justifying the meaning of my writing, and of the act of my writing. Yet on another level, I am just writing; over time, a great part of the larger stories lose their luster and begin to crack.

Yet like a company that works, there actually may be actual value to my writing. It is just not exactly as told in the public-facing story. And the public-facing story is not a lie—it is just not always felt very immediately in every day’s operations.

The Fairy Genius and Her Agents

I’ve been studying the patterns of personal development in people around me, particularly as related to the feeling of closeness with God. I mean the kind of ‘being God’s vessel’ or ‘fully enlightened view’ in which, passing beyond doing good things for a reward seen far away in heaven or in another life, one comes to perfectly embody virtue as exactly what is good and right. The kingdom of God come to earth; enlightenment in this life.

This state is commonly perceived as ultimate, like a win condition past which there is no room for further development—but I have clearly seen that it is not. For some people, closeness with God is spiral-like, periods of closeness alternating with periods of farness, but adding something new each iteration, never truly regressing or forgetting what one has already integrated. For some it is really cyclical, with periods of forgetting. Yet others truly never stray from their first experience of fully embodied virtue, and maintain that state to death. Some stray once, then never return.

I see my own pattern as spiral-like, which is why I use the metaphor of being like Ouroboros seeing itself reflected between two mirrors. It is also why my action follows the pattern of the phoenix while my self-narrative follows the hydra. But I do not write for myself; nor do I write intending to lead others toward becoming a vessel of God, or toward enlightenment in any sense, or any clear aim like that. More closely, I recall what writing has pleased or inspired myself in the past, and try to reproduce that effect.

People do not always act for a clear holistic purpose, after all. If I write, the most I can produce is a good piece of writing, not a philosopher’s stone or panacea, not even alkahest, which itself is a whole life’s work. When writing, I pretend to be an agent of the fairy genius who has helped me to grow, and especially to overcome barriers I could not have passed alone.

As a fairy, she is fickle, which makes transcription difficult. She has told me conflicting things at times, which I have not understood until much later.  Her agents to me have come in various forms—people, experiences, texts. I am no one’s fairy genius, but one agent at most.

In this sense, I no longer see myself as, nor want to be a monster in the mirror, laughing the cruel kind of laughter which veils desperation and pity, pulling from not-where-I-am toward where-I-am, wherever that might be. Of course, how could I, when I am not you in future, present, or past? 

You look in the mirror and see yourself. I am just here, writing something.