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In Which He Sells Himself

I wrote a long cover letter (much too long to actually be a cover letter) for an open business development internship at Grist Magazine. I really liked it. But it was too long to function as my actual cover letter; I shaved the final cover letter down from 1,200 words to 500 words. Aw yeah, skills, that.

Nick, however, suggested I make the original draft a blog post. I’m very sorry that you have to read this because I caved to his pressure. And by pressure I mean singular Facebook comment. Some info for those of you who did not click on the link: Grist is a digital magazine and blog website that reports and analyzes environmental news and issues. As you might guess, their readership (and staff, for that matter) tends to lean politically left. They currently have an opening for a “business development intern,” which requires some college but not a bachelor’s, to help (and learn, it’s an internship) the Grist brand expand its advertising partnerships. The job listing requested a “personalized cover letter” that would allow the team to get a sense of “[my] writing style” and “sense of humor.” I think I succeeded.

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Invisible Ink

I have two posts sitting as rough drafts on my computer right now. One I started back in April, and it is complete, but to call it anything other than rough would be ludicrous. The second, though it tries to deal with the same idea, isn’t a revision so much as it is an essay in its own right. They look at a problem from two separate angles; I would say one of them is thematically coherent if stylistically broken, and probably looks from three or four angles on its own. Both fail as public expressions of observation and subsequent ideation. To an extent, I’d say they fail as private expressions as well. Though I know what I am trying to say, to read these essays is not to read what I am trying to say. Their intended meaning is only discernible because I know the intention behind them.

Maybe that’s okay; hell, maybe that’s the point. This blog was birthed that two writers saw the world and from it crafted a narrative. Those people across the street arguing: I do not know what the argument is about. But I can make up a story. That lonely lady behind the counter at a bookstore: I do not know why she watches me her only customer so closely. But I can make up a story.

These stories provide substantive meaning rather than accidental meaning. These are vaguely philosophical and theological terms, so I will try to clarify. “Who is Michael?” is a tough question to answer. If someone were to ask you that in a large gathering of people, you might point me out in the crowd, red hair and glasses, the scruffy beard growth I’ve let define my jaw line, straight leg boot-cut jeans and a button-down shirt worn untucked. I am for my personal style and physical appearance fairly recognizable. But though it is true I am at the same party, perhaps holding a bottle of porter with my left hand shoved in my pocket, this is not really me. After all, if I am only the observation of my physical self, then you might as well pull out a photo and say “This is Michael.”

My physical appearance is to an extent accidental to who I really am. But if someone asked “who is Michael?” you also would not tell them he is the guy who writes for Indefinite Crisis, is working with an independent print house to get his poetry published and really just wants to teach high school English but is financially hamstrung so hasn’t finished his Bachelor’s degree. Though these things are true as well, they are equally true of Nick (except the whole wanting to teach high school thing); they are not who I am. On the other hand, if I were not any of these things – including the physically defined body – I would not be me.

Accidents are those parts of being that are not essential to a thing’s identity. They are that which we perceive without being what we define. Substance, however, is the core identity, the underlying Michael-stuff that makes me Michael. In the case of human beings, substance and accidents are pretty much inseparable. The most obvious example of this in bodily form comes in our physical sex. I, Michael, cannot be a mother because I cannot bear children. There is a function of the body that in turn defines my intellectualized form. My body has a bearing on what my identity is. On the other hand, I can manipulate my body. If I wanted to be a professional athlete, it would do well for my body fat percentage to be 12% instead of 19% with lean muscle mass; it would also do well if I developed keen reflexes and flexibility. I could teach via repetition the muscle memory of, for example, striking a moving baseball with force and horizontal direction. My body’s form would become accidental to the non-physical identity dictating its behavior.

So a story Nick or I create to define the accidental appearance of a situation is substantive. They are essential to our understanding of the person; they define what the person is. However, these substantive creations are in turn accidents of both personal fancy (we, after all, create the story) and our perception of the persons involved. The people are the substance behind the accidental story, but by putting them in a story they become accidental to the story’s substance. People are, of course, not stories, but mere parts of stories, mechanisms through which stories are expressed.

This recursive property plays crucial rolls in relationships, defining our perception of another person and thus how they react to us. Consider how you perceive your friends. Because you believe certain things about them, you behave a certain way around them, treat them a certain way. Because of this, they in turn perceive your accidental behavior, interpret that behavior into an idea of substance, and respond via behavior. This gives you behavior to perceive, reshaping your idea of who they are and your behavior toward and around them. What one believes is how one acts, and how one acts is what one believes.

This process is thus progressive and infinite. It is ongoing work toward a union of perception and behavior, toward what I present being consistent with what you perceive, where accident and substance become indistinguishable. Problematic, then, is projecting our perception into the future. Since it doesn’t account for shifting accidents of others, it assumes the substance of our understanding is consistent with the substance of another’s understanding, that conclusion based on perception is absolute.

So relationships begin and end on the idea that what we perceive now is going to be what we perceive in the future. I like you, so I will date you to discover…possibly that I still like you, in which case I may marry you, or possibly that I was wrong to begin with and, in fact, I don’t really like you – which isn’t necessarily true, I am merely perceiving something differently now than what is the substance of you and our relationship.

We cannot go back and undo; there is no spell-check in life. There is only one life, and it is the rough draft, imperfect, unrefined, saying what we wanted to say – hopefully – but never quite how we wanted to say it. This is, at long last, a final draft of two posts. You will read it, wonder, perhaps comment, and I will reply. There are no posts sitting as rough drafts on my computer. I leave them here for your perceiving.

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I have a very dear friend whom I have not seen in a number of years. In fact, despite the easy connectivity of Facebook, texting, e-mail and instant messaging, I haven’t even talked to her in about eighteen months. It’s odd, you might say, that I consider her a very dear friend given these facts. On the other hand, she literally posts to Facebook/responds to posts maybe once per month (stalker feeds hooray!), has abandoned the world of instant messaging and even in high school wasn’t so hot at responding to a text.

If you asked me how I felt at any given moment, and I replied with “the light on that fan is crooked,” and you looked around to see there was no fan, no light and in fact we were standing in a THX 1138-style endless white expanse, you would have no idea what I was talking about except maybe to assume I was hallucinating the existence of a fan and light to supplement my under-stimulated sensory input. Molly, however, would know exactly what I meant. She will always know exactly what I mean by that and she alone will ever have the opportunity of distilling meaning from the phrase.

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Confessions of a Seattle Extremist

Author’s note: I’m in the process of writing what would classically be referred to as a pamphlet. It is about what this post is about. This post is a condensed version. This post is a lengthy autobiographical commentary compacted into a story-essay.

The extremism of one’s views is only properly recognized as extremist relative to the normative bands set by the actor’s peer group. This isn’t new or exciting information; it’s rather intuitive. But consider the graph below:

If this were the graph equivalent of a Venn diagram and each wave was representative of a certain group of people, members of the blue arc might consider members of the green arc far left, and members of the red arc might consider those same persons far right. The defining center of the blue group is heavily shifted to the right, and the defining center of the red group is heavily shifted to the left, and in a feat of social parallax, the relative position of the viewer determines their perception of another’s absolute position.

Moreover, the leftist members of the blue group only overlap so far into the rightist members of the green group. Going anywhere beyond the lower vertex of the blue wave, coincidental with the upper vertex of the green wave, may not even be perceived as a possible or plausible reality. You can reasonably imagine someone on the far right of the blue wave to not even believe in the existence of a far left of the green wave, let alone the very existence of the red wave. The same can be said for members of the red wave moving left to right.

Anyway, onto the story!

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For the last year I have tried to find my voice.  I have tried to rediscover whatever it was that was inside me that spoke out.  I don’t know when I lost it.  I don’t know how I lost it, but none of this comes easy anymore.  It’s not a lack of ideas, more so it is a lack of commitment to ideas.  Stagnant thoughts that don’t go anywhere, that have no meaning and no purpose, so, what’s the point?  What is the point of communicating an idea that isn’t fully developed or even of merit.  I don’t even know when what I wrote became important to me.  When each word had to be carefully chosen, selected for some greater value to the whole. Continue Reading »

Writer’s Note: There have been mild edits in this post facilitated by a friend who was kind enough to, completely unasked, send me an e-mail that pointed out errors in grammar and spelling. We share the same symbolic language of English, and in order to better purify our communication and clarify the truth being communicated, there was a system in place that allowed her to correct my heteropraxy. Thus our religion maintains the purity of its truth content.

I struggled for a long time on what I was going to write for this post. Nick and I, see, have a New Year’s Resolution with each other that we are getting up one blog post per week. He wrote for week one, week three, and I of course wrote two weeks ago (week two) and now (week four). It’s a great alternating process. So I am supposed to have a blog post this week, and I had thought of a few different things to write about but shelved the initial idea because I am trying to avoid letting my theology leak into the blog. And now I’m back, writing about a similar topic anyway. Things are weird like that.

Anyway! Let’s talk about New Year’s Resolutions. It’s a bit of an annual ritual that a good number of us do; we commit to a change or to developing a habit or to doing one thing or two things. A few years ago I wanted to learn how to play the piano, and I am satisfied to report that I learned how to plunk out Lightly Row from the first book in the Suzuki piano series and that I can now sight-read music well enough to give myself the melody when I’m working on vocal music. This year, I will learn how to actually play the piano instead of playing at or with the piano.

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Vacation, all I ever wanted.

I have been escaping for the last few days. I needed a breath of fresh air, both on a physical, breathable, literal sense, and on a metaphorical sense. Being up in the mountains, I got away from the trivial day-to-day frustrations and misgivings. A chance to unwind from the norm. Now at home, in a state of reflection, I realize how lucky I am to even be able to do that.

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