Fuck improvement. Specifically, self-improvement. I have no time for it. You can’t improve on the perfect, and I am perfect. You are perfect too. Not only as individuals are we perfect, gifted with birth and breath, sunrise after sunrise, but we are also unimprovable in our indefinable, inseparable, indistinguishable wholeness with the oneness, the Godhead, the universe and creation and all that is transcendent beyond it in its perfected wholeness. Why the fuck would you want to improve on that unless you were fundamentally sick and misaligned? That’s why all philosophy and religion and healing based on improving oneself or the world is wrong. These systems are perhaps thought-spores cast from a cosmic parasitic entity intent on undermining humanity’s true balance, true peace.
If you stop falling for self-improvement, then you are left with self-awareness. That’s what happens when you realise you are perfect and everything around you is perfect and part of you. You can only go deeper into self-awareness, and there, weirdly and disturbingly and yet satisfyingly enough, you begin a journey into your imperfections. You are aware when you identify with your imperfections. It is a journey that begins with the perfect whole but then sits still for a long, long time with the not-quite-rightness, the yearning, the existential dissatisfaction, the entropic effect, the loss, and the sweet sugary slide greased with denial down to mortality and death. You cannot fight it or follow it, let alone improve yourself whilst on it. No, self-awareness leads to imperfection, which must lead to a letting-it-be. After all, only things that are truly let-be-unto-themselves are ever let go. Thus self-awareness leads to self-acceptance. The wash of a thought that pervades, sits with you, then fades through you, it has a timing of its own, an ebb and a flow.
Once you let go of imperfection and accept yourself and all things then you find nothingness. Beyond life and death, just nothingness. Another name for perfection, another name for God, for eternity. You’re back to where you never would have left, except, but for a brief moment, you were gifted the confused fucked-up sense of lostness and glory, of time masquerading as space and space masquerading as truth, that gift called life, breath.
So, where does that leave artists?
Fuck improvement, it’s perfect.
Fuck perfection, it’s flawed.
Fuck failure, it is what it is.
Fuck acceptance, it’s gone.
Fuck death, it’s nothingness.
Fuck nothingness, it’s God.
Fuck God, it’s art?
We just don’t make sense, do we? We artists, trying to fit in and make sense of this world and of ourselves, we are plagued with a sinking suspicion of our meaninglessness. The futility of our mission and the stupidity of our trying. This is surpassed only by the entropic despair swallowing up our identity. It leaves artists with nothing and nowhere, except, in essence, the very obvious: the freedom to play anywhere. Indeed, art’s freedom is almost a terrifying abyss, a void, an obsidian mirror, so deep and profound and all consuming. Art demands an obligation of play and freedom and detachment from the false security of reality, self-actualisation, and death.
So just fucking tell your stories until you fall off a cliff; let those stories fill you and flood you and push you over the edge and down, down, down to a place where you are less than a name in someone else’s story after your death.
But how does one tell a story after centuries of lies?
How does one do the honest job of lying as a storyteller when we have spent years and years pretending that death isn’t real and coming for us and reality is so solid and our protagonist selves are individuals who must improve, improve, improve?
Self-improvement was the penultimate modern lie, promulgated for hundreds of years, and now that modernity belongs to the zombies from a decaying civilisation, what lie will honest artists tell?
Let’s try tell a story that isn’t about a self. Let’s try tell a story in which the protagonist is the universal we. Let’s try plot a lie that honestly tells the truth about our perfect state with no need for self-improvement of any kind, simply self-awareness and self-acceptance and blessed nothingness. Let’s start, right now, without trying, right now.
Let’s start by staring into the mirror, together, the we-character.
Oh fuck it, this is too hard.
It’s easier to just have a man or woman get up in the morning and walk down a lyrically examined street in some metaphorically profound city and bump into saliently and solidly formed others who then push him or her in and out of some tale that both has no significance outside its own realism but also carries enough paradigmatic resonance for readers to ramble on about it with masturbatory critique.
It’s hard to write about the bullshittery of self-improvement, hard to find fresh words for the voice of the we, the post-civilisation ethos that is slowly emerging in a decaying age. It’s hard, but honest.
Some needs can’t be repressed or denied, they are too strong. They must be starved. Some drives are too strong to be ignored, they must be starved out by a new meat, or confused and frustrated by traumatic interruptions, a surprise surgery cutting deep into society’s instinctual gut.
I’ve spent all my life believing in the I and the improvement lie, not to mention all my word-life.
(At some point, instead of writing this, I’m going to go for a run and think about writing this.)
What do I see when I look in the mirror? A person, a person I recognise. Entropy again, the passing of time. Lines under my eyes and a promise of grey. The impact of circumstance shaping the blemishes on my skin. The questions arising, implicitly haranguing, about how I got here, and then, when these questions are untenable, scents and sounds and hints from the world around me make me ask myself, “what do I do next?” In the end, it’s a person I see, an individual full of thoughts, webs to get caught up on, to distract from the almost self-evident truth that it’s all a lie, that I need not see a person, or be trapped in a story about this person, that it’s all oneness to nothingness. But too late here I go the person has a name, an identity, and a life and must get dressed and go places and meet people and be on streets and sidewalks and couches and in coffee shops and up trees and over lakes and in the arms of lovers with their own thought-webs and caught by sidelong glances from passing strangers who themselves are trapped in narratives of their own. Too late here I go, a character in the story, searching, improving, yet needlessly since I was trapped (too soon!) by my own need to be defined as an I or a character in the first place. I could have been the we, I could have been anything, any number of Is, static in a journey inward to awareness, still on a path to acceptance, calmly and obstinately resisting the chains of plot binding us all on a cyclical road to nothingness. Too late, I exist.
(Maybe I’m not writing this, right now? I shouldn’t be. Whoever is reading this is fast losing patience. Where the fuck is the story I wanted, fucker? But maybe I should be waiting for the writing to take me over, to be drowned by the we, and not be trying to not try …)
Trying is the dilemma. Starting is the curse. Seeking, probing, hoping, finding: so many false starts. Pushing against the goads and fighting the mainstream curve. Keening for honesty, all a lie, all lies, all caught up in the charade of self and self-improvement and going somewhere with words and thoughts and stories, trapping us as selves-as-protagonists, narrating our perception down blind alleys.
I won’t try. We won’t try. Let it be. Let it go. Accept.
(A story without a character. A story with no progress. A story without any goals or obstacles or dramas or failures or weaknesses or resolution because there is only awareness, acceptance, and then nothingness. Who the fuck would want to read that? Why the fuck do I want to write that? Why must art be honest, you pretentious lunatic?)
If I let go of the I, then I don’t really want to tell stories anymore. I don’t want to tell of anyone anywhere doing anything with anyone anywhere until they all go and become someones somewhere else. I have no urge to tell, without the lie of a character on a path.
Except, it must be written. Because it’s nearly time; the old ways of writing, well, they are now lies that have outlived their usefulness. A new age demands a new form, a new voice, incomprehensible at first, but then clear in the light of a new dawn.
Let it go. Perfection to imperfection, self-awareness to acceptance. Let the failure be. And now what? It has to be written, doesn’t it, this story?
(You are reading, aren’t you? And you expect to be taken somewhere. And I am shamefaced. I am terrified to the stem of my soul to disappoint you, oh reader.)
Fuck this, it’s too hard. It should possess me and force me, but my writing is a consensual, individual, isolating, needful act.
(Go for a run, run. One step, two step. Feel the breath. The lungs.)
Fuck storytelling and the honest, beautiful lie.
(Run, run. Past the jungle green. Young lungs pumping. Run, run. Breathe past the sand and the waves.)
No, let’s begin before the beginning. Let’s be open to nonsense. Embrace confusion; be infatuated with illogic! Let’s not try and talk about anything. Let’s just be. Breathe. Okay. No need for I, improving. No need for the great divide between the storyteller and story, author and protagonist. Just deeper cycles of self-awareness and self-acceptance. The plunge yet return to the universal-nothingness-mother of art. The teller and the told are one.
Let it be. Now what do I see in the mirror?
(Who the fuck is still reading this? Hear that? The sound of readers dropping off like flies from dusty decrepit meat. No, wait. I can take the mirror with me. Put two hands around it and we can hold it out as the story goes forward and make the whole world the protagonist in its reflection. Yes, that’s it.)
There is a girl in my mirror. She is perhaps thirteen or fourteen years old. Her black hair is braided tightly and is long enough to fall over her left shoulder in such a way that makes her feel awkward. She has been sleeping and writing. Sleeping and dreaming and writing. Now she is awake and it’s time for her to tell the honest lie about all of us, the we, in this tale.
(My mirror isn’t a mirror at all. It is the void. It looks within and without. Artists use this orifice often. Then again, they use many, often disgustingly; artists are disgusting. Later, if any of you fuckers who are reading this tell me that “oh, it was interesting and made me think such and such” or “well, I really like what you did by writing so and so but you maybe could have improved this and that,” I hope I remember how painful this was to write. Too much so to be worthy of any judgement.)
(“Goodbye motherfucker.” Was that Jane’s Addiction, or Faith No More?)
The girl knows that today she has woken up to be a young woman. With this comes responsibility. She rubs the sleep out of her eyes and stares into the mirror trying to see herself as a young woman. But her mind plays tricks on her. She looks much the same as she did yesterday. Ovaltine eyes and coffee-nut skin under a frustrating braid and a backdrop of neem wood and dry palm bark walls, her hut, her home. Yet today something has started. The story starts today, we start reading of her today, we are with her today, so today must be different, so she must be different. She must exist.
(I feel we are losing our way back to self-improvement and the sense of perfection needing to be attained by a self in a story. But I merely become aware of it and we shall accept it the best we can.)
The green fronds outside the door of her room rustle with a warm morning wind. The light that comes in tepidly through the cracks in the wooden beams ensconcing her home is familiar, too familiar to be noticed. Her parents are out of their bed and gone, so she has nothing to do other than look out the window. The green grass of the clearing. The smouldering ashes of an old fire. The tall trees and the faraway glint of the waves touching a crescent of sand by the distant bay.
A man in a loincloth stands underneath her window.
“O character,” he calls. “There are strange boats approaching our lands from across the seas.”
The newly made young woman looks out over the waters of the bay. She sees strange sails and tall white men. Long boats, she sees. They are fast and firm like stones flung across the blue waters.
“Advise us,” the man says. “It is civilisation that approaches. Act, and lay for us an arc.”
She tugs on her braid and sees that it is true. The first contact of civilisation has come. The age of the self and the doctrine of self-improvement. The forgetting of death and the we and the telling of tales has come. Men with philosophy and crosses and ownership maps and leather-bound covers wrapped around the pages of existence. She knows she must do something to face this. Every writer knows she must. She sees the village gather below. A cool breeze stirs the star fruit tree by her window. A vine is choking this tree and has begun to put a tendril through the wooden beams of her hut wall.
(At some point you will go back and edit this and ruin it. Editing will bring in the improvement. It will also deny it. But since you already began plotting toward an ending to the young girl’s tale before you could draw up the courage to write the story, haven’t you already defeated yourself? You lack courage. The courage to accept; to write life in the moment, blind to consequence and failure. Just fuck this off and go for a run.)
She stands back from her window. Her room is long and narrow and at the opposite end is her bed covered with emerald fronds and white feathers. Civilisation, she muses to herself, and my reckoning. She feels rather than sees the writing on the wall. The mirror behind her can no longer be looked at with the same innocent freshness and hope. Her plot has been wound tight around her already. All the dimensions of her tale have drawn their long foreshadows before her feet. The villagers continue to gather and look up to her from below her window. She knows they will soon throw spiralling loops of possible courses she can take as the boats of self-improvement and modernity draw nearer, nearer, nearer. Timelessness is no longer a breath scenting the air. The clock, it’s ticking.
(Fair warning. I think this is working. But, working or no, please don’t keep reading this. It will not end well for those reading this. That’s not a threat, but a kind promise born of a sudden, newly inspired understanding of just what this is, what this has become.)
The clock on her wall is ticking. She is being drawn to decision, and from decision, to results, and from results, to insight, and from insight, to consequence, and from consequence, to the finality of a story ringing a bell on the finitude of her character, the trappings of self, the I caught between the false woe of her destined mortality. So she toys at her braid and walks around her room. On the wall above her couch there is a poster advertising a performance by The Strokes. It says they are coming direct from New York City and are to play with special guests at Melbourne’s Festival Hall. Except the heart of the poster has been torn out and is replaced with a crudely drawn picture of Julian Casablancas on his knees slurping milk from the phallus-udders of a cow with a walrus head. The girl finds a star fruit on her couch. Picking it up, she begins to peel it, and as she does a thought enters her mind.
(“Hello, motherfucker.” Yes, that was Faith No More. “Young love, always moves so fast.”)
From outside her window, the villagers begin to call out.
“The boats are ever closer, O protagonist!”
“What shall we do? Shall we fight?”
“Is this to be a story where you lead us to triumph or defeat?”
“Perhaps she will lead us and then we will betray her to a grisly end.”
“Surely, O protagonist, the climatic coming of civilisation deserves a better denouement than that hackneyed bullshit suggestion?”
“Why don’t you tell a better story then, you fuck?”
“Foul language doesn’t make this any more chic, you know.”
“It is much more realistic and socially relevant if this doesn’t end well and we all get wiped out. The scourge of western civilisation. Sorry, not sorry.”
“Weren’t you going to stop writing and go for a run, you cunt?”
“Clock’s ticking, O character. Both on the time we have to prepare for the boats, yet also on the readers’ patience!”
“It’s up to her to decide what this story deserves. She’s the protagonist. Our characters cannot even begin to form sincere identities until she takes an initial action to face this complication. Hence she is trapped and we are trapped by the false suggestions of narrative. So it must be.”
“I suggest one of us falls in love with you and we fight these white people together. And win! And by one of us, I mean myself. I mean, I love you. This can be a love story, can’t it? I like happy endings! Enough with all this boring philosophy!”
(The worst thing about self-improvement and the inability to understand that we are perfect as we currently stand is that we end up being caught in narratives that push us forward in time too fast. Rushing toward a lie of perfection in the future and shaped by the snares of past history. It creates a nice, facile, rhetorical branch for our minds to wrap themselves around when buying the plausibility of a story. But when such stories weave around our own identities in our so-called real lives outside the written word they do not create character, they kill us. We, unable to know our perfection or connection to the universal whole, die before we can live. We are trapped in the limits of self and story. The end of life, so-called death, is a sweet release, but the slow death by this trap, the slow death all the days of our life, never living with the oneness, denying us all the fullness of options for our identity and the acceptance of a perfect present, this is death proper, and is truly the fucking worst.)
The girl has a thought. But, to be honest, it is more of an unthought. The star fruit tastes so sweet; it has caught her breath. And, on the inhalation, there comes a noticing of her breath, and then exhalation. I will breathe a little, she thinks. So her feet take her around her room. And she breathes. In and out. She looks up and sees another poster. This one is framed. It advertises the Arctic Monkeys and Queens of the Stone Age headlining Cal Jam. The dude who was the lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys (Alex Turner or something?).
(Write, keep going, be aware of the imperfections and accept them. Run past them. Read past them. You will accept them. So, you didn’t do your research into the Arctic fucking Monkeys. Who cares? It’s all imperfection, anyway.)
was driving a car with skeleton on top
“Don’t give in to lazy storytelling, O character,” yelled a
villager old crone witch-doctor holding a goat by a rope.
into a crowd of hippies.
(“Young love, always moves so fast
Young love, never
la-la-la meant to last
La-la looked for you on the train
One night of love something-something and found you caught in the rain …”)
I think I might be wrong. The Arctic Monkeys don’t sing that “one night of love” song, thinks the girl with braided hair in a hut, hundreds of years ago. Maybe it is Royal Blood. Or Babes in Toyland? Wolf Alice? Vampire Weekend? The Struts? Coney Island Fauves? Insincere Daylight? Veterans Rights Owl Caucus? She breathed. The girl stared at the blood and screams and terrified faces of the hippies as Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys and his skeleton friend gleefully ran them over. She didn’t recognise any of the other bands. Next to this poster was an old poster for a Foo Fighters gig. Jane’s Addiction was the supporting act. A clown was having anal sex with a guitar shaped like a rooster dressed like a clown. The performance was at Fenway Park in Boston in 1998. The girl pondered the blood of the hippies and the rooster-clown and did not need to turn around and look out her window to know that the white men and their boats had landed on her pristine white sands for the first time and that she had therefore moved into the past tense, the present lost. She could sense them in her mind’s eye. She quickly finished the star fruit. Or rather, she breathed, and felt the sweetness, and then noticed she had finished the star fruit. It had been finished. There was a beginning, and now an end. Briefly, she felt such a sadness. But her breathing let all sadness be, and be one with the warm winds and blue skies and swaying bucolic green of her home, and like all things she inhaled and exhaled, once they were let be, they were let go.
(This is now finally building up to something, hasn’t it? It’s caught you, taken you somewhere, promised something, moved and shifted and hinted and run. Well, I’m still here, trying not to try, hoping not to tell, waiting for the we, digging into the soils of self-acceptance rather than self-improvement, rich as they are without seed or bulb or promise of fruit, rich and simple in their total perfection, soils of story with no need for the trees of telling.)
“O character, they are here. Shall we fight or fly?”
“Isn’t such binarism the crux and crutch of the modernity narrative? Isn’t it a grand deception?”
“I suppose duality is, yes. Good versus evil, much maligned, yet a comforting noose to hang our rhetorical devices with.”
“Fucking stop being so metaphysical. A tale well told jiggles the soul. Come now, O protagonist, let’s get going with something, anything! We are bored down here.”
“You know, friends, maybe the reason we don’t move forward and just accept this tale …”
(Should I just accept self-improvement? Am I being a hypocrite in this very endeavour to find and fail at a new form of writing based on a new–old form of consciousness?)
“… is because we are calling her ‘character’ and ‘protagonist’? She needs a name. I vote for ‘Princess.’ She seems to be written as one. Or ‘Stacey.’ Stacey’s a nice name.”
“You break the fourth wall again and I’ll break your neck. I’ve lost patience. I want this to end, I want an ending. We don’t need to wait for her. She has lost her rights as a protagonist; let’s all head down to the bay and face this first outbreak of civilisation ourselves. Come on!”
The tribe all marched off. But the story did not follow them. Their voices receded into the distance but the story stayed with the girl in her room.
This is it. Here’s where we come to it. Music and lyrics, Sturm und Drang; Lila of Brahma. The point where the story can be frustrated, deviated from, and oneness stumbled upon. The point where we can leave behind a self-improving individual and the drive to find some kind of resolution and instead sit still in inward awareness, universal perfection, and acceptance of all paths, endings, and beings, a story embracing the trueness of nothingness. Don’t fuck it up; a new way of telling, perhaps? Or do; after all, who’s still reading?
The girl sat on her couch and played with her braid. Now, she began to slip into a soothing reverie. A gentle wonderment. Her breathing took her away from the tumult outside and her room and brought her back into the present tense. This is it. Here’s where I come to it. The point where the story can be frustrated, deviated from, and oneness found. The point where I can leave behind a self-improving individual and the drive to find some kind of resolution and instead sit still in inward awareness, universal perfection, and acceptance of all paths, endings, and beings, a story embracing the trueness of nothingness. Don’t fuck it up; a new way of living, perhaps? Or do; after all, who still cares?
The voices of the villagers had receded and she saw in her mind’s eye the boots of civilised self-improving mortality-fear modernity-narratives marching through her timeless and needless green jungles. But she was content with quietly thinking. She thought about Julian Casablancas sucking on cow titties. She thought about Jane’s Addiction playing Fenway. She thought about Alex Turner running over hippies and she thought about anal sex with a guitar. She thought about the heroin-laced constitution-writing cotton farmers and start-up entrepreneurs marching up to meet the timeless perfection and needless nothingness of her tribe, and saw…
She goes inward. Even as the tribe/civilisation come to her door, even though a multiplicity of different narrative options surround and invade her, she goes inward, simply being aware and repeating that it is all perfect and she is perfect and needs to do nothing. So she nullifies narrative action and has only introspection. She becomes aware of the imperfections of her thoughts and feelings and self-awareness, and of her reaction to various narrative paths. The story comes for her. She sits still in her hut; the story comes for the Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes and Jane’s Addiction, and they breathe and close their eyes and look inward; the story comes for me, and we simply become aware of its demands and the falsity of past and present and future and let it all sit in us and pass us by. She accepts that she has been written and accepts the success and failure of her narrative and narration and the many stories and her reactions to them. She becomes one with the narrator and accepts and goes nowhere… and so stops, the story stops, the end frustrates, it must frustrate, since there is nowhere to go and no end, no denouement to any resolution, just acceptance and nothingness (anywhere might as well be as good a place to stop as somewhere), so here, that’s the only way to do it, just stop writing at a random spot, this spot, without the illusion of completion, it ends, just stop it here, stop, all of a sudden, go on, stop it.
… the tribe fight back and drive them back into a sea frothed with blood. She saw the tribe war over the spoils and bring the heart of civilisation and all its tyranny into the jungle in one final irony. She witnessed the tribe giving in and bending knee to white wigs and blue-buttoned vests and Julian Casablancas. She beheld the rise of the union jack and the red, white, and blue and the fax machine and the metric system and pharmaceutical health and increased life expectancy and half-priced pizzas and suicide and optioned wealth and rollercoasters and woe and psychedelic metal and big fat orgasmic bliss. She looked up at her wall and saw posters for the coming of a great white eagle that brushed aside the flags and sails of the boats of self-improvement narratives and instituted a nirvana of pure bliss where all stories were written with a voice sung from the absolution of the orgasmic embrace with the eternal Muse. She felt all readers succumb to an acceptance of their own perfection. She heard and smelt the tread of civilisation’s branded stilettos in her festive warm green jungle. She saw herself get off the couch and burn the band posters and leave her hut and (go for a) run down the humid hills and push aside the emerald fronds and run along the hot sand and dive into the ocean before the splash of white froth rocking the long prows of civilisation, narrative, and modernity; she saw herself embrace a set arc, herself, the protagonist, and sit to not attempt to write this story you are reading. The tribe was waiting. The story was pregnant for her. She could run, run, down to them, she was supposed to go for a run rather than be writing this, she should go out of her room and down to them.
There is tumult and outcry. The general from the boats calls her name. The villagers yell out for her to save them and guide them and weave their story. The young girl throws away the skin of the star fruit. And she calmly goes back to bed and closes her eyes and does nothing. She smiles. Still the bootsteps and insistence continue; they are at the door! They bang on the wood, shaking the frame, trying to force their way in, in to her, to me, into us. She breathes and is determined to keep her eyes closed and her gaze inward, or rather, she lets go of all determination and intent. But, for a brief moment, our eyes open. There is the scent of burning wood. We realise that
(Let’s give up here.)
with no more telling, there is no more improvement. Imperfection. Awareness.