The Three Princes of Serendip

I always start with the title; Except for this time, when I didn’t have a title in mind, so I had to use someone else’s title.

Today, 06-June-2012, marks the 9th birthday/bloggiversary of the God of Biscuits Blog. It feels like not so much of a celebration, though, as a milestone. Not a chore or a duty of office either—definitely something worth marking.

It’s because I’ve let the whole thing go a bit frowsy. In a way, that means it’s still going full steam at what it’s always been best at doing: reflecting my life, snapshotting it (odd that I think in terms of the blog as the active party, but there you have it).

The conspiratorial nature of Time is one of the more interesting aspects of it, to me anyway. Time rarely colludes, though, with anyone or anything else, so when Mister Moment-fomenter does a mashup with My Mrs. Mood you bet your sweet ass I’m going to be observing tempus comitatus as intently as the world did transit Veneris Sol.

Latin? Too much? Fuck it, I’m Deus Paxamatia, bitches! Besides, I haven’t gotten to the Sinhala or the Tamil yet.

I had no idea where the word serendipity came from. So of course I had to find out.

Turns out, Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford, of Strawberry Hill (English estate, not Central Park), and novel The Castle of Otranto fame coined the word taken from a line from a book whose title headlines this blog entry. From the OAD:

[…]a fairy tale in which the heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.”

“By accidents and sagacity” Don’t you just love English sometimes?

Except English is only lovely serendipitously, and only it’s only in English by coincidence (a hypernym of serendipity). That book’s made quite a trip getting here: Horace got his English version as a translation of a Venetian edition by Tramezzino, who heard the story from a Signore Armeno, who in turn had translated Book One of the Persian fairy tale Hasht Bisht.


Now, in the Persian tongue, “Serendip”? That’s just the name for the country of Sri Lanka. Though the ancient Arabs had called it “Serendib”.

Sri Lanka’s official languages are Sinhalese and Tamil. Gorgeous alphabets. This blog entry’s sub-title is Sinhala. Here is Tamil:

விருப்பமூட்டும் பொருள்களை தற்செயலாக கண்டுபிடிக்கும் திறன்

Both brought to you by Unicode, TypeKit and their supporting foundries, and by the glyphs ය් and ள் (don’t ask me why those two, they just wrote the checks).

What does the Sinhalese translate to? “Serendipity” The Tamil? Same thing. There’s something quite devastatingly apt in that, I just don’t know what it is yet.

Serendipity and coincidence—and accident, for that matter—are all denizens of Time. They depend on things to happen at specific moments.

Except they’re not, because they don’t. Serendipity is a fiction borne out of meaning that we make for ourselves, that I make for myself when I get busy with Mrs. Mood. As for coincidence? It may feel like it’s two things that happen at the same time, but it’s never that. That’s simultaneity. Coincidence is just a fudge factor that the mind uses when it can’t find causality for the apparent connection between two apparently disparate things. And accident? Rub two of those together long enough and you end up with a coincidence. [Or you go blind. – Eds.]

And if that action remarkably start throwing sparks and a few land on a pile of flammables and you happened to have been chilled and that little campfire warmed you up? Then that, Gentle Readers, that is serendipity.

This being an anniversary/birthday/bloggiversary, reflection is an unavoidable aspect. I started this blog on 06-June-2003. With a Buffy quote. The comments you’ll see there aren’t the originals; well, they don’t begin with the originals. Those are still stuck somewhere in the original commenting system.

But reflection is more than just calendrical woolgathering. Sometimes it’s discovery. And discovery—personal discovery—is often a dangerous activity, especially for the risk-averse.

Thank god (of biscuits) that isn’t me, huh?

The Aught’s were not very kind to me. Wait, that’s pussyfooting. The blogging years were not very kind to me. Taken together, the timespan of this blog and relationship between the activity levels in this blog and the overall…positivity in my life, there’s an ineluctable and nagging truth to be had.

What? You’re waiting for an answer? Fuck that noise, as I always used to say. If you’ve ever read this blog, you know that I’m not that literal, except when I have no other choice. â—Šcoughâ—Š vampire pups from hell â—Šcoughâ—Š

And you know those 3D street chalk-art optical illusions? You know they only work when you look at them from exactly the intended angle in order to get the intended illusory effect: from any other angle it looks like a funny pages transfer onto silly putty.

Imagine serendipity applied in reverse: I’ve made word sketches, painted masterpieces, written biographies, brought you upstairs to show you some etchings, watercolored some dreams and even took a shot or two at sculpting some seriously abstract shit. But there was never the intent for it all to come into sharp relief, in any way coherent enough to be subject to distillatory process, fermentation, transubstantiation or any kind of reductive voodoo yet still be recognizable and referent to the original.

And then just today an Elvis Costello song that I’ve heard a million times before pops into my helmeted head as I buzzed along on the 100cc hill hopper on my way home from work. From King of America, “Sleep of the Just”

The soldier asked my name, and did I come here very often
Well I thought that he was asking me to dance
In my holey coat and hat, and him in his red bonnet
We’d have made a lovely couple but we never had the chance

From one particular perspective, just that one singular-yet-unintended angle, where mental, emotional and psychological yaw, pitch and roll are perfectly just so, a magical view snaps into shape and extra dimensions pop out of four lines of song and fill nine years of a labor of life, lifetime, love; a corpus of writing and thinking and feeling and all of it.

I’m not saying that I wouldn’t trade the God of Biscuits blog for the world, I’m saying that it has been inextricable, interwoven into my world and me.

So, Dear Everyone Out There, please write. Publicly or privately, just please do it, because then it’s not only in your head anymore.

The Golden Age Of Wireless

Some folks say that there’s no better place to start than at the beginning, and still others claim that an ending is nothing but a beginning in disguise. Flip that around and an end is but a herald of—or the prelude to—a beginning.

So I’ll start at the tail end of my own beginning:

These latterdays give no comfort, and yet there’s going to be something happening. There always seems to be. And that’s a great place to start, isn’t it?

RKO“Latterdays” is as good a term as any to describe the holding pattern that has been the personal side of my life of the past couple of years, and if you think this kind of candor rankles even just a little bit, then you don’t remember our Golden Age of Blogging.

It’s not that everyone’s quit the game; even I haven’t completely quit, unless the definition has a minimum contribution frequency.

Which, honestly, it does, or I wouldn’t be here, now trying to beat the dead rocking horse into a winning argument (points for the literary reference—anyone? Bueller? Bueller?).

They say a place is just a place, that it’s the people you miss. That’s been true of every place I’ve ever been, ever lived save San Francisco and The Netherlands. While San Francisco is a special case, which I’ll get to, The Netherlands is an extraordinary case, which is a topic for another day, another plane of existence, really—yes, really.

What’s been so difficult about understanding whatever unhappiness and outright misery that has crossed my path in San Francisco stems from this atomic nature of the City: any reductionist approach fails; functional decomposition results in, well, compost. Truth suffers in the onslaught of too much analysis.

In my trip to Pittsburgh over Thanksgiving—my first visit there in just over fifteen years, which is five years longer than I actually lived their entirely! Impossible!—I spent time with my best friends there, Dale and his wife, and with Lisa and her husband. And we made a trip to Columbus, Ohio, to see The Toll, the band phenomenological singularity I have written about many a time here. They played again for the first time in nearly 20 years.

It was certainly a trip that invoked plenty of my past, our pasts. How could it not? But invoking the past to inform and contrast the present is not nostalgia. Thank Christ-on-a-mill-hunky.

No, instead it was present perfect tense—and another story for another day. Soon.

In a way, those things that were formerly complex, inhabited, separable things, Memory had fused into atomic and indivisible—like San Francisco has always been.

I spent the time from just after Thanksgiving through after the New Year at my folks’ house with my entire family.

This time away from here, this time with my family, this time restoring Pittsburgh and restoring my besties—Dale, Browyn, Lisa, Bim, Brad, Greg, Rick, Brett—all without wasting time reliving irretrievable pasts, had loosened the ground under my feet: my being back in San Francisco was not pleasant.

In fact, it was downright miserable. I was Home, for sure, but the magical quality of the City felt merely otherworldly, a poor imitation.

Like Parlor Tricks subbing for Divinity.

And the trouble will loose ground? A long winter of endless rain in San Francisco yields a seeming intractible morass.

I’m notorious for forgetting first principles, especially when I need them the most. Like depending on friends. Like seeing opportunity in change or circumstance or fortune and remembering that the opportunity is almost always orthogonal to the circumstances and fortunes.

Worse, it took me nearly two months to remember that writing was the first of the first principles that always got me out of whatever mental morass I found myself in.

And so we’re back to what essentially is starting again, or starting over. Same location, same blog, but the habit of writing is gone and so I was put back in the mind of what it was like when I first started.

And of course it was names that came first: Cucalambe, my blog daddy! and Vincey, aka Nunsequitur; Crashipoo; Dog Poet; We, Like Sheep; Sore Afraid; Teddy.

I could blame the one-two knockout punch of Facebook/Twitter which KO’d extended thought/writing (which I suppose I just did) but there’s no reason for the either-or here. It’s not like I even do much tweeting any more.

GoldenWirelessTowerFacebook, for its imbalance of too much reading and not enough writing—the very reason I said fuck-off to eschewed the egalitarian nature of LiveJournal (Ell-Jay! ew.) which encouraged gang group participation in each. and. every. post. you. make., does wick away a lot of energy which used to be spent on output instead of input. It’s a sheer numbers game there, though: you wade through the sum total output of all your friends and that takes time and there’s only one of you.

So it was one of these Old Timers (forgive me, Eric. I speak only of your soul, of course) who helped me by both listening and by having the temerity to speak his mind.

I say temerity because it truly is an extreme act these days to be candid. I don’t mean the kind of Facebook confession that passes for candor, the bitchy–vampy–campy, the tedious–mundane–boring, the quotidian–mom-a-day–school-a-day stuff. I mean honest, can’t-reel-it-back-in opinion. I asked, he replied.

I know, crazy.

I’m sure it had everything to do with who he is, and everything to do with our having known (and blog-known) each other over many years, and our having common knowledge that permitted this to happen. In any case, I’m truly glad for it.

It helped. Talking to someone who’s known you for a long time.

Long enough that he knew you before your world went pear shaped and all the bad stuff happened. Before the demon dogs and the fractured existence and the shattering pain and the fallout and the falling into.

And who knows you again, after.

But from a certain perspective that’s both over there and right here.

Which is how I’d been feeling in my own life since its main narrative went from solo to duo to the Full Dante more than half a decade ago up until frightfully recently.

But I’m still Here. And here. For now.

And I’m back.

And so is your God of Biscuits.

Sleep Comes Down

I have had quite a few ideas for blog entries, and most of those I’ve even started to write, but I don’t seem to accomplish as much as I’d like. Why? Add a few more things to my ever-growing list of maladies:

  1. inability to sleep the night
  2. incredibly disturbing dreams that aren’t scary enough to wake me up
  3. hypersensitivity in my skin that keeps me from sleeping (see #1) or from doing anything other than medding up and hoping for the best

Some things not yet written (with no promises/threats that they’ll ever land on this page:

  • The “Mythical” Supervention
  • Color My World
  • The Open Book
  • Family With All The Trimmings
  • Above and Beside
  • Abandonment of Admonishment
  • .) (seriously, I don’t know why I titled it that. Probably a misfiring.)
  • A Dearth of Intimacy
  • Fear & Otherment (hey, if Shakespeare can make up new words, why can’t we all?)
  • Evolution & Family Values
  • Abusing St. Thomas

If the previous entry, “Tiburon Triptych” weren’t so semiotically turned in on itself, I would have no explanation for how that one got out of its cage. (Helpful Hint from Heloise: never try to make a right turn off of a Möbius Strip)

I can write this now because right now, after having slept (finally!), no tingling of the skin, headache-free (fleetingly), I feel not to cold, nor hot, nor tired, nor lazy, nor stressed (beyond usual), nor benightmared, nor anything but as close to “better” as I’ve been in a while.

Reason enough, no?

Writing For An Audience

I’m never very far away from remembering that the reasons I started to write in this blog (as opposed to a private journal) continue to demonstrate that I chose right. When writing with the intention of sharing your work with others:

  • the story must be closed with respect to details, because almost no reader will know who Bob from high school was. For that matter, they won’t know your where your high school is and when you went there
  • you must obscure identities, unless the specific person(s) have given permission or given reason to call them out
  • choose your words carefully, with respect to vocabulary. Obviously this is a fine line between using the perfect word you know or settling for a less well-fitting word that most people will know (as you might have figured out, let’s say, I tend to stay on that thin line between using a ‘big’ word that many of one’s readers will know or at least be curious enough to look up online).
  • writing for an audience turns a recorder of facts and a thready sequence of events into a storyteller
  • you’re you own test group

And after awhile, you find that a story is a far, far better way of recording the past.

For example, in the process of telling the story of my run-in with a “Drama Empress” and subsequent loss of friends, I not only animated in my mind that bit of my past, but in the telling of it, the focus of the story changed: what started out as an attempt to record something that I might recycle for some fiction piece (a farce, of course) turned into a paean of friendship and that when you choose to be friends, you can change an insurmountable obstacle into a moot point.

Sappy? Yes. But true.