Meditation on a Mid-Life Crisis

Meditation on a Mid-Life Crisis

A fundamental tenant of Buddhism is the insistence that the basic condition of life is suffering. Whatever joys there are in life are transient; we always fall back into our suffering condition sooner rather than later. Why then wouldn’t we pursue pleasure as often as we do, at seemingly great risk at times? Why do any of us decide to skydive or climb Everest when the risk includes death? Why does any spouse pursue an affair when the cost is the (relatively) stability of a relationship? Do we enjoy pain? Does uncertainty turn us on? Civilization says we want to avoid pain. Civilization says we should seek stability. But what we really want is to end our suffering and avoiding pain isn’t necessarily related to that. What we want is to feel alive. We want to burn.

Perhaps for many of us, life is not so bad. It could certainly be worse. But when we are caught in between a life that for all intents and purposes is neither here nor there, our lives are mundane, where what’s mundane is, in actuality, low level suffering. The crime is, many of us are aware of this fact. When we realize our lives are in fact mundane, trapped, we ask ourselves, “Is this all there is?” We want there to be more even if we don’t know what that ‘more’ is supposed to include.

When I was a child, I was not someone who gave much thought to the future beyond supposing I’d be married and own a home by the time I was 24. Although such an idea was overly optimistic in hindsight, at least I did not imagine I would ever be someone of any importance. I was never, in my own estimation, destined for great things. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to be. I just never really saw it. My most ambitious goal was to get through life and at the end, be considered a good man by myself, my family and friends. If I hoped for anything in pursuit of that goal, it would have been for life to be more enjoyable than not along the way.

I remember playing in a rock band when I was in the army. We weren’t very good, which is a polite way of saying that we were awful. Despite our individual talents – Ford was a very capable drummer at only 19 years old, D.B. could play guitar and bass, Lee, the spirited girl-next-door led vocals, while I wasn’t too bad at arranging songs which allowed more talented people forgive my slushy six-string renditions of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” – we never gelled enough as a singular unit to warrant popularity outside the confines of our remote outpost in Germany. Still, we were considered by the rest of the troop to be something akin to rock stars, people other people wanted to be around, presumably because those people had nothing better to do even though they lived in Europe. To my amazement, this led to several ‘concerts’ in which we performed in front of a live audience. Our second ‘show’ is particularly memorable to me, as it was the first time we played on an actual stage. The idea of playing a gig always intimidated me as it could take a while before I settled down to play well before even a few people. On this occasion the heat of the stage lights quickly began to distract me as I’d never experienced such lighting before. By the third song into our set list, the stage lights were too hot for me, so before the next song I whipped my long sleeve shirt off to the mock cat-calls of first platoon. This annoyed me for just a moment until I heard Ford’s drum sticks click 1, 2, 3, 4. Then we launched into a cover of The Kinks “You Really Got Me” which seemed to whip first platoon into a frenzy. (First platoon was legendary for their drinking skills and subsequent madness.) They approached the stage en masse and began pounding their fists on the stage and snapping their heads to the beat of the music. Their thunder rocked the stage and reverberated through my bones. Their energy electrified me. They fed me and I fed them back. That’s when time slowed down. For a few seconds, long seconds, time slowed down as I looked across the hall we were playing in and noticed that the people in the back were also enjoying the show. I don’t recall finishing the song but I do remember that I was literally exhilarated on that stage. That memory is one of the few times I can remember in which I felt absolutely, truly, inexorably alive.

That memory is also fleeting. I remember it is there, that is was, but of what use is it to me now? A memory is intangible and re-lived speciously at best. Having slipped into that fateful pattern civilizations lay out for us, such moments of aliveness become fewer and further in between. Eventually, many of us float through life, comfortable in the knowledge of what we’re supposed to do, which I will grant keeps us safe. It has kept me safe. But the cost has become who I am, where what I am has only been revealed when I have felt alive. But the world is set up in such a way that I have spend much of my time not feeling alive. Halfway through my life, I have begun to see how dearly this has cost me, how much of my true nature has been buried so deep it feels like it cannot be dug up again. I have forgotten that my identity is not fixed by my perceptions or the perceptions of others. I have realized that the person I am that is happy is defined by the actions that make me feel alive. But it seems as though I have forgotten what those actions are. I am no longer alive because I do not practice the things that make me happy; I am no longer alive having foregone almost all risk. Or perhaps this is all a mental affliction that comes naturally with age, the search for an explanation to the loss of the vitality and promise of one’s youth. Perhaps it is the case that I cannot accept who or what I am – ordinary – not destined for great things, or worse, unable to do them. It is one thing to have foreseen this. It is quite another to actually live it.

What remedy is there? It has not proven fortuitous to wait for one’s luck to change. I have to do things. The older generations frown heavily upon millennials of whom they write such scathing headlines, Millennials spend more on experiences than home ownership. Of course the aged will curse the youth for doing what they should have all those years ago. But the lesson to be learned here is that I – you, me, we – have to do things. The world, as it swirls around me, is not enough. It is I who have to swirl around the world. We can’t both be vortexes. Or maybe we can. Of course, it would be an utter storm; risky. And maybe that riskiness would make me feel alive again. I – you, me, we – just have to pull the trigger. The gun might be loaded, but risking the worst is the only way to feel alive.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” – Theodore Roosevelt

 

All Rights Reserved © July 2018 John J Vinacci

Where Do You Get Your Story Ideas?

Where Do You Get Your Story Ideas?

“Where do you get your story ideas?”

Writers get this question a lot in relation to their fiction. The answer, of course, varies though I do think most of the time story ideas come from something a writer wants to say. (Well, at least until they learn to write what is marketable seeing how the two usually do not coincide.)

Story ideas come from many places. Myself, I get story ideas from other stories. I often get that “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” line breeze through my mind while I’m reading or watching something else. For me, I enjoy writing stories with a twist or try to turn convention on its head as I absolutely hate tropes. On the other hand, an idea often just pops into my head. It’s kind of sad to say I don’t have a muse to inspire me, at least not one I’m aware of.

I’ve heard other writers say it but I do not get any of my ideas from my dreams. As bizarre as they may be sometimes, my dreams aren’t usually compelling enough or coherent enough to tell a good story. Besides, life can be bizarre enough on its own if you let it. Nor do writing prompts usually work for me, I guess because I don’t like being told what to do. But, that’s me.

Where do you get your story ideas from? I’d like to know.

 

Interview with a Novelist

Interview with a Novelist

Why did you write Alpha vs. Omega?

Because I was getting bored with superhero stories. I’ve been a lifelong comic book fan, but I’ve reached the point of saturation. For one thing, the main comic book companies – Marvel and DC – have cheapened the relevance of their characters by invoking what I call ‘the multiple universes clause.’ They’ve created multiple versions of their superheroes and villains so they can tell ‘new’ stories when they’ve exhausted a character’s possibilities instead of taking things to their logical conclusion. Frankly, I think this is lazy storytelling and has cheapened the importance and uniqueness of each character. ‘The multiple universes clause’ also has the effect of lessening the gravity of what might otherwise be some dire situation. With these particular criticisms in mind, I wanted to make sure that the superhero universe I created was an entity unto itself to the point of inserting a crucial plot point to make sure that stays the case and that there’s no going back and changing it. I also wanted to address something else I am weary of in superhero stories – which is occasionally tied to ‘the multiple universes clause’ – the constant retelling of a hero’s origin. I don’t find a hero’s origin all that central to their character, though there are some notable exceptions (i.e. Spider-Man, Batman). Again, it’s lazy writing. In Alpha vs. Omega, I purposefully gave just about everyone the same origin, if not outright then metaphorically (you’ll see what I mean when you read the book). Originally, Alpha vs. Omega was meant to satirize the comic book genre and its tropes, but as I wrote I found there were some things that just have to be said if given a world of people with actual super human powers; the way people use and abuse power, for example. Superheroes and villains also provide us with the perfect backdrop in which to say a few things about religion. Unfortunately but understandably, the Big Two comic companies generally avoid the topic.

What was most difficult about writing this book?

I’ve never undertaken anything of this magnitude before. Alpha vs. Omega is epic in scope and with that meant trying to keep the timeline of events straight (in a book in which the timing of events is relevant to the plot) while trying to avoid plot holes. There was a lot of scribbled notes, a lot of back and forth to make sure things remained as consistent as possible. Trying to find the time to write was difficult as well; a little bit here, a little bit there, over the course of almost four years. Trying to be a writer while working full time and maintaining a home life isn’t easy. Now I know why so many writers are characterized as alcoholics. I completely understand that now.

Who is your favorite character in the book?

Probably Thiha, who is generally characterized as the antagonist, though he may be the protagonist depending upon your point of view. I think he’s one of best character’s I’ve ever created; he’s got a quick wit and is almost always cheerful regardless of the situation, not to mention his background. And, despite possessing nearly god-like powers he makes a lot of mistakes which I think speaks to the foibles of being human no matter how much power you possess. I’m also very fond of The Mega Dudes as one of the central super hero groups. They’ve been bouncing around in my head as characters for about 30 years now, as they’re based upon myself and some high school friends. One of The Mega Dudes, Brawl Boy, is based upon my old friend Paul, who was plagued with brain cancer in his youth and pancreatic cancer as an adult. (Paul passed away from the latter disease on January 3, 2018).) The Mega Dudes represent to me what people what super powers should be doing on a regular basis – providing aid in emergency situations. So I was very happy to finally breathe some life into what were formally some very poorly drawn superheroes. Interestingly, the Four Dragons that also appear in the story – they’re the Chinese super hero group – were The Mega Dudes’ arch enemies in those old comics I drew. And just like in those stories, they square off here as well. I guess I’m a little nostalgic.

Do you have a favorite scene in the book?

I find the scene in which one the super hero teams – the UNRT – sits down to dinner with their alien ‘guest’ very amusing. The alien finds human ways very primitive of course and even makes fun of their food choice. The scene is meant to be a little strange, a little out-of-place as you have these people that can do fantastic things just sitting around talking, though the conversation does take a serious turn. I didn’t realize it when I wrote the chapter, but my scene is vaguely similar to the post-credit scene of Marvel’s The Avengers in which the team is sitting around quietly eating shawarma after winning an apocalyptic battle.

What are you working on next?

I will most likely put together an anthology of my short stories and poetry before I undertake my next novel, IF I undertake another novel. I love time travel stories and with that I’d like to tackle another very old idea of mine of a time warrior who traverses space and time in a bid to stop his older, renegade self from doing something catastrophic. Given how difficult Alpha vs. Omega was near the end – I wanted to finish it so badly but tried not to rush it – I’m not sure I want to write another novel.

All Rights Reserved (c) January 2018 John J Vinacci