Preface Turned Afterwood

Preface Turned Afterwood

[Editor’s Note: This is some kind of an essay that sort of discusses the book (“Superhero Novella” — coming soon), but mostly chews over old obsessions. We took it out of the Preface spot. Should it have been thrown out entirely? We don’t know. But feel free to skip it. The book’s already finished.]

This novella grew out of a freewrite, which you can find towards the end of the book under the title “A Sustainable Schedule / A reasonable compromise with the need to be happy and the need to live in and through shared joy”. That freewrite grew out of wandering lonely, vaguely wondering what perfection would adequately answer the vague longing that gnaws always throughout a thinking/feeling animal.

Of course, nothing can really answer the vague longing: it is there to flare up and attach itself to various specific longings and goad the animal on and on, never satisfied with the amount of safety and thriving its attained. The only adequate response to a never-ending vague longing is adequate insight into the Pure Love shining through all things: that infinite explosion of matchless joy swamps all emotional/bodily hiccups, including this underlying gnawing. With adequate wisdom, the vague longing becomes just another tool to help us navigate this world of mental- and physical-objects. We long for perfect safety, thriving, and decency; only spiritual insight can bring that to us blown-about-leaves, who must mind/body change and fail and perish, but who perhaps as Soullight are already infinitely safe, thriving and decent.

Those of us who aren’t all that wise will sometimes pine for and even daydream collections of mental- and physical-objects that can be sketched up into a fantasy that at least starts to feel like some kind of an adequate response to the vague longing. Mostly, we aim kind of low and spend a great portion of our lives imaging if we had this mate, that house, that career; we’d answer the vague longing and all would be well. That, of course, is just what the vague longing wants: to keep us chasing after specific longings until we’ve made and raised babies and otherwise succeed. However, if we throw in some measure of spiritual insight and OKness, the daydream can wander into the territory of Reality. Although not too far, since we’re still — at least in examples like this sketchbook just completed — focussed primarily on specific mental and physical objects; rather than on a push into the realm prior to specifics, where reigns the Light that passes but that does not necessarily refuse to meaningfully connect with human understanding.

The narrator of this novella is not particularly wise. His daydream starts with physical beauty, timeless worldly youth, and the infinite eternal satisfaction of all animal drives. Perhaps the narrator’s repeated lamentations over Susan’s lost youth can be read as an expansion of and ironic working-over of that daydream; perhaps there’s enough ironic standing-back-on-one-foot throughout the text to justify the claim that the author’s meditation on the trauma of aging moves beyond a simplistic knee-jerk “NO! WE WON’T AGE! WE’LL LIVE FOREVER 25!” However, even granting that, he never goes so far as to set aside the original longing for a decency that was also not just pleasant, but also particularly flattering to his own gimmes and ego-trips. Indeed, while it is difficult to know exactly where irony begins and ends in a work of fiction, and where the narrator is being “himself” or “herself”, or if “he” or “she” even exists in a coherent sense; the persistent regret at octogenarian Susan losing the buxom elasticity of her youth is at best a confused and uneasy fiddling with and poking (like a child at brussel sprouts) at “NO! WE WON’T AGE! WE’LL LIVE FOREVER 25!”

A close reading of this text will see many such fiddlings with and pokings at a man’s longings after infinite youth — both to be himself and to have, hold and delight. This is not an entirely unreasonable theme for a superhero story: invincible, never-ending youth is a given in the comic book genre. Batman is forever 30, built, square-jawed, and unstoppably virile. Villains may age and go homely, but heroes can’t. Furthermore, it could be reasonably maintained that remaining youthful is one way or another a common element in most people’s daydreams about “good enough”; which of course is a major theme in this book, and one that also makes sense for a contemplation of a genre about superheroes and their triumphs.

As this is a work of fiction, we cannot speculate where the narrator is speaking for the author, nor even in what sense an “author” exists. We can, however speculate where the narrator is speaking for “himself” and this allows us some insight into the wisdom of the narrator.
The narrator of this preface is not sure what wisdom has to say about our longing to get to have both pleasure/comfort and decency: it seems obvious that wisdom cannot abandon decency for pleasure/comfort, and so if a choice must be made, pleasure/comfort must be sacrificed; however, so much trouble is caused by people mistakenly supposing themselves wise or at least led by a wise council, and often this self-deception is partly wrapped up in their willingness to make sacrifices, or at least to convince themselves that they are more focused on Goodness than on pleasure/comfort. In short, the narrator of this preface does not exactly know how the narrator of this book should’ve evolved this book’s original daydream, but s/he (preface writer) strongly suspects that his (book writer’s) continuing obsession with softsupple ageless womanly curves in the rough hands of ageless manly vigor shows that he (book writer) is, at least in some sense, still a thirteen year old kid gawking at naughty pictures found in a crumpled-up magazine strewn along a steep and crumbly creek bank; and therefore, taken as a whole, cannot possibly rate above middling-wise.

However, a good work of art is more than the sum of its parts and can offer more wisdom to the audience than its creator. It is “good” precisely because its originator wandered at least a little beyond himorherself while making it. The notion that an author is always wiser than his or her creation is a ridiculous folly. A good author meditates on the entire human moment through writing and so surpasses him- or her-self in their writings. Therefore, even a work of fiction that only moved a pretty-good author’s total wisdom marginally forward could still be worth reading and thus worth writing a preface for.

In conclusion, after much consideration and soul-searching, this preface-writer does not consider it a dereliction of duty to write this preface.

The novella’s pretty good; it is worth the quick read its few pages and relatively plot- and character-driven prose require. The philosophical asides are fewer and less distracting than those in “First Loves” or “First Essays” (the former being a collection of short-stories a little oversaturated with philosophical asides; and the latter primarily a collection of philosophical asides). The asides he does permit himself in this work tend to be more mood- and recollection-based and shine some light on the chunk of rock this sculpture was doodled out of.

Anyway, kind of a fun read, some interesting ideas woven relatively well into story/characters/settings/moods; and not at all long!

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