Death Design Life


It’s been roughly 60 days since the birth of the Child. Thankfully, she is healthy. Thankfully, the Mother is recovering well from the pre-eclampsia and emergency c-section.

A couple of times I wanted to put words to my thoughts, but between events at home and in the world, between work and childcare, I didn’t find the brain room for rather two months.

These thoughts aren’t about the Family. Their well-being is better served by a veil of privacy, as is my pleasure at their well-doing.

Biological Substrate

My experience of childbirth was terrifying and awesome in the way I imagine olden experiences of the divine must have been. I was confronted with death and death and life and death and life. It was as though I stood at the revolving doors of the liminal palace between existence and non, and could only wait and pray that the doors finally stopped open onto this vale of life and not that other.

I was confronted with the deep, immutable biological substrate of human existence. Fancies may build castles in dreams, but life is rooted in the genetic clay.

I, a man, stood there and waited. Safe, an observer to the drama.

The Mother, a woman, nearly died twice giving life to the Child.

The difference could not have been starker. Her vulnerabilities. The difficulties and dangers she faced. Not just that difficult, but ultimately joyous, day; also the days since.

Without this experience of the Child’s arrival, my experience of humanity was partial, a light froth of ideas that I could blow here and there, shape and sculpt as I would.

With the Child, I have been confronted again and again. Biology is a heavy land we cannot escape, its gravity tethers us hard and prescribes for us who and what we are.

Care and Choice

The Mother is reminded that she needs to care for the Child. By some magical (metaphorically) process, she transmutes the food she eats into milk the Child can drink. She feels discomfort and even pain if she does not care for the Child, does not feed it. To care is the Mother’s default. If she chooses not to care, she will suffer.

The Father, I, am confronted with the freedom to not care. If I do not care for the Child, I need feel no pain. I may even find ease: no cries to hurt my ears, an easy sleep alone. The Father has no default, but if he chooses to care, it demands more effort and patience than if he walks away.

This is the space where culture and morality come into play. To convince the Father that to be a good man means to care.

What happens if a culture allows or even encourages a man to walk away, to leave the care of the Child entirely to the Mother?

Did my father ever help my mother care for me when I was little? She says he did not, and I am inclined not to disbelieve her.

The Phantom and the Person

For many years I have pondered that a core problem in relationships is that many people love the ideas they paint in their heads, rather than the people in front of them.

It is so easy. We imagine who we want to be with and we project our fancies onto real people. In a solipsistic turn, we date a phantom, not a person.

Then, when the person breaks through, we are aggrieved.

“Why does this one that I love refuse to be the one that I love?” we wail.

The person shouts, “I am not this one. I have a name. Desires. Wants. Flaws.”

“This one has changed. Has disappointed me,” we moan.

“Hey, look at me, I’m right here!” the other person jumps and wags their hands.

“I feel nothing. This one is gone to me,” we sadly shake our head and wander on, painting our phantoms onto new people, burying ourselves in imagined fancies.

Recently, I’ve started to suspect this is a more general human problem than merely a problem of relationships.

Plato, Aristotle

When I first encountered philosophy, I found Plato fascinating. Big ideas, grand narratives, thought experiments, symposia, Atlantis. Aristotle, by comparison, seemed a boring bug counter, an empirical enumerator with no good story to tell.

After the empirical experience of the Wife’s pregnancy, of the Child’s birth, I was confronted with the misleading sterility of Plato’s world of ideas.

What good is a perfect form suspended outside of time and space, when it misses the entire point and purpose of the really existing here and now. People say one can miss the forest for the trees, and vice versa, but the idealist misses both at once, forest and trees alike, for a concept in their mind, a phantom map of no world at all.

So I’ve come to appreciate Aristotle more.

The Abstract and the Real

I now think one of the biggest human problems is that we find it far too easy to leave behind the real and live entirely in the abstract. We layer meanings and ideas on the world we experience, then new concepts and fancies on top of those meanings and ideas, then words and emotions on top of those concepts and fancies. We create a sedimentary accretion of similes and metaphors that entirely obscure where we began.

We no longer see ourselves, we see the layers of narrative and think them real.

We no longer see other people, we see accreted assumptions, heavy histories, thickets of tales and piles of prejudices.

We no longer see the world itself, we see our ideas and think them flesh.

We sink into illusions of our design and desire and think them more real than the grass breaking through the pavement, the dog sniffing at the dry poop, the sun beating down through a rain-washed sky.

The disaster comes when we entirely lose sight of the physical, really existing shore of our lives and set of, unmoored, adrift in a sea of our own delusions. There, we seek other castaways and cling together, creating rafts of shared abstraction. Fancy worlds where the earth is flat, where people are flat, where communities are flat. The real is replaced with a picture book of flat simplicities in starkly delusional shades of light and dark.

Some would call this ideology. They might be right.

Think of the tragedy of humans who, step by step, convince themselves their opponents are enemies, no not enemies but beasts, no not beasts but vermin. They call themselves heroes and righteous as they murder babies and grandmothers. They think they become martyrs, but no, they become monsters, sowing suffering in their pursuit of perfection.

This, I think, is the fundamental degradation of communism: an ideal of egalité gone sour in its abstraction, where it reduced real people with real dreams to classes. Even the favored classes could then be treated as so many numbers in an accountant’s ledger, to shift from one column to the next, to optimize in order to create some future perfection.

I mention communism because it is an abstracting movement that afflicted my nation, my town, my family. But it is not alone. I think every movement that abstracts away real people, with their flaws and frailties and dignities and desires, to replace them with concepts and categories, is not just dangerous but fundamentally anti-human.

Anti-human humans are dangerous. Their internal contradictions too easily make them explode.

Orthogonal Movement

A few months ago I finally stopped posting on Xitter. It had finally become too musky to bear. Having stepped away, I found an interesting thing happen to my thoughts.

The defensive cringe I felt with every thought expressed on Xitter began to slowly fade.

The simplistic two-sided nature of the US-dominant narrative, started to fall away. It’s interesting: I am not USian, I have no vote there, no influence, and yet the strength of USian ideas was such on Xitter that I felt of a necessity that I had to pick sides and align my mind.

Over these couple of months, I’ve begun to feel more and more like a released balloon, floating away, free to explore new directions while the partisans continue their tug of war over the corpse of the rotting now-black bird.

Mercutio might say, “A plague o’ both your parties!”

There are more thoughts in heaven, more things on earth, to please and delight than would be delimited by your partisan philosophies.

To Books Again

I make games that look like books.

The Child has been intensely helpful to my work. It has assailed my freedoms, my unbroken days and made them short and sharp.

The Child gurgles and smiles and plays and is right there, right now.

It has taken away my time to doubt and dither, to play with one design or another that leave near enough nothing to choose between them. Whether the indent is three fingernails or a pencilwidth, who would care but me and one other strange person trapped in the abstraction that is designspace?

Lack of time has forced me to pare down and focus and not care over much for the strange, obscure edge case. I thank the Child for this lesson.

Look, this lovely little 48-page booklet of roleplaying game magic I have made. The Child forced me to make it smooth, simple, and quite delightful:

Before, when I finished a book or a thing, I often faced a blue melancholy, a feeling of emptiness, worthlessness, exhaustion.

This time I did not.

It is as though the reality of the Child forced me both to strip away all I did not need in the book and also freed me from feelings of guilt or distress after I finished my work.

There, in the Child, is the real. When the Child is awake, it is awake. When it is asleep, it is asleep. It wails and gurgles, plays and cries, drinks and poops, smiles and smirks, and each time it does just and only that.

There, in the Child, is a template for a book. When it is being written, it is being written. When it is done, it is done. Each time it is just one thing and only that.

Sure, I could layer abstraction on the work. I could putter and bricolage, mix and remix, but with the Child there is no time.

So, simplicity. Just one thing and only that.


No next right now.

Today’s words are just a meander.

A restful bend in the flow, between one place and another.

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