Everyone is a Philosopher

Everyone is a Philosopher

(They just don’t know it.)

 

 

It’s 8:30 PM, and I’m at a party in suburban hell.

I’m not sure what I was thinking when I said, “Yeah, I’m in.” I mean, I’m at least ten years older than everyone else here, probably more than that.

I’m also single. I’m dressed like a douche. I’m tired. And I’m the only one in the room not glued to his phone.

Yeah. That’s the truth. I’m in a house with twenty people, most of them strangers, and everyone except three little kids is nose-deep in their phone. I count four Xbox controllers lying dormant in front of a paused game on TV. I see plates of half-eaten food and abandoned drinks. Even the music, probably something-something by Justin Bieber, thumps a little quieter in the background.

It’s as if the Biebs himself is ashamed to be heard at a party at which no one is talking, flirting, or looking up from their phones.

I figure I have three choices:

Leave. It’s not as if anyone will notice.

Drink a ton. And then hope a beautiful woman walks in the room in time for me to make a horrible first impression.

Or option three: wake the zombies from their phone-induced slumber.

The way I see it, one and two are boring.

Option three is where it’s at.

In a room full of twenty-somethings, I clear my throat and crack the overwhelming silence. People I’ve never met look up as if to say, “Who the hell are you to distract me from Facebook?” It’s ok. I’m not shy. I’m running on four Krispy Kreme donuts and three Solo cups of liquid courage. There’s nothing in the universe capable of embarrassing me now.

“Anyone here ever heard of the train question?” I blurt out.

Five, maybe six people nod their heads. Everyone else looks confused.

“You know, the train question,” I continue. “If you pull the lever, a mother and her son get smacked by a runaway train – if you don’t pull the lever, five random strangers get run over by the same train. Anyone know what I’m talking about? Anyone?”

At first, only a few people in the room start mumbling. Sure, they’ve heard of the train question. It’s just that no one has asked them anything philosophical since…ever. In this case, it’s the party’s host and his wife who chime in. Yes, they’ve got answers. She says pull the lever because only two people will die. He says, “Nope. Not pulling it. If I divert the train, I’ve directly killed five people.”

The room doesn’t know it yet, but they’re hooked.

Everyone is a philosopher.

* * *

That was three years ago. The night turned out better than expected. People’s shells were broken. Phones were put away. Conversations – real conversations – happened.

And that’s what it’s all about, right?

Anymore, we spend so much of our time talking about weather, about news stories, politics and television shows, we don’t talk about life anymore. We pay attention to what other people are saying, and we miss out on our own stories.

Just under the surface, we’ve all got a story.

And it’s probably more interesting than we assume.

* * *

Dusk approaches. I’m feeling a little fat after devouring a dinner of pasta and bread with my little one, the G Man. In truth, all the food inside me is a good thing. Like pretty much everyone else, I operate better with a full belly. In this case, a little extra full.

Fatter philosophers are better philosophers.

Maybe.

I’m sitting in my house. It’s a small suburban bachelor pad, all mediocre art and empty wine bottles. Tonight, my drink of choice is a Hook & Ladder pinot noir. It doesn’t have the most nuanced flavor, but I’m a fan nonetheless. Not all that long ago, my favorite bartender Sam suggested I try it, and I was sold from sip number one. Sam’s the type of human I really like. She serves a mean drink, carries conversations better than anyone, and served me cake at her kid’s birthday party.

We should all have a good bartender in our lives.

We should all have a Sam.

Sam’s bar, which we’ll call the M, is more or less my haunt. I’m not sure if people have haunts anymore, and I’m doubly unsure whether most people know what a haunt is. What I am sure of is that I spend a lot of time at the M.

I’m quite literally the guy whose name everyone knows.

The guy who helps other patrons with drink selections.

And the guy who’d prefer to dine at the bar with strangers than at a table with friends.

It’s amongst strangers I thrive. And while plenty of people would disagree, it’s amongst strangers at bars the best conversations can be had. One never knows what kind of person might co-haunt one’s favorite bar. And when alcohol hits everyone’s bloodstream, one never knows what might happen.

In my experience, plenty.

If we exclude the obnoxious types and people who are deadly serious about not being spoken to, we’re still left with a huge population of interesting bar-hopping strangers.

There’s the hopeful loner, awaiting someone, anyone, with whom to strike up a conversation.

There’s talkers, the types who will happily invade your conversation and let you invade theirs.

And we’ll find friendly couples, storytellers, broken-hearted romantics, and slightly-too-tipsy people. Most are willing to offer way too much information about their personal lives.

They’re out there.

You just have to know how to spot them.

* * *

Continue?

Grinding Away in a Creative Life

It’s sunny outside.

It’s the kind of morning of which I like to dream. Not cold, but not quite warm. No clouds. No wind. I can hear the birds and smell the honeysuckle. It’s perfect.

It’s enough to make me want to freeze time and wander the morning for a few thousand years.

I should be working, but I’m not. I’ve just finished publishing another pair of books, and I find myself slogging through a short story about which I’m only somewhat passionate.

Sometimes, when I hit a lull like this, I pick up my paintbrush and spread out a few shadows. Maybe a colorful tree. A mournful maiden. Or maybe something terrifying.

Not today. I’m not in the mood.

I really just want to hang with the cat.

This is where I’m at:

Eaters of the Light, my sci-fi/romance/thriller series? It’s published.

My goal of finishing thirty canvas paintings at this point in the year? Exceeded.

The latest entry in my ridiculous ‘Reasons to Break Up’ trilogy? Slapped together and shipped.

It’s been a good year so far. But I want more.

Some people talk about creative exhaustion. About writer’s block. About procrastination, lack of direction, and boredom.

Nah. Forget all that.

I’ve got 99 problems, but none of ’em are those.

My cardinal sin? Setting reachable goals.

Yeah. Oops.

It’s like this. Some mountains in life are meant to be climbed. You say you want to save $1000 bucks for a vacation? Boom, you did it; now get in the car and head to the beach. Land a big promotion at work? Achieved. Need to step outside and mow your lawn? Nice, you’re finished…hopefully with a cool glass of bourbon awaiting you inside.

But artistic goals – are those really meant to be conquered? Of this, I’m not so sure. Is there ever a point at which an author sits down and says, ‘You know…I think I’m done. No more books. I’m just gonna drift away into the sunset .’ Do painters, sculptors, and photographers one day just set down their tools and declare their life’s work complete? I mean…maybe. Maybe some people can do it. Maybe the best of the best reach a point of contentedness, and afterward float away in the clouds with a satisfied smile on their faces.

Maybe.

But somehow I doubt it.

My son – the G Man. He’s not impressed.

Last night, for the first time in forever, I didn’t create. My brushes sat in a Mason jar full of water, soaking up nothing. My new short story ‘Nadya the Deathless’ laid untouched on my century-old laptop. I didn’t draw. I didn’t write. I didn’t wander outside beneath the perfect stars to dream up a new and exhilarating story.

I just sat there in the gloom of my basement. With a bowl of Progresso soup. Vaguely watching a movie. Not really thinking, moving, or existing.

For a while, maybe an hour, I floated in the stillness. Near the end, a scary idea crept over me. I thought perhaps I’d made a grave error in setting goals that were too easy to achieve. ‘Aim low, and you’ll hit your target,’ I realized. ‘Shoot for the moon, and though you’ll never make it, you’ll get to die trying.’

I opened my eyes. The back door was open, and the moths fluttering inside to get at the room’s only lamp. My cats dozed beside me, savoring my rare moment of inactivity.

It was then I knew my low-goal setting hadn’t been some tragic thing.

I can make a new goal, I realized. Something lofty. Something impossible to reach.

Something I’ll be proud to die trying to do.

So let’s talk goals.

Absurd goals.

Quest to drop the One Ring into Mount Doom kind of goals.

Right now I’ve got thirty-two published books. My new goal – one-hundred.

Right now my painting store is stocked with one-hundred nine original canvas paintings. New goal – three-hundred.

Season one of Hollow Empire is finished. New goal – finish three full seasons.

This giant fantasy trilogy, the one I published five years ago, has begun to gather dust. New goal – sell one-thousand new copies…and write a sequel.

And my most ambitious goal, the one that’ll allow me to sniff retirement, is to sell one-million copies of this little tome. (Right now I’m only at thirteen-thousand copies sold.)

Challenges, challenges…

Insurmountable.

Unlikely.

Delusional.

This should be fun.

It’s still sunny outside, although maybe a bit warmer now. And there’s just a few things more I want to share before I wander outside.

My art partner, Tahina Morrison, with whom I’ve created nearly one-hundred sculpted paintings, is leaving town. It was inevitable, this change. It’s humanity’s natural ebb and flow.  As I sit in my little chair and think about the challenges that will arise in her absence, I can’t help but smile.

We did good work together, she and I.

We had a blast.

 

Furiosa

Twilight Shaman

 

Horned Queen

*

These are just a few of my favorite collaborative pieces. In Tahina’s absence, I realize my painting goals will be even more difficult to achieve.

So be it. Challenge accepted.

Now then…

I think it’s probably time.

Time to open the door and step out into the sunlight.

Time to stop talking about goals and start realizing them.

Time to feed my cats.

Thanks to all my readers for sticking with me. Thanks to all the art collectors who’ve invested in me, and who happily stick my canvasses on their walls. And special thanks to Tahina and the G Man, without whom the last two years would’ve been infinitely less rewarding.

Goodbye for now.

I’ll be back.

 * * *

Readers will want to check out this book here. Trust me…you’ll be happy you did.

And dark art lovers might appreciate this piece, which I created based on an actual skull sitting in my living room.

J Edward Neill