My Own Rules

As contributing members of society, there are certain rules we all follow to keep the grand experiment in operation: laws, social customs and traditions and so on. These rules are unnatural, but with good reason, as they are designed to protect us from the innumerable dangers of nature, not the least of which are the more violent aspects of our own.

But as an artist, I believe it’s better to play by one’s own rules. Of course, that is hardly a formula for success, if one defines success in terms of gross wealth and fame. Some of us, however, not only function in a manner that is outside that spectrum, but openly oppose it.

As one who wishes to join the exclusive club of those who make up and follow their own sets of rules, I have drafted the following and put it through one round of revision.

  1. Question all assumptions that limit you or otherwise reduce your quality of life.

  2. Refuse to submit to the will of others.

  3. Work around your weaknesses and develop strengths.

  4. You are not a product or brand. Your life is not for consumption.

  5. Develop a vision of what your life is, what your days and nights are to be like, and how to use your time and live accordingly.

  6. Trust your creative instincts, especially when that instinct demands you explore risky work.

  7. In your life, you are the captain; you are the king. The ship is yours to command; the castle is yours to protect.

  8. Work in more than one language.

  9. Do not allow your rough edges to be sanded.

  10. Do not water yourself down in a false attempt at “relatability.”

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Unity Paradigm

The Unity Paradigm (UP) is a framework in which all my work - past, present, future - may be placed so that it may exist within a common context. It is a function of Harmonic Theory, and attempts to reconcile various structures, some of which are apparently at odds, through juxtaposition and hybridization.

UP is an attempt to define, demonstrate boundaries, and on occasion dissolve them. It is essentially Buddhist and poetic because it seeks to identify analogous forces, parallels, parities, comparisons, metaphors, and so on, and show the relative oneness or sameness of disparate, often seemingly contradictory, contrasting, or paradoxical things. It is also a Daoist thought structure, or even Manicheanist, as it is sometimes a bringing together of opposites, and shows essentiality of all things, and the impossibility of polarities to eliminate each other or achieve some final victory over one another.

To approach work through the UP is to have a skeleton on which to hang all the organs, the muscles, and the skin of said work so that it forms an organic whole in terms of form and content in poetry, fiction, music, photography, philosophy, video, assemblage, sound art, graphic design, and so on.

It should be noted that successful unity between forms is neither universally sought or desired. At times, the unity displayed may be the contrast itself, or often a deliberately incoherent, dissonant effect.

In a fundamental way, the UP is an application of the musical Drone Principle, meaning that a single things is presented for a duration. In music, that means a recurring or sustained tone, as in the music of the Indian sitar, or Western Drone music, which begins with LaMonte Young. The monotone is also applied to ostinato figures and vamps.

The Drone has within it the implication of the mathematical and spiritual infinite. Under UP, I permit myself sustained monomanias. In this way it is also a framework for creative behavior patterns - indulgences and deprivations, and the attempt at balance between them.

I have sustained a monomania for poetry for half a year, leading to rapid development and learning. I believe I have reached a true breakthrough via this method of sustained attention, having increased my comprehension, close-reading technique, and facility with a few technical methodologies. I have read more poetry as well as criticism, which has deepened my hermeneutic practice. I feel as though I am now on the cusp of producing actual poetry.

All that being said, the most natural course to pursue at this, the beginning of a new year, is to leave the intensive and extensive practice of poetry momentarily.

To clarify, I won’t quit writing poems, but I will pause my study of poetry. Instead I will produce poems to the best of my current ability and focus my learning elsewhere, specifically on image-making, treating it as an aspect of the core pursuit of writing poetry.

Now the real poetic practice may begin. I will study again in the future, but for now I must apply all that I have learned and direct my curiosity to vision, a fundamental aspect of poetic experience.

Political Discourse

You know what they say about opinions.

Let me get something straight: I don’t care about your opinion about anything, and nobody does, with the exception of yourself. That unwritten rule of thumb is subconsciously applied to any subject on which you may choose to opine, be it government, economics, literature, art, science, whatever.

When it comes to true discourse, there are certain minimal requirements that make it useful. Especially when it comes to political argument, without a few ground rules, a vast sea of personal thoughts and opinions drown us in uselessness.

Why is that, you might ask?

I’m glad you ask. The reason most of the opinions put out there by your fellow earth dwellers are not useful and oftentimes detrimental to the conversation at large is that there is no rigor in the thinking behind them.

In the realm of political argument, I have found three useful components which I find essential, if the argument is worth paying attention to. Anything less is simply not good enough, and ignorable.

  1. The Emperor Has No Clothes - a childlike insight into some discrepancy in the status quo.

  2. Research - honest and bonafide information to back up all arguments. Not youtube videos, not dubious conspiracy websites or other nonmeritorius sources, but instead scientific papers, books, and other high quality source material.

  3. Logic - carefully structured arguments.

In every argument may be found the inherent biases of the speaker, but discourse that is presented logically, with verifiable research, which questions or offers alternatives to unsatisfactory systems, laws, and practices, arguments which are rigidly consistent and above all coherent, are infinitely more useful, no matter the value system represented.

The demand for such coherence and consistency must be much higher now, in an age of abundant false information and atomized social structures.

Autodidact

Teaching yourself has some advantages. For one, you have no one to answer to, so you can learn at your own pace. Now that can also be a drawback, as having regular requirements, assignments, readings, and so on can keep you on track. I’ve always been good at meeting deadlines when the work is something interesting to me in some way.

Taking classes can be rewarding in many ways, as can pursuing degrees and certifications. But the value of teaching oneself is immeasurable. I was married to a girl who was homeschooled, and by exposure to that subculture I was able to draw many parallels to my own methods as well as draw on a repository of techniques.

Catholic elementary education, with its high standards, public high school (less rigorous), attendance at two universities and a community college, and restless pursuit of what I think of as “general knowledge” (the sum total of human learning, a top-down approach that assumes the interrelation of the many disciplines or branches on the tree of knowledge) give me a certain perspective that, if I may be so bold, no one else quite possesses.

It’s a new year, and with that convenient marker of time come inevitable decisions concerning the alteration of one’s life mission and goals. I’m no different, although coming into my maturity makes me less apt to choose unreasonable or unrealistic goals.

Instead, this year I’d like to just spend more time doing the things I’m good at, and getting better at them. Poetry dominated my consciousness for a good six months, an inevitable outcome considering my view of the world as a place pregnant with meaning, in which the boundaries between each thing in itself are tenuous at best. Photography instigated this intensive investigation, but that’s an entire topic in itself, beyond the scope of this post.

In 2019 I’d like to continue my study of poetry both more intensively and extensively. As a photographer, I’ve developed a certain skillset concerning a certain narrow scope of subject matter and technique, so I’d like to broaden that base a bit with some new people in front of my lens and some new techniques in lighting, especially shooting at night and with flash. Musically, the way forward seems to be to simply stop living in denial that harmonics, resonances, rhythms, and noises form the skeleton and organs of my life, and I could no more do without them than I could do without the air in my lungs or the blood in my veins.

If there’s one thing that I truly believe about us (unreliable narrator mode is off, trust me!) it’s that the human capacity for learning is limitless. It’s true that the scope of human learning has surpassed what one person can reasonably hope to digest in one lifetime, but I maintain that a person can continue to learn until the moment of death. It’s one of the things about us that makes us unique from the other animals, and those singular qualities of the species, the things that most define us, are the mandate of heaven, the rules for living that we must follow whether we want to or not. We can only be what we are.

To recognize the things that make us uniquely human, to embrace them and spend time cultivating them, this is to imitate the creative force responsible for existence. To learn and use what we learn to make is divine.

It's Him! Dim Jim - and more

About this time last year I spent a week recording this set of tunes. It’s something of a swan song, I guess, as I have no plans to record anything like this or to play in a band ever again.

As a document of the state of one person’s soul in a particular time and place, this set of songs reveals the fury and abandon of a man who is on the cusp of rising, phoenix-like, from the ashes of his self-immolated life into a new one. It is simultaneously my most abrasive and lyrically revealing work, and it hammers nails into coffins which it then sets ablaze, only to piss on them and put them back out again. It’s reckless and restless and libidinous and it just can’t remember where all the fucks it once had to give were put down.

There is also the sense that in spite of the dire circumstances the world finds itself in, there may always be found some hope somewhere that things can turn around, even if only (like these songs and the author’s life) through sheer force of will. Oh, and then there’re a few childrens’ songs to round things out.

Anyway, it seemed a propos to share this thing again seeing as this year’s almost through and it has some of my best lyrics ever, including such personal revelations as:

I am a trailer park Midas 
All I touch turns to shit 
No one would deny this: 
Lovin me is the pits 

(from “I Ruin Everything”)

and

I crave the feeling of rejection, 
the flip-side of love’s selection, 
a broken connection, a failed inspection, 
a landslide loss in my next election. 

(from “Next X”)

released December 31, 2017 

JAMES WESLEY NICHOLS - lead and background vocals, Jazzmaster & other guitars, Casiotone & other keyboards, drums, drum machine, percussion, effects, sequencing, ukulele. 

All songs written, performed, recorded, and mixed 
by James Wesley Nichols (ASCAP) 2017 
jameswesleynichols.com 

Recorded and mixed December 17-23, 2017 
at KILLGUITAR, U.S.A. 

Artwork by James Wesley Nichols

© 2017 James Wesley Nichols all rights reserved


And since New Year’s Eve is almost here again, there’s also this old thing: