The internet is many things: a source for information, both reliable and unreliable, a method of trolling and irritating people, a porn machine, a way to order shower curtains at a clearance price and have them arrive the next day. But right now, more than anything else, I’m thinking of it as a kind of sand mandala. For those who don’t know what that is, this definition from the unimpeachable source Wikipedia should more than suffice for this blog’s purposes: “Sand mandala (Tibetan: དཀྱིལ་འཁོར།, Wylie: dkyil 'khor; Chinese: 沙坛城; pinyin: Shā Tánchéng) is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition involving the creation and destruction of mandalas made from coloured sand. A sand mandala is ritualistically dismantled once it has been completed and its accompanying ceremonies and viewing are finished to symbolize the Buddhist doctrinal belief in the transitory nature of material life.” That still doesn’t quite give you the picture, though, so go ahead and supplement that definition with a quick look on Google Images, if you care that much. Or screw it, I’ll include an image of a mandala at the top of this blog post. The point is that a sand mandala is an intricately constructed circular piece of art, involving all sorts of ornamentation, arabesques, scrimshawing, esoteric and symbolic detail. And yet it’s created not to last—like most artworks—but to exist for a very short ephemeral moment of time before being wiped away by the monk’s sandal or effaced by his rock garden rake. Why destroy your creation like that? I think (as alluded to in the Wikipedia quote) that the point is to underline the impermanence of all things, to affirm that creation is its own reward. To make something and then to cherish that creation is to become attached to the things of the world, to the material plane. That natural and free energy which caused you to inhabit the moment fully and thus create is undermined once that moment is encased, solidified in hardened strata rather than blowing in sand. What does this have to do with the internet? Maybe nothing, but earlier today I went to the website www.paragraphline.com, deciding to take a trip down Memory Lane. Many years ago, you see, I wrote some stories and articles for them, a couple of which I like very much. That’s unusual for me, to like my writing, to not wince on it when I reread it, for my flaws and cloying need for approval not to jump out at me, as if lit in constantly strobing neon. And yet, rather than seeing the website (as I had the last few times I came back there), I got this message instead: “Paragraph Line Books is (was?) a publisher of absurdist and weird literature. For various reasons (mostly apathy) we're currently on a break. Maybe when the whole publishing thing makes more sense, we'll be back. “Some of our various published books are still on Amazon. We've pulled down everything we published here, because WordPress is impossible to maintain long-term. Sorry. “We are obviously not open for submissions. If you have any other inquiries, we're not that hard to find. “-JK 2/13/22” It hurt a little to read that, firstly because I had fond memories of working with the people at Paragraph Line. But secondly, because all that work I’d done was gone from the website. Sure, I could find it again on the Wayback Machine, as everything on the internet gets archived and lives as long as the internet lives in cached form. But that got me thinking about what happens when the internet goes. I mean, say, for instance that those who’ve gamed out the current round of brinkmanship between Russia and the West are right and we do get a nuclear exchange. Large swaths of civilization will disappear, and with it, lots of electrical infrastructure and surely many Cloud servers, right? Then even the memories of those stories—along with the memories that I have of working with the other writers in that collective—will be effaced from the universe. And all those writers and readers of the work (myself included) will eventually die. We’ll be reduced first to worm food and then to a finer dust to be reassimilated into the loam and hummus. Perhaps portions of us will live on when we maybe soak into the roots of trees bordering the cemeteries where we’re interred. Even if some aliens were to arrive on the scarified wastes of what was once our planet, and were to reboot the net, they probably wouldn’t be able to interpret the weird sigils of our ancient orthography. And even if they did enjoy it, we could get no enjoyment from their enjoyment of our works. “Immortality,” as a famous man once observed, “is the stupid invention of the living.” Edgar Allen Poe was a miserable, tortured soul who lived only for a short time. I doubt his soul (if such a thing exists) gets any solace from seeing his likeness hung on posters on the walls behind steam-shrouded baristas in coffee shops. It's a bummer, this impermanence, this understanding of the temporal factor of everything. No matter how hard we cling to the things of this world they will slip through our fingers, and the flesh of those same fingers will rot, and the skeletal flanges beneath that will also turn to dust. We can create bibliographies of our own works, bind the works in vellum or strong Morocco, and place those same tomes in lead-lined cases. But somehow time and oxygen and verdigris and fruiting mycelia and the heat death of our Sun will all eventually make it all not matter. But while there’s much to grieve in that, it’s also liberating as hell. If everything—from ancient hieroglyphics to the phonemes carved on the Rosetta Stone— is ultimately impermanent, and no record can last into eternity, then everything is written on sand. The difference between amphorae inscribed with cuneiform logograms attesting a ruler’s greatness don’t have much more chance of survival than an ignored banner ad for Carnival Cruises currently flashing on the screen of an old lady who doesn’t have her adblocker enabled. And that means that the only reason to create anything is to achieve the buzz that comes in the moment of creation, since that moment, once passed, is obliterated. It’s only yours as long as it lasts. There’s a reason the pianist Fats Domino—when his fingers were strutting up and down the keys and he was smiling and sweating—would scream, “Somebody shoot me while I’m happy!” There is no high like the moment, yet it’s elusive and short-lived, and the memory of its greatness only mocks it rather than truly preserving it. So enjoy it while it lasts. Or better yet, don’t enjoy it, as that requires too much cognizance of it. Just let it carry you as far and as long as it can, and when the tailwind ceases and drops you back to the ground, have the decency to keep walking. There are of course writers who don’t think that way. Richard Price—whom I admired a lot when I was young—used to say that he looked at writing like building a house, and that his favorite part was the sense of accomplishment he had when he was done. Some critic asserted that Ernest Hemingway woke up early, around 7 a.m., and tried to get all of his writing done before noon because after that he got drunk. Creation was an obstacle, an obligation, standing between him and the bottle or the bonefish tackle waiting in the speedboat, or both. That’s in direct contrast to someone like Charles Bukowski, who—in an interview with Sean Penn—likened writing to the smoking of a cigarette. The act of sitting before the typewriter was the drawing of smoke into the lungs, the satisfaction of imbibing tobacco, the stirring of the synapses being fed what they craved. The ashes flicked into the tray, however—the detritus, the afterbirth—was the book or the short story. The work was not a house, a piece of craftsmanship; it was an afterthought to an experience whose buzz the reader could only experience vicariously. A kind of contact high passed from writer to reader. It’s of course possible that those who build houses get a buzz while building, and that those who smoke cigarettes gain some sort of strange solace—maybe even an odd sense of accomplishment—from staring at the pile of accumulated ashes in the tray. The Norwegian Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun used to say that he wrote for the same reason a man lying in bed late at night might listen to the drip-drip of the bathroom faucet. It was just something to do. Not very romantic, but still essential in its way. But the impermanence, the fleetingness—which bummed me out so much earlier today—is somehow giving me a small measure of joy in writing this right now. And that minor buzz is worth more than any shelfful of accolades. Artists who have achieved great things are many times forced to live in their own shadows. I guess that’s why I’m grateful that when I go back and look at most of my writing, I wince. It means I can get up tomorrow and try again. Imagine peaking in your twenties. What the hell do you do with all those remaining years? Pickle your liver, let undergrads fawn over you? Salinger was right to retreat to his hermitage and to maintain radio silence. The only other option—the one taken by Harper Lee (or her estate taking advantage of her)—was to kill the legend by trying to reconstruct the already swirled-away image of the beautiful mandala. Still, I miss those guys I worked with at the Paragraph Line micro-press. They published many of my shorter stories and essays, not to mention a couple of my early books. And I was much more undaunted, younger, and less cynical in those days. But I must not be totally at the end of my tether, as I’m still here, still typing, and trying. The writer John Sheppard (also at Paragraph Line, also apparently retired, and from whom I’m sadly estranged) was fond of quoting a little something by the late, great Southern gothic Flannery O’Connor. But as it’s been awhile, I’ll just paraphrase: There is no such thing as a hopeless work of art. The act of creation in itself implies some hope, or the attempt wouldn’t have even been made. The creation of even the bleakest novel—even Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night—requires some kind of faith, or at least effort. Then again, there’s nothing more abject and hopeless than a suicide note, and that also requires some effort, so maybe I’m talking out of my ass. But that’s what blogs are for. The “JK” in the internet message is Jon Konrath, by the way. He’s a good writer, with a keen sense of humor, but the last I checked he had given up on the game just like John, and was working writing copy for some advertising firm. Wherever the hell they are now, I wish them well, and thank them for giving me a chance all those years ago. But it hardly matters. These words are written on pixels perhaps soon to be erased by nuclear warheads. And when Jon and John and I are in the ground, perhaps the worms munching on me and them will all meet up for some slithering quorum. Then I’ll be able to thank my old friends, in person (or at least as some kind of panpsychic vestige of what was once a man but is now locked inside the segments of a slithering worm’s body.) And on that upbeat note I’ll put this entry to bed.