Categotry Archives: All the Poets Became Rock Stars


Seventeen Years of Blogging

Categories: A Day in the Life, Adventures in Uber, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Let's Go M's, Marching to New Orleans, Metablogging, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Quick Updates, Read it and Weep, Telling Stories, Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Here are two relatively unflattering portraits of me, seventeen years apart. What can I say – blogging hasn’t always been pretty.

Yesterday was the seventeenth anniversary of Introspection, my first blog. It lasted for just seven years and change before the daily short-format gave way to this more haphazard long format, now nearly ten years into process. My first post was mostly about dreams and teeth. My first post on StoreyTelling was mostly about Introspection, but also my larger history with blogging and the web. Today’s post will be about neither, really, but it felt like an anniversary to mark, not least because of the significance the number 17 plays in my life. But I haven’t posted in a while and that’s partially because I’ve had only a bunch of micro-post ideas flitting around in my head and that reminds me of Introspection and its flitty, flighty, one-liner format. So here we go:

-Mardi Gras was great for parades and great for Uber and kind of terrible for Uber. I gave multiple $150 rides and also had half-hours where I went six blocks without a rider the whole time and wanted to tear the steering wheel out of the car. Ultimately, it was still a very very good couple of weeks. I got pretty Zen about the traffic once I saw just how much I was making on most of the rides that I actually was able to give. I’ve also never had so many cancellations and frustrations since both Uber and especially Lyft had no real idea how to line people up with a pickup spot that made sense given parade routing. Driving during the parades was the worst; just after was much better.

-After a fantastic January for writing, February and March so far have been dismal. I partially blame Mardi Gras, but also wedding planning and also that it’s just flipping hard to focus on writing and anything else. Like yes, Uber is both a pretty easy casual job and the subject of my book, but it still consumes 35-45 hours a week, depending, and that’s time that really needs to be close to empty for me to write effectively. And/or I am also wrestling with too many internal confidence demons to really commit to writing fully and effectively. And/or there is too much variation and too little routine? I am inclined to think they are all factors, in the order presented. The book remains half-finished, but feels over the tipping point and should still be available to my loyal friend readers by summer at the latest (no whammy).

-Today was one of the first times I’ve ever delivered rolled change to the bank and they didn’t kind of whimsically roll their eyes at me. This is kind of a thing that I do regularly, in part because I find rolling change relaxing and re-ordering for me. I was almost heartbroken when Capital One briefly decided they weren’t accepting rolled change anymore and had me actually unwrap and unceremoniously dump all my change into a bucket so it could be fed into their automatic coin-sorter. By the next time I was ready to turn my change into electronically tracked currency, however, their coin sorting machine was out in the shop, perhaps indefinitely, and they were back to asking me to roll it. The bankers are always kind of bemused by me bringing in rolled change like I’m some sort of crank, but then again, most all commercially available change starts in rolls – someone is doing it somewhere, regularly, to keep the economy going, right? Is it so weird?

-Another relaxing and re-ordering practice for me is reading, which has been even more dismal all year than writing in the last forty days. I blame my ambition as a reader – I’ve spent most of the year allegedly reading The Familiar, vol. 1, a gigantic graphically bedecked book that looks like an elaborate prank. It was a mistake to try to read this, especially at a time when I want to be writing, but I really liked House of Leaves by the same author. The last renewal ran out at the library today and I returned it, having done about 160 pages in two months. I’m sure it’s brilliant in some way and I found some of the characters intriguing, but it just hadn’t spoken to me sufficiently to make it worth the work. I need to be reading regularly, though, and it needs to feel like a joy and not a chore. I may return to it someday, but long after I’ve written a couple more books.

-I am so insanely jealous of the folks living in the path of the snowstorm that’s about to batter the eastern seaboard. There’s a lot I don’t love about the northeastern United States, but the regular access to blizzards is not among them. I keep repeating the promise to myself that someday I will live in a place where I don’t have to anxiously anticipate snow, but it will be a regular occurrence with no possibility of not happening. I worry that places that used to be on this list are starting to fall off of the list, but no matter. Next year in Murmansk.

-Was there ever a more short-sighted decision than to decline to name that British ship Boaty McBoatface? Now the yellow sub they allowed to be called by said moniker is getting all kinds of press its expedition never would otherwise. Sometimes you have to steer into the curve. People are so often their own undoing by taking themselves too seriously.

-The Louisiana state government is having massive budget shortfalls this year because gas prices are low. This prompted them to try to charge state taxes from me from 2014 on all of my New Jersey-earned income. My only Louisiana income that year were some poker winnings from a large payout at Harrah’s. They sent me a bill for nearly $2,000 a few months back, including fees for failing to file and interest (as though interest were something that exists in the world these days). They sent multiple threats via certified letter. After three responses from me, all also sent certified, they sent me a check this weekend for $108, which was actually what they owed me for taking too much out of the poker payout in the first place. I was happy to let this money go in exchange for not filing a Louisiana return back in 2014. But they wanted to push it, so I’m happy to make them pay. Of course, in reality, it all feels like a huge waste – of state employee time, of my time, of the certified mail system. But I know to them it’s not a waste, because like all made-up bills, 80% of people probably just get scared and pay them no questions asked. And we wonder how the poor are kept poor in our system.

-Something I have been doing a lot lately is play chess. It’s not quite as relaxing as reading or walking or even writing sometimes, but it’s good for me. The problem is that I should spend more time between chess club “tournaments” practicing, but that would cut into time potentially writing or driving. This is actually an argument that cuts into a lot of things lately, including a pretty successful video-game moratorium I’ve put on myself for all of 2017 till the book is finished. Chess, like all games, is great patience practice, even the fifteen-minute games I favor and we play on Monday nights. The problem is that I still am spending more time looking at my mistakes and how to get out of them than not making them in the first place.

-I lost about an eighth of a tooth the other day. I think I swallowed it. I have an impacting wisdom tooth that’s pushing its neighbor on a tilt out of position, and I’ve just realized that this has made my bite sufficiently uneven so as to hammer into the tooth below with every chew. As a result, the top corner of the tooth below finally gave way. Luckily the root was not exposed; unluckily I have not had dental insurance since 2014. Trying to get into the LSU dental clinic is proving to be a chore, but at least after three days my tongue toughened up enough so that the newly jagged tooth edge stopped serrating it. It was an ugly couple days at first adjusting to the new reality.

-The Mariners lost their Spring Training game today by a score of 24-3. That said, all their best players are at the World Baseball Classic. They were doing really well before the WBC started. I am irrationally exuberant for the lineup of Dyson, Segura, Cano, Cruz, and Seager.

-Peak Trump Outrage seems to have passed. I know a lot of people want everyone to stay angry and vigilant, but I feel like Trump has slowed down into a kind of plodding pace of not being able to get any of his agenda done. I had long predicted that a President without either party really behind him would have a lot of trouble getting anything done and I think that’s coming to fruition. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stay vigilant or react strongly to the truly bad stuff that comes out of the administration, but a half-assed tweak on a bad healthcare law to make it slightly worse doesn’t pass muster on that for me. Especially when the best analysts don’t think they even want it to pass in the first place.

-Speaking of which, “Get Out” is one of the most flawlessly executed movies in recent memory. Right up there with “Arrival”. However, the former’s third act is its weakest point while the latter’s third act is its best, so just keep that in mind. “Weakest” in this context, however, is still mighty strong.

-I feel supremely lucky to live in a time when the Lumineers can be as popular a band as they are. The Lumineers being popular feels like one of those things that shouldn’t be able to happen – they defy all the tropes of what you’d expect of rock music success. And yet, there they are. Alex and I saw them ten days ago in the UNO basketball stadium and it was incredible. They seemed to express the same kind of incredulity at their success and following that I felt. At one point, referencing the time that they used to spend playing in living rooms and similar tiny venues, they came out into a literal pop-up stage in the center of the arena, closer to our seats, and played part of their set there. It was magical. The Lumineers feel magical in the way that New Orleans does when it’s at its simplest, most historical, and most charming. They seem like they shouldn’t be real. They aren’t passing Counting Crows or anything, but I forget how transporting and inspiring music can be sometimes. It can get so habitual and dull or so processed and rote. The discovery of music, the reimagining of it, makes me supremely sad that I didn’t end up in music somehow even though I have no natural ability there whatsoever…

Flowers in Your Hair
Ho Hey
Gun Song
Dead Sea
Classy Girls
Where the Skies are Blue
Charlie Boy
Slow it Down
Sleep on the Floor
Big Parade
In the Light
My Eyes

Long Way from Home
Subterranean Homesick Blues
Stubborn Love

-Nothing compares to the magic of having by far and away your favorite song from a band close the encore. Especially the first time you see them. You’ve spent the entire show wondering if they’ll play that song or not, with the drama increasing the whole way. And then finally it happens and it’s their sign-off and you don’t even want them to keep playing after because it’s too perfect. I think this has literally only happened to me one other time, the first time I saw Counting Crows. That was in November 1999, notably just more than seventeen years ago. You would think that means you can’t read what I thought of it at the time online now. You would be wrong.


Haunted City

Categories: A Day in the Life, Adventures in Uber, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Marching to New Orleans, The Wild Wild Web, Tags: , , , , ,

It’s Twelfth Night. Happy Twelfth Night, everybody! Here is my favorite song about Twelfth Night:

It occurs to me that posting links to things isn’t really good enough for the long-term posterity of the web. Sometimes I review old posts of mine and pretty much all the links are dead. It’s just about a universal. For all that people clamor in fear of a web that Never Forgets, it seems I spend a lot more time lamenting a web that has lost a bunch of information. Major websites are keepers of major information, but then they get caught up in IPOs and mergers and inevitable failures. The people who ran the show get away with billions and the grunt folks lose their jobs and all the creative energy and thoughtful exchange poured into that particular series of tubes is lost in a reshuffle. Remember how much original music was on MySpace? MySpace is just a butt of jokes now, but it’s also the Facebook of yesterday. Say what you will about creative destruction as a principle, but it’s got destruction right there in the description. It’s hard to know whether it’s reassuring or depressing that all the preeminent corporations of today will be gone in a century. Their infinite consumption and recomposition feels like a fitting metaphor for an ecosystem under heavy pressure to fold.

Anyway, for the future record, the song linked above is “Pieces of the Night” by the Gin Blossoms, written by the late Doug Hopkins, one of my erstwhile poetry/rock-n-roll heroes/cautionary tales. I am now older than Doug was when he killed himself, which is a little daunting. That said, I didn’t even like Doug’s music till after he killed himself, so what can you do? But the guy knew something about memory. And regret. Oh lord, the regret.

Twelfth Night is a big deal in New Orleans. It’s not just a Shakespeare play, but the opening of the Mardi Gras season, also known as King Cake season around here. People will sell you a King Cake before today, but you’re really not supposed to eat it until now. King Cake is basically New Orleans in a pastry, it’s decadent and overly sweet and purple, green, and gold. It’s got frosting and sprinkles and tastes a little like kissing a unicorn. You would imagine.

Here, have a look:

I’ve made that image permanently linked from the Blue Pyramid, so if somehow most of the web crumbles, but someone is left keeping up the maintenance fees on the Blue Pyramid after many long years, then future people will be able to see New Orleans Mardi Gras King Cake in all its sugary glory. There’s a lesson here about the fragility and temporality of an entirely electronic-and-connection based medium, but the only feasible alternative is to literally print out reams and reams of webpages on actual paper, which itself has longevity issues in most conditions. But, like mandalas and snow and luminarias and perhaps most things that are good in the world, maybe posts aren’t meant to be permanent. Maybe they’re meant to be made, consumed, and discarded all in a day. #snapchat

What can’t be consumed in a day is memory. I kind of meant to post this in Albuquerque, or post about this phenomenon, because Albuquerque really gets my senses going. But I realized, over time and missed opportunity, that Albuquerque is not the only haunted city. Any city can be haunted if you fill it with enough people and enough time for rumination. And now that I’m trying to exercise every day (he said as he looked out the window to a 40-degree thunderstorm, recoiling), there’s a lot more time for observational rumination. Which is perhaps good for writing but bad for my daily frame of mind. Putting those on a diametric axis is probably roughly accurate, regardless of situation, come to think of it.

Anyway, Albuquerque always feels charged and haunted when I first get in. Everyone I’ve ever loved has logged serious time there, and most of the people I’ve liked. There are few corners or streets or establishments that I can pass that are not encoded with memories or references or something that links in to a long and roller coastery past. This is a trope of homecoming, made all the more relevant for not living at home all the time, preventing an old haunted place from becoming mundane again since it does not inhabit one’s daily spectrum. Any landscape, from Manhattan to the Grand Canyon, becomes routine upon daily backdropping. I have had daily commutes past the cable-car turnaround in San Francisco, to the historic Old Queens building at Rutgers, now through the French Quarter at night, and I chant to myself to not let it become typical. It’s the fish, a la DFW, praying to the universe: “This is water. This is water.” It is a hard and thorny discipline, reinfusing the omnipresent magic in your daily normal. But in almost anywhere on Earth that is not war-torn or deeply impoverished, much less America in the twilight of its apex, it is a thing we can and should do. It is also a trope to feel blessed by the ability to exist, to think, to absorb, to move. But it is a trope we too often dismiss for failure to see the real power within.

There are times when the hauntedness of a place, especially Albuquerque, can become overwhelming. Times I wish I could look at a street corner or a building and just have it be a corner or a place. I’m sure German has a word for the deeply felt desire for a cigar to just be a cigar. But you know it’s not just a cigar and you can’t unsee it, any more than you can unsee the other half of a tessellation once you’ve unlocked its mystery. Then again, there are benefits to the inability to unsee. A connection to a sense of place and time and purpose and being on a journey. A real sense of identity and temporality and presence that can be hard for the overly ruminative mind sometimes. It’s not all bad.

In this state, and sometimes in others, I find that I am often almost seeing people. In crowds, in restaurants, on corners. Driving up to them to get in my Uber or driving past them to deliver the latest passenger. Walking around a corner shelf in a bookstore, past the endcap in a grocery store. I am in a near-constant state of being startled by visages of people from the past. This has been such a frequent reality for me that it made it into my first book, Loosely Based, under the theory that there are only a few templates in the world and people just keep recurring. It’s not true, of course, it’s much more that our pattern-seeking brains are trying to eke recognition out of an ocean of strangers. A world of seven billion souls is impossible to comprehend, much less process. We keep looking for flashes of recognition in a sea of empty anonymity.

What pulls me out of it, usually, is the sudden realization that the people I think I’m recognizing are not those people anymore. I will think I see a high school classmate and I will be startled, then curious, but what gets me to realize they are not a high school classmate will be the fact that the person in front of me is currently in high school. And, of course, my high school classmates are, like me, all in their mid-thirties now. None of them look like they’re in high school. My memory of that classmate is fossilized to them at 17, but I will never see them at 17 again. This can often be an actual wrestling match in my brain – the main thing that gets me to rule out the idea that the stranger is the person I first thought they were is the understanding that they can’t be that age anymore, not that they have some distinguishing feature from the person I mistook them for. Just yesterday, I stared at the spitting image of a college classmate for some time before being sure they were 22 and said classmate was, well, 38.

The grand irony of all this, of course, is that this pattern-seeking would probably keep me from actually recognizing many of these former classmates and acquaintances if I saw them on the streets of Albuquerque or New Orleans or Manhattan. They’ve aged, they’ve gained weight, they’ve cut their hair, their hair has lost color, they’ve acquired a string of kids or worries or responsibilities or all of the above. So I am traversing a city, continually starting at apparitions, while the real ghosts could lurk in plain sight, undetected.

We are not well built for change, we humans. We adjust slowly, painfully, and usually under duress. We fall back into habits, patterns, addictions, comfort. It takes so much self-encouragement, self-criticism, inner reflection and yes, resolution to get us to make even the tiniest of alterations. And yet change so often feels refreshing and rejuvenating, exciting with the promise that the old gnawing discomforts and annoyances we’ve mistaken for familiar don’t have to be omnipresent. It’s a familiar bear to wrestle around the early part of January. And here on Twelfth Night, especially, a night when revelers will take to freezing rain-soaked streets to honor Joan D’Arc, patron saint of New Orleans, of the misunderstood, of Pyrrhic losses and those who die before their time. When we defy the winter and its discontent with toothachey sweets and bright mismatched colors, with loud noises and glasses held aloft. Tonight, for the first time in nearly a decade, it may actually snow in New Orleans. Just some flurries, just some flakes, a brief taste of what’s burying the rest of the nation.

I’ll be out there to see it, driving in search of wayward souls looking to find their way home. Seeing them as my past once was, haunted by memory, chanting to myself to not miss the present. This is water. This is the French Quarter in New Orleans in 2017. This is Earth and we are all alive.


Follow Me Down to the Rose Parade

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, The Wild Wild Web, Tags: , ,

A New Year’s Day dialogue:

Storey: “Do you ever watch the Rose Parade?”
Alex: “What’s the Rose Parade?”
Storey: “Only the biggest or second-biggest parade in the country annually.”
Alex: “Where is it?”
Storey: “Pasadena, California.”
Alex: “Maybe it’s just a West Coast thing.”
Storey: …
Alex: “Seriously. Pasadena?”
Storey: “Are the Oscars just a West Coast thing too?”

This prompted me to extremely unscientifically poll my Facebook friends with the following four options, asking them to describe their closest understanding of the Rose Parade:
1. I am aware of it and have watched it or watch it.
2. I am aware of it but never watch it.
3. I am unaware of it.
4. I am only aware of the Elliott Smith song and have no idea what he’s singing about.

In honor of the two people who actually chose option 4, as well as the others who cited that as a great song, here you go:

Here were the (again, very unscientific) results:
Option 1: 49% (23 respondents)
Option 2: 19% (9 respondents)
Option 3: 28% (13 respondents)
Option 4: 4% (2 respondents)

For a simpler split of
68% have heard of the Rose Parade, 32% have not.

I was expecting to garner some sort of regional and/or age splits on this number that would make it make sense, but this attempted analysis has proven woefully impossible.

For example, there are people who attended high school with me in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who have answered 1 and others who have answered 3. This defies regionality, unless New Mexico is on some sort of West Coast/East Coast faultline of viewership.

Yet many people who responded 1 are lifetime East Coasters, including several who have never lived outside New York and New Jersey. Most of those who responded to 3 were also in this category, however, with several having earlier roots outside the country. Although an Albanian-born New Jerseyan voted 1. Many people who live in Southern California unsurprisingly voted 1, with many adding that they’ve attended the parade as well. No one from California seemed to vote 3, which at least gives me one regionally boundary.

And the two people voting 4 were a lifetime East Coaster and someone from my high school. Proving… nothing. Other than that both of them are at least somewhat hipsters.

Of course, it comes to mind that the greater factor may involve sports viewership, and/or some combination between that and parade viewership, whatever that demographic is specifically comprised of. (Clearly, it excludes Elliott Smith himself, at least if he’s thinking about his decisions, or was.) I’ve never much thought of the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl as being terribly intricately linked, which is obviously not an opinion shared by East Coasters, including Alex’s mother, who responded to the same question with a discussion of the Bowl. I have no doubt that more people have heard of the Bowl, but I wouldn’t have thought till this month that more people watch the Bowl than the Parade. Which I guess is mostly the fault of parade broadcasters who very much sound like they have a broadcast reach of the Oscars or possibly the SuperBowl when they’re doing the announcing, at least to me.

The moral of the story is, mostly, that it’s great fun to use social media to poll your friends, even if Facebook doesn’t support traditional poll formatting outside of groups. And maybe there’s something about the diversity of Millennial experience as we veer off the course from universal TV stations and radio songs to our own carefully cultivated, mostly online experiences.

In any event, 2015 is looking up so far. I’m sure Elliott Smith could find a way to be concerned about it, and maybe I should be, but my interest was always greater than his. I think you can expect a lot more content this year on this page, as indicated by the flurry of the last few months. And some of it may even be slightly more serious than this post.

The A in this parade is hardly type-A.

The A in this parade is hardly type-A.


Revisionist History

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Call and Response, Know When to Fold 'Em, Metablogging, Primary Sources, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Think of the past as a mirror...

Think of the past as a mirror…

From time to time during the seven years of this blog’s existence, I’ve added new categories for indexing the various kinds of posts one sees on this page. I’ve long eschewed the notion of a specialized blogging pursuit, such as focusing only on the Mariners or on my statistical analyses of the flaws of the stock market or on periodic stints of writing a weekdaily webcomic. It’s likely that choosing any one of these as a singular path would yield greater readership, or at least more strangers reading since they could come to that page specifically for one pursuit or interest. Instead, StoreyTelling ends up being about all of these things and a lot more and really only offers the category/tag clicks as a way of sorting out the kind of content a given reader might be most interested in.

The problem with that, of course, is that the nature of my interests and their specificity can change over time and these categories can then fail to be fully representative of their content. I think the best example of this phenomenon is in the Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading category, which has come to include everything from actual voting in American political campaigns to any major story covered by the news to individual myopia to the plight of others to any matter of international concern. This broad brush isn’t all that surprising given that I probably think every one of my posts is political in some way (small-p political) and I have been known to say that all art is political. What exactly politics means is contextual and thus that category is my third most-used, behind Duck and Cover (740 posts, almost all of which are just blog-displays of the comic) and A Day in the Life (621 posts, as my default for just about any written post). But it also means that the category starts to lose its meaning when it discusses such a wide range of topics.

The solution to this would seem to be to subdivide the categories, to try to divide international relations from American politics from commentaries on more tangentially political issues. I guess this is why categories and tags exist as separate entities, though I’ve only used them interchangeably herein. The problem is that any effort to recategorize past posts interferes with one of the cardinal rules of this whole project for me: namely, to not revise or edit past posts. Now, it’s certainly debatable to what extent adding or dropping or specifying categories/tags is really changing the context of a post, and it’s a question I struggle with. Categories like Strangers on a Train or It’s the Stupid Economy were created after a few posts in those directions made it clear that such a unique category was necessary, or at least a good idea. But then the question immediately arises of whether to back-categorize other posts that fall into the genre but predate the actual creation of that category. Does this somehow interfere with the nature of this blog as a time capsule of the person I was in the past, of my perspective, or the authenticity of those observations? Or does it just make it easier for people to find posts they might like?

I think, as is so often the case, the purposes of this blog for myself and for others wind up at a bit of cross-purposes. If this blog were primarily/only for readers, it would likely be trivial to just go back and try to recategorize. Granted that scouring 1,384 posts (though half are just D&Cs, so maybe we can exclude those) for possible re-examination of content through the lens of later-created categories is a big project. But it might be fun to go through everything and re-examine, as I periodically attempt to do anyway. This, after all, gives me the opportunity to use this blog as one of the tools that I prefer it to be, as an educator about where I’ve been, where I’m going, and hopefully how I can screw things up less in the future. But once I’ve altered those categories, I’m saying something just a little bit different from what I said at the time. And then it seems an easy addition to fix typos. And then it’s all too easy to start trying to justify taking out that particularly immature statement, or that awkward phrase, and soon we’ve lost the document’s integrity altogether.

Now, look, I know the slippery slope is a logical fallacy. That said, I also know that almost every road to evil or mistakes is paved in sequential tiny jumps that each make sense in the micro-view and end up becoming a horrible leap downward in the macro-view. I’ve periodically discussed this under the ungainly appellation of the A to B, B to C, C to D Problem. No one would ever go from A to D directly and to consider D from the vantage of A would be absurd. But A to B is just enough of a little compromise/sacrifice/change/jump. And then from the new vantage of B, once adjusted, C doesn’t look nearly so far away as it did before – it’s just as far as A! And so on.

I honestly think it’s hard to explain anything we find regrettable in human history that was caused by sentient thought that doesn’t conform to some version of this progression. This is part of why I don’t really believe that there are evil people. There are a whole bunch of fallible, possibly selfish, but largely well-intentioned people who get caught on these roads and make little hops all the way to really disastrous decisions.

In any case, I care a lot about the integrity of this body of work, combined with the previous blog and even the Waltham Weeklies and other saved documents before that. Because as long as I leave them untouched, they aren’t subject to the kind of revisionist history that our memory naturally is. I have a pretty darn good memory as these things go, with multiple distinct and powerful memories from before my fourth birthday, which I’m told is relatively rare.* But as debates like those sparked in my family about whether I saw E.T. or Tron first prove, my memory is imperfect, or my parent’s memories are. I firmly remember a certain order of events and my parents recall another. And these memories are important for us in shaping our view of the past on which we base our notion of both the present and the future. But there is a truth of the matter. The memory is serving a different purpose than the absolute truth about what happened. And I have a bit of a bias toward the truth as I think it’s a little more stable and informative.

That said, there’s really no way to make memories conform wholly to the truth, or at least not to be damaged by the end results. Obvious example: my marriage. How I felt about my marriage before Emily cheated on me and left me is wholly different than how I felt about it afterwards. But the fact of the experience at the time remains unchanged. In memory, there is no possible way to recall a particular anniversary dinner or a shared moment or some sacrifice she made for me outside of the context of her ultimate betrayal. There is no possible way for me to just envision that pure memory without the tarnish that time and subsequent events put on it. And yet, the actual event was the pure version, without the eventual damage of future events. As a temporal extant being who must constantly remember the past through the new lens of the ever-changing present, that event is fundamentally lost to me, its context forever altered. But with this blog, I can at least read my actual reporting on the event from the precise time it happened and get the most accurate possible rendition of how I truly felt about it at the time, unspoiled by the knowledge of the future.

I think, for what it’s worth, this is what makes betrayal, especially romantic betrayal, so fundamentally devastating. Because it takes all your good memories, all the little buoys of confidence and hope that get us through the tough days, and spoils them. No matter what the actual content of their validity was at the time, they are not only lost, but actively ruined, turned against you to now be little taunts of what you didn’t have. Even if you, in a sense did have them, at the time. This is why I was able to seriously say things like maybe it would have been better had I died in the October 2009 car accident (scroll down to the italicized postscript in that post) after Emily left me – because then I would have died with all those good times intact and unspoiled in perpetuity. As the Smiths put it, “To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.” This is not just about the joy of a particular moment; it is about the knowledge that this moment will never be so great in the long-term future as it feels right now. The course of events will destroy it.

Now, there is no illusion that this blog, merely by existing here as unaltered testament to the daily updates of a temporally changing being, can actually capture and preserve that magic wholly in a way that is meaningfully useful to combat the damage of, say, betrayal or loss. Because even in reading about the past, no matter how pure or unadulterated the past’s testimony is, the overly introspective ruminative person (that’s me!) will find clues that were never there.

Prime, recent example: in looking for a particular nugget of past testimony in my blog sometime last week, I started reading various posts from the past, as I often do. It’s like getting to hang out with my past self, a close but sometimes annoying friend. And then I discovered, to my absolute horror, that my post about my plans for the summer of 2010 was entitled, by my own choosing, April Come She Will. In the context of my choice at the time, it was innocuous. The post was dated 6 April and I talked about the inevitability of April and how the month often troubles me. But in the context of how that summer unfolded, well, here are the lyrics to the Simon & Garfunkel song which shares a title with that post:

April, come she will
when streams are ripe and swelled with rain
May, she will stay
resting in my arms again
June, she’ll change her tune
in restless walks, she’ll prowl the night
July, she will fly
and give no warning to her flight
August, die she must
the autumn winds blow chilly and cold
September, I remember
a love once new has now grown old

Now, I don’t need to go through a full blow-by-blow of the events of those months in 2010 to demonstrate just how chilling this discovery was to me. After all, you can go read the archives of those months on this page! Isn’t that the whole point? Suffice it to say that this could be a chronicle of the critical months that ended my marriage, down to July being the time of betrayal after an unhappy and searching June for Emily in Liberia, yielding to her cruel indifference in August and everything being over in September. I mean, this could’ve been a poem I wrote about the experience. And I know that this is about a trivial love affair that starts in that same April and is over by summer’s end and I know that I’ve been listening to this song since I was thirteen, but this is exactly the kind of experience that prompted me to spend a fevered day in senior year running around telling all of my friends that we have the key but we just don’t know how to use it. And when they asked me what the hell I was talking about, I just said, in hushed reverent and slightly goggle-eyed tones, that it was “the key“.

What I was talking about, then, was that PLB had told me a story in the midst of our relationship about her father’s first marriage and how his first wife had gone crazy on their wedding night and had a nervous breakdown and couldn’t handle the commitment or the situation and basically disappeared and that it broke her father’s heart and made him kind of a sad, distant person. We were doing a close reading of either Conrad or Kafka in AP English and something in the work triggered the memory of this story and I came to see it as a parable, a warning she was giving me, that had about as much truth-content as her average statement. (Full disclosure: I have no idea whatsoever if this story was entirely true, entirely made up, or some mixture.) At that moment, I felt that this was the one glaring clue she had given me that she was in over her head, was crazy, and that our relationship was doomed.

Now, talk about your revisionist history! It’s probably just as nuts to believe that this was her deliberate warning as it is to believe that I knew the next six months of my life would mirror a Simon & Garfunkel song on 6 April 2010. But doggone it, this stuff gives me the shivers. You can call it irrational pattern-seeking if you want, you can call it confirmation bias, you can call it the deliberate and willful search for something that isn’t there. But I will never be able to see these things without the feeling that there is a deeper code to be cracked in all of this, that things are more embedded that we can imagine. Or, to quote the Doctor Who episode I saw last night:

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff.”
-The Doctor, Doctor Who, Season 3 of the new reboot, “Blink” episode

How else to explain that I actively try to send my past self psychic messages about the outcome of certain hands at the poker table to be received by my previous self? Or that I sometimes feel I receive those messages? I rarely trust these messages, especially when they are about subpar hands, but the messages of certain strong feelings have a scarily remarkable track-record of being right. And this practice definitely predates poker and probably goes back to a deeply embedded series of beliefs that most people would consider “magical thinking” to be polite and “crazy” to be realistic. And, mind you, no one has been less successfully psychic than me. I still dated PLB, still married Emily, still hired Baia. No wonder I’m obsessed with trying to beat the future.

No, this isn’t all just about having some perfect script of the past to serve as a blueprint for some mosaic of the future, though that’s not none of it either. But the preservation of the perfections, oddities, insights, and tribulations of the unadorned past still feels like the single most meaningful aspect of the project of blogging. And why it will probably be just a little bit harder for you to navigate to the type of content you personally most want to see. As though I didn’t make it hard enough by calling a category that most would label simply Music as “All the Poets Became Rock Stars”. Or by choosing, it would appear, nine categories for this post. Maybe, future self, I just want you to read it. (But not “Read it and Weep”. That’s the Books category.)

*Which reminds me, as a total sidenote, that it just occurred to me how crazy it is that I remember seeing both E.T. and Tron in theaters at a little younger than 2.5 years old. These may even predate my near-drowning experience in swim class that I have always classified as my earliest memory. I’m sure my Dad can weigh in, especially after he rebutted my Ms. Pac Man-post‘s discussion of those two movies with the following:

“The first point about Tron was that it was a DISNEY movie. I grew up loving the Walt Disney movies, the color (not black & white), the animation (though not all were animated). My first drive-in movie (in Carson City) was to see a re-release of Dumbo. I saw Bambi (alone in a matinee) on a big screen one block away from the White House in 1957 in Washington. I loved 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (in Carson), Another film at the drive-in was Old Yeller, about when I got my dog “Jamie”. Pinnochio and Cinderella were seen several times, my mother loved Fantasia, so I endured that movie (once), but I found the Bald Mountain sequence very scary (like the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz).

The 70’s and early 80’s were a bad time for movies. Bigger theaters were broken up to create small rooms with small screens (for small audiences). Then they started building “multi-screen” places (not really real theaters), like where ET was shown, out on south Mooney (in Visalia). I generally hated the “small room” mall type movie experience. I loved (best) the movie “Palaces”, like the Grand Lake in Oakland, or the older (depression, WPA mural, type theaters, like the Kimo in Albuquerque and the old original movie house in downtown Visalia. [Note: In many cities in the US West the only place the WPA Arts Project was visible was in the murals painted on the walls (for free) by WPA artists. Often, this WPA art was both the biggest art (and the best) anywhere in town. In time, most WPA movie murals were painted over. Now, most WPA era movie theaters are torn down, converted, or closed. There seem to be NO articles about the movie murals on the web, just modern day full wall posters that date (in concept) from the WPA Art period that still was very alive in the 1950’s.]

Anyway, Mom and I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, in San Jose (actually in a theater in Sunnyvale or Mountain View) the first time you were “babysat” while living in San Jose. Raiders (July 1981) was not as scary as Star Wars (Darth Vader), but still had a few scary (for children) scenes. I can’t recall any other movie that your mother and I saw until I took you to Tron (Mom, then as now, was not interested and didn’t go). I worked for cable (afternoons, evenings and nights). We bought the RCA discs, mostly Disney movies (Mary Poppins, Dumbo) and Seseme Street and Muppets. Had the (new) Disney Channel on TV.

So, Tron was a DISNEY MOVIE, playing at an old WPA real theater downtown, that had a balcony (just to be safe).

I re-saw Fantasia in an old WPA theater in Berkeley (California Theater, about 1971, before it was broken up), because “everyone else” in the group wanted to see it. It was crowded, so we ended up in the balcony seating. The Night on Bald Mountain scene wasn’t nearly as scary sitting ABOVE Bald Mountain.

We sat in the balcony, in Visalia (at the Visalia Fox Theater), when we went and saw Tron. It was the furthest left re-screen configuration, based on the left side entrance to the balcony seating. The theater was old and fairly shabby then, not impressive. I don’t think I ever went back. Also, for a “cherished” Disney film experience I found Tron very boring and I was very worried you didn’t (wouldn’t) like it, and might not ever want to go to another “real movie” again. I guess I was wrong.

Anyway, Mom had heard good things about ET from other parents. She thought it might be a better movie “for kids”, maybe you, more exciting, better plot. I was more concerned about the “alien” (sci-fi), Star Wars angle. I almost said, after the failure of Tron, “let’s not go.” But “Disney had failed me,” so why not try something new, out in a new theater on Mooney. On Mooney, we sat on the floor (floor level seating), the theater was crowded, unlike an almost empty Tron theater experience. The whole thing WAS scary, even for me.”

-E-Mail from Donald Clayton, 8 December 2014

I love my Dad. You can see I come by this obsession with the past, memory, and context pretty honestly.


Decayed Decade

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Metablogging, Telling Stories, The Long Tunnel, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , , , , ,

I almost called this post “The Full View of History”. But of course ten years is hardly a full view.

A little over a decade ago, I wrote this on my blog at the time:

“Yesterday, Em & I were talking about when I got new tires for the Kia & figured it had been roughly 6-8 months ago. I guess I could’ve looked at the receipt, but instead I Googled my own site for my discussion of it at the time… & discovered it was over 17 months ago, in January 2003. Though Sears, who wants to sell me tires, says my old ones are still good for another couple months (that sentence was for you, Dad). Point is that this page, among its many other virtues, helps keep me in check & orders my perception of the strange beast that is time. So much of me wishes that I had kept something like this my whole life, even though I was once so embarrassed by entries in a diary I kept (in 2nd grade, in DC) that I covertly snuck it into a trash can & it’s now rotting in an Oregon landfill. The regret I feel for that action fuels every word I write on this site. Everyone’s life is hopelessly embarrassing, if one chooses to think of oneself as a perfect front. If one realizes that humans are a study in The Attempt, & that every fulfillment is an astounding victory, it gets a lot easier to handle the apparent loss of privacy that throwing one’s doors open to the world entails. I think my job has helped me better understand how flawed we all are & how every struggle is a worthy one as well. Patience is everything. Thanks for the patience to meander through this ramble with me. It’s all strung together in my mind, & the wave of its relief is sufficient to mitigate anything I wish I hadn’t written.”
-21 June 2004

I don’t bring this up to wallow, as I often have on this blog, about the marriage that was taken from me. Though if I were going to, it would be interesting to note that the justification for same is cooked right into that same post. Rather, I bring it up to explore the issue of blogging itself as I often do, and how having a life introspectively examined over so many years comes back to reflect upon and haunt that life itself.

I ran across this post today while looking for evidence that I was at the Counting Crows show in Saratoga, California on 29 June 2004. That seemed like about the right time and area for Fish’s and my summer concert in wine country that we attended. I was curious about this show in particular because Counting Crows has the full show in their archive and it would be kind of cool to have a recording of a show that one went to. Of course, we didn’t go to the show then. We went to the one 5 days later at Konocti Harbor. Which is a venue whose name I’ve remembered for the same reason most people who meet me once remember my name (it’s distinctive), but I was simultaneously impressed that I got within a week of the actual show and annoyed that I still hadn’t remembered it perfectly. (For what it’s worth, Saratoga isn’t in wine country despite the venue being the Mountain Winery. It’s apparently a suburb of San Jose.)

I have a tendency to pride myself on my memory, but I also have the humility to recognize that a lot of it is aided and abetted by deliberately keeping careful notes and records on living since the 21st century began. Notes made no less useful by their publicity, nor by the ability to quickly search through them for names, dates, and times. Of course, after finding the desired information that I was not, in fact, in Saratoga on the 29th of June (I had to work that day), I got lost for a few months in the summer of 2004, more than ten years ago, the world of the Big Blue House during a summer I worked at Seneca and apparently about two-thirds of my friends came to visit and stay at one point or another. It was a summer of kickball, of movies at the Grand Lake (from which we were easy walking distance), of holding the quiet room door and writing incident reports at work, of Emily slaving away torturedly at PIRG, of concerts and video games and Pandora the cat.

There are a lot of things in life that make one feel like a different person than the person they were in the past. I think the prevalence of movies, TV shows, audio programs, and just stories all contribute to a dissociative feeling that we carry about life. It’s so much easier to process life as something that happened to someone else, someone perhaps that one can empathize with very deeply, but someone who one read about or watched on the screen rather than occupied the bones and brain of every day. It’s not just how much dumber about the intervening years Past Self was than Present Self, though that doesn’t help any. It’s the fade of time, the draining of the emotional significance of the daily hopes and fears. This is a natural process and one to be grateful for as it’s pretty much the only reason we can even think about starting to heal from trauma. But it’s also something like what I’d imagine an objective view of life will someday look like, maybe just after death, when we perhaps get to view the video tape of our life without feeling so robustly biased toward the person in the first-person perspective.

But I was perhaps most surprised to realize in this little journey through that summer how much of my narrative about that period of time, the narrative I carry with me today, was almost verbatim in the text of that series of blog pages. I was fully aware, for example, how much kickball was a seemingly necessary outlet for a competitive spirit left suddenly useless after the sudden end of 9 years of debate and even longer playing pickup basketball and other sports. I remembered the real joy of a “mandatory fun” day for Seneca staff that I was dreading and turned out to be incredible fun, just what I needed at a time when my energy for that job was seriously flagging. I could recognize all the dramatic peaks and valleys of that job, a job that I was truly never great at for having picked something diametric to my comfort zone. As dissociated and distinct as I felt from some of the precise experiences for the passage of time, I could more deeply see myself and my reflections on the time right there in plain white-on-green text. Which I recognized not just as the narrative of my life, but as my life itself.

Now there’s clearly a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem here. Does the text look like the memory because it accurately captured it? Or did it in fact help form the memory by pasting the narrative onto the events? In other words, am I who I remember myself being because it’s accurate or because I codified those memories in their immediate formation?

I’ve listened to most of the This American Life shows over the course of this last decade, working my way slowly back and skipping only a handful of subjects that I find uninteresting (though years of listening to Terry Gross interviews should tell me not to skip any shows, since those I think I won’t like may end up being my favorites). So I’m in 2003 right now and just listened yesterday to this act, in episode 243, wherein a woman resolves to scrapbook every day of her young daughter’s life. There was so much of myself I could recognize in her passionate commitment to the cause, but the breaking-point crisis is reached when she realizes that she is ignoring her daughter’s desire to play with her or be read to by her in order to complete the scrapbook entry for that day. She doesn’t miss the irony and soon we hear her husband saying how he wishes she would just live in the moment. And herein I could certainly recognize the hindrance I felt in the daily obligation that ultimately convinced me to scrap (pun intended) Introspection back in 2007, in favor of this longer and, generally, less obsessive format.

It’s a dilemma I’ve seen echoed in a lot of articles people are writing these days about parenting. How so many parents are obsessive photographers and videographers of their children’s lives. How they themselves are almost never “in the picture”, figuratively and literally, preferring to chronicle a life in intense detail that they, increasingly, are not living. The unexamined life is not worth living, but the overly examined life is perhaps not lived at all.

This tension is doubly difficult for one who fancies themselves a story-teller, one for whom the entire point of existence itself is largely in crafting narrative, forming a script that can be of use to oneself and, more vitally, others. The cause then is right there in the effect and round and round they go. If life is fundamentally about the ability to tell its own story and build on that to stories about other lives, stories that are useful or amusing or expressive of the value and experience of life itself, then who can tell the border between life and narrative thereon at all? It is not only painted with the same brush, but the brush and the painting themselves are one.

Of course, we don’t need a blog to do this. Research done into the nature of memory increasingly finds it most reliable when there is a cogent story to go with it and terribly spotty when the events are either unremarkable or don’t conform to the wider arc. As a species, we love the narrative form and are constantly trying to wedge the facts of our lives into a story that we want to hear about ourselves. The longer the time that passes, the more we believe the story even if it contravenes what really took place. This theme appears in all kinds of media, but increasingly is playing out with unpredictable and fascinating results in the new podcast Serial which, speaking of This American Life, seems to be taking a certain swath of the country by storm.

So if we are destined to tell a story about our lives anyway as the immediacy of time fades, doesn’t it help to have documentation from time when these memories were the freshest? When they were new? If only to build slightly more accurate and probably much better stories about the past? After all, Fish’s toast at Jake’s wedding was surely all the better for actually having the text of the famous 80,000! e-mail to read. As mine was improved for the realization that Fish never wrote a top ten attributes list of what he was seeking in a partner and thus I could not compare his bride against it and had to take the speech in a different direction entirely.

I recently told Alex about how much I miss acting from my old days, something that seems truly several lifetimes ago now, singing the life of orphaned loneliness into Oliver Twist on stage at the Coaster Theatre in Cannon Beach. And we agreed that I should find some outlet for something along those lines, now that I’m done with debate coaching (for at least a while, in any case), now that competitive speaking is behind me. That maybe everything’s been geared as much for live oral storytelling as much as words on the page. And thus I’ll be telling a story on stage a week from tomorrow, at an event called (I can’t really make this up) Bring Your Own Story, sponsored by the local NPR station. I’ve long admired shows like The Moth (just how many NPR shows can I name-drop in this post anyway?), long aspired to the kind of showmanship that David Sedaris (though I hate his writing, mostly) puts into delivering stories on a stage.

Maybe it will go well. Maybe it will flop. In either case, like most of life, it will be a memory. Which itself will make a good story, someday. Ten years from now, perhaps.

Storey Clayton, at the Big Blue House, summer 2004.

Storey Clayton, at the Big Blue House, summer 2004.



Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Read it and Weep, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , ,

“Had four brothers once upon a time
He said they toured the country far away from the Rio Grande
But the road just wore them down
So they bought a house beside a lake
Outside of New Orleans
And stared in the direction of the escalating sound.”
-Counting Crows, “Cover Up the Sun”

David Foster Wallace tried to write a book about boredom and it killed him. There was some other stuff there in between, including electro-shock, sorry, -convulsive “therapy” and a lifelong understanding that the world has some things that need fixing and may just never get fixed but it’s still important to spend all your energy trying anyway. I’m trying to write a post about memory loss/confusion/destruction and I don’t know where it’s going to go. But I’m probably going to spend a little less time on it that DFW did on The Pale King.

This will either be up today or one of those posts that sits in my pending limbo box for years and greets me every time I log in and reminds me, like everything, of my failings. Actually there’s really only one of those and it’s called “Seven Billion Ghosts” and it’s been sitting in that prime position since Halloween 2011 and it was all based on a false premise, which is why it never got posted. The false premise was that there were more living humans than there had ever been cumulative living humans before and what that meant about the planet and its currently dominant species. But as I was researching the last little bit of it, I discovered that this idea is a common misconception that has been thoroughly debunked and that we probably have something like a hundred billion ancestors haunting our past, depending on exactly what you count as a human.

No wonder people feel pressure to procreate before they die.

There’s this scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, right at the opening, where Hermione, having realized how unsafe her parents are in the wake of a world that contains a resurgent Voldemort, has come to the disturbing decision to wipe out their memories so they can’t give her up or be tortured to death while refusing to do so. She doesn’t have the opportunity cost in time and energy to keep them safe otherwise and the best thing for everyone is for them to just forget they ever had a daughter. The movie rendition of this scene is pitch-perfect, Granger shakily aiming her wand as the four syllables in the spell “Obliviate” echo through a room otherwise illuminated by only the mundanity of a Muggle television. And she vanishes from pictures on the mantle, her image receding into oblivion, and then she turns to go.


There are days, days like yesterday, where I think this would be the best spell for me to cast on the world.

I just finished reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and it’s one of the best books I’ve read in half a decade, maybe ever. I don’t know quite how to grapple with the fact that it’s a book that exists in this world, it hit me like a ton of bricks, almost like a Counting Crows album, which I incidentally bought on Tuesday, when it came out, like always. There’s nothing terribly unique or profound in the book, but like the movie “Boyhood,” it just feels so much more real than a novel. I’ve been reading Wittgenstein’s Mistress too, and that book is trying so damn hard to make you feel like a butterfly dreaming of being a man, but Colorless just does it without trying. At a certain point between all these influences, I can almost squint and believe that I’m not really who I have been all these years, that I don’t really exist the way it’s felt, that this is all kind of a thought experiment or an exercise or just a dress rehearsal. Feeling like one’s on borrowed time always carries that connotation a little bit, but it’s somehow so much stronger when in the midst of artists who seem to be feeling and saying exactly what you’re feeling all the time.

Of course what this really speaks to is the universality of experience because we really do all exist and there is meaning and no matter how hard to see that it becomes, we can’t let go of that reality. There are people, we’ll call them “Chris Baia”s for short, who believe that the world is just shit and it’s stab or be stabbed and you might as well pride yourself on your ability to stab first. And if there’s a reason to keep going, near as I can tell, it’s to prove these people wrong. I don’t believe in evil, but if these people win, I don’t think a nuclear holocaust could wipe us out faster. There is something here. I don’t know if it’s real, I don’t know how much it matters, but it has meaning and purpose and it’s important to value that, somehow, against all odds. “Don’t let the Chris Baias get you down,” a future generation may someday say to each other as they go out to face impossible pain.

This is the first weekend that I’ve not been with the Rutgers University Debate Union for a competitive start to a season in six years and I don’t even know how to process it. The team has been asking me to help with things from afar and I have been pretty remiss about doing it because I feel so guilty and bad for leaving them in the lurch of an administration that seems hell-bent on dismantling everything we built. There seems to be so much of life that makes everything into sandcastles and the inevitability that the next tide will render all your energies and efforts moot. And the only answer I can find for this in a world of mortal fallible idiots is the mandala, some of the most beautiful art in the world, created by Buddhist monks and then deliberately wiped out, wrecked, destroyed, left only to exist in the fleeting hollows of memory.

People fail to do so many things out of the fear of facing themselves and their shortcomings and, mostly, guilt. We all feel so bad for so much we’ve done to other people and it makes us just not want to try or face other people and the longer time goes on, the more things seem to meld together into just one big ball of wrongdoing. And so we don’t contact the old friend, we don’t open up to the next one, we just hunch our shoulders and try to get through a day without feeling pain. And it doesn’t work and it never happens. And it’s easy to say we should just open ourselves up and be vulnerable but that hurts and it’s too hard sometimes, like when we’re sick or busy or hungry or lonely or breathing.

No wonder people get electro-shock-convulsive treatment-therapy willingly sometimes.

I wish them so well, my cherished debate team. I know they will do well against the mounting odds and I will try to help them as best I can in my mired mind about everything. I never was good at drawing boundaries or putting limits on my time.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this post I made before any of that. Before the divorce and the team and I hired Chris Baia and any other countless numbers of mistakes piled up to make me feel like every coinflip I made in those days was disastrous. And yet, and yet, there was last year’s National Final, there was even this tournament in Mississippi just weeks ago, there’s so much that makes me feel like pre-birth I chose to have the most extremes, the highest highs and the lowest lows, just so I could see it all before I go.

Eventually, if you live long enough, and listen, and read, everything just becomes a reference to everything else. And I guess if you live an emotionally charged life whose past you dwell on all the time, you’ll start seeing it in everything and then even the pain of a character or memory of someone else’s becomes your own and eventually it can snowball until you don’t even need to supply your own new experiences at all. I saw a movie last night about a misanthrope’s misanthrope, a classic Woody Allen proxy in a classic Woody Allen movie and halfway through I thought “is that me?” and it reminded me of seeing “Wonder Boys” with Stina in Boston in 1998 and she reassured me that I shouldn’t see myself in the hopeless bumbling of the main character but I still do and I can relate so hard to all our mistakes, hard enough that it almost makes me want to forgive these people who have shaken my mandala so hard. It’s so hard to dance in colored sand and not care about the edges one took so long perfecting.

But it’s what we’re here to do, right? I mean, no one gets out of this world alive.

“I said goodnight, goodbye
Seems like a good thing
So you know it’s a good lie
You can run out of choices
And still here a voice in your head
When you’re lying in bed
And it says that the best part of a bad day
Is knowing it’s okay
The color of everything changes
The sky rearranges its shade
Your smile doesn’t fade
Into a phone call
And one bad decision we made.”
-Counting Crows, “Possibility Days”


Facing the Direction I am Bound

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, From the Road, Marching to New Orleans, Tags: , , , ,

It's always emotional.

It's always emotional.

I’m overdue to head back north, racing for the direction where things should be wrapped up tight in a nice little bow, or at least packed up in cardboard and covered over with tape. Progress on the move has been slow and steady and not fast enough and I’m facing the very real possibility of having to cancel some of my farewells so that I can ensure the movers have stuff to actually take with them, since I’m not enacting the Bonfire Plan for the move to New Orleans. In the meantime, I’ve spent another weekend in Atlanta for so many good reasons, one of which was the first of two opportunities this week to see Counting Crows.

I feel like Counting Crows show posts for me should already come preloaded with the emotional ramifications, baggage, and impact of all prior such shows. Lord knows you can find a lot of that background information already in here (just pop “Counting Crows” into the Search function on the sidebar and see what happens). But there’s a reason that “Awareness is never enough – it must always be wonder” is a seminal phrase in my life, a watchword for my experience of the divine, and a clickable tag/category in this here blog format. Because it’s true.

I should be getting coffee and on the road for ten hours soon, so I don’t really have time to do the full concert justice. Suffice it to say that they opened with a classic 10-minute “Round Here”, went on to do one of their better covers from the recent cover album, and then Adam announced to the crowd that he had written a song for me.

Okay, not really. But kinda really.

I’ve been trying to find the lyrics online to prove to you that I’m not making this up. But listening to “Cover Up the Sun” for the first time in my life brought back exactly the same chill that “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” did on the pre-release quasi-illicit MP3 back in Waltham so many eons ago. But (remember the phrase!) even more so. Way more so. The song includes the lyric “When I left California, I was 29 years old, and the world just spun me round.” Which, okay, maybe that’s something Adam Duritz and I inadvertently have in common, though I’d never quite put it together before, but sure. But when the next lines are “Now I just watch Louisiana scroll across the window pane, and I’m facing the direction I am bound”, well, it’s enough to make a solipsist of the best of us.

Yeah, the song is about leaving the west and moving to New Orleans. There’s only a couple of references to the New York City area just thrown in for fun.

Of course I am not the only person who feels this way about Counting Crows or their lyrics or their shows. The magic of the band, as I’ve said repeatedly here, is being able to gather together thousands of people for whom the songs were written and feel the absolute power of people belting along to songs that are about them and to share that experience with everyone else who feels the same way and yet somehow have none of the charm of the song being about them reduced by the shared gathering. If anything, it’s enhanced. It’s perhaps in these moments that we get closest to the Jewish idea of God (although I note the irony of that statement in print, because I’d have to cross out the o for it to really be Jewish, but I’m not gonna because I find the idea of an unnameable God so distasteful, no offense dear Jewish people), with the re-convergence of all our divided split light, that we are all the same in our unique brightness and by coming back together, we can drown out the sun.

There were a couple more covers than I would have chosen for the set (I could probably go without “Friend of the Devil” for the rest of my CC life, though the intro to it this time ’round was hilarious) and I’ve probably never cried less at one of their shows, though this is largely because I am happy, both in the moment and with the visible trajectory of the near future. But it was also a summer set of joy and energy and just the right amount of bitterness to recognize the year just ended. And while none of the other new songs quite lived up to the power of that first one, they all sound at least intriguing and at most like future sources of wonder.

Maybe Counting Crows shows are well written horoscopes, online quizzes, or tarot card readings, that we can find our own meaning in the deeply expressed emotion of Duritz and friends bleeding out on stage. You can take the cynical road if you want to and I’ve never lately begrudged anyone the cynical road. But at the risk of being the sucker who falls for the seventeenth time, I prefer a deeper, more fundamental explanation. In a recent debate round for a summer exhibition tournament, I explained how free will is compatible with a tri-omni vision of God, how I believe we are all offered free will as the ultimate sign of respect and love. Much of my third novel is about exploring this concept as well. And yet, somehow, there always seems to be room for this incredible sense of everything working out, coming together, being for a reason. I don’t think it’s absolute or as powerful as free will, since refugees routinely starve to death in diseased camps after watching their families die, but the feeling of a benevolent net from the universe is palpable. Maybe it’s first-world privilege, which was on display at an other-worldly level in the Chastain Park Amphitheatre in Atlanta last night, but maybe it’s just our best burning bush, coming to you live on a perfectly-lit stage.

The rant about people leaving CC shows complaining that he didn’t play “Mr. Jones” will have to wait till after Atlantic City.

Counting Crows
22 June 2014
Chastain Park Amphitheatre – Atlanta, GA
with Toad the Wet Sprocket and Daniel and the Lion
new songs in italics

Round Here (Private Archipelago alt)
Untitled (Love Song)
Cover Up the Sun
St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dream
Start Again
Recovering the Satellites
Like Teenage Gravity
God of Ocean Tides
Friend of the Devil
Big Yellow Taxi
Hard Candy
A Long December
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere

Palisades Park
Rain King (Oh Susanna alt)
Holiday in Spain


Lost in the Corridors of the Arena in Blindfolds

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Tags: , ,

Counting Crows and the Wallflowers are back on tour together again.  You should go see them!

Counting Crows and the Wallflowers are back on tour together again. You should go see them!

I’ve seen Counting Crows and the Wallflowers before. I’ve even seen them together before. I was invited to sometime in mid- to late-high school before I knew either of them well and it was a time I couldn’t really have appreciated it. I still regretted not going for a long time for all sorts of reasons. But later, I did see them, in December 2003, which is an alarmingly long ten years ago now. You can see the setlist here and what I thought of the show here.

A decade is a long time. It’s actually been almost 14 years since what I dubbed “the perfect show” at the time, still one of the best I’ve ever seen, which was the first time I saw CC ever. That was at the Hammerstein Ballroom in 1999, when they played this set in the midst of the release of This Desert Life, still my favorite of their albums. I could’ve seen this show at Hammerstein Ballroom as well, and would have loved to commemorate that full-circle, but I’ll be taking a train from LA to Albuquerque on that day. Then they’re playing at the Borgata in AC, where Fish and I saw them in the summer of ’09, but I’ll be in Albuquerque that day too. They’ll be in California in late July, but on those days, I’ll be in New Jersey.

So there was really nothing for it but to pack up the car and head four hours to a place called Big Flats, New York, where they were playing on Saturday a couple days back. I haven’t been as in to concerts lately as I once was, but this is, I believe, the twelfth time I’ve seen Counting Crows live in my life and virtually none of the shows fails to be a religious experience of some kind. The eleventh show, the last one, in New York sometime last year (Google tells me it was April 24, 2012 at the Roseland Ballroom) was altogether forgettable, being a day when I was sick and exhausted and overworked and we were far far away from the stage. But this one was a good comeback and made the first time I think my girlfriend enjoyed the show, though she was touched up with a bit of sickness probably deriving from the roadside country restaurant we hit on the way.

The Wallflowers set was among the best I could hope for from them. I’ve listened to their new release a couple times and it’s fine, but I was still hoping for a much older set of songs to be immersed in what I assumed would be about half new stuff. I was pleased to be very wrong and find that only one or two of the songs were off the new album, while some really old favorites, most notably “I’ve Been Delivered,” made the set. With that and “Three Marlenas” being my two favorite songs of theirs and both being played, though the latter still in the upbeat style they prefer for playing it live, I was really happy with their song selections.

But CC reminded me why they top my list of concerts seen and why I drove four hours to get there. Adam seemed sadder than usual, or perhaps just more immersed in what they’re now calling dissociative disorder for him, but I think must truly be some combination of his itinerant loneliness and the wonder of truly becoming famous and still being able to solve the larger puzzles of life. It has to be bizarre to feel so isolated and crazy most of the time and have adoring fans screaming your words back at you like some solipsistic echo-chamber. I don’t know what becomes of the people who connect most deeply through feelings of isolation, but I do know that David Foster Wallace said that “Fiction is one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved … Fiction, poetry, music, really deep serious sex, and, in various ways, religion — these are the places (for me) where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated.” It is notable that music is among the five keys to DFW’s possible escape from being, what he calls in the same passage, “a one-by-one box of bone no other party can penetrate or know.” I also know that a lot of the songs CC sang on Saturday referenced cutting and bleeding.

It’s hard to know how much of any given selection sample of Counting Crows songs sounds extra-sad or how much that’s just their style. As the otherwise worthless movie High Fidelity put it, “Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” It makes you wonder, after a time, how much of your personal romantic narrative is tinged with the failures of people like Adam Duritz, how much you’re relating because he’s speaking to you or because he’s persuading you. I still feel a weird sting of how the song “A Murder of One” turned on me and made from the singer to feeling like it may just be an anthem of enabling morally dubious behavior that was being stabbed into my back. How many of these things are justifications for behavior like I just discovered in DFW’s bio, going through women like so many energy drinks on an unending binge? And does it make it any less meaningful to you if what you’re relating to is different for how you relate and what was intended to be related to? So much for bridging our bags of bones to find common experience.

Regardless, CC highlighted why they still get to headline despite not joining the Wallflowers in having a #1 hit single at any point (though their albums always sell well in the charts). Jakob Dylan goes up there and sings and plays his guitar and the band does their thing and they even rock out on a couple of songs. Counting Crows, led by Duritz, performs. They put on a show. They remain the only band where I think the use of lights actually augments the overall performance – every move and line (often reworked) feels meaningful and powerful, every flash and tilt and tweak feels part of an orchestrated whole that creates an experience that I have never really found in the audience of anyone else’s music. I really love Weakerthans shows and that Simon & Garfunkel reunion concert gave me goosebumps, and seeing Bob Dylan always does the same in a way, but no one performs like Counting Crows.

It was an emotional and charged show, but for some reason I couldn’t get the echoes of the DFW bio out of my head while I was listening. I know I’ve drawn this very close connection between Wallace and Duritz for a long time and it may be totally something I’m seeing without it being there, like Saving Private Ryan being an anti-war movie. But I worry about Adam Duritz, I worry about how much and how deeply he feels, I worry about his meds. I worry about me too, sometimes, maybe a little bit more during a CC show, though nothing like that one time in summer 2010. I only cried during “St. Robinson” and a little bit during “Hospital” and “Rain King”. And maybe in that one moment of “Miami”. That one line gets me every time, even moreso now.

I think Saturday was the only day this month it hasn’t rained. I’m not quite sure that’s true – there must have been one other, but Rain seems to be the theme of June to go with Illness from May. It probably rained here while we were in Big Flats, New York under a mercifully sunny, if a bit chilly, sky. It started raining heavily while I was writing this, raising concerns about more flooding in our basement, or at least something renewed. We have to dry out the rug down there, excluded perfectly by the renter’s insurance we were obliged to get moving in, proving once again that the thing you’d need insurance for is the one thing that it won’t be covered for, just like cell phones in emergencies and pretty much everything touched in some way by American capitalism. Water damage is somehow in the category with earthquakes, legal demands, intentional destruction, nuclear hazards, and (I kid you not) war. Because when I think of water, I think it’s about as unlikely and dramatic as nuclear hazards or war.

It was really good to learn, however, that all bets are off for renter’s insurance in the following circumstances:

a. Undeclared war, civil war, insurrection, rebellion, or revolution;
b. Warlike act by a military force or military personnel; or
c. Destruction, seizure or use for a military purpose.

And just to be extra-clear, they added the following:

Discharge of a nuclear weapon will be deemed a warlike act even if accidental.

Something about the rising foment toward Obama’s first official war (to go with his endless unofficial one) makes these things seem a little extra relevant today. Or maybe it’s just the virality of war and unrest, as seen in Turkey stemming from neighbor Syria. It seems more and more these days that it just takes the power of an idea, the whisper of suggestion, to make realities spread like, well, the wildfires that could use some of this rain that won’t leave us alone.

But do we want to be left alone? Do we have a choice?

At least these days, we know someone is listening. All of you speaking out against the NSA have it wrong. Don’t we all want an audience?

15 June 2013
Tag’s Summer Stage
Big Flats, NY

Baby Don’t You Do It
Letters from the Wasteland
Three Marlenas
Everything I Need
The Letter
I’ve Been Delivered
Sixth Avenue Heartache
Closer to You
One Headlight
Misfits and Lovers
The Difference

Time and Time Again
Untitled (Love Song)
Four Days
St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dream (Crimson and Clover outtro)
Black and Blue
Start Again
Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby
Daylight Fading
Perfect Blue Buildings (Miller’s Angels outtro)
When I Dream of Michelangelo
Friend of the Devil
Ghost Train
A Long December (with A Murder of One)
Return of the Grievous Angel
You Ain’t Going Nowhere

Rain King (with Lippy Kids)
Holiday in Spain


Feasting and Dancing in Jerusalem Next Year

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , ,

One of the few things I forgot to post about the Weakerthans concert set in New York last month was how good the warmup music was. I don’t mean the opening bands, which were hit-and-miss, though Said the Whale the first night was pretty darn awesome. I mean the music they play over the tinny loudspeaker between said act and the main event. Not only did it occasionally include personal smashes like Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”, but all four nights included the Mountain Goats’ personal anthem to, depending on how you look at it, mid-2010 to mid-2011, or probably more pertinently, just 2011 by itself, “This Year”.

Here, have a look and listen:

I know they didn’t write the song for me, really, any more than they wrote “No Children” for me. But the best music is about you, with all its rolling details and turns of phrase, and these are no exception. Although there is the ubiquitous soaking of alcohol in the Goats’ lyrics that doesn’t quite apply to me, no matter how close I came in New York that afternoon I landed from Liberia. The point, largely, is that this song seems a little more past tense than present, which is something. It’s not to say that I’ve made it, particularly, through anything other than a year. But reviewing 2011 seems a pointless exercise, while bidding 2011 farewell seems a bit more productive. The only thing that makes 2011 look like a tolerable year is that it wasn’t 2010.

What a great decade we’re off to.

I know last year at this time, when I sat down in this same room (my Mom’s lodge office) on this same computer (my then new laptop), I was emphasizing both looking forward to the West in the near future and not heaping pressure on myself to do much. Here, you can read along at home. Resolutions 2, 3, and 4 were basically entirely punted, a little bit because of 5, but almost entirely because 6 got altered in February when Farhan’s letter-writing campaign to the Rutgers administration turned into a full-time job and an indefinite lease on New Jersey for the foreseeable. How did I put those a year ago? “Significant reasons to stay.” The opportunity to actually make a living as a debate coach qualified, though I’m not sure I could have imagined it just a short 365 days ago.

What I think is most impressive about reading that last set of looking forward to this year is how much I overestimated the energy I’d have. Somehow writing a novel, trying to publish two prior ones, sinking myself into debate, and looking into Western cities seemed like a really minimal path. Maybe that says something about me, and I’ll grant that I went from spending 40-50 hours a week on debate to 70+ when the job came along, but I feel really overly ambitious in looking at that list. And I distinctly remember how constructing that list felt like cutting a lot of things and being really minimalist. The best conclusion I can draw is that you simply can’t understand how debilitating it is to go through a year and a half like the last one I’ve completed unless you’ve had a similar experience. Getting out of bed most mornings felt like a medal-worthy achievement. I’ve had several conversations with family and friends in the last month where I review a point in 2010 or 2011 and truly don’t understand how I lived through it. It’s like some deus ex machina that I don’t believe in some poorly written novel. There’s a gap in the action where the character randomly decides to ditch all his prior motivations and obvious conclusions and just keeps plugging along as though there’s some reason to. I don’t relate directly to the amount of despair I felt in most of the past year, but I also don’t quite fathom how I survived it.

Which makes looking ahead to next year a bit of a fool’s errand, except that there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last, to coin a phrase. I did once describe the entire project of blogging as giving myself the opportunity to look back a year later and see how stupid I was just a short year before. I wish I could find the exact reference or quote from sometime in the Introspection era, but I can’t. I may actually go to Jerusalem next year at some point, and/or Egypt, and/or India, and/or other possible places. Maybe I’ll hunker down and write a 4th book. Maybe I’ll never write again. The only constant of certainty is a certain amount of debate, and for that I am grateful. All of the highlights of 2011 revolve around a team that was not only the source of my strength in terms of self-confidence and enjoyment, but also friendship, camaraderie, and focus. RUDU spent the entire year in the top ten in the country, be it the top five of the last semester of 2010-2011 or the slightly lower rebuilding efforts of the past few months. We’re poised to not drop out of that perch for any of the foreseeable and some recent adjustments make me believe that we can have maybe our best semester yet open 2012.

What I don’t feel like doing for 2012 just yet is getting into specifics. Compared to 2011, there’s a lot that’s nailed down. I will be in Jersey the whole time. I’m not moving. I’m not changing jobs. I’m not doing much else besides maintaining the debate life I’ve built for myself. And I’m not complaining. I’ve been very fortunate that debate has gone as well as the rest of my life has gone poorly in the last 18 months. Every time the chips have been low in my life since 1990, I’ve doubled down on debate and gotten paid off. I don’t see an exception coming up. There may be only one thing in my life that I’m good at, but when you have the opportunity to focus on that and you really love it, that’s maybe all that you can ask for and expect out of life. Especially this year, in a global context, having confidence in a job and a community may put me ahead of most anyone. Perhaps most fully the person who I decided to excise from my life for a while in May. I have less curiosity about her life and her existence than I ever have since we met. It’s actually occurred to me for the first time in the last few weeks that I may live a long time and never want to reopen that line of communication. I don’t like giving up on people, but there are just some things in life that may be too awful to recover from. I’m not trying to turn this into a diatribe or an excoriation – it’s not becoming of a year-end wrap-up or a hopeful preview of the annum to come – but 2011 has helped me realize that maybe being the perpetual victim is not something I have to exacerbate. Emily may be right that “there’s just something about people that makes people betray [me]”, but that doesn’t mean I have to aid and abet the cause.

Maybe the better part of my personality is that which frenetically likes to dance, to throw myself into the cauldron and just doesn’t care what other people think. Emily said she spent a lot of time feeling very embarrassed by my behavior and attitudes in public. Maybe I should just live each day as though I were trying to embarrass Emily. She said I had a lot of growing up to do. If anything, I think I had to get even younger. Maybe the lesson of having someone excoriate and attempt to ruin your life is that embracing that very same life is the only ticket to hope. My reaction to Gwen’s constant lying was to start this entire effort to tell the truth, in painful detail, about everything. Maybe my reaction to Emily’s stressed-out concern for the opinions of others should be to ritually burn public opinion on a joyous pyre of the pursuit of life.

What better way to ring in the new year? What better way to embrace the fact of still traversing this crazy unpredictable forlorn but ever-hopeful planet?

This year didn’t kill me. People celebrate birthdays, holidays, and all other annual events most traditionally as a rallying cry for the fact that they remained alive, often against the odds. That plagues and storms, famines and droughts, wars and failures failed to dampen their spirits or take their last breath. So on the first day of 2012, I give you the full-throttled embracing of existence, maybe just for its own sake. It’s not what’s most important in life, but it does seem to be some sort of pre-requisite. As long as you keep walking the path, you might find your way. And you’re probably more likely to find your way if you’re dancing while you wait.


The Impending Class War

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

I’ve spent a reasonably large chunk of the last week shuttling myself to New York City to see one of my favorite bands, the Weakerthans, play all four of their studio albums on four successive nights. This may not mean much to you because most of you haven’t been introduced to the Weakerthans, but you can play along at home by imagining one of your top five active bands playing all their albums in consecutive nights live, plus a smattering of other songs at each show. In fact tonight, the first in the last five to be devoid of such a show, feels a little empty.

It’s hard enough to sum up the emotional import of any one show without trying to string together four, especially when each had their own distinct feel, ranging from the foreboding drunkenness over-present at the second (Left and Leaving) show to the unbelievable happenstance of running into four former APDA friends at the third (Reconstruction Site) show, four of the maybe 25 people I know in the eight-million-strong metropolis of New York City. The fourth (Reunion Tour) may have been my favorite, if only for the somber reverence of the crowd and the true appreciation of realizing that one is watching a band for the fourth straight night and desperately craves a fifth.

John K. Samson spent a small part of each show referencing Occupy Wall Street and encouraging people to participate, even evoking some excitement for the somewhat faded jaded revolutionary spirit from some earlier Weakerthans tunes and no doubt his prior stint with the band Propagandhi. Playing “Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist” each of the first three nights, including one impromptu in the encore seemed a clear reference to the growing fervor of a generation disappointed to miss out on the sixties but still desperate to change an order that has only consolidated its grip on power in the ensuing four decades. The Weakerthans used their platform at the Bowery Ballroom the way they have used their entire fifteen years in the limelight of the Canadian independent music scene – to live their values as they envision them, shunning overt fame, the chance to make it big, overcharging for tickets, etc., in favor of selling political books alongside their CD’s and T-shirts while selling out small clubs that fervently sing along.

I used the weekend to discover a couple other things too, like how surprisingly drivable lower Manhattan is from my current residence, taking just forty minutes to get to the venue from New Brunswick after I gave up on the subway after a miserably cold rainy night running under awnings to get from Penn Station to the BD line in its circuitous far-from-everything-but-still-getting-vaguely-where-you-want routing. (See also Tournaments, Fordham.) And it also occurred to me just how expensive New York really is relative to the rest of the world. People may complain a bit about the cost of living in the Bay Area, but the bridge across there cost, what, $4 and had a carpool opt-out for free? And BART would usually run you about $3-5 a pop to get pretty close to where you wanted to go? All the entrances to NYC now cost $12 by bridge or tunnel and the roundtrip train is $26 from New Brunswick, subway fare not included. I know that New Brunswick is significantly further out than Berkeley, but it’s not much further out than, say, Dublin or Pleasanton, and that gets you up to maybe $8 on BART. New York City is just a giant financial funnel and while I see its worth in occasional cultural access points, regular entry starts to feel like a life tax.

You may have to put a small X where I lost my way on this post. It wasn’t really supposed to be small-minded whinging about the cost of living, although one could argue that’s the only source of the angst and discontent abroad in the land, that that’s what it takes to knock Americans out of their complacency and into action is having to pay more than they can for things. Certainly the crass commercialism of traditional wealthy USA seems alive and thriving in NYC as compared to other parts of the world, though the Best Buy in New Jersey seemed full and bustling, even if the actual lines for items were pretty short. It is the great paradox of whatever this economic situation is that most people appear to be hurting and yet most everyone seems to have essentially the same quality of life as before, give or take some stress. There are exceptions and people who’ve been knocked from their pedestal, but for the most part the magic wheel of debt has kept spinning its web of lies to obfuscate the true nature of what’s broken about our system.

So you can forgive John K. and I and the other upbeat believers for getting excited about the present circumstances and the awakening possibility that we won’t have this same tired unjust system to kick around for the entire remainder of our lifetimes. And yet, it’s the personal poignance, as it seems to be with most every important band (Ani DiFranco certainly comes to mind) that overrides the political upheaval and potential tumult at the end of the day. We can raise our fists to “Futon Revolutionist”, but people probably relate more closely to the bipolar maturation of “Aside”. We can hum along to “Pamphleteer”, but there’s a reason “Left and Leaving” gets played every night and that one only once. The compelling nature of internal emotional struggle has got to be at the heart of why the two songs ghostwritten by Virtute the Cat get the loudest cheers, why “None of the Above” resonates so deeply, why we all feel heartened by “Reconstruction Site”.

This review is probably meaningless to anyone who doesn’t know the Weakerthans, but that’s probably true of every concert review and doubly important because you should get to know the Weakerthans. John K. batted away catcalled questions about the next album date and even concert date and his upcoming solo release next month portends the possible demise of an indy set that’s only released four albums in a decade and a half and sort of missed their every-three-years pacing deadline in the year before the one about to die shortly. John K. looks forever young, like the man who introduced him to me, but his supporting cast wears their facial hair a little hangdog and seems like the comforts of Canadian homefires might start to outweigh New York nights, no matter how much the bassist sweats while he rocks out.

John K. admonished us to go to bookstores. It’s the only place we’d be able to find him if he hadn’t somehow tried to teach himself to sing. I’m not sure my catchphrase “All the Poets Became Rock Stars” applies better to anyone else.

7 December – Fallow Show
Illustrated Bible Stories for Children
Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist
None of the Above
Letter of Resignation
Wellington’s Wednesdays
The Last Last One
Greatest Hits Collection
Sounds Familiar
Tournament of Hearts
Sun in an Empty Room
[Anne of Green Gables song]
Reconstruction Site
Plea from a Cat Named Virtute
Left and Leaving

One Great City!
The Reasons

8 December – Left and Leaving Show
Everything Must Go!
This is a Fire Door Never Leave Open
Without Mythologies
Left and Leaving
Elegy for Elsabet
History to the Defeated
Exiles Among You
My Favourite Chords
Slips and Tangles
One Great City!
Our Retired Explorer
Civil Twilight
Letter of Resignation
None of the Above

Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist
Plea from a Cat Named Virtute

9 December – Reconstruction Site Show
The Reasons
Reconstruction Site
Psalm for the Elks Lodge Last Call
Plea from a Cat Named Virtute
Our Retired Explorer
Time’s Arrow
Hospital Vespers
Uncorrected Proofs
A New Name for Everything
One Great City!
The Prescience of Dawn
Past Due
Everything Must Go!
[Anne of Green Gables song]
Greatest Hits Collection
Tournament of Hearts
Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure

Left and Leaving
Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist
Night Windows

10 December – Reunion Tour Show
Civil Twilight
Hymn of the Medical Oddity
Relative Surplus Value
Tournament of Hearts
Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure
Elegy for Gump Worsley
Sun in an Empty Room
Night Windows
Reunion Tour
One Great City!
Reconstruction Site
Our Retired Explorer
Wellington’s Wednesdays
Left and Leaving
Without Mythologies

None of the Above
Plea from a Cat Named Virtute


The Highway is for Gamblers

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, From the Road, TH'HEAT 2011, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , ,

Leaving Albuquerque today, a few days later than anticipated originally. About a week away from Jersey, probably less. Going to pick up some baseball on the long lonely road home while probably seeing no one I know till Philadelphia. That should be interesting. I cannot claim that at this moment I feel great about that fact, but I’m hoping to pick up some momentum out there on the American highways I am so familiar with.

Saw Bob Dylan a few days back with my Dad. There’s a 4th Facebook album for those of you following along but not on FB. About the sixth time I’ve seen Dylan if I had to guess – I’m sure I could piece it together with information on this site in various places. The show seemed to me like it was all about divorce, but then, it would. A lot of his songs tore me to shreds in their melancholy beauty, but “Visions of Johanna” was the highlight of the night, followed closely by “Simple Twist of Fate”. The heartbreak in this universe is astounding and thank God we have the poets to try to capture little droplets of it, like stoppered tears in a bottle, to distill our pain and help us understand it and maybe compel us not to pass it on.


Leaving New Mexico, like departing from almost anywhere in the West for points east, always provides this little pang in the back of my mind. This little question of “why?” arises. Why are you doing this? You have seen people who feel more real, more down-to-earth, a community that stands not in opposition to openness in the same way as where you are going. Why leave? Why return? I know why, I have better answers this time around than any of the last times for awhile, but still the question nags like snagged bits of thread on a nail that tugs one just for a moment before releasing the frayed end as one walks away, just a little less whole than before. Every departure is a loss, every decision is opportunity cost, every move is at the expense of some unexplored reality. These are the trade-offs innate to life and to mourn too seriously over any that are not clearly devastating mistakes is costly and counter-productive. But there is a passing glance to be given on the way out of town.

And of course there is the difficulty of leaving alone. Of going anywhere alone, a feeling that doesn’t take, an experience that doesn’t wash no matter how many ventures are made under said conditions. The reason that the night of Dylan was the last night I could’ve chosen to see the Isotopes play at home, not because they were leaving, but because the New Orleans Zephyrs were coming to town thereafter and I cannot watch them play. For reasons that only Emily knows. Reasons I may share someday, but cannot bring myself to, for the dream doesn’t die. I find myself likely to grow old like Snape, embittered, blackened, but carrying this soft fragile unfulfilled love to the end of my darkest days. The pain does not subside, it does not dissipate, it subsists and burrows, grows and changes like a tumor, like a tapeworm, like a ravenous parasite of the soul. The texture or feel may be different, like shades of a bruise, but there is not healing in this metamorphosis. And in the changing, the pain defies adjustment or adaptation, refuses to be tamed by the human spirit, insists on hurting in new and unforeseen ways.

I leave laden and humiliated, the way I make my way in the world. Burdened with the frivolity of items that may help me make a new way and a new life in an old familiar and difficult place. The future has never looked so blank as it does today, at least not since I wrote “Hypothermia” on the frigid Castle fire escape in the early winter of 1999. I remember a decade of telling that young freezing boy it would all be okay. I was lying.

Bob Dylan
The Pavilion
Albuquerque, New Mexico
21 July 2011

Rainy Day Women #12 and #35
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
Things Have Changed
If You Ever Go to Houston
Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
Tangled Up in Blue
Cold Irons Bound
Visions of Johanna
Summer Days
Sugar Baby
Highway 61 Revisited
Simple Twist of Fate
Thunder on the Mountain
Ballad of a Thin Man

Like a Rolling Stone
All Along the Watchtower

Forever Young


Truth in Advertising

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, From the Road, Just Add Photo, Quick Updates, Read it and Weep, TH'HEAT 2011, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , , , , ,

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that having access to all of one’s e-mails for several years should allow the refinement of particularly effective advertising. Still, seeing these two back-to-back was a bit jarring this morning:


Thanks a lot, GMail. Are there really people out there who are worried that Facebook is closer to taking over the world than Google?

As Goo Goo Dolls would put it, “Scars are souvenirs you never lose. The past is never far.”

In other news, while it wasn’t the most impressive book overall, methinks it was particularly well-timed for me to read Siddhartha this week. There’s a lot of insight in there about the particular paths that might be tempting at this juncture of life and good reminders of what roads are full of folly. Especially interesting as I play some poker and wrestle with the material reminders of my past that I want to haul out to Jersey.

Been sleeping and dreaming too much lately. The hazards of being home. Have extended my home visit a little bit and then will probably be taking about a week to cross back over the country. Leaving Saturday maybe? Still a little bit in flux. Might hike in Rocky Mountain NP, but definitely skipping Grand Canyon and LA, as were possibilities even a couple days ago. Feeling daunted enough about driving another 3k-4k miles at this point.

Next immediate stop: The Frontier!

For those without Facebook, here’s the latest album of pics: Volume 3.


Don’t Go

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Primary Sources, Quick Updates, TH'HEAT 2011, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , , ,

I haven’t had a lot to say the last couple days, but it’s not for lack of activity. Friends have been in New York and I went to see them, other friends came to New York and I went to see them. So much of me wants to just scrabble up the current life plan and return to a previous one, but I also know that fails to recognize the incredible blessings incumbent in the current one. People still get this wide-eyed look when I talk about the opportunities I’ve got with the debate team right now and I have visions of all the things that I think we can accomplish and I’ve already become really reliant on this community of people. I just so so so wish it were somewhere in the West, or at least not in New Jersey. I have people nearby, everywhere around, but not here, and efforts to get people here seem to be stymied by the fact that it’s New Jersey and everyone else recognizes that too. Next life, I think I want a planet that’s 500 miles around or maybe to be born into one of those feudal villages where a trip to the city walls is a big adventure.

In any case, on this particular planet, I’m staring down an epic roadtrip in less than a fortnight that’s got some event changes possible at the front-end that I’ll update as soon as I know what those are. In the meantime, I wanted to share a tour video from another roadtripper, the herein over-discussed Allison Weiss, who just released a recording of one of the new songs as she played it at the Princeton show I attended! This song, like so many of hers, captures exactly how I’m feeling, but this day in particular. And it’s a rerun of something I already saw. The world is like that all the time, kids. Just open your eyes and your mind.


No Time to Think of Consequences

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Pre-Trip Posts, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , , , ,

It’s been really hard to breathe lately. Maybe I need to do more yoga. Maybe I just need to swallow my pride already. Maybe there are no right answers, like Rabbit surmises in the comic below, only a vague attempt to avoid the skyward pianos that loom and always threaten to fall.

I’m going to DC this weekend. Hanging out at Brandzy’s place, though I won’t see him much. Talking to high school debaters at Nationals about our upcoming Camp, our debate program for any potential Rutgers prospects. Getting a bit more familiar with Public Forum debate.

I went to the Allison Weiss show in Princeton on Wednesday. It was quite awesome, a much better sampling of her in her element than the prior show in New York. She asked for requests and I called one out (July 25, 2007) and she played it when she said it wasn’t on the setlist and used this to encourage more requests. I bought a dinosaur T-shirt from her after the show. She played all the songs I wanted to hear, plus a new one, penultimately, that broke my heart. It’s called “I’ll Be OK”. I’m not so sure.

There’s something about short, direct, declarative sentences that feels like control. It’s probably very different than how I usually feel, the rambly arcs of poetic lyrical interpretability. How much of all this is about control? Pride or control? How much of self-preservation requires those elements? How much do I care?

Yesterday I got a brief vision of a possible summer plan with the laptop-based webcam capturing me telling stream-of-consciousness stories while I drove across the country. Little video postcards of life on the road, free, carefree, hopeful. It doesn’t feel real. It feels like a clown suit I’m trying to want to put on. I don’t know how to pretend to want things that are different than everything I always tried to want.

Everything is harder since I tried to take control.

Allison Weiss at Small World Coffee
Princeton, NJ
25 May 2011

I’m Ready
I Don’t Want to Be Here
I Was an Island
Nothing Left
July 25, 2007
Don’t Go
Try to Understand
Why Bother
Kids (partial)
You + Me + Alcohol
The End
One-Way Love
Wait for Me
Ghost Stories
Let Me Go
I’ll Be OK
Fingers Crossed


We Got Lost in New York

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Read it and Weep, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

The summer is coming but it can’t come fast enough, can’t pass fast enough, can’t make up its mind about coming or going or raining or pouring and there’s a sense I have that I should be better than this better than this by now because everyone else believes time is something more than a construct and they forget forget forget and get to be better and why can I not be better and the things that I do in the wake of what’s done are no better and all I get is what I give and I can’t can’t can’t forget and this is all I get.

Emily is in the states from what I can tell, from what I remember. I’m trying so hard to forget but it doesn’t work like that, the mind doesn’t just shut down and mine in particular seems enthralled at its height with what it should least be interested in. It’s horror, it’s fascination, there’s a reason we put ourselves through 10-inning 8-7 baseball games or literal roller-coaster rides or falling in love all over again when we know that we shouldn’t. Read your Watership Down, head for Strawberry’s Warren, know in your soul, in the core they keep telling me to engage on Tuesday nights that all this diversion and distraction is there to replace the life-or-death fight-or-flight feeling innate to being an animal. Not that kind of animal, but then again why not? Am I anything more, anything better? Truly?

But and so I have to be concerned on subway cars, on late-night (too late) trains to the middle of New Jersey, as though seeing the actual person would somehow be more powerful than the ghost that is waiting on brown warped leather or dingy graffitied plastic, hiding on street corners and under bus depot covers and in the parks and playgrounds of any city, but oh especially this city. As though talking on the phone or writing on the computer or reading the masterwork of the late great can in any way interrupt the flow of mental traffic borne ceaselessly against the tide, what would you say? Is this grand plan anything better than mild distraction, any more nuanced than the “look behind you!” trick when you’re going to take the money and run? Does the distance, real or imagined, help sever the seamless soul-deep bond that was tied so tightly, became interwoven with heartbeats and that nasal intake of air, stay here for five breaths, for five million breaths, why does the total count of a lifetime’s breaths seem like such a small number in the end?

A veggie burger with avocado and fries and Harry Potter 3 on the weirdly overdone big-screens and there is no event that I process without the mental image of you by my side and I try to insert others there in your stead but something seems off and even when it doesn’t there are larger problems of trying to replace something that’s missing and I know it and I get it and I understand how the comparison doesn’t wash but if you lost all your limbs tomorrow and someone told you the only thing we can replace them with are fish because it’s wrong to want arms and legs again because you had those before and new arms and new legs don’t want to be compared and I say fish are you serious and so I take the anesthetic and wake up days later with floppy jetsam of the sea just sort of stapled or sewn to the nubbins and I can still feel my digits so rudely severed and a walleye gives me this deadpan look from where my elbow should be like why don’t you want to play with me, why can I not use my little tiny gills to help you pick up where you left off?

Not to mention the falling over.

I watched a soccer game of some high-school-or-so youth club league, caged like visions of the Bronx Zoo in four perpendicular/parallel sheets of 30-foot chain link and then the Allison Weiss show I’d so been looking forward to, the only one of fifty or seventy with the guts to go it alone, and then people on the train back as I read some of the most even more compelling bits of The Pale King before DFW left me alone forever. And the echoes of the pin-drop pathos of “Ghost Stories” and that late chapter I relate to so well (but shouldn’t?) haven’t left me since, I am a walking shadow for the backlit realities of a few moments in time and space that feel like connection, that feel like art reaching out to me across the solipsistic divide of otherness and telling me it’s not okay but it doesn’t have to be and I am here hurting too. It is not okay but I am here but it is still not okay but I am still here. Over and over, till the mantra itself fades out of meaning and becomes another dull echo of an empty chamber.

I may go again Wednesday night in Princeton.

I bought a yoga mat. It is teal green and the color that anyone would have predicted and all I can hear is the voice and the lilt and the reaction that she would have had, that she might as well be having. At a certain point, if you can almost simulate your life well enough, is there a point to living it out?

She is still my wife. I have to figure out what to do about that. Maybe the 26th. Maybe the 6th. Maybe I can’t.

Allison Weiss at Rockwood Music Hall (with Bess Rogers)
New York City, NY
21 May 2011

I Don’t Want to Be Here
You + Me + Alcohol
I Was an Island
Ghost Stories
Nothing Left
The End Part 2 (Boston)
Don’t Go
Try to Understand
Wait for Me
I’m Ready
Fingers Crossed


A Study in Scarlet

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

New Brunswick is a city of sirens. There are hospitals here, by the seeming score, spiraling outward from the world-famous Robert Wood Johnson, one of the Johnson & Johnson Johnsons, an epicenter of so-called healthcare in the so-called Healthcare City. The frequency of sirens in a place is rarely the function of the number of emergencies in a locale so much as the quantity of people employed in dealing with such emergencies. As a destination for the dead, dying, those in need of repair, New Brunswick takes all manner of boxy windowless vehicles in their quest to deposit their hapless fading contents at the halls of last-ditch recovery.

No one appears to be from here. America is vaunted as a nation of immigrants, but New Brunswick is truly a town of transients, the imported students mixing with the deposited unwell mingling with those who treat them from miles around interspersed with the migrant workers who are just passing through in search of opportunity. Many must be born here with all the hospitals, but who is here to stay? The staff and service providers of the hospitals and schools, one supposes. And indeed, few people are really from any place without a utilitarian purpose for passing through, without getting hung up on the hooks of a place while they’re on their way to somewhere else. Surely between becoming Scarlet Knights or mopping scarlet wounds, many must start to feel a sense of home, an aspect of permanence, a value to their location beyond being a place to hang one’s notepad or scalpel.

The wind blows icily through this village in March, sliding down the unresistant Raritan River and bending off into the crannies between old brick buildings and their comrades made to look old and brick. They’re raising a gargantuan parking structure over the church and the train station, facing it with linoleum-rolled brick facade to soften the starkness of the grand monument to the motor vehicle at rest it will inevitably be. The cranes hold overlarge masses of tools and chains and concrete blocks, hovering in the tilty moving air before being hauled aloft in an infinite skyward arc. Ceaselessly lit police cars block the streets on either side, preventing even the ambulances from passing under the cranes just on the off chance of some mishap that would necessitate the summoning of yet more sirened automobiles. There are cones of orange and signs of red, enforced caution for those who might otherwise throw it windward.

I have all but become David Gray in my sudden success in contests. Counting Crows, long my favorite band still producing music, put out a call for cover art for a new brief solo effort by frontman Adam Duritz, long a kindred spirit and mouthpiece for my pain. While the final 25 are not to be announced till tomorrow, my own cover submission of deep dark red for the work, entitled “All My Bloody Valentines”, has garnered massive attention in the Facebook group and is likely to be selected as a finalist. Like the songs the cover would ultimately adorn, the image is dark and emotional and ultimately plain, honest, and symbolic.


All My Bloody Valentines Cover

All My Bloody Valentines

“Valentine’s Day”, “O My Sweet Carolina”, and “You Might Think” are particularly recommended.

I wish I could tell you that everything gets easier once you have a dream job fall in your lap. I wish I could tell you that a few things going your way is all that it takes to put you on the mend, on the road to recovery, on the road to something greater than yourself. I wish I could tell you that the personal and the emotional can be subsumed by expenditures of time, that feelings of public affirmation can quiet the whispers of personal condemnation. Of course my wishing won’t make anything so, no matter what seems to go well or turn on a dime. All one can do is try to express, create, reach out, fail to reject. To make contact with the people one has loved and turn cheeks and take it, whatever it may be, in the hopes that by living a life as we know we should will prompt others to follow suit. Knowing, all the while, that such reciprocity is all but undermining of the point of our own often vain effort… that doing it for its own sake is the only sincere, though glass-ridden, path.

There are easier things than backing up a twelve-passenger van designed to seat ten through a pattern of briefly spaced cones in sequential S-turns, snaking through narrowly defined parameters in reverse and knowing the consequences of flattened plastic to be much greater than they appear. There are harder things than the cascade of laughter such efforts create, than the spiraling ability of any close-knit group of young hopefuls to create inside jokes and shared experience like it’s popcorn in a microwave. Somewhere beyond both what is hard and easy is a future that seems both probable and impossible, unimaginable yet underway. Nothing is simple now, nor merely challenging, but everything is either given or out of reach. It is a good time to be learning yoga, to literally be stretching the limits of credulity and muscle flexion, to always be working to adjust to the expectations of the increasingly unfathomable.

Yesterday I smashed my knuckles in the shower door, shaking out the pain as the internal hemorrhages swelled up to meet the indented joints. I thought about crying out, but there was no one to hear. I shook it out and sucked on my fingers and looked at the purpling reddening mess of slightly mangled digits. My mind went back to an Oakland laundromat, to a Philadelphia street, to times when there was comfort and solace. It was a silly thing, the smashing, and a sillier thing to feel lonely over. I have a friend who says that no one will notice if she goes missing for days on end. To her, this fact is unsettling comfort. To me, such reality, though not even precisely true of my own circumstances, speaks like silent condemnation. Like a failure so profound that it makes all the bogeymen of the past – failing out of school or missing a deadline or not securing a job – look like joyous occasions. To feel crazy for being so lonely only underscores the angst. It is the flaming red cape with which the matador taunts the bull: a scarlet cloth to swallow all memory with shades of a life that can only be charged at, but never struck through, a reality whose phantom and transient nature ends in a mouthful of dust and a torso full of swords.


Second Street Soliloquy

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , ,

“Courage is when you’re afraid
but you keep on moving anyway
courage is when you’re in pain
but you keep on living anyway

It’s not how many times you’ve been knocked down
it’s how many times you get back up

Courage is when you’ve lost your way
but you find your strength anyway
courage is when you’re afraid
courage is when it all seems gray
courage is when you make a change
and you keep on living anyway”

-Orianthi (via The Strange Familiar), “Courage”

This song has been following me around lately, most recently finding me on the way to Fish’s at a time I was starting to feel particularly haunted again. One of those “awareness is never enough” moments to be sure, even though it seems sort of innately silly that such moments can come with frequently heard radio songs. I remember finding significance in every time “The Freshmen” by Verve Pipe came on, even though it was probably #1 in the country for most of that summer. I also remember a time just after when “Brick” by Ben Folds Five came on at precisely the right time and my counterparts and I shook a late-night hotel parking garage with the reverberation of speakers echoing against our plaintive sing-along cries. That was a night I balanced off a fifteen-story interior balcony and later ripped up a dollar bill to post, ticket-like, under the windshield wiper of the most expensive car I could find. I would long call it the best buck I ever spent.

It’s easy to feel like the radio is speaking to you, especially at nights when you’re alone and the power of your feelings is so great that it feels like it’s almost extracting penance from whatever DJ is on the other end of the signal. I’m using the second person not as a crutch, but to convey the singularity of feeling spoken to that the radio itself provides at such times. You can go around and around as many have about whether pop songs reflect our emotions because they are trite and corny but have manufactured similar shallowness in our hearts or whether they reflect fundamental truths that cut to the core of emotions we try to complicate and mystify in our own minds when, deep down, people are really quite simple. I don’t have a horse in that race, but you might. I just feel and react as sincerely as I can when it feels like the world is talking. And I’m listening a lot lately, especially.

Driving back from Fish’s house has involved late nights on Second Street in Albuquerque ever since my family first moved from the place on 12th Street to the current location on Silver in the midst of luminaria central. I’d long discovered 2nd’s superiority to 4th, the slightly larger street more famously close to Fish’s windy back-road domicile. It’s got higher speed limits and fewer lights and way fewer businesses with drunk and/or distracted drivers pulling out into traffic without looking so much as one way. So for nigh on a decade or so, I’ve been wandering back from late nights and early mornings at the place long lovingly dubbed “The Tank” (where does a Fish live?) between the straight-shot painted lines that demarcate Second.

Early on, Second Street is as much hinterland as anything, but as it approaches downtown, there is an eerieness that creeps in, especially in winter. I forget about it almost every drive, or more accurately every first drive of the season I’ve returned home concurrent with Fish. Albuquerque’s downtown buildings tend to be lit in various colors at night, especially during December, and Second is particularly partial to purples and greens. Additionally, Civic Center shows up on Second, a wide-open expanse of paved space that’s so clearly designed for throngs of people, yet so often empty. Needless to say, the confluence of lights and buildings, against an often misty frigid backdrop of winter sky creates an aura of presence and even prescience rarely felt in vehicular transit.

But it is the echoes of such prior experiences and revelations, many themselves already documented on this page in one place or another, at one time or another, that really compounded the feeling tonight. I remember early trips down Second in the green Kia, blasting music of my own choice wrenched from any awareness-yielding fates lingering at the touch of a far-flung jockey. “A Murder of One” at top volume, with thoughts of at least two different girls vying for my heartache. The liberation of loud music belted along to in the company of self alone, the release of such insane frustration at one’s personal state, the glinting possibility of the dead of night contrasting against the vast emptiness of darkness itself. “Change, change, change!” And things, they did. Later trips down Second Street (memory lane?) with Emily herself, even relating the stories of my lonely angsty nights years prior, warmed and heartened by having finally secured love and having her fall asleep to murmuring stories of yore after a long night with friends and games and camaraderie, the throes of knowing exactly how lucky and happy I was in the moment I was feeling it. An awareness that seemingly could only come with the totem of the asphalt beneath us and its solidity, its unflinching sameness, the constancy of the buildings and the environs and even the lighting that evoked resonance. And now, full circle, back again and alone, raging against wrongs present and imagined futures in a quieter, hollower, aged way. Only to pass Civic Center and discover that it was precisely past two, the bars of Central emptying themselves of short-skirted revelers and their bravadoing cohorts, all spilling in an overdressed but underclothed mass into the damp night air. The concern that one or another might trip and fall into the path of the oncoming gray Kia, the fourth car utilized in this unending lifelong procession from one home to another.

I have no conclusions for this nighttime series of visions, only the sinking feeling of being thrust into a hologram, of seeing the shadowy ethereal nature of reality blinking back at me but being no more able to seize it or control it than I could hold down a phantom and demand the answers. It’s a little like a Ray Bradbury story, “Night Meeting”, but I am the Martian I am colliding with, blending the story almost into “Night Call, Collect” as well. But I am not here to torment my past or future, either, just to nod at it, to sagely wave as I pass through versions of myself, stalling and humming at red, sailing along through green.

Time is an illusion in this world, a well held and reinforced one, but a fraud nonetheless. To be able to see through it, to capture the constancy of what underlies our lives, surely that must be what most of this metaphor is trying to show us. Damned if I can see it, or how, or why, but I can detect the underlying attributes, the essence of what is being shown. Hello, Storey. It’s Storey. You will live and love and feel pain and mostly, even between friend and family, you will be alone. You will feel alone. And no matter how well or much or deeply you connect, no one will ever understand. Not really. Not fully. This is your lot. And it will be okay. For maybe in the manufacturing of multiple selves through time, you will find the understanding from another that you crave so deeply. Even if that other is merely yourself in another mirror.

But tomorrow is luminaria day and now you must rest, if only for a little while. Good night.


From You to Me

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Pre-Trip Posts, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , ,

I don’t know why
I’m afraid to fly
back to my home
where I know I’ll be all right
I never could quite say
how you made me feel the way
you always did
but kid, I’d never treat you right
and I don’t know where you are
even though I’ve come so far
I can’t say that life without you isn’t hard
and I don’t know where to go
please don’t say I told you so
when I tell you I still miss you in the dark
I guess I’ll always miss you in the dark.

I’ll say goodbye
to the memories and the lies
I always told
I’m getting older every day
if I could I’d take it back
but the past is just the past
with you and me
it doesn’t matter what I say
’cause I don’t know where you are
even though I’ve come so far
I can’t say that life without you isn’t hard
and I don’t know where to go
please don’t say I told you so
when I tell you I still miss you in the dark
I guess I’ll always miss you in the dark.

We were all we’d ever be
I was you and you were me
crashing deeper to the bottom of the sea
where we still lie
and if I fall out of the sky
I won’t dare to wonder why
’cause baby, I deserve to die.

-Allison Weiss


Multi Media

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Read it and Weep, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , ,

“I’m not a mystery
everything I think is written down”
-Allison Weiss, “Why Bother”

The sun is bright in Highland Park today, casting long stark shadows on the newly bare sidewalks and leafy lawns as people make their way through the crisp air. The sky is still, a pacific relief from two days of unchecked bluster, allowing the full light of early winter to crystallize and hang suspended among dying leaves still clinging to their lifeblood. Few will fall today.

Yesterday marked the second time the Rutgers debate team has graced the pages of the Daily Targum, perhaps the most-read paper in the city of New Brunswick. The article was quite flattering, relying heavily on Farhan’s and my testimony about the changes that have transpired in fifteen months of unprecedentedly hard work. The surreality of our current standing really has yet to fade, so I might as well try to grab hold of it and just breathe. After all, I still vividly recall years of desperately missing debate, of waking from dreams where I had a chance to be back in tournaments, back on the circuit, only to deflate amongst the reality of day jobs and intellectual incuriosity. Those days will be back, perhaps with less pathos given my second chance fulfilled, but I might as well store up for future winters now.

At the recommendation of Russ, I’ve been reading Outliers, officially my first Highland Park library book and perhaps the tenth non-fiction book I’ve read since the days of high school textbooks. In it, Malcolm Gladwell, the hippest pop-culture-meets-academics writer this side of Freakonomics, argues that success depends on luck and good fortune and ethnic traditions far more than Horatio Alger-style bootstraps stories. And while his case is compelling and obvious, he lapses too often into the same trap of Alger and friends, namely equating a mundane capitalist definition of success with true achievement in the course of a lifetime. Which, given his audience and the subtitle “The Story of Success”, is probably to be expected. He borders on really exciting delvings into the nature of real satisfaction with his discussion of what he calls “meaningful” work, but never stops to question the nature of capitalism in imposing the necessity of work itself on the population. Nor does he examine presumed pinnacle professions, like doctoring and lawyering, in the context of how meaningful or satisfying they are. He assumes these jobs and the acquisition of graduate degrees are innate goods in our society by which we can measure the success of potential geniuses on an objective scale.

It would be easy to say my political critiques of Gladwell are wholly tangential to the question his book is trying to explore, and that’s probably mostly right. But Russ felt this was an Important Book for me largely because of my own lifelong struggles with my early academic trajectory and its ultimate failure. Gladwell would blame these on unlucky circumstances (certainly Broadway and CCC failing to be supportive were not ideal situations), my family’s socioeconomic background (would money have made them more tenacious? maybe), and perhaps my culture of coming from European mutts based in the West (um, dubious). But what he goes on to describe me being locked out of just doesn’t feel like anything I’m missing. I could have been a successful lawyer had I wanted to be. Yippee. There’s plenty of good reasons I’m not, and they’re all based in my exercising of my own free will over my priorities. Would I have liked to graduate college at 16 as it once looked like was going to happen? Sure. But probably not so I could go on and collect a full complement of supplementary initials to my name. Probably, instead, so I could get on with it, as Monty Python would say. And the it maybe doesn’t look much better than status quo, save maybe for more public recognition that makes it easier to get published or something.

Tooling around the internet today, I discovered my new favorite musician of the hour. A quotation from one of her stellar just-discovered (by me) songs is above. She’s Allison Weiss and she’s apparently independent and sings mostly about heartbreak. Her song “July 25, 2007” cut right through me and I’ve already ordered her CD. There’s something about the simplicity and rawness of her storytelling that is pretty much what I’ve always loved about the music that I love. Given that Brad Wolfe and the Moon seem to be long done, I needed a new outlet for the band no one’s ever heard of slot in my life. Hooray.

The next few days are going to be mighty busy, especially in comparison to the quiet stasis of the last few. I almost have all my books sorted and dealt with and the Empire of Boxes has had its unprovoked aggression repelled to a couple small corners. Word is that the couch will be here before December is. Might even be able to get an armchair to go with it, with a little help from my friends.

Out my window, the blue patches through the overwhite collections of condensation almost precisely match the blue of the Prius below. My home is on the road and in the clouds.


Sun Cracks Horizon Dawn

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Keepin' it Cryptic, Let's Go M's, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , , ,

Forgive the use of the Star Warsy sounding subtitle in the new logo up top, but it’s really the most accurate thing I can convey. There’s a reason that film was a smash hit, and if you go back and look at it, it wasn’t because of the acting, dialogue, or even the special effects. I’m going with title.

Explanations, you ask? No one ever called me an enemy of the sine-curve. And since there was nowhere to go but up a few days back, the universe promptly complied. Or I dug myself out. Whatever narrative you prefer, based on your accordance of free-will, control, fate, or what have you. As soon as I can resolve the paradoxes of absolute free will and the benevolent safety-net of the universe, I’ll let you know.

Suffice it to say that I’ve had the best 50 hours of my last 2,500. It’s been over a hundred days since the crisis began, and it feels like I’ve been truly happy in a sustainable (read: more than a few hours) way for the first time in that whole duration.

Some causes:

1. UPenn vastly surpassed Maryland (which was only two weeks ago, and the last competition we attended) as the best tournament in RUDU club history (caveating again the legends of early-1990’s teams that were comparable and technically organized as a different club). Dave & Kyle won the tournament, the first tourney win in the 10-year history of RUDU. Farhan & Chris broke for the first time as a team, including Farhan’s first-ever break, won quarters on a 3-0, and then barely dropped semis on a 3-2, finishing 3rd overall. First and third. Needless to say, the team was euphoric all weekend and everyone was just beaming at the team dinner as we basked in the glow of having come a ballot short of closing out finals. And Krishna & Bhargavi were in a bubble round to boot. As the post that will go up on the debate side will attest (once we get an image unloaded off someone’s camera to display atop the site), Rutgers is now 5th-ranked in the country, breaking our all-time high from two weeks ago, and Dave & Kyle are the 4th-ranked partnership in the country. Yeah. It was a pretty good weekend.

2. Today I got a call about a job interview for one that I’d applied to long enough ago that I’d given up on it. Turns out that they were sifting through 400 resumes and I’m one of three (3) finalists getting interviewed in the next couple days. It’s in NYC, four days a week, wrapping pretty neatly around debate. It looks like I can get monthly train passes that keep the transportation costs from being prohibitive, and carry the added bonus of giving me a marginal-cost-free ticket into New York whenever I want. There’s no guarantee, but I’m feeling pretty good about it. And even if I don’t get it, it bodes well for future such applications. My interview’s tomorrow.

3. The San Francisco Giants, long my second-favorite team in baseball and my favorite NL team, are one win away from the World Series title, their first in the city I used to work in. While my obsession with their playoff run has been limited to listening on the computer due to not having a TV and generally being lower energy for much of October, I’m still elated to see them on the verge of this milestone, especially coming at the expense of Texas. I can’t imagine how Gris must be feeling right about now.

4. There has been another development which I will refrain from overtly discussing, probably for a long time depending on how things go. But it’s good and has helped turn things around in conjunction with the above.

Happy? Yeah, I’ve been happy lately. For real. Today especially, with that job interview coming in on top. I can look at these four things and think they might not look like much. You might even say they were all obviously inevitable. But in the throes of the last hundred days, not a one of them, let alone all four, felt even likely. That’s the nature of a tunnel.

It’s far too early to declare any sort of emergence from the tunnel and it’s clear that all four of these things are tenuous (well, probably not debate, since that’s pretty well established and no one can undo the accomplishments of the past nor deny the momentum it implies for the future). But it’s a big fat start. And there’s enough factors that even if one or two collapse completely, there’s a lot to build on. It’s rally time, kids. Get your caps on.


Cleaning up my place today and doing the surprisingly enjoyable laundry (having it in the basement instead of down the road or at the laundromat is remarkably fun – this is the closest I’ve lived to a washer/dryer since living at home in high school), I was listening to Pandora. And paying close attention when a song I’d never heard came on.

It was Tom Petty’s new “Something Good Coming”, and I submit it to you as the best encapsulation expressible of my current mood:
Listen to/watch “Something Good Coming” here.

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