Archive for the 'All the Poets Became Rock Stars' Category

Lost in the Corridors of the Arena in Blindfolds

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

WALLFLOWERS
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
Sleepwalker
One Headlight
Misfits and Lovers
The Difference

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

Rain King (with Lippy Kids)
Holiday in Spain

Feasting and Dancing in Jerusalem Next Year

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

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
Diagnosis
Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist
None of the Above
Letter of Resignation
Leash
Wellington’s Wednesdays
The Last Last One
Greatest Hits Collection
Sounds Familiar
Anchorless
Fallow
Tournament of Hearts
Sun in an Empty Room
[Anne of Green Gables song]
Reconstruction Site
Plea from a Cat Named Virtute
Aside
Left and Leaving

One Great City!
Bigfoot!
The Reasons
Watermark

8 December – Left and Leaving Show
Everything Must Go!
Aside
Watermark
Pamphleteer
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
Manifest
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!
Benediction
The Prescience of Dawn
Past Due
Everything Must Go!
Aside
[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
Bigfoot!
Reunion Tour
Utilities
One Great City!
Watermark
Reconstruction Site
Our Retired Explorer
Wellington’s Wednesdays
Left and Leaving
Without Mythologies

Aside
None of the Above
Plea from a Cat Named Virtute
Manifest

The Highway is for Gamblers

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.

Maybe.

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

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:

GMail20110721

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

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

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
Baby
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

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

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.

Stop.

Look:
All My Bloody Valentines Cover

Listen:
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

“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

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

“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

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.


Postscript:

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.

This Desert Life

31 August 2010, 3:51 PM | Category: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, The Long Tunnel

I find I have less and less to say with my own voice. The wide applicability of that comment is hard to underestimate. Most music is dying for me, but the few songs that aren’t say everything I could possibly have to say at this point.

All my friends got flowers in their eyes
but I got none this season
all of last year’s blooms have gone and died
time doesn’t give a reason
hey baby do you ask yourself sometimes
what you need to be forgiven
everything that you ever done wrong
is the reason that I’m driven
straight to you

Waiting here for you
wanting to tell you
how I get my ends and my beginnings mixed up too
just the way you do
I thought if I told you
you might want to stay for just another day
or two

(It’s just like answers
that come in small packages that go in the mail)

Waiting for the trains that just never come
beginning to believe in
the disappearing nature of
the people we have been
we have begun to change
into the worst kind of people
so unkind
oh apologies
no apologies
this apology
doesn’t describe
the way
it feels
to feel
for you

Waiting here for you
wanting to tell you
how I find myself
slowly disappearing too
just the way you do
I thought if I told you
you might want to help me to remain
with you

I just wanna stay for a little while
I wanna stay a little while
oh come on come on come on come on

There’s a night life falling down on me
I just feel like a change
beneath the sun in the summer a sea of flowers
won’t bloom
without the rain
but oh this desert life
this high life
here at the dying end of the day

I wasn’t made for the scene, baby
but I was made in this scene
baby, it’s just my way
I don’t wanna go home alone
I wanna come on home to you

Waiting here for you
wanting to tell you
how I line my sky with all the silver I can use
just the way you do
I thought if I told you
you might want to stay for just another day
or two

(Isn’t that just like
disappearing into the sum of yourself
and the person you are disappearing into
it’s like one plus one equals nothing at all
one plus two equals nothing at all
one plus me equals nothing at all
one plus you equals one plus you equals you equals
you and you and you and
nothing at all)

-Counting Crows

Won’t Somebody Save Me Please?: a Desperate Plea from a Loaded Catapult, also known as a Counting Crows Show

All of a sudden she disappears
just yesterday she was here
somebody tell me if I am sleeping
someone should be with me here
cause I don’t wanna be alone

As already indicated, it’s been a crazy last few days. The way things are going, almost everything is becoming believable at this point. But before I knew the extent of the damage to the apartment here or the extent of damage my body had suddenly started taking, I decided to go to a Counting Crows show in Montclair, New Jersey, since they had extra tickets for the 18 August show. And since I’d missed the show I was scheduled to attend on July 31st. And since I needed an emotional bloodletting, of which Counting Crows shows are the best kind I know. And since I don’t care what happens to me anymore. And since I just need to find a way to get through the next eight days, likely in many ways to be the most painful of my life thus far. Those of you who know what’s going on know exactly why that is.

I wanna be the knife
that cuts into my hand
and I wanna be scattered
from here in this catapult
what a big baby
won’t somebody save me please?
won’t find nobody home

I found Montclair, New Jersey to be something of a dying small-town community feel nestled in the midst of an industrial wasteland. This probably sounds a little worse than it is, but I haven’t exactly been in the most flattering of moods lately about anything. Everything looks dead or dying, everything seems to be atrophying, everything has the stench of broken dreams. The miniature downtown of Montclair seems to be built around the newly reopened and revitalized Wellmont Theatre, a pretty nifty little venue long fallen into disrepair and recently rescued. If the fellow line-waiting front-row patrons are to be believed, the ceiling is still in danger of collapse and they have a thin excuse for netting up there to make sure no one takes a direct plaster hit if so. Against the odds, the building remained intact not only while I bought tickets, waited an hour or so in line, and jetted up to the second row on the floor, but even through the duration of the emotional turmoil unleashed when CC and their friends took the stage.

All of these quiet battered voices
wait for the hunger to come
we’ve got little revolvers
and stupid choices
no one to say when we’re done
well I don’t wanna bring you down

This is part of their summer tour and their summer tours lately have been subheaded The Traveling Circus and Medicine Show, an innovative amalgam of whatever three bands they have grouped together, all switching out songs and sets and playing two acts with an encore like a seamless 20-piece band. It’s not exactly my favorite incarnation of the Crows, but it works pretty well most of the time, even when they have an angry joke of a white rapper as the third piece in their triage. There’s a rockabilly sensibility to this manifestation of their live act, but this particular show lacked most of the boisterous highs one would typically expect to come along with that. Adam Duritz seemed more dazed than I felt, often staring into space and almost muttering lyrics in a dejected haze. It wasn’t sloppy or misdelivered in any way, though – it was deliberate, calculated, crafted. It spoke of a person whose life has whizzed past him, leaving him to contemplate the rubble. It spoke to me.

I wanna be the light
that burns out your eyes
cause I know there’s little things about me
that would sing in the silence of
so much rejection in every connection I make
can’t find nobody home

I wept, literally, through six of the songs. Having been to something like ten Counting Crows shows, I have long come to expect that they will move me, that I will find them religious experiences, that the poetry and pathos of the live delivery will shake my foundations and reignite the core of my soul, for both good and for sad. What I am often not prepared for is that even my expectations of transcendence will be exceeded and surpassed. That the phrase “Awareness is Never Enough – It Must Always Be Wonder” is so frequently made corporeal in those unexpected moments of a CC show. What song will they build into what other song? What meaning will be encompassed or recalculated in such a way as to render the entire deepest voice of a song bare in a new and scintillating light? What will cut so hard and so fast to the quick that one’s heart will bleed anew, pouring forth a whole new reason for pouring? This is the emotional breakdown and rebuild, the evisceration and glinting hope, that these shows offer.

I wanna be the light
that burns out your eyes
cause I know there’s little things about me
that would sing in the silence of
so much rejection in every connection I make
I wanna be the last thing that you hear when you’re falling asleep

It was actually Augustana who offered me one of the most painful and beautiful moments when they stuck “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” in the middle of “Boston”. I openly bled tears, taken back to both a moment on a bus in Scotland convinced I was going to die when that song came blaring over the speakers to give me hope and also to the understanding of the song’s original purpose: an open letter to a suicide, committed to voice too late to make any difference for that one but submitted all the same in hopes of saving others. Suddenly the fact that “you don’t know me and you don’t even care” was cut back by the fact that we’re all “stuck in a moment and can’t get out of it”. It was at that moment, after a long soliloquy on growing up in light of “Up All Night” and two songs before “Catapult” that the song selection stopped speaking to me and started being for me, about me, through me. By the time “Time and Time Again” was paired back-to-back with “Richard Manuel is Dead” near the open of the second act, I was slayed and begging for more.

I wanna be the knife
that cuts into my hand
and I wanna be scattered
from here in this catapult
what a big baby
won’t somebody take me please?
can’t find nobody home

It’s impossible to explain everything I’m feeling or thinking or going through now, or was then. It’s impossible to explain the importance of “Richard Manuel is Dead”, Emily’s favorite Crows song, or the precise implications of the way Adam sang “A Murder of One”, centering on a to-me-unprecedented line of “I need to change,” observing and reflecting on the painful nature of growing up through things one shouldn’t have to experience. By the time “Rain King” was offering hope “With a Little Help from My Friends”, I’d already settled in a numb fuzzy-faced coma of crying to the point of catharsis. It was no wonder that I stumbled home to find a dumpster overturned by the storm in the parking space normally reserved for the Prius and would be in the Emergency Room within a few hours, dealing with the extraction of kidney stones. Every day, hour, minute, is its own special trial. And like the singing of a song or the passing of a kidney stone, the pain embedded deep in each moment makes the overall picture impossible to even grasp. No wonder Emily seems capable of such callous calculation and diffident distance. No one could hope to understand what’s happening without living through each second. Even me.

Caravan
Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby
Omaha
[NOTAR]
Up All Night
Stars and Boulevards
Boston (with Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of)
Steal Your Heart Away
Twenty Years

Catapult
[NOTAR]
Why Should You Come When I Call?
You Ain’t Going Nowhere

Four White Stallions
Time and Time Again
Richard Manuel is Dead
Safe and Sound
A Murder of One (with Doris Day)
[NOTAR x2]
Just Like a Woman
Dust
Shot in the Dark
Sweet and Low

Come Around
A Long December (with A Murder of One)
Hanginaround

Rain King (with With a Little Help from My Friends)
This Land is Your Land

(Augustana songs in italics; NOTAR songs not named)

…It Pours

This is getting absurd.

The Counting Crows show was a great experience overall, despite manifesting as an emotional woodchipper that forced me to hysterical tears during at least six songs. I’ll write up that whole situation at some point – I was excited to post the setlist and review after spending a first night here in Princeton.

Turns out I wasn’t so lucky. I went to sleep with a good deal of pain in my left side and it was so excruciating at 5:00 in the morning that it woke me up. I spent a panicky half-hour wanting to throw up and being unable to, then looking up appendicitis, discovering my pain was on the wrong side, and still being concerned anyway. I wound up deciding to head to the ER. After all, no one’s here living with me to talk down from the ledge or reassure me or offer me anything anymore.

Turns out, five hours of hospital later, including my first-ever CAT scan and first-ever IV, that I have kidney stones. Yeah. Also known as perhaps the only human experience more painful than childbirth. Because that’s what I needed about now. A good old-fashioned medical walloping. Hooray.

Lots more doctor’s visits to come to determine why I’m getting them and what I can do to mitigate. If you need me, I’ll be ducking and covering under the bed and trying not to blink.

Submitted Without Comment

14 August 2010, 2:21 PM | Category: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, The Long Tunnel

Our conversation was short and sweet
It nearly swept me off-a my feet
And I’m back in the rain, oh, oh
And you are on dry land
You made it there somehow
You’re a big girl now

Bird on the horizon, sittin’ on a fence
He’s singin’ his song for me at his own expense
And I’m just like that bird, oh, oh
Singin’ just for you
I hope that you can hear
Hear me singin’ through these tears

Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast
Oh, but what a shame if all we’ve shared can’t last
I can change, I swear, oh, oh
See what you can do
I can make it through
You can make it too

Love is so simple, to quote a phrase
You’ve known it all the time, I’m learnin’ it these days
Oh, I know where I can find you, oh, oh
In somebody’s room
It’s a price I have to pay
You’re a big girl all the way

A change in the weather is known to be extreme
But what’s the sense of changing horses in midstream?
I’m going out of my mind, oh, oh
With a pain that stops and starts
Like a corkscrew to my heart
Ever since we’ve been apart

-Bob Dylan

When the World is Silent, the Mind Comes Alive

Twice a week, I drive to New Brunswick from Princeton, a 16-mile jaunt that usually takes over half an hour to complete because of the nature of driving in New Jersey. I head up there in the 8:00 hour to arrive at 9:00 for meetings of the Rutgers debate team, usually returning around midnight as they’ve wrapped up.

There are two ways I can make this trip that are almost identical in mileage:

One is to take US Route 1, a literal straight line road that hearkens back to legends of the tsar drawing plans for a railroad from St. Petersburg to Moscow. While straight as an arrow, the route runs south of both my origin and my destination, adding a bit of time. More importantly, Route 1 (in Jersey, at least) is perhaps the worst four-lane road in America, a bizarre combination of highway lane structures and traffic with endless stoplights. Despite the lights, left turns are strictly forbidden, requiring “jug-handles” where one exits to the right to then turn onto a crossover lane. There are no conventional exits, just jug-handles. And the thing is filled with trucks and Jersey drivers, who remain the only people worse than drunk New Mexicans, murderous Manhattanites, and raging Massachusetts drivers, somehow blending the worst aspects of all three.

The alternative is NJ Route 27, a pastoral winding road whose frequent elevation shifts are outnumbered only by the number of times the speed limit changes between Princeton and New Brunswick. If Route 1 is the express (or tries to be), Route 27 is the local, plowing through the center of random townships and dropping the limit from 50 to 25 with almost no warning. This is a two-laner (one in each direction) and is frequented by these aging gray buses that seem to run local routes in this thickly settled part of the state. There are no trucks, however, and very little traffic at all late at night, when all the lights are green. There are lights, but probably fewer than on the “highway” counterpart.

After doing round-trips on each, I’ve settled into a vague pattern of taking Route 1 up to New Brunswick in the evening and returning on Route 27 in the middle of the night. Route 1 seems to have a stagnant amount of traffic 24/7, which is more palatable in comparison to the fairly heavy traffic on 27 at around 8:30, but less palatable compared to the emptiness of same past midnight. But more than anything, there’s just something peaceful and rewarding about taking 27 home, soaring through empty silent communities like a high-schooler the night after graduation.

Tonight, however, the road was deader than ever. It was ghostly, the kind of night that inspired Ray Bradbury’s story “Night Meeting”, where a Martian and an Earthling colonist cross paths through the midst of time on desolate night roads. The first leaves were covering the road in some places, sent sailing as I would race through in an effort to stay ever 5 miles an hour above the mercurial legal maximum. I think I passed all of two cars going my direction the whole time, both fairly close to New Brunswick, and maybe 5-7 in the other direction the whole way. In 25 minutes.

There is much time to ponder in such settings, though they have a way of dominating the mental space with their own unique offering. We spend so much time surrounded by people, their structures, the possibility of interaction. To be moving swiftly through a voided landscape is at once solipsistic and comforting, calling attention to one’s place in the universe and focus to the significance of each passing minute. The more I noticed my aloneness, the more I felt both isolated and somehow unified with a larger presence and could feel the awareness of the moment pile upon itself.

I had a CD to keep me company, but its significance was only to underscore the larger reality around, not to take center stage. Like Kitaro on a road to Jewell that suddenly became endless and transcendent, with my Dad so many years ago. The songs were like leaves, like the occasional droplet collected on the windshield, to be considered and passed like most days on the wind.

And then, as Princeton approached faster than normal, and cars six and seven northbound, Dave Matthews Band’s “Christmas Song” came on the disc. And the world of silence, of sleepy village churches and big box brand name signs illuminated for overnight advertising of empty stores, shifted. It transformed to a seventeen-year-old kid who made the decision to buy his first-ever CD (after years of accumulating cassette tapes) because it was the only way he could acquire this song he’d heard just once on the radio that had captivated his feelings about Christmas in a way he could handle as a no-longer-Christian. Who had looked everywhere for a tape, knowing that he already had one DMB tape, finally settling ironically for the older album on CD only and wondering how to deal with the technological shift. Who came home and skipped right to the last track, wondered at the trail of lightning sounds that followed the track, played it on repeat most of the night. It was a cold night, beckoning to Christmas still a couple months out, a night not unlike this one. Then there was a play to direct, a year to get through, somehow, colleges and a future to seek (up). Tonight, not so different perhaps, a novel in place of a play, colleges behind but not forgotten, a year to be savored instead of endured. Perhaps life really does get easier over time, after all.

I listened to the last three recitations of the closing chorus in the stopped car in front of my current residence, smiling at the yellow porch light and the barely visible Christmas lights within, decking the top corner of the living room walls. “And the blood of our children all around.” The last fade of notes, the car switched off, and a gathering of paper for the trek inside. Crossing the threshold, I felt the wind swirl behind me and wondered what message it carried from what past or future self. I am never (and always) alone. But tonight, oh tonight, it all seems to make sense.

I went inside to find Pandora staring at me as though she’d been waiting this whole time.

All Wide-Eyed Like the Rest

It was a weekend to examine youth.

Em and I have been watching the Up Series, a continuum of documentaries about 14 British children who turned 7 in 1964. In the first film, they are shown expressing their hopes and dreams for the future, answering a variety of standard questions about the human condition and giving a full range of kids-say-the-darndest-things responses. In subsequent films, their lives are shown to follow or deviate from the prescribed path. While the series was ostensibly made about Britain’s class structure and how opportunities are truly unequal, the films end up being much more about the similarity of people’s lives and, frankly, their simplicity.

Given that Netflix, to which we have recently subscribed, offers most of this series for free and immediate streaming download, Em and I have torn through 7, 14, 21, 28, and 35 in less than a week. Crossing the threshold from 28 to 35 gave pause, as we went from watching people younger than we to older in the span of a scant two hours. And while in many ways this transition was the least overtly noticeable, the aging and especially the confrontation of parental mortality were sobering.

More than anything, the impact of this series has been to further invigorate my excitement about where I am at this particular juncture of my life, knowing it may be the first threshold of those offered in the films that my 7-year-old self would have been proud to see me on. I cannot say enough times how much the pain of crossing 30 is dulled by finally embarking on the steps that I have longed to take since I was very young. Watching these 7-year increments in quick succession is a ruthless reduction of the lives of others and reminds any conscious viewer how much waste and irrelevance compiles into a standard human (especially first-world) life. My nightly writing efforts are my only real antidote, though I am drawing much satisfaction from the debate coaching as well.

Much of the weekend was spent conducting the first-ever Novice Retreat for the Rutgers team. For many hours on Friday and Saturday, we (the Rutgers elders and I) drilled and trained the novii in each speech position and general debate strategy. Friday especially gave me a good taste for what high-school teaching might have been like, as I gave three consecutive 45-minute sessions on how to deliver the first speech for the Opposition. Of course the classes were smaller, everyone wanted to be there, it was three sessions instead of seven, and it was one of my favorite subjects of all-time. But, y’know, close enough.

On Saturday, we were able to conduct practice rounds as well as finish up the training, and I think the novii will be about as prepared for this coming weekend’s novice tournament as any I’ve seen on APDA. With any luck, I’m hoping Rutgers’ drought of reaching the elimination (”break”) rounds will be over by this time next week.

Though the Retreat ran very long on Saturday, costing me the chance to help celebrate Greg’s birthday, it failed to spill into Sunday. Thus we were able to attend the Weakerthans show in Philadelphia as scheduled, after a brief tour of Fish’s house (Em hadn’t seen it) and a lengthy Mexican meal in an authentic dive. The show was great, perhaps the best aggregate setlist for the interests of myself, Emily, and Fish. (Madeleine was there as well, but is less familiar with these Canadians.) But the crowning moment was that John K. Samson finally delivered on my perennial shouted request for “Sounds Familiar”, the greatest Weakerthans song of all-time. Our acquisition of his handwritten setlist (actually the drummer’s, but I presume it’s John K.’s handwriting) revealed that the request had nothing to do with it and it was planned all along, but I’ll take “Sounds Familiar” any way I can get it.

Samson was sick and has put on a bit of weight, but his shiny resilience and abundant joy at performing was still present. We were about three rows back on the floor of the remarkably small World Cafe Live club and were old enough to have parented some of our surrounding attendees. John K. talked a lot and joked with the crowd about requests and seemed genuinely pleased with how nice most of the crowd was. And played a pretty long set considering his condition. Even more than the average show, this Weakerthans set came across as wearied and humble, but resilient, which seems quite reflective of the overall mood in general. The whole world is sick and tired, but we’re not dead yet. And, with luck, we still have something to say.

Night Windows
Tournament of Hearts
Our Retired Explorer
Benediction
Reconstruction Site
Aside
Relative Surplus Value
One Great City! (John K. Samson solo)
Sounds Familiar (John K. Samson solo)
Bigfoot!
Plea from a Cat Named Virtute
The Reasons
Sun in an Empty Room
Left and Leaving
Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist
Manifest

Utilities
Civil Twilight
Everything Must Go!
Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure

As promised, we procured an original setlist. Please note that the encore was changed from “Pamphleteer” to the two closing songs listed above. No other changes seem to have been made on the fly…

Number Nine, Number Nine, Number Nine

Today (defined loosely as from noon yesterday till right now), I:

  • Took delivery on a flat-screen television, which will hopefully never have network or cable TV thereon.
  • Spoke to my parents on the phone.
  • Listened to Barack Obama’s speech and…
  • …Decided that I am against the current incarnation of “healthcare reform”.  (More on this later!)
  • Spoke to Em’s mom in person.
  • Welcomed Pandora back into our home.
  • Ate a bunch of fried food.
  • Had a soda for the first time in weeks.
  • Wrote Chapter 21 of American Dream On, weighing in around that magic 2,000 words.
  • Played “Hero” by Regina Spektor on repeat for some time.

The only difference between these days and the old days is that these days matter. I am writing and that changes everything. My whole outlook on life can be determined through the filter of how much control I have over what I do on a given day and how much of that links to what I feel I was put here to do.

Daily fulfillment is not about the space in between, the margins, even most of the time spent. It’s about intentionality, living deliberately, and whether what is done is part of what should be done. Not on the path there, or some esoteric larger vision of being there, but actually a PART of what is intended overall.

This makes all the difference. And I am grateful, eternally grateful, for every day on this side of things.

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