Categotry Archives: Upcoming Projects

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Go Green on Facebook to Support Muslims in America

Categories: A Day in the Life, The Wild Wild Web, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , ,

FBImageGreen_525

I have a long rant about Donald Trump’s latest comments to make somewhere around here at some point, but I’m tabling that for now. Partially because so many people have a long rant about Donald Trump’s latest comments. It’s relieving that he’s finally gone far enough that some people think it’s too far. Hopefully that will get us to start thinking about how far those of us who are not Donald Trump have gone in condemning large groups of people and reflect on our own behavior. But rather than lament and reflect today, I’m doing something. At least, starting an online project.

That project is a Facebook movement, starting with changing Facebook profile pictures green. Not all-green, like the old Libyan flag, but to have the green overlay tint, a la celebrating marriage equality or mourning the Paris attacks. Green is the color historically most associated with Islam and Muslims are the folks who need support right now, especially here in America. We are facing a time where hate-speech, threats, and persecution of Muslims is reaching an unprecedented pitch in the United States. I think we should take stock of those who disagree.

Please log in to Facebook and join my new group there. Use the hashtag #GreenProfilePic to get the word out. And until Facebook creates the option and prompts everyone to do it, tinge your own profile picture with green. I recommend using web color #009900 at transparency 70%.

Spread the word.

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Rim to Rim to Rim Revisited

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , ,

With all the pictures I've taken of the Grand Canyon over my many visits, it's kind of criminal that I had to borrow one for this post.  But they're all on the other computer and I have to get to work soon.  Thanks Mike Buchheit and the Grand Canyon Association!

With all the pictures I’ve taken of the Grand Canyon over my many visits, it’s kind of criminal that I had to borrow one for this post. But they’re all on the other computer and I have to get to work soon. Thanks Mike Buchheit and the Grand Canyon Association!

When I was in college, one of my closest college friends, Stina, spent the summer of 2000 working at a cafeteria in the Grand Canyon. It’s one of those quirky little facts of American life that you might not think about that college students from all over the country (and beyond!) migrate to the National Parks each summer for low paying service jobs in beautiful settings. Attendance at the NPs explodes over the summer and the cafeterias, restaurants, and lodges need all the help they can get keeping up. And the big perk is getting to live and play in the midst of what have been designated as the country’s best natural wonders.

The living part was a big fascination for me when she first announced this plan, since I’d long grown up with the notion that no one was allowed to live in National Parks. It’s one of those slight oversimplifications of childhood that really sticks in one’s mind – there were a few particular facts my parents told me in very early childhood that had a powerful impact on my thought processes. I remember that they explained the Soviet Union to me by saying that the government didn’t allow people to move if they wanted to. It’s funny that our family was so itinerant that this struck me as a draconian regulation, the disallowance of someone moving across the country. They did say move both within the country and to leave it, and this was most of what they said about the USSR. That and to point out that Communists were not nearly the “enemy” that Reagan made them out to be.

I think the National Park living fact, like this other fact about where you can move, stuck in my head because I so desperately wanted to move to a National Park after first visiting one. The first was probably Sequoia National Park, or King’s Canyon (the two share a long border and function as the same park, even more than the proximate Yellowstone and Grand Tetons), when I was a young child in nearby Visalia, California. Indeed, I may have even forgotten that I somehow prompted the fact of not being able to live in a National Park by asking my parents point-blank if we could move there. Thus began a childhood obsession with hiking and camping, the latter of which became a bit of a white whale for my upbringing – my parents were just not into camping. But we did go hiking a bunch, and in a National Park whenever possible.

You can imagine my fixation, though, when Stina told me she was going to live in a National Park, if only for a couple months and only in a dorm that made Brandeisian accommodations look spacious (that was the rumor; the dorms in the Grand Canyon turned out to be much nicer than ‘Deis). I think I argued with her that this wasn’t possible and she would have to live just outside of it and it wasn’t until she pointed out that her parents had done the same thing with one of their summers that I deferred to her understanding of the situation and realized that information gleaned when I was five years old may have been slightly oversimplified. Given that I was spending the summer in Albuquerque and (as it turned out) without a consistent summer job, the opportunity to visit and stay in the Grand Canyon for periodic stretches opened up before me.

The Grand Canyon is a roughly 8-hour drive from Albuquerque – or exactly the kind of distance that feels like a reasonable jaunt to a Westerner and something you might as well fly for instead to an Easterner (by and large – I know there are exceptions to these regional archetypes). The first time I went to visit, I did have perhaps my closest near-death experience in a vehicle, wherein I fell asleep in hour 6 (not dozed, but just full-on lost consciousness) and startled awake 30-60 seconds later squarely placed in the opposite fast lane. I think someone’s honking woke me up. I have rarely been so terrified, but I immediately realized that I couldn’t just swerve back into the neighboring lane and I actually put on my turn signal and checked my blindspot before crossing back over the double-yellow to return to the appropriate fast lane for my direction of travel. But then I was there, harrowed a bit, but present in one of the most glorious landmarks known to Earth, and then in its possibly most run-down cafeteria, where Stina was dishing out portions of standard-issue food to fascinated tourists from all over the globe.

I took either two or three trips out there that season, but the big one was to join Stina and several of her co-worker friends on a trip through the heart of the Canyon and back again, going Rim to Rim to Rim. If you haven’t spent a lot of time in the Grand Canyon, and especially if you’ve never been, you may not realize the exact size and scope of the place. It’s 271 miles long, end to end, and 18 miles wide in some places. There’s roughly a mile of elevation difference between the top of the Canyon and the bottom; 1,000 feet more if you’re counting from the North Rim. The South Rim and North Rim are so disparate as to have almost entirely separate climates. The South is high desert; the North feels almost Alpine, covered with evergreens and, in winter, a thick blanket of snow. The bottom of the Canyon is a convection oven, especially in summer, relieved only by the refreshing ribbon of the Colorado river that snakes through the chasm and continues to shape it after millions of years of work.

I could write about the Canyon forever, as I could probably describe the play-by-play of that trip forever. Going Rim to Rim to Rim entails starting at the top of the South Rim, hiking into the Canyon and all the way to the bottom, riverside, then crossing the river and starting up the side of the North Rim, hitting the top of that, and then making the return journey. It’s even crazier than it sounds. The total mileage covered is about 50 overland, but you’re also covering four miles of elevation change and almost none of the journey is flat land. I think all seven of us who made this particular trip together had serious misgivings about our own physical fitness for such an adventure. My knee started having problems on the second day and I made the rest of the journey with a jerry-rigged ace bandage, often described by the rest of the party as looking like a wounded veteran. I had opted out of the communal food plan the other six were sharing, partially because I’m a vegetarian but mostly because I’m me and don’t like most food. I had unwisely opted to bring a block of cheese in my backpack, among other edibles, which had the seriously nasty habit of melting during the day and reforming at night, giving it that leftover-quesadilla consistency at all times. It was, after all, late July, probably the hottest time of the year.

Did I not mention the weather yet? It was 120 degrees in the base of the Canyon. You couldn’t really hike during the day at all and we scheduled most all the hiking for overnight or the first few hours of daylight before the sun got too hot. The trip started at the literal crack of dawn, not counting the 45-minute pre-dawn bus ride to the jumping-off point. The only time in my life I’ve ever been too hot to sleep was during that fist day in the base of the Canyon, hanging around Phantom Ranch when it was about 121 out, and half of us decided to go nap half-submerged in a nearby creek. Our only real daytime hiking was the last leg, trekking back up the South Rim, when we were too exhausted and done with the trip to care and would stop at every mile-house on the way up to remove our shirts, soak them in water, and throw them back on wet. They’d evaporate to bone dry in about 10 minutes.

You can read my first-hand accounting of the trip here, but it doesn’t really do it justice. I was four months into blogging and the lens I used for everything was my tumultuous emotional state (I know, what’s changed, right?). Though the mood swings then were perhaps slightly more justified by the incredible power of the journey. The camaraderie and brief conflicts of sharing a Hobbit-like adventure across a gorgeous landscape, the way the Canyon changes every five minutes and every twenty feet, offering a new perspective from every angle and depth and time of day. The stress of putting one’s body through its hardest paces, not really knowing if you will have to be airlifted out of there on an embarrassing helicopter because you bit off more than you could chew. The scorpions. I got over my fear of scorpions there, because you had to, because they were all over, especially at night, and sometimes you just had to go to sleep on the trail, with a 500 foot drop on one side and scorps on the other and you just couldn’t care anymore.

In the full light of memory, this trip has become legendary. But I kind of think it was legendary in a lot of ways. I have consistently described it as the hardest physical thing I have ever done, and one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, and I stand by those statements. As a general rule, I don’t put a lot of stock in the physical or the athletic, baseball fandom aside, but this was a place where my body and I really converged on the same goals. I was in the best shape of my life for that trip. It was breathtaking and amazing and unforgettable.

I want to do it again.

No, I’m serious.

I heard on the radio yesterday that it was the 96th anniversary of Grand Canyon National Park. Set aside only in 1919 for preservation (I guess it was a National Monument 11 years prior), GCNP is looking forward to its 100th birthday in four short years. And the year after that, it’ll be the 20th anniversary of my own Rim to Rim to Rim journey.

Sometime in that window, between February 26, 2019 and July 2020, I want to go back and do the trip over. I am throwing down. I want to be someone who is capable of doing that at 40 and does it and lives to tell the tale.

You can keep your marathons and your running for running’s sake. Those are great. Whatever goal you want to set for yourself is awesome. I just want my fitness goal to be in the most beautiful place yet discovered by human beings.

This goal is about a lot of things for me. It’s about acceptance of being someone who is going to be around for a while (more on this in another post). It’s about the holy stature of the Grand Canyon in my world. It’s about being 160 pounds at age 35, up 33% from where I was at age 30 (though, granted, 120 was unhealthy too for all kinds of reasons at the time). It’s about needing a specific, measurable goal for efforts to combat aging and weight-gain and all the things that hit Americans in their 30s.

And it’s about recruiting. I want you to join me. I’m setting this goal way way way in the future so we can plan together, if you’re interested. So we can get the vacation time and you can train too and we can all go together when we go. For most of you who might consider this, it’ll be the first time and I promise it will be one of the best things you’ll ever do. But I’m more than open to a reunion tour with anyone who went with me the first time, or anyone who went on their own.

Who’s with me?!

My unbelievably grainy scan of the mid-trip photo of our Rim to Rim to Rim journey in 2000.  Taken atop the North Kaibab Trail.  Left to right: Stina, Andrea, myself, Sarah, Patricia, Chris, and Marketa.

My unbelievably grainy scan of the mid-trip photo of our Rim to Rim to Rim journey in 2000. Taken atop the North Kaibab Trail. Left to right: Stina, Andrea, myself, Sarah, Patricia, Chris, and Marketa.

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It’s Lumi Time!

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , ,

Rumor has it that it’s the most wonderful time of the year. I couldn’t agree more.

You can keep your ornate displays of high-watt outdoor bulbs, your blow-up santas and penguins, your animatronic lowing cattle and rooftop reindeer a-tromping. Save your LEDs, your candy canes, even your wreaths. Late December means just one thing to me: luminarias.

Look, they've got memes for everything these days!

Look, they’ve got memes for everything these days!

It’s hard to put into words just what exactly is so magical about luminarias for me, since it’s really a combination of things. And every year or two, I’ve made another pass at trying to really explain it. If you want the best visual chronicle of the finished results of the display, you can refer to my 2010 post on the then-record 772-lumi display I did that year. My elation at setting a then-record previously, in 2008, is discussed here, which is mostly just a testament to the combination of exhaustion and triumph that comes with putting one of these displays together. And I did some of my most elegant, if briefest writing on the phenomenon in 2012, before the worst year in the last four, when wind pretty much wiped out the neighborhood’s display and destroyed my roof efforts and most of the rest.

But perhaps the greatest accomplishment I’ve notched as a luminarian (luminaire? lumineer?) was getting on KRQE 13 (local news) last year, in this story:

That was my new all-time record of 850. And I’m really considering making good on my wild proposal of over 1,000 this year. After all, part of the point of keeping track of all these records is to give myself something to beat the next season. And for the first time in many years, my parents aren’t protesting, aren’t worried I’m overdoing it, aren’t asking me to scale down a little bit or take it easy. They’re all in for a record-setting display.

So I’ve gotten ready. I’ve officially picked up the first 100 bags of the season with nine days to go.

This is the start of something beautiful.

This is the start of something beautiful.

What is a luminaria? At its simplest, most basic level, it is a lit votive candle inside a sandwich bag, with a little bit of sand at the bottom. That’s it, that’s all there is. And indeed, that itself is one of the most cherished and lovable things about luminarias: their basic simplicity. This is fundamentally a democratic tradition, a poor person’s tradition, as it started in one of the consistently poorest parts of the country. It uses simple materials, each humble in their origins, but combines to make something bright and magical and uniting. Kind of like the best spirit of Christmas itself.

They’re widely accessible. In many neighborhoods of Albuquerque and, I hear, increasingly other cities of the southwest, they are almost universal on paths and walkways, creating an overall communal display that is generally consistent, in theme if not in quantity or quality. And in an era where everything is electric and electronic and bigger and brighter, the simplicity of the subtle flicker of muted candlelight, ‘neath extinguished streetlights and darkened car traffic, makes Christmas Eve a night where people are removed from their own time and transported back to a quieter, darker, slower age. They are best viewed by walking for just this reason, though hordes of buses are toured through the most ardently participatory neighborhoods of Albuquerque, as well as car traffic after a certain hour, with parking lights or less on. There are also all manner of conveyances, as people come through on bikes, horses, horse-drawn carts, and multi-wheeled person-powered contraptions, most of them adorned with small little Christmas lights or other decorations. People greet each other and pause at their favorite displays and warm up by firepits sometimes placed outside.

Last year, we debuted a firepit to go with the massive display that adorned not only the sidewalk and front-yard paths, but fences, gates, rooftops, inner courtyard, and even trees. I have always loved sitting back in the shadows of the front porch and hearing breathy appreciations come across the frosty night air when people see my displays, but nothing prepared me for the thanks my family and I would get when we actually stood outside to tend a firepit and meet many of the visitors. It’s the west, so people just come up and say hi and warm themselves, all but the very shyest who have to be cajoled. And it’s the west on Christmas, so conversations were frequent and often lengthy, always punctuated with encouragement and wonder. I’ve certainly never done these displays for the thanks of the people, though they are, like any public decoration or display, predominantly for the enjoyment of others. And in a deep and dark December when my family desperately needed some acknowledgement and hope, last year’s Christmas Eve shone like a lighthouse beacon across the roiling sea.

Hopefully, the firepit will be back this year. Alex will be there for Christmas Eve itself… she’s helped a lot with bags in the past, but never has been there for layout or actually doing the display, let alone seeing the entire neighborhood. And as I’ve told her, as I tell you now, like so many jewels of the southwest (the Grand Canyon springs to mind), luminarias really need to be seen live to be truly understood. Still or even moving pictures capture a hint of their glory, but only a small hint. The scale, the flicker, the spirit that haunts the candlelit streets and bag-lined lanes really requires a human presence. No amount of bombardment of images, direct or conjured through words, is going to do the real magic justice.

KRQE will be back too, doing an earlier story on creating the luminarias and setting up the display. I’ve long wanted to do a kind of how-to or even some kind of timelapse video of me constructing the whole display. Maybe I’ll attempt that this year, if I have the energy and pace myself properly. Exhaustion is always a factor in these things, though the years have made me more adept at timing, when to take breaks, how to cut down on lighting time, when to start lighting, and a hundred other little subtleties of the practice. Doing the display in the same place year after year helps too, though my Dad’s constant tweaks and improvements on the house he’s made a 15-year masterpiece always keep me guessing.

The project is several parts obsession, a handful of tradition, a dash of pride, a spot of creativity, and a whole boatload of excitement. Even now, just contemplating the hours of work ahead on carefully folding the lip of the bags, scooping sand into each one, plopping a candle therein, and then laying them out with exact spacing and precision, lighting them all, and seeing the display, I am giddy. Few things in this life get me so elated, so heart-racey with anticipation. And unlike so many highly-anticipated things, the end result is even better than the looking forward.

Nine days of magic, starting tomorrow. I can’t wait.

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Decayed Decade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It Doesn’t Really Snow Here

Categories: A Day in the Life, Marching to New Orleans, Metablogging, Quick Updates, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , , ,

A quick click of the refresh button will show you some new imagery around here.

To review, here was the old header:

Header of this blog, 1 October through 10 November 2014.

Header of this blog, 1 October through 10 November 2014.

And here is the new:

Header of this blog, today through question-marks!

Header of this blog, today through question-marks!

Of course the actual versions are much larger, trying to span the entire distance of the page as it appears on whatever of various screen resolutions you may be using. For a long time, screen resolutions were getting finer and finer, but now it seems everyone uses really small screens like tablets and phones to access the web, so I assume that trend is leveling off. I’m not really sure myself, because while I long ago acquiesced to get a cell-phone, I insist on keeping a dumb-phone instead of delving into the rabbit-hole of touch-screens. I suspect this is only the first of many many refusals which put one foot of mine solidly in middle age at the ripe old sum of 34.

It doesn’t really snow in New Orleans. Or it does like every 5 years, maybe. I’m obviously hoping this year, like any winter in which I exist, is one of those rare ones where it snows even where it normally doesn’t. Certainly I can’t complain – last winter in Jersey sent us off to a snowless land quite well with weekly storms over half a foot. That said, our alternative current landing spot was Helsinki, which would’ve finally fulfilled a lifelong ambition to live somewhere where the snow is constant and overwhelming. A place like Buffalo or Lake Tahoe or northern Canada or Minnesota where the question is not if but how much and perhaps, later, will it still be snowing in June. And yes, I felt this way even when I had to drive several hours every weekend as part of my job.

This image is one I found on the Internet of a storm in 2008. The rest of the color scheme is my traditional wintry mix of light blue and light gray, while keeping the general body text style as when I started this theme at the top of last month. Still going with this theme overall (Type-o-Graphy) – I really like everything about it except for the fact that it jump-cuts words while keeping a jagged right justification. I really still can’t figure out who thought that was a good idea. To be fair, I guess I could start doing a solid justify on both sides of the page, but then I’d have to retroactively add that to the last 1,371 posts on this page and … yeah, I don’t really feel like doing that. I just wish it wouldn’t jump-cut words assuming I have a justified page text.

The things we worry about in this life.

In case it wasn’t also obvious, I am mildly obsessed with the New Orleans streetcars, especially the St. Charles line that runs a few blocks from our apartment down the main corridor of Uptown New Orleans, one of the prettiest streets in America for my money. Whether it hosts snow this year or not, I’ve already seen it get decked out for Halloween in full regalia and I can only imagine that Christmas and then Mardi Gras will far eclipse that effort. Though it does seem like an awful lot of people show up in this city for Halloween.

I’ve been watching the new Dr. Who lately, finally, since Alex got us Netflix (I dropped it in 2011 after it had become kind of stressful for me and pressured me into watching screens when I’d rather be reading). The old one was my favorite show for a number of years – reruns were on late-night PBS in my childhood and my Dad introduced me to the show. The new one does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of the original, both in significance and fun. And, like David Foster Wallace writing and most science fiction (these are two separate things – I know that DFW did not write sci-fi), Dr. Who gets me to always think deeply about the larger context of existence and exactly what is being done with our time/energy on this planet, both as an individual (me) and a species (humans). Not always, of late, with perfectly settling conclusions, but I think everyone should have influences in their life that constantly put things in a more universal (and mortal) context.

I wish more people were doing that in blogs, though. I just updated the list of blogs on the sidebar and there’s been a lot of attrition. Which reminds me that I have to figure out how to make future upcoming quizzes (I really want to get the Song Quiz out before 2015, really) more sharable on Facebook, since the “Paste this text into your webpage code!” line, while still an option, is not going to be the primary way of spreading the quiz around.

When I can hire a part-time programming assistant for this site, I’ll know I’ve really made it.

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Return of the Emu

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid News, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , , ,

The Mep Report is back.

An emu, the official mascot of The Mep Report.  The podcast relaunched this week after over 3 years without an episode.

An emu, the official mascot of The Mep Report. The podcast relaunched this week after over 3 years without an episode.

We’re on Facebook. We’re on Twitter. And we have about 127 hours (5.3 days) of recorded show that you can listen to in the archives.

I wasn’t always on The Mep Report. I quit in August 2007 after 86 episodes, which was memorialized with this incredible graphic. I returned occasionally in 2009 and 2010, and then pretty regularly for the last few episodes before we hung it up in June 2011.

The Mep Report is one of the hardest things to explain that I’ve ever done. It’s mostly an hour-long podcast where we talk about anything and everything, stemming from our lives at the outset and usually commenting on politics, sports, and debate. It’s ostensibly sort of a comedy, but also a discussion/debate show, and also just three guys (and sometimes Clea) hanging out.

My partners in crime are Russ Gooberman and Greg Wilson, both of whom were on the Brandeis debate team with me, one a teammate a year ahead of me and the other our Coach. We all lived together, including Clea Wilson (Greg’s now wife), in a place called the Mep House during my senior year in college (2001-2002), known mostly for endless late-night phone-calls on the land-line and the discover of Dark Age of Camelot, which ruined several of Russ’ years and several parts of a few of mine.

Russ and I weren’t always friends. We didn’t know each other very well for the first couple years we shared on ‘Deis debate, mostly because he was partners and good friends with Brad, someone who I had a fierce rivalry with and wholly disrespected as a person (less so as a debater). Russ and I shared an interest in Philosophy and especially Professor Eli Hirsch, one of the greatest professors ever to teach at Brandeis. But we never talked that much until the National Championships in 2000, when we were both so thoroughly disappointed with our respective teams’ performances that we found ourselves in the exact same mood and sitting next to each other in the van during the infamous Van Round after Nationals, when everyone basically just ad hominemed each other to blow off the stress of the season. This lightened the mood a little, but the ice was really broken by me observing that the truck trailing along next to us in the late-night return from Bryn Mawr College was for the Fink Baking Co. and said that “Fink means good bread.”

I made the following observation: “Fink doesn’t mean good bread. Fink means scoundrel!”

And thus launched, totally unplanned, about an hour of Russ and I coming up with sentences where bread and related words for bread were replaced by the word “fink”. Each of them followed by increasing paroxysms of hysterical laughter. We only escalated in such humor while the other people in the van thought we were crazier and crazier.

By the time the van reached Waltham, we were pretty much friends for life.

Fink Baking Company later went out of business, by the way. Apparently they couldn’t convince much of the world of their new lexicon.

A year later, Russ and I moved in together when he was planning on an ill-fated matriculation into Boston University Law School. But before he graduated Brandeis, we fulfilled a semester-long commitment to each other to attend a tournament together. We went to Providence College in January 2001, a small but top-heavy tournament that was only breaking to semifinals. My regular partner, Adam Zirkin, who would win the North American Championships with me the next weekend, was hybriding with a friend of his from Yale.

Russ and I were, if I say so myself, on fire that tournament. We won the first two rounds handily and then ran “legalize all drugs” in third round and totally torched the team with what was, at the time, a controversial case. Fourth round we were 3-0 and hit the team that proved to be third TOTY (Team of the Year) by the end of the season, the famous Yale OJ, and Russ started pre-making fun of the case we were likely to hit when we were chatting with the judge before the round. We both predicted something boring and difficult was on the way despite the fact that it was early-morning Saturday’s 4th round, a classic time for more fun cases. They walked in an presented a case about technical details of insurance law and Russ and I turned and rolled our eyes at the judge and we went on to destroy the case and win the round handily. Fifth round, we hit my regular partner and his hybrid partner and expected a pretty fun round since it was a 4-0 match and we would both likely break. But Zirkin and Russ were not the best of friends and our friend from Yale was not wanting to go easy and they wound up running something that made for an annoying round. We suspected the round would be a coin-toss, but we’d still have high enough speaks to break. We headed to the banquet in great spirits.

We didn’t break. Russ punched a wall as soon as the fourth semifinalist who was not us was announced. Years later, the hole in the back of the lecture hall at PC from said punch was still there.

We had to sit through a semifinal round between our 4th and 5th round opponents (we had obviously lost 5th round and by a wider margin than we expected to miss the break), then watch Yale OJ drop to Stanford before we got the ballots to find out what had happened. And the ballots told us that while Russ had been debating that weekend, I had apparently been speaking in tongues and running screaming from the room. Russ was 4th speaker at the tournament, speaking a 132/7. But we had missed the break by a single speaker point, finishing 4-1, 260/20. Meaning I had spoken a 128/13. This put me 2 points and 4 ranks behind the 10th place speaker at the tournament and would have made me, in a year where I finished 5th SOTY (Speaker of the Year) overall as a junior, the 3rd novice speaker were I still a novice.

You can see the full results of that tournament here.

We looked incredulously at the ballots. Russ and I were pretty evenly matched and felt we’d been especially so this weekend and had complemented each other well. I looked at him beseechingly and asked if I had been terrible that weekend. He said not at all. And then I started berating myself. We gathered in a circle before leaving the tournament and I broke in to Greg’s questions about team dinner to publicly apologize to Russ for ruining his weekend.

“I’m sorry, Russ. When that emu asked you to debate with him, you clearly should have gone with him instead of me this weekend.”

He looked at me quizically.

I continued, warming to the subject. I said “At least he could have gone ‘Mep… mep…. mep.'” And then I got down into a crouch, tucked my hands under my arms in mock wings, and then stuck my tongue out periodically while making the mep sound.

Russ indignantly blamed the PC judges and not me, but I insisted on taking the blame and breaking into meps periodically at team dinner and the ride home.

The emu thing stuck. The rest of that year and the next, when Russ traveled with us frequently as a de facto Assistant Coach, Russ and I would periodically both get down in the emu crouch, quickly developing a pseudo-dance around each other in a circle that was dubbed “the emu-mating dance”. After the first spontaneous outbreak of this, we would look for a random time each tournament to break this out in GA. It never photographed especially well, but its legend still existed on the team a full APDA-generation (four years) after I graduated.

Then came Mep House (hilariously mis-heard as “meth house” by the mother of a visiting friend) and the rest was basically history. When Russ moved to LA, Greg to New York, and I to Berkeley, we periodically would regroup online to chat about life and then turned it into a podcast. We peaked in 2006 when we won the second Podcast Pickle Cast War, an event that got written up in the Brandeis University Alumni Magazine.

I have no idea what TMR 2.0 will look like in 2014, but it was fun doing a show again and I’m sure it will be fun in the future. We will definitely make fun of the world and each other. Our voices will sound even better, since we’re now using Skype instead of semi-pirated Teamspeak gaming chat rooms to talk to each other. Audio quality has really come a long way in the 3.5 years we’ve taken off.

Let the emu soar.

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Marching to New Orleans

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Marching to New Orleans, Metablogging, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , , , ,

From my first visit to New Orleans...

From my first visit to New Orleans...

You may have noticed a burst of color around here. If you haven’t noticed said burst of color, hit the “refresh” button on your browser.

Ah, there we go.

I’m moving to New Orleans in a little over a month. My girlfriend, Alex, and I are heading there so that she can Teach for America. We both acknowledge that there are some things TFA could do better for the way our society is headed overall, but she wants to be a teacher and this seems like an easy way to test that desire and do so in an awesome new place.

I will be leaving my job coaching debate at Rutgers, one that I have unofficially done for 5 full years and officially done for three and a half. I could not possibly be more conflicted about this decision. In fact, I was so conflicted that despite announcing to the team that I would be leaving at the Senior Banquet on May 7th, I did not officially submit my resignation letter until about an hour ago. And I still am kind of in a shocked awe of that decision. I actually decided to leave. I have loved almost everything about coaching the Rutgers team and watching their incredible hard work, dedication, and perseverance pay off in untold unpredicted ways, culminating in this year’s trip to the National Championship Finals. And yet there have been challenges, as there are with any pursuit, and I’m starting to feel restless, as I always do after 5 years anywhere. Anywhere, much less New Jersey.

My relationship with this state is weird and circuitous. I can honestly stay that no state has brought me more overall pain during my time here, but almost none have brought me more joy. I never would have predicted that I would spend so long living here, but I wrote two books, coached for five years, lost a marriage, and started another quite serious relationship. But I’m not here to just tick off milestones and put New Jersey in perspective. It will be a long time before I can fully do that.

Perhaps the better thing, as suggested by the glaring colors and header of this blog as of today, is to look forward to Louisiana. I’m not sure what I’ll do there, but I have lots of ideas. I will probably start out focusing a little bit on poker, since that’s been going really well lately and I hear it can be done as a job. But I’m considering very seriously doing more with writing, with this webpage, and possibly getting back into non-profits. I might take a job in a coffee shop or library to get involved in the community and support some creative pursuits. I might work at Tulane, doing something vaguely administrative. I think I’m done with debate for a while and I’d like my nights and weekends back, but that can always change… someone in Alex’s TFA cohort apparently went to my high school and started the Tulane debate team, which apparently will be seeking to join APDA next year. You can’t make real life up.

It is too strange, early, and overwhelming to contextualize all this transition, except that it feels right. RUDU is poised to be a self-sustaining force for the foreseeable future of APDA at this stage, with two National Finalists returning and a ton of talent convincing the administration to maintain its commitment to the team. My work there could continue, but is largely done. The five-year bells for a location in the back of my head are jangling hard. I have always been fascinated by New Orleans and even have a novel plot set there where I could do some of this alleged “research” I sometimes hear things about. Maybe I’ll finally manage to go on a ghost tour, or even start running them. I think my visions of New Orleans were long defined by its Square in Disneyland, easily the most random but enthralling part of the plastic kingdom. I mean, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and veggie gumbo? I think New Orleans Square might be the only place I’d be more excited to move than the actual city itself.

I will be doing a small tour of the eastern seaboard before I head out to make sure I see those I’m going to miss most before I go. I’ve contacted most folks about this, but please feel free to e-mail so we can hang out before I go. I’m also going to be heading down to the Maryland summer tournament on June 14th as sort of a last goodbye to APDA. Even though it won’t be a last anything, of course, because are we ever really done with APDA? I have every intention of showing up to a tournament or two next year to judge and see RUDU again and get back in the world that has been a bigger part of my life than any other single community.

There is still a tiny chance we end up in Finland next year, actually. And a still tinier chance that we end up in a third, indeterminate, place. But with Alex in training to teach in New Orleans as we speak and time passing just as quickly as ever, this seems like as good a time as any to call it. So there you go. Or, rather, here I go. Again.

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Trains and Translation Twenty Thirteen Tour

Categories: A Day in the Life, Metablogging, Quick Updates, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , ,

TTTT

I’ve changed the theme around these parts to match the above poster for my upcoming summer travel plans. I’m not in love with the title, but I like all the T’s and I really like the imagery and all those skylines. At the very least, I’ve solved the minor dilemma outlined at the end of last month. If you don’t see the new theme, refresh the page.

This whole thing may look a bit dark to you. I prefer the term “dramatic”. Your mileage may vary. I was actually toying with the idea of getting a new theme altogether for this blog. Not a new name or anything, but a new WordPress theme style with a different arrangement of dates and titles and maybe even sidebar changes. The problem is that I really like the sidebar the way it is and had also just spent a fair bit of time crafting the new header image and needed to ensure that there was space for my 800×350 pixel creation, which is the size I’ve been working with since shutting down Introspection and replacing it with this.

In any event, this is a pretty extensive tour, including my first stop in Europe since 2008 (and that was only for a few hours in London!). Obviously, an alternate theme for this whole venture could have been about fish, since most of the travel is related in some way or another to Fish’s wedding, which is the whole purpose for the European jaunt, of course. Somehow the “Gone Fishin’ 2013” concept just seemed a little too much like I’d abandoned vegetarianism, though. It’s a shame there isn’t an activity with the summer implications of fishing that doesn’t involve killing or at least significantly injuring creatures. It seems like it would be fun to fish without the whole death/maiming angle.

Other possible plans for this tour included, at one point, the Bay Area, Seattle, and Alaska. These destinations will all have to wait, or more properly, I’ll have to wait to get to them. There’s only so much one can gallivant if the intent of the summer is to be somewhat restful and, with any luck, productive.

Regardless of which, even if this summer isn’t going places, I’m going places this summer. Neat. If we haven’t made plans to meet up in an above-listed city where you’re going to be, let’s fix that, shall we?

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The Need for Boredom

Categories: A Day in the Life, Read it and Weep, Telling Stories, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , ,

I just finished reading Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, the biography of David Foster Wallace that came out last year. I read it faster than most any book in recent memory, even though I’m not in love with how it was written. I never read biographies and it was at once too journalistic and too incomplete. Despite the use of footnotes (either common in bios or a nod to the subject matter), the style of the book probably deliberately lacked the sprawling, expansive approach that DFW took to his own material. And as a result, the book has a quality of feeling like it’s laying its subject extremely bare. DFW looks stripped-down, sad, pathetic, even ruinous in this retrospective portrait. It also makes it clear that this was not a particularly likable, or good, man. For a literary hero of mine, he can hardly be considered a hero in other regards. His struggles were human and (to me) relatable, but his behavior was frequently reprehensible and his relationship with life and others seems altogether willfully misanthropic. Perhaps most frustratingly, there was decidedly little on the last couple years of his life, the main thing I sought from said biography, still reeling from the absence of info I lamented four days after his death in 2008.

What the book did do, other than make me feel like DFW is decidedly less deserving of respect than previously hoped, is remind me of the urgency of my own writing life. It’s never far from my mind in general, but the period of time since my divorce has been so devoid of inspiration or motivation to write that it’s been like a thick layer of snow has fallen between myself and the searing parts of my desire to put thoughts into words. It’s explicable and reasonable that this winter has fallen, perhaps even that it’s lasted nearly three full years. And coming after the most productive year of my life in writing is both enabling of self-forgiveness (I can take it easy, I’ve done so much recently), but also extra tragic in the wake of feeling like I’d finally figured out and mastered how to write quickly, frequently, and with energy. And of course this resurrects the same guilt-cycles shared by both my protagonist in American Dream On and, apparently, good old Wallace himself, for not pursuing publication basically at all in the last three years, years during which the relevance of both 2009-2010 novels has, if anything, seemingly increased.

The point is that, facing the two months off I have built into my schedule, I’m at a bit of a crossroads. Part of me wants to buckle down and try to churn out most of a novel – I don’t really believe I could do a whole one in such short order, especially when essentially four of the nine or ten allotted weeks are booked with travel. But the other part of me wants to relax, have fun, take it easy, restore energy for the coming year of debate after the easily most exhausting annum on the personal record in my four at Rutgers. And the best idea seems to split the difference, to dabble on BP projects, sending out the last two novels to prospective publishing opportunities, and maybe wade into what the fourth novel would look like. It’s not going to be Project X (last discussed, sadly, in May 2011) as I’m still way too close to that idea to see it objectively and for what it could be. That novel seems a better candidate for the 2030’s at this point, something to cap a career with if I’m ever so fortunate. I’m much more motivated by an as-yet untitled work (Project X, it’s worth noting, is not a title, but a working codename for something that does have a title, but not that one) which would involve my first-ever foray into overt humor, as opposed to humor against a painfully dark backdrop which seems to be my current modus, or at least was in ADO. It’s been taking shape more and more each day and has distilled into something that seems super-relevant to the current state of things and could easily be made more so. But I am terrified, as always, of writing novels in multiple stretches. The 2-3 month binge-write when all other interests are cast aside still has been the only real successful model. But maybe I could construct a few scenes and map out the plot and come back to it in Summer 2014?

The biggest challenge to all these goals, even, arguably, taking fun seriously, is the need to dry out. Boredom is essential to the writing process. This, I fear, is what DFW never really grasped in his career, being so prone to addiction and distraction and never being able to quiet the nagging voices of self-criticism in his own beleaguered head. You need to force yourself to be bored enough to be truly creative. The problem is that a novel is far too abstract and two-dimensional, especially in its nascent phases, to be as captivating as a full-color Internet, as video games and movies and spending time with friends. And the project is far too extensive to be able to see in the same micro-gratification strategies by which most people of my generation and younger are able to complete any work at all. You can string yourself along for a 10- or 20-page paper with the tantalization of the inevitable satisfaction euphoria that comes from completion, but holding out that carrot across multiple months is unforgiving and ultimately ineffective. Yes, novel-completion euphoria is elating, but even the greatest burst of excitement in your life is hard to hold your attention for half a year of slogging.

So to make the process of writing a novel truly work, at least in my experience, it’s important to enforce a certain quantity of boredom upon oneself. One has to get to the point where the novel is truly the most interesting thing one has access to. Doing so enables the essential infusions of creativity and vibrancy that a novel demands, but failing to do so means that one will just end up distracted. So much of DFW’s bio is about his failure to get over this hump. The entire cascade of his life seems an endless bounce from women to drugs to teaching to TV, all shelving his ability to work as he felt he best could. And he also struggled with what I find to be a very tangible conundrum, namely that even if one knows that undivided focus and boredom is the best for the noveling process, the twin of this mindstate is solipsism, and the spiral of lack of human contact threatens to not only drown a person in self-doubt, but also something a little like going crazy. Withdrawing from life to provide insight into it is just the sort of irony fiction writers adore, but it’s a tightrope wire worthy of some far more entertaining act.

Wallace was doubtless aware of these acrobatics and their seeming impossibilities. Indeed, he wanted to directly tackle the subject not just of boredom, but of how boredom can be blissful and inspiring, in his final work, The Pale King. But he was no more able to effectuate it in his own existence than he was able to finish that piece itself, the mystery of boredom’s power ever dangling out of grasp like so much Gatsbian green light. D.T. Max (Wallace’s biographer) doesn’t put forward that the book killed him, but I still think the evidence is pretty clear. That and the electro-shock (*convulsive in new-speak), feller of writers everywhere.

So where does that leave me? I haven’t achieved sufficient boredom on this, the third day off of work, but then again I still have a couple small work projects to wrap up and even day three feels more like a long weekend that summer break. And the very nature of trying to do twelve small projects is almost antithetical to the long work model. It is precisely because such projects have the hallmarks of micro-gratification that they can string one along into doing things that don’t require a full dose of boredom to really get off the ground. It also makes them more appealing and, perhaps, more compatible with the idea of taking it easy this summer, just a little less easy than the last.

The only real urgency in all this, other than the innate writer’s desire to change the world that keeps seeming to get worse, or at least no better, is the sheer volume of stuff I have to write. It’s not competing with the amount I have to read, yet, but I still have four complete novel plots (by complete I don’t mean fully mapped and plotted, but rather general guidelines including beginnings, endings, characters, and general messages) unwritten, three of them without a word to their name. There are a handful of additional short stories in need of either writing or rewriting, as well as some simmering threads of things that could become novels but aren’t there yet. This, near as I can tell (and not to brag, just to observe), is more total novel notions than good old DFW ever developed in his life. But again, his distractable mind suffered more from the lack of ability to zero in and focus than to create. But one became the other.

And maybe I should stop comparing myself to Wallace at this point. For all the similarities I see between us, the differences have never been more clear than in the wake of reading so much about his life. It could also easily be seen as hubristic or egotistical, but it seems clear he was far more worried about such (mis?)perceptions than I ever will be. Indeed, thinking so much about what people thought of him may have been as much of his undoing as his final work. But for me, the issue has always been a shortage of time rather than a shortage of ideas. Ideas I’ve got, spilling out everywhere. It’s the execution, the patience to grind them out, the not letting the beautiful competing ideas of life and what to fill it with, get in the way. And thus so much relies on having the ultimate certainty that someone will pay for that time, or at least that someone wants to read its results, to justify the expenditure of that kind of time, mindspace and, yes, boredom.

Which of course DFW had in spades. He seemed to spend all of his post-publication life complaining that such early success had skewed his vision and rendered him unable to work sufficiently, despite the fact that it seemingly rendered such things more possible than ever. But then he was more of a ruminator than even myself, being able to think himself into a corner even in a wide-open field. Whereas I have experience with same, but am usually able to keep eyes sufficiently on the prize to find the escape hatch, most of the time. And all the while there’s the urgency of all the things those unwritten novels have to say, bubbling up and demanding their months of sequester, their months of suppression of all the fascinating distractions lurking in today’s world so they can have the stage and pass through the keys to fruition.

“True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world.”
-David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

He was writing about processing tax returns, but it’s hard to find a better mantra for the process of writing a novel, especially one whose fate is uncertain, whose outcome is not the surefire date with publication and readership that TPK and Wallace himself enjoyed. The inevitability, perhaps, is that such boredom is part of everyone’s structured life. And the key is to make more of it work for something that feels more meaningful. It is perhaps ironic (isn’t everything?) that my current day job is almost entirely devoid of such taken-as-given rote boredom, but what I aspire to be, truly, requires it.

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May is the Worst

Categories: A Day in the Life, Quick Updates, Read it and Weep, Telling Stories, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , , ,

I just spent a fair bit of time re-reading my posts from past Mays on this blog. There are five years’ worth of them and they ain’t pretty. Actually, some of them are kind of pretty; I think a lot of the writing I did in May 2011 may actually have been some of my best in a while, even if it’s extraordinarily laden with pain. But you get the point. I’m almost never having a good time in May.

Things often end in May. People make jokes about the Harry Potter series always putting undue emphasis and tension on May because that’s the natural end of the school year, but I always feel like reality actually conforms to this pattern. And I know that somehow most people like April and May because they feel this bizarre boost in springtime, easily the worst season of the four for my money. I have lived long enough to know that early April through early June is the worst time in my life almost every year and by far the most consistently bad. Maybe I’m misaligned, but I know my alignment all the same.

This May hasn’t been trend-setting in its badness, but more indicative of the kind of malaise and slow descent this season always seems to mark. I was sick for most of the month – probably about 3 full weeks of it after getting sick on May Day. I suspect I had some sort of infection, though the doctors insisted it was either allergies or an especially lingering cold. I’m still not exactly 100%, but I’ve probably been 95 or 97% the last couple days, so I’m definitely through whatever it was. I’ll probably feel 100% on June 7th, because that’s just how these things tend to go for me. I don’t mean to be fatalistic, but I’m one of the only people I know who doesn’t seem to be a total determinist lately, so being resigned to a bad 70-day stretch every year is pretty good by comparison, right?

In any event, today is an event! My last day at work before my two months off till August (though I will have to come in a few days to tie up some loose ends and trade for the first week in August as you’ll see below…), the end of a desperately bleh month, and the return of my girlfriend from Costa Rica tomorrow. Things are looking up. And it seems to be a May tradition on this blog to post a little graphic indicating my summer “tour” for the year, or where I’m planning on traversing to with the opportunity to make use of the time that I’m given. So I don’t really want to make this exceptional, since this May hasn’t even been exceptional in its badness, just kinda averagely awful…

…But I don’t really have a theme for my summer travel. Part of this May has been just feeling totally uninspired. I am almost starting to get inspired for when I will be inspired and I have lots of resolutions for the summer. You’ve heard some of them before, things like actually sending American Dream On and The Best of All Possible Worlds to agents and/or publishers for the first time in 3 years, or actually writing new fiction for a similarly unprecedented stretch. I need to get more active, even if it’s just walking around Highland Park or something. Or doing yoga again. I would like to read more and more intensely, to spend more time deliberately and investing in projects I want to do. Heck, maybe the Song Quiz will finally happen this summer. Really.

So far all May has brought me is joining Twitter. Seriously. And I think the main thing I’m going to do with that is post links to posts here, assuming I actually start writing more. Which makes this all rather meta and self-referential. Which I guess goes well with starting to read David Foster Wallace’s recent biography last night, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story. Best title ever and makes the synergy between he and Adam Duritz of Counting Crows (such connections discussed here) even more poignant. So far I’m up till DFW’s early grad school years and the writing isn’t really seeming worthy of DFW and CC, but maybe that’s just because I never read biographies and so the flat journalistic and presumptive tone is simply unfamiliar to me. Reading non-fiction, though, always convinces me even more that there’s far more truth in fiction. The things taken as given in non-fiction, the sweeping unjustified generalizations, are kind of shocking. It’s a way of transforming hearsay into fact. All the same, I’m enjoying the experience of the book. I think we all just miss Wallace way too much.

Anyway, I need a title for the tour and a theme because I like pretending my life is a book tour or maybe it’s just that the Summer Tour themology is fun. I think May was way too short on fun. This summer, the first order of business is fun.

But I can share the tour dates and the little graphic will have to wait till (gasp!) June. Thank God it’s going to be June. Soon.

15-16 June: Upstate NY (Wallflowers/Counting Crows show)
17-19 June: New Brunswick, NJ
20-27 June: Los Angeles, CA
28 June – 4 July: Albuquerque, NM

28-29 July: Helsinki, Finland
29 July – 3 August: Paris, France
4-8 August: Berbiguières, France
8-10 August: Paris, France

It doesn’t look too glamorous like that, maybe because it’s not a road-trip and thus the locations are few. But the durations are long and the locations are awesome. So let’s make plans! Let’s have fun. Let’s not revisit May for a while, shalln’t we?

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24 Things I’ve Learned on the Homesick Heartache Tour So Far

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, TH'HEAT 2011, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , ,

So I haven’t written an actual post in a really long time, and you’ve probably noticed that I’ve stopped really making videos too. The thing is that I made a Day 8 video and it was of me crying and I debated about posting it and then I tried to post it three times and the upload kept failing and I sort of took that as a sign that maybe the Internet isn’t ready for footage of Storey driving and crying simultaneously on the New Jersey Turnpike. (Incidentally, Jake and I once saw the band Drivin’ and Cryin’ perform live at Georgia Tech. Unrelated.) Anyway, the upload fail both made future uploads from present location unlikely and sort of interrupted the daily momentum I’d built up for a while. So now I’m entering Day 12 and there are no new videos. Don’t hold your breath. I know you won’t because not that many of you were watching them to begin with. I’m not sure the format really works or is my thing. I like experiments and I will keep doing them. Just maybe not too many more videos. Though I kind of enjoy them as a personal chronicle in some ways. I’d really like to see videos of my high school or college self and those basically don’t exist. Even Gris may have lost the fabled Love Video. I guess there are the old Stanford rounds, but those are a little poisoned at the moment.

Trying to capture every passing moment and twist and turn on the Tour so far is both infeasible and slightly dull, so I think a list is both fitting of my mood, energy/time expenditure interest on this particular evening, and entertaining. It will call to mind a bunch of very random experiences I’ve had that will hopefully, upon future reflection, spring forth a bevy of memories from what this last two weeks have been like without having to itemize each one. Some things are perhaps best recalled as a jumbled mass of joy rather than a sequential turn of linear builds. Of course, memory is pretty darn intractable in my experience, so why I take actions to enhance or alter memory is sort of beyond me. A lot of the rules of how this works don’t seem to apply to my experience or perspective.

Oh, speaking of experiments, I’ve spent a lot of time today deciding that I think I want to get a rabbit in August when I’m back in Jersey. I need to do some research into the availability of rabbits in the area, as well as do some thinking about whether I want to get a show-quality breed or just settle for a mutt or what. I mean, it’s not like I’m going to be taking the rabbit to fairs and ditching debate for 4H. At the same time, there are some really pretty breeds out there and I’ve studied them long enough to have a wishlist of rabbit breeds that is worth consulting when I’m considering purchasing a pet rabbit that may be part of my life for some time to come. But a lagamorph seems to strike the right balance between an attentive furry friend and an animal that does not require constant care over, say, weekends or even possibly week-long trips. The issue of a trip like my present one does come to mind, but next summer is more likely to be set aside for a book than a trip, and there’s always the possibility that people will want to rabbit-sit, especially if he/she is cageable for certain durations. Which itself is another issue – I’m not wild about animals in cages, but if I let him/her romp around the apartment when I’m home, it might be a decent compromise. Even Pando boarded in very small spaces for weeks at a time when we went on longer journeys.

Anyway. Without further dilly-dally, the 24 things I’ve learned on TH’HEAT so far:
1. When robbing a house, one should not attempt to become the Foursquare “Mayor” of that house.
2. Most of the Ryan Adams album “Gold”.
3. Most of the Regina Spektor album “Soviet Kitsch”.
4. I don’t read much when people are around.
5. My phone’s spontaneous-turning-off is 100% correlated to it being closed. If left open, it works permanently until something forces it closed.
6. Many of my friends continue to be better than I am at chess.
7. Dominion may be the most universally liked board game, at least among those who’ve been exposed to it.
8. People are aliens. (To be fair, I’ve known this for a long time – it’s only gotten reaffirmed/reinforced.)
9. Some of the Sufjan Stevens album “Seven Swans”.
10. Some of the Vanessa Carlton album “Harmonium”.
11. It’s a bad idea for me to drive alone for nine hours on the day after a wedding.
12. Waffle House is always a comfort. If I lived nearer a WH, I’d probably be happier. This is probably a good chunk of what got me through 1997-98, no foolin’.
13. I should be more grateful that I still have a lot of hair at age 31 than I am on a daily basis.
14. A laptop makes it possible to not really feel like one is on a trip in the same way that taking a trip before having a laptop (and a cell phone) felt.
15. I don’t regularly eat as often as most people. (Also previously known but re-emphasized.)
16. I apparently have built my entire life around communicating with other people who I like. This has probably been a great decision. It also explains why most of my lifetime travel has been in the US, where these people are, rather than outside it, where other adventures may be more interesting but communication is vastly harder.
17. Lots of people are or seem or claim to be completely fine being partnerless for long and even perhaps permanent stretches of their lives.
18. I have very little in common with the people described in 17. (Probably a known, though 17 itself was just not well known prior to this trip.)
19. While no one else’s obsession with Chipotle burns quite as brightly as mine, most people functionally act as though it does.
20. No one thinks the Bar Exam is fun. This may or may not be related to the fact that there is no “high pass” or commendation for being a top scorer thereon.
21. Everyone is optimistic going into law school. Everyone.
22. The 30’s are when the real medical problems seem to start.
23. The evidence that families are cults seems insurmountable. (Also previously known, but boldly underlined herein.)
24. I have no idea, still, what this trip is going to be like on the long lonely stretch between North Carolina and Texas, nor on the return run between New Mexico and Philadelphia.

I like lists. I can’t even pretend that that was even a little unknown prior. So twenty-four is what you get. Good night for now.

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The Pursuit of Productivity

Categories: A Day in the Life, Telling Stories, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , ,

I think my definition of productivity may be different than everyone else’s.

Granted that the word carries very capitalistic connotations, that the implications of the word convey an image of a factory worker plugging away at widgets or perhaps an office automaton churning through a comically piled Inbox drift of papers, converting them sheet by sheet into a neatly stacked ream of Outbox ex-trees. But still. So much of what capitalism conspires to produce is drivel, is from the Self-Eating Snake School of Consumption. It’s there for profit, and the larger conception of profit, for wasting resources and converting them into items we don’t need. And the biggest resource consumed, of course, is time.

Whereas the truly productive uses of time are those which are geared toward creativity, which innately seems to tense against notions of time-in-the-seat hourly work. Which is not to say that schedules and discipline are fundamentally opposed to getting things done – indeed, longer works and projects require some adherence to a daily grind. But there’s something to be said for the schedule one creates for oneself as opposed to the one that is dictated by others. That a self-regulated sense of commitment is vastly more likely to succeed than one imposed from the outside.

Where a lot of this becomes a struggle is in the realm of my own projects. I have projects so long overdue it’s laughable. The Song Quiz, for example, still claims to be ready to go in early 2010. I designed a new sidebar for this page before this year started and we’re almost halfway through it, without its appearance anywhere herein. In part because it was tied to a new project whose release I have regularly predicted but never achieved. I’m behind on submitting my books to agents and publishers in a new round of excitement that seems to have been unable to launch since July of last year. I have managed to put momentum behind debate, but little else.

Although, of course, this note about writing does remind me that projects spun out into the orbit of thing constantly contemplated and considered but left undone for years do sometimes get finished. American Dream On, for example, was begun in 2002. 2002! And sat as a few-chapter stillbirth, periodically touched up, for seven years before I finally sat down and cranked out the entire work. Not that this is an inspiring model per se, but it does at least offer hope, however possibly false at times, that the distractions of the capitalist-focused life can sometimes be set aside in favor of meaningful and creative production. It feels almost wrong to call that production, so ingrained are the stereotypes about what can be deemed valid output by individuals for society. But there it is. Maybe it’s time to reclaim this word for the good of everyone.

All that said, I have a project I should be working on. That I’ve been meaning to be working on for months, have dabbled in, but haven’t sat down and cranked out. Summer is never the best time to launch projects, but my Facebook contacts are at a critical enough mass and enough of my friends are bored enough (see also Facebook thread of epic proportions, now at 3,276 comments) that it might just do well enough anyway. It’s worth exploring. I can’t promise anything, because failed promises for production tend to get me into a spiral of self-recrimination that leads to video games or reading in bed. But maybe by observing this, putting it here, thinking about it and letting it go, I can do just enough to convince me to be as disciplined about the things that matter to me as I often am about the things that don’t.

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Summer Tour 2011: “TH’HEAT”

Categories: A Day in the Life, Read it and Weep, TH'HEAT 2011, The Long Tunnel, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , , ,

Man, am I glad we’re about to be done with May. May was not without highlights, but was mostly an unmitigated disaster. The first month of being out of touch with Emily has been rough. It appropriately began on May Day (made all the more appropriate by just finishing The Handmaid’s Tale, which I loved and tore through very quickly, though was annoyed by the “Historical Note” addendum) and could not be over soon enough.

In the spirit of all this and more, here’s something to look forward to, already less than a month away. If you don’t like the title, finding it to be outdated, melodramatic, or even self-indulgent, you should know that my first notion for the tour title was the “Not Dead Yet” Tour. Which in some ways I find more fitting, though I like this acronym better, even if the ring is overall more nostalgic and less triumphal than Not Dead Yet might be. There are not a lot of detailed plans for this Tour quite yet, other than possibly daily yoga, since I’m losing my yoga routine with the close of the weekly class this evening, hanging out a bunch with friends, and two weddings (one in Boston and one in Albuquerque). I am still ruminating on a video diary thing as well as a writing project, so stay tuned for lots of neat new possibilities to come.

Anyway, obligatory Tour dates list:

Additionally, it’s worth noting that if you’re along the implicit route of this trip and I haven’t included your city, there’s still some room for amendment. You should contact me about that. The cross-country treks on either side of Albuquerque are going to be a little rushed, but there’s still room for flexibility there and especially on the East Coast portion.

Also changed the theme of the blog to reflect the new summer plans. The image up top is pretty much the best characterization of how I feel about this trip.

More soon.

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No Time to Think of Consequences

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything is harder since I tried to take control.

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

I’m Ready
I Don’t Want to Be Here
I Was an Island
Nothing Left
July 25, 2007
Don’t Go
Try to Understand
Why Bother
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

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Mother, May I

Categories: A Day in the Life, Read it and Weep, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , , , ,

It’s easy to forget what this year was supposed to be about. I don’t even mean all that long ago, before my life caved in and I was left staring at the daily wreckage of my own dreams. I mean after that, but still before now, when I was going to be finishing a book, my fourth novel, in five days.

I last worked on it on 7 February 2011, an overcold day that I spent writing fiction outside of my place of residence for the first time in many years, then talked on the phone to Ariel, then came home and wrote this post and then wound up tabling the project until, apparently, now or even later than now. That was three months ago. The project’s sum total, aside from a pretty thorough and still salvageable outline, stands at 2,433 words. Less than ten pages, generously. The size of a half term paper I used to crank out in a handful of hours before the deadline to convince my professor I was from wherever I was writing about.

May 15th.

I mean, there were other things that happened on the way to today, many of them halfway good. There was that whole job thing that came along just about after, whisking me away from a future in Seattle or Denver or Flagstaff and pulling me in, not unlike a friendly but still somewhat menacing giant anemone, ensconcing me in New Jersey with the promise of a career that was neither writing nor in conflict with my principles and artistic desires. Slowly gnawing on my nutrients while I got numb and placid and malleable and basked in the warmth of something like community before awaking on the rocky shores this May, behind on creativity and with the tidewaters of that community pulling away and out to sea without me. This is water, as good old DFW would say. And you only know it when you’re out of it, for good or for ill.

The Pale King is searingly brilliant, by the way, a 500+-page suicide note that I’m already in love with a fifth of the way through. It’s brilliant like a made-for-TV knife, like a whole novel of nothing but Tim O’Brien water buffalo in unending agonizing parade to their slow demise. It’s improved my quality of life twenty points in two days, single-handedly, if only be reawakening the slumbering knowledge deep within me of the importance of Project X. Its similarities to same are also somewhat troubling, at least in spirit, and it occurs to me that X could be a suicide note if it had to be, probably best reads that way as fiction even if that’s not its purpose in the corporeal world per se.

I draft ten notes a day, mostly addressed to the person I have decided to no longer address, of course, though it’s probably inevitable that she reads this blog (unless she’s really that disconnected, but then again she gets bored very easily and quickly became addicted to things like Facebook and the Internet for their absorbing, time-wasting capabilities, so) and thus even the people I “cut off communication from” (one, to date), are never really out of touch. With me. If. Yeah. I’m going to stop now. And reset.

The point is, simply, that I think a lot about death, in sort of the way normal people (as far as I can tell) think about food. Savoring different textures and anticipating certain flavors. Imagining different layouts and menus. It is not unwelcome, though it is probably less welcome than the average perception of food, it carries some of the same craving without the visceral desire. It is important, sometimes, for me to flag for people that I will not be terribly sad if it happens, even very soon. Which is not to say that I’m willing it and it is important that I not will it for the sake of all you dearly beloved readers and friends who I am truly well aware want the best for me. It is also important that you not respond to the sentence prior to the last one with some snide quirky neo-atheistic response about me not being able to be sad because I’d be dead and the whole point would be to feel nothing. It’s not exactly how it works and even if it were, it would still matter differently. Either you follow or you don’t. The point is, and this is the bottom line, it is no great loss if I go in this condition. There is something to be said for going out on a low note, when one is not missing much.

I bring this up not because I’m on the precipice of something drastic – indeed, I probably spend less time worrying about it than I have in a while – but because I am starting to formulate plans around spending a lot of time on the road this summer. And the road is a dangerous place – far more dangerous than the head of the truly suicidal, let alone something nice and safe like a plane or a ghetto. And in spending a lot of time considering mortality, one can stave it off with the import of writing a note first, then a lengthy note, then perhaps a whole manifesto about life that is long and exhaustive and exhausting and before too long, it’s time for sleep instead of death and the whole discussion can be tabled for another night.

Except here’s the problem: we often never get around to writing that thing, whatever it is, and then we wind up in a three-car chaos outside of Tulsa some night or succumbing to a clot or an aneurysm that no one thought to look for and suddenly the thing that reassured us about staying alive is still left unfinished and makes the whole operation of dying, after all, sad and wasteful. Which is not to turn this into the typical trite “make haste to live” or the deadly “live each day as if it were your last” (not that there is not value to such positions, in part), but rather to observe that those things bear writing when one has the time and, indeed, even the circumspection to perhaps not be all so mopey about the end of living on this planet.

It’s like this: My debate team went to Columbia a week or two ago to renew the old King’s/Queen’s Debate tradition from centuries ago and they hit this case about letting prisoners go if the law they were imprisoned under was repealed. Makes sense, intuitive, fun for discourse, the whole nine. But the team mounted a mighty opp based on the idea that parole boards ought decide when people are ready to reintegrate into society – that blanket amnesty is bad, but the parsing and sorting of parole boards can maximize the chance that those returning to society are healthy and happy and ready to participate. But of course Columbia ultimately won that argument by observing quite simply that this is not our modern standard – parole boards are not invoked at the end of every term in prison, but only periodically and selectively for early release.

Which is to say that a great writing project, a suicide note if you will (regardless of self-infliction, mind), is like a parole board for life. We ought not be let out without taking the time to reflect. Not only does this dovetail quite obviously with my own theological presumptions about a time of review and reflection between worlds (some day that will be set down, but I have confidence enough of you know what I’m talking about that I don’t have to explicate further at risk of this being part of the whole missing piece I’m trying to avoid), but it’s just a good standard. So if you catch yourself feeling okay with death, maybe it’s time to start contributing the last great statement (and yours may not involve words – perhaps you prefer sculpture or interpretive dance) just in case. And if you like life more, well all the more reason to hedge just in case, to indent the sting of potential calamitous tragedy with pre-emptive safekeeping.

And so, with that, it may be time to set a new deadline for good old Project X. Realistically it can’t be before the summer travel, starting to take shape between the 24ths of June and July, but it can be soon enough that each year since I got serious about this aspect of my life again will contribute one book to the stack of those waiting to find traction in the greater mind at large. And writing books for the aspiring author is probably a lot like having children for the aspiring Major League dad. Sooner or later, one of them’s gotta be able to play ball.

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Interpersonal Interaction

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , ,

I haven’t been posting much lately. There’s a few reasons for that. For one, there’s something stemming from my last post that’s still being resolved and I’m not commenting on that matter till it gets sorted out. So that tends to put a damper on my communication when there’s an elephant in the room that doesn’t bear description. But I’ve also been struggling a bit lately to find an equilibrium of time and expression that works for me. The complicating factors of being just shy of turning 31, dealing with multi-continental communication with a certain person, and trying to decide what I’m going to do with the coming year after this May have all weighed heavily. And, lacking conclusions, there is little to say.

So I’m not really going to talk about any of that today. What I do want to focus on is something arguably more important that has crept in through the margins, that has manifest on the sidelines of all these other things I’m trying to decide. A fitting frontispiece for this post might be John Lennon’s old standard “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” But it might also be my old standard “Why do you think we were born on a planet with six or seven billion people on it instead of just one person?” And herein lies the crux of the issue. People. Lots of ’em.

Look, I’m an only child. People often frustrate me. I’ve been known to get into a state after weeks or months on end surrounded by others where I start to crave alone time, start to find ways to force it upon myself whether it’s really feasible or not. Staying up late has a lot to do with that – in times when I’ve been most surrounded, I’ve pushed the limits of late-awakeness mostly out of a need to carve out time that’s only mine, where I can be alone with my thoughts and stack them up, rearrange them, figure out what’s really going on. Losing that ability tends to correspond to what other people claim to experience when they lose sleep – fragmentation of thought, randomness of action. Not good things.

HOWever, the last thing I’ve really been needing of late is time alone. I’ve never had so much of it in all my born days. And this has put special focus on the rare exceptions, the time when I get to interact with others, especially outside of a merely utile context like debate. When I get to just talk and be and exchange ideas and thoughts and feelings with other folks.

People, these times are what life is all about. I have gotten to hang out, on the phone or in person, with a handful of close friends in the last couple of weeks, and I simply don’t understand how any human being could prioritize anything else in their lives above human interaction of this kind. Yes, I know we’re all technically sustained by food and it probably helps to have access to clothing and shelter, but the fundamental roots of our human dignity have to be about access to meaningful conversation steeped in mutual respect and interest. And admittedly debate is a lot like that, in several ways, or gives rise to similar interpersonal conversation once one pushes beyond “how was your round?” But conversations that are the fundamental centerpiece of most all of my friendships, the balanced buffet of bantery jokes and references, shared memories, enlightened understanding, and honest exploration, this is the atomic block of life as a rational agent. This is what keeps us, any of us (I would posit) going. And without it, life quickly becomes gray, drab, brutish, and potentially short.

This is somewhere between +1 and -1 on a 100-point revelatory scale, but the way it’s hit me this week has reframed internal debates about what is important and meaningful in my life. Namely because I’m so surprised that we don’t structure society more around the facilitation of these kinds of deep and profound interactions. There are a lot of market-based commercial reasons to minimize the role of these conversations and exchanges of ideas, of course, though I hardly think capitalism can singlehandedly shut them out. But obviously if we advertise based on the exploitation of insecurities, we hardly want to enable people to derive such satisfaction from individualized free experiences that at most require a meal or beverage over which to stage such an encounter. But that can’t be all that’s thwarting daily recognition and prioritization of these kinds of groupings. Part of it has to be about the difficulty and perhaps non-universality of finding close friends, especially those who persist across years and decades to enable meaningful reunions and catchings-up. Still, most everyone has such friends, even if only in ones and twos.

I do have to blame money, I guess. And as the upcoming quiz (half the images are done and then I have to write all the answers – it could be anywhere from three days to three months away at this point) illustrates, money is a big impediment to most meaningful things. But surely even people dedicated to work or to setting time aside for a passionately pursued pursuit must be able to take a step back and realize that only when exchanging important ideas with those they most care for are they maximizing their potential as a human being. That what they can most remember about one, three, seven, twelve, twenty years past are moments spent in mutual revelation or wonder or admiration with another soul and that everything else in the meantime, save perhaps for a few treasured accomplishments or accolades, is fine print. Seriously, seek out your lasting memories. How many of them are alone? How many of them are all about you only?

Stop reading this blog entry. Call up an old friend. Or go visit them. And you’ll see what I mean.

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Mania!

Categories: A Day in the Life, Telling Stories, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , ,

Kids, it’s been a manic day in Highland Park. Say what you will about the downside of being a manic depressive or bipolar or whatever the trendy new pharmaceutical term for my outlook on the world is, but the upside is GREAT. Always has been, always will be. I don’t have reason to be happy, per se, and I’m not exactly, but I am being productive. Which may be the next-best thing.

Without manic moods, I’m not sure I’d ever get through the mundane drudgery aspects of life – the bare levels of life maintenance whose very existence in a thoughtful, creative life seems to stymie every possible inspiration and outlet for hope. How can we feel good about the potentiality of life’s higher echelons when so much of it is spent running errands or eating or sleeping or cleaning oneself or one’s living quarters? It becomes debilitating quite quickly. But manic moods seem to pave it all over, to flush away the feeling of incumbent drudgery with a hyper-enthusiasm for life and doing and going and being that one would want to infuse in all of life and its aspects. Suddenly, there’s a relentless energy for everything, whatever it may entail, and the to-do list dries up and crinkles and disintegrates in the wind of such adrenaline.

Here’s another thing that’s helped keep me organized, perhaps the best life development of 2009, now a three-year tradition for my office area wall:

You wouldn’t think that looking at twelve months at a time instead of one would do that much for one’s perception of time in its passage, but boy does it do wonders for me. I could probably write a two-thousand word treatise on why this particular vantage on time is so powerful and important for me (especially today!), but I’ll try to summarize briefly instead. Being able to see 365 days at a time really emphasizes the importance and the rarity of each one. One can wave away a month all the time, and one often does, thinking I only have to get through this or that or over that hurdle and a month can be explained away as nothing. But no one is so jaded, cynical, and resigned to do the same for a year. A year is the benchmark of an amount of time that, by its nature, is a Very Big Deal. And looking at the whole year in a snap is a little like looking at the Grand Canyon. One can’t help but be overwhelmed by its stature, its enormity, the vast complexity of its details.

And yet one adjusts – one sees the Grand Canyon as a whole, sees its details as composite parts of something larger, greater, and more important than oneself. Similarly, one’s eyes gradually adjust to the year at a time, to each block of it being something vital to carve importance and meaning out of. One can put the feeling of a day and its length and rhythm in the context of hundreds like it. One can feel a month not as an isolated frame whose edgy abyss can be peered over but never really seen, but as a passage of days surrounded by other days, making planning across months more seamless and fluid. One can also grapple with the finitude of life itself, that one (in this case, I) has (have) only yet been offered thirty of these little wall hangings in which to decorate the whole of a life to date. That eighty (fifty more) would be generous – that but one or only half of this is possible. And thus there is urgency to coloring the days with matters of importance, with good expenditures of time, with investments whose memory will bear reflection and not merely yield to sighs and excuses and shrugs. This is the call to arms of most of my days and perspectives these days (and for some time in the past, if you look through this record), but especially is enhanced by the hanging of all 365 24-hour sets in a row on the wall.

I highly recommend it for your own wall. I also recommend being able to go through an entire grocery shopping visit without crying once, an accomplishment I notched for the first time in six months today. I think I was too distracted by manic focus to think about the larger implications of anything. I have that grandiose sense that I could knock down a menacing statue with a single cross-eyed glare, the feeling that I could actually lift a car over my head and chuck it across the street. Keep your drugs and substances – I experience all the highs and lows I need quite naturally. And no, folks, I’m not actually going to attempt any vehicle-flinging. Not today.

In any case, the high-energy Wednesday has also finally established the deadline of my fourth novel, dubbed Project X as discussed earlier, which will be Sunday, the fifteenth day of May. Given that it’s likely I’ll vacate Jersey on June 1 (or possibly July 1), this will give me a reasonable timeframe to focus on the novel, blending my other duties here and a vague urgency with a slightly more lenient pace (nearly four full months instead of three!) to account for my current emotional bearings. It’ll be a challenging project, to say the least, and is almost certain to be either my most or least commercially viable venture. Which it is will have to be determined by many things impossible to predict at this juncture. But it’s exciting to have a deadline in life – it’s safe to say that pretty much all my best days have come when I have a deadline ahead of me.

Anyone who isn’t manic depressive should really try it. Seriously. I don’t know how you all get by without feeling this way sometimes.

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In the Absence of People

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , , ,

The air is pregnant with impending snow today, the entire high sky taking on a gray-white hue as though snow were the literal product of such a sky being chipped and chiseled into flaky falling flecks. The radar maps say it’s far away still, but the feel of a person as they walk through our three-dimensional metaphor ought outweigh any technological override. Any moment now, the clear paths and piled yards of my frigid neighborhood will find new comrades, paratrooping in to reinforce their ranks.

I’m back in Highland Park, in Jersey for the foreseeable as I try to make my resolve to improve this year a reality, struggling against the siren call of visits to grocery stores and other overlit places I only ventured to in pairs, or not at all. Each week is to be punctuated with the refuge of a debate tournament, the travel and camaraderie and distraction found therein, the opportunity (as especially this last weekend at Dartmouth) for truly elevated discourse and exploration of ideas. The community of college debaters is such a distillation of intellectual vigor and passion that I am frankly surprised more people do not find themselves gravitationally tied to it as I do. No doubt its periodic overcompetitive acrimony is a deterrent, as might be the distractions of normal life and its beckoning stress and responsibility. But given its unmatched ability to perpetuate thought in an exciting way, there’s no place I’d rather spend time and energy, at least for now.

I’m at a crossroads these next few days, determining how to approach what are likely to be my last few months in New Jersey. There’s a need to reintegrate a three-month novel project into my daily routine without it swallowing everything else whole. There’s a need to determine exactly how much unpacking I want to do for a temporary stint in this apartment, what the ratio of energy is between making things more livable here and making the move unbearable at its conclusion. There’s a need to place other orbital parts of my life in their respective aspects, to figure out where things are going and what good uses of time really are. Priorities, trade-offs, balance, perspective. Really, life is never any different than this – these are always the things one must weigh when looking at existence. It’s merely that most people are too busy to look at existence too often, while I have nothing but time.

I guess I look forward to a time when I feel too constrained by other priorities to examine my own priorities. Although I can see the drawbacks of that too, and I must be careful what I hope to see.

In the spirit of trying to get my engines revved, of trying to buck up and plow through the life-maintenance shlock that must be cleared away to get to the good (creative) stuff, in the theme of embracing a life that is controlled almost entirely by other people but can still be viewed from my own perspective, I will close with a video. It’s one I was sent about a week ago by my friend Michael, one that he said reminded him of me and I say reminds me of who I used to be, long before I ever met him. Who I must be again, or could be, or could take a couple pointers from. While we collect more information about life as it progresses, if we’re paying attention, we don’t always improve. Sometimes we go backwards, we lose vision, we lose touch with what is essential. Here’s hoping this can help you restore, as it does me, at least on the margins:

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Die, 2010!

Categories: A Day in the Life, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , , ,

Is there anything so great in this world as a shower? I doubt it. There is something ineffable about the way it focuses one’s mind and thinking, at least sometimes, that makes it the single most consistent source of inspiration, resolution, and clarity that I have access to. You want to go do a cool groundbreaking psychological study? Attach electrodes to the brain and see what channels and conduits open and close as said head is doused by hot water, shampoo, and soap. But for all the collateral electrocution, you’d come up with some pretty amazing results.

In any event, I came to Albuquerque for nigh on a month largely to get a reset on my life. To try to figure out what the swath of damage was from 2010 and to determine what, if any, resolution I could make for 2011. Not resolutions, mind you, necessarily, because although I appreciate the tradition, the whole thing is a little contrived and probably more directional than I could count on myself to be on this trip. But some kind of decision, or decisions, some kind of purpose or at least a path to try to find it.

It’s frequently been a tough trip, as I’ve found Albuquerque to be haunted by memories old and older. Much time was logged before friends arrived and their arrival has not heralded the automatic good times that such encounters used to. Which is not to say that I’ve been miserable or even largely unhappy, nor that others have made me feel that way. Much of my time here has been wonderful and I’ve found my friends and family to mostly be powerful aids in my effort to establish an interest in the future. Or at least to share a meal or a game with, even if it isn’t quite up to pre-2010 standards in my own beleaguered soul. But up until the shower this early afternoon, nothing had really resolved itself. Nothing was funneling or folding toward some purposeful outcome, let alone a set of them. I’ve read a lot, thought a lot, talked a lot, cried a lot, seen more than a few movies. All minor little influences to be sure, but it took falling water to put it all together.

How long any of this will last remains to be seen. It seems literarily contrived in the extreme that the path for the next few months snapped together like the proverbial mosaic gone groutless in the waning hours of the year, with less than twelve to go before a deliriously celebrated transition to the next. The next that, please God, has to be better than this one, though admittedly 2010 was not without accomplishments. Certainly in spite of the disastrous middle times between the accomplishments, finishing my third novel and leading Rutgers debate to a fourth ranking in the nation are not to be trifled with. Indeed, had my marriage persisted, this year could be counted perhaps among my five best, especially since that means it also would have involved our scheduled trip to Egypt. In any case, contrived-seeming or not, temporary wishful thinking or otherwise, a list of directions for the coming annum has sprung up in my head amidst the steamy confines of tile and glass block.

I present them here for the same reason that people have listed such things for time immemorial. Indeed, this blog itself could be considered one gigantic New Year’s Resolution machine, applied evenly to every day or thought or perspective to usher in the accountability and consistency required of making public declarations to any sort of audience. I can resolve to do all kinds of things every minute and the last six months have been aswirl with just that: emotional and mental lines in the sand that were constantly erased and redrawn, moved and altered, bent and broken, till all that was left was a pile of overwrought pre-glass. Now it’s time to apply some heat and pressure, to try to cobble the tiny grains of windblown wreckage into something useful, solid, even stable. Fragile and vulnerable, of course, as all glass is, but at least tangible and visible to the naked eye as something other than infinitesimal fragments.

Here goes:

1. I will not be seeking a part-time job upon my return to New Jersey in January.

2. Instead, I will spend that time ramping up creative pursuits of many stripes as though this time were deliberately spent away from day jobs like 2009-2010. Among these will be escalating the visibility and promotional potential of The Blue Pyramid, with new quizzes and especially the long discussed but still unfulfilled Facebook integration.

3. I will also aggressively ramp up the pursuit of representation/publication for American Dream On and The Best of All Possible Worlds.

4. Finally on this creative front, I will commence work on my fourth novel. Soon after returning to Jersey, I will set a deadline for it as with the past three novels and I will finish the book by the deadline, taking this process just as seriously as the prior ones. The novel has a working title already, but it will be known publicly as Project X for the time being.

5. I will obviously fulfill the remainder of my commitment to the Rutgers debate team, attending every tournament this year as previously planned.

6. Unless significant reasons to stay emerge, I will plan on moving West in the summer of 2011. I will spend time scouting out cities and possibilities, with few to no places in the western thirteen states ruled out. I will plan to return to conventional full-time employment for the year starting in fall 2011, possibly even multiple jobs.

7. Aside from the above, I will not put pressure on myself to do or be or pursue anything else. Which is not to say that I might not also find other uses of my time or energy, but I will keep myself from beating up on myself about any shortcomings outside of fulfillment of the above six pursuits. While I will try to stick to a budget, I will not worry about money, because this plan is financially sustainable. While I will try to volunteer some, I will not berate myself for prioritizing creative pursuits over volunteer time. While I will try to read a great deal, I will not get on my own case if I spend more time playing video games. As long as nothing else interferes with the above goals, it’s fair game.

It doesn’t look like much, now that I have it up there, and a good bit of it was probably already the gameplan in one form or another. But it feels like an incredible relief to have it up and out there, especially #7. I’ve spent enough time in the last half-year contemplating the brink of my own self-destruction that there’s simply no point in not making sweeping decisions to improve the quality and purpose of my own life. I believe that the only really fulfilling aspect of the human mind is the pursuit of creativity. The soul may be fed by love, however painful that seems to be, and even efforts to help others, which all good creative pursuits also are. But the mind requires creativity and the only thing I really value or trust about myself at this point is my mind. If I don’t focus on that, in finding my way back to feeling okay through maximizing those efforts and those pursuits at the detriment of financial concerns or emotional self-flagellation, then not only will I not make it, but there will be no point to making it. I’m in a long, ongoing argument with myself about the value of getting through this. I must arm myself with all the best reasons to go forward.

2010, no one will miss you. Please see yourself out.

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