Tag Archives: Metablogging

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Seventeen Years of Blogging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Way from Home
Subterranean Homesick Blues
Stubborn Love

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

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Start Walking

Categories: A Day in the Life, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, Metablogging, Telling Stories, Tags: , , ,

By any metric, 2017 has been a great year so far.

Now that I’ve said that out loud (on print), in public, it feels like a jinx. And not just because of my erstwhile belief in Mack Truck Time, the notion (reinforced by countless events in my life, really) that as soon as things start to go truly and obviously well, there is a Mack Truck waiting to hit you around the next corner.

I’ve told people that my New Year’s Resolution was to write every day. Simple, no frills. But it’s also a little less absolute than previous such attempts, because I’m not actually trying to write literally every day. The problem with a resolution like that is that failure is cooked right into the formula. It’s not really possible to actually write every day, really. There are migraines and exhaustion, there are, say, impromptu trips to Atlanta, there are days where household chores take over any other possible priority. And for those of us with self-hating shame-spirals who rely heavily on self-intimidation to get anything done, being that inflexible about something important – something that feels like it could be renewing and even life changing – is a bad plan. Every day is going to be different. Every day is going to have its unique challenges. Writing every day is not really an option.

But writing just about every day is. And part of the magic here, the tricky alchemy of convincing oneself to take this seriously while still not holding it to be every every day, is expecting to write every day, but not being crushingly disappointed with oneself on the days when that doesn’t happen. To look forward to tomorrow’s writing if today’s didn’t happen. It’s very hard for a self-hating person to do this. But somehow, in 2017, I’m managing better than almost ever before.

The reason this really feels like a jinx is because the last time I talked about writing in this forum, it was a jinx. A gigantic one. In an effort to update friends and (more importantly) hold myself accountable, I chronicled the first fortnight of my work on the Uber book, which now has a tentative title: Driving for U: Behind the Wheel of a New Orleans Uber. I had written over 12,000 words at a nearly 1,000/day clip, which is often used as the over/under margin for a productive writer. The date was 20 September 2016.

I didn’t write another word of the book in 2016.

As October led to November to December, I spent a lot more time trying to parse why that had suddenly been the moment the wheels came off after I’d projected an end-of-the-year deadline for myself. The jinx theory is convenient and hapless, but of course not what I really believe. Though part of me felt like it was a factor, like looking too directly at my own methodology somehow abridged its ability to be effective. This would sound crazy if there aren’t a lot of real-world parallels: driving, typing, breathing. When one thinks too intently about things that are best done by effortless repetitive rote, they become suddenly challenging and, in some cases, impossible. If you start to focus on the mechanics behind driving a car or even the pulse of your heartbeat, you can think yourself into non-functionality mighty fast.

That was part of it. More of it was that I’d met a literary agent in my Uber and he’d seemed excited about getting a query letter and a little after I put that post up, it became clear he was never going to write back. It was a small stupid setback, minuscule really, not even worth thinking about for veterans of rejection. But it had been a while since I’d queried anyone and I was more fragile than I realized, especially in light of the tangible hope his (drunken) enthusiasm provided. There is a deep conundrum here, especially given that basically every successful writer in the past century has been rejected by virtually everyone in the publishing industry at least once and yet hope/daydreaming provides a profoundly large quotient of the fuel necessary to enable writing consistently significant quantities of text. Say what you will about writing for its own sake and to slake some inner thirst that needs no external validation. You’re kidding yourself, honey. If you felt that way, you wouldn’t write. You would think. That’s what internally motivated intrinsically rewarded writing is called. Thinking. Your urge to put it into text that lives somewhere (a page, a webpage, even someone’s ears for a fleeting moment) is directly correlated to your desire to impact other people. This doesn’t cheapen the exercise. If anything, it makes it meaningful, powerful, it makes it matter. After all, as I always say, there’s a reason we’re not all born on our own individual planet. We are here to save each other.

Did I get distracted by the political situation? Sure, everyone did. Did I get run down by the day to day of driving for Uber and playing poker again and trying to read and trying to coach debate and trying to keep up with housework? Definitely. It’s everything. Writing is the greediest habit I have, the greediest habit I can imagine shy of an addiction to an innately destructive substance. It even puts video games to shame. Those at least can be done casually, the voice trying to make them all-consuming does not actually require you to set aside other activities. Writing, however, demands to be a part of one’s attention all the time. And it requires silencing of distractions, quieting of other uses of time. You have to be bored to write in twenty-first century America, because otherwise more distracting excitements with shorter attention spans will consume your energy first. It is easier to read, it is easier to play video games, to watch TV (even if you don’t usually like it, which I don’t), to walk, to talk, to play, to do anything else. And it’s not that writing is some torturous event that is painful and torments the soul (I guess it is for some; this has never resonated with me). It’s just that writing takes time that is cleared out for no other purpose because it takes more effort and concentration than any other effort. And, frankly, because anyone who’s been through the American educational system associates writing with obligation and procrastination and burden, with getting that paper done at 3 in the morning, with chunking out all your thoughts after a long delay. All writing still feels a little like that. And that makes it very hard to just set everything else aside and be excited about doing it.

There is a counter-weight to this, however. And this, ironically, is what I was trying to gin up when I wrote that blasted jinx piece on 20 September, the piece I hope to God I’m not repeating in some way today. That counter-weight is, roughly, momentum. Because writing is actually fun in the throes of it and it is exciting when the words are coming down on a direct line from somewhere else, bypassing the critical brain, when your fingers are struggling to keep up. And as a project comes together, as the hope/daydreaming gets some flesh and teeth and energy into it, it starts to transform from a vision to something with real shape and substance and tangible reality. And that morphing is exciting as all heck. I’ve written three books in my life and at some point, the tipping point has always been hit where it’s easier to finish than to not finish, where the book is mostly out in the world, where the head is crowning and if the last few pushes are the most painful, at least we know there’s a baby coming so it’s all gonna be worth it. The real alchemy of writing, of being A Writer in the sense that everyone would agree with and no one could dispute, is being able to be in this state all the time. Which, of course, is best aided and abetted by being able to do it full-time, professionally, of knowing that you don’t have to trudge through another job or another use of time that takes away from writing. For some, of course, that kind of freedom and control becomes its own enemy and leads to a lack of urgency, to writer’s block, to stalling out. But for me, I crave it. The entire struggle to write is in drying out my mind enough to make the space available. To clear the decks of all the other life stuff that gets in the way, that requires an occupation to provide food and all the rest. There’s a reason all three books prior were written at times when I was making no income whatsoever. And why the current struggle, to do it with a pseudo-job (driving for Uber) is a key litmus test of transitioning to a slightly stronger model.

Momentum. 2017 has it, so far. No whammy no whammy no whammy.

First of all, here, on the blog, because that counts as writing and it kind of helps me excise other distracting thoughts so the writing on the book itself can be more pure. This is the fifth post of 2017 to appear here. It’s the 18th day. In 2016, my fifth blog post appeared on June 7th, nearly halfway through the year. My first didn’t even show up till March! And yes, I had a day job for that first half of 2016, one I was rapidly becoming disenchanted with. But you know when the fifth blog post after September 20th, 2016 was? It was a month ago. The sixth was two weeks ago. The tenth is this post.

How about the book?

I started writing it again just over a fortnight ago (no whammy no whammy no whammy), on January 5th. In the intervening two weeks, I’ve written 19,279 words (1,377 words/day), which is over 60% of the book’s total so far. This makes 31,700 words in two two-week sessions, with a high-end ballpark figure of 100,000 words total for the first draft. Which is a three-month pace. Which is what I do, generally speaking.

For me, this time, if I can keep it up, it was the promise of a new year. Say what you will about New Year’s Resolutions, but they’re a good excuse. Mostly, when we need to change something, it’s not news to us that we need to change it. We just need a good excuse to explain to ourselves why we’re only changing it now. Is it because 17 is my favorite number and this is the only year ending in 17 I’ll ever live through? Sure, I’ll take it. Is because I just got fed up with my own inadequacy but needed a better story to tell myself? Probably. But hey, we all live off of signs and meaning, whether real or self-imposed.

I haven’t been reading much lately, not nearly as much as I’d like, a casualty of writing and also trying to exercise again (Grand Canyon 2020, baby!) and just getting everything in order. But the other day, flouting the reality of how much energy I have for reading, I checked out The Familiar, vol. 1 by Mark Z. Danielewski. For the unfamiliar (ha!), picture a brick full of inconsistently typefaced, bizarrely laid out text, often spiraling into unreadability. Like a graphic novel without the characters, where the text itself is most of the illustration. This is apparently my light-reading antidote to an effort to write my first non-fiction book.

In my first 70-odd-page flurry of reading it, something fell out of another section of the book. It was the following hand-written note:

I’m going to transcribe it here, in text, for readability and searchability:

You know that thing you have always wanted to do, to be?

The path you were on as a little kid, before middle school, before you ever had a drop to drink or touched a drug.

That thing, that dream.

If you start walking towards that, now, a path will appear, seemingly out of nowhere.

It will. It will open up.

I promise you.

Start walking.

I’m not the perfect target audience of the note, having already never had a drop to drink or touched a drug. It’s New Orleans, after all. But that’s really just window-dressing on the overall message. The message is one I was already heeding, again again again but also for once, when the paper fluttered out of the book. But life is like a horror movie with a trick ending laden with clues along the way. Once you’ve figured it out, everything you see thereafter reinforces your having figured it out. Everything after is a reaffirmation, if you know where to look.

We are here to save each other.

Start walking.

by

My Frustration Runneth Over

Categories: A Day in the Life, Metablogging, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, The Problem of Being a Person, Tags: , , ,

I may have spent too much of 2016 posting on Facebook about politics.

Remember the dilemma I discussed ten days ago about working on entertaining quizzes for millions or serious books for a handful of people? That’s my only defense. Facebook is today’s version of standing on the soapbox in the town square: one immediately gets the attention and reaction of hundreds of people. And for a long-time APDA debater and coach, that means hundreds of people who are interested and interesting, with tons of practice discussing and arguing about issues in a serious (and sometimes snarky) way. It’s a perfect venue for jumping into the open forum.

Except, of course, it’s not a perfect venue. Because my ideas are not, generally speaking, popular. It could be reasonably said that I think most things most people are doing most of the time are in some way wrong. Doubly so for politicians. We live in an imperialist society that believes murdering other people is the best way to “get things done.” That action always trumps inaction, as long as that action comes in the form of a threat, a drone strike, or the spread of unfettered crony-corporate capitalism. A society that slaughters billions of animals for food and clothing, that believes its own citizens are the chosen people who deserve to rule in wealth and power because they happened to be born on American soil. There’s not a lot I look at and say “you know what, we’re doing that right!”

And people don’t like being told they’re wrong. Especially by someone whose opinion is the outlier, is the exception, is discordant with the chorus of self-aggrandizing societal voices that proclaim how America is the best that ever was, is, or will be. That mantric doctrine of our greatness is a great antidote to the self-criticism that is necessary for self-improvement. But it would hardly be fair for me to exhort everyone else to self-reflection without engaging in it myself from time to time. And at a certain point, I have to wonder what good is being done by pressing the shiny blue button to reach out to hundreds of over-educated people and poke them with a stick about this election and the related questions it raises. And it presents a really difficult set of quandaries. On the one hand, I believe in means and not ends, and the means of trying to provoke thought and get people to question themselves is one I believe in. On the other, if I’m not actually eliciting that reaction in much of anyone and am instead just hardening their resolve to fight me, then it seems like a bad use of time and energy. And one that demoralizes both me and those who disagree with me, which is hardly the point.

I would imagine this fatigue is not unique to me. I would guess that plenty of people with vastly more mainstream views have hit the point, perhaps repeatedly in 2016, where they just don’t know what good it is anymore to talk to other people about politics. My Dad and some of the more conspiratorially minded folks out there might argue that this is the carefully constructed reality of 2016 in America: make everyone lose interest in politics by putting up two thoroughly hated candidates and having them argue vitriolically like the whole world hangs in the balance. At a certain point, no one will even care. This is part of what fuels my conviction that about 5 people in each state (not literally) will vote by the end of it – the demoralization factor is just too high of facing another 100 days of intensifying outrage about ClinTrump. But I think my fatigue has a deeper tenor to it when coupled with the realization that no one outside of a narrow band of far-left fringers is embracing what I find to be the most important issues in 2016. Or issue really: let’s stop bombing the daylights out of everything that moves in other countries.

It is horrifying that we live in a nation that can indiscriminately bomb a hundred civilians that we’re allegedly trying to save in Syria and mention of this incident escapes both national conventions. Horrifying. If any other country did that to us, to our special American people, we’d be clamoring for their immediate death at both conventions. Oh wait, we are doing exactly that. Hey, in the end, maybe “they hate us for our freedom” is right after all. Since our definition of “our freedom” includes the right to kill anyone else in any other country at any time and not even notice.

So what is this post for? I guess just to blow off steam. To reach out to the few like-minded people (and there are a few, several even, since my snarky frustrated Facebook posts still get some likes and laughs and whatever emoji are out there to make us feel reaffirmed across the digital divide). To put on the record that if I stop posting where anyone can see or will regularly react, I still felt a certain way and was still upset and still registered my dissent somewhere in the ether. After all, everyone who disagrees with me thinks that voting is not the place for dissent and they sure seem to get frustrated when I use Facebook to voice it. Ultimately, what I’m realizing is that the centrist Democratic movement is just not interested in dissent at all. Just as America will always vilify the next enemy, often an enemy of our own literal creation, as the real biggest, most existential threat we’ve ever faced, so too will the pseudo-left always say that this next Republican nominee is the real biggest, most existentially threatening potential President.

The left is the Chicago Cubs of American politics, always having to wait till next year no matter how promising this year’s candidates seemed. We are Charlie Brown and the Democratic Party is Lucy and we keep waking up on the ground with a concussion wondering how the hell we fell for it.

So here I offer a series of lines I’ve almost posted on Facebook this week, every time choosing not to as I wonder “what’s the point?” and “am I doing more harm to my belief structure than good?” before choosing to let hard-core Democrats just revel in being Democrats in peace…

A note of warning: I am not trying to start a fight. If you are hard-left and dissatisfied with ClinTrump, read on. If you are able to be self-critical about the Democratic Party, proceed with caution. If you are just looking to revel in your love of Hillary and the American electoral system, you should probably go read Vox or Slate or the New York Times right now instead. Seriously. I am not trying to upset you. I am just trying to say this stuff somewhere, quietly, where the people who are open to this can hear me.

-I am so proud to live in a country where every President’s wife can dream of someday becoming President.

-There are plenty of reasons you can choose to prefer Clinton to Trump. Likelihood of starting World War III is not among them.

-Nothing makes it more clear that we need to update the Constitution than hearing every Democratic speech punctuate on “all men are created equal” while they nominate a woman to be President.

-The two major parties in America are obsessed with American greatness. One says America was great before we offered rights to most of our citizens. The other says this moment of unending war and maximum wealth inequality is the height of our greatness. I want a party that says we’re not great, we’ve never been great, and we’re going to have work very hard to even start being good.

-The Democrats lecturing American voters about how Trump is too crass and embarrassing to be President contrasts especially poorly with giving Bill Clinton a keynote address.

-To everyone who posted that outrage about the papers running a picture of Bill Clinton with the headline about Hillary Clinton winning the nomination: Hillary wasn’t even at the convention that day! Are they really going to run a grainy picture of her appearing on the jumbotron with that headline? She chose to make Bill the headliner of the night, to make him the story. You cannot choose to run almost entirely on your husband’s coattails and then feign outrage or claim sexism when the media parrots that narrative. This is why Hillary being the first woman President is so bad for feminism. It presents that image. And the only reasonable response is “well, the first woman President had to use this path to the Presidency,” which is an even worse message for feminism. And not a true one. Elizabeth Warren would have won this nomination in a landslide, and beaten Trump in an even bigger one.

-Facebook really needs to add “eyeroll” to their reaction-emoji slate.

-I’ve clicked on several articles which compare the DNC leaks issue to Watergate, wondering if someone has finally made the proper analogy. But they keep comparing Nixon to the leakers, not the DNC. It was the DNC trying to use every tool available to shut out their opponents and secure a particular election outcome. And if you say “but Bernie never had a chance,” how good do you think the Democrats’ chances were in 1972? Even if you’re right, that’s totally not the point. Nixon still resigned over attempting to rig an election he already had locked up.

-The Democrats really have entirely subsumed the Reagan Revolution mantle. Morning in America. War footing with Russia. Wealth inequality is a-okay. Thanks, Clintons.

-Democrats will always blame the left for everything. They are incapable of seeing flaws in their own series of centrist do-nothing warhawks. If Clinton loses to Trump, the left will be blamed. When Gore lost to Bush, they blamed Nader instead of blaming a candidate so uninspiring he couldn’t even carry his own home state. This is a formula for silencing the left. Democrats are not interested in allowing the left a seat at the table, only in taking them for granted, whipping them into submission, and shaming them for all of their own shortfalls. The Democrats could literally have nominated Mussolini’s ghost this year and all they would do if they lost is shame the left for not falling in line behind this year’s alleged savior.

-Literally nothing is less relevant than the party platform. Like any platform, the candidates just walk all over it.

-I still cannot fathom how the lesson we carry forward from 2008 is that Obama did a good job saving us from ourselves and not that capitalism creates existential disasters out of thin air. Any country less in love with itself would have let capitalism die, sobered up, and worked to develop a new system of ordering society. I would feel sad that 2008 was the one missed opportunity to make sweeping change and fix things, but I know that capitalism will offer many more such opportunities and soon.

-What every Democrat telling leftists to suck it up and wait for 2024 misses is that, if we have 16 solid years of Obama and Clinton, the left will have been utterly eradicated from the party by the end of that. Everyone will look at 2024 and say “well, we can’t risk a leftist – look how successful we’ve been with all these centrists!” There is no plan to eventually incorporate the progressive movement, just to assimilate it into centrism.

-It is hilarious to see Democrats taking credit for progress in the last eight years. I know many people love Obamacare and forget that it was a Republican-authored plan. But gay marriage had nothing to do with Democrats and all of the Democratic leadership disavowed it until the absolute 11th hour when it had already become inevitable. Change does not take place incrementally through political machinations. It is sweeping and it involves changing people’s hearts and minds. The civil rights movement did not quietly work in legislative halls, they took it to the streets and illustrated the injustice of the status quo. If Martin Luther King had taken the modern Democrats’ advice, we would still have Jim Crow, just a slightly milder version, and the Democrats would be shouting from the rooftops how great those slight rollbacks of Jim Crow were.

-Gay marriage is a vastly more radical idea than stopping war. It’s been around a lot less time as a concept and was far weirder to people when first proposed. Why is it just so unthinkable to both major parties that we would ever stop war? There are so many creative ways of influencing world events for the better that don’t involve murdering people. This is literally the only lesson that’s been clear in 6,000 years of human history. Why is it so damn hard for people to internalize?


I don’t know what image to use for this post, but posts should have an image to catch people’s eye on Facebook and Twitter. Which I’m not sure I even want to do, for reasons stated above. Even in quietly venting my frustration, I’m still thinking in terms of getting this out, at least to people who agree in whole or in part. Ah, the problem of being a person. So what image? Here, have a picture of Bernie looking like I feel:

FrustratedBernie

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The Muddy Lens

Categories: A Day in the Life, Metablogging, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Read it and Weep, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Problem of Being a Person, Tags: , , , , , ,

The problem with writing is that it’s all done by writers.

But seriously, it’s an innate flaw to the medium. Though not a unique one, this flaw carries its own particular proclivities and issues stemming from the viewpoints of writers. They have a tendency to care about words. They have a tendency to care very deeply about being a writer and all that perception entails. They are inordinately interested in writers and writing. And other writers and their writing. And various detailed minutiae of the writing process, including how to use it to extract the very best writing.

Not everyone who reads is a writer. Arguably, most people aren’t. And thus we have this conundrum wherein what is most interesting to the writer is not necessarily what interests the reader. But, by definition, writing must be done by writers. Unless, of course, it is done by Snookie. There are, I guess, non-writers who write. But even if they do it very badly, they will eventually become writers. By the sheer process and fact of having done enough writing, one is, like it or not, a writer. And thus the problems entailed above ensue.

This isn’t a unique problem because it is inherent to almost any field of produced media, let alone field of study and perhaps creative or thoughtful pursuit writ large. It is most visible (my opinion) in the realm of movies, where the vast majority (99.5%+) of moviegoers are not filmmakers, but they are subjected, via tautological monopoly, to the whims of filmmakers if they wish to witness films. It seems, probably, least problematic in the art of photography, perhaps ironically vis a vis what happens once that lens starts moving. But there is something quiet and observant enough about the process of photography that we seem to be subjected to relatively few illustrations of cameras, lenses, photographers, and whatever it is that particular interests those behind the (still) camera.

I am speaking somewhat glibly and perhaps not entirely sincerely with all these “subjected to”s. After all, I consider myself a writer. And I sure as hell am subjecting you to what interests me as a writer, which is, if anything today, meta-writing. Or possibly, God help us, meta-meta-writing, since I seem to be writing about the nature of writing about writing, at least at this moment.

But I think there’s something fundamental here, that transcends even the creative arts. Nearly any field or group or category inevitably becomes self-referential and, in America at least, self-aggrandizing. It is in the interests of an insular group, be they a team of researchers or a team of debaters or a team of basketball players, to congratulate themselves disproportionately, to overemphasize the value of their accomplishments and struggles. In some of these arenas, say basketball, there is a small country worth of reporters, fans, and businesspeople all too willing to reinforce this kind of insular self-emphasis. Less so in college debate, perhaps, but the reduced number is counter-weighted by the verbosity and eloquence, in that order. But all of the debating is still done by debaters, and therein lies the rub.

This has application to things that matter very much indeed, as you might have already predicted would be the ultimate direction of this post. I think it’s something we’ve put our finger on, collectively as a society (I nearly said “as a collective society” to be more direct about phrasing before realizing that’s a very misleading representation of the United States at present – we are no such thing), but haven’t quite grasped, let alone articulated. Specifically with regard to politicians. The problem with politics is that it’s all done by politicians. Which sounds almost trite in its 1990s mock-discovery, ignoring the quarter-century since of cascading candidates who want to paint themselves as outsiders. But really. There are things that matter to the kind of people who would seek office that don’t matter to everyone else. There are assumptions that they make and priorities they presume that are not held by the 99.5%+ of us who are, roughly, “the governed”. There’s a little bit of “power corrupts” in here, but it’s more than that. It’s that every profession becomes an echo-chamber. And pretty soon all you can hear are the voices, quite loud, of politicians.

This applies to science, too. I was going to do a separate post about this Ted Talk video that I ran across, somehow recommended for me on YouTube as though the Internet really is learning things about people other than to try selling them the product they searched for yesterday. I’ll link it below, even though it interrupts the train of thought, because it’s someone who knows a lot more about science than I do saying what I’ve always said about science, which is that in the twenty-first century, it’s adopted a hierarchical and unyielding religious orthodoxy that would make most faiths blush. We have fallen so in love with our technological innovations and (albeit doom-creating) mastery of the planet that we cannot question any of the fundamental assumptions underlying the founding beliefs and doctrines of those who put us on this path. Anyway, I think this is enlightening, if not entirely in keeping with the theme. And no doubt many of you will find it laughable and/or offensive. But at least stick it out till the stuff with the constants:

As those of you defending the scientists will no doubt say, possibly for the first time in a list of prior professions/pursuits that you may consider to be empty, airy, and/or blustery, but the scientists are the only ones qualified to do science. You can’t just bring in a writer to do chemistry! And more importantly, as observed before, if that writer did enough chemistry to properly be seen as doing chemistry they would, inevitably, become a chemist. Because part of the learning process requires enough contact with and tutelage by the elders of the field that it is basically impossible to learn enough about the field to not become a part of its echo-chambery flaws.

There’s a place this all gets way more insidious than politics, though. A thing I’ve thought for a long time and have almost been afraid to bring up for its implications about my own slight successes in whatever field they’ve been in (okay, mostly debate). And this thing may be at the core of what is really wrong in this country and maybe all the countries. And I mean really, truly, deeply powerfully wrong, like the root. Like the hard core taproot of what is wrong.

Are you ready?

The problem with success is it’s all had by the successful.

Yes, this applies to wealth, and that’s a big chunk of it, but the myopia of the rich for problems of the poor are pretty well documented and discussed. What I’m saying actually goes way beyond that, though it’s worth observing how wealth and poverty interplay with these things the whole way down. Because finances are not the only way one can achieve success. One can receive acclaim, fame, the respect of one’s peers, awards, even self-fulfillment. And once one is recognized for this success, in whatever form those achievements take, one joins the ranks of the successful and all that implies. One transforms into someone who is repeatedly getting praised for their success, given credit for that success, and asked how they did it as a model to others. And this creates several knee-jerk reactions, all of which I posit may be total myths.

1. The belief that you are the reason for your success. No matter what role luck, timing, or the help of others may have played, the successful (at least in this country) are inundated with the narrative that “you did it!”

2. The belief that this success is actually what success is supposed to look like. This one is tricky and complicated, because it can sound very quickly like we’re not talking about anything. Easiest example I can think of is Presidents who do nothing with their term or make the country much worse, but still get re-elected. They have achieved “success” as defined by their surroundings and context (political party, supporters, voters), but this is a lousy definition of the notion.

3. The belief that anyone could reach this success. This one seems like it should be in high tension with #1, but empirically these myths persist in unison all the time. We revere the winners for being extraordinary, for doing the impossible, and yet simultaneously take copious notes for how we can precisely emulate them. It is the great drumbeat of hope, aspiration, and even the worship we lavish upon those at the top. They just worked harder. They wanted it more. They put in the extra time it took to be better.

Our society is so full of these responses to success that it’s hard to even picture a world without them. I mean, what would it even look like to not revere success? Or to not then apply it to others as a model with the belief that they can get there if they learn the lessons of that success? Questioning this is pure blasphemy, and not just for capitalists. For teachers. For coaches. For anyone. I mean, how else are you supposed to even tell someone to try if it’s not through the lens of how Michael Jordan worked to recover from getting cut from his high school basketball team? (He grew a lot.)

Even Outliers, the Malcolm Gladwell book that is supposed to break down the grand myths of the genius and talent of the most successful people, goes back to a sheer formula of time and opportunity to maximize time. Ten-thousand hours, kid. That’s it. This number has been so often repeated as a mantra that it’s just taken as a proven fact at this point. Play as much as the Beatles, code as much as Bill Gates, and you will become the Beatles or Bill Gates.

I fear we’re at another quandary, though, that getting around this is about as easy as having people who write really good stuff who aren’t writers, or people who can do science well who aren’t scientists. It seems definitional to the pursuit that someone has to pursue it long enough and seriously enough for it to become a part of their identity, or at least for them to sufficiently identify with being that thing that they can adopt its core principles. Even if those core principles include things that undermine the nature of the best development of the thing itself.

The best we can do, probably, is step outside ourselves and try to shed our perspective a little. My mantra in young adulthood was that “truth is vision without perspective” and it still holds true (!) today. And by “without perspective”, I mean “all perspective”. For by having 100% of the possible perspectives, one loses what we mean by “perspective” as an aspect of where one is standing in relation to the object being perceived.

Imagine a tennis ball. The truth about the tennis ball can only be grasped when one simultaneously sees it from all possible vantages. Up, down, left, right, but also inside at every molecular distance. It is, of course, impossible (for humans) and very difficult to picture, for it is a jumbled and confusing collection of seemingly contradictory information. Especially since our image of a tennis ball is a round fuzzy green ball, but much of the truth about it is the hollow inside that we basically never see. There is the old saw about the three blind men and the elephant, but the reality is that everything is the elephant and we are all blind. We are prisoners to our perspective. But we have the power of abstract thought to allow us to step outside it, or at least to try.

That’s all we can do. To write as though we are not writers, to make movies as though we are not filmmakers, to debate as though we are not debaters. Traditionally, when people can actually do these things, they are often called groundbreaking, revolutionaries, even visionaries. And then the real challenge is to wear that success as though we are not successful so that we may, possibly, make a way forward for a world where most people are not deemed to be successful at all in what was never really a fair contest to begin with.

MuddyLens

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15 Years and a Day

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Keepin' it Cryptic, Marching to New Orleans, Metablogging, The Long Tunnel, The Wild Wild Web, Tags: , , , , , ,

Me in New York City, early 2000 (left).  Me in New Orleans, early 2015 (right).  Forgive the tiny image size - I don't have a better or bigger version of the one on the left just yet.  I do, however, still have and wear that jacket.

Me in New York City, early 2000 (left). Me in New Orleans, early 2015 (right). Forgive the tiny image size – I don’t have a better or bigger version of the one on the left just yet. I do, however, still have and wear that jacket.

It is perhaps fitting that I went with Introspection-style dash-bullet-points to summarize my experience in yesterday’s post. After all, yesterday was the 15th anniversary of my opening salvo into blogging, the first post of Introspection. Like so many things done the first time, it wasn’t very good.

It did, however, have a pretty prophetic reference in it, that a dream had entailed details of the film “Magnolia”. Not because I would necessarily post so much about dreams in the coming decade and a half (though there’d be some of that), but because that line from that movie has become such a watchword for this blog. It’s even one of the categories for this post since I am, after all, talking about the year 2000. (Cue Conan O’Brien.) Of course, I butchered the line to make it more grammatically correct and perhaps less zingy. I am told, though I haven’t watched the film in a long time, that it’s “We may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.” Somehow when I first posted in this category in October 2007 (it was my first StoreyTelling post!), I remembered it as “We may be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with us.” Same sentiment, really.

Given my penchant for references, anniversaries, looking at life through a novelistic lens, and seeing time as geography, it is perhaps almost unbelievable, then, that I would launch a brand-new blog on 13 March 2015, exactly 15 years to the day after my personal world turned a bit forever with the opening of public displays of introspection. And that I didn’t even quite realize that was happening for the first few days it was scheduled.

I recently started working at Communities In Schools of Greater New Orleans. It is not my intent to blog a lot about this position or what happens therein – I’m the Director of Development, which is a reasonably sensitive job, and there’s just not a lot of call to talk about my work life in this context given the nature of that work. However, I am super-excited about bringing you details of what that organization is doing to improve other people’s lives, which is the function of our new blog. Launched yesterday. 13 March. The anniversary. I’m sure.

It says something for the separation of work life and personal life that it didn’t immediately occur to me when my boss suggested we launch this Friday that it would be such a significant personal date. Because it’s one of those days, like July 24th (once good, now good and ruined) or July 13th (ibid.) or April 8th (still not sure the roots of this one, but it’s always significant) or June 6th (bad things, man, although also Felix now) that carries weight despite not being a birthday or something. I guess we could throw October 17th in there, but screw that.

Come on, I can’t reference the old blog this much and not have moments of being cryptic, can I?

Anyway, I want you to go read the blog, and like us on social media for regular updates and all that wonderful stuff. It has been a really wonderful project to work on and I’m so excited about telling the story of the organization and especially the kids we serve. Dropout prevention was never a specific passion of mine (though I long aspired to be a high school teacher), but I’ve com to realize that, in this country, it is the primary preventative measure we have to combat all the other direct ills that I care about. Dropping out of high school is the biggest predictor of whether someone ends up homeless, in jail, in poverty, overcome by addictions, you name it. Graduating from high school isn’t a guarantee to avoid those things, but the statistical significance of the benefit is overwhelming. I still care deeply about food justice and poverty alleviation and I believe that this organization is actually doing incredible work on those issues via the best preventative measure we have.

Plus, there will be pictures of kids. Who doesn’t love pictures of kids?

These meta posts observing how long I’ve been blogging publicly and writing posts, usually (in this format) in fits and starts with long droughts and long sustained periods, usually bring up some reflection on the purpose of the approach. I’m not really in a place where I’m questioning the existence of this medium or my use of it (I rarely am, since college, I guess). But it’s good to take stock of the ability to communicate here, to convey a series of thoughts and feelings to try to inspire change. While all writing I have ever done has the goal of changing how people see things toward the ultimate goal of improving our lot in life (as a species, morally), it becomes more clear and overt by starting a blog for an organization with the purpose of communicating the mission and garnering support for it. I don’t see it as that fundamentally different from what I’m trying to do here, honestly, though this also includes a lot of emotional hand-wringing and the intent of simply chronicling a life with all its ups, downs, mistakes, and triumphs.

I’m even more reflective than normal after engaging in earnest as a regular contributor to Clarion Content, Aaron Mandel’s online curation of Durham, North Carolina and leftist politics. He’s long been a gracious supporter of my work and syndicated Duck and Cover for a long stretch when I still was keeping that project up (it may come back someday, don’t give up hope). He’s invited me to be a regular contributor and there’s been a commensurate spike in dedication to blogging here ever since, especially since he’s mostly running cross-posts of the more politically minded content that runs here on StoreyTelling. The index of my new regular feature will be here and I’ll make sure to share my unique posts that end up there on the BP’s social media.

It’s tempting to close these kinds of pieces with a look into the murky fog of the future, something even more inviting in the late winter of New Orleans, when mist is ubiquitous and the spirits seem to gather wispily corporeal presence. But I’m on a crusade against future-mindedness, at least in a long-term personal context. We can set goals for ourselves, like graduating high school or returning to the Grand Canyon to go rim-to-rim-to-rim. But obsessing about where we’ll be in one, two, five, ten years is usually fruitless fretting. It leads to ignoring the moment in front of you, the day you could be enjoying more thoroughly if you weren’t wishing it away. Each day can be long and full and fulfilling, or at least intriguing, if one foreshortens future thinking. I’ve really tried to apply this logic to 2015, not trying to build a grand vision for the year (other, perhaps, than returning to work and the new exciting opportunity at CIS) but to take each day, each moment, as the quiet little opportunity it can be.

I may not be able to forgive people, I may not be able to let go of the past. But daily mindfulness is a healthy target I can try to achieve, for now. And that’s all right for me today. Because today is the only day I need to be all right, right now.

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Revisionist History

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

Think of the past as a mirror...

Think of the past as a mirror…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-E-Mail from Donald Clayton, 8 December 2014

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

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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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Getting Spooky

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

Hit refresh on this page.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Yeah, that’s pretty different. Basically since the inception of this incarnation of my blogging, which was in October 2007 (seven years ago!), I’ve used some version of the WordPress theme Mushblue. Almost immediately after installing it, I started periodically tweaking the colors and changing the header images and pretty soon, the theme was more or less unrecognizable.

This was my first post. And in skimming over it to see how far I’ve come since then, this quote jumps out:

“Change is naturally something that seems scary to most. But change is also rivetingly exciting, and gives us the opportunity to do things differently than we did them last time.”
-2 October 2007

I’ve been kind of afraid to change the theme because I’m accustomed to the versatility I get from using that theme. But I wanted to make a change and take advantage of some of the newer, more dynamic themes that are available on WordPress and have been developed in the last seven years as the web converts to a bit more of a twenty-first century reality.

That said, honestly, when examining this, it looks like I’ve landed in a theme that’s not all that much of a change after all. The header goes all the way from end-to-end at the top and I really like the fonts and some of the stylistic choices and the fact that I can still customize the colors. But there are things I’m not in love with about this format. It does a book-style truncation of words that are too long but still doesn’t justify the text at the right side, which seems like a really frustrating compromise where everyone loses. And it posts both categories and tags at the top of each post, which I’ve been conflating for seven years as the same thing since my old theme only posted categories.

So maybe this one won’t last that long, though it will probably be here for October since I’ve just taken the time to customize it for October. Yay.

It seems like a good time to dredge up all the old theme images, though, if only for posterity, since I was working in the exact same format for the last seven years with the 800×350 pixel headers at the top:

The first header, which kind of reminds me of today's header.  Change always comes in October.

The first header, which kind of reminds me of today’s header. Change always comes in October.

Winter 2007-2008.  I think this is some of the better photo editing I've done.

Winter 2007-2008. I think this is some of the better photo editing I’ve done.

Early 2008.  Actually made after my return from the trip, since I didn't have that sweatshirt or see that elephant until the trip.

Early 2008. Actually made after my return from the trip, since I didn’t have that sweatshirt or see that elephant until the trip.

October 2008.

October 2008.

Mid-2008 until mid-2009.  Made for the depression as it came on and it stayed relevant for a long time.

Mid-2008 until mid-2009. Made for the depression as it came on and it stayed relevant for a long time.

Summer 2009.  For the trip to move across country that Emily and I were making.

Summer 2009. For the trip to move across country that Emily and I were making.

October 2009.

October 2009.

Winter 2009-2010, early draft.  I'm not sure how long this stayed up, if very long at all.

Winter 2009-2010, early draft. I’m not sure how long this stayed up, if very long at all.

Winter 2009-2010, replacement.  It was a little less cheezy than the big snowflake, I guess.

Winter 2009-2010, replacement. It was a little less cheezy than the big snowflake, I guess.

Summer 2010.  Ah, optimism.

Summer 2010. Ah, optimism.

Later summer 2010, in the wake of the separation, obviously.

Later summer 2010, in the wake of the separation, obviously.

October 2010.  Self-explanatory.

October 2010. Self-explanatory.

Fall 2010.  Way more optimistic than I actually felt, but I was trying to commit to a new season at Rutgers.

Fall 2010. Way more optimistic than I actually felt, but I was trying to commit to a new season at Rutgers.

Early 2011.  I was still trying to get reinvigorated about staying in Jersey.

Early 2011. I was still trying to get reinvigorated about staying in Jersey.

Summer 2011, for my roadtrip across the country.

Summer 2011, for my roadtrip across the country.

Fall 2011.  This image is basically about not committing suicide.  There's really no way to dress that up.  It stayed up for 17 months, even as things started improving.

Fall 2011. This image is basically about not committing suicide. There’s really no way to dress that up. It stayed up for 17 months, even as things started improving.

Early 2013, finally replacing the bridge with some acknowledged optimism.

Early 2013, finally replacing the bridge with some acknowledged optimism.

Anticipating summer 2013.  Wound up staying up a lot longer during my blogging moratorium in late 2013.

Anticipating summer 2013. Wound up staying up a lot longer during my blogging moratorium in late 2013.

Summer 2014 until yesterday.

Summer 2014 until yesterday.

Wow, that all takes me back. And now it’s time to try to move forward. If any of you out there who regularly read the blog are so inclined, I would really welcome some feedback about readability and the experience of visiting this website and what you would like to see changed as I try to perfect it. As much as I like it to be a testament to my emotional reality, it’s really a form of communication that is only as effective as its conveyance. I don’t do comments here because of the nature of Internet comments, but you can always e-mail me.

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The Trouble with Memory

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Let's Go M's, Metablogging, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , ,

Yesterday, I told a story here about the 2001 ALCS and the shadow it’s cast over the next 13 years of my Mariner fandom.

There’s just one problem with the story. It wasn’t entirely true.

It was true as I remembered it at the time. “True to the teller,” I believe the phrase goes. But it was a dangerous combination of real memories and the ironclad realism of the Internet’s record-keeping that actually fabricated a memory in the conflation of 2001 and 2000.

You see, 2001 was not 2000.

The story I told was actually about the year 2000, before 9/11 and all it entailed, and about an entirely different ballgame (literally). I can probably be somewhat forgiven for the confusion from some of the details: both the 2000 and 2001 American League Championship Series (ALCS) pitted the Mariners against the Yankees. Both were won by the Yankees. And both, improbably (or probably, depending on perspective) involved pivotal moments in which Arthur Rhodes came on with a late-inning lead and coughed up a pivotal home run that led to a Yankee victory.

But the story I was trying to tell and picture in my mind’s eye was about Game 6 of the 2000 ALCS, not Game 4 of the 2001 ALCS.

The key detail that got me thinking about this was in mulling my post after writing it and realizing that my most vivid visuals of the night in question were definitely situated in Russ’ senior mod. Russ was a senior in 2001, not 2002 like me. The following year, we lived together, in the same house, the fabled Mep House, which had a TV downstairs in the main room on which we played countless hours of FIFA. Yet I distinctly recalled that we were holed up in Russ’ small room of his mod, upstairs, where the infamous Brandeis debate party of that year’s tournament had been held. And as much as I tried to tell myself a story wherein friends of Russ’ were living in that mod and we went over there to watch the game, it made zero sense. We would have gone downstairs to the Mep House where there was more room.

The other thing that didn’t sit well about my constructed recollection was the image of Lou Piniella tapping his left arm. This is the signal to the bullpen to get the lefty out to the mound, but it is not conventionally done on pitching changes between innings. The manager only goes out to the mound to make this symbolic gesture when making a switch in the middle of an inning. Otherwise, he just has the pitching coach call the bullpen and the pitcher runs in while the grounds crew is raking the infield. So as I was reading the play-by-play of Game 4 of the 2001 ALCS and trying to remember the fateful moment, it seemed bizarre to me that Rhodes had been hauled in between innings. I definitely remember screaming at the television while watching Lou tap his left arm. I believe I was screaming “Don’t you dare touch your left arm, don’t you dare bring Rhodes in right now!” during his mound visit.

If only I had some sort of record of my daily feelings and emotions and actions from that period of time in my life to confirm.

Oh wait, I do.

“Sigh. I’m applying for the job of Seattle Mariners’ manager within the week. When Lou ran us out of the inning with a Dan Wilson-based hit-&-run, I shouted at him not to. Much more importantly, when he brought in Arthur Rhodes, I screamed “noooo” at the top of my lungs. Clearly, I’m far more qualified to guide the team with the greatest potential in baseball to their first World Series. & I’ve been telling everyone all week that Rivera was due. & he was. But the damage had been done by incompetent managing (Lou) & pitching (Arthur). Crudbuckets. March is a long way away.”
-18 October 2000

I definitely watched the other game, though I don’t quite remember if it was with Russ or at Mep House. It was just after the Vassar weekend of “Justice!” with Eric Sirota where we ran the tipping case in his first out-round ever. I was a little more succinct in how I felt at that time:

“Damn Yankees.”
-21 October 2001

In the prior game, Game 6 of the 2000 ALCS, the closest the M’s had ever come to the World Series, Arthur Rhodes entered the game with 2 on and 1 out in the bottom of the 7th. The Mariners led 4-3. He promptly gave up a three-run homer, two more hits and an intentional walk, and left down 8-4 without getting a single batter out.

And that was the decisive game. That was the haunting memory, the one that has stuck with me the longest, almost as deep as Edgar’s double in the bottom of the 11th in 1995 or the 9-1 one-game-playoff against the Angels earlier that year with Randy Johnson’s dominance and Luis Sojo’s improbable run around the bases.

I think it was my haste to make the recent post about the poetry of 13 years of waiting and the promise of fulfillment of all that lost time that led to this mistake between 2000 and 2001, aside from all the other similarities. And if I hadn’t been able to find a game wherein Arthur Rhodes coughed up a key homer late at Yankee Stadium in 2001, I definitely would have caught the mistake before it “went to press,” so to speak.

I periodically go through bouts of thinking that the M’s made the playoffs in 2003 because they had such a good year then, but they finished 3 games back of Oakland that season despite winning 93 games. Their record that year was better than 3 playoff teams, including both Central champions and the NL Wild Card (the 91-71 Florida Marlins, who went on to win the World Series that year). We were 2 back of Boston for the AL Wild Card, having survived almost the entire season to be eliminated on September 23rd with a walk-off loss to the Angels. We had had an 8-game lead in the West in June, but it all went away, like the glorious strike season of 1994 (but this time we got to play it out).

I really fear that we’re facing another 2003 season. For all my optimism in yesterday’s post, Kansas City won last night and a fateful pitching change yielded disaster in our game against the Angels, with Lloyd McClendon (who I generally love) pulling Paxton after a fluke single and error put him behind 1-0 in the 7th after a tightly-matched pitching duel. Lloyd elected to signal for the righty, Danny Farquhar, who promptly coughed up a game-ending (functionally) 3-run homer. We lost, 5-0.

It’s September 18th and we’re 2 behind both wild card spots, Oakland and Kansas City tied therein. We have 4 games left against the Angels, 4 against Toronto, and 3 in Houston this weekend.

I’m hoping to be there to see at least some of the Houston series live. Hopefully that will leave more rock-solid memories 13 years hence.

Arthur Rhoes stares down into the murky sands of memory.

Arthur Rhoes stares down into the murky sands of memory.

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Let Me Be Clear

Categories: A Day in the Life, Metablogging, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

I didn't create this image.  I found it on a website.

I didn't create this image. I found it on a website.

After they read yesterday’s post, my parents called me repeatedly to suggest that I edit the post because they were afraid that the NSA was going to haul me off to an undisclosed location for my comment about Malia Obama.

To take a phrase from the elder Obama, let me be clear: I am not, have not, and will not be making threats against anyone at any time for any reason. There are no threats in this blog, nor will there ever be. I am a pacifist. I condemn all violence, anywhere, ever, in all forms, unlike this country and most of its inhabitants, who seem to increasingly be looking for reasons to justify violence, especially state-sponsored violence.

My comment about Malia and the associated writing was intended to hold up a mirror to this country, as most of my political discussion of the United States is trying to do. I have heard all these reports about Israel killing the young children of Hamas leaders, about the United States slaughtering infants and families and children of “militant” leaders in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, undisclosed locations beyond that. And so I wanted to explore a thought experiment of how we would feel in the United States about the relatives of our own militant leader. And obviously this struck a chord with at least my parents, especially my mother, who felt it was something that could get me in trouble.

For me, the troubling thing is not what I said. I think it’s pretty evident that the line “For surely we wouldn’t blame anyone for killing Malia Obama, wouldn’t call that terrorism,” was a sarcastic reflection of how American lives are understood to have value, but the lives of non-Americans are understood to be worthless in this country. I think this is clear to anyone with basic reading comprehension skills, which is not a criticism of the concern of my parents. My parents’ mission statement in regards to me is basically to keep me safe and has been for 34.5 years. This country doesn’t make that job easy when their son regularly expresses free speech in a public forum, I guess. But what does that say about us?

I mean, honestly, what does it say where we have a country with much-vaunted “free speech” rights where my parents spend most of yesterday fretting over whether I’ve used my free speech in such a way that I will be detained indefinitely without charge in an undisclosed location by agents of our increasingly police-y state?

I know a lot of you are saying that this is just a reflection that my parents are paranoid. And as I infamously said in my French Revolution CTY segment in the middle-90’s, “Paranoia is healthy in paranoid times.” But more to the point, maybe they aren’t being paranoid? There are issues like this guy, who was locked up for making an obviously sarcastic “threat” on Facebook wherein he was lampooning, albeit awkwardly, the idea of how crazy he was. These cases are increasingly common, it would appear, though most of them seem to involve teens talking about school shootings. And I guess these folks are all in disclosed locations, but then, you don’t hear about the ones in undisclosed locations, do you?

I mean, what are the limits of this? Is it reasonable for the average politically restive blogger to have to constantly be trying to read the worst possible interpretation of their comments in the worst possible way and wonder how the NSA will take that? And then to make amend(ment)s? Is that the implicit goal of stories like the above and the way people take everything so deathly seriously these days? Is the goal that free speech is sufficiently chilled that we don’t want to discuss any issue more controversial than how frequently we wave the flag and with what level of vigor? Isn’t this kind of self-checking and paranoia precisely what this country was allegedly founded to contrast with?

I’m increasingly thinking this is just paranoia. But here’s a reverse chilling effect for you: If I disappear and send only an awkwardly written text or e-mail saying that I’m okay and don’t go looking for me, then please go looking for me. I will never disappear with only this form of communication as my farewell.

Honestly, that should probably apply to everyone you know.

Some freedom that’s being protected right now.

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My Reason for Reason

Categories: A Day in the Life, Metablogging, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

My friend Ariel isn’t on Facebook. Thus she was inevitably confused by my portrayal of a lot of the Robin Williams reactions in Wednesday’s post about suicide. To her mind, there weren’t a lot of people trying to stifle discussions of suicide and its real causes and she pointed me instead to this New Yorker article, their currently most popular online feature.

Of course, this article opens up a whole related but slightly different can of worms in the way people talk about suicide. Andrew Solomon takes the opportunity to use his piece to gently lampoon the notion that one could even have a reason for killing themselves. Consistently using quotation marks around the word “reason”, he states that an effort to explain why people take this very conscious, deliberate, and permanent act “seems to bring logic to the illogic of self-termination.” He takes as given that no one could have a reason, good or otherwise, for this action, and concludes the paragraph saying “as, indeed, most people who kill themselves have little ‘reason’ other than depression (unipolar or bipolar), which is at the base of most suicide.”

Not only is a lot of this exactly what I was railing against in my prior post, but it smacks of the insidious way that the US media talks about terrorism and other acts they find abhorrent, unrelatable, and thus, they conclude, must be inexplicable. I wrote about this in the context of coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings last year:

“This is why acts of terror are chronically called ‘senseless,’ ‘insane,’ ‘unfathomable,’ and other similar words. You may mistake all these synonyms for just being characterizations of duress and grief, but they are far more insidious than that. These words are carefully chosen to illustrate that the only cause for terrorism is not misused anger or understandable, if abhorrent, desire to stand up and kill for what someone thinks is right, but total incomprehensible craziness. Even though the news also begrudgingly (though decreasingly) reports our many actual crimes against humanity abroad (Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, drone strikes, civilian casualties, military rapes, etc.). Even though we use the exact same means as the terrorists in killing other people, often innocent people, for a broader self-interested cause. When we do it, it’s righteous. When someone else does it, we can’t even think about why.”
-18 July 2013

What Solomon clearly fails to see is how insulting this perspective is on suicide and how demeaning it is to those wrestling with it. He clearly should understand this. He says “Suicide is not a casual behavior; for all that it may entail impulsivity, it is also a profound and momentous step for which many people don’t have the force of will.” And he goes on to praise Robin Williams as intelligent and brilliant, at least via inference, without the slightest understanding that he is saying Williams’ most momentous decision of his life was made, literally, without thinking. That he could not possibly have had a reason.

But reason is behind everything we do in this life, including the decision to end that of our own or others. The increasing narrative abroad in the land seems to be that acts we don’t like should be branded as done without reason so as to disregard them and discredit their doers. No wonder mass-murderers are feeling compelled to leave multi-hundred-page manifestos before they go on shooting rampages and suicide bombers film videos of themselves making explanations. It’s almost like they wouldn’t do these things without the reasons that they find very compelling for doing them. Not only does saying that there can’t possibly be a reason ignore the blatant truth of reality, but it causes us to fail to engage with things that harm society in any way that could lead to fixing them. If the only thing we can do in the face of mass-shootings or terrorism or suicide is to throw up our hands and go “oh, people without reason, guess they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do!”, then we might as well not try to solve or do anything at all.

Which seems, recurrently, to be the point of the way so many people are talking about suicide and why I had tangible suggestions for those actually dealing with it in my last post. Because so many of the people writing about suicide have no earthly idea what contemplating it is actually like, people approach it like a rabid three-headed chinchilla that can’t be tamed but some professional must somehow be able to deal with, maybe, but gosh, that’s so illogical. And Mr. Solomon demonstrates his poor understanding profoundly, with this trite and pathetic conclusion: “Williams’s suicide demonstrates that none of us is immune. If you could be Robin Williams and still want to kill yourself, then all of us are prone to the same terrifying vulnerability.” No, sir. The way you write about suicide shows that you are thoroughly immune. Which is great, good for you. Now please stop talking about this so that people who actually struggle can speak about the actual experience and what it really feels like.

I am not criticizing my friend Ariel for sending me this article, but I also know that she and I are on opposite sides of the cup-fullness debate. And I think this article may help a lot of people who have no preliminary comprehension of suicidalism feel like they are getting an understanding of the phenomenon. But it is wrong-headed to say that rational, intelligent, suffering people have no reasons for the choice they make as though depression were some kind of Imperius Curse that just forced them to have no alternative. Thousands of suicidal people who don’t die every day are proof that there is a choice and thousands of suicide notes are proof that there are reasons.

I’m curious whether Mr. Solomon wrote his piece before or after the revelation that Robin Williams was facing a Parkinson’s diagnosis on top of his other struggles and had years of slow degeneration to look forward to. I wonder if that meets his “reason” criterion or if we could learn that Williams was terminal and experiencing massive trauma in every single nerve-ending and Solomon would still brazenly trudge on in the belief that self-termination is always the ultimate proof that people can act without reasons.

I’ve been trying to think of a way to tie this issue to the Ferguson, Missouri question and how people are discussing it, but I don’t think I can really get there. I’m honestly exhausted with defending the notion that suicidal people may have good reasons to be sad, upset, and yes, even consider ending their own lives. I would like to talk about happier topics, like the Mariners’ possible playoff run and more intricacies of New Orleans, but my anger about how people are discussing this topic is having trouble subsiding.

The reason that I want to understand is why people feel so much better if they can just say that something is totally unreasonable. Maybe it’s coming from a debate background where everything is on the table and anything can be defended in one way or another that makes this notion so alien to me, but the idea that one can just dismiss out-of-hand the idea that another person has reasons for what they’re doing is the definition of unobservant behavior to me. You may not like the reasons and the reasons may not make perfect sense or even be right. But there are reasons for everything a person does. It’s kind of what defines a person.

But I guess if we’re all allegedly just materialist machines, then the mainstream belief is that thought and reason don’t exist at all. There’s only the machine, whose goal is survival and procreation, and it is either working as intended or broken. And any action that interferes with the goal is defined as being broken, so please make sure you go to the mechanic to get tuned up if you’re broken! You may think this is an oversimplification, but it’s a lot like what the logic of this mentality sounds like to me. And it should scare you if you believe in free will or non-conformity or even just a notion of basic personal liberties, at least a little. People are people, not machines. Hopelessly more complicated and always acting with reasons. You don’t have to like the reasons or agree with them, but it is so doggone demeaning to say they aren’t there.

This is not a picture of a suicidal person.

This is not a picture of a suicidal person.

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Elegy for AC

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Hypothetically Speaking, Know When to Fold 'Em, Marching to New Orleans, Metablogging, Tags: , , , , ,

I didn't take this, but I might as well have.

I didn't take this, but I might as well have.

The first month I lived in New Jersey, Fish and I went to see Counting Crows play at the Borgata and then stayed up most all of the night playing poker. I wrote about it here, at the time. The month I moved away, we did the same thing. It’s just one of those things. Like the only PJ’s Coffee of New Orleans on Earth outside of the southern US being in Highland Park, New Jersey when I moved there and closing the month I move to New Orleans. It’s enough to make you a solipsist, or at least to be very focused with one’s own life, something Counting Crows shows always have a way of doing, as I’ve talked about recently in the wake of a just earlier show.

There’s a theory I have sometimes, that I think about more than I’d care to, about life as Contract Bridge. It’s a version of solipsism and probably something that just missed inclusion in The Best of All Possible Worlds but might even make a decent sequel if that book were up for that sort of thing. In any event, the idea doesn’t necessitate solipsism, though it certainly implies it or a warped expanded kind of meta-solipsism. The idea is that there are a million of each of us out there, living on parallel worlds, and we’re all basically playing our own individual video games of our own lives, but it’s being scored and at the end you get compared to the other versions of yourself out there. I use this notion to both berate and reassure myself, the idea that there is a Storey Clayton abroad in some far-flung galaxy who took exactly the opportunities I had and is a renowned and well-regarded author with several books that are even now changing his society. Or hell, just a Storey Clayton who was able to not have a marriage taken from him. That would be neat. It’s not always a way of lamenting my fate, it’s at least half the time a way of trying to kick my own rear into gear and remind myself how much potential and opportunity I’ve truly had, which only occasionally slips into a reminder of how pathetically I’ve squandered it.

The circumstances of August 2009 were so vastly different than June 2014 that they don’t even seem like the same planet. But we kept making references to the earlier time, overlooking things like spending the day seeing “500 Days of Summer” earlier that weekend, how significant I found that movie at the time without being able to envision any portends of my own impending doom (reason: there weren’t any portends). We didn’t wait as long in line this time and weren’t quite as close, but the show itself was so much better for the lack of accompanying bands going crazy. The Toad opener was awesome, especially being able to get to see “Something’s Always Wrong”, Fish’s old them song, live with him. And “Windmills” again, which always kills me. The lead singer of Toad kept referencing how crazy it was that the band had broken up 16 years ago and you could feel this kind of reference to the idea that Counting Crows had been together the whole time and what could have been for him and then. You got the feeling that the decade and a half felt like a wasted blur to him. I haven’t seen their VH1 special (if applicable) and don’t know what demons, chemical or otherwise, he may have spent the last few years wrestling with, but I could really relate to the implied sentiment. Of course, one goes to Counting Crows shows to relate with what’s on stage, whether it works or not. That’s just what you do. Hearing him say “We’re hear to sing songs about sad people so you don’t have to,” made me boggle that I’d never heard Adam Duritz drop a line like that.

It would be a fitting epigraph for half my own fiction. Or maybe all of it. There’s always more novels to come.

Fish had sort of promised Madeleine and/or himself that we wouldn’t stay out quite as late this time, but we’d gotten a hotel room in anticipation of breaking that pledge and break it we did. Fish had perhaps his best night of his life on the poker table and then I went to show him Revel before they close it. For the uninformed, it’s a casino that was built to be high-end, 1% style that started building in 2008, which is every bit the disaster you’d expect it to be. By the time they opened it in 2012, it was already bleeding money from every drain. The state owns it now, functionally, and is probably shutting it down in September unless they can find someone to buy it. It’s one of the most beautiful places to gamble I’ve ever seen (I’ve been seeing a lot lately) and the poker room was perhaps my favorite, a place where I always made money and spent one really fun weekend when they’d just opened sipping luxury coffee and scooping some pretty big pots. The poker room closed a while ago, shortly after I cashed in a tournament there, but the rest of the floor is still really beautiful if you can avoid eye contact with the suicidally depressed employees. Revel convinced thousands of people with great casino jobs in NJ and Philly to quit to come to the only place anyone was supposed to be playing after 2012. But the place was bankrupt less than a year after opening and it’s almost all over. We put five bucks on three numbers of a roulette wheel, hit one of them, played a couple more rounds, and walked away with even more of the state of New Jersey’s money.

Then we ran out to the beach to watch the sun rise and take in all the things people feel on beaches when it’s way past bedtime. (Yes, CC played “A Long December,” and there’s all that baggage out there too.) The sands of time, the tides of time, the significance of half a decade spent in a state that I’ve always hated (and it’s grown on me, but only in terms of a few people and really just RUDU, to be honest… even Rutgers as a whole did next to nothing to endear me to the institution), a state that’s made me suffer more concretely than any other by a long shot. The relief and exultation I feel to be leaving the physical state of New Jersey, even despite missing RUDU and access to Philly and AC, is constantly palpable even now, a month and a half after departure. I don’t really believe in curses, but I do believe that significance is infused in time and space, even if it’s only in how we think it makes us feel. Good God.

Since getting here to New Orleans (and playing poker a lot, which is my trial job for now… so far, so good, and yes, I’m monitoring it closely so don’t panic), a lot of people have been talking about Atlantic City like it’s in hospice care. And to be sure, casinos are drying up left and right. Not just Revel, but Alex’s favorite, Showboat, itself something New Orleans themed in New Jersey, is slated to close in September, even though it’s still turning a profit. Pennsylvania just passed NJ as second state in the country for gambling revenues and explains a lot of why AC is falling apart… the Philadelphia market and I-95 corridor now have alternatives that don’t require burning as much $3.50 a gallon gas. Honestly, I just tell people these days that the Mob couldn’t shut down competition forever and I think that explains AC’s demise as much as anything. There’s a lot of grand metaphors to be made about how much America has turned to gambling in the last decade as a balm for its problems and I should honestly be the last to complain given my new attempted livelihood and its enabling, but it does feel like the habit of a country in decline. But then we’ve always been a nation of get-rich-quick and when the bootstraps snap in our hands, I guess the craps table looks as enticing as anything else.

Before I left, a lot of people expressed concern at the proverbial crosshairs I was putting myself into by moving to New Orleans, what with the crime and especially the flooding and the hurricanes. I hastened to point out to them that in the time I lived in New Jersey, New Brunswick got hit with two hurricanes while New Orleans experienced zero. Yes, the specter of Katrina looms large over everything here, but the larger point is that you can spend your whole life running from certain things and planning for certain others. You don’t have any more control over your life than you do over how those dice land. It sure feels like you do because you threw them, but really you’re just facing a series of decisions with very limited information and the best of hopes and intentions but no real power. It should be liberating in a way, though it doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility of doing the best with the very limited control you do have. You need to savor what you’ve got. But in the end, it’s the sun and the tides and the seven billion other people who are running this show, not you.

I’ve been struggling with how to write about the past and the present now that I’m ensconced, sort of, in New Orleans. It’s complicated by the fact that the move still isn’t settled here and I don’t know how to talk about that and am not sure I really even want to, at least for now. But there were so many experiences along the way that I was too busy and overwhelmed to discuss, the move (never ever use All-in-One Moving, ever, people), the trip to Orlando and the Georgia beaches where we watched a sea turtle lay eggs and crawl back to the water, everything that’s happened in the city of the fleur-de-lis. And maybe these are best discussed in reflection. One sure as heck doesn’t know how to describe waiting eight hours in a line for an amusement park ride while that’s happening. But it feels crazy to be posting a Counting Crows setlist five weeks in arrears. Or it would if I didn’t spend every morning singing “Cover Up the Sun” to myself in anticipation of the new album now less than a month away.

I will probably never again visit an Atlantic City that looks like the one I spent a decent amount of time in during my five-year tenure in New Jersey. But that’s okay, change is the only constant. All these “New”s are attached to these cities and states to remind us of that. Someday maybe I’ll take a tour of only the olds, hit Mexico and Jersey and Brunswick and York and Orleans. All places, save Mexico I guess, trumped by their newer bigger better counterparts. Before we all hit the tables and gambled away our fortunes. You do remember that’s what happened in 2008, don’t you?

This underwater city seems like as good a place as any to hole up for now. If the apocalypse hit, everyone would help each other out. They’ve done it before. That’s enough change for me today.

God, I didn’t even really talk about the show as much as I wanted. That’s what happens when you let it sit for five weeks. It was a short but powerful set. And they even played Mr. Jones, sparing me the ability to rant about one-song-fans for another few months, though I tell you the rant is pretty sweet. I sure wasn’t expecting that, but I was expecting “Potter” somehow right after “Earthquake Driver”, which I want to put on the record would be the Crows’ biggest hit in years and years on the charts if they release it as a single. Instead, it seems like they’re releasing the 9-minute “Palisades Park” first, which seems to show that now 50-year-old Duritz likes his current touring regimen and is done with big-time fame, even if they did just sign with Capitol. The song does sound like a stream-of-consciousness hybrid of his favorite themes of the last few years. Ah well, we all just want to be understood. That’s what this particular video game/life is about.

Counting Crows
28 June 2014
The Borgata – Atlantic City, New Jersey
with Toad the Wet Sprocket

Round Here (Palisades Park alt)
Untitled (Love Song)
Richard Manuel is Dead
Mr. Jones
Colorblind
Start Again
Omaha
Earthquake Driver
Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby
A Long December
Cover Up the Sun
Hanginaround

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

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A Walk in the Park

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Marching to New Orleans, Metablogging, Tags: , , ,

It’s been quite a week.

I would like to be poetic and hip and write one of those rambly but ultimately reflective and incisive posts that I aspire to write nearly every time I sit down at this screen. But I have a weird mix of energy and productivity and what (for lack of a better way of putting it) I would call morningness that actually debilitates the more loquacious and important post. When I wake up in the morning and want to be awake, my brain is trained for the pragmatic, the practical, the mathematical, the straightforward. This is why I do basically all of my fiction writing at night, when my brain has entered a state far different and more creative. Not everyone sees the morning this way, but I think it makes sense. The brain hasn’t had time to fog up and adjust to the more lyrical side of life… it’s about procuring food and sustaining itself and getting from point A to point B in the morning. And while I really prefer to be in the hazier more creative state all the time, the morningness certainly serves its purposes well, like in today’s dealing with bank accounts and furniture and all manner of practicalities innate to the moving process.

So this will mostly be about basic updates, the kind of things I want to chronicle but may not be in the mood to chronicle poetically.

I will be moving to New Orleans, officially. I know there was some equivocation before, but signing a lease and putting down a deposit is about as definitive as things get in my life, so that appears to be that. Alex and I will be living in the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans for at least the next year and very probably the one after that. No, I still haven’t settled on what I’m doing yet, but I couldn’t be much more excited to head to the city after spending a whirlwind 60 hours there.

I spent most of the time there with dear friends Ariel & Michael who’ve seen me near my best and at my absolute worst in a decade and a half of friendship (with Ariel at least). They are erstwhile New Orleanians who’d not been back since they traveled there to marry. I got to join them in Audubon Park, location of their nuptials, as well as all over the city as they remembered it fondly and frequently and compared it to itself both before and after Katrina. It may be the last time I see them before they are parents and this brief visit was full of things to tell their child, not least of which was a visit to pick up a sign bearing her future name.

Walking through the French Quarter at night not only made me giddy at how lucky I am to be moving to New Orleans, but reminded me how big an impact New Orleans Square in Disneyland had on my imagination as a young child. Ariel, Michael, and I talked a bit about influences on children and the extent to which parents can control them, an increasingly relevant concern for many of my friends as they all start to procreate. I think I am constantly amazed at something rarely discussed in person but often captured in fiction, the little inadvertent magic that happens to young children without design or motive as they encounter unexpected beauty or captivation in the world. Many influences can be traced to parental or societal direction, but others come trailing in on the whim of a particularly good day or a very memorable scene that strikes a young person’s fancy just so without clear explication. The results are often more powerful than all the deliberate guidance in the world. I have always adored Disneyland and New Orleans Square has always been my favorite stop therein and a bit of the French Quarter at night (more secluded, less Bourbony) hinted or overtly referenced the calm fireflies of the opening waters of Pirates of the Caribbean, the long shadows of intriguing homes of the Haunted Mansion, or the raucous bravado of the rest of the former ride.

It is rare that we get to reinhabit what felt magical in our childhood and live it even more robustly than the first whispered promise of unseen delight. I do believe this hope is why most of us have children. To be able to live this way, or even to imagine doing so, makes me so grateful and even more excited.

Okay, maybe there’ll be a little poetry in this post after all.

Of course, there’s also the concern with something like this that it will quickly become pedestrian. And by that, I don’t mean prone to walking, which this entire week was, because that was awesome. I walked more than 5 miles the first day in New Orleans, traipsing around from lovely to horrendous to so-so apartments and back again, ducking around the streetcar line that is sadly being repaired in long stretches and replaced by bus. It was hot and humid and exhausting and wonderful and got my mind in just the right setting as walking extensively always does. No, my fear is that like Sarah once said about living in the Grand Canyon, that one will become used to the most beautiful place on Earth, to lose an appreciation for it as it becomes the normal setting for existence. I think this is part of why I’m being careful about employment or commitments of time just yet as I head for Louisiana. I want to be sure that I keep the magic and excitement involved in the decisions that I make, that I can keep that fresh joyous feeling about life for a long time to come. It not only makes the days fuller and richer, but it preserves an amount of hope I haven’t felt in some time. I can’t remember the last time I felt I had chosen where I was and what I was doing, fully. And even here, terms were dictated by Alex’s employment and other forces. But I am finally digging out from under the oppressive weight of Emily’s decisions and the fallout therefrom. I’m doing something on my own terms and it tastes like liberation.

And a little bit, perhaps, like veggie gumbo. Something I still have yet to see outside of Anaheim. Though I might just see it in Orlando next, coincidentally my stopover city on my return flight from NOLA, since the plan involves a stop in that city’s various attractions between Atlanta and the new home.

The visit also entailed a trip to Atlanta to see Alex and whale sharks and the world of Coca-Cola. The Georgia Aquarium continues to be the most impressive in the world and probably my favorite… I could probably spend open till close staring at the largest tank in the world (the one that houses the whale sharks). A late discovery that they do have cuttlefish (Alex’s favorite and easily the most underrated fish in the sea) meant a lot of extra time and a brief audition of Alex as the ambassador from one species to the next as family after family tried to figure out why we were so obsessed.

Alex is living at Georgia Tech for the month of June and being back on that campus brought a nice round of memories up as well, even if my visit to see Jake there was relatively brief back in the day. Revisiting some of these cities reminds me how excited I am to see Austin, by far the city in America I’m most excited to visit that I never have to date. With the quantity of friends there and its proximity to Louisiana, I have no doubt it will be a new home away from home in the coming years.

This post was going to be part of Quick Updates and it now is too long for that and the rest of my morningness is probably better spent on the mundane tasks of moving on which I am already behind, though starting to catch up quickly. There will be plenty of time to weigh in on the political developments of recent days (including Iraq, the war that keeps on giving) and sports (the World Cup! The Mariners in playoff position!). But it will all have to wait. I must go and do, now that the future is taking a little more shape, a little more color.

We’ll start with yellow.

A glimpse of what the future looks like.

A glimpse of what the future looks like.

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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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Baseball and Society

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Metablogging, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , , ,

There are days that I don’t know what this blog is supposed to be about. That’s okay. Life is like that too.

People have divergent interests and the odds that all those interests line up with any given reader’s interests are pretty low, given the diversity of the world. I’ve always been a little distrustful of blogs that focus on one very specific thing as though that were the only dimension of the personality doing the writing, or perhaps the only dimension they’d be willing to show to the public. I understand that those are the blogs most people like and read and follow these days, that it’s easier to say “I’m going to follow this woman writing about the Mariners” or “I’m going to read this guy’s knitting blog” than to actually holistically get into everything a person is doing and thinking and feeling.

And it’s understandable why. Unless you know a person personally, and consider them a friend, it’s just very hard to forgive them all their trespasses and embrace them in toto. I encountered this in reading about one of my literary heroes earlier this summer, but it happens all the time, even with friends. You’re going along with someone’s opinions on a baseball team or knitting and suddenly they start talking about how much they love George W. Bush or that all people of a certain inborn category are not to be trusted and you want to immediately stop reading, undo hours of past reading, and dissociate yourself entirely from anything to do with that person. In a friend, you could argue with this person and weigh the balance of a lifetime of time or the feeling of a lifetime’s worth of connection with that person against these transgressions, but with semi-anonymous online presences, it’s easy to press the discard button.

Heck, not to dredge up the national obsession of the last few weeks (already discussed it too much), but I have seen more references to unfriending people on Facebook over a socio-political issue in the past week to ten days than in probably all previous time on the site combined. Increasingly, it seems that the media-driven cause of exacerbating friction and deep divisions over apparent controversies and wedge issues has gained real traction in the daily lives of people I know. People not only are trying to self-select into the echo-chambers of people who feel and believe as they do, they increasingly are inclined to detach, defriend, and (by extension) dehumanize those who disagree. Which, again, given the diversity of thought innate to any person who is actually trying to think in a nuanced way about issues and not simply regurgitate a party line, becomes pretty isolating pretty quickly if one is going to stick to it. The number of people who believe exactly as you do is small.

Which, I suppose, is why people find it more marketable and advantageous to only talk about one or two things, to put their best foot forward into the world and hide those other less comely appendages. There’s less chance of exposure as being a real human being and more chance that they’ll just love your doily patterns and keep coming back. Which, I guess, is why friends or at least positive acquaintances are the biggest readers of personal blogs and why friendship remains one of the most essential concepts to a functioning society. It’s the only way we can give each other space to be who we are without railing against it all the time in a non-accepting manner.

Before this week, I might have added the caveat here that I just feel more judgmental than most and that there are others who can forgive anyone anything, any thought or deed and just accept them for, gosh darnit, being a beautiful complicated messy human being. I know a couple people like that, used to know a couple more, people who are so enamored with the species and its infinite sophistication that they just can’t find it in their heart to be judgmental of people beyond Hitler and Stalin and, okay, George W. Bush. I know I sound like I’m lampooning these people, but I do have a genuine respect and mild awe for their capabilities here. Part of me thinks making judgments about people is the essential backbone of morality. But I also have room to feel real admiration for the people who just accept everyone, messy and problematic as they are. After all, that’s kind of the Jesus model and he’s seen as pretty cool by a couple folks.

But after this week, I feel pretty non-judgmental on the overall scale. Which for me is a rare feat indeed. As a debate coach and someone who makes his living on the nuance of digging deep into both sides of an issue, into conceptual complexity, I feel like I’m one of the only people who isn’t ready to punt half the people from the country tomorrow.

Which may, admittedly, be because I don’t care as much as others about who deigns to be in this country as opposed to somewhere else on the planet. It’s no great honor to be an American in my perspective, and increasingly is becoming quite a shame. And yet I’m constantly barraged with a contrasting perspective, the knee-jerk patriotism of a nation that can see its descent ahead of it and is desperately trying to paper over a slow decline with the propaganda of hyperbolic empire. Most recently last night on the television, when watching Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game.

During the Iraq War, I went to a lot of baseball games. And they’d always be started by the national anthem, our ode to killing for a flag. And I refused to stand up, refused to remove my cap, refused in any way to pay homage to a society so in love with itself that it couldn’t see the cruelty of its own actions. I try not to stand to this day for patriotic anthems and tributes, though there have probably been a couple instances where I’ve felt vaguely shamed into doing so by people I was with and made a difficult judgment call about their comfort vs. mine and got off my feet, though I tried to look upset about it. There have been a few times when I’ve tried to quietly duck out to bathrooms or concession stands as a compromise between my feelings and making too much of an overt protest with someone who might be upset by it.

I was continually shocked, especially at San Francisco Giants games, by how basically no one else ever took similar (lack of) stands. And I get why – there’s this whole sinner/sins dichotomy that people have tried to cleave out. It’s one of the reasons the anti-war movement was so ineffective this time around as it kept tripping over itself to “support the troops” while decrying their every move. As I always would ask these people, what do you support the troops doing? Is it the killing you support? The volunteering to kill? The torture? The containment of people? The Americanization? And if you support zero of a person’s decisions or actions, how could you possibly call that support? And of course they had to appear pro-American, not wanting to confuse dissent with rebellion of some kind. But again, if America’s every move and decision seemed to be for ill, what did supporting America mean?

But everyone dutifully got up and doffed caps and sang their hearts out and felt really good about the stars and stripes for a couple minutes. While I fumed and sulked and prepared to give up. Sometimes in the company of a few friends who did the same.

I’ve been feeling like a crazy person, or a sane person in a nuthouse, about all this till I read this article that a former debater posted on Facebook, which dredged up my whole idea to make “Don’t Stand for It” a campaign to get everyone to sit during anthems at major events a part of my old vaguely failed One Million Blogs for Peace effort. The article, a brilliant work by sports writer Howard Bryant, carefully analyzes the corporate-government alliance that has made sports a bastion of a very specific politics, namely those of blind and adulating patriotism. And he calls for a little neutrality, a little circumspection, or at least recognizing that the mentality wherein we live every second like it’s September 12, 2001 should possibly stop by 2020.

Watching the All-Star Game last night was like watching a full-fledged exposition of the phenomena Bryant so thoroughly critiqued. The game felt more like a military rally than baseball with the announcers active participants in the flag-waving rather than sober or objective observers of the activity. It has occurred to me more than once that one of my childhood dreams of being a baseball announcer would probably have ended in disaster anyway as I choked on one more series of inane tributes to our “defenders of freedom” who voluntarily drop bombs on whatever kids their superiors tell them to drop bombs on. And here they were trotted out to stand on basepaths, flags were distributed, songs were sung. In the 7th inning, it was “God Bless America”. In the 8th inning, it was “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond himself (refusing to play ball with those who wanted to sing along), which seemed cute and fun for once until it was explained as solidarity with Boston, a city that lost 3 people earlier this year. I don’t recall everyone adopting a Rockies tradition for the rest of the season after Aurora or even a Red Sox (perhaps Yankees?) tradition after Newtown, but apparently we’re so conditioned to accept white American men firing the guns that these things do not trigger the same fears or solidarities in us. Perhaps we have to be restrained from cheering for their actions too, stopping only when we see that they are not in the correct uniform.

And of course, as Bryant recognizes in alluding to the gladiatorial roots of sports as spectacle, I have to question my own tendencies toward patriotism in the context of such relentless jingoistic displays. I criticize irrational adoration of a country, right or wrong, simply because one was born there. But what does it mean to be a sports fan, especially of one team? Is that no less insane? To choose the colors, emblems, and traditions of one entity within the pantheon, to devote countless hours and attentions to their rises and falls, forsaking all others and emotional stability in the process… is this not just as nuts? Surely I wouldn’t kill for the Mariners, but my exhortations at their successes and failures leave almost every other action for them on the table. Is not the patriotic bombast of Major League Baseball merely an extension of the devotion expected of (and granted by) any worthy fan?

It’s a thing I struggle with, deeply. It’s not that I’m worried I’m going to commit violence for the M’s or that my devotion to them is fully clouding my judgment. But this kind of loyalty to an utterly arbitrary entity and the time and energy that follow are obviously irrational. They are a waste in all senses except the human (especially contemporary American) need for fun and recreation. And I have mixed feelings nagging at me about baseball as well. While I adore the sport and its every hallmark (except for the aforementioned ties to nationalism), it’s based on the slaughter of tons of large mammals. And not just to feed its nationalistic masses, but to actually play the game, they harvest the skin of cows and horses. I find this highly problematic and usually convenient to push such thoughts to the recesses of my mind, only to jar me every time the announcer says “leather,” a word I’ve conditioned myself to be repelled by. There’s a part of me, a big part, that feels it would be most sensible to just go cold-turkey from baseball and perhaps sports altogether. To stop rooting, cheering, attending, subscribing, obsessing over a group of men assembled by the wealthy for the ostensible entertainment and unity of Seattle, Washington.

And if I’m unable to do that, if I aver and say to the critical voice in my head “but I like baseball and I like the Mariners and it’s not doing any real disproportionate harm,” am I any different than the jingoists I criticize? Perhaps in degree, with that whole killing thing, but really in kind?

I struggle with it. I struggle a lot. There are so many things I object to and take issue with and feel burdened by in the way society is structured and basic expectations that it can be exhausting to even process, let alone do something about. There are times that I wish, back to the blogging thing from the top, that I were a single-issue person, that there were just one thing about this country that needed tweaking and I could devote all my energy and angst to that and feel that if it were changed or overhauled, we’d really have gotten somewhere. And while I guess violence holistically is close to that thing, I could probably name 100 egregious violations of the way I think things should be in our society that are wholly unrelated to violence. It’s a lot of why I’m unimpressed with gradual change as a model and why it’s hard for me to fight my fatalism a lot of the time. The idea that I will ever live somewhere where I’m not constantly critiquing and sighing is unfathomable to me, at least if Russ is wrong about us being infused with immortal jellyfish DNA within our previously expected lifetimes.

So I guess I’ll keep rooting for the Mariners and watching baseball, if only to have that brief suspension of disbelief, that brief solace, that brief comfort that someone has designed something that, while inhumane, is beautiful in its way. And if I can ignore leather, I can ignore the flags and the uniforms and the willing masses of the gung-ho. And in those moments get from the fresh-mown grass and turn of a double-play what others must get from drugs, that moment of feeling a little less alone in a world of insanity, of feeling like something must be a little bit right if these things are happening as they are, if the species got together to put effort into this. Despite all its flaws that I’ll think about a second later, inevitably, no matter.

And then I get to add to the list of things I worry about being wrong that the Mariners’ front office used to be so incompetent, especially as I watch Adam Jones start in the All-Star Game and know that Chris Tillman will probably be in one soon. Not that the M’s don’t still have stars of their own.

Here are the Mariners’ 2013 All-Stars. They hail, respectively, from Venezuela and Japan. I wonder what they think of all this American propaganda and pride.
HernandezIwakuma

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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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Crossing the Bridge

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid News, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Metablogging, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , ,

The above image has graced the top of this page for well over a year. It’s naively titled the StoreyTelling Fall 2011 Background, but I just replaced it on one of the last days of January 2013. That’s one long fall, especially when you consider that it went up in August after the conclusion of my cross-country trip over the summer.

I’d taken the picture on the George Washington Bridge, bleary-eyed, tearful, to remind myself that I wasn’t stopping on that bridge right then. That I was driving past the bridge even though I really, really didn’t want to. Even though doing so felt like the culmination of generations of effort at that very moment. It wasn’t safe to take that picture while driving, but it was a whole lot safer than what I wasn’t doing.

Not long after the picture was taken and went up on this page, life started to get better. It had been getting better the whole time, slowly, but with the advent of my relationship, the rate of progress started to speed up. I also lost a lot of momentum and interest in blogging and this page. The reasons were myriad and complicated. It was hard to talk about my relationship here. It was hard to feel like cutting off communication with Emily was meaningful when she could and probably would read this page. Even though most of what I was trying to prevent was the influence of her attitude and even existence on me, the awareness that there was still a one-way street was weird and disheartening. Not enough to abandon the project or the original principles that led to its creation, but to dial it way back.

I also just kind of ran out of gas for Duck & Cover, the product of a busy schedule, sleeping more, and the increasing irrelevance of politics. And D&C has often been a lot of the juice that keeps this page flowing and going and worth checking daily. And this was all part of a larger context of the falling off of a lot of new content at the Blue Pyramid writ large, in the mix of the total creative collapse that came from the wake of my divorce. Put simply, once I could no longer make even the most basic aspects of my life function, the entire direction of my identity work in the most rudimentary way, the idea of me telling anyone anything, of sending any messages or creating any perspectives, seemed flatly ludicrous. This was something that was immediate for my fiction, but took time to unwind here.

I often think that resolutions are arbitrarily timed and silly and kind of like the idea of making birthday resolutions more than New Year’s, though those aren’t that different for my February-borne existence. But 2013 has been different. This year has dawned sadder, more challenging, and more urgent than many before it. (I should note that it is not holistically sadder, but day-to-day reality seems to be sadder and harder for myself and most people I know. It’s strange.) There is a natural taking stock that comes with a new year, but this one seems to find more general dissatisfaction and angst than I remember people having. There are organic explanations like the bitter cold driving people indoors to stew, more universal ones about the energy of the planet, and the truth is probably an amalgam of everything you can think of, like it usually is.

So this week, it felt like it was time to cross the bridge. I won’t try to explain the symbolism of the current graphic just in case you wind up having 17 months to digest it and consider it whenever you come check what I’ve written lately. And I’m not going to make creative promises about how much there will or won’t be here. Obviously I’ve been more interested in writing lately than I have during most of the duration of the bridge graphic. Increasingly, though, I find that I am struggling a lot with the basics. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve always been good with the big picture, but terrible with the small picture. The small picture has always felt… well, small. It’s debilitating to focus on the small picture all the time. And yet, the small picture may be a really key element of what’s going on. Given my uncertainty about things these days, the upheaval of the time, my entirely melted and slowly reforming identity, it’s reasonable to say that I don’t know where to put the small picture in the overall context.

The bridge still haunts me, as such places and means have since 1990. Crossing the bridge does not mean putting it behind me or out of sight, out of mind. It means that there can, perhaps, be a new shape to the approach of life and the context of the future. Crossing a bridge doesn’t mean eliminating it. It means that one doesn’t have to spend the whole time thinking about the river that is unceasingly flowing from the past.

Or at least that’s what I’m trying.

Yoda was wrong. At this point, all I can seem to do is try.

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Interconnection

Categories: A Day in the Life, Metablogging, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

I shouldn’t be writing right now. I should be reading. I have time away from my apartment, the limbo between a day off and a day on, waiting for our debate event tonight and hoping that my absentee landlord is deciding to fix the drip in the kitchen sink that’s become a stream verging on a river, hoping he’s decided to do what he said he would do, something that seems to be so problematic for so many people on the eve of this presidential election in America.

I’m writing instead of reading perhaps because I feel moved to be, but mostly because I can haul my computer around and write from most anywhere on the globe, transporting my thoughts instantly to whoever might choose to put in the little code called a URL and access them. It’s an unprofound element of life that we take for granted these days, though trying to explain it to a contemporary of my youth would be as fruitless as my father found explaining the value of FAX machines to most of his contemporaries circa the same time. I’m sitting amongst an endless array of colorful bound tomes whose demise has been predicted far longer ago than the advent of my ability to convey thoughts to you through this medium. And yet they persist, overlooking the windblown leaf-strewn streets of New Brunswick like a challenge to all the unpublished, unheard-of students who duck in out of the cold. What we say matters. What you say doesn’t, not yet.

Right now, you pay money for the right to speak, the right to write. When someone pays you, you have made it. You are doing something. Not yet, young ones, not yet.

The ambulances race in sirened slow-motion down the streets, just a pace ahead of the t-shirted runners who seem to hear the wailing reminder of the fragility of life, to heed its warning in the hopes that by outrunning an ambulance we too can outrun death itself. Outrun death not only of body but of spirit and legacy and all the other deaths we die over the course of a lifetime or just beyond it. Death of relationship, death of friendship, death of the very notions of ourselves that made all our selfish hedonism seem so warranted and vital before the realizations that came to stamp on prior identities like the youngest of our species, curiously, on a wayward beetle. Just to see what parts, like the misgivings that haunt our every decision and misstep, would spill out, half-squashed, revealing hidden inner-workings only imagined before the catastrophic collision of shoe on bug, awakening on assumption. It is through trauma that we learn most swiftly, most thoroughly.

And yet these halls of learning would no more offer a major in trauma than they would routinely call their classroom masters and mistresses, dubbed as professors and mostly refusing to dress up, to trod on their students with steel toes in the hopes that an organ would pop out of place and induce the better informed glances of their peers. No doubt many of them feel this is the level of disruption required to get the students to look up from their laptops (on which they might be reading these very words right now) and pay attention, but what course is required to learn to connect to the internet? Auto-didacticism has always been the religion of the fringe malcontents and non-conformists, but now they have an intangible series of temples arising, plenty of non-believers nonetheless carrying their holy book whose colors and shapes change with the whims of forces unseen.

We are all made no more of mere flesh, blood, bone, soft tissue, and brain (or mind). We are also comprised of the infinite unseen channels of wavelength that eviscerate us, bisect and dissect us, travel as easily through us as a ghost, en route to the next sacred portal of distraction, absorption, communication. We could be no more intertwined and strung together were we bound by physical ropes and chains. I am you and you are he and we are all together. A series of invisible tubes, coursing their way instantaneously to their recipients.

Has there ever been a time when it made less sense for the hubristic educated class to stand up and shout about their refusal to believe in that which they cannot see? Which they cannot feel or directly interact with? Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and yet there has never been a larger portion of those who believe in the cold emptiness of the universe, the uncaring unfeeling nature of its interrelation, the sheer vast imperviousness which we, as the rational, are up against. No serious conversation can elude this defiant yet bedeviling conclusion. And yet, how? How, when our lives are set and beset by the endless suspension of disbelief? When we make ourselves worshipful servants to money that exists only as a wispy figment of mental framework and electronic fragment? When we dictate our lives by an atomically distributed time that is the mere invention of prior people, flawed and fungible and arbitrary? When artificial structures like borders and laws and governments and corporations and militaries make millions of people do things they would otherwise consider unspeakable outside those structures’ confines every day?

Show me a border. Make manifest the rule of law in front of my eyes. Pull the strand of this blog post being ported to the computer before you from the side of your abdomen and behold it, photograph it, and send it back my way.

The world is a metaphor, and only becoming more so.

I can see my reflection now in the glass beside me, product of greater light within the building than without. Spotlights and neon blaze directly at me through the shadowy visage of self, beacons of comfort against the rising wind and failing sun. Soon it will be time to depart from this hall of type-ridden silence, to help provide insight about an event in Florida considered significant to the future of the nation which is no more visible than God itself. We choose what to believe. We craft an image of what we want to see and pretend that we see it. This works as long as we can elude the giant feet of the universe waiting to rain down on our heads to expose the parts of ourselves we’d rather not imagine.

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One Year Later

Categories: A Day in the Life, Keepin' it Cryptic, Metablogging, Read it and Weep, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , , ,

This blog still exists, by the way. This isn’t a conscious decision to never blog again, but the combined product of possibly the busiest year of my life and some factors therein that haven’t seemed to lend themselves to public scrutiny. It’s a weird feeling, not wanting absolutely everything out in public, and one unfamiliar to me, but nonetheless there. It’s a bit of a crossroads, but there is no doubt that May and the ensuing summer will bring more use of this venue to communicate and more interest in projects on this site, or at the very least more time. I love the team I coach, but they are draining in all the ways a group of people can be draining.

Anyway, it seemed fitting to mark a year. No, not since I last posted in my blog. Something a bit more personal and more difficult. It’s been a year since I’ve spoken to Emily, a year since Chris and Ashley pulled me away from despondency in a debate meeting and convinced me what so many others had tried to before, that a person who callously hurts you without regard or self-awareness is not a friend no matter what kind of premium you or that person puts on that word. It was an important lesson, and one I needed to learn from people younger than I am who knew me better at the time.

What a difference a year makes. But does a year make any difference? She’s allegedly coming back to Jersey, so I hear through the backchannels. Coming to finish a small part of what was started that fateful year when she moved us out to this state I can’t seem to extricate myself from. I have a variety of choices, as everyone does, always, in life. I could reopen the channel, stem the flow of absence after a year, try to rehumanize and poke around for any signs of life or remorse. Or I could continue to persist in a cocoon of relative comfort, the illusion of her death replacing the reality of her betrayal, the lines blurred. There’s the old metaphor I used to use in the rehab case, of course, about not being fully well until you can walk past your drug dealer and say “no thanks” – bubbles don’t really count. But if you need to be in a bubble in order to survive, surely it’s preferable to expiring in the open air?

May Day is a pregnant spot on the 366-slot pantheon of the year, loaded with associations and allusions and metaphors galore. It’s a distress signal and a call to action. Occupy is apparently calling for a general strike of the 99%, something I’d consider honoring had today not already been designated for RUDU’s Senior Banquet, a four-hour festival consisting of the conclusion of our annual Ironman tournament, senior speeches, a team picture, and dinner. To see RUDU’s next step in its blossoming as an institution is something I couldn’t dream of missing, no matter how much the calls of labor leaders and communist organizers hearken to the importance of May 1st. It was also May 1st, of course, when I went in for my Glide interview in 2006, with an HR Director wearing a T-shirt in solidarity with the marchers outside but deciding that Glide was worth working for all the same. Labor leaders. The longer one lives, the more patterns and associations become fraught. No wonder my mother can’t listen to music from the sixties.

And what else of getting older? Certainly one is more surprised by life with each passing day, or at least I am. The feeling that this is now twice over borrowed time, both liberating and demanding as the time is both precious yet unexpected. The question of whether those patterns make life more navigable, or less dramatic, or merely serve as distractions while the universe carries out its destiny on your behalf. And while forgiveness continues to elude me conceptually, the idea of letting someone’s transgressions stand as warranted and valid, the process of turning cheeks and baring souls never seems very far. I seem to always find a way to reopen the path, even if that path is marked with wounded, strewn with dead, mined and booby-trapped all the way up to its foggy conclusion, itself inevitably another murky fork.

If there is a lesson to be found in all of this, I don’t think I’ve learned it yet. Which probably means more pain to come, the best professor in the business. Trying to be mindful of one’s own actions sufficiently to make them valid, to make interactions meaningful, to demonstrate the kind of compassion one hasn’t been afforded. Inevitably, though, the bubbles we live in puncture those of others, the defense mechanisms we construct deal damage as an exchange for not taking it, and the alternative seems to be being so vulnerable that the mere air pressure of a May day is enough to crush one’s skeletal structure into white powder. Where is this balance to be struck? Every day, you can walk outside and see people doing it wrong. Passive-aggression, aggressive aggression, timidity, fear, paranoia, meanness. No one intends any of this. They’re merely trying to protect themselves from the dangers they’ve felt, or worse, the dangers they’ve only imagined and seen reflected in others’ pain.

The Hunger Games series seems a fitting backdrop for all this contemplation of mine of late. There is probably no more important reading for a member of the first world in this age on this planet. The mere reading of an allegedly young adult series has pitched me back into an uproar of whether living in America at all is too great a burden and harm on the planet itself, whether the exploitation of others innate to our local quality of life makes us all complicit if we don’t tear down the structure or flee. We are in Omelas, but the dungeons are lined up a hundredfold, the screams reverberating off each other in harmonious cacophony. To say nothing of what we do to each other, ourselves.

The only prescription I can give myself is thought. More time to think. About contact, about withdrawal, about the nature of a society so determined to use others that we all end up using ourselves. I am keyed up with the lightning reflexes of the debate world, argument turns and split-second timing and case choices on the run. Life doesn’t have to be like that. Not in May, with a view of summer, reminding us that no matter how abysmal April manages to be each year, it will eventually be replaced by something warmer, more relaxed, less stringent.

In the meantime, someone stole my laundry detergent from the basement and even such mundanities of life cannot be overlooked on May Day. It’s a neighborhood where I’ve accidentally left my car unlocked and GPS in view for days at a time, but one’s own neighbors will take detergent. And, as always, there could be confusion, miscommunication, an explanation that makes it a mere trifling misunderstanding. The question becomes one not of intent, for everyone intends always to be a good person and believes they are. I know you think you are. The question, rather, becomes one of how much thought and care goes into any given action. How much do you think about the implications of what you do?

In today’s world, we are all merely fragile butterflies, but our wings are bringing up tidal waves everywhere. Mayday.

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