As our lives change, there is a need to break off the things you were doing before, to make room for your new way of life. It’s incredibly common: people start new jobs, new relationships, and new chapters of their lives, almost constantly, depending on how you craft the particular narrative you are interested in making about your own life. This seems to be a fairly common practice for many people: we focus on the new way our life will take shape, and then decide what part of our old life still fits into the way things are now.
This week has been spent playing catch-up, for sure, and I’m still not fully there. “Things” are afoot, and as I learn the new steps of this dance, I’m far less close to the parts of the ballroom I once frequented, where plenty of previous chapters of my life all happened. I’m still trying to figure out what I can still reach here, and where those things will fit into these new dance steps that are very new to me.
I’ve always been good at starting things, but wrapping up a chapter has always been challenging for me. I feel like I never know exactly how to “land” the story until well after I already have, and the urge to go back and do it right this time often leaves me to either freeze up, never end things, or worse, overthink the ending to the point where it only makes sense to me. Perhaps this is a portent of how difficult future endings will be, but certainly, it makes me wonder why ends are like this. Saying goodbye, graduations, transitions. All of these things seem to be common experiences for almost everyone, and yet, they seem more difficult than almost anything else.
As I pirouette around the close of some chapters and as I two-step my rewrite on others in this new mixed-metaphor book / dance I’m trying to learn, I wonder: what part of all of this will feel like it needs a revision in five years, and which parts will I finally come to terms with, regardless of how it all turns out?
Where do people hang out online when they want to socialize?
I don’t even know anymore.
Improbable As It May Seem
Sometimes, word of mouth does you right.
A friend told a friend, who requested a postcard, and told another friend, and I was suddenly on the phone with William Kennedy of the Eugene Weekly, talking about postcards.
I assumed it would be a small blurb about something different happening with the mail. Instead, it is much longer.
You can read the article here.
Now: can someone from Eugene please save and send me a copy? I’m still sort of blown away…
Well, let’s see how long I can stand the quiet.
I’m probably going to take a long-ish break from FB, for personal reasons. But I miss you all. Let’s have a phone call, soon?
I spent a lot of time in December on the Exercise Bike. Here’s the breakdown:
I averaged 27.7 MPH while on the bike in December.
I burned a total of 12,046.1 Calories. (About 24 Hamburgers.)
I cycled a total distance of 328.03 miles in December. That’s almost to the southwestern part of our state, where California, Oregon and Nevada all sort of meet up.
I updated my spreadsheet, too, as I realized I would like a running total that doesn’t require scrolling back through all the old data.
Happy New Year.
It is so much more complicated than Deja Vu, and yet the sensation certainly lives within the realm of similar experiences. But only Borges* himself managed to relate this experience in a way that I feel addressed it with any sense or value. At least, he artfully articulated the experience, no less than three times in his own written work.
I, myself, have been compelled to explore the concept as ineptly as I was able over 10 years ago, and while I certainly wore my influences in my prose, I know that I was no closer to having nailed down the moment, this experience in any useful way. Perhaps the closest I came was making another appearance on UB Radio Salon, where I read both my own ham-fisted attempts at this concept between the three more elegant efforts by Borges himself.
But an inability to express this experience does not prevent it from happening. As I catch these glimpses of the person I once was, I cannot rationalize how they would react to me without eventually landing on some kind of disappointment. I see the posturing arrogance of the person I was, as seen through a random blog post, an old photograph, or even a simple memory of having done something, and I know that person would never give me the time of day.
I try to live within the musings of my past self, and I find the experience uncomfortable the words don’t fit, and I worry that the person I was is the person I’m be judged for, that his crimes are the ones that I will be left doing the time for. I see all of his nonsense, and wonder how transparent I’ve always been. How just on the edge of bullshit every utterance was. All the grand plans were made up along the way, and I know what folly that youth would soon go through.
Can we ever learn to live with who we used to be?
Will I look back on these words with a grim moment of pain, as I realize how boneheaded I sound, now?
Or will I be a worse person, then?
* * * * * *
* Borges and I (translated from the Spanish) by Jorge Luis Borges
It’s to that other one, to Borges, that things happen. I walk through Buenos Aires and I pause, one could say mechanically, to gaze at a vestibule’s arch and its inner door; of Borges I receive news in the mail and I see his name in a list of professors or in some biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typefaces, etymologies, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; the other shares these preferences, but in a vain kind of way that turns them into an actor’s attributes. It would be an exaggeration to claim that our relationship is hostile; I live, I let myself live so that Borges may write his literature, and this literature justifies me. It poses no great difficulty for me to admit that he has put together some decent passages, yet these passages cannot save me, perhaps because whatsoever is good does not belong to anyone, not even to the other, but to language and tradition. In any case, I am destined to lose all that I am, definitively, and only fleeting moments of myself will be able to live on in the other. Little by little, I continue ceding to him everything, even though I am aware of his perverse tendency to falsify and magnify.
Spinoza understood that all things strive to persevere being; the stone wishes to be eternally a stone and the tiger a tiger. I will endure in Borges, not in myself (if it is that I am someone), but I recognise myself less in his books than in those of many others, or in the well-worn strum of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him by moving on from the mythologies of the slums to games with time and infinity, but those games are now Borges’ and I will have to conceive of other things. Thus my life is a running away and I lose everything and everything is turned over to oblivion, or to the other.
I do not know which of the two is writing this piece.
I keep asking myself, day after day:
Why do you stay on Facebook, when you know so much about how awful it is?
For a while now I’ve been experimenting with mail art. I used to do this a little bit in the 90’s, but never very often, or with much consistency. That didn’t really change for most of my life, but in the last few years I’ve been getting much more into it, and have been trying – when time allows – to stay on top of it as much as possible.
To that end, this year I’m engaging in seasonal, musical postcards. 12, in fact; one each month. To get a sense of how to do it, and what the process would be, I have a postcard made and ready for December of 2020, too. The first batch of cards, for mailing list members, go out today.
If you would like to get on the mailing list, and receive a musical postcard with 30 minutes of new audio material, all via the mail, then contact me via e-mail and mention this in your message. There’s only so many of these, so if you want one, you should say so, soon.
Curious about the Postcards Project? This link should help answer your questions.
Really, this is just a good way to get more engaged with the mail. And for that reason alone, this will be a lot of fun.
In 1954, Polio was still a big problem. A Vaccine had been developed, but no one wanted to take it, unless their doctor directly recommended it and explained the reasons for needing it to you, in person. That wasn’t going to be enough to get everyone on board, and so while there was a cure on-hand, getting Americans on board was the problem. Educating people about getting the Polio Vaccination was slow work, and Americans are a cowardly, superstitious lot. And how do you reach all people in all classes? Literacy is still an issue, and for many, it was easy to refuse the vaccine, even if it was easy to get.
After two years of struggling to solve this problem, they hit upon an idea: Let’s get Elvis Presley, one of the most popular rock musicians at the time, to help promote the idea of vaccination. Elvis is then vaccinated on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, which is seen by millions of people, and is accompanied by some clear Public Health Data. This event was reported on widely, so even if you didn’t have a TV, it was that generation’s, “Shot heard round the world.”
According to many historians, that single TV appearance alone accounted for nearly 80% of the population getting vaccinated, something that was unheard of before. By 1963, it had been announced that the number of Polio cases had dropped to zero, which is truly astonishing, when you consider that nearly a decade previously, it was nearly impossible to imagine any way that could ever happen.
The power of celebrity, indeed.
I’ve been thinking about the kinds of celebrities now, that could have that same kind of juice, and could get that many American’s on board with a massive vaccination effort. Clearly, Americans can’t really think for themselves, and need a trusted celebrity, who is loved across parties and across economic backgrounds, and at this point, across generations. Presidents are too divisive, and this issue is so politicized that, like with the Polio Vaccine, the appeal of the celebrity has to be so universal that people of different opposing religions will still stand six feet apart from each other in the same line just to get the vaccine, and that’s a pretty tall order.
Universally Loved? In 2020? Wouldn’t that be Pikachu, or an Animal Crossing character?
Beginnings are easy. Everything is open to you, nothing has been decided, and you can make anything possible.
Endings can be dramatic, if done well, and they should be easy if all the art work is done. They should snap into place, and sort of feel like they follow from the beginning and the rest.
It’s the middle part that is the hardest, in all things, because it is there where the hard work has to be done.
We seem to be in a very strange place right now, where we are in transition, while we wait for reality to adjust itself to the new way our world, and our country, will be in the future. But we are far from there, yet. And getting there will be very difficult, and most likely, not easy. We aren’t in any places or phases where things will be easy, for a while.
We’ve been manipulated and had our desires toyed with, and now we are on the other side of something, but what, exactly, is hard to say. The problems of most people were not solved with a new president, and might not even be solved by having the pandemic handled in a way that matters. It turns out that mosts problems revolve around having to have a job, make money, and pay bills, and that pandemics and poor presidents only exacerbate those issues.
Further to the point, our communities are rules by laws that are inequitable, and enforced by government approved militias, and that does not rest easy for those of us who have ben subject to the horrors of those laws and enforcers. A new president and a vaccine does not change the systemic problems that are the thrust of this “middle section” of the story, and is why it will be the most difficult part of the entire ordeal.
There’s so much work to be done, even with a new president who will already make things slightly better than they were before. (If you don’t see that there will be slight improvements under the new president, then I think you might not actually be a progressive person in any useful way.) But to get to the end of the story, the dramatic moment when we repair our government and make the world more equitable for the largest number of people, we are anywhere but near the end.
We are only really barely past the beginning. We are in uncharted territory, where we don’t have a compass, and we don’t know how to get to the end we want, let alone the end we need.
We are currently lost, and the feeling is starting to mount that we could be lost for a very, very… VERY long time, before we find anything that could lead us to somewhere safe.
I hate reading the news. I hate trying to figure out what all the latest information means. And I hate the mounting evidence that the half of this country that feels burned by this election are going to go out of their way to make everything worse for all of us. For them, the story is only just beginning, too.
But what I do feel, more than anything, is that it is time for me to double down. It’s time to find new reserves of determination that I didn’t know I had, and figure out how the things that I do can actually make a difference.
And since I’m still in the middle, it is gonna be hard figuring that stuff out.
For a while, anyway.
You can pretty much assume that I probably haven’t cooked / made something, especially anything even SLIGHTLY more complicated than “microwave.”
What should I make for the holidays? I’m pretty much willing to try – and fail – at almost anything. Maybe I should focus on Indian food?
Today is the first day that I don’t have to work on my November Novel in a month, and there’s something sort of relieving about not having to crank out words on any particular schedule about any particular thing for a little while. Which, of course, is funny, as I will still be writing a number other bits of text here and there and whatnot, in a number of other capacities. (Like this 1261 word “thought.”) The point is: I won’t be working on that novel anymore, and that alone feels like a sort of lifted weight.
There is a weird experience you go through when you are “done” with something, especially in the creative world. The project is “complete,” but you have been working on it for ages, so it is still active in your mind. Not only that, but the project is only “complete” in one sense. The “novel” is done, but I still have to edit it, if I want anyone to read this at any point. Another “project” to take on, someday, and certainly not any time soon. Even still, I can help but keep thinking about the characters, and considering parts that I should revise. I’ve had these people and this idea in my head, every day, for 30 days now. It’ll be a while to let all these ghosts move on.
Regardless this one is done, and there isn’t anything immediately on the horizon for now, as I spend my time wrapping up a number of other projects that have been on the so-called back-burner, while I was writing all November. Which, itself, is something interesting to contend with: the limited amount of creative juice that I have in a given day, and why I can’t just knock out 2k words in the morning and then write a full song in the afternoon.
This is a fairly obvious realization, but we do all have a limit to how much we are able to do in a day. While I try to maximize my own output as often as possible, the reality is that no matter how clever or smart you might be, you do need to let the engine rest if you do plan on any more big trips this year. You might be able to go and go all night long as a teen, but as a grown man, you need to save that for special occasions, so to speak.
I’m attracted to a number of different kinds of creative expression, and they all run into the sustainability problem. You can do them for a while, at a pace that makes sense, but after a while even that pace will get to you, even if you think you have it all balanced. Radio is the perfect example: it requires a consistent creative effort, and sometimes that effort can begin to feel like a lot, just to do the regular bare minimum, even if it feels like it shouldn’t be too much to exert, for the first 100 weeks anyway. There will be a week that you want to take off, and in spite of all of that, you still have to make a show when you don’t want to.
There is something about trying to establish good creative habits, and finding the right balance, in spite of whatever it is that you might want to be doing, otherwise. Like any muscle, you might not be able to be as creative as you would like, as often as you like, at first. But the more you do it, the better you get at it, etc. etc. None of this is news, but the implementation is the interesting part. If you ever say to yourself, “I want to be a creative person,” usually the first question is, “How do I do that?”
I often get told that I produce a lot of material as an artist, and perhaps that is true. But I don’t know how to do any less, to be honest. And the reason is because I’ve been doing it for so long, that the habit of making things is fairly well ingrained.
I was able to take on #NaNoWriMo this year is related to the number of years that I did try to do it and failed, terribly, for a number of very boring reasons that aren’t obvious until you have to stare it down in the debriefing after the fact. It has taken almost 20 years of attempts to know what I need, how to go about it, and what I should do to set myself up for successfully completing my book in 30 days. But the handful of times that I’ve actually beaten #NaNoWriMo were only possible when I learned from the previous times. (And, honestly, I think there’s only been two novels I wrote of those that could, MAYBE, be revised into something that would work as a book or story that I would feel comfortable sharing.)
It’s that same sort of attitude that I’ve applied to almost everything that I’ve done in life, that allows me to do anything at all as a middle aged man. I didn’t realize that writing ‘zines in my teen years prepared me for being able to write in the here and now. (The consistency of writing stuff for all sorts of DIY presses, where there’s no real deadline, forced me to be self-directed in order to finish anything.) When I have to get up in the morning and write 2000 words and there’s no one waiting for that text on the other side of me writing it, that really is where the creative rubber hits the road.
Doing radio for over 20 years, a lot of it not amazing, has only taught me what not to do, and how to get to the point where I can fairly easily do the kind of show I wish I’d been doing for over 20 years ago. Ditto for music. Failing at doing what I intended to do has only made it possible to successfully do what I want to do, now.
Again, none of this is “earth-shattering” or even that much more insightful than the hundreds of self-help style commentaries you can find in books, blogs and podcasts. All of what I’m experiencing also felt like I’d read or heard someone else talk about it. Putting in the work over the years is where we get our skills or cleverness from. As a middle aged man I have an advantage that the 18 year old I was did not have. But without having been an unskilled teenager making an effort, I wouldn’t have any of the leg-ups that I do have now, and I recognize that advantage.
Case in point: driving. I’ve only had my license for a single year, and I would say that in all the time that I’ve been behind the wheel, I still haven’t had enough hours to really consider myself any good at it. I should have been driving since I was 18, so that now I could easily do it, almost as a second nature, and free up my mind to think about other things. But as a new driver, I still make a lot of mistakes, I’m still very nervous, and when I do everything correctly and successful, it still feels like the exception, and not the rule. I just haven’t put in the hours yet, and not enough to say I have that skill confidently.
All of this is easy to reflect on when you are on the other side of a project. But it is nice to know that all the years I spent writing and mixing records and working on songs that didn’t go anywhere weren’t wasted efforts, and that I seen their benefits today.
Now, the matter of taste is another matter entirely, but just from my own perspective, I know that I could never have finished a #NaNoWriMo style challenge when I was 18, even though I would have been sure that I could. Just from the skill and planning perspective alone, I know that I’ve learned a lot over the years about what is a reasonable expectation, and what I can successful pull off on my own. While I have always wondered what I could accomplish if I had a partner, I will say that if I could write one novel a year for the rest of my life, even if they were never published, at least that would feel like I accomplished something.
Maybe this year I’ll try to edit this one in March, something I’ve never actually tried.
I got banned from FB. For the fourth time, actually. A three day suspension. In a way, I’m sort of surprised it hasn’t happened more often, or more pointedly, because of how often I engage with it. At this stage, I would certainly shut me down if I used my own website this often.
Every time, it has been for the most boring reason. This time, I commented the phrase, “Americans are fucking weird,” on a post. There was no ability to appeal; my account was shut down for three days, and I had to think long and hard about why I might want to return.
I’ve had a problem with Social Media for a while. I made an album about it. I just feel this need to keep in touch, and I really try to do it. But apparently my relationship with it is not quite right. There’s something wrong when I seem to want to break the rules of a platform constantly, and more importantly, I don’t feel right about how much energy I put into it, anyway.
I’m going to make a conscious effort to change the way I use FB, and all social media, for that matter. Something doesn’t feel right about the relationship I’ve developed, and I need to find new ways to interact with everyone in a way that is sustainable, and healthy. You may have noticed I finally decided to make this site Ad Free. I’m hoping to do that on all my sites, soon. I’d like these places to be about the content I make, and not about other garbage.
As time moves on, I will try to reduce my relationship with FB (and all social media) tremendously. My hope is to keep it for music, and even then, largely for communication. I like making art, and keeping in touch with my friends. But the psychic cost of using FB the way I was using it needs to come to an end. I don’t need that in my life. I need to remove myself from the picture, as best I can.
I can share more stories of reasons I got banned. They are all boring stories, and they illustrate how FB is becoming less interesting, and more uniformly gross and arbitrary. I loose large number of friends daily, who no longer post there, and I wonder why I keep doing so, myself.
I’m looking forward to the reclaimed time. But more importantly, I’m looking forward to new ways that we will keep in touch.
It’s not the pandemic, the isolation, or the wildfires that is terrifying me.
It’s the fucking capitalism.
Yesterday I got into a car and drove, by myself, for the first time in my life. After years of being scared of driving, I’m now a licensed driver.
I’m not sure the full impact has hit me. I didn’t drive anywhere particularly strange, and I’m not good at it yet. But I can do it, no one honks at me, and I get there eventually. So, that’s the important part, right?
There’s a part of me that wishes I was having some sort of Springsteen-esque epiphany about how my loins and my wanderlust were somehow hopelessly entwined and I needed a hemi in New Jersey to sort that out. But it is hard to muster that feeling when you’re looking for parking and missing your turns constantly.
Errands hardly capture the teenage ego-unleashed-in-four-wheeled-fury! There is certainly more Mr. Roger’s in my driving style than there is Blues Brothers, and while I appreciate the incredible opportunities driving will now afford me, another part of me sees that 99 times out of 100 I’ll be making emergency runs to the store for coffee than I will be exploring my freedom as I search to, “ride eternal, shiny and chrome.”
And this is part of the problem: I’m not a car guy. I never was. My entire relationship with cars is from popular culture, and as I drive I can’t help but feel like Xander in, “The Zeppo,” where, in a desperate search for identity, he posits the notion that, well, maybe he’s a car guy? (Later, of course, he is not really seen driving again in the show.)
Not that I need to be a car guy to drive. But I can already predict the dollar signs in the eyes of any mechanic I visit, as they can tell within moments that I spent my time troubleshooting radio gear and arguing about Slint records rather than learning about car engines.
Nevertheless, I did get a twinge of excitement the moment I decided to add an unscheduled stop to my errands. The idea of being alone, without anyone knowing where I was, to go about my day and to see where I wind up and to be able to just go without any holdups. That does sound a little appealing.
I have spent my whole life as a passenger. Dependent on public transportation for commuting, and walking for everything else. Travel is hard, going out is not exactly easy, and I’m always the one who needs to spend far more time planning the trip because I need to make arrangements. My wife… has been tolerant, for someone who has done all of the driving for almost a decade. I know she is going to be excited to never need to pick me up from a show at 2 AM again as long as we are married.
Just the idea that I don’t have to ever beg for a ride home again is mentally exciting in a way that “autonomy” doesn’t fully capture. What does the future hold? Who can say?
So, I’m trying to be practical, yet positive, about what this really means.
And: I’m ready to drive!
I’m not sure I’m ready for a 12-Hour epic road trip at the end of which we all play a show and party all night.
But I am totally ready to meet up and offer you a ride, this time.
Because I probably owe you, and I really want to see where you’ll take me.
At about 8 PM on Christmas Day 2016, my home was broken into. My wife, cat and I were with family at the time, and most of the neighbors were, too. Even worse, we were in the process of moving. For a number of reasons that defy logic and explanation, we moved mostly on Christmas Eve. We had left some things to move after Christmas, and thought that we could leave our house unattended until we were done celebrating. But when we arrived at our old house on the 26th, we found that everything that wasn’t nailed down had been ransacked and overturned, while anything of actual value was loaded into a truck and moved.
Who would be suspicious? We were doing just that the day before.
To make matters worse, both my wife and I had offices in the old house. We were planning to continue working out of there until we had Internet service at our new place, which wouldn’t be connected until January 4th. This means that in addition to our bicycles and lawnmower, they got our laptops, my desktop and studio recording gear, my wife’s collection of purses and her winter coat, and a stack of the last records I had not moved yet. In total, it was about $6000 worth of stuff that was stolen. Someone’s Christmas present to themselves, probably snorted before the week was out.
One of the hardest things to do (at first) was come to terms with what was stolen. It was hard to remember, at first. With each new corner turned, we found something else that was gone, something else that they took. And we still haven’t unpacked from the move. Who knows what else we’ll find missing, when all is said and done, when we can no longer use that as an excuse. How do you look for things that are missing? How do you notice what isn’t there?
While we are not quite over what had happened, the immediate shock has faded. And we’ve come to accept what is gone, in a way. But when I think about what we lost, the thing that is most frustrating is the pile of records they stole. It was an assortment of recently heard and recently acquired stuff, plus a few things that had not been filed when it came time to pack. I had less than 20 records in that pile, maybe more, maybe less. I was gonna use some for my radio show, but on the whole it was just stuff I was looking forward to, things on my mind just before the break-in.
This isn’t a complete list, nor is it the most valuable or the most precious. These are just the things I remember that were in that pile, and stuff I wish I still had. Much of this stuff came from Dimple Records, a place I visited just before we began to pack. (Thanks Dad & Mernie!) It seems important to Eulogize these albums. It’s likely they never found a home, never got sold, and wound up in some dumpster somewhere. They deserve a proper burial, a goodbye to music that will go unappreciated.
I really only knew “Spanish Stroll” by Mink DeVille, but for a steal, I decided to check them out. My wife and I listened to these, and we actually enjoyed them a lot. I was really looking forward to enjoying them, too. Now some junky probably threw them away when it turned out that they weren’t particularly valuable.
I picked this up based mostly on her reputation. Odetta is a legend, and while I wasn’t familiar, I was looking forward to learning more. This is probably typical for her career. Overlooked and ignored, Odetta is tossed around by people who could not care, and when in the hands of a fan, is never given a chance to be appreciated. Poor Odetta. You didn’t deserve this, at all.
Here’s the real tragedy: we had gone to the record store day sale, not only to get some stuff for me, but for my wife. She specifically wanted this, and we got it, excited to support the cause, and hear the tracks that were getting a lot of play because of the recent losses to the music world. These assholes don’t realize how much the music world is suffering. Instead, they want a quick score, and even though I can hear this album anywhere online at any time, that is not the point. This one was completely unopened. Pristine. And now, completely destroyed, ruined by nameless assholes who will never care.
In the year 2000 I heard that my favorite band – Negativland – was running low on vinyl copies of their albums, and that they would be selling CDs after the LPs sold out. I immediately ordered a copy of their first album, and got a nice hand-written letter back. The album came with a custom made cover, a collage assembled by the band members. I ordered another, but by then the LPs were gone, and got CDs for their remaining albums. I loved that album, and listened to it often. It sounds good anywhere, anytime, and I just wish the junkies had taken the time to listen, and get to know the album. It is well worth it, no matter what your interests are.
Bob Wills is great, but there isn’t anything special about this record. It is older than me, and it has a lot of hits. But I love it mostly because it belonged to my Grandmother, who has passed. You will never love that album as much as I loved her. What dicks.
I already have an original copy of this record, but I decided to pick up the Record Store Day reissue because there is no other movie that can make me cry faster than Popeye, and the soundtrack is no exception. I’m not as mad about this, because I’m sure even the bonus tracks are easy enough to find. But this was unopened. And, to be honest, this is probably the most personal attack of the bunch. You don’t care about these songs like I do, like my family does. How dare you. That record is too good to be treated like that.
I’m trying to imagine these junkies putting this album on. Do they know who Vince Guaraldi is? Could they connect with the music of Black Orpheus? What would they get out of it? Would they enjoy it? Do they understand the journey into the underworld that they have taken? Would I have enjoyed this album? Do I enjoy the irony? Who can say…
They probably broke this album in 17 pieces.
I took a chance on this record because of the price and because it seemed like a good bet that it was good. And it probably is, but that’s not the point. I had entirely forgotten I’d bought this album until I saw a picture of it that I’d taken, just after I purchased it. Part of me feels bad; I didn’t even remember that it was gone. That’s awful of me. How many albums do I have that I neglect in some way, that needs attention that I can’t even remember? The dangers of collecting? Perhaps. But I would have at least given this album a chance. And they never would have.
1.) 2 by Neung Phak
Probably the rarest and least-known of the bunch, this is most likely out of print, and not something you would find in Salem, at least not very easily. I bought this record from Mark Gergis, when I saw his band Porest play in Portland. This was one of two US performances for this artist, and I traveled out of town with a friend at night to see this show. Mark, who had never met me, was really nice, and had no idea how much this night meant to me, had no idea how much I was looking forward to hearing this album. He didn’t have to be nice to me. Who was I to him? And yet, I never got to hear this album before it was ripped off. Mark, who heard about this, send me a digital copy, and for that I am eternally thankful. But what did they see in this album? In any of these albums, for that matter?
* * * * * *
There were more. There will be more. Forever this event will haunt me. Every sound is a window breaking, every movement someone stealing our stuff. Who knows if this will go away? Who knows if I will get over these being stolen from me. I can only say that there is a part of me that wishes they would listen. That they sat down, and by the end, found something meaningful in those albums.
Because I sure did.
I am reminded of a comment made about (or, possibly, by?) Sarah Vowel, on the subject of They Might Be Giants, and how they had such a vast back catalog that there was a song for every occasion, that could be used in any episode of This American Life. I’m sure, at this point, I’ve mangled the memory so badly that I’m quite a ways off my mark, but suffice it to say I often feel that there is a similar relationship to holidays and my own radio output. Over what has almost been 20 years I’ve been on the radio a lot, and sooner or later, I will come across a situation where we have an appropriate show for this time of year. And, for Valentine’s Day, this is no exception.
If you subscribe to our VD Feed – you’ll have to manually paste this one into your podcatcher of choice – you can check out a slew of old Valentine’s Days shows, going back to 2006. This includes a handful of What’s This Called? episodes, and all of the old Blasphuphmus Radio holiday jams, too. This will give you a chance to listen back to all the romantic radio you can fill your device with, and woo the radio nerd of your choosing.
In these fast paced times, you might be asking for a recommendation, on the off chance that you only have time for a small slice of the many offerings available. If that is the case, then I would recommend that you pick either one of the two shows I have selected below, depending on your interests:
1.) The Future of Love. In this Sci-Fi audio essay, I explore the story of Lulu, a spaceship that has some designs on one of the occupants of its very own hull. This is largely built around an episode of the X-Minus One radio program from the 1950s, and some other experimental / jazz music that speaks to the theme of the show.
2.) Isosceles Diego’s Valentine’s Day Special. In this episode from 2007, my old roommate Isosceles Diego – who first guested on the show in 1998 – drops by the show to deliver his favorite songs from around the world to help put us int he holiday spirit. There is a lot of really great music by artists that you’ve probably never heard before – save for the brief excursion into ’90’s Olympia Indie Rock – and a ton of Eastern Block Rock.
There’s other great shows mixed in with those links, and I do suggest that you check them out. While I never really enjoyed Valentine’s Day the way other’s have, I did some pretty decent radio here and there, and that is something of which I am proud. Hopefully you can dig it, too.
Most likely this interest stems from the well known (and well loved) Chuck Jones cartoon, Duck Amuck, where it becomes very clear as the cartoon progresses (spoilers for people who haven’t seen a cartoon from 1953) that Daffy is being tortured by the artist illustrating his cartoon. The antagonistic relationship continues until the very end, where it is finally revealed that the cartoonist is none other than… (spoilers for the spoilers)… Bugs Bunny himself. (An almost Lost-ian ending, if I ever saw one.)
This cartoon was so unlike anything else I had seen as a child that I couldn’t believe it, and I tried to imagine some huge force outside of me that was dictating the world in which I lived, changing it on me randomly. (As a child raised by what you could ostensibly call atheist parents, I had no idea that most people were living in a world where this was true for them.) And while Chuck Jones might have introduced me to this world, when I sat down to study the animated oeuvre every Saturday, I started to realize that there were other guys who tackled similar subjects, but in other ways.
Bob Clampett‘s Porky In Wackyland is a tour de force of animated spectacle, with plenty of moments where the characters are just crazy enough to address the audience (a schtick he would deploy as needed in many of his cartoons). Tex Avery was also very good at throwing in gags that revealed the cartoon was being played in a theater where characters from the audience would stand up to offer advice or help. Avery loved to break other aspects of the fourth wall whenever he could, and used these gags as much as any other. As an avid cartoon fan, there were no other shows that did anything like this, and part of the genius of the Warner Bros. animated world was that, unlike Disney or other production companies, there was a manic insanity that was shared by the creators and the audience that you did not get from, say, a Pluto cartoon. (As cute and inoffensive as they might have been.)
Over the years I have come to realize that the golden era of Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies were head and shoulder’s above the competition, and Happy Harmonies, Color Rhapsodies and even Disney’s own Silly Symphony’s could compete with the overall form of the Warner Bros. work. The insanity and the brilliance of their shorts so completely synthesized “cartoon” as a visual format, and their sense of satire and caricature was leaps and bounds above the others. And I largely point to their sense of metatext – of being able to jarringly draw attention to the artifice of the work at hand – that made them far superior. They made jokes with tongue planted and cemented into cheek, and they felt that their own medium not only set them apart, but could be exploited to take audiences into places that other animation studios just couldn’t be bothered to visit.
It isn’t that I believed a child of the ’80’s could have been the first person to consider the meta-textual qualities of the media around him, and certainly I would have been a fool to consider that this kind of interplay didn’t exist in other mediums, either. But I was shocked when I would mention that it was these moments that I longed for, it was the instant Yosemite Sam turned to me and made a comment that took us both out of the story for a second, that I thought were the funniest moments. I didn’t have a name for it then, and most of my friends and family seemed to thing those scenes were usually boring. (This is like when you meet people who don’t like Holodeck episodes of Star Trek: TNG, or who found the mythology episodes of X-Files to be boring.)
The underlying idea that the artist and the audience could wink at each other and share a joke or a moment between only the two of them was very clearly a powerful tool, considering how much it affected me as a kid. Seeing the edges and peering through the reality that seeped through was always my favorite part of anything I saw around me, and it began to be the way in which I would look at TV and film, too. But I also noticed how it did not seem to have the same kind of effect of other. When most people were confronted with a meta-joke, they frown and shake their head. It just isn’t for them, no matter how funny the joke might be.
When I discovered comics as a teen, I was immediately attracted to the “funnier” and more comedy-inflected writing styles that was big business in the late ’80’s. DC was having a field day with style, largely influenced by Keith Giffen and his series, Ambush Bug. A lead character that is aware he is in the DC Universe, and plays with dead (or forgotten) bits of continuity that blew my mind as a 13 years old kid, (who, at the time, hadn’t been lucky enough to find Steve Gerber‘s work yet, who Giffen seems influenced by). Again, I seemed to be in the minority, but I would scan the racks at comics stores, looking for something that scratched that itch at a time when most comics had gotten very dark and “serious.” This led me to finding Giffen’s run on Justice League, which is not only one of the funniest comics produced in the late ’80’s / early ’90’s, but to this day stands as a source for much of my sense of humor, if not references and jokes that no one else around me seems to get.
And then, there was The Blasters. Where do you even begin with trying to tell that backstory? In the late ’80’s, Giffen had been given a number of books to work on as one of DC’s rising stars, and with his Justice League book a hit, he was allowed to expand his influence to a number of titles. This also led to him getting to write 1989’s annual all-company cross-over Invasion! Giffen used this end product as a way to cause his various Sci-Fi / outer space story lines hinted at in Omega Men, Justice League International, and Legion of Super-Heroes to converge in this company-wide event. DC’s goal (like it is for any event like this) was to launch some new titles, shake up some old titles, clean house elsewhere in the universe, and move some of the action that is usually contained entirely on Earth into outer space, thus opening up the DC Universe so that the word “universe” was actually on point these days. This was Giffen’s attempt to not only ape Marvel’s Cosmic titles that were doing very well over there (with stuff like Guardians of The Galaxy and Silver Surfer selling like gangbusters), but to try and do a modern version of Kirby’s Fourth World books from the ’70’s.
It also helped that in the old Justice League comics, there was a tendency to have to fight off an alien menace every other issue, and the one thing that “dark” and “modern” comics of the late ’80’s had been lacking was a good alien invasion. And with any good war story, you needed a band of mercenaries. To this end, Giffen organized a group of new and old characters to work as the catalyst for the Invasion! storyline. This group was loosely known as The Blasters for an actually terrifying reason (their powers all emerged when aliens lined them up and fired upon them, scaring the team senseless and causing their metagenes to activate).
In the wake of the Invasion! series, DC took chances on several new titles, one of which was a one-shot featuring this new team, to see if it might be a book they could add to their publishing roster. Being a Giffen property not only meant that the book had to be funny, but helmed by someone who got Giffen’s take on comics. He not only picked the team to write and draw it (Peter David and James Fry), but set the tone for the book with the comedy and meta-text that followed his particular interests. It also so happened that Peter and James like to produce the same kind of stuff, too.
Since almost none of you have even heard of this title, I’ll spoil everything now and save you the trouble of Lycos-ing or tracking down this story: there has been only one Blasters comic book published since 1989, a special release in the Spring of that year (that was panned by critics and very quickly forgotten). The story, typical of Peter David’s writing, is a mish-mash of Sci-Fi references (largely from Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy… yes, vogons appear in this comic), and meta-textual references and gags where the captions for the book are destroyed and flown through by various space ships. (The lead character, Snapper Carr – have fun with that particular comics k-hole – finds out what to do next in the story by glancing at the panels that are ahead of him.) If I haven’t done a good enough job of describing what The Blasters is like to read, just imagine something that was written for nerds, and narrow the focus so incredibly that within their own ranks, only a small sub-set will find it up their alley. No matter how much I raved, and no matter who I loaned that book to, it always came back, largely unread, with a comment like, “I tried, but it just isn’t my thing.”
I have often wondered why I heard this phrase so often when I tried to get at my interest in this subject. “It just isn’t my thing.” It seemed like such a ripe area for reflection and narrative complexity to my young mind, and yet it was the element in every story I read that others seemed to skip over. The thing I learned from Warner Bros. cartoons growing up is that, unlike most schlock that is played straight and is absolutely saccharine with predicability and well-worn stories – ahem, Disney, coff coff – you can often get bigger reactions from something if it is unlike everything else around it. Even at a young age, television brought home the idea that there are basically two kinds of stories, and they are each the reverse side of the other. (Summarizing Jorge Borges, one is “A stranger came to town,” and the other, “Someone went off on a long journey.”) Repetition absolutely bred familiarity with me, and the welcome intrusion of characters and references that pointed to the artificiality of this repetition became the attractive element that I looked for in art and culture.
Let me pause my own story a brief moment to say a few words about Spaceballs, a film that spent many years on my list of favorite movies, and my very favorite by Mel Brooks (until I became more familiar with his other work as a teen and twenty-something years later). While all of his films use metatext as a platform to layer joke after joke (see, for instance, the last third of Blazing Saddles), Spaceballs was very close to home for me. I loved sci-fi (and Star Wars, of course), I loved comedy, and they had packaged both with a huge swath of self-awareness that I had not seen in a film before. This movie had my sense of humor written all over it, so much so that there is a sort of chicken-or-the-egg quality regarding which came first. If you had to distill an aspect of that film that moved me, pulled me aside and said, “kid, this is for you,” then I would have to point to Rick Moranis turning to the camera asking if, “Everybody got that?” It went so directly to the core of my being as a kid that it still works on me, even as an adult, and I am sure I quote this movie accidentally without realizing I am. It is possible, if one were so inclined, to make a Bowfinger-style recreation of Spaceballs without my knowledge, provided you followed me around long enough and waited for the appropriate scenes to play out.
As I got older and discovered a love of writing, my stories became full of characters that were my own in-narrative proxys. (A Grant Morrison kind of move before I even knew who he was. In fact, reading The Invisibles was painful for me only because periodically I would yell out, “That was my idea!” a problem that would recur when I started watching Lost.) As my big literary influence in those days were comics, and to another degree the DC Heroes Roleplaying Game that I’d gotten for Christmas one year, most of my early writing is littered with a thinly-veiled versions of myself in some sort of elaborate conceit or costume that made me into a superhero. I am fortunate enough that most of this material is still in either a hand-written form, or on typing paper (predating my first computer), and therefore I can’t share these stories with you as easily. (You’re welcome.) Suffice it to say, my Hitchcockian cameos in my own text began very early, and has continued ever since.
My first foray into my own fiction began with a story I wrote in High School, and was serialized in my zine A.C.R.O.N.Y.M., which was made and distributed between 1994 and 1995. In issue #2, the first installment of naaaaaahhhhghahahhk!!!!!!!! (oR, tHE rEALLY wEIRD sTORY tHAT i cAN’T rEMEMBER wHAT tHE tITLE iS) sees print, and I wish I could say nicer things about it considering I know the author fairly well. I made the decision to typeset the entire thing in what I called the “fIREHOSE” format, which made the story largely unreadable to most people save for myself and those with the highest constitutions when it comes to textual form.
The idea itself was fairly bland: I had written the story my neighbors appeared in, but they find out, get worried, and I have to stop them from learning more, and eventually give up and crumple the story, destroying their universe. Corny, yes, but it illustrates where my mind was in High School. Super heroes appear in this story, and I fight them, even. Most of the writing groups I would attend in the early days had people hashing out their fantasy novels, creating cryptic and impenetrable poetry, or just wanted to turn their journals into creative prose so we could all experience their pain. I was looking to do something that was sort of in-between all of these things, and would read stories like naaaaaahhhhghahahhk!!!!!!!! to puzzled audiences who didn’t know what to think.
When I settled into Eugene properly after High School, and started to immerse myself in the ’90s culture that surrounded us, I became the center of my own writing again. Between 1996 and 2005, I wrote a ‘zine called I’d Buy That For A Dollar. While this occasionally contained fiction, the bulk of it was an outlet for my incredibly solipsistic and emo ponderings, where I made my best efforts to made sense of life as a lonely young man. While I will cop to have written it all – even the awful bits – with hindsight it is not only unseemly at times, but as my friend Cheryl once said to me, “this is a little too revealing.”
I don’t regret it, because it was so much a part of my psyche at the time that I needed to get that out of my head, even if it wasn’t exactly helping. When I read it back, I don’t know if I feel the same way about the events this person was writing about, even though I am sure we are the same person. Of course, it is easy to say that when almost 20 years separates the earliest issues from now, but I think I let my own misery drive my creative impulses a little too much then, and with hindsight, I wish I had let other motivations steer me toward other material.
But even this reflectiveness was being shaped and molded by metatext. My roommate at the time, a tall linguist we called Sierra, introduced me to Flann O’Brien, an author who plays with the boundaries between literature and reality for fun and sport, in both his novels and his newspaper columns (which blur the line between journalism and fiction). Discovering Fight Club and Charlie Kaufman movies at this time did me no end of good when it came to plumbing the depths of this well. The Princess Bride was an obsession that started harmlessly enough when I saw it, but led to multiple re-readings and viewings where the genius therein was full revealed. And, let’s no forget re-reading Endgame over and over, which eventually led to a nice and comfortable interest in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, a film that not only rewards with multiple viewings, but might be the funniest thing that has ever been written.
While I’d Buy That For A Dollar was far from metatext in intent, it became an ongoing story about my own life, and one that I recognized less and less as the years went on and I started changing and evolving, personally. Having been steeped in this world of reality and fiction blurring, my reality now read like fiction to me, not because the events hadn’t happened, but the lens through which I was seeing those same events was filtering for something entirely different. Already, even in offering context for this interest of mine, I have to relate to my own life and past through the narrative text I wrote, a breadcrumb trail that offers clues as to what was happening when, and where I have been, but in a form that seemed strange and unfamiliar to the adult I had become. Around 2005-ish this kind of personal writing migrated entirely to this blog – the one you’re reading now. I had been a character in this printed story that now seemed foreign and made up, and if my own life was going to sound that way anyway, then I should probably become comfortable with just making things up from the start in the first place.
It isn’t that my life changed or that things shifted dramatically in 2005. I was going to college, yes, and outside of radio and writing fiction, my only other interest at the time was girls. But something more subtle was going on that only made sense to me years later. The “me” that I had been writing about for my whole life was gone. I was an adult, interested in different things, talking about life in a different way, and looking for something that I could get excited about that wasn’t informed by my childhood. In many ways, I had become a Sci-Fi trope, where I was living in the body of someone else, a body that carried memories of someone that seemed familiar to me, but also seemed unrelated to the life that I was living now. The 30 year old I found myself being then was not only confused by the life I had led before, but it felt like a life I would have lived differently, had I known how most of it would turn out.
It was around 2005 that I started writing fiction again, much more of it than I had before. Short stories, yes, and very inspired by Borges and Calvino and Brautigan and Flann O’Brien, and some other material I’d absorbed through being on a college campus and having access to the larger world of ideas. And yet, in nearly all of these I insisted in making myself a character in the narrative, a gimmick that my influences were all very good at, true. But for me it seemed motivated by a different impulse. Since I had written the truth and it felt like fiction, inserting myself into fiction felt like a new way and defining truth for myself. Why did I see this other life as someone else’s, when it was clearly my own? Perhaps, if I wrote about another version of it enough, I could crack some of these puzzles that no amount of booze or girls or writing about it seemed to allow me to do.
Most of my work since 2005 has been centered around amplifying the idea that I could live comfortably within the stories that I write. And, to be fair, these fictions have been quite enjoyable to try on and waltz around within. I made a 2008 collection of these stories, Naked Trees Point To The North Star, and to this day, it remains the best collection of my written work that I have been able to get in print, and has re-defined who I was, both to myself and to the people who read it. The idea had been gestating since those earliest days at PSU: DIY publications and ‘zines are the perfect form to create experimental pieces of prose, and I envisioned that Naked Trees would look and feel like a ‘zine, would have a personal / journal-like quality at times, but the entirety of the package was a work of fiction, written and made by a version of myself that is almost, but not at all remotely, like the me that had been writing previously.
The reaction to this was, of course, mixed. Meta is just not for everyone, and while I felt that these stories really got at the heart of struggles that I was going through, I had a hard time talking about the work with anyone else, without resorting to the worst quality in every writer, making the statement, “So, did you ‘get it’?” While it remains the best written work I have produced in any format to date, and I have come to terms with how, in spite of my best efforts, it is more journalistic than fictional, in that it marked a serious shift in my own view of the universe. It was clear that once I imbued my text with any amount of reality from my world, the reality itself seemed further and further from the truth. After publishing that collection all I had left of my former live was this written collection and half-trusted memories to guide me. Something was about to give.
It isn’t that I decided to make my life reflect these vague and perplexing Sci-Fi and Fantasy tropes to add some spice or flavor to my own experiences. In observing my own interactions with the world – and the interactions of others – it is clear to me that you cannot capture the complexity of this existence, and the strangeness of the mundane, in anything but fantastic language and conceptual thinking. Is it possible to illustrate these kinds of experiences if you haven’t been through them yourself? You’re sharing some wine with some friends, and you’re quickly gobbling every snack you can, because of the night ahead of you.
Gathering everything you can imagine needing, you trundle en mass, passing fellow travelers and enemies, until you arrive at the bar. There is music and magic and libido and peacocking and every manner of horror and excitement on display, charging you, filling you with magic until you are casting conversational spells in every direction. You are filled with an experience you can barely explain, as your friends are performing and watching and drinking and fucking and exploring all manner of joy and pain in one dramatic and perplexing night. And, exhausted, wasted, with a kiss on your cheek and a song in your heart, you perform your last few tricks, produce a cigarette from somewhere, and zig zag through the alleys, to find yourself at home, the next day, perplexed and confused, but itching to do it all over again.
Is that not some sort of fantasy, full of the kind of strangeness and confusion that the best fiction fills us with as we turn pages? At what point does our own life contain a kind of importance that we choose to add it to the cannon, so we can romp through uncharted waters side-by-side with Odysseus? Are we all content to wallow in the banality of brushing our teeth and making lunch?
Three things happened in 2010 that had a huge effect on me. First, I finished college, a banality that I had put off for too long, and was only causing me to spin my tires and was getting in the way of my next phase in life. I moved in with a friend of mine (second thing), and when all of that was said and done, I had an experience that is difficult to explain, which I attempted to document in 2013’s acronyminc.blogpress.new.
Essentially, I lost 10 years of my life, and in processing that event, realized that not only was I living in a future that made little sense to me, but that the memories I did have were absolutely those of someone else I no longer connected with. It wasn’t exactly a sudden experience, and it didn’t come on over-night. But the span of time between the Millennium turning over and my own academic leveling-up had become dreamlike, and waking up on the other side of it created a world for me that was now actually full of technology and behavior that was ten years ahead of who I felt I was. Without intending to, the world around me began to fully resemble something straight out of my own fiction, and now I was the character who was just enough aware to question what kind of Duck Amok world of which I was now a part.
The best part about living within your own fiction is that, on the whole, things tend to work out okay. In spite of being a temporal mess, covered in magic and confusion, I managed to meet someone who has become so central to my own life, and we have found a place we can call our own. My efforts to capture this reality I’ve been inhabiting and communicate it to others has become a steady routine, a rhythm that I can count on to keep me focused and aware of what may lie ahead. And you get to enjoy these efforts, too, which is no small thing, I imagine. And usually, the hardships we face are handled together, so that neither of us has to take on too much of the burden this world presents us with.
But this doesn’t ease the strangeness we encounter every day. We look at TV, and it barely resembles the things we remember knowing. These computers in our pockets are straight out of a novel I read as a kid, and the social changes our world has gone through not only seem unreal, but were absolutely unobtainable when I was a child. (Open homosexuality? Gluten free restaurants? Reality TV Politics? Legal weed?)
For better or for worse, this world reads as more fictional than anything I can have come up with, at any time in my life, and for that alone I will continue to define the borders of this made-up universe, flesh out the parts that I can see and understand, and hope that when I hand it over to you, trembling, nervous, that the things I see are like what John Nada’s sunglasses reveal, that, hopefully, you can look at it, take it for what it is, and remember that this can’t be any crazier than the religious world most everyone else lives in, too.
The only difference is: I know I made this one up, and I’m absolutely willing to admit it.
If you look carefully, you can see the scars where my ears used to be pierced. At one point, I had metal jammed through my conch and parts of my lobes, and the scar from the hole in my tongue is still there, though I doubt I could get a barbell through it anymore. While I was happy to shove metal into my face as a younger man, when I stumbled upon these piercings the other day I almost didn’t recognize them. I was never very good at being a pierced member of society, and the ones that I paid for seem like poor choices now, considering how little money I had back then. While it certainly hasn’t disappeared from the world as a whole, it is clear with hindsight that I got caught up in the piercing craze of the ’90’s. The fact that I don’t have saggy earlobes and tribal scarring on my arms is a testament to how much of a temporary dalliance it actually was for me.
Growing up in the ’80’s was complicated for everyone in a number of ways, but by the time I was in school one topic that came up often was that of piercings. Nearly all women were expected to have tasteful piercings of one kind or another, and there is often a rite of passage that young girls go through with their mothers when they are old enough. I remember my mom taking my sister to the mall, who returned in pain and with new holes in both of her ears. I was older than my sister by five years, and while it had never occurred to me that I wanted my ears pierced in a similar fashion, once I saw my peers all wearing them, I wanted it too.
However, once I made a comment about this out loud, the trouble started. “Boys don’t get their ears pierced,” I was told by my family, but I knew that this wasn’t true. I had seen men on TV and in public wearing piercings, and as much as I knew that men could do it, the subtext of the conversation was two-fold then: wanting pierced ears made me gay, and my parents would have nothing to do with it regardless.
It wasn’t until I started talking to my friends about it in Jr. High that I started to hear the, “Left ear, buccaneer; right ear, queer,” rhetoric Prior to this, I had no understanding of sexuality, or even that there was something other than the binary that my parents represented. All I knew is that I wasn’t yet over reading comics and playing with imaginary friends, and that girls were mysterious and not for me, yet. But as my friends started to show up to school with a single piercing on the left and budding facial hair in patches, they usually accounted for it with some sort of phrase like, “Left is right, and right is wrong.” I made a few attempts to ask my parents about this, and the awkward silences and shared glances between them meant that this likely fell into the territory of, “The Talk,” and I wasn’t about to let me dad load me into his truck again so he could drive for hours trying to explain to me something that he was very clearly not entirely comfortable with himself.
I dropped the idea until High School, that time when the venn diagram of self-destruction, boundary pushing and poor impulse control overlap into a fun-filled four-year period where everything sucks. Not only did I see a slight up-tick in the number of piercings I saw my fellow students – on men, no less – but the more I talked to people about it, I discovered that you didn’t really have to pay someone to do it for you. A collection of heshers on our campus accidentally taught me that if you sterilized a safety pin (aka, “burned the end with fire”), you could shove it through any fleshy part you liked, and it only hurt for a few days. I also discovered that, if you do this on your own without telling your mom, she’ll be a little horrified and surprised to see random scraps of metal hanging from you ears. While I was never asked to take them out, I could tell that this wasn’t exactly the best way to win her over as we became strangers to each other through the sheer act of growing up.
Boredom usually motivates much of what teenagers do, and by the end of High School I had removed all the safety pins, and more or less let them heal over. It wasn’t until I moved to Eugene, and more importantly met a dude named Ocean at an IHOP one night, that this began to change.
If you were of a certain age range in the ’90’s – and you were not the kind of person who had discovered alcohol as a wonderful way to enjoy your evening – then your destination when the sun went down was the nearest 24 Hour establishment that served coffee. On any given night, across the country, teens and 20 year olds would wander the streets in packs, looking for a booth to set up camp in and write your crappy poetry, or draw your unpublishable comics, or talk about the bands you would never actually start. I had several circles of friends that all did this, and one night as we were mocking up stuff for the newest issue of my ‘zine, we ran into Ocean, head to toe in piercings and tattoos, with his girlfriend Yannica, who had both just gotten to Eugene and thought John’s Skinny Puppy shirt meant we should all get to know each other. This not only inaugurated Ocean into our circle, but when we found out that he’d gotten a job at High Priestess – the first local shop in Eugene entirely dedicated to piercings – this soon became the place that we hung out at when the staff were between clients.
In those days, piercing shops were not at all common, and while you certainly met people covered in them, I was often left to wonder where this stuff was done. High Priestess was interesting in that it was below a tattoo parlor, and near a convenience store. A parade of weirdos and like-minded folks came into that building every hour, and hanging out there meant a good chance to meet people you knew, listen to music, and in some cases when the clients were into it, you could watch people get undressed as different parts of their bodies were being lanced. Between the watching various tattoos and piercings be administered, I saw a fair and steady string of naked men and women.
I ordered the two small hoops in the picture above, and against Ocean’s recommendation, used a safety pin and made a pair of mostly centered holes for them. One day, while bored and out of clients, gave me a $10 deal on my conch, and I put various items in it over the years. When I would go shopping for new albums, I usually dropped by so Ocean and I could check them out. We would regularly gather at the shop to plan our evening afterward, which sometimes involved dropping acid, or getting coffee, or hitting a party as a group. For a brief period of time, it was the center of our social group.
I had a job that I hated working in a factory at the time, which I got in the wake of being dumped and evicted from the place I was living. I piled everything into a storage locker and started staying with the aforementioned John, but working 12 hour shifts at night only separated me from my friends further, and made be a little bitter about the way it had all worked out. In a fit of anger, I walked out during a shift, quit the job, and cashed out every check and pending income I could find. I made one last stop by High Priestess and asked Ocean to pierce my tongue. Then I left town for a week to sort things out.
The tongue piercing was legendary among many people I knew, largely because it was supposed to improve your oral sex skills through the aid of this studded implement. I can’t really speak to that as someone who had the piercing. What I remember was the pain; it hurt. And continued to for days. Eating was a bitch, and as I tried to each noodles the day after I felt betrayed and horrified by the act that I’d been through. I almost took it out, but let it heal, hating the experience, and when all was said and done, found it to be in the way more than the sexy and alluring accoutrement that I hoped it would be.
As the years wore on, I found it to be in the way more than a bonus to my lifestyle. It would accidentally clack against my teeth, or would get chomped on by mistake. Occasionally it would feel a little sore, and the piercing required regular cleaning that I did not account for. I moved out of John’s place, and eventually moved away from Eugene entirely, and when it had been years, after I’d already removed all the other piercings and decided that was no longer for me, I still had this barbell in my tongue, impressing no one, occasionally causing me pain and getting in the way.
One day I took it out, and set it in a dish near my bed. And I never put it back in again.
I suffered in the long run. One of my front teeth on the bottom – where the piercing would regularly “clack” into by accident – is now gone, it causing incredibly paid one day from the damage it sustained over the years. Instead of the piercing, I get to wear a denture, a fitting end to a bad idea. I occasionally notice the scars these left behind, like memories from a friend you no longer see, lodged in there, waiting to be found by accident.
But so far, I have yet to want to get pierced again.
Our own past is the most challenging to deal with, because it has so many dead ends and so many unanswered questions. Like fads and trends, people and things and hobbies and habits move through our lives and disappear one day, and it can take years to notice what happened to they, or where they might have gone. I don’t think of myself as being pierced, and my own dalliance with the hobby was poorly formed, badly planned, and left me with real scars that I will have for my entire life. But I also don’t notice that I was one a pierced man either. The scars are small, barely noticeable, and wouldn’t even be visible if you didn’t know where to look.
Like all lost friends, these parts of the past might slip away like Ocean did, but the impact will last forever.
As part of our ongoing effort to perform Spring Cleaning out-of-season, my wife and I have been harassing each other in and effort to open up boxes and look into closets, and reassess our belongings with regard to 2016. In a box beneath our bed that we had not opened in over a year I found this blanket, and for a brief moment I launched into all the reasons why I should keep it. However – and I’m very proud of this, I might add – I shook my head, added it to the Goodwill pile, and since then that pile has remained stagnant in our house, waiting for the day when one of us turns to the other and says, “Seriously, we need to take that shit to Goodwill.”
Well, at least it is a start.
Even in High School, I was referred to as a pack rat, and this was brought into sharp relief when I was first thrown out in my Senior Year of High School. Not only was it impossible for me to move by myself – I had no car, no truck, no friends with a car or truck, no license to drive, and more stuff than I could fit in a single vehicle anyway, even at 18. While I have had tenures in homes that lasted a decent amount of time – I managed to clock only three years at The Blitzhäus, and kept an apartment in Portland for about the same length of time – between 1993 and 2010, I was never in the same house for very long. Most of my stuff resided in boxes that I would open periodically, remove or add to it, then close it up to store it somewhere again. To this day, in spite of being married and living in a house with a full basement and garage, I still have several of these boxes in storage at my old roommate’s house, and why he hasn’t had them all thrown out yet is a testament to our friendship and my own laziness.
Part of the impulse to keep things came from a collector’s mentality. As a young child, I collected CocaCola paraphernalia, and I still have a few relics from that collection in my toy trunk in the basement. But once I found comics – a hobby that can have pack-ratted-ness at its core – I started to see the value of keeping things to be read and looked back on later. This only amplified when I started making ‘zines; almost anything could be potentially photographed, xeroxed, or re-typed for a future issue, and it was easy enough to say, “I’ll use this someday,” toss it into a box, and never look at it again.
How exactly I came into possession of this blanket is a little lost to the ages. I believe – and I could be very wrong about this – that is was left behind at The Blitzhäus by Captain Morgan, a drinking buddy and carnie who used to make a lot more appearances in our lives, until he fully embraced the carnie life, and hasn’t been seen much since. The Blitzhäus was a huge four bedroom apartment in Eugene that became our party pad between the beginning of 1997 and the Spring of 2000, located above a fancy bar that closed early and never complained about the filth or noise. In the time I managed that apartment, nearly 17 people paid rent, and ever more slept on our floors and couches, staying with us for a few days or weeks or months, depending. The turnover was very high, but the memories were great, and while I would never choose to live in a “punk house” again, I often think fondly of those days.
When I set out to make a life for myself on my own, one of the hardest problems to solve what finding a place to consistently sleep. I had never slept well, even as a kid, but my late teens were full of meeting friends for coffee, and staying up all night to write, so not only was sleep more and more elusive, but the places I would end up sleeping were becoming more and more random. At one point I had a twin mattress (nothing else) that I lugged around when I had a place to put it, and then traded up to a futon which I used for a bit longer. I was gifted two different queen sized mattresses over the years (each of which had seen better days), and then finally, in 2007, I used part of a financial aid check to pick up a bed frame at Ikea.
Blankets and pillows were often a problem. Being a cheapskate and largely poor, I never even bought used stuff, but would occasionally find myself in positions where I had been gifted this or that. Between High School and The Blitzhäus, my bedding was always in flux, but once I found this blanket (and, more importantly, the owner no longer seemed interested in it), I took it to the laundromat, cleaned it, brought it home, and used it until I met my wife. It became the only source of warmth and comfort at night during a period of my life that was at my most lonely.
There is nothing special about this blanket, to be sure. It is thin, and there isn’t much material within it to insulate you. It is just big enough to spread over the area of a queen sized mattress, but isn’t really big enough if you would like to cover both you and a guest. And while I never gave it any thought when it was just the only blanket that I owned, when I see it now, all I can think about is the years that I spent carrying it with me, like some adult version of Linus’ blanket, sometimes the only thing that could keep me warm.
There is no reason for me to keep this; we have a full complement of bedclothes in our house, with extras to spare for when we have guests, and other lap-blankets and warming devices that makes this old and somewhat useless piece of material completely irrelevant. And it is definitely not valuable. If it was, indeed, once something that belonged to Captain Morgan, he never wanted it back, and it can’t be any older than the ’90’s in terms of its “vintage.” And the period of time in which it got the most use was a desolate time, where I was single and miserable, drunk and unhappy about most everything, and would come home from whatever I’d been up to, ragged, beaten, confused, and would crawl beneath that green thing to try and find some sleep – that most elusive of experiences – for a few hours, anyway.
So yes, it goes on the Goodwill pile. I don’t need it. I don’t want it. And I hope that, someday, the memories that flood into me from seeing it will slowly get thinner and thinner from overuse, until I no longer feel the nostalgic warmth they once brought to me. It is time to move on, into a world with heated mattress pads and thick comforters that I can share with my wife.
Yes, I don’t need that blanket anymore. So why is it still in a pile in my house?
The old adage that you become wiser as you get older has, so far, proved to be absolute crap as I have watched my own odometer turn over. I have met a wide range of people in my life, many of which were older than I, and most of which were no more skilled or able to make sense of this world (or any other) than I have been able to on my own. More pointedly, the desire to gain wisdom needs to be present first, before anyone of any age can make heads or tails of it. Like with self-help, religion, exercise, or really anything worth a crap, you have to want it to get there first, you have to want to take action in order make it happen, and when you stop moving in that direction, you stop making any kind of progress toward wisdom. You can’t get there without trying.
I remember as a child thinking that people older than me had insight or knowledge that could be useful to me, and for many years that was true. But by the time High School rolled around, I started to notice my teachers began to make stuff up if they didn’t actually know, and would stutter and fumble with ideas and thoughts almost as often as I did. They were capable of as much pettiness and poor judgement as any teenager I had every met, and I started to suspect that they had no insight that I didn’t have myself. My theory was that they had all stopped trying to make sense of the world, assuming they had as much as they already needed. In the years that followed High School, I distrusted anyone who acted older, and made a point of illustrating that they are no different or more informed than I could be after a trip to the library.
Now that I have passed 40, I not only feel certain that I was right then, but the evidence at hand points to the same kind of self-help axiom I’ve always struggled with: you have to want something to get something. Because, essentially, that is the case for anyone who hasn’t tried to pick a direction for themselves and pursue it. That component of reaching out for something that you want – again: personal improvement, a new faith or belief in something, a goal or desire that you will not let yourself live without – if you can’t be bothered to even want it or find out if you do want it badly enough, then you will have no idea what you are doing and why you are doing it. This happens to be the case with most people – young or old – and is the state of being most people prefer to adopt because it is easy.
But what do I do with this revelation? This is the problem that I have encountered in the mental exercise of working out how you communicate this information downstream. At 17, what would have resonated with me that would have opened my eyes? How could anyone have taught me that I need to chase my desires with confidence, that I need to outline what I want and take physical actions to achieve my goals. How do you make that clear to a teenager who is convinced that everything is unfair, and stacked against him? It’s a hard nut to crack. My natural state as a youth was to feel put-upon, to feel abused, to feel distrust toward the world around me, and to feel that the only place I was understood was in music and books of my choosing. Short of taking me to a $5 show where all the bands I like had written ‘zines about how you need to set desire-based goals and pursue them, how would I have ever made this observation at that age? Is is even possible?
A lot of this has to do with confidence, something that I have never been good at and felt little reason to carry as a defining trait. I was not confident. Until I met my wife, I was pretty sure I would be doomed to having short and largely meaningless relationships, and only in the years since we have met, fell in love, and got married do I feel the kind of confidence that I longed for a needed as a teen. But how do you imbue confidence to the awkward and uncomfortable, without the years of experience that created it in me? I still feel this overwhelming panic that my wife will leave me at any moment, and for any reason, and this hyper-vigilance regarding this thought tends to color my every action, even when I know in my heart that this won’t happen. I want her in my life, but the nearly 25 years of experience prior to meeting her has trained me to think that everyone leaves. Even at 40, I don’t have the confidence I’d like to have.
If learning confidence is complicated, developing sophistication is even more challenging. I value my ability to think critically, to hold two thoughts in my mind at once, to consider new ideas and to abandon old ones that no longer work. This is something I wish I had at my disposal as a teen, because in those days, I clung to the one idea I liked with a virulent fervency that bordered on being unhinged. I was convinced that everyone’s ideals never wavered their entire life, that you would always cling to these powerful thoughts of “right” and “wrong,” and that these notions would guide you as you move forward in life. But as you move out into the world, and meet more and more people who challenge you and your ideas, your own level of sophistication begins to increase dramatically. Punk Rock is not the only kind of interesting (or valid) music being made (in spite of a comment to that effect that I might have made as a teen), and the greatest movie of all time is not Pump Up The Volume. (Though that movie is quite excellent, nonetheless, there are much more interesting movies that I’ve come to love more.)
Sophistication allows us to recognize when something is of high quality, even if we don’t like it ourselves. Sophistication suggests that there are more ideas in the world than our own, and that the exploration of them – and the discarding of things that are insane or poorly developed – is a healthy part of interacting with the world around us. We need confidence, to become fully realized people who feel they have purpose and direction, and we need sophistication so we can make sense of other people who are different from us without resorting to racist, sexist, or other exclusionist kinds of behaviors when we meet them.
So: how do you teach a teenager, who is still more excited about video games and exploring their own body and ignoring the entirety of the world that is outside of their peer group, how do you convey the value of analytical thought and personal self-worth? To a teenager, everything is emotion and frenzied thought, barreling through life with a pulsing pleasure center between their legs, an uncomfortable body still growing into maturity, and a huge set of social rules and axioms that dictate how you should be acting. Even the idea of embodying confidence and sophistication is outside of everything a teenager experiences, save for the few that have extreme skill in one area or who have been forced to grow up quickly.
I’ve wrestled with this for a while, but I have no real insight into how to help out my past-self, or even the current crop of youth that are coming to terms with unfairness and adolescence here and now. Being young is hard, and only as I am starting to consider the second half of my life do I feel as if I’m starting to get a sense of how I should have gone about things then. It isn’t that I have a secret that I can share with kids that will even be helpful, any really they must experience this for themselves for it to really hit home. But if anyone younger (or, perhaps, older who still isn’t sure) happens across this and might want to distill my thoughts into something they can use in a practical sense, here are a few thoughts to consider as you try and deal with the universe around you:
1.) Nobody Else Knows What You Need. Only you can make that call. Only you know what your dreams and goals are, what your hopes and desires might look like, and what will keep you motivated to live the way you want to. Describe what you want to yourself, make it as clear as possible, and be willing to do this as many times as you need until you think you’re on the right path. You don’t have to share it with anyone unless you want to, but you should ask yourself regularly, “What do I need? What do I want? Can I define it?”
2.) Most Everyone Else Doesn’t Know What’s Going On. They may say they are adults, they may point to more education or experience, they may think they are genuine authority figures, and they may claim that they know better. But they don’t. They never did, and they are faking it if they say they do. They don’t know what your life is like, they don’t know what you’re after and what is important to you, and they probably never will if they haven’t defined what they want in their own lives, too. Be patient with them. Try to understand that they are clueless, and don’t take the things they say as “truth” or “valid” unless you happen to agree. When they are ready to see the world from your eyes, then you will be able to have a valuable conversation (for both of you). Until then: be patient. They mean well, but they don’t know any better.
3.) Try Not To Be A Dick. This is really the only rule in life that I have to say is 100% worth following, even if you don’t believe it or see the value in it at first. This won’t stop others from being a dick. You might even be a dick occasionally, and that is okay too. We all make mistakes. But try not to be. Imagine someone else acting the way you are acting, and see how that feels for a while before you do it yourself. None of us are always successful, and that’s okay. We can forgive you if you are trying. But please try. It is easy to be a dick, and you might even get somewhere at first by being one. But once you start acting like that often, you will find that it becomes a lot harder to stop. Act the way you want to be remembered, not the way you think will yield the biggest result immediately.
4.) Be Willing To Be Wrong. We learn from our mistakes, honestly. It seems counter-intuitive, but as I get older I see it in action every single day. A mistake might seem bad at first, and can be awful depending on the kind of mistake. (And I’ve made plenty of them, for sure.) But you will not be the first person to make a mistake, and you will not be the last, either. I have changed my mind hundreds of times, I have been wrong more times than I can count, and I will continue to make mistakes and be wrong for most of my life, not because I’m trying to make mistakes, but because I only learn the right way after I have exhausted all the wrong ways around me. Be willing to fuck up. But also be willing to learn from that experience.
5.) Don’t Be Afraid To Be Childish If You Want To Be. There is a race in this world to grow up, to put away the interests of your youth and to “embrace” the world of adulthood as soon as possible. This is absolutely insane, because these same people eventually get older and insist that adults should, “never grow up,” and that the way kids see things is precious and valuable. Clearly, they want kids to act like adults, so the old people can act like kids. Don’t listen to them, and pursue your interests, even if they are childish. If you like cartoons, watch cartoons. I do, and I love them. If you want to color, color every day. My wife has coloring books that she loves and uses often. My passions as a kid – computers, comics, writing – these are things that have been lifetime companions for me, both as a child and as an adult, and they have made me happy throughout my life, in spite of what adults told me when I was younger. There is no “one time” when you should act a certain way, and when people start telling you otherwise, you don’t have to listen.
And, it is also likely that I don’t know what I’m talking about, so you don’t really have to listen to this advice at all. Maybe you shouldn’t, at first. Maybe you need to learn these on your own. But maybe it is helpful. Maybe you already know it, and maybe you think I’m full of shit and will never understand you. All three are probably true, for some of you anyway. But these are the things I wish I had heard in High School, and more importantly, things I wish I had believed then, too.
Getting older can be awful. There are times when you want to give up being responsible, give up acting the way everyone says you need to, and you will long to give up adulthood and move on to something more fulfilling.
What I’m saying is: you can do this at any age. But only if you want to.
(This podcast and essay was originally posted on 21 January 2013. At the time, I worked for Portland State University, and got MLK Day paid off.)
I have always taken for granted the holiday that we take in January to honor Martin Luther King Jr. It was not that I didn’t care, but that the day usually came when papers were due, or when I worked a job that already required me to work that day. But in light of my new job, getting the day off – paid – felt a little weird. I had to be honest with myself that I had never really listened to any of MLK’s speeches all the way through, and that I knew very little about the work he did other than the most general, basic sense.
So today’s radio blast is a bunch of stuff culled from my collection of audio that relates to MLK Jr. I have an edited cut-up of his last speech, and a radio broadcast from just after his assassination, as a way of presenting some of what I discovered in actually doing some research of this amazing and incredible man.
I do not have any great epiphanies to share with you, and there is no great revelation at work in this show. It seems very clear that, as he delivered this speech, he knew his days were numbered, but this seems to be the case leading up to his assassination. I think the arrangement in this little mini-cast works to reveal why he was considered to be one of the best orators of our day, but also to illuminate much of what his work was about in the most basic and general sense possible.
For those who stay to the end: there’s a little joke to ease the tension of such a serious subject.
I urge all of you to listen to his speeches, read up on this man, and let yourself actually understand the value of this holiday. So much of what happens to us seems so passive, and we let days pass without reflecting on them too often. This time, stop for a moment to consider who this man was, and what effect he had on the world around us.
And: let’s hope you MLK Day was full of the promise and wonder that every new days brings us.
Be seeing you
I’ve Been to the Bemsha Mountaintop
01.) (What Did I Do To Be So) Black & Blue [Excerpt] * Louis Armstrong * Say It Loud: Celebrate Black History Month & Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
02.) “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” [Excerpts] * Martin Luther King Jr. * 3 April 1968
02.) Bemsha Swing * Thelonious Monk * Say It Loud: Celebrate Black History Month & Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
03.) Martin Luther King Jr. Assassinated * Bill Kurtis * We Interrupt This Broadcast * 4 April 1968
It isn’t that I want to be the flea on a house cat, or just to be contrary, but there’s always such a mixed bag of emotions when someone well-known passes away. I was absolutely broken the day Leonard Nimoy passed away, but found myself at peace when Lemmy’s death was announced. (Probably because I had seen Motorhead live four times, and felt lucky to have done so.) I remember spending hours watching Nirvana videos the day Cobain killed himself, crying and maudlin over someone I never met, but was almost filled with glee when I heard about Jerry Garcia passing, and actually celebrated when Ronald Regan finally died. We all have our own group of myth-makers that we respond to, and my love of Captain Beefheart can’t measure up to that of Robin Williams, no matter what the Inter-Web-A-Tron thinks I should feel that particular day.
It isn’t that I don’t like David Bowie. I have a few albums, and there’s some songs of which I’m certainly a fan. He was interesting, too, a character that was looking to create a certain kind of art, not necessarily art that was popular at the time, either. He looked how he wanted to, acted how he wanted to, made music that reached and affected a lot of people, and made a huge impact. I don’t want to deny any of that, or talk shit about him. He was who he was. He just wasn’t my favorite artist in the world.
And, even worse, not even the first well-known person to have died on January 10th of 2016. A well known mathematician, two well known dutch sculptors (the other one is here), a well known writer, two additional musicians (American & Venezuelan), a LGBT activist, a footballer, a journalist, a politician, a businessman & an Australian yachtsman all died on the same day, and a few of them also went to cancer, too. And that doesn’t even account for the scores of others that have already died in 2016. Wikipedia’s Lists of deaths by year is quite eye-opening, and while that doesn’t mean that Bowie’s death isn’t a loss, or isn’t tragic, it is strange to consider all the other’s that are not being remembered as part of this event.
Humanity has never really done well when we try to cope with death. The best we can do is invent an afterlife of some kind, speak to them as if they are still alive, and postpone the actual grieving until we are faced with the fact that this person really is lost, that they really are gone, that they are never coming back. Sometimes we can process these kinds of events in real time. But death is almost always sudden. I didn’t go to bed on the 9th with any kind of preparation that I would wake up in a world without Bowie. None of us did. But it has happened, and we must learn to find a way to deal.
In a way, celebrity deaths are how we come to cope with the fact that humanity is dying. The thought that there will never be any more Motorhead shows is a big thing to process, and it stands in for the fact that everything ends, eventually. There was a time when there were never going to be any more Beatles, or Elvis, or Django Reinhardt, or Mozart. But life continues. Bowie has now been relegated to “old” culture status, and we will only now be able to live in a world that has lost that, and hundred and thousands of those who came before us. Learning to live without new music is a bit like having to come to terms with Grandma dying, or the city we grew up in changing dramatically.
Yes, it is sad we lost him. It is sad we lost everyone. We should be mourning the loss of people, of those who were not famous but touched our lives anyway. We should be learning to come to terms with everything that we might not ever see again, and not just new albums buy a guy who had done the bulk of his best work a few decades ago. This should be an example of the amazing things that we have in front of us, and not a chance to dwell on the great things we used to have, that are completely gone now.
Nostalgia is great. But it is too easy to feel steeped in it, to let it overwhelm us as we realize the thing we love is gone now, or different. But celebrities will live on in our memory longer than our friends, or neighbors will, and rarely do we celebrate them with the same kind of grandiosity of a passed superstar.
No one will ever forget Bowie. Who will remember everyone else that died that day?
In the spirit of newness and change, I’ve decided that it is time to shake up the presentation here on the blog. There are have been a number of ways this interface has taken shape over the years, and when I first started making websites and posting material to the Inter-Web-A-Tron in the ’90’s, I had a number of ideas about what I wanted to post. The frequency of those posts, and the presentation of them has changed dramatically since then, but I’ve done my best to hit upon themes that I’ve always felt strongly about. Often those themes involve art and girls, but that’s true of almost every person who has ever been attracted to either.
The most recent incarnation of this blog – and within that, the most recent reboot of it last year – has been an excellent place to post things that are in-progress, or half-formed, as a means of chewing over ideas that I know I want to see go further. When I first launched a proper blog, just after moving to Portland in 2000-ish (which I’m trying to unearth for the anthropological exercise of it all), my first thought was that the Inter-Web made it possible to have more immediate discourse, or at least, more immediate than the letters I was getting from ‘zines. I still stand by that idea, and I post to the web largely with the notion that all of this is a draft, that it might be revised and re-written before it finds a final home. Text, as any writer knows, is always a living document, and even after they are printed, there is an urge to revise.
The idea to go to five days a week was, of course, fairly bold. That’s a lot of writing, especially if I don’t want most of it to be filler, and especially considering the unforgiving environment that a large part of the web has become. Fortunately for me, I have gone largely un-harassed during my tenure as a denizen of this electronic republic, which either means that I am so uncontroversial as to be worth little regard, or that the offensive things I have said have been met with an eerie kind of agreement by the public at large. It would be ridiculous for me to assume that I have enough notoriety to warrant an enemy or two, but having been online since the ’90’s, I’m shocked that I haven’t found some truly horrible examples of humanity who have wanted to fuck with me for the fun of it.
The idea to have one day a week dedicated to video posts seemed like a cheat that could easily be forgiven, so long as the videos were actually good. (And I’ve been largely successful in that area, I believe.) Giving over another day a week to index cards was certainly a bit of a gamble, as I hadn’t really seen that being done anywhere else, and I wasn’t sure if it was even something people liked. It was a new way of approaching writing, and seemed like something that could be a huge flop if not done right. But like Twitter, the restriction is actually a nice way to force yourself to try new things, and hitting the right length to perfectly fill an index card is a bit of an artform. I’m glad that I’ve gotten some positive responses on them, because I’ve come to really enjoy making them.
(I would like to make a small digression here, and mention that I entirely owe my interest in index cards – and the idea to use it as a springboard for my own writing – was at the suggestion and inspiration offered by Merlin Mann on his show Back To Work. I sort of used index cards in College, to keep track of assignments, but never used them as a way to stimulate writing, or as a means of capture. But Merlin’s observation of the index card as ultimately disposable was something that really stuck with me. Often, we are too precious about our own writing, and we treat each new notebook as a place where treasured and important ideas will live. But there is a need for a place to put ideas that just need to get out, and might not really need to live beyond that. Incorporating index cards into the way that I collect ideas and focus my own writing has been a huge breakthrough for me, and I owe that to Merlin and his suggestions on that program. He does a wide range of other work – including a fair amount of comedy that is priceless – and I recommend checking him out if you are remotely interested in writing, art, comedy, and enjoying life.)
Having accounted for two of the five days each week, I was confident that I could continue to post three new written items every week, and have them not be a rip off. But for some reason, I structured the week in a way where Monday led with a video & Friday closed with an index card, and the good stuff was in the middle. While that idea wasn’t bad, a lot of people pointed out that Fridays are low-traffic for all sites, and Monday is always the strongest. When I started looking at user engagement with our site’s built in tracking tools, this confirmed that observation. Monday was our biggest day, and it had the least to offer readers, every week.
So, we’re going to move the videos to Fridays. This makes more sense to me. You’re only putting in a half-day on Fridays anyway, you already ducked out early with the guys in the other quad for a “lunch” around ten, and you’re just killing time until your boss leaves so you can get out of there. So a video is closer to the amount of time you have at your disposal, and we get it. To accommodate this, we’re sliding everything up a day, putting our index cards out on Thursdays now.
We’re going to try this for a bit and see where it goes. Again, I’m not entirely sure if it’ll stay like this, but if history has taught me anything, it’s that we can change the way we structure this site at least four more times this year and it still will not account for the total number of changes that I will not be able to predict coming. So, we’ll try it this way for a while.
And we’ll see what happens. I invite your feedback, please.
1.) Improve Daily Diet & Exercise Regime. (Will stick with this for the first week. Will go to free gym attached to office and get into cycling for a few days. Will tell everyone how are now exercising over salad lunch. Will feel superior to everyone for those days. Will wake up one day and feel awful. Will not work out that day, and will return to binge watching Rockford Files for entire weekends. Will not exercise again until Summer.)
2.) Loose 10 Pounds. (Will begin to loose weight, will start to feel good about self, will start making plans about all the things will do when you are finally healthy, then will find the last few pounds to be too difficult to shake without actually working out. Will dwell on the fact that resolution one failed so spectacularly, and will have gruesome images of impending death flash before eyes until Spring.)
3.) Read More Books. (Will go to the library. Will find that there is an overdue charge on your account from that Fantastic Four collection forgot to return last year. Will pay the fee. Will pace around the classics until grudgingly pick up Gulliver’s Travels. Will look longingly at DVDs and Comics as checking out. Will try to read book seven times. Will return the book to library to avoid charge. Will go home and have Max Headroom marathon, then re-read an old Conan comic.)
4.) Limit Alcohol Consumption. (Will have made this resolution while drunk the night of New Year’s Eve. Will wake up with incredible hangover and a sense of impending death. Will have a beer that afternoon to take the edge off. Will go to another party that weekend and get wasted. Will have forgotten the resolution by the second week of January.)
5.) Limit Time Spent on MyFacester+ & TwInstablr. (Will install a time tracking app on your phone. Will make public posts about how you are limiting your time on Social Media. Will set a date for your “last day” that is fairly soon, but not tomorrow. Will spend a lot of time pimping out profiles to tell your friends how little you use these sites anymore. Will promise yourself to only use e-mail, and to call when missing a friend.)
6.) Spend More Time With Friends. (Before the end of Social Media hiatus, will reach out to friends requesting to arrange times to actually get together, irl, lol. Will use Social Media embedded chats for communication to set up these meeting. Will keep using Social Media to set up in person meetings. Will not successfully arrange to see anyone new until Summer.)
7.) Pursue More Creative Projects. (Will go to Target and buy four notebooks, pens, dividers, storage bins, paperclips, printer cartridges, scissors, index cards, colored paper and paint. Will take these supplies home. Will realize you don’t actually have that printer anymore. Will find that you have many of these supplies already, in various states and forms. Will open up the first notebook. Will write on the first page: “Project #1:” Will tap pen on notebook for a few seconds. Will pull out phone to see if any friends messaged you yet.)
8.) Go On More Dates With Partner. (Will go online and make lists of places to go in your area. Will drop hints, asking where partner might like to do x or y. Measure responses, then will return to interweb to refine results. Will look at calendar and find day that works best. Will find self feeling unmotivated the week of the date. Will find partner having shitty week at work. Will look at each other that afternoon and agree to put on pajamas early and watch Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade again instead. Will promise to go on more dates next month. Will try again in July.)
9.) Get More Organized. (Will make a list. Will look at the list. Will wonder what to do first on the list. Will tap list with pen. Will make new list in order of priority. Will congratulate self for clever idea with a beer. Will look at list again. Will pick randomly the easiest thing on the list that you added at the last minute anyway. Will do that thing. Will cross off the item on the list. Will look at list. Will think list looks gross with that scrawl in it. Repeat several times a day.)
10.) Reduce Stress. (Will take up yoga. Will listen to relaxation tapes. Will make mind placid with serenity. Will wonder why it isn’t working. Will start to worry about not being able to reduce stress. Will start to worry about not being able to keep any resolutions. Will consider seeing a therapist again. Will go for a walk to clear head. Will feel better for some reason but will fail to make any connection to why that may be. Will try harder to keep resolutions tomorrow. Will make note on list to try harder. Will feel anxious about self improvement. Will wonder if that kind of stress is bad, too. Will get drunk with friends later to forget stress. Will eat fried foods & will forget everything for a while.)
Happy Holidays From The Capital Couple!
It’s that time of year again around the Capital Couple Hideout, and we’ve had an incredibly strange and wonderful year that we’d like to tell you all about. We began 2015 in the city of Salem, OR, where we had lived for much of 2014, and has become our new home. Not only does Marla’s family live here, but we both found new jobs that not only fit our new lives, but were working out quite well for us. Feyd, of course, has yet to find a job, and continues to take advantage of us, in spite of our best efforts.
We had some very big changes around the homestead, the first of which is that Marla & I now have a podcast. The Capital Couple (thecapitalcouple.wordpress.com). We’ve done seven episodes so far, and we talk about the things we do for fun, what it’s like here in Salem, and anything else that comes to mind. We have quite a bit of fun doing it, and we would love to urge all of you to check it out. On top of that, I celebrated my 40th Birthday in a fairly dramatic way, with a two-day show in Portland at Plew’s Brews and The Kenton Club, with music and friends. It was one of the most fun things I’ve had the pleasure of arranging, and you can see some highlights using this link: bit.ly/40thPlewsKenton. It was awesome.
As if turning 40 wasn’t enough, Marla and I also got married! Yeah, that was sort of a big deal, as we had been waiting for over a year to officially tie the knot. But the wait was worth it, as we had friends and family there to help us celebrate, and it was, without a doubt, the best day of my life. I want to thank everyone who was there and helped, as both of us had an incredible time, and I can honestly say I have never looked better, ever. You can find lots of unsorted photos at bit.ly/MarlaCodyWedding. (And, if you took photos that we don’t have yet, please send them along. We would love to see them!) I never imagined that I would ever be married, and I am finding that this life is not only worth the wait, but is something I didn’t know I would enjoy this much. All thanks to my amazing and beautiful wife, who said yes.
As if that were not enough (and, in a way, it wasn’t), our Honeymoon involved a two-week trip around the American Southwest, something Marla named, “The Great American Road Trip Colon Southwest Edition.” We drove over 3500 miles, saw The Grand Canyon, Disneyland, Monument Valley and the Zion National State Park, and it was as good as advertised. We had an incredible time, and realized that it was the longest trip we’d ever taken together, and the most time we’d ever spent together, continuously. It was amazing, and I am STILL going through all the photos and video I shot. You can see some of the highlights using this link: bit.ly/MarlaCodyHoneymoon. It was one of those trips that proved that I made the right decision with Marla.
2015 had some other ups and downs, but strangely enough, things seem to have worked out pretty well. I made a decision to stop working in jobs that I don’t like, and have been pursuing writing and podcasting full time recently. (acronyminc.org; anywhereanywhen.com). I can’t say that I know exactly in what direction this will all go, but I can’t wait to find out. I enjoy writing and radio almost as much as my wife, and I’m looking forward to seeing where they take me, too.
That’s it from our house this year. We are looking forward to seeing what 2016 had to offer, as this year worked out quite nicely for us. Until then,
– Cody & Marla “Rocket Danger” Rich
It’s pretty hard to sit in a room with a lit Christmas Tree, a fire on the TV, and vintage holiday songs playing in the background soothingly, and while all of that is going on, frown and say, “man, fuck this holiday.” Because, and this is something I can’t believe I’m saying as an adult male, this time of year can have a soothing effect on you if you let it.
It’s funny how Christmas has, embedded within it, a narrative that goes on about how it has become too commercial in the current form, and must revert to that of some pure form that probably never was. There’s some form of that in the story of Christ himself, and nearly every iteration of it retains some piece of the over-commercialization of the way the holiday is celebrated. (The Peanuts Christmas special – arguably one of the first and best holiday specials to date, is about that very subject from the get-go.) There is something about Christmas that has come to embody everything that is both bad and good about the spirit of spending money during the season, and the true meaning of the holiday is to find a way to embrace the contradictory ideas, and that there is intrinsic value in the experience of the season. It just so happens that you must also buy and spend like Wilma & Betty on The Flintstones.
Christmas as a child is always so incredibly simple, and you have fewer years under your belt to really begin weighing the strangeness of this arrangement. Good behavior throughout the year usually led to a boatload of presents being magically delivered to your home in December, and even with those draconian rules in place, you could often undo quite a bit of poor sportsmanship on your part through a hand-wavey explanation that it was in the spirit of the season, so long as you were good when your parents asked you to be.
But as the complexity of these experiences develops over the years, and layered meanings begin to create loaded holiday symbols that can cause even the strongest person to burst into tears. It is one thing to love the tree that shows up when your parents return with it, and for presents to appear beneath it after a lot of build-up and waiting. But when you remember all the holiday fights, the times spent alone, how you never really get what you really want anyway, and the overhanging threat that Santa is watching you at all times (with the surprise ending when it is revealed what is really happening as you get older), well… this time of year can take on a very different meaning. Especially if you have lost a family member that played a roll in all of this.
When I began to live on my own, I made a few deconstructed efforts to participate in the holiday, and they were all met with equal parts derision and head-scratching. As a kid, I had made a habit of finding a decorating very small trees in my bedroom with a more home-spun and Comic Book aesthetic, and this tradition for me continued through to High School. On my own, my trees grew full sized, and soon accumulated beer cans and cigarettes as a sort of upraised middle finger to the spirit of the holiday.
Even this grew tedious for me after a few years, and soon Christmas was just became another day where I had to pay special attention to the bus schedule, had to get to the liquor store around this new schedule, but at least I might be able to earn an extra fat paycheck if I worked certain days in November and December. Aside from a few random occasions, the time between my early 20s and my late 30s were often spent Christmas-less, tree-less, and only occasionally did I celebrate with family, when it was convenient for both of us. I just couldn’t quite bring myself to get into the holiday spirit on my own, unless that spirit was bourbon.
While I have had girlfriends in the past who liked Christmas, right from the very first year we were together, my wife felt strongly about the holiday. Before I could protest much, she had arranged for me to spend the holiday with her family, and it has been the way we have celebrated every year since. Her dedication to the cool parts of the holiday, mixed with our mutual understanding that we prefer to leach out all of the religious elements of the holiday, has led to us developing a very nice collection of holiday decorations, and traditions that we both enjoy and love.
Included here is a photoset of our Holiday Photos going back to the first year that we were together, and it includes some of my favorite trees and decorations that we use every year. We got a little ambitious this year, and wanted to set up more stuff than we were able to get to, but this often happens because of the hustle and bustle of the year, and we inevitably fall behind on this or that. Obviously, we enjoy having a good tree, but there are some other decorations that we love putting up every year, too. Here’s a few of them:
Blowmolds: Be it Halloween or Christmas, a good blowmold will attract our attention if we are out shopping. When I first met my wife, she had one of the candles, but since then we have acquired the other three pieces. Frosty is the most recent addition to the family. However, the exceptional wind and rain this year made it a little difficult to keep these guys upright and in place. Next year we’re going to use some loose gravel to weigh them down, along with ties to keep them from blowing over.
Stockings: If you look at the enlarged version of this photo, you can see that we have five stockings up on the mantel this year. In the early days, we used the small red stockings, and added the small green one for our cat. But I had the larger green and white Santa Claus stocking (on the right) from when I was a kid, and would bring it out occasionally as an extra decoration for the house. This year, my wife surprised me by finding a matching stocking in the same style online (the white and green Santa Claus stocking on the left), and had it shipped to us for the holiday. It was a very sweet thing for her to do, and now we have two sets of stockings.
Danish Paper Craft Decorations: I may have mentioned before, but both my wife and I are thrift store aficionados, and a surprising amount of holiday schwag will show up in stores, often at rock-bottom prices, to help the items move, quickly.
To that end, for a dollar each my wife found both of these Santa & Frosty Paper-Craft items. Both of them came with these super-funky paperclips that not only spoke to their foreign nature, but how strange these
It is hard to convey how
strange these are in photos and text, but let me describe: in Frosty, the hathead, and body are interlocked folded constructions that rotate independent of each other, but also work together. in Santa, the beard is a weird cardboard overhang that wraps around the face, folding out of the way when you collapse him. They’re both incredibly neat and very weird at the same time, and they are excellent additions to our collection.
Tiffany Glass Candle Holders: We see these at thrift stores fairly often, occasionally in their original packaging, and we now have five of them in our collection. We struggled with how to light them at first, as burning actual candles was costly and didn’t quite work well. (You would have to either buy short stubby candles, which were hard to find and did not burn long, or tall narrow candles, and let them burn down until they were the right hight, at which point they, again, don’t last long. This year, my wife found electric candles that were the right height and diameter to fit into the candle holder in the back, and they now look great. They not only light up very well, but they are much safer than when we had fires burning behind each ofthem.
Late ’50’s Paper Print Wall Hangings: As estate sale junkies, another place to find excellent holiday decor is in a place where someone old has passed on. It is part of the natural life-cycle of material goods: the young pilfer cool shit from the elder folks that pass away, and we horde it until we pass away, and let some other young person pilfer all our cool shit at some far point in the future. My wife is much more tuned into that part of the resale market than I, but this hasn’t stopped me from being impressed with the stuff she comes home with.
These two prints were together when she found them, and while we don’t know the exact
provenance of where they came from, we know that they have been around at least since the late ’50’s. On the back of the prints, one of the previous owners has carefully written out the years that these were hung in their house. It’s not only a great added feature to these images, but it tells an entire story of a family in a few scrawled years and dates on the back of these prints. I have become obsessed with these ever since my wife found them, and I’m very happy to have them in my home.
Ralphie Radio: My wife and I have very different tastes in music, but one thing we can agree on is that older is often better. And to that end we like to listen to Ralphie Radio when this time of year comes around. I discovered this several years ago, and found that this is the perfect kind of holiday music because it is from the 1940’s (or, in some cases, older), and that helps when you are listening to the same pop pap that is often circulated this time of year. The premise is that the music is appropriate for the time period in A Christmas Story, a detail that not only makes it more appealing, but sort of preps you for that movie, anyway, which everyone will see at least once this year. While I would hope that you are listening to my Holiday Podcast Feed in iTunes, it would make sense that if you are not listening to that, you would want to listen to Ralphie Radio instead. While I find the commercials on Live365 to be very annoying, and the interface for most programming in not ideal, the quality of the music on this station is well worth tuning in for, even for a little while.
A Digital Fireplace: When my wife and I bought our first TV (and a Roku to go with it in 2011), we discovered that Roku had created a holiday Yule Log, a digital fire with Christmas Music that played along with it. (You could also just turn off the music and have the fire.) We loved it so much that we’ve been trying to recreate it ever since Roku discontinued their version of the Yule Log a couple years ago, and in the place of it, they introduced other, much less impressive holiday programming. Fortunately, nearly all streaming devices now have YouTube embedded within them, and finding a digital fireplace is easier than ever. (Netflix also has a pretty decent one, too, but I find the YouTube ones last longer.) Just play your favorite holiday tunes while you watch this, and you have the ideal environment for celebrating Christmas, without having to add logs or stoke the fire.
* * * * * *
The two things we did not get to this year was our Christmas Village – which we got started on, but just could not finish – and our outdoor lights, which were hindered by the rain and wind, making it difficult to get them up at a time when we were free to spend a lot of time outside anyway. But there is always next year, and I look forward to trying again then, too.
I never appreciated how enjoyable the holidays can be when you get to celebrate it exactly the way you want to, and with the people that you care about most. Now that I have someone like that in my life, this time of year means more to me than it ever used to. Hopefully, however you prefer to celebrate, make sure that you do it with someone who you actually want to spend time with.
And, if you can, hang up a stocking or two. It’ll help you get in the right mood.
I often like to argue that I am more of a patriot than most, because I am the first person to jump at the possibility that the entire system is broken, and needs to be rebuilt in a decentralized way, run by women and minorities, preferably. The right combination of influences, friends, drugs, music, and intellectual journeys I made as a late teen / 20 something bred in me this notion that most systems are flawed by default, and to tear them down in favor of something else – sometime, anything else – is always preferable in the end. As time went on, I started to see the folly in much of that thinking, and more pointedly, exposure to other ideas and systems of thought – filtered through this hypercritical bullshit punk rock perspective – only led to me to having a much more well rounded point of view by the time I graduated from college.
That being said, I have come to believe that most systems are still flawed, yes, but that by asking questions, and trying to understand these broken systems, you can interject into them the kind of meta-analysis that might cause others to think. This does not mean that I have often been successful or right when I’ve had to navigate local government or bureaucracies. At least I feel as if I’m not compromising my own principles when I behave that way, as artificial and arbitrary as my ever-evolving principles might be.
All of this is a long was of saying that I’m absolutely in support of attending and participating in Jury Duty when you get called. I would only hope that there would be a skeptical ex-weirdo who can put on a shirt and tie on my own jury if, for whatever reason, I wound up in some sort of trial. That’s not to suggest that I’m the kind of guy who would end up in a trial on a regular basis, just that I would want someone to be “of my peers” if I were in their shoes, so it only stands to reason the opposite would be true. I feel it is my responsibility to be the agent of question-asking and curious weirdos in public, and that applies to Jury Duty, too.
Flashback. Portland. 2002.
I was called for Jury Duty one other time in life, over 10 years ago. What I remember most was a lot of waiting and reading, an eventually I was sent home, and I never heard from Multnomah County again. I was single at the time, and my job paid for me to go, so why not participate in the world of law in a meaningful way? And, so what if I wasn’t called for a case? It would all happen again, and I was happy to be a cog in that wheel. Eventually I would actually participate, the next time I was called, and that would be fine.
As the years went on, it became clear that not only was I not going to get called again, I just got sadder about how this vestige of democracy was within my reach, and yet so far away. I was convinced that I was a perfect candidate, but I was just never called into action, and never given a chance to give my particular assets a chance to shine. Another case of the super-hero who could have saved the day, save for the world’s inability to recognize the power he could wield, if they would only let him. This seemed to be so symbolic of my relationship with so many things, and it just made me feel bad to think about what that might mean for how broken the system really might be. Or legal fate is not through carefully reasoned measurements of truth, but given over to random chance.
My wife got a jury summons a while back, and I was immediately jealous, until I got my own summons a couple weeks later, in late November. It made sense. We moved to a new county, then got married, and our names were now in the system, anew. We have heard, through the grapevine, that Marion County has a system that usually turns over every two years, without fail. My wife went in for her chance to serve, and was not picked, and came home quickly. It did not bode well for my own chances.
As instructed in my letter, I checked in for duty online, and as further instructed, returned to check on the website if I would be needed for the summons in the morning of the day I was supposed to attend. I didn’t think much of anything, as I was kind of excited about going, and skimmed the site. I didn’t see anything that overtly read “don’t come in,” so I took it as read that I was to do as instructed in the letter, and show up before 8 AM.
So, prepped with a lunch and fortified with a few cups of coffee, I arrived on time, filled out the paperwork, and was happy to go to the front desk only to find that, as part of the trial jury, since it was so close to the holiday, my services would not be needed. “Unless you want to volunteer to be a part of the Grand Jury,” he said.
I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but I eagerly jumped at the chance to do it, having already gotten myself down to the courthouse dressed in respectable clothing before 8 AM. (No easy feat, mind you.) He explained that it was a two week commitment if I was selected, and I could be in the courtroom for up to six days during that period. The more he explained, the more I got excited about it. While never seen in the movies or on Perry Mason, a Grand Jury gets to decide if there’s even a reason for the case to go to trial, which is itself a very important function that is unglamorous and little known, on top of all of that.
While I won’t drag out the climax for too much longer, in less than two hours I was sent home, being thanked for my service in spite on not getting selected to do anything. While I did see that it was absolutely random that I was not selected, I was disappointed to get to a courtroom finally only to be sent home because they were not going to need my help. (The bailiff and Judge chose jurors from a fanned-out set of papers that represented all of us.) Fortunately, the city of Salem provides you with a bus ticket good for the day that you are serving Jury Duty, so I was home so early that I didn’t even get a chance to want to snack on my lunch early, as I could have prepared myself an entire meal at home and still have time to spare, considering how early I was out. It was such a whirlwind, I barely even noticed the inconvenience it might have been.
Some Quick Observations
Everyone I met at the courthouse was not only friendly and kind, but seemed a little desperate for levity and a smile. It was a Monday morning, and it was close to Christmas, so I’m sure there was a little lightness in the air that was not there normally. But whatever the case, I had positive interactions with everyone, and a smile really went a long way in terms of getting a nice laugh or exchange out of them. On the other side of this, the people who had all been called for Grand Jury seemed like a huge group of sourpusses. No one looked like they wanted to be there, and I could understand, in a way. I have no idea what their personal lives are like, and I don’t know what they are leaving behind at home. But no one looked happy to be there.
The process is pretty quick. There is certainly some down time, but I’ve waited longer for instructors to show up for appointments, so I felt pretty good about those intervals. The Judge was nice a friendly, and once he got started, the courtroom ran efficiently while I was there. I was sort of shocked, but then again, they do this five days a week, every week, so they have it down. Even the security check at the entrance of the building seemed far too simple and easy to get through to be that much of a problem or hassle. As with a lot of public places like this, they ask you to turn off your phone, and remove your hats, which I thought was an interest request. (Probably to avoid having hidden recording devices.
I did find it a bit weird that most of the people I was in Jury Duty with were women. The men were outnumbered by a factor of three. While not completely hard to explain – that’s just the way the random number thingy worked that day – I did find it odd. There was one other guy who was in his 20s, but I was still the second youngest man in the room.
I should also add, while I’m at it: I’m surprised at how understanding The Judge is with regard to people who just don’t feel like doing it. Now, I’m not here to be judgmental about the way other people spend their time. I probably don’t have the greatest management of my own time. But I barely believe in systems of any kind, and would rather see bullshit from the past be burned down than reinforced by bureaucracy at this late date, Twenty Fifteen. But I was a little astounded at how bad the excuses could be for people to be let off the hook for serving. I understand that missing even a day of work can be a hardship for a lot of people, and it is not my place to judge anyone who is in that situation. It just seemed strange to hear excuses like, “I would be tired to try and fit it in,” and, “It’s hard to get here,” as legitimate excuses that the Judge will accept. Yes, I’m tired early in the morning too, and now that you mention it, compared to my bathroom, this was very hard for me to get to. Where’s my parade?
Regardless, I don’t believe anyone was really trying to take advantage of a gullible system, but again, they did not need all of us, and I guess the system is designed to include a padding that will account for lazy jurors. They could easily afford let a few people go because they don’t “feel like it,” and still have plenty of people leftover. I just want it on record that I did not try to pull out any kind of excuse, but instead, decided to throw my lot in with chance, and was randomly not picked. So much for taking a shower and putting on shoes.
Having only devoted six hours total to the task of Jury Duty over the last 40 years, I can only say that I have yet to have an experience other than feeling like I wasted everyone’s time, since most of those six hours were spent waiting, filling out forms, and being told that I wasn’t needed (somehow being rejected three times in the two I’ve been called). However, I’m probably being a little dramatic to think that this system must be broken in some way, only because I haven’t had a chance to be involved in a Murder 1 Trial.
It makes total sense that the people who want nothing to do with it are all sighing and making excuses, and the guy who wants to people involved can’t get a sideways look to save his life. But, who am I to Judge? This must be the system in place because it works, right?
The problem goes back to 2007 or so, in the final days of my dedication to file sharing and downloading, but even my history with that goes back to 2000, when I started having a continuous Inter-Web-A-Tron connection. As soon a it was possible, I got into Audiogalaxy, and spent ages collecting albums and tunes that I could not find anywhere else. This continued through Limewire and, finally, Soulseek, but when school began to ramp up and I needed to focus more on other projects, the time spent downloading was not worth the time trade-off. Before long I had given up, and had moved on to actually listening to my music, which was quite nice. Without an external drive to help me out, I burned off everything I had collected up to that point, put the discs in the basement, and forgot about them entirely.
Flash-forward, and I’m getting rid of the rotting discs in my basement. These days, I do have a few external drives offloading files, and I decide it is better to consolidate these CDRs into a massive, digital archive, and toss the discs. And the process has been fun. I’m rediscovering music I’d forgotten about. But I finally came across my .mp3 discs, and therein lies the problem.
When I was collecting music via downloading, I got very systematic about things I was searching for, and largely pursued things I couldn’t find in stores. (I was at the tail end of my $200 a month record store habit in these days, so spending money on music was never the problem.) To that end, I went after the Killed By Death series, which follows in the Nuggets tradition, and collects rare punk 45s of every variety. Some of the Killed By Death records are really amazing, and it was incredible to hear this music that I had only read about. Of course, getting these songs from various users, a number of files came from a variety of sources, too. A few files contained the “␀” character, as the source of these files was from a Windows machine. In 2007, iTunes seemed to have no issue reading those, playing them for me, and letting me load them on various devices. I was even able to burn all the .mp3s to a disc.
Now, the state of Mac products in 2015 is fairly stable, and fairly high-end. I rarely run into a problem I can’t easily troubleshoot, and furthermore, anything that is really complicated is easily Google-able. And, Mac systems are pretty intuitive, for me. So, imagine my confusion when I tried to load the files on this .mp3 disc into iTunes, only to find that they wouldn’t copy. I opened the disc in Finder, and could not only preview the files, but could copy them to the Desktop. But they still wouldn’t load into iTunes. I did notice that I could open the files in Audacity, and decided that I would attempt to convert the files to another audio format that iTunes could also read. And, while I was at it, I’ll save these new files with a better name.
So far, so good. These newly converted files read and load just fine, and iTunes likes them great. So, I put everything where it goes, and get ready to delete the files I had copied to my Desktop, the ones with the “␀” character at the end of each name. These, for some reason, would not delete. As a consequence, this has sent me down a rabbit hole of problems that I still have not resolved. And not being able to delete things is only the beginning.
Let me be clear: I have no real idea why these files won’t delete. I’m not an expert, I didn’t get a CS Degree, and I have focused my energies into other areas outside of computing. I just don’t have the background to full understand exactly what is happening. As I have pieced together from random Googling is:
There is a different range of characters that are available for use in many Windows-based file systems, and because of that, Mac OS systems have trouble interpreting those characters, and rendering them in a way that makes sense. This results in a problem with the way the file is created: the “␀” isn’t really there in the eyes of a Mac, and yet because it can’t render that character, it can’t sufficiently name the problem in order to get rid of it.
This makes sense to me in a sort of 19th Century Psychiatry sort of way, but it is merely speculation on my part when it comes to what the real problem might actually be. I would love to understand why this is happening on a more granular level, and what causes this, but now I would also just like it to be solved so I can move on. If there is anyone with a more technical background who knows why a file like this won’t delete, please contact me. I would love to chat.
The Thick Plottens
If you have stuck with me this far, then you must really want the gory details, and for that I thank you for going on what is has to be a techno-slog through a music hoarding problem. Here’s what keeps happening:
I am running El Capitan. (Perhaps this is relevant?) I put the files in the Trash. These files are originally located on the Desktop, having originated from an .mp3 CDR I made on my Mac laptop in 2007. I empty the trash. And I get the following message:
“The operation can’t be completed because an unexpected error occurred (error code -50).”
Being a diligent user, I Googled the error code, and found a lot of message board posts that relate to errors involving saving to (or deleting from) an External Hard Drive. I guess that might track – perhaps the system thinks the files are still “on” the disc, and not the Desktop? Regardless, I had such a hard time finding a single other user who experienced a similar error code when the files went from the Desktop to the Trash.
At this point I decided it was time to use the Terminal, which I’m quite rusty at, but again, can use Google fairly well. I found a number of pages that suggested I try to use “sudo rm -f” to force the file to delete, which was unsuccessful, returning “invalid argument” in response. I found a number of people online who did encounter files that would not delete because of a character out of place, and in all the cases I found online, using the Terminal and this command worked. However, after trying a number of variants and hitting dead ends on forums, I only ever got “invalid argument.” Just to make sure I wasn’t going crazy, I decided to test other files, to make sure it wasn’t my entire system. But I could easily remove, delete and copy other files with normal characters in their name. Just not these “␀” files.
I found a few pages (like that one) that were dedicated to utilities that claimed they could rename files, and force documents to remove these characters that are causing the error. However, none of them have worked for me yet. Name Mangler and OnyX were ineffective. I’m sure there are others I can try, but I’m starting to think that I have a fairly unique problem that 3rd party apps might not be able to fix. I suspect it may take something bespoke. Using the Terminal, and using some basic commands to force the Trash to empty, should work. And yet it does not on my machine.
The problem has also developed in Audacity, in another way. I have been a strong supporter of Audacity since the early 2000s, and it is an incredible audio editing / mixing / producing utility that continues to impress me with how simple it is. One feature that has saved my ass a number of times is the Project Recovery utility. If Audacity crashes, it captures everything as best as it could from the temp files, and keeps them until you try to load the program again, when it will ask you if you would like to restore the Project. Much of the time Audacity can save almost everything, and most things are not lost when using that program.
Since I used Audacity (ver. 2.1.1) to load the pernicious .mp3s (to convert them), Audacity has developed a hiccup whenever I try to load the program. Because of this “␀” character, Audacity was unable to close properly when I was done converting those files, and crashed. I didn’t think of it at the time, but now when I try to reload Audacity, I get the Recovery Screen, asking to recover all these files with “␀” characters. And, of course, I can’t. So it churns through all eight of these non-existent files, trying to load them, and failing, before it finally gives up, and sputters to life. There eight open files with no recovered data, all of which need to be closed. And, when I’m done using Audacity, it cannot “close,” but merely “crashes,” causing this recovery screen to pop up again every time I load Audacity. This adds at least 60 seconds to the loading process, as it cycles through these eight files that can’t be recovered.
At first I thought I could just delete, reboot, and reinstall Audacity to fix the problem, but even after that, Audacity would go through the same cycle. Naively, I thought I could navigate to a temp directory and find a file that Audacity was trying to restore, but there was no such file, anywhere that I could find. (I did have to use the Terminal to turn on hidden files to do this, and even then, I imagine I’m not seeing everything. But I gave up after an hour of searching directories and trying to Spotlight something.) As a last resort, I rolled back a few versions of Audacity, hoping that an older one would point to a different tempt folder, and not try to restore these files. But every version I can get successfully loaded onto this machine keeps trying to restore.
When Audacity is loaded onto a computer, it is clearly putting meta-data somewhere, that it then refers to with nearly every version of the software, that contains the information about restoring projects during a crash scenario. But how I can clear that cache, and where that meta-data is stored, is beyond this user to figure out at this stage in the game. I should add that Audacity is not entirely useless to me. If I am willing to wait through the process of it trying to recover everything, a cycle that takes a good minute, I can use Audacity – eventually – provided I’m willing to put up with it being more unstable and crash-prone while using it.
In other words: I can’t get attached to my editing on this machine anymore. Half the time, I don’t get very far.
Now. Deep Breath.
I have not yet exhausted the possibilities. There is, very likely, a solution out there somewhere, and with enough patience and Googling I could get to the bottom of that. Part of the problem is how to define it. Searching for the error code brings up problems that are like mine, but not the same. Searching for “␀” characters issues gets at some of the problem, but not entirely. Searching for files that won’t delete gets me part of the way there again, but these “invalid arguments” that I keep encountering are driving me up the wall. There is a taxonomy to this problem I have yet to learn, and because of that, I have a “␀” character in my own understanding of the issue. I can’t even get at it until I learn what that is, and that is not going to come with a few minutes Googling here and there when I have free time, but with a deep-dive into how these things work on a very granular level.
I’m not computer illiterate. If I have a set of instructions I can follow them, and I usually have no problems fixing basic problems with easily understood symptoms. But this problem very quickly escalated to well outside of my expertise. I would love to be able to spend a few years learning this stuff in and out, and I have some ideas for Apps and software that I could make if I were to ever go down that road, and I could leverage that into an item I could offer in conjunction with my writing and radio projects. But that’s not the hobby I signed up for. I want to write, not learn computer science, as interesting as it is.
My hope is that someone out there reads this, knows the solution, and would be able to get in touch with me. I would like to have Audacity back, and I’d like to be rid of these files (short of a Nuke & Repave, which I am considering). I don’t have much to offer as a way of saying thanks, but I would gladly send you some home made granola if you could fix my problem, and I would immortalize you in a blog post as a means of thanks.
Happy Holidays From WTBC Radio
Free in iTunes: bit.ly/WTBCHolidayiTunes
Or Another Podcatching Device Using: bit.ly/WTBCHolidayMemories
With December in full swing, and with the holidays on everyone’s mind, it’s always a challenge to find something to listen to that isn’t the usual holiday fare, but is still on point. In the tradition of TVLand re-running all their Christmas Episodes of classic shows between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Our “Holiday Memories” podcast feed features all of our Holiday Programming, going back to 1998.
In this feed you’ll find every Holiday-Themed show I’ve done, and great shows by Ricardo Wang, DJ Victrola, and Miss Rikki. We promise that you will not get your usual Holiday fare when you tune in to these vintage retrocasts that are the perfect cure for too much Burl Ives.
So, fire up a few Yule Log videos and enjoy hours and hours of holiday programming that rocks a little more than your average “X-Mas Show.”
WTBC Radio, In Beautiful Anywhere, Anywhen.
Now Open For The Holidays.
In the 1990s I would have killed for a CD burner. I remember hearing a story about a guy who made a Cure Mix CD for a girl he was trying to impress, and part of me just died the moment I heard that. “How can my mix tape possibly compete with a Mix CD?” While I had spent all of my time in the years since I first got blank tapes around age 10 or 11 perfecting and honing the art of capturing sound with a cassette – and maximizing the way you can use that time each tape offered – that it seemed like the ability to make a CD would only increase the means through which I could better manipulate the sound you could hear during playback. And, everybody listened to CDs.
Initially, when CD burners became fairly ubiquitous, they were amazing. I didn’t build a computer with a CD burner until 2002. But prior to that I always did my best to integrate sound in my computing experience, limping around with shitty desktop that I had cobbled together with stuff I salvaged from a gift-computer I’d received in 1993. Prior to that it had been my TRS-80, and a few stray machines here and there that had been on the loan. In the years since I had figured out how to make sound with a computer, and capture it from a turntable and cassette deck. When the early Internet became stable around 2000, I would periodically send sound files to friends and ask them to burn discs for me. It all started very, very primitively.
However, it wasn’t long before it was very easy for everyone to make CDs, and almost daily. By 2004, it has already become passé, I had bought my first Mac and iPod, I was podcasting my show at KPSU, and the technology landscape had changed dramatically. CDs were already an in-between technology, but I clung to this old-media idea of discs and making them, born largely out of those desires in the ’90’s. I remember making tapes of my band’s recordings, thinking that if ONLY we could make CDs, we could compete on a different level. We had a DAT, we had cassettes, but CDs were what people were buying, and listening to in cars. CDs would be the future. CDs meant some sort of permanence. A physical disc! How could having those around be bad?
Throughout all the of the 2000s I spent a lot of time sorting, organizing, and labeling my discs. Part of this was for easy searching and finding later, as it was very easy to quickly burn a CD and not label it. I invested in plastic folders, bought sharpies in large quantities, and developed systems for storing in this folder vs. that folder. In the early days I had scads and scads of Audiogalaxy finds that needed organizing, and as my hard drive filled up I burned off discs to free up the space. I couldn’t fathom the idea of terabyte drives in those days, and the 50,000 album archives being the standard seemed of another universe, a time that we could never possibly reach. Meanwhile, these folders consumed money, discs, space, and time, and I never questioned it.
Around the year 2010 I stopped making discs of new stuff that I got from friends or the radio station, but it took me a few years more before I realized I wasn’t even looking at these old plastic folders anymore. I had made the music more or less inaccessible. All of my new toys and devices ran .mp3s, and my massive record collection was finally all in one house. There was no shortage of stuff to listen to, and it was easy enough to let these CDs languish, as the idea of making discs now seemed quaint and outmoded. I had a wealth of music in those burned discs, but they were entirely out of the realm of my listening experience. For quite a while, I didn’t even own a CD player outside of my computer, and when I bought one, it was so small and so cheap that I felt sad for the me in the ’90’s that longed for this technology, that was so insanely expensive way back then, and was now so pathetic.
Over the last few moves I’ve carted these folders of burned CDs around, looking at them longingly and wondering what I will do with them. But the same impulse that causes me to hoard everything has led to me defending the need to carry around this dead weight, as if they would someday have secret hidden value of which only I was aware. As the discs rotted in my basement, they went, unlistened, unused, and unheard.
It was around last summer that I started seeing these discs as garbage. Not the content; I still wanted the music on them. But to continue to pamper and idolize them was insane. What I needed to do was rip them to my computer again – completing their life cycle – and I could finally be rid of them once and for all.
In the last couple decades I have taken my .mp3s on a sort of hero’s journey, setting them adrift from the rest of my digital life on these island’s that were discs, only to reunite them with my larger digital library – almost 10 years later in some cases. I immediately set to work establishing a playlist that played new additions to the library first, but did not repeat anything after it had been played once, and set about enjoying all of this stuff that I hadn’t heard it years and years.
There were a handful of discs that didn’t survive. A few of them have degraded over time, and in other cases my taste has evolved. But I was astounded at how much of it was actually still interesting to me. In the end, however, I did keep one folder of discs. I had to up the criteria quite a bit to ensure I didn’t just keep everything, so I was reduced to keeping only discs by my friends bands (that were, otherwise, never released anywhere), and the few discs I’d gotten over the years that really set themselves apart from the others because of cover art, or the work they put into the disc. I kept maybe 20 discs or so.
It took a lot of work, ripping them and labeling meta-data. I have become a stickler for well-documented files, and the ability to search and find things quickly has become the primary definition of “good data” for me. So, after a lot of finessing, labeling, and tweaking the genre filters, I managed to get it all sorted out, and I’m listening to an incredible selection of stuff from my past that is evoking all sorts of nostalgic listening binges. The mix discs from my friends are the most interesting, but there are a few hundred albums that I just haven’t heard in all that time, the music locked away on these discs.
The experience has made me rethink a lot of things in the last few days. Obviously, there are plenty of things we keep in our lives that could serve us better in the trash, and there are even more ideas that we have locked up in some container, without giving the notion a chance to breath and be a part of the ecosystem. And, some of us are packrats.
As I churn through a wealth of new-old music, I can’t help but try and find the deeper lesson that were trapped in digital amber for so long. What technologies are we rabid over now that will be in the trash before long? The urge to go minimal is starting to overtake me, and while there are some things I am not ready to part with, there are so many that serve me no real function. There was a time when material items were the things I surrounded myself with because I couldn’t surround myself with the friends and people I wanted in my life every day. But that me – the mean that felt so alone – seems quite a distance from the me that is cleaning up all this crap now.
It is freeing to be rid of so many discs, but there is more work to be done. My version of cleaning used to be to just pile everything in a box, and put the box away, and there are quite a few boxes left to be sorted. But even these little battles against my own bad habits must be fought one at a time, and never all at once.
Whew. What a season! I think I did some of my best work on both The Blog and on The Podcast this year, and the Spooktacular was the tacular-est of them all, thanks to everyone who has been following along. Please, check out All Our October Podcasts and All Our October Blog Posts if you’d like to catch up. But don’t worry too much about the past. There’s lots of cool stuff on the horizon, too, so whatever your relative “now” is, it is always a good time to jump on board with our stuff. To close I will ask, one last time, that you take a look and a listen at The Ways Of Ghosts one more time, and if you’re feeling generous, please pick up a copy. It’s a good way to support what we do, and a great piece of Halloween listening if I do say so myself. (End of plugs section.)
As much as I’ve enjoyed Halloween and the music associated with it for a long time, I have never obsessed too much over what I dress up as, or how I should decorate for the holiday. Sure, I would participate if I was going to a party, or had a pumpkin lying around, but it is only recently that I have gotten into collecting cool decorations for the holiday, and if I were to get very specific, it is only since I met my wife, who is also a big fan of vintage holiday ephemera. We have an aesthetic we’re trying to cultivate, and obviously we fudge things here and there for the sake of nostalgia, but try to keep it within reason. We don’t go all-out with crazy decorations, and “tasteful” is something we are constantly weighing when we put things up. But we do like to have fun, an we’re always looking out for something to add to our collection. To close out the season here on the blog, here’s a photo shoot of our decorations, and some highlights discussed below.
First, here’s a video of walking up to our house in the dark. I think it is rather charming.
We try to keep our lights simple, and limited to path lighting with a few accent strings here and there. Among them are a few strings of these flickering lights, that are supposed to replicate the look of candles. I’m quite fond of them, and the best part is that they are appropraite for both Halloween & Christmas. The path lights are only problematic because we have shitty people in the neighborhood who will stomp on them. Otherwise, they are so easy to install and store if you keep the original packaging, and replacement bulbs are easy to find.
I would also mention that many of the “electronic” candles that you can get in most stores have “timer” settings, where the light is on for five hours, and off for 19. (Some have even further settings to fine tune these times.) These can work really well to accent parts of the room, or light the inside of other decorations (like our stack of pumpkins). Lastly, I have all of my lights on one switch in the living room, so I don’t even have to go outside to turn everything off. I recommend this for anyone who wants to set up decorations. I used to just plug things in where ever I could, and really thought I wouldn’t mind going out to unplug things. Being able to shut it down with one switch is quite a luxury.
When we moved into our house last year, it was Spring, and throughout the summer we got to know our neighbors. But we were still very surprised when they offered this wreath to us last October, just before we were about to put our our decorations, as a gift. It was so incredibly thoughtful, and is such a great addition to the porch. I have since made a special box just for the wreath to store it during the off season, we are very proud of it. While we mostly keep to ourselves, that wreath really bonded us as neighbors.
My wife and I are fond of vintage blowmolds, and every time we’ve found one it’s been worth buying, no matter where you find them. Patience has paid off, and we have found four incredible pumpkins at various thrift stores. Each of these are designed to insert a light that plugs in, creating the effect that the entire plastic item is lighting up (you can see them in action in the video). These things are really awesome, and we get excited when we can put them out. As you can see, the biggest one is clearly sun-damaged with age, but the others are pretty fantastic. We’re hoping that we can find more to flesh out our entire porch as the years go on.
Among the other weird thrift scores that my wife has found was this plastic bag that you can fill with leaves. It is much grosser and harder to fill than you would think, and it is easy to damage or ruin the plastic, too. However, it has a bit of charm to it, and we have enjoyed putting it on the porch this year. There are four other versions of this same kind of thing, made by the same company (Kenley Corporation in Mason, Ohio), so it would be cool to complete the set.
Last year I made this mix of “scary” sounds from a variety of sources, and edited it to fit the length of an audio CD. I made a CD, and play it on my porch from a small, portable CD player that I purchased several years ago (you can see it in the video above). I put the CD on infinite repeat, and it works very well as an atmospheric sound for people who walk up to the porch.
While we have picked up a few things in stores (like these pumpkins that fold out), my wife has scored a variety of vintage cardboard and paper wall hangings, and you can tell by the designs that they are most likely the from the early ’80s or late ’70s. However, we have also acquired a folding witch lantern, a Halloween banner, and a stand up cat. While most of our paper crafts – like the Mummy – are fairly newish, this Pumpkin / Owl Fold-Out item is not only one of the oldest items we have, but by far the coolest. I added a spider to it this year for effect, but it does not need one. It is pretty great.
My mom used to make these tissue paper ghosts when I was a kid, and they are very much something I remember fondly. They’re incredibly easy to make, too. After you wad up a bit of paper or newspaper to create the “head,” wrap a piece of generic tissue paper around it. Tie a piece of thread around the tissue paper to keep the head in place, and cut off the thread at a reasonable length so you can hang it from somewhere (like, you’re ceiling). I call this part of our living room “Ghost Corner,” and I already have plans for creating little floating styrofoam headstones in the future. But for now these twenty are a good start to my collection. These are an easy craft project for kids, too, and is much less messy than carving a pumpkin.
My wife used to have a number of Blythe Dolls, and to this day is connected to a group that still interacts regularly. (She has two that she still keeps). This year she was invited to a Halloween Doll party, where other collectors brought their dolls dressed up in all sorts of costumes. To that end, she made the helmet using a styrofoam pumpkin she bought at a craft store. She cut the bottom out, and covered the surface of the pumpkin with glue, then glitter. Lastly, she added a coat of hairspray to help “set” the glitter. The overall effect was pretty great, as you can see.
* * * * * *
So, while we don’t cover every inch of our house with decorations, we like to have fun, and we like the stuff we have. We’ve only been together for a short time, and just got married, so our collection is pretty young. But given a few more years, we could amass some awesome stuff if we keep looking.
If you really want to get at the heart of what makes Halloween great, telling Ghost Stories is pretty much the reason this holiday persists. We might tell our stories a little more abstractly – through blog posts, cosplay, or in rambling podcasts – but the basic idea is that you want to convey a story that has a “spooky” dimension to it, be it of the goriest horror, or the merest suggestion that it wasn’t wind they heard in the first place. Much has been written about Oral Tradition and the way that pre-literate culture has persisted into “today” through stories that are passed down. Ghost Stories historically persisted in the world of sitting around a fire, leaning in to get warm, and having someone in the group start with, “Did I ever tell you of the time I encountered the spook that haunted my Uncle’s barn?” (Or some other personal variant of a few different ghost notions.)
While the telling of any story is fairly compelling while in the right hands, Ghost Stories carry a particular weight because they refer (directly in some cases) to the kinds of pre-literate religions that featured ancestor worship. While many faiths include some form of the dead living on outside of their earthly vessel, the notion of a Ghost – the “spirit” of a person who has passed and is haunting a location / object / person – opens a world of the supernatural that is somewhat outside of the stories we hear as part of experiential reality or modern religion. So much of our lives can be explained through rational thought, or through supplication to God. But when we hear about a ghostly encounter, we are immediately outside of the acceptable discourse of every day life, and into something truly harrowing and unique.
In discussing the world of the supernatural as if it were something that actually happened – even as a lark or a fictive campfire pursuit – the speaker is asking the audience to put themselves into a different relationship with what we’re about to hear, one that is almost “forbidden” in many contexts. That experience alone makes a Ghost Story a rare and fascinating piece of narrative discourse, not to mention, chilling if taken at face value.
The Golden Age of Ghost Stories
Ghosts certainly show up in The Odyssey when Odysseus travels to the Underworld, they have made regular appearances in Shakespeare, had a hand in Gothic Literature, and have so many other antecedents that is would be impossible to claim that any one period had more or less Ghost Stories than any other. But Jack Sullivan makes a very strong case for the period between 1830 and 1914 being the unmistakable “Golden Age of Ghost Stories.” Not only are Edgar Allen Poe and Sheridan Le Fanu publishing during this period, but it is essentially sandwiched between two huge world-wide events that changed the world is massive ways: the end of the Industrial Revolution and the beginning of WWI.
Life in the late 19th Century wasn’t exactly “easy,” and yet humanity lived in a post-Industrialized world that longed to ease the problems of the past. Newspapers were ubiquitous, but most people still read at home by creepy candle-light. Homes were not electrified, outhouses were still the most common solution to waste-management, people largely still traveled by foot or by horse, and the world still felt unexplored, boundless, and full or events and experiences that could not be explained. And yet, travel was becoming easier, roads were going to more and more places, clothes and food was more accessible for poor people and helped insulate you against the cold better, and families could now afford a few “luxuries,” but did not yet live in a “modernized world.” Most importantly, a central fire was still present in nearly all American homes, giving the family a place to gather and talk about the day when the Sun went down.
This period is also significant because many American traditions were becoming solidified in the cultural consciousness, all because of these new communication technologies that were sweeping the nation. New Holidays were being developed, new traditions were being celebrated and regionalized, and people began to share their stories with friends and neighbors that were living on in more than just a story told late at night. The precursors to Devil’s Night caught on quite a bit almost everywhere, and as costumes and trick-or-treating became huge parts of Halloween, the telling of Ghosts Stories – something that would happen at night throughout the Fall and Winter – became something that happened around the hearth.
Ghost Stories still exist, and will most likely never disappear, but the emphasis on the Oral Tradition has dropped off quite a bit as the years have wore on. With the development of recording technology and radio broadcasting, horror anthology shows intermixed with annual “Halloween” episodes moved the yearly Ghost Story from the hearth to the radio. Once film – and later television – replaced the radio, horror movies and TV programs became all the rage, and when Shock Theater! hit America in 1957, it was the glow of the screen late at night that signaled where you could hear a good scary story.
Record companies certainly tried to capitalize on this old-fashioned scary story in the ’60’s with the advent of Halloween LPs, containing “scary sounds” and Ghost Stories, and this trend seemed to last well into into the early ’80’s. But spoken Ghost Stories – in a ’round the campfire’ spirit – is not nearly as popular as it once was almost 200 years ago. This has not quieted those who are listening to Ghost Stories, but technological developments has transformed the nature of these stories tremendously. Ghost Hunting is still alive and well nearly everywhere in the country, and with franchises like Paranormal Activity and a slew of “haunted” house films raking in big bucks ever year, the desire to interact with Ghosts has not dropped off in the slightest. We still love being scared, and we look for more and more sophisticated ways to go about it with each generation.
However, for my money, I am captivated once the sun goes down and a fire gets started. Once someone starts in on a good Ghost Story – even a funny one – I lean in. As the flames dance on their face, and as the unbelievable tale unfolds, the cloak of night is enough to lend a crumb of credibility to what I’m hearing. For a moment, as a convinced atheist who has found no basis for supernatural reality, I get chills, and I like it. Perhaps it is the power of a good Ghost Story to convince us of something – in spite of our earnest beliefs – that is at the heart of their charm.
To quote Fox Mulder, “I Want To Believe.”
* (This story was published when I was on the staff of The Rearguard Newspaper, from 2005 – 2006. The editor at the time had a very specific vision for the paper, and had given us different “titles” & “sections” of the paper to manage and fill. I was the Arts & Culture Editor / KPSU Guru, and my section was “The Cultureostomy Bag.” The photo included next to my stories was this one from around The Rearguard office, sporting my very favorite Last of The Juanitas shirt, which I still have.
The “Halloween History Lesson” story appeared in the October 2005 issue of The Rearguard. Vol. 9, Issue 1. The version here is a longer draft than the one that was in the paper. I was told to turn in an almost 2500 word story, that was – for some reason – cut down to almost 1000 in the paper. Again, I’m not sure why, but the editor – Jesse Harrington – did a really good job on both the long and short version, and was really the heart and soul of the paper during that year I was there. To my knowledge, he and Josh Gross – The Editor – manually edited every word of every story in every issue, no small feat. The illustrations were done by a staff member, who I have since forgotten. Many apologies.
Anyway, here’s the story – with a few small edits for this presentation – regarding an overview of this holiday’s history. Enjoy.)
With October comes one of my favorite holidays, Halloween. I have fond memories of this time of year, littered with the Costumes, Parties, and “trick-or-treating” of years past. It seems that I am not alone in wanting to celebrate this wanton extravaganza of tooth rot, parties, and pretending to be someone you’re not. In the US alone, Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday, bringing in for retailers roughly $7 Billion annually. Yes, with a B. Every year, Americans sink the equivalent cost of 213,000 Hummers into costumes, candy, pumpkins & horror films. Not bad for a holiday with curious and fear-based origins.
Most historians agree that the earliest versions of the holiday stem from the Celts, near or around fifth century BC. Then, it was called Samhain (pronounced sow-in, though try telling Danzig that). Samhain was the celebration of the New Year, marking the end of the summer and the harvest (falling on October 31st, more or less). Since winter was around the corner, the time of year was always a bit scary for most folk, as people invariably died during those dark and cold months where there was little food and insulated shelter.
As if that weren’t enough to bring you down, the Celts also believed that the dead could walk amongst the living on the New Year and would then cause mischief and mayhem in the village (often resulting in the damaging of crops, back then the only kind of mischief anyone got upset about). To help sate the spirits of the dead, villagers would leave food and wine out for the dead to consume, which never seemed to work; while the food and wine always wound up consumed, it did not seem to affect any noticeable change in the world around them. The only upshot to the dead walking among us seemed to be that the Druids (Celtic priests) were better at making inaccurate predictions about the coming future, instilling some amount of hope more fear to a culture that was only going to be able to survive the winter on a steady diet of worry and misery.
To get people’s spirits up, the Druids would have huge bonfires in the woods. The villagers would then put out all other fires in town, and come to dressed in animal skins and masks (so the ghosts that were wandering around would think the villagers were ghosts too). In the fire they burned crops (assumedly to beat the dead-walking-amongst-the-living to the punch of ruining them). Animal sacrifices & attempted fortune telling rounded out this fun-filled evening, and at the end of the night everyone would return to their homes, relight their fires using a piece of the sacred Druidic fire they attended, and spend the rest of the winter cowering in fear and hunger until the Sun mysteriously came back many months later. (This would be emulated years later by every teenager suffering from a medium-to-large breakup in the years to follow.)
While the Celts were happy with being frightened and miserable every year, the Romans (being Romans) were not. They decided to conquer the Celts around 43 AD so they could combine two of their own holidays with Samhain, encouraging the Celts to see their way of thinking. (Apparently the Romans felt guilty about having too many holidays, and wanted to combine them with someone else’s.) Feralia was one of those, a holiday dedicated to the dead (a common theme for holidays in those days). The other, known as Pomona, was a celebration for the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, which apparently introduced apples (for future “bobbing”) into the Samhain mythology. This new Roman “combined” holiday kept the name, but was moved to November 1st (shattering the traditions and culture of the Celts and making this much more fun and light-hearted for the Romans). This supposedly encouraged the Celts to follow Roman beliefs, creating the illusion that everyone was now content to maintain the status quo for another few hundred years after the bloodbath of being conquered (or, at least, to not talk about any discontentment that may have theoretically existed in public).
As is often the case with many things, Christianity was the catalyst for the next big deconstruction of a perfectly strange a creepy Pagan holiday. Since Christianity had spread like a virus to The Land Formerly Controlled By Celts (no relation to TAFKAP), most Former Celts were now considered Roman Catholics, in spite of their resistance against this. Around 800 AD, the king of the Catholics, Pope Boniface IV (named after the Patron Saint of Brewers and Germany) declared that Samhain was now called All Saints’ Day to further distance it from the Pagan rites, and it was now intended for honoring (wait for it) saints & martyrs (read = more dead people). Depending on where you lived, you might also call it All-hallows, or All-hallowmas (for you linguistic types out there, that comes from the Middle English word, alholowmesse, meaning, you guessed it, All Saints’ Day).
A few hundred years later the church also decided that there were too many saints and martyrs to celebrate, and added November 2nd to the list of days to honor the dead (this time called All Souls’ Day to differentiate it from the day before). All Souls’ day involved the usual celebratory kinds of things: bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes (this time in the guise of saints, angels or devils). And, since three is better than two, threw in October 31st as a pre-holiday holiday. To keep things straight, people began to refer to October 31st as All-hallows Eve, which was eventually shorted into the trademarked name companies now use to sell us plastic pumpkins and candy that tastes like wax.
During the All Soul’s Day parades, many poor people would beg for food from those who were better off. Traditionally, “soul cakes” were given to these poor people, in exchange for their prayers for the well off family members’ dead relatives. (“Soul cakes” are, sadly, just a simple piece of pastry, and has nothing to do with eating spiritual souls.) Eventually the transaction of “soul cakes” for prayer began to be called “going a-souling,” which should have been way more evil than it actually was. Soon enough other food, money, and even alcohol was given out when people went “a-souling,” and neighborhood kids began to join in on the act (beginning the time-honored tradition of underage drinking on Halloween). Of course, the Catholic Church dug these traditions much more than the ancient “lets leave food and wine out for the evil spirits” Celtic version, and endorsed “going a-souling” whole heartedly despite it’s emphasis on being considerate to kids and poor folk, and sort of resembling this Pagan practice anyway.
This version of the holiday was unchanged (for the most part) until America opened for business, and people started to rape and pillage a new land in an attempt to start new holidays. As Protestants controlled New England, so the primary foothold for Halloween began in the southern colonies. Not content to keep using an established tradition in a new world, the new Catholic version of this holiday meshed with all the various ethnic groups that made up the new American people, thus perverting the celebration further.
The primary American treatment of the holiday fell on All-Hallows Eve, and involved “play parties,” huge public events that celebrated town harvests and whatnot. Neighbors would drink (big surprise), tell Ghost Stories (that were much more effective when the story had been told the year before), dance (despite not having the benefit of things like Soul Train or MTV to teach them), and have fortunes read by strange wizened hags that cackled manically (using yarn, apple parings, and mirrors to divine things like “who you were going to marry” or, if you were a woman, “who was going to drunkenly decide you were their wife when they got horny”). People capped the night off by singing out-of-key, public-domain folk songs until everyone was tired. While the holiday took some time to get going full steam, when Irish immigrants began to flee the famine of 1846, the party really began to take off (probably because there was drinking involved). It was their idea to re-incorporate the Catholic focus on costumes and “going a-souling,” which was now called “trick-or-treating” in it’s American incarnation, supposedly to avoid copyright infringement.
We also have the Irish to thank for the introduction of the Jack-o-Lantern into the Halloween accouterments. The origin of the practice comes from the folk tale about “Stingy Jack,” a trickster who managed to best the devil at his own game of lies and deception in order to get things like free drinks at bars and apples to eat (making this the second “apple” reference in the historic account). When Jack finally died (according to the folk tale), he was not allowed into either Heaven or Hell, but instead was forced to roam the earth with a burning piece of coal to light his way. Jack, being the clever jack that he was, carved out a turnip and kept the piece of coal in it, so he could carry his source of light like a lantern. Jack, in his ghostly form, was thereafter known as “Jack of the Lantern.”
It became tradition to carve turnips or potatoes with scary faces and light them up in the hopes of scaring away Jack himself, or other ghosts that might wander by your house (and for anyone who’s tried to eat burned turnips, you know why he would be scared). These vegetables that were left on your porch became known as Jack-o-Lanterns, mostly because people weren’t that creative at the time. The English, who were good at stealing things from the Irish anyway, did pretty much the same thing, but used beets instead (assumedly just to be different). In the US, since no other holiday had claimed the fruit as it’s own, pumpkins made a prime target for this aspect of Irish culture.
“Mischief-making” was pretty common on Halloween too, something completely absent from modern culture thanks to worried parental groups and Mothers Against Anything Fun. Vandalism was extremely common at the time. Many hooligans would roam the streets at night, carousing, breaking everything in sight, and creating a truly frightening experience for anyone else trying to get a good night’s sleep. By the late 1800’s, a movement attempted to suck the remaining fun out of Halloween. Many people wanted to focus on the community-oriented aspects of the “play parties” instead of the ghosts and “scary” aspects of the holiday that seemed to appeal to hooligans so much.
By the 1930’s, the holiday began to take the secular shape it has now as a community-centered holiday. Parades were still a part of the celebration, but the “play parties” expanded to encompass civic centers rather than just neighborhoods. With most religious and scary aspects of the holiday censored and or eliminated by uncaring activist groups, the holiday was now much “safer” for kids. By the 1950’s, the holiday became focused entirely on them (thanks in part to the Post-WWII Baby Boom). With the focus on children, the “play parties” most often associated with Halloween moved back to neighborhood homes (so they could drink in peace). “Trick-or-treating,” which still consisted of asking complete strangers to give you something just because you asked for it, seemed to be the only unaffected aspect of the holiday. However, the violence and vandalism persisted on October 30th – “Devil’s Night” – well into the ’70’s, creating a combative environment in cities like Detroit. However, the ’80’s did a good job of stymying that sort of terror in our country.
These days, there are various permutations of Halloween all over the world, all more or less having their origins in the same creepy Celtic past, and all of them more complicated than an essay like this can quickly embrace. The American version has remained pretty much unchanged since the 50’s, with the exception of local variants and personal changes. Just to be different, the English now celebrate Guy Fawkes Day on November 5th, which consists of bonfires and the usual paraphernalia, but with a twist: the fires are used to burn effigies of Guy Fawkes, a man who tried to blow up the parliament building in England in 1606. Not content to keep this kind of murderous tradition just for the adults, children walk around with miniature effigies on sticks, and go door to door asking for “a penny for the guy,” though they ironically keep the money for themselves when they get it. While this sounds remarkably like “trick-or-treating,” the English are too stubborn to claim this has any connection to Halloween, given that the country supposedly stopped celebrating the holiday around the time of the Protestant Reformation, and Halloween was Pope-o-centric.
The Irish incorporate “treasure hunts” and odd card games to the usual party games kids play, but more or less do things the same as their US counterparts. By far, the coolest adaptation is Dia De Los Muertos, the Latin American version of All Souls’ Day with origins that date back even further in South America, but are now heavily Catholoicised. This holiday lasts the historic three days, and more or less contains much of the same Catholic Functions that were creepy and fun. The biggest difference, however, is that families construct cool alters to honor their dead relatives, and use incense, candles, candy, flowers, food, booze, and photographs to decorate them. Next they have “grave picnics” on the final resting places of their family members. These picnics include food, tequila, and a mariachi band if you can afford it. Afterward they tidy up the site before they leave (which is very considerate). All of that, combined with the Day of The Dead skeletons that are a mainstay of all wonderful ’80’s animated rock videos and Tim Burton movies, make this holiday the single coolest version of Halloween around the world.
These days, with the heavily commercialized version reigning supreme, it’s hard to keep a positive attitude toward it when deciding what to celebrate, and how. The ghosts of consumerism, dental hygiene warnings, and frightened parents from the ’80’s warning you about razor blades and poisoned candy seem to haunt this time of year worse than the original Celtic spirits ever could. Fortunately for us, the holiday has evolved again in several cool ways.
Most modern adults have a nostalgic attachment to the time of year, who then throw parties that are just as wild at the early American ones before “vandals” supposedly ruined everything. Modern horror rock bands (The Murder Dolls, Misfits, Rob Zombie, etc.), coupled with the prevalence of the cheaply made horror movies that tattooed kids seems to love have helped return the themes of the holiday to the everyday person, rather than the entities that control the production of masks and individually wrapped pieces of sugar. And lets face it: people are just weirder these days. Now, a time of year that was dominated by choosing between being a ghost, skeleton, vampire or devil is now overtaken by hordes of adults dressing up in post-modern deconstructions of costumes, who then stay in character for days before (and after) the holiday, if not longer. (read = Goth people) While the holiday is still second only to Christmas in retail sales, the fans of this ghost and demon-centric celebration are doing all they can to wrest control away from the modern day Druids that want to tell you how to celebrate.
In 1993 I made my first ‘zine, which was distributed for free in my High School. In the years since then, I have taken on a number of hobbies that match the fun and excitement I felt when I sat down to layout that publication. My joy when it came to radio was almost matched by doing interviews, writing for the paper, video editing, playing in bands, and, most importantly, meeting other people with similar interests. I’ve really enjoyed all the work I’ve done in the last 20+ years, as it has not only been preparatory, it has been the most fun I’ve had in that time.
Strangely, I never considered myself an artist. Or even close to the world of Art. At best I called myself a DJ, and at worst, a writer. But I never made a profit, never found myself in a position to get work with what I was doing, and more importantly, never put myself in that mindset. I made ‘zines. I made radio. I made albums. But I saw it more as a hobby than anything else. In reality, I would have another job, and that would be my vocation. This is why I rarely collected money – if anything, a single dollar – for the stuff I created. The joy was in the making, and that was good for me then.
However, as I have honed and cultivated a set of skills since the early ’90’s, it occurred to me that the amount of hours I had put in were vastly surpassing anything else I’d done in my life. I couldn’t really call myself a retail clerk, and an office specialist seemed far from the truth. Dishwasher never set well, and farm hand was very short lived. If there was anything I could apply a title to, it was, in fact, artist. I’ve been making things for a long time now. It is the thing I have done the most, for the longest time, and with the biggest passion. Certainly more that IT Support.
Now I Have To Do The Hard Thing
Most of the things I make usually fall into the “free” category. Radio and podcasts are still things that are part of the media landscape around us, and blogging is usually not considered a “paid” position. And I’m not really interested in changing that dynamic. But as our world becomes more digitized, and traditional jobs are not longer a way of life, those of us that make things find ourselves in a position of asking – politely – for money. I’m not comfortable with it, and I’m sure you aren’t, either. I find most things involving money to be frustrating and difficult, and I would rather not have to go down that road. However, it also seems strange to put so much time and energy into making things, without at least breaking even so I can keep doing it. I’ve gone without earning much for so long, it seems awkward to change that now.
Still, this is my job. I am, for better or worse, an artist, with everything that comes with that understanding. And if I’m going to this much time into something, it should be worth my time to ask you to help support it. My promise is that I will keep making things that I like, and offer much of it for free. What I’m asking is that, when I make something new that does require a few dollars to enjoy, that you send a little support my way.
I promise to make it worth your while. I will put care and attention into all the things I offer for sale, and when you buy, I will make the thing something that feels like it is worth owning. As much as I am an artist, I am also a fan. I know what it is like to buy something, take it home, and appreciate it. I download music and podcasts like everyone else. For me, I want to make sure I’m not ripping you off, either.
So, What Have You Got, So Far?
I’m glad you asked. Right now, we have two albums that are available for you to purchase, in a digital format, for $5.00 each:
The Ways of Ghosts
This is a spoken word album of Halloween Ghost Stories, written by Ambrose Bierce, and read by Austin Rich, with music and sound effects by Austin Rich, too.
This compilation of music by 20 artists was a party favor at the 15th Anniversary Blas-travaganza that went down in 2013. Now you can pick this up and enjoy the best in punk, experimental, rock, electronic, and everything in-between.
We also have a two-disc set that you can pick up in either a digital or physical form for $10.00:
The Shindig Shakedown (Disc 1) (Disc 2)
With music, zines, photography & art by over 80 artists, this massive collection (affectionately referred to at the office as a “digital seven inch”) was a party favor for those who attended my 40th Birthday party in April. Now, you can pick up the collection and rock out to a vast array of friends & well-wishers of our work over the last 20 years. This is the cumulative work of the end of 2014 / beginning of 2015, and is a real compilation, in every sense of the word.
And, if you’re feeling very supportive, we have three albums available that are entirely free, and yet, as with all of these albums, you can pay what you’d like, and help keep up going:
Cathead – In Loving Memory Of Harold (Expanded Edition)
This avant-punk group – largely from the ’90’s – recorded varying qualities of songs and live gigs over their short existence, and with the magic of the digital age, more people can experience these recordings than every saw us live in the day. This is where “pay what you will” really comes in handy.
Moth Hunter – No Contact (Live)
Moth Hunter has been a friend for some time now, and performed live on our radio program to supply the backing music for our program “No Contact.” The music is available here without the mixing and editing of the other samples that were used in that program as a four piece suite of songs for you to enjoy.
Live At Habesha Lounge 13 April 2013
This contains all the music performed live at this amazing Ethiopian restaurant in 2013, where I first joined The Dead Air Fresheners on stage for a spoken word performance. This was an incredible show, of which there is video, too, and you can enjoy it all.
Really. Thanks. I would most likely continue to do this without you, but knowing that you are out there – and that you are willing to lend a hand – only adds to the joy of making music.
Keep up the support, and you’ll get to enjoy cool stuff like this more often.
I never thought I would live to see this day. The insane (and, frankly, terrifying) thorny network of crufted together copyright laws that that have developed since 1909 has made all common sense go out the window when people looked at the claim made by Warner/Chappell Music Publishing when it came to this 19th Century song.
Stories of the costs people used to have to shell out to include 9 seconds of this not-very-good-song in a documentary are legendary, and the oft-litigious company was leaning heavily on a 1935 renewal of the copyright that was the lynchpin in their argument that they could continue to collect from people wanting to include the song in their art as an accurate reflection of the world around us.
But rather than let reality speak to the common sense when it came to enforcing copyright, this song has became an symbol symbol for everything possible and everything wrong with the practice of copyright enforcement in the music industry. With the power that “Happy Birthday” wielded in the way Warner did, it sent a message to copyright holders that the songs in their rosters were “revenue streams” that should be exploited at every opportunity, rather than a way to protect the artist from outright theft when it came to song writing. While some arcane story existed about two old ladies that owned “Happy Birthday,” the truth has been that Warner has collected that money for decades, and has forced all manner of artist to compromise on the use of something that spontaneously breaks out at parties, without forethought.
And, finally, it has been dethroned.
Far be it for irony to play a role in something that was already a pretty entertaining stage play acted out in the courtrooom, the key piece of evidence in this case happened to be a very old “songbook” that was published in 1935. In this digital age of .mp3s and free WiFi everywhere, it is nice to know that a physical book was the item that helped make the case, but in a typical turn of events, Sound Opinions reported that the book in question was reviewed using .pdfs, so we’re not quite calling this one a triumph for old media, either. Still, this tid-bit is sort of at the center of the real issue: old media law dictating the new media landscape.
The ins and outs of the trial seem a little insane, and the history of this song has been documented again and again. In much the same way that Capone was jailed for tax evasion rather than the real crimes he was guilty of, Warner had been committing worse atrocities with the way they were renewing this copyright, allowing them to insist on millions in payments from people who wanted to use the song in their film / radio program / digital media creation / etc. However, it was finally revealed in court that the 1935 copyright was invalid at the time it was originally filed.
“Happy Birthday” had, consequently, slipped into the public domain before 1935, and could not be renewed, legally. This invalidated Warner’s enforcement ever since, not only putting 80 years worth of money into their bank account that they shouldn’t have had in the first place, but creating a terrible example of how a company can throw around their weight to “protect” a copyright when there may not even be one to begin with. Publishers that get into the habit of being litigious when it comes to infringement need only look to Warner as an example of not only what, but how to enforce a copyright through a media smear campaign. Now that “Happy Birthday” is back in the Public Domain, hopefully we can take another step toward rehabilitating the rest of the Music Industy’s relationship to copyright.
This isn’t just good for people who want to feel better about singing the song without compensating the copyright holder, or for a group of cats in birthday hats. It’s a good move for art and creativity on the whole. “Copyright” is a complicated legal world unto itself, and while there are absolutely good uses for it, on the whole copyright is used to collect money when another artist wants to use a work that is copywritten as part of another creative work.
(For example: My movie wants to use a song in it, and the song is copywritten. I pay the copywrite holder, and I can now use the song in my film, as I have compensated the artist. This scales down to sampling in music, and up to, “let’s show part of this other movie in this movie.”)
But the amounts charged for “cleared” copywritten material has alway been nebulous, and there are no real enforced rules or guidelines, except those established by the copywrite holder. How much a work can cost for use can fluctuate dramatically from work to work, and artist to artist. No one has ever paid to use a song I wrote in a film, for example, but “Happy Birthday” could run up to $5,000 per use, if not more.
Beyonce, most likely, is somewhere in the middle.
Let’s Talk About Old And Irrelevant Paper Documents, While We’re Discussing Shitty Songbooks, Too
The larger issue of copyright has to do with the law itself. US Copyright law is complicated enough, but the core idea has not changed much, even since colonial times:
“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of The United States Constitution.)
However, our current copyright law was drafted in 1976, with revisions in the years since through to 2014. The 1976 law itself a law that was revising – and not by much – the law that had been in effect since 1909. Consider the cultural changes that have occurred since then, with a law we keep amending each time something comes up. These were written before The Internet, before Compact Discs, before digital file storage systems or Open Architecture. In someways it was written before mix tapes and podcasts, let along all the forms of media that are currently popular in our culture. They are certainly pre-blog and Facebook. The sharing culture of the Internet – something considered de facto and a part of the world as we know it – is something that is antithetical to the idea of copyright law.
Consider the copyright lawsuits that have cropped up in the last couple decades. In the ’90’s, there seemed to be any number of cases regarding the way Hip Hop artists were being sued over and over again for using sampling, something that has slowed down tremendously in the modern world. More samples overall are cleared, these days many samples are used for free because it means free advertising for the original work, and culturally everyone agrees that sampling is not the problem it was seen in the year 2000. It should be noted that litigators are now looking toward Robin Thicke / Marvin Gaye style rip-offs, or in other cases, the Spirit / Led Zeppelin controversy. But sampling lawsuits are a much rarer breed these days, with the last big one in 2008.
If copyright law was written now, it would include sampling as a part of songwriting, something that is not currently a part of the 1976 Copyright law. (Updates to it account for sampling as something that can be cleared with the copyright holder, but rather than using the common sense approach that is is a part of the form of composition, the law has it written in as an exception that needs to be handled case by case.) This is just one example of the ways that copyright law doesn’t even aknowledge the digital world we live in, or the reality of people wanting to wish each other a “Happy Birthday” in the form of a convenient (and culturally well-known) song.
Even if the song is awful.
In meme terms, there isn’t a cute sentence I can slap on a .gif that can really get to the heart of the issue – for any side of it – that we can use to propagate a sensible copyright strategy that could stand up to scrutiny and 4Chan. But as things stand now, writing and art seem somewhat stymied by copyright, especially in a post-modern, digitally literate culture that are used to bite-sized YouTube snippets, paragraphs copies out of eBooks, and the creative re-arrangement of images and texts – of Star Wars & Dr. Who – that even Disney & Marvel are struggling with ideas of ownership when it just makes sense that Spiderman would show up in a goddamn Avengers movie, RIGHT? The idea that culture has costs is occasionally negotiated in stores and at the cinema, but at home entertainment is consumed in parallel, for free, and re-contextualized for discussion on Tumblr & Twitter later on.
The culture attitudes toward copywritten material has already dictated that they want it to be free. But negotiating the way this plays out in law would be like trying to, for example, legalize a drug due to public opinion.
In a world where entertainment and art are largely free in this sense, the only time money should come into play is if a copyright violation has actually occurred in a way that upsets the value of the work as a monetize-able entity produced by the original artist, but as sharing and reuse become creative works in and of themselves, where to draw that line becomes harder to define, and copyright law that doesn’t understand the nuance of a digital art work is not going to understand the difference between one .tiff and another.
An outmoded vision of copyright – like the vision Warner had for “Happy Birthday” – does not reflect the way art and writing occur in a creatively fertile world. No, this does not mean that I am going to take a recording of Frank Sinatra and try to sell it as my own because there is no law and I am an anarchist, though there are shades of that project that could be decontextualized as an art piece that may look suspiciously like me trying to sell Frank Sinatra’s music as my own. But that question should be one in the audiences mind, to consider the work and its attempt to make a statement that is unique and important. In the end, shouldn’t the art have to defend itself, rather than a legal bully coming in to say that something y is too close to something x, and therefore shouldn’t have financial merit?
To “sum up” Crosley Bendix, a protection that I would like to make sure the copyright holder continues to enforce is the outright theft of a recording, to be sold as something purporting to be owned by another artist. But if I want to make a Girl Talk style mash-up of a Sinatra and Crosby song, with some programmed drum parts, and then use it in a YouTube video that I share with my readers, then there needs to be some wiggle room in the copyright law to see that as a unique work that does not infringe, but creates, and expands the world of art. Let my ability as a mash-up artist be what is on trial, and not some archaic law.
And, while I’m at it: really, “Happy Birthday” is an abomination. The tune sucks, the lyrics are dumb, and the rote reccitation of the song in groups is not only eerie, but depressing.
Please, take a page from me, and ask your friends to sing “Sailor Man” by Turbonegro to you instead. It is not only a far superior song, but try explaining to someone why a group of people just sang a very strange homoerotic punk song to a bewildered friend of yours in public.
It will make a good story, and everyone wins.
For years now I’ve been a big fan of Celebrity Starr, even though I rarely talk about them, and it is incredibly sad that traffic will be driven to my blog now that I’m writing about them for the first time.
I remember when I first saw the obscure film Celebrity was featured in, and I immediately decided I would name-check that film in my post to ingratiate myself with Starr’s fans. In fact, I have modified an anecdote I used to tell girls in bars, which I will change to custom fit the details of Celebrity’s life, so you can understand how important they were to me through the brief-but-important encounter that sounds made up as I relate it to you.
As the years went on, I became more and more of a fan of Celebrity’s work, and even defend questionable choices that border on racist and sexist, because I am such a fan to an extreme level that I can find value in even the most outrageous piece of dreck, and can rationalize almost anything with my minimal understanding of a liberal college education.
I would provide you with some links to an obituary that is not the one most media outlets are using, and a few photos taken by some paparazzi that TMZ was a little too timid to use, but I’ve decided that my enjoyment of Celebrity’s work is something so special that I don’t feel like sharing it with the world at large, and believe that “true fans” wouldn’t have to Bing the appropriate information, and thus might call me out when I get it wrong. So, instead, I’ll just reference a lyric from their third album, which had the radio hit I can quote from memory.
Celebrity Starr even made me cry at my desk when I remembered a particularly poignant aspect of their fame today, and how it relates to their death. Therefore, I will use emotional one-upsmanship to make sure that anyone else who posts about Starr’s passing will realize that I was affected by the death more than anyone else.
In spite of Celebrity Starr’s staunch agnostic beliefs, I will offer a Christian blessing in closing to make sure that their memory lives on in a system of thought that Starr did not give any specific value to.
Yours in clickbait,
The real bummer of it all is that, most of the time, dreams don’t come true.
Not to dwell on the negative aspects of that idea, but it seems evident just from a realistic perspective. Imagine how many astronauts the world would be full of, how many supermodels and rock stars would walk down the streets of every US city, as they pass coffee shops filled with movie producers and actors reading scripts. DJs text for addresses so they can get to their next big gig, and bloggers complain about all of this in an endless series of tweets that then become tomorrow’s BuzzFeed listical. If every dream any of us had ever had came true, we’d all be swimming in a world filled empty grocery shelves, kitchens full of filthy dishes, and closed drive-throughs as far as the eye can see.
Perhaps it wouldn’t be all bad.
Dreams help sustain us, but they are not contracts with the universe, nor are they necessarily realistic. There’s no way I was going to be the first man on Mars anyway. Chances are very few of those friends are going to put out a record that break on a national level. I regularly dream of a world where people slow the fuck down and pay attention in traffic, but I realize that will never happen so long as most people dream of being the first to get to where they are going, even if, as we all so often say, it isn’t a race.
For over 20 years now, I’ve been pursuing some of my dreams part time. A ‘zine here, a song there, and a broadcast yet somewhere else. I’ve always wanted to reproduce the entertainment world around us in a form that spoke to my sensibilities. When I first understood that Ray Bradbury was a person, and that he sat at a desk and shaped those words into the stories I got excited about, I wanted to do the same thing. When I first tuned into KRVM in Eugene, it was clear that I should be on the radio, too. As music became the center of my life, I imagined a world where I had my own simulacrum of media, with journalism and books and music and TV filtered through my acid-damaged head. I never thought I could do it better than those currently in the business, but I always believed that I could make something interesting, that the conversation was not only something I could participate in, but that other’s might enjoy.
Where the truth lies in anyone’s guess, but from this perspective in 2015, I feel like I’ve accomplished a fair amount for someone who that 20 years working full time, earning a College Degree, drinking way more than I should, and occasionally, dating. Some of it was better than others, absolutely. But I like to imagine that if you wend your way through it, there is a thread that connects everything. You can see the development over time, and there are some highlights every so often. As a part-time artist, it’s been a fun hobby of which I’ve never gotten sick, nor have I thought I ever wanted to give up.
Today, we’re going to try something new, and see how far we can really take these dreams with the tools at my command.
My promises will be simple. I promise to be entertaining. I promise to be honest. I promise to put into this everything that is important to me, and everything that I love, and create something that holds meaning and makes me proud. And, I promise that occasionally, I will stumble, and will have to get up the next day, dust myself off, and try it all again.
I promise to deliver a podcast every week. I promise new posts to this blog five times a week. And I promise a weekly newsletter to keep you posted about all the things we’re working on. Most importantly, I promise to make good on the dream of making art, and hope that I can bring you along on this journey with me.
Perhaps, together, we can make these dreams become something more.
There will be new videos. There will be album reviews. There will be new short stories, and some occasional events that you can attend, too.
Today is the beginning of this new phase in my career, and it is as scary as it is exhilarating, and beautiful. It will also be fun, every single step of the way.
There were days when I would sit at work, toiling in whatever wage slavery I had managed to find, and I would imagine the future, a future where all the music and stories in my head could finally get out, and had life breathed into them.
Perhaps, then, it is more true than ever when I say:
We Now Live In The Future.
Be seeing you.
As you are well aware of, there are many elements of Facebook that make the interface less than ideal for social discourse these days. Not only do the functions of the site change regularly, and at the whims of the elite that run the site, but these changes have been monetized, cluttering the content with ads and fake accounts used to promote suspicious agendas. As the overall age-range of the users has decreased, as more and more political organizations and religious groups bog down the site with scare-tactic paranoia, and as the usefulness of the site has gone completely downhill, content has become lost in the signal-to-noise ratio. For a site dedicated to offering users the chance to express themselves, their expressions have been stymied by the overdevelopment of features that serve no real useful function.
We are at a crossroads, my friends. A number of alternatives exist that can easily replace the functions of this site, but digital inertia and peer pressure has kept users from trying anything new. The few that have found themselves using any of the competing sites exist in a virtual vacuum (no pun intended). Ironically, users have become embittered with Facebook, and a large number of posts revolve around the extreme frustration people have with the poor functionality and random censorship of content that Facebook seems so willing to offer.
And yet, users continue to stick with it.
It is usually a sign that the times are a-changin’ when celebrities begin to take up the cause, and no less a personality that George Takei – someone whose modern personality was forged by the Internet – has become extremely critical of the poor practices of Facebook. An entire chapter of his forthcoming book is about his struggles with the site, and how they regularly prevent him from reaching fans that want to access his content. The creators behind the film Beware of Images – a film that warns against how easily we are manipulated by simulacra – have been repeatedly censored by Facebook, more or less at random. And while these are huge issues to consider, even worse is their blatant misuse of their own users’ personal information, and Facebook’s disregard for their own privacy agreements.
There is a point at which something has outgrown its usefulness. We are several degrees past that point.
The inertia behind sticking with Facebook stems from the simple belief that, “Well, everyone else still uses Facebook.” This is not only circular logic, but eliminates any amount of agency in the way we use the Internet. Analogies could be drawn to jumping off bridges, following the Pied Piper, and a number of other sayings that all make the same point: we do not have to allow ourselves to be controlled like that. The Internet is a place where we can use the amazing tools we’re all connected to in an effort to make our lives better, and if we are not bolstering the incredibly positive and awe-inspiring benefits this offers, why are we trying to connect to each other in the first place?
I have decided to change the role that Facebook plays in my life. I have not chosen to eliminate it, but I have decided that I do not want to be caught in the inertia that keeps me using a site that continues to frustrate me, reinforce negativity, and create in me a feeling of dread when new and challenging features are rolled out, thus undermining why we use social networks in the first place. There are a number of great tools the Internet offers that work to connect people, to allow them to have positive discourse, and to grow these connections in a way that do not leave me with a bad cache in my browser. I’ve decided I would much rather spend my time focusing on these sites instead.
Facebook is an excellent resource when you would like to utilize apps and games. Facebook works great for incoherent political rants and all-caps tirades about things you hate. Facebook is fantastic when you want to stir up drama among your friends, alienate family, or make vague and uncomfortable statements about how much you are hurting yourself. When I need these things, I know where to find them. Facebook is not going away, and it is still an excellent resource for bands and artists, and for creative organizations to spread your content far and wide, and I will continue to use it in this respect.
Until I can no longer afford the costs they have added to these uses.
To replace what Facebook had done for me, I will be using Google+ for the time being. This is not a perfect site, by any means. They are still relatively new, and for those who have been weaned on Facebook’s interface, it may seem a little counter-intuitive. But Google+ has a number of extremely robust features, and it accomplishes many of the things that I feel are important in a site like this. The level of discourse is fairly high, and while I do miss my friends, as I continue to use it I find that it actually offers much more that Facebook, at a much lower intellectual cost, and in ways that I am looking forward to utilizing. Google does have its drawbacks, their relationship to user privacy and censorship isn’t exactly as good as I would like it, and in many ways I am just trading one digital monolith for another. This is really a Firefox-for-Chrome kind of shift, at the end of the day.
But I can stop using them when I get sick of G+, too. Remember MySpace? Friendster? Geocities? Social networks come and go, but why we use them remains the same.
Friends, I urge you to break the hold that Facebook has on our lives, and move on to a new form of discourse. If we all choose to move on to a new service – together – there will be no inertia that will keep us using something we hate just because everyone else is. Being able to leave a service that no longer works for us will benefit us in the long run, because we’ll be able to drop Google when they begin to clutter our feeds, and the next service after that when they sell our names and addresses on the digital black market after that. By reclaiming agency in our lives, we can learn to forge our own paths in a number of areas.
Or, at least, find a social network that doesn’t suck.
I will continue to touch base of Facebook, and I won’t completely disappear. I have family to communicate with, and bands and pages I would like to follow. But if you are wondering why you aren’t seeing much of my content in your feed, it will be one of the few things you can’t blame on Facebook’s poor content management policies. It simply means I have moved to somewhere a little more my speed.
You can find me at email@example.com. I really hope to see you there.
One of the many hurdles I’ve had in my life has been that of fashion. I’m terrible when it comes to putting together an outfit to wear in public, and for years my default solution to this was to include a bow tie and a funny pair of pants, topped with some sort of sweater when appropriate, and thus hoping for the best. I’ve often had to explain that I did not grow up wearing bow ties and funny pants, but adopted this look when I got older. As a kid, my parents gave me jeans, t-shirts and regular bowl haircuts.
But the point is that I had not real sense of style; coordinating colors, matching shirts with pants, or understanding what was and wasn’t seasonally appropriate was somewhat beyond me. Occasionally I would add a hat into the mix (non-ball cap, of course), and this would draw further confusion as to my overall appearance. I remember one girlfriend in particular who would groan when I would show up with a hat, and she would ask me to take it off once we arrived anywhere we went.
During my tenure at The Bookstore, my dress code required button-up shirts, slacks & ties, an outfit that I was ill-suited to provide for my employer at first. I remember my mom mailing me a box of ties she picked up as a sympathy gift, and I struggled for ages trying to figure out how to keep them around my neck properly, something I never learned growing up. Our family has always managed to give new meaning to the idea of casual fashion, and ties were never a part of the experience.
I eventually found some shirts that did not match the ties at a thrift store, and had some marginal success locating some pants that maintained the appearance of slacks without actually being slacks. (Full disclosure: they were “borrowed” from the stock uniform issues by various fast food jobs I’d held prior to that.) The biggest problem I had was matching the shirts to the pants, which seemed to be beyond my ability. I wrestled with this every time I worked, and I would get advice from my boss or my girlfriend at the time in the form of, “Don’t wear that.”
Why? Tell me what I’m doing wrong! Of course, little would come of this request. Fashion, so I suspected, was an, “You either got it or you don’t,” quality, which I lacked entirely. My temporary solution became black and gray pants coupled with white shirts. Just about any tie could go with that.
Years passed, and I began to pick up the smallest tidbits here and there about what I should (and, more often, shouldn’t) be wearing. I would resort to the “all one color” solution when it came to matching, or by wearing all wild clothing that would elicit random compliments that did not connect to the little I knew. As my clothes became more and more monochromatic, I withdrew further and further from a desire to know (or care) about what fashion was really all about. From what I could gather, you either had to be gay, a regular GQ reader, or employ a team of consultants to “look good,” and whats more, the cost of “nice” clothing was extremely repellant to me. You want me to spend how much on that pair of jeans? $80 for shoes you have to replace in a month? Not playing the game made more sense to me, and by consciously making the decision to drop out of fashion, I was ironically playing the least attractive fashion card there is.
As with many things in my life, dating and women drove my continued fashion frustrations. Clearly, there was a correlation between the clothes I wore, and the women I met, and more to the point, I was regularly being told by girls I would date that they found my appearance to be less that desirable (ironically, only after I met them). The solution finally occurred to me one night, while drinking with a number of girls that I had become friends with. They had launched into a lengthy discussion of clothes, and I began to tune out as I usually did in these circumstances.
However, when one of them mentioned that they had found something for one of their boyfriends, solving the conundrum of clothing finally struck me: have one of these girls take me shopping! It seemed the perfect compromise to having fashion-conscious friends that I had no idea how to talk to. About once a year I would arrange one of these shopping trips with one of the girls I knew, and they were more than happy to accommodate. What girl doesn’t like having a doll they can dress up any way they’d like? While I was never very good at figuring out how to arrange the clothes on my own once I got home, at least having the clothes in my possession increased my chances of looking good.
When I met my current girlfriend, I was at first a little unnerved by the fact that she would regularly buy clothes for me when I wasn’t around. The items she bought were quite nice, and while I did have a few things that looked good before I met her, I often felt that my old wardrobe didn’t match up very well with the excellent selections she purchased. However, I was also nervous about maintaining my own identity. A lot of the clothes she got for me weren’t exactly part of any style that I had ever maintained, and while they were clearly very nice clothes, it was a look that I had never worn before. I slowly began to incorporate a shirt here, or a pair of pants there, hoping that I wasn’t veering too far off into the realm of Not Me.
Around the time that we moved in with each other it finally dawned on me that I was worrying for no good reason. Not only was I making a commitment to her that I felt good about, but it was clear that she was not trying to change who I was, but rather attempting to clothe that person in cool looking threads. The things she was buying were not particularly far off from some of the styles I’d fooled around with in the past, and now I finally had a woman to take me shopping – and to go shopping for me – in a way that really made me look as good as possible without having to struggle too badly with these abstract fashion concepts I seemed perpetually in the dark about. Little by little I weeded out all the lame non-dress pants, the falling-apart shirts, and the stupid socks for things that actually looked awesome, and I even beefed up my shoe count to a respectable number instead of relying on one pair of black shoes to go with everything.
There are still times when I have a little fashion freak-out, and feel absolutely baffled by how to make myself look decent. Today, as I was dressing for my second day of work, and I had a near meltdown, going through three different shirts before I finally convinced myself that I’d landed on something that not only matched but was work-appropriate. But these moments are rare, now. One of the incredible comforts of finding a long term partner is that problems like this are no longer things you need to face alone. A huge worry that has troubled me for most of my life – my own fashion – has been resolved entirely in a way where I don’t have to think about it and I get to look good. That’s rare in this world, and I owe it all to my girlfriend.
This hasn’t, however, solved the problem of my own fashion nonsense. I look at clothes, and they still confuse me. I have no idea why some things match while others do not, and understanding how to determine color coordination is still a big mystery. What’s funny to me is that, much like art, I can recognize good fashion when I see it, but I have no idea how I could ever go about assembling it on my own.
I made my choice to live in Portland as someone who grew up in a rural small town in Oregon. I am the quintessential Country Mouse who became entranced by the offerings of the Big City, and the wonderful bright and flashy things that a down-home kid can find. There are books and records and rock shows and strange things to watch and listen to, and if you are into that kind of stuff, then this is the town for you.
Portland, in and of itself, loves to accentuate its “wackiness.” This is nothing unusual; when has a town ever tried to “sell” people on the idea of their own town being “normal” and “just like everywhere else.” I appreciate the strangeness that this town tries to embrace, and I would feel a bad if there came a day when the town just threw up its hands and said, “Actually, we want to be more like Salem, Oregon.” The eccentricities keep me interested.
But really, putting live bands all along the route of the Portland Marathon – and having them start at 7 AM – is probably the most insane thing I can think of at this time. This goes beyond just being “eccentric” and moves into the territory of just ham-fisted and misguided. I awoke this morning, after having worked until far into the night, to crowds of people camped out in my yard, with a band playing on the sidewalk two houses down, cheering and screaming for their friends who are running down my street. A quick glance down the non-marathon side of where I live has also revealed that all the vehicles of my neighbors have been boxed in by the friends of all the runners who have all driven to this neighborhood to watch people run through it. And, if this one holds true to the marathon from last year, then there will be a huge mess left behind by the spectators who will leave and completely fail to clean up after themselves.
This is not “wacky.” This is not part of the way that people keep this city “weird.” This is just annoying to me and my neighbors, and fails to cultivate any pride in the city and what it does for the runners, or what cause these people are running for.
I am tempted to go outside with a broom in my pajamas to yell at everyone, but from what I can see through my windows, there are at least 50 people on my block, and several cops running everything. I want to complain and yell, and then have them offer me some form of sleep aid, so I can go back to sleep. But at this point, my vitriol will have to be reserved for scathing blog posts. No one will ever convince me that this is a good idea, for the simple fact that as a resident who lives on the physical path of the marathon, where people are camped out on my porch to watch, not a single person from the city asked me (or my neighbors) how we feel about being woken at 7 AM by live rock music, cheering crowds, and suburban lame-os invading my home.
Fuck the Portland Marathon.
Yesterday the speaker went dead on my Borg Implant, and very quickly it became apparent that I was going to have to go to the Borg store downtown to get it fixed and / or replaced. Most people I know seem to hate going to places like this, but I seem to have a strange love of these experiences. Perhaps it comes from my years working retail, where I had to spend all my time in a mall, surrounded by people all day, every day. Regardless, I’m totally into an Ikea trip, or a strange journey into a busy retail space, even if I am not making any purchases. I’m fairly immune to impulse buys for the most part, and you usually get to see some of the most amazing and confusing examples of humanity when you leave y0ur comfort zone.
While I don’t mind making these kinds of trips, I did decide that I should plan ahead to make mine easier. Not only did I schedule an appointment at the Genius Borg yesterday, but I gave myself the entire afternoon today in case things ran late for some reason. I filled a 16oz to-go cup of coffee to help pass the time. When I arrived 20 minutes early, the place was hoppin’, but knowing that I had scheduled an appointment, I simply checked in and stood at the bar, making eye contact with every employee that even pretended to look my way.
I began to pay attention to the customers that were coming in as my appointment came and went. Each would complain about something they were angry about, would explain that they didn’t fucking well need appointments, and that they had better get some service or else. (The “else” in this situation was never made clear, but I assume it was equal to, “I will not give you any more of my money today.”)
When I had finally waited 20 minutes past my scheduled appointment, I decided to use a much more subdued version of this behavior, and waved at every employee that looked in my direction. After 10 of these waves were made – some of which were at repeated staff members – I finally managed to get someone to ask me if I’d been helped yet. In spite of the fact that I’d been standing there for 40 minutes, and in spite of the fact that she had seen me standing there previously, I decided to move forward and just get to the point.
I quickly explained that I had an appointment, that I had checked in, and that I just needed an employee to help me. She explained that she was sorry, and that the reason no one had helped me was that their computers were not functioning, and they couldn’t send a chat message to The Borg Implant Expert. In spite of the fact that The Borg Implant Expert was 20 feet away – completely ignoring the fact that no one would talk to me until I decided to flag someone down – I nodded my head and said, “I see.”
She quickly walked me over to The Borg Implant Expert, who was engaged in helping a line of customers three people deep. She stood next to me and said, “I’ll get his attention and tell him you have an appointment.” Why she said this to me, I’ll never know; she stood patiently next to me and attempted to make eye contact with him to no avail. Meanwhile, his line was getting longer, and customers came over with the intention of berating the woman who was “helping” me. After someone demanded of her help with a product that was near the front of the store, she finally walked over to The Borg Implant Expert, grabbed his arm, pointed at me, said something to him that I could not make out, and left. In a moment of sheer optimism toward humanity, I assumed that this meant I would be helped right away.
After The Borg Implant Expert helped two further customers, he looked at the device in his hand, looked up at a customer that wasn’t even in his line, and walked away with that person, leaving the people who were in his line to ponder their individual fates. I tried to locate the woman who had been helping me previously, but she was quickly accumulating her own line of customers, and as she had been so entirely helpful before I was a bit apprehensive that a second attempt on her part could lead me to an even more distressing outcome.
Fortunately, it appeared that there was a quick pop wow occurring with a small knott of employees nearby. Choosing to be more forceful than I had been earlier, I walked over and explained clearly that I had an appointment and needed some help with my Borg Implant, and would love some help as soon as possible. This didn’t garner any immediate response from anyone, but did warrant accusing eye contact for one guy, and an, “Excuse me,” from another who quickly left the pop wow and accidentally bumped into me on the way out.
At that point I must have looked frustrated, because another employee I had not yet seen came over and asked if I needed some help. I said yes and explained my situation yet again, adding that I understood there was some sort of computer problem, but that I would still like to get some help if possible. After explaining all of this to him two more times, he realized that I had scheduled an appointment, though seemed quite confused as to the computer problem that was plaguing the store. He told me that The Borg Implant Expert was busy helping customers at that moment, but that if I waited right where I was standing, he would return to tell me how long the wait would be.
Ready to leave the store and try again tomorrow, I turned around to find myself face-to-face with The Borg Implant Expert. He said that he understood I had an appointment and asked what device was giving me trouble (offering that his area of expertise was only with Borg Implants.) I briefly wondered how it was that he knew I had an appointment and yet didn’t know that the appointment was regarding my phone, which had been outlined when I scheduled the appointment and several times since with a variety of staff. Instead, I started from the beginning – yet again – and patiently explained that since I had paid for the extended warrantee, that it should be a simple case of replacing the broken speaker, or getting a new Borg Implant entirely.
The Borg Implant Expert tried to log into the system to see if my story checked out. “It seems that the computers are down for some reason,” he said. How, exactly, this was news to him was beyond my understanding. Regardless, he asked me if I had tried rebooting the Borg Implant (yes), and if I was sure that the speaker was broken, or if the volume was just turned down. I rebooted the Borg Implant in front of him, which caused his face to light up in confusion.
I loaded up an .mp3 and played it for him, illustrating to him the various symptoms that had led me to the diagnosis I had made. He stopped me several times, as he seemed to be quite confused by the various menus I was navigating, and more importantly, by the volume buttons on the side I was using to adjust the sound. However, after a good five minutes of me teaching him some of the ins and outs of the product of which he was in charge, he determined that the speaker was, in fact, dead and that it did, in fact, need replacing.
He once again tried to log into the system to retrieve my information, but encountered some sort of problem that he didn’t quite understand. He gave up and explained that replacing the speaker would take “15 – 20” minutes, and that I would have plenty of time to go and get a coffee and do some shopping while I waited. I decided that it was best not to draw attention to the 16oz to-go cup of coffee I had been sipping on the whole time, and instead opted to leave the store for a few minutes to help clear my head. I briefly considered either starting smoking again, or just killing myself.
Giving The Borg Implant Expert the benefit of the doubt, I was gone for 30 minutes, hoping that the extra time would account for a few customer interruptions, and further continued efforts on his part to log into the system again. When I returned I walked through the store but could not find him, so I took up a post at the place where I had left him before, hypothesizing that he would look there first. Another 10 minutes past, and he finally emerged to stand by the Genius Borg, scanning the store in every location save for the one where he had last helped me. Another employee leaned over and whispered something to him, and he nodded and walked right past me toward the front of the store, beginning to get impatient. On his return trip, as if by random chance, he noticed me and exclaimed, “There you are! I was looking everywhere for you.”
The Borg Implant Expert explained that the speaker replacement had been a success, and that he just had to try and log into the system again so I could sign some paperwork, after which I could be on my way. When that didn’t work he shrugged and offered that I, “seemed trustworthy,” then disappeared into the back room again for a few more minutes. He re-emerged with my Borg Impant, and explained that, “It should work, I think.”
He handed it to me, but before I could activate it, he took it from my hands again and offered, “Wait, I should check and see if the wireless is working,” apropos of nothing. After two attempts, I showed him where the wireless setting is located, and we both waited with rapt attention as my Borg Implant tried to connect. I imagined that, in his mind somewhere, there was a script that he was supposed to use to explain to the customer why being able to connect to the wireless was important under these circumstances, but that in his current state, something was preventing that script from running.
Regardless, the Borg Implant connected without incident, and in a bizarre twist to the entire story, I thanked him and left the store. I would like to think that I was thanking him for wasting my time, but in reality, I believe it was merely a reflex in the hopes that I could get out of the store sooner.
Clearly, I am not against the use or development of technology, and in many ways I feel that devices like this make me happy. I would also like to think that I don’t behave like these employees when I interact with other people, and that I regularly use skills like “perception” and “reason” to make sense of the world around me so I can approach approach situations using forethought and caution.
What baffled me most is that the cornerstones of my experiences in the world of retail – taking careful notes and applying good customer service – seemed to be absent from every step of my experience today. If, at some point, one of the employees had considered asking if they could help me, and then wrote down my problem when they had to pass the buck to someone else, it would have cut down on the confusion and frustration tremendously. It might have even established a precedent that could have made future interactions with other customers much easier to deal with. Instead, their reliance on technology to help them with every aspect of their jobs – the point where they barely understand the technology they are using in really basic ways – not only prevented any kind of efficiency, but completely undermined the purposes of the technologies in question.
Ironically, this has not soured my experiences when it comes to going to places like this. Most likely, against my better judgement, I will jump at the chance to go to The Mall again, knowing full well that it will be full of strange idiots, befuddling encounteres, new-found depths of inefficiency, and a complete lack of awareness on the part of anyone I meet. It is my chance to be completely entertained by the real-life Idiocracy that is developing before my eyes, and since I am in no position to stop it, the very least I can do is occasionally offer myself front row seats to the most entertaining show available: real life, in action.
For me, I will always associate any journey I make that is of any length with that of Odysseus, the man who managed to turn a routine night out with his friends into a 20 year sojourn away from all the things that mattered most in his life. The Odyssey is probably my favorite book, and while I have only read it a few times, it seems to encompass all the things that are awesome: a road trip with friends, fighting for things that matter to you (both philosophically and politically), finding the value in being more clever than everyone else around you, telling fantastic stories to anyone and everyone who will listen, and most importantly, wanting to return to a place where you can take off your sandals, kill off all the people who are trying to move in on your woman, and wash up when you feel you are at your absolute grossest.
I don’t want to create the impression that I consider my own travels in life to be on par with that of a soldier returning home from war. By comparison, at best, I could only be considered a Telemachus in the world of someone like Odysseus, if only because my own experiences on the road are so minor and short-term. It is true that even the story of Telemachus is meant to parallel the larger journey his father is making – and by extension, we are all meant to measure our own attempts at travel against the grandfather of all journeys. Still, I am apprehensive when I make comparisons between my experiences and those of a fictional character, mostly because I don’t want people to think that I consider my own life of the same caliber as one of the most important literary figures ever to appear in text. Even if part of me feels like I’ve ripped off his formula for my own growth and experiences.
Yesterday, I returned from a week-long visit with family, during which I feel as if I came about as close as George Clooney did in O Brother, Where Art Thou? There were obstacles to overcome, clashes with incredible foes (personal and public), a few good deeds done here and there, a few unrelated side journeys, meetings with friends and strangers, and in the end a return to my home and my girlfriend, where I was able to rest easily in my own bed again to make sense of everything that happened.
Any trip that involves family also involves a mixture of crazy feelings and emotions that are difficult to sort out. As we age and grow in different ways, and follow different paths that put us further away from where we used to be, it is both easier and harder to deal with the realities that surround us. Grandparents are closer to being gone, parents are closer to being teenagers again, teenagers are closer to being adults, and everyone is solidifying their personal philosophies in ways that are nearly impossible to say are even in the same ballpark anymore. There is both sadness and joy mixed in with a maudlin consideration of mortality, and a simultaneous celebration of the potential that the future offers.
I was gone for a week, but the timing was prophetically unique. My return to trip to PDX seemed to mark the physical close of Summer, and as I woke up to a cold and misty view outside my window, I felt with it a real and definite need for change, a desire to purge myself of bad habits and reaffirm what is and isn’t important. I feel a renewed sense of purpose, a sense that I need to focus more on goals and productivity, and to eliminate hobbies that are no longer relevant. I want to throw out all my crap in storage, grab my girlfriend by the hand and run headlong into the surf, to see what things we’ll find in the water, together, to reiterate the joy and confusion I feel in knowing this is what life is all about.
There is also a sort of sadness in all of this, because now more than ever I feel as if I have aged significantly. Perhaps it is the fact that I have a partner to return to at all, something that was never the case for most of my life. Or perhaps it was seeing my grandmother, who no longer seems to have any memory of anyone, look at me with complete confusion, and then ask for my address with a coy and romantic tone in her voice. Or the conversation I had with my cousin’s teenage children, who all managed to rattle off a list of 50 bands I had never heard of in spite of the efforts I make to stay on top of new music. Suddenly, there seems to be a certain kind of mortality creeping into my life, where no amount of detox or fresh fruit can reverse what is happening or what I’ve done to my body.
There are more grays this morning than there were a week ago. One sweater doesn’t feel like its enough.
All of this is completely psychological, undoubtedly. I know that my arm is not really in pain, nor do I need to see a doctor. And yet when I looked at my brother’s surgery incision, with the staples holding his flesh in place, I can’t help but feel as if we are no longer young, that there are things that are gone and lost during our journeys in life that cannot be found no matter how much introspection I force upon myself.
And yet, I still felt good when I crossed the threshold and embraced my girlfriend in our kitchen with my spoils slung over my back. As I threw out the garbage & recycling suitors that where trying to take over our home, it was almost as if the cycle had been completed, and I really had returned. I may be older, in very real and measured ways, and I may have learned a few things here and there about life and how (and how not) to live it. I know I haven’t yet given up the urge to travel; I am not home forever. I may feel battle-scarred, but I know that I’m still young enough to appreciate the future ahead of me, while old enough to appreciate what I have now that I didn’t have then.
More than anything, I’m happy to know that at the end of the day, my own Penelope was here, waiting for me, knowing that I would return, and that through all her own trials in my absence, we are still hopelessly dedicated to each other in a way that puts a smile on my face and makes me want to return almost more than it make me want to leave.
This one’s for you, babe.
Now: I better catch up on my chores, fast, if I’m gonna have time to listen to all these records I found.
And: Hello Autumn. Haven’t seen you in a while, have we?
On Labor Day, we were driving to meet some friends for a backyard BBQ, when we witnessed a pretty insane accident. While I’ve been in one minor accident in High School (we skidded into a ditch, no one was hurt, and we still made it to class on time), and I’ve known people who were in pretty severe accidents, I’ve never witnessed one happening except in a movie. It instantly made me realize – simultaneously – how desensitized I am to seeing them, and how completely blindsided I was by the event, emotionally.
The official news report is so boring as to make it seem completely inconsequential, so for the record, here is my account. We were heading south on I-205 at about 4:30 PM. We had some music on, and we were chatting about absolutely nothing of any importance. Suddenly, at about where 205 crosses Division, an airborn truck from the northbound lane flipped over the median, landed, and began rolling on the left-side shoulder. We were in the right lane, and by the time we fully processed what was going on, we were already past it. We immediately pulled over to the right shoulder, along with most everyone else going southbound.
From our perspective, this looked like a fatal accident. There was no way to know for sure without getting out of the car and investigating, and a number of other drivers were doing just that. Part of me felt instantly awful, not just because I assumed that the people in the truck were dead, but because I was not among the people who lept out of their cars and ran to try and assist. I immediately rationalized this by telling myself that there was nothing that I could have done; the accident had already happened, you can’t help people who are dead, and I have no training in First Aid or CPR, let alone the strength to lift heavy things. Once we had confirmed that we were both okay, and managed to catch our breath, we slowly continued south, to go to the BBQ.
We were both stunned later to find out that, according to the report, there were no fatalities. But now I feel even worse about what happend, in that there were people who needed help, and instead I went and drank whiskey with my friends and ate some extremely delicious sausages. It was one of those moments where I was cursing the person that failed to exhibit simple signs of humanity, only to find that I was that person.
While I know that, realistically, if we had stuck around to try and help, we would have just been gawkers who were getting in the way of people who could genuinely do something important. Intellectually, there is no reason to feel bad. There were a number of people who instantly offered assistance, and before we could get to the BBQ, there were a number of ambulances and other vehicles already responding to the accident. People who were trained and skilled professionals who would actually do something helpful were going to help. We, unfortunately, were not.
Still, I felt awful.
A couple of months ago, a friend and co-worker of mine died in a car accident. I say friend, but really she was more or an acquaintance. I had played cards with her a few times, she dated a good friend of mine, and I saw her every day at work. We weren’t super close, but we didn’t have to be. I was absolutely floored when I found out about her death, and while the circumstances were completely different from the accident we witnessed, I can’t help but see some sort of connection. In both cases, the accidents were completely unnecessary, and yet the both affected me. And yet, I was not the one even secondarily involved.
I have never been particularly fond of vehicles. I’m a 37 year old man who does not know how to drive. I’ve always been a little frightened of how dangerous large cars are, and as someone who lives on a well-traveled corner where there are almost accidents every few minutes, I feel very strongly about my vehicular discomfort. But this distaste is not practical in the least bit. I need to be able to travel, and since we have yet to master magic or teleportation, very fast vehicles seem to be the solution.
Part of me wants to say that these accidents could entirely be eliminated if people were more perceptive regarding the world around them, and there is truth in that, undoubtedly. But would I do any better were I the driver? Perhaps not. The world around us is what it is, and no matter what kind of horrific accidents do happen, being more perceptive just means that we will see them more clearly when they happen. I can’t allow myself to become paralyzed by accidents, nor can I allow myself to become complecent, either. But the image of that accident terrifies me, not only because it happened in front of me, but because every time I remember it I am reminded of my friend who is no longer with us.
When we went back home later that night, we took 205 North, only to see that the accident was entirely cleaned up. There were three cars involved in the accident (two of them stayed on the northbound side), and all that remained in terms of signs that there had been an accident were the usual barrier damage, and small bits and pieces on the road. At that moment, it looked like the accident could have happened says, or even a week prior.
In our lives, we are so quick to try and put things out of our heads. We want to get to a healthy place, a happy place, and a place that is better for our well-being, and put out of our minds these kinds of things that we witness. Already, elements that seemed vivid and terrifying have become fuzzy and incomplete. In another month or so, I’ll probably think of this incident rarely. This is how we cope with the thought of mortality, and how we prevent ourselves from becoming terrified recluses who never leave the house.
Still, it seems like one of those experiences where there is a less obvious lesson to be learned, about the human condition, and who we are as people, and how we should behave and how we should move forward in a positive and more productive way. I feel like there should be some great epiphany here, that I can share some kind of wisdom with you about how I grew as a person, and what I can share with you in my growth.
But this time, I can’t. All I have for you is a story about how I witnessed an accident, how I’m thankful that my friends and family were not in it, and how I will probably be trying to make sense of it for longer than I originally thought.
My hope is that those involved know that I really do care, and that I wish for them the best in however the future turns out.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently performing another attempt at archiving my digital files. There have been several major events in my life where I suffered extreme data losses, and it seemed reasonable to try and prevent this from happening again. As part of this process, I decided to sort through some of the files themselves, a sort of digital spring cleaning. I deleted a number of things, consolidated various folders all labeled “photos,” and attempted to properly label the many “untitled” documents I found, some of which contained some surprising (and forgotten) things I’d written.
It is difficult being a pack-rat. Even the smallest attempt at eliminating possessions seems as if you are cutting off a limb. While I have yet to really enter into the realm of hoarding, I definitely have an obscene number of boxes in storage that are labeled “stuff to go through,” that I keep promising I will deal with, and then don’t. (Or, even worse, I open it, notice what is in it, and say, “Well, I can’t get rid of that.”) However, in the digital realm – space not withstanding, which is less and less of an issue anymore – even when you create more files, they occupy the exact same amount of space. Your computer desktop can be a mess, and yet the machine itself weighs no more than it did before. It’s hard to feel like you need to do anything proactive, when there is no discernable physical difference.
To go further down the rabbit hole: I have been accumulating digital files since the early ’90’s, and while I don’t have everything I’ve ever typed or created, I started to notice that I did have files in formats I can no longer access from 1993. In the last 20 years computers have progressed in unfathomable ways. Just the fact that you can now store photos and music without too much hassle is light-years ahead of the text-only Inter-Web-A-Tron I used to cruise when I first started getting access in 1994. But this problem of reverse-compatibility is something that is just going to (eventually) lead to another form of data loss. Not being able to read these old formats is just as bad as having a corrupted hard drive: you still can’t get at the files. I’m sure there are services to overcome this, but I wonder what the value of that might be given that loosing data is often a good thing.
In scrolling through the last 20 years of computing, it occurred to me that perhaps there is a reason that we can’t remember everything, or that some things just disappear over time. In re-reading old journal entries, I was reminded of past relationships that I was devastated by, and yet haven’t thought about in the last five years. I found records of stories I wanted to write that I’m very glad I didn’t, and the remains of photos of people that were practically my best friend and who I’ve seen very little of recently. It’s not that all of these reminders were terrible; it has prompted an overall memory-recovery project, so that I can try and establish some of these lost connections again. And there have been a few stories that I still think might be worth revisiting, with major re-writes, of course.
On the whole, there were a lot of things I was very glad to have behind me. Depression is interesting, in that while you are in it, there is nothing else in the world except those intense feelings. I am sure that everything I felt in those years were sincere, genuine, and mattered at the time. But in looking at these documents now, it is hard to remember exactly why I felt those things, and as extremely as I did. Which, of course, is at the heart of depression: you are miserable for chemical reasons, and not for the usual reasons. Or, the smallest things become the biggest tragedies of all time. All you need to do is combine depression and OCD into a detailed journal, and suddenly the entire microcosm of your emotional landscape is the whole of your entire life.
That is not to say that there weren’t actual things to be upset about. Between the shitty jobs, friends and girls I had in my life against my own better judgement, there are plenty of things to really be depressed about. But not for 10 years. And certainly not several hundred pages worth of single-spaced journal entires worth of misery. In a way, I’m glad this stuff is digital, because to see them in print would definitely be akin to Morgan Freeman finding the handwritten books in Seven. You just shouldn’t see that much solipsistic text in one place outside of Proust.
One curious feature of sorting through these files is that I’ve found evidence of previous attempts to stay organized that failed miserably. I would come across a folder labeled “Stuff To Sort.” Inside would be a meticulously organized set of folders. Inevitably I would find among them another folder labeled “Stuff To Sort,” which would contain an even older, yet also meticulously arranged, set of further folders. As I did more investigating, it became apparent that there were a number of duplicated items, too. But not completely duplicated, either. Clearly, I would copy some of the files inside of these items to sort, and move them to the outer level of folders, without deleting the interior items. Probably done in a drunken evening where I was looking for a specific thing and sloppily retrieved it from a system of which only I can make sense.
Part of me wonders what good this archiving will serve. Clearly, these files are a glimpse into my own life and my own, disoriented, confused, and endlessly repeating thought processes. But is this of any value to anyone other than me? It seems unlikely that at some point in the future an actual archivist will dig through these, to find something that the world cannot live without. Considering the glut of information that exists already, I will probably be lucky to be remembered as anything more than a memory and a tombstone. Still, in the present, I feel the need to fix these files in a permanent way, to find a means of preserving them so that they exist in a more real form than just 1s and 0s on a hard drive. A sort of way to prove that I really did experience everything I thing I have.
In a way, that is the entire function of an archive: it is an attempt to create a record of a time, a place, a person, or a thing that is no longer “here” but is relevant in the here and now. But at what cost? Consider the documents that were created by our parents. Could they compete with the volume of documents we have created? What about our grandparents? There was a time not too long ago when trying to fix anything, in even a semi-permanent way, was beyond the everyday person’s ability. Were their lives any more or less meaningful? Now I can record nearly any kind of media I wish, in a number of different ways, and there is still this desire to create more. Will this behavior make my life more meaningful?
Already, there is more work to be done. Yesterday I noticed that I had mixed a number of radio-related files in one folder, where there needs to be a clear distinction between “old” files for archiving and “current” ones that are not complete. And there’s still a folder labeled “Old Data” that contains several of those recursive storage arrangements I mentioned above. But it is the self-reflection inspired by this spring-cleaning that has allowed me to recognize that real, positive, soul-improving change has occurred in the last 20 years. As real as “the good old days” seem to be at certain times, and as much as I long for elements of the past that are completely irretrievable now, there are many things I’m happy to know are deleted from my mainframe, never to clog up my internal processes again.
And that’s a hard lesson to learn: the value of forgetting to be nostalgic. Perhaps the perfect archive would contain nothing but folders, perfectly labeled to remind us of where we’ve been but without the minute details that allow us to feel things were better then than they are now. It’s not that they were better, by any stretch of the definition. They were just other times, when things happened that did affect us in a different way than “now” does. Nostalgia, in a way, is just a convenient excuse to ignore today, and I’m not convinced that I should give up on today.
At least, not just yet.
Inspired by the incredible accessibility of all the data all the time, I often spend my lunch wikislogging through the internet as a way to entertain myself while I eat. It’s a bad habit, I’m sure, but there is something appealing about following where the links take me, so that I can read about obscure TV Shows, senators that were the first to do some such thing or other in a state I can’t remember, and when certain countys were incorporated for the first time. I rationalize the behavior by explaining that, at least, I’m not adding another show to my growing list of televisual responsibilities, or that at least I’m not spending money on comics to read while I eat. But the truth of the matter is that I like to be entertained, and find the world around me endlessly fascinating, so much so that I can’t stand loosing the time I could be reading merely so I can ingest sustenance.
Wikislogging is a bit like wikiracing, except that when I first started doing this, wikiracing hadn’t yet been coined, and I never used “wikislogging” until after I first heard about “wikiracing.” Where wikiracing is often competitive, and players are often looking for speed or least number of clicks in terms of the paths they choose to follow, wikislogging is a solo endeavor, involves using the “random article” button liberally, and following many tangents and tributaries as interest warrants. I like to employ new tabs often, when I come across something I’d like to read later, but am far too engrossed in the current article to follow that link just yet. Basically, I let Wikipedia’s random algorithm and my own odd interests create the strangest and least-organized reading experience I can possible muster.
What is fascinating is that this past time really has become more like slogging as time goes on, only because there are so many Wikipedia articles these days that 99% of the things you find are stubs for towns, obscure political figures, an arbitrary year in history, and a host of other things that seem extremely dry, and often a waste of bandwidth. When I first started doing this, in 2006 or so, I remember having a very high hit ratio when it came to finding interesting articles. These days, I need to click random far too often. In many ways, I can see this hobby having a very distinct shelf-life. Before long, there will just be too many articles accessible. So much of what we’ll find on Wikipedia will be referents that point to things in the real world, in an attempt to document them all, that essays and articles that analyze these real world things will be lost in the noise.
If only you could remember how to search for them properly.
As someone who collects extremely heavy, space-consuming media I have always had a very tenuous relationship with the spaces I end up inhabiting. Inevitably, what I look for is comfort for my belongings, and a small space to lay myself down at night. This has led to some very ridiculous living arrangements, and often at the expense of my own – or my roommates’ – discomfort. Just so I could have a place to keep all my comics. While I must admit that I have never been at the Hoarderslevel of stuff-ownership, I have noticed a downward trend in the number of friends who return calls whenever I have to move.
In December I finally moved in with my girlfriend, and this meant a complete reconsideration of things, and the spaces they take up. She was already settled into a nice two-bedroom apartment, small for the most part, but with enough space for the two of us to live comfortably.
Minus my stuff, that is.
While we did accommodate some space for some of my records, a small box of books, and several handfuls of comics, it was decided that there was just no room in the apartment for all of my stuff. The remaining things I owned stayed “in storage” – boxed up in a friend’s basement – and the rest of my records went to another friend’s house down the street.
There was a garage when I moved in, and it did have some stuff in it already. My girlfriend used the Garage in much the same way that a teenager uses a closet: if something is in the way, and doesn’t need to be in your way right now, put it in the Garage – anywhere, it doesn’t matter – and the problem is solved. I only added to the problem when I moved in and thus just threw other things that were now in the way into The Garage, and just shut the door.
There was always talk about taking care of The Garage, as if it were an illness that we couldn’t afford to treat just yet, but someday. Winter made it easy to avoid the chore, and by then we were already into the habit of putting things in there and forgetting about them. Our friend’s down the street even started doing the same thing with their books, which only drove me crazy, as now this space was taken up with other people’s books, while mine languished away in someone else’s basement.
The growing problem of The Garage began to weigh on me in ways I had not predicted, and soon I began to have irrational fears about The Garage. Somehow, The Garage would catch fire and burn the entire complex down. Somehow, there would be a water leak, which would cause the landlord to need to go in, and they would find something in The Garage that could somehow lead to eviction, like pornography, or worse, a huge messy Garage that looks like a fire hazard. (To be fair, The Garage was so messy that I would have evicted myself.) Soon, The Garage began to lurk and loom in my mind like a monster from a Stephen King book, never seen directly, but always there, ready to pounce and fill you with dread.
I first encountered this phenomena when I moved into my first house with a basement. I was so excited to have a place to store everything I owned comfortably that I was nearly overwhelmed. It just seemed like too much. During the first week I meticulously organized and stored everything, but very quickly I just began throwing things downstairs when it wasn’t being occupied by a roommate. Soon, the same concerns about flooding and water damage and whatnot began creep up. By the time I moved out I was convinced that when I meet homeowners, the look on their faces has everything to do with what’s being neglected in their basement / attic / garage.
So, apropos of nothing, I randomly went to The Garage, cleaned it from top to bottom, created new space in which I could store and sort things, and then returned to my usual day.
It’s a relief, that’s for sure. All day today I’ve had this sense of accomplishment, as if to say, “Yeah, there’s all sorts of shit that I need to sort out that is pretty embarrassing for a middle aged man to admit, but at least my Garage in cleaned and well managed.” When I went to the library earlier, I didn’t go through the usual checklist of, “What did I forget to do?” Because the thing I’ve been forgetting to do for months now has finally been done, and can be crossed off the mental list with a sign or relief.
Of course, The Garage is like anything else in our lives. It’s a continual work in progress. Just because you exercised once doesn’t mean that you are “in shape,” and that you never have to do it again. But it is nice to realize that if I need peace of mind and something to help anchor me, I probably just need to clean out The Garage, in all of its metaphoric glory.
My friend kungfuramone once said that Eugene is like a nap, in town form, and compared to some of the other places he’s lived, his assessment is pretty much spot on. If you aren’t married with kids, and long for a vibrant night-life, then Eugene is not the town for you. You’d be better off living in your nap-induced dreams, really.
I lived in Eugene from 1994 – 2000, and haven’t been back to visit in a number of years, primarily because I don’t know anyone else that lives there anymore. The initial impulse for this particular trip – to visit with Lyra Cyst during the brief window that she will be in the United States – was enough to get me to visit, but behind all of that was also this idea of retracing old footsteps, and experiencing the unique form of Deja Vu that you experience when things that are strangely familiar are covered in 10 year of cruft and development.
One thing became apparent very quickly: without a core group of friends to spend time with, Eugene is pretty lame. If you ignore the campus, and the people there because of the UofO, what you have left are disaffected locals, a very small batch of people on the fringes attracted by The Country Fair and the left-over drug scene brought by Ken Keasy, and the Saturn driving ex-hippies who now have some of the few corporate jobs that fuel the non-resale-or-drug-related economies. I have to say that, while I did have fun while I was visiting last week, all of it was dependent on who we were with, not by what we were doing.
However, nostalgia is a pretty powerful drive for me, and as I tried to find landmarks and sights that triggered old memories, I did find myself smiling here and there. So what if Icky’s Teahouse is closed, or if The Bookstore I used to work at is now a used Children’s Clothing store? Perhaps it is a good thing that some respectable people now live in The Blitzhäus. All we ever did was stain the carpet and piss off the landlord, anyway. Perhaps it is a good thing to touch on these memories briefly, before moving on?
Regardless, I can’t say that I wasn’t extremely happy to see the Portland skyline again as the train made it back into Multnomah County. While I might have lived in Eugene for six years of my adult life, the last decade has been in Portland, and I’m light-years away from that drunk and irresponsible kid who used to look up into the night sky and wonder what the future might hold.
Who knew it would all lead to this?
01.) Make Friends With The Kid Your Parents Warn You About.
While I can’t vouch for how well he will treat you, the quality of the friendship you will have with him, or if you will come out of the friendship unscathed, he will teach you how to drink and cuss, how to roll and cigarette, resourceful ways to find porno, and a number of other handy things that the friends your parents want you to have don’t know anything about.
02.) Take Hallucinogenic Drugs At Least Once.
And, if possible, I recommend going through a period where you take a bunch. For your own safety, I do not recommend white drugs of any kind, as you don’t learn much from them, and they cost way too much money. But the right combination of friends, locations, and microdot can make all the difference in the world between general teenage malaise, and being able to cope with how silly this universe actually is.
03.) The Higher You Can Climb, The More Fun You Will Have.
This is like one of those equations that you can count on every single time. Drinking a six pack with your friends is great. Doing it in a treehouse is better. Getting on top of your High School after hours = even better. There isn’t actually a lot of reason or logic that goes with this one, except that the places that are the most fun to climb up onto are often places that you are not supposed to go. There is a corollary to this rule that says that ‘No Tresspassing’ = ‘More Fun’, but if you are going to take that bit of advice, I would do some remedial research about security systems, cameras, guards, and the likelihood that someone is carrying a gun.
04.) Sneaking Out Of The House.
During the years that you live with your parents, you are required by law to sneak out of the house after they have gone to sleep. Weather they would give you permission anyway is a moot point. You need to leave the house when they do not know you have left, and you must return home before they wake up. What you do while you are gone is your own choice.
05.) Break Something.
This one is tricky, because going to jail, earning the ire of your neighbors, and vandalism in general is never acceptable, and in a lot of ways, isn’t really the goal anyway. But it is important to find something large, or something made of glass, and smash it in a terribly violent way that does not injure anyone, but makes a lot of noise and leaves a huge mess. (So as to not get called an asshole, keep in mind that littering does not build character, put hair on your chest, or make you remotely attractive. We call it a dick move. Clean up after yourself.
06.) Start A Band.
You do not have to become famous, record an album, or even play live more than once. But at some point you must start a band of some kind, with a defined logo, at least four songs, and grand plans that never come to fruition. The more high concept, the better. Bands like this should be started with a childhood friend from “way back,” but barring that option, start it with the friend from #1.
Loudly, vehemently, and often. If there is a word you are ever told, by anyone, that you are not allowed to say, it is your duty to learn as much about that word as possible, invent new and colorful ways in which to invoke it, and begin using it as often as possible. While the big seven are really the ones to latch onto, keep in mind that in the right context, and with the right people, that there are quite a few words that suddenly qualify. There are no bad words, merely narrow minds.
08.) Read & Write.
A little milquetoast on the surface, yes, but most people dedicated to print will tell you that the most subversive idea imaginable is to give someone a window into your thoughts and ideas through the written word. Text is not merely a way to bore yourself, but a conduit through which terrible and horrific notions can come to life, play out their grisly lives, and quietly die in the backs of our minds, to add to the compost that feeds our everyday thoughts and ideas. Scarier than anything your parents could ever warn you about, what you are ingesting with a flashlight beneath covers is often just as dangerous as any drug you take, and therefore, must be done with intense regularity.
09.) Walk Out On A Job That You Hate.
As you get older, the balls it takes to do something like this will slowly shrivel away, and as paying bills and being responsible becomes more and more important, it will be harder and harder to enjoy the satisfaction that comes with telling an employer you don’t like that they can, “Fuck Off.” When you are young, there are a hundred shitty jobs that are looking for teens every single day, and you will be able to recover very quickly. But until you have hosed down your manager in the dish pit, burned an apron out of frustration, or simply stormed off in the middle of a lunch rush, you will never know the true joy that comes from letting a shitty boss stew in his own juices while you’re off enjoying an unexpected day off.
10.) Tell Your Parents They Are Wrong.
Because they are. When they were your age, they did the same things, and thought their parents were wrong for denying those things. It goes on and on. While they will not believe it, or remember, or realize it, only the hindsight of middle age has helped me realize that, yes, they were. And if I ever am a parent, that I will be, too.
Dear guy in bar at 9 AM talking loudly:
Give up the ghost. You are not going to single-handedly debunk Freud just because you don’t like your professor and don’t agree with his writings. Really. You are 22, also talked loudly about D&D and Star Trek, and made some of the most offensive comments about women I have ever heard made in a bar at 9 AM. Just shut up. Please. I’m trying to eat my breakfast.
By Crom’s sword…
You don’t get older. You get crazier.
And suddenly I’m seeing a connection between the various meanings of “institution,” and career students.
By Crom’s sword…
On the bus today, I saw a heavy-set black woman with long, slender dreadlocks get on the bus. She was somewhere in her 20’s or 30’s, with a slightly sub-culture tinge to her dress. The only thing that really set her apart from the many other women I’ve seen who look like this was the poorly-applied white-face make-up she wore, like a circular bubble. She proceeded to pull out a ‘zine, and read it for the duration of her 10-block trip.
Not a single person commented on this, during or after the ride.
My mind seems to be thinking in terms of lists. So it goes.
02.) The Simpsons.
03.) Facial Hair.
05.) Young Girls.
07.) Record Collectors.
08.) Older Women.
09.) People With Enough Education To Be Interesting But Not Enough To Actually Know What They’re Talking About.
In list-format, no less:
01.) I’m not a Prince fan. And yes, I’ve listened to a lot of his music. I just don’t get it.
02.) I haven’t read Catcher In The Rye, and haven’t really been inclined to do so, either.
03.) I wish I liked porn as much as everyone else does.
04.) I pretend to understand WAY more than I actually do. Pretty much all the time, about most everything.
05.) I don’t think Bob Dylan is all that exciting, either.
06.) I’m jealous of most other people.
07.) I have a terrible understanding of grammar, and can’t spell anything without spellcheck to save my life.
08.) Almost everything I hate is something I’m guilty of, myself.
09.) I’m not as extremely Left Wing as I’d like to make myself appear.
10.) I’m absolutely terrified of being alone.
Write in you books. Underline passages. Write in the margins. Take notes… and save them! And do not sell back your books. Ever!
Nearly four years ago I was assigned a reading by Flaubert for a class I took, featuring a lot of different fiction from different eras and countries. Now I’ve been assigned the same story again. In an attempt to reduce the amount of work I have to do, I decided to try and dig up my notes from that class, along with the text, to see if I could avoid unnecessary work.
Having spent a full 20 minutes digging through all the notes I’ve saved since I started taking classes at PSU, I have concluded that any random system of filing is probably more efficient than anything I’ve come up with in the last four years. I did manage to locate the book, however, only to discover that during all 23 pages of it, I failed to make any impression on text in any way. It looks virtually unread, and I would even be hard pressed to prove that I owned the book, save for the fact that it is in my house.
I am of the opinion that you should respect your books, as they are not only extremely important, but can offer you solace and comfort in ways that few other pieces of media can. However, I finally came around to the idea of writing in my books over the last couple of years. This behavior, in my experience, is an entirely polarizing one; either you already write in your books and think it’s acceptable, or you are horrified by the thought that someone does this, and begin to rethink your opinions with regards to whom you will now lend your books to. I have never met anyone who didn’t respond enthusiastically in one direction or the other, and it generally tips off an intense discussion of right and wrong.
I used to think that you should never write in a book, even if you owned it. But as I’ve had to do more and more research, and read more and more books, I’ve found that it isn’t exactly easy to synthesize the text you’ve just read into a useful form entirely from memory. In fact, I would say it is now impossible for me to do that. This was hard for me to come to grips with, and the solution was right in front of me: underline, highlight, and write in the margins as you read. It hardly takes any time, has actually improved my retention and comprehension, saves a lot of work down the road when it comes to writing papers, and creates an intellectual dialog between you and the author that will baffle anyone else who reads your copy of that book. (Try it! It’s fun!)
Of course, in some cases, this lesson is too little, too late. Much of what I have read in my lifetime has remained unmarked, and as I continue my education (wherever it may lead), I will probably have to re-read texts that I failed to interact with in the past. Well, at least I finally figured it out.
However, if the thought of writing in a book is still too weird and upsetting, there is an alternative: post-it notes. I started using them for my comics when I couldn’t actually bring myself to mark them up, and have actually been surprised at how many comments I have to make about them as I’m reading, and how much better I remember the stories.
Yes, I just admitted to writing in my own books, and taking notes on the comics I read. Let the comment-battle royale commence.
From the Health News Dept. of the Telegraph.co.uk:
And I wouldn’t have needed the funding or the Psychologists at Radboud University in The Netherlands to do it, either.
I’ve been steering away from the usual kind of blog content I was so-very-good-at for years, and have more or less let my radio show take over my online presence as of late. But that’s not to say that a lot of stuff hasn’t been going on ’round the old homestead, and in fact there have been many blog-worthy things happening. I’ll try to keep it as concise as I know how to be:
1.) Movies: The new Star Trek movie was awesome; J.J. Abrams perfectly captured the geek, the humor, the ships-fighting-in-space, and the all around corn that was at the core of the Trek franchise, while jettisoning a lot of the techno-exposition & clunky stories that have been a problem since the beginning. The big disappointment this summer: Green Lantern: First Flight. How, exactly, a direct-to-DVD movie of a space-cop comic book character failed to entertain this aging, jaded fan is beyond me. Perhaps casting Michael Madsen as Kilowog, or John Larroquette as Tomar Re, was money spent that could have been used to improve the weak (and non-canonical) story. But who am I to nit-pick when it’s Green Lantern? I’ll probably watch it a few more times anyway, as that’s the kind of guy I am, and more to the point, I now own it.
2.) TV: Blew through all 12 episodes of The Middleman fairly quickly, which is a bummer because now I’ve seen it all. For those of you who like the clever dialog of Buffy and the sense of humor when Lost gets funny, this is for you. Essentially a satire of comic book-like adventure stories, it uses a bit of The Avengers formula, and references every wonderful thing imaginable in it’s very short run. My major complaint: it was aired originally on ABC Family, who’s influence is all over the final product. Still, very funny, and has been a nice reprieve from my on-going Doctor Who marathon, which is finally into the Patrick Troughton years (which are, admittedly, better than the William Hartnel episodes).
3.) Comics: As I’m entirely broke, I’m working through some stuff that I’ve had lying around, but haven’t had a chance to get to: Vols II & III of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, all the Prelude To Blackest Night issues I bought before I went broke, and a bunch of odds and ends that slipped through the cracks. The best thing in that batch: the latest collection of work by Jason contains a story, “Low Moon,” which apes the western motifs where chess games take the place of shoot outs. It’s probably one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in a comic since Frank by Jim Woodring. (With the possible exception of the incredible Ganges #1 by Keven Huizenga, which I also just finished.)
4.) The House: Every room, from top to bottom, is clean. I finally gave away the two carcasses of non-functional bicycles that I had inherited, caught up on all my laundry, and did an intensive deep clean of the Kitchen. The “front” and “side” yard are finally whipped into shape, and 3/4s of the back yard is weeded, trimmed, raked, and finally is a place you could spend some time and enjoy it. It would still be in my best interest to pare down my personal belongings by about half of what I currently have stored in never-to-be-opened-again boxes, but having already thrown out a third of the things I had stored like that BEFORE, I’m not in any real hurry to purge any larger chunks of my past (at least, not yet). My records and CDs, after quite a long bout of being in complete chaos, are almost entirely in alphabetically order. (Minus three crates of records, which I may or many not even keep. I’m still undecided, and may try to sell them in an upcoming Garage Sale we’re organizing. TBA.)
5.) Radio: I have the rest of the shows for 2009 planned and ready, and have archived all my existing previous shows on a grip of DVDs that are easily accessible if need be. I’ve been volunteering and helping out a lot at KPSU over the summer, and of course, any new radio appearances will be announced here if you miss them.
6.) Writing: Finished one ‘zine, and am about 2/3s of the way through finishing a second, this one with a CD of music accompanying it. Sort of hit a bit of a block with finishing that one, but I’m hoping that I can finish it in a month, which should be more than enough time to get “unblocked,” or as I’ve said in the past, inspired.
7.) School: I’m fully registered for my regular classes, and have prepared as much as I can this far ahead of the actually term beginning. I have written a rough-draft version of my Syllabus for the courses I’m teaching, which I can’t finish until I meet up with my faculty partner, who doesn’t get back from his vacation until September 25th. I threw out a bunch of old school documents that I will never want to look at / read again, and filed the rest. I still need to find a gym / workout class that is compatible with my teaching schedule, though, but as that is for me and not my degree, I’m willing to give it a few more days. I have my academic planner (this time using Google Calendar) programmed out until June of 2010, or, at least, the stuff I know about.
8.) Personal: Cut my hair, spent some time crying over stupid bullshit, have spent a fair amount of time with my family, and acclimated myself to the new living situation with varied (but positive) results. Finally crested the “Six Months Without A Date” mark, which was a bit of a setback, but aside from that bump, am doing well enough. Entirely quit drinking (now at the 8 month mark), but have yet to make a major dent in smoking (lots of false starts, though). Still, I cook nearly all my own food now, have gotten pretty good at making bread, and have learned to fill the hours with plenty of things to keep my mind off of being single. In spite of everything, I have exactly enough money to get by until my job starts, provided I don’t want to eat three times every day, and provided I don’t mind my phone and internet occasionally not working. (Besides, the Library is for free computers, and free phones exist all over PSU and at the radio station.)
All in all, I’ve had a very productive summer, despite spending most of it alone, at home, working in some capacity. I’m one of those personalities that does not feel content unless I’ve been “productive,” and big breaks like Summer and Winter tend to drive me a little batty. The difficulty in being a student is that your whole life gets rearranged around the notion of deadlines, as you can use them not only to motivate you, but to tick off the things that you should be doing to make it to your next goal. (They’re like milepost markers on the Highway of School.) So, when those deadlines go away, or don’t affect you for another two or three months, it’s like suddenly slowing down from 120 MPH to a leisurely 25 MPH in the space of a few blocks. You either crash and burn, or you stop suddenly, and suffer from emotional whiplash. I go through this every time I get a break, and have yet to really figure out the best way to mediate it.
Anyway, there has been a lot going on, but ironically, I have made less and less time to write about it. I imagine when the pace picks up again in 29 days, you’ll be able to tell that something changed, as I’ll be writing about it every six hours.
In an effort to pull myself out of my funk, and to try to embrace some positive things for a change (rather than complaining until I’m blue in the face about nearly everything), I’ve decided to make a list of things I love. So often, I think, this gets lost in the shuffle of trying to look cool in a town that is often predicated on exactly that. Being cool is one thing; being willing to admit to the things that make you happy, and proudly wearing them as a badge of honor, is even cooler if you ask me. Let’s begin:
01.) My Family
02.) My Friends
05.) The Public Library
09.) Making A Mix Of Music For Someone
10.) Shared Physical Intimacy
11.) Fresh Fruit
12.) Watching Something Fun With A Friend
13.) Shopping For Food I Like To Eat
14.) Ginger Ale
15.) Hanging Out In The Kitchen, Making Food & Listening To Records With Someone
16.) When I Have A Date
17.) Genuine Compliments About My Creative Output
18.) Having My Bills Paid, And Having Money Left Over
19.) Loud Rock ‘n’ Roll Shows
20.) Knowing That You’re Hearing Something For The First Time
21.) Invitations To An Event
22.) Finally Understanding Something Complex
23.) Getting Packages Or Letters In The Mail
24.) Seeing Pretty Girls
25.) Knowing That I’m Trying To Be A Better Person
Dear Drunk Skater Kids (that decided that 3 AM last night in the lot across the street from me was a good place to shred):
I know I seem old to you, but I swear, I’m totally hip. Not only do I have a skating tattoo (a flaming skull with crossed boards underneath, no less), but I own the complete works of JFA and McRad, too. While my board was knicknamed the “Laz-Y-Boy” by my friends (because I used it mostly for cruising than for tricks), it is adorned with a nice Motörhead sticker, which comforted me when I bruised my tailbone after a skating accident (I was drunk), and was laid up for a couple of days. What I’m saying is, this pretty much rules out any possible doubt of my sk8 cred (or impeccable taste).
However, my ability to sleep at night is iffy at best, and as it is the weekend before finals, it is imperative that I actually get eight hours of sleep. Especially since I’ve been having trouble sleeping all week given the city’s decision to fix the sewer pipes outside my window at 4 AM the other day, and the added reality that I quit drinking this year, and no longer have a pint of whiskey in me every night before bed.
So, when I get on your case about how you need to, “Get the fuck out out my neighborhood so I can get some sleep!” I’m not saying it to be a stuffy old dude who doesn’t understand, but rather as someone who has been tossing and turning every night this week, and really needs to be fresh so I can hammer out a pair of papers and finish my portfolio, all due Wednesday. I know you guys were having a good time, and I totally applaud that. Keep up the good work.
Just do it somewhere that isn’t right outside my window, please.
(And for the record: your skills aren’t that impressive; no, you’re the douche, and she had every reason to dump your ass if you talk about her like that; and for Earl’s sake, there’s better swill than mancans of Icehouse. You’re skaters, not assholes.)
Thank you for your time.
My yoga class got canceled today, which meant I had a little more free time on campus today than I thought I would. So, I thought I’d find a place near where my next class was to sit and read, but was feeling a little antsy, and decided to explore. My next class is on the second floor of Neuberger Hall, which is the “art” floor, where the Autzen Gallery was. So, I thought I’d poke my head in to see what was showing.
First, the show that was up was for something called The M.O.S.T. I won’t even try to explain it, except that you might want to check it out if you’re into, uhm, office art? Well, not really. Bureaucratic art? Sort of. Art art? Maybe. Anyway, it was there, and I really liked the rubber stamp collection.
It turned out, though, that the artist in question (Katy Asher) was giving an impromptu tour to various PSU folks, which seemed somewhat official, so I tried to stay out of the way and just look around. However, Harrell Fletcher was also part of this group, and really creeped me out by calling me (by name), and asked me what I thought of it all. I’ve met him one other time, when I attended a talk he gave about the work he’s done over the years. (He and I got into a coversation about living next to schools where the neighbors all complained about the fact there was a school there.) I figured he not only wouldn’t remember me at all, but since I wasn’t connected to anyone at the show (or him, for that matter), he would have no reason to talk to me. Apparently not.
I tried my best to answer his questions, but he kept looking at me in a way that made me feel like I wasn’t giving the right answers. (Despite the fact that I knew there weren’t any.) I suddently started to feel really self-conscious about everything, like, perhaps I wasn’t supposed to be there. I started to notice that everyone’s eyes were on me, now, really listening to everything I said. It was really uncomfortable, and then Katy started to grill me, too. I quickly made an excuse to leave, and went to the third floor to hide out until my class started.
However, with hindsight, I wonder: was that part of the art show?
We live in an old, weird, drafty, noisy, and otherwise poorly constructed house, completed in 1900 (according to the city records). While most of the modern conveniences of the 20th Century have been crufted onto it’s weak and aged frame, every time I take a shower I am instantly reminded of the first few lines of a song by Lorne Elliott (which I originally heard as a youth on a Dr. Demento tape a friend of mine forwarded to me in school one day):
“The smallest thing that’s known to man’s a subatomic particle measured scientifically under lab conditions to be ten centimeters taken to the minus thirteenth power / But though that’s very small, it’s really not that small at all compared to the line that is ever so fine, that separates the hot from the cold on the handle of my shower.”
I can’t vouch for the rest of the song being accurate, but dammit, he nailed that bit.
Today I remembered one of my dreams from last night, which is remarkable only because I haven’t remembered a dream for years and years and years. (And years, probably.)
I was in a Mall (most probably Gateway Mall, where I used to work at B. Dalton when I lived in Eugene, which also might have been one of the last times I remembered a dream). I was dressed in a suit, with a fedora & an overcoat. I wanted some coffee, so I went to some counter and ordered one. It looked like some sort of airline flight check-in counter. There were two guys working there. One guy gave me a receipt, which I put in my wallet (even though I hate taking receipts for stuff like this), and the other guy gave me a coffee.
I began to leave the Mall when two security guys came over and began to harass me about the coffee. One asked to see my receipt. I pulled out my wallet only to find it full of money, but no receipt. They began to threaten me quite a bit, and I got the feeling that they were going to kick me out of the Mall. Then my friend Justin shows up, who also happens to work as security for the Mall, too. I explain to him that we can go and talk to the guys at the coffee shop and sort this all out, and I head back for the coffee counter. The security staff, however, don’t follow me.
When I get to the coffee counter, there’s only one of the employees there. I slowly go up to him, and calmly explain to him that if he doesn’t cover for me, I will make his life miserable. I start saying really horrible things about harassing him every day, talking to his boss, and somehow, I would make sure he gets fired. He was terrified. Then I went back to where the security staff stopped me.
When I get there, however, they were all gone. I looked around, and saw Justin. One of the security staff members was near him, wearing his normal clothes, looked completely horrified, and was leaving the Mall; the other was nowhere to be seen. He looked back, and smiled, and said it had been taken care of.
When I woke up, I felt terrible for the security staff and the employee I harassed. It had been so long since I had a dream, I thought it had really happened for a few moments, and was filled with this overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. Now that I’m showered and have had time to think about it, I find it particularly strange that there is a sort of class struggle present in the dream, too. Even my subconscious is a Marxist text to be read closely.
I need a vacation from reality.
At 9 AM today, over breakfast, I ran into a large, very young, co-ed group of nursing students. They were hammered. Their conversation went along these lines:
1.) Whom Had Slept With How Many, And Which, Of Their Classmates
2.) Rage Over The Behavior Of Certain Classmates (Probably Related To #1)
3.) Rage Over The Behavior Of Their Teachers
4.) Inarticulate Yelling At Each Other, Followed By Sudden Extreme Silence
5.) “Dude, Fuck! Fuck, Dude!”
6.) The Women Calling The Men Assholes, The Men Calling The Women Bitches.
7.) “I Am So Wasted.”
8.) Discussions About What Homework They Hadn’t Done, And How To Overcome That.
9.) Sudden Realizations Regarding Who Had To Go To Work Later That Day.
10.) Etc., Etc., Etc.
When I finally got up to leave, they proceeded to point and laugh at me, then called me over so they could take a look at me. (I was wearing a bow tie, a dress shirt, and a suit jacket with a few buttons attached.) They then looked to each other for a consensus regarding the next bar they would go to.
When I used to drink a lot, occasionally I would run into an older gent who would make the observation, “I hate drinking holidays, because it brings out all the amateurs.” I feel like I never fully understood that statement until this morning.
I guess the Vanguard finally did print my letter about Twitter. It actually saw print in a hard copy form on Tuesday. Not exactly timely, but what’re ya gonna do about it?
It also happens to be my Older-Than-Jesus Birthday, today, too. I wanted to make a lot of jokes about finally taking down the cross I was building in the basement, or that The Romans completely failed to get me (this time), but as it stands it’s probably a bad idea to draw a comparison between myself and Christ, if for no other reason than the fact that I’m most definitely not the son of God, and more to the point, am in no danger of performing any miracles, ever. I’m having enough trouble learning a foreign language; as much as I hate to admit it, there just isn’t anything that miraculous about a poor, middle-aged single white guy who hasn’t finished his undergrad degree yet.
So it goes.
You can pretty much count on me becoming extremely irritable and frustrated if you combine consumer culture with hip fashion, and those two things came to a head two weekends ago when I went Shopping (with a capital S) for the first time in almost 8 years.
In my adult life I’ve managed to cultivate an extremely economic sense of fashion: old sweaters, cast-off polo shirts, bow ties, pants (occasionally funky, most often utilitarian), and whatever pair of shoes is lying around and, more importantly, creates the illusion of fitting properly. For the longest time, in my mind, clothes merely covered my body to avoid public nudity and shame, and even after I gradually came to accept the fact that Clothes Make The Man (and, sadly, they do say a lot more about you than you actually do), I settled on a look that did not appear too pretentious, overly flashy, and more to the point, seemed to speak to who I am. When all is said and done, I am a bookish awkward kind of guy, and so the pocket protectors and clunky, ill-fitting shoes were all just an extension of that.
However, now I have some Clothes (with a capital C, with the help of The Judge who has a sense for these kinds of things), and in some cases, they are even sort of hip in a, “well, that was really cool a few years back,” kinda way. Now, supplementing my Freaks & Geeks ensembles, I have a fair amount of stuff that makes me look like I’m auditioning for a part on Life On Mars, minus the tough guy cop accents, and focusing more on the background characters who haven’t yet earned their SAG Cards. (Full Disclosure: I have never seen the show, but my sister – a big fan – keeps me abreast of all things TV, and this one actually sounds kinda funny in a really terrible kinda way. Thoughts?)
There was already a heavy 70’s influence on my wardrobe, but now it is completely unavoidable. What used to be just a hint of mid-’70’s teenage suburban youth creeping into my look has now transformed into hip-older-brother of mid-’70’s teenage suburban youth, who not only spends most of his time, on the weekends, in “The City,” but occasionally comes back with a Cheap Trick record and dilated pupils.
I don’t know what is weirder to me: the fact that I bought clothes that I actually think are kinda cool (despite the fact that I’m still out of synch with even the more recent retro trends), or the fact that I now have this incredible urge to go shopping for clothes again for the first time in my life.
What can I say? “I can’t keep up / I can’t keep up / I can’t keep up / Out of step with the world.”
Why is self-improvement so god damned hard?
The first thing that hit me was the smell: the pungent mixture of stale sweat, old equipment lockers, and floor mats mixing into a sickly aroma that immediately took me back to High School. I could feel the sting of those red rubber balls as some huge kid hurled them at me over and over again; the stitch in my side as the instructor yelled at me for two more laps. I could feel my flesh crawl as I passed the locker room, sensing the steam and masculinity pouring forth.
This is my own personal hell.
I haven’t been in a Gym since my last PE class in High School, and with good reason: that was the one place where the rules of the playground extended into the classroom. The bullying that I normally suffered from between classes was entirely foregrounded in PE, where it was even school-sanctioned in certain ways: the huge, tough, mean kids were often rewarded for being such in PE, while people like me (who normally do pretty well in school) are reminded that if you don’t look like and act like a man, you’ll never be one. PE is one of the sorting social mechanisms in school that galvanizes cliques and establishes how one feels about their own gender. It’s a pretty brutal experience, even for people who are athletically inclined.
For this first time since I started going to PSU, I’m taking a class that meets in the campus rec room, a building I’ve intentionally avoided all this time because of what it stands for in my mind. But I decided to sign up for a yoga class this term, and found myself (yet again) wandering around in a building, lost, while huge, muscular kids ran past to the equipment room, or the showers, or what-have-you.
It was almost enough to make me drop the class. Almost.
I often like to think of myself as being on the cutting edge of social change, so here are five ways we can all pitch in to help improve our community. I urge everyone to take action… NOW!
1.) Purchase a large quantity of disposable razors, and put a stop (once and for all) to all the bearded indie-rock that’s ruining our fair city.
2.) Since the beginning of time, humankind has rarely accomplished anything worthwhile between 3 PM and 6 PM. (Look it up; would I make this up?) I suggest we institute a mandatory siesta. Those who do not take advantage of the mandatory siesta are not allowed to interact socially until they’ve taken three hours out of their day to rest, relax, and calm the fuck down, before they’re allowed to go out in public again.
3.) For every show, concert, party or otherwise artistic social event that starts at 10 PM and ends at 4 AM, an equally cool, equally fun, and equally accessible event needs to also occur between 10 AM and 4 PM.
4.) Reading Parties instead of Cocktail Parties. Home Cooked Dinner & A Rented Movie instead of Going Out. House & Basement Shows instead of Paying a Cover. Burning Parties instead of buying records. Interacting With Your Friends instead of Everything Else That People Do.
5.) Stop. Raining. Now!
I quit drinking over the summer, and while I had one or two bevvys between then and New Year’s Day, since the beginning of the year I’ve taken a hard-line about it, and haven’t had any alcohol in any form.
There were a confluence of reasons for deciding to quit: personal, medical, financial, social, etc. It’s hard to single out any one thing, or rather, I couldn’t shift the rational to something specific. There were just too many things all pointing to the same thing, and I’m a big believer in self-analysis. I guess I didn’t really need a reason to quit, per se, but in my mind it was that much easier knowing that it wasn’t just a passing desire to prove that I could, but rather a well-reasoned decision that came from within me that was informed by my entire life.
When I tell people I quit drinking, invariably there is a pause while a strange look creeps across their face. The look says, “Oh. What happened?” But the next comment is generally, “That explains why I haven’t seen you.”
It’s weird. In our culture, there is an assumption that either you never drank, you currently drink, or you have a problem and you shouldn’t ever drink. But in my case, I don’t think I had a problem: I never missed work, never missed school, paid my bills as near to on time as is possible in the US, and never blacked out or became violent. In fact, I would be hard press to remember a time that I did much of anything differently than I would when I was sober, except drive and remain conversationally coherent. Of course, none of that means I didn’t have a problem, either. But I was always of the opinion that I was a fairly pleasant drunk who really liked bourbon and the places that sold it.
I’ll be honest: I drank a lot. I pissed away so much of my income over the years that it’s hard to imagine what I could have done with that money in the meantime. (A car? A House? A nice stereo, for Earl’s sake!) I woke up with so many hangovers that it was starting to feel commonplace, and you could pretty much count on me buying something most days, if for no other reason than to restock the fridge or get another bottle of Maker’s Mark. I know perfectly functional people who drink WAY more, and plenty who drink way less, too. I guess, for me, it just wasn’t as much fun anymore. Or, rather, when I went to pour myself that final shot, I began to question if I actually wanted it, or if I was just used to the idea of wanting it.
I know, I know. Far too, “What Does It All Mean?” for someone outside of France, but it’s been interesting observing my fellow humans lately. I know one or two people who don’t (and never) drank. I know another married couple who both used to drink a lot, and now don’t for more or less the same reasons. And outside of that, it’s been really hard to find other people who don’t drink.
Nor am I only looking to hang out with people who don’t drink; I encourage it among my friends and have even bought beer and wine for the house so I could offer some to guests. But there is a certain amount of pervasiveness about drinking that is starting to worry me, and a casualness to the quantity of drinking going on around me. It would be one thing if the majority of the drinking I saw around me was your typical kind of Workin’ For The Weekend partying that I am 100% behind. Unfortunately, it seems, that is only a small percentage of it.
Yesterday while I was getting breakfast, I saw a table of PSU students at 9 AM on a Thursday each with a cocktail and their Engineering Books on the table. None of them could be any older than 22 or 23. They were actively scribbling notes, using calculators, going through texts, etc. As the waitress came by and asked if anyone wanted more drinks, there was an emphatic, “Yes,” from everyone. Then, one guy adds, “But that’s it. We’ve got class in an hour.”
Next time anyone asks me why I quit drinking, I’ll just tell them that story. I think it gets the point across much better than, “Well, I just quit.”
So often this space is reserved for those moments in my life when the tension finally tips the scales into the realm of irritation, and I find myself time and again starting new paragraphs with the phrase, “And another thing…”
So, here it is, for the very first time: a different kind of list!
1.) Virtually incoherent experimental music.
2.) Modernists art films that border on an unbearable length.
3.) Meta-Text, in all it’s forms. (Including this one.)
4.) Comics, especially rambling sagas that go on for hundreds of pages, preferably with an adventure / sci-fi angle. The writer’s from the UK? Perfection!
5.) Lost. (I know, I know, I’m a sucker like everyone else.)
6.) Alphabetizing, filing, sorting, cataloging, indexing, and organizing in every imaginable permutation.
7.) The invention of baking, hygiene, and written language.
8.) Daylight Savings Time (fall back only)
9.) A sense of accomplishment.
10.) The people in my life who make all of this – everything, in fact – entirely worth it. Thanks.