My name's Dave. I'm working on it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Pocky and Nag Champa

The full ensemble of candles surrounds me. Their lights sparkle with tiny universes and prop up my bones. Nick Cave weaves his magic behind me, and Warren Ellis’ sorrowful violin makes circles in a dirty pond. The smoke of my incense rises across my desk and I am looking at this screen, trying to make sense of everything I’m thinking and feeling.
I am against the idea of new years’ resolutions, as I’ve said, but this time of year does make me wistful and think of all the things I have to be thankful for. There is so much; I couldn't name it all if I tried. So many people who have helped me get to where I am, so many little things that have pushed me in the right direction. I am thankful for the friends I have, especially Ryan. I am thankful to have my strength, and for all the writers and musicians and artists who have sent their creations out into the world, year after year. I am thankful that I am sitting here at my desk eating pocky and drinking jasmine pearls tea while nag champa smoke floats in front of my eyes. That I again have a supply of my elixir of life in my cupboards. That I am content to live a simple life. That I am so goddamned fucking lucky.
I feel support from everything around me. All my music and books and candles and letters from friends. They sustain me and keep me going. Especially the books and records. I take them as signs that I cannot give up. Each new cd or book or painting is a push to me to keep on moving. For it goes both ways: they support you, in hopes that you will create things that will eventually support others. How many times has my life been saved by a song that could just as easily not have been written and recorded? How can we measure such things? I imagine all the things I might one day do, how they might do the same for others. It may be a bit overly simplistic, but I see all creative endeavors as working in this way: people helping each other survive. Those who create at once help me get by, and push me to contribute to the circle. Whether it is stated explicitly or just implied, every record I hear or book that I read is whispering to me: Write. Draw. Play guitar. Anything. Just do something. I feel I owe it to them, and to myself, to give something back to the world that has sustained me so many times. My first draft of a novel continues to collect dust, and I know what I have to do.
I am so thankful to have come to this point. I have a long way to go, but I am not afraid to throw myself into it anymore. I feel I have something to prove. I look in the face of each crazy, insurmountable task and grin. Whatever it is, I won’t back down. It will probably hurt like hell and I’m mad for even attempting it. But that’s the idea. How else can you approach life? It is going to kill you, after all. So strap on your boots and look up at the shitstorm flying your way and take a shot of New Deal and just savor the fact that it’s stupid and probably suicidal and there’s nothing you’d rather be doing.

I pick up my pen and prepare to fight.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

People Just Ain't No Good

I rode to work tonight and felt weary and sad and beaten. I’d spoken to a friend on the phone for half an hour or so before heading out, and she told me of a bunch of my co-workers’ going out drinking and the subsequent drama that ensued. As she talked, it became almost comically horrific, and I felt thankful, for once, that I’d been stuck at work that night and spared the sight of it all. But when we had hung up, all the images she conjured played through my mind again and again and I just got sadder and sadder. All the energy flowed out of me as I rode over the murky Willamette River, my tires banging over the bumpy walkway of the Steel Bridge.
Why do people take such shitty care of themselves? Of each other? It hurt me to think about it. I think of my friends as a sort of extended family; mostly my close friends, but even the people I work with to some degree. And while I may not like some of them very much, I would certainly look after them if they were down or ill, and I want all of them to live well and be (relatively) happy. But they don’t fucking take care of themselves. Between pounding shots and forming stupid little cliques and being the centers of their own little universes… how can they live that way? I became angrier and angrier the more I thought about it. My Cancer instincts get really upset about things like this. I know most of the world is fucked, but these are people I judge to be relatively intelligent and sensible. So how could they, in what was intended to be a night of bonding, be so isolated from one another, so heartless? It made me want to shut my eyes and shake my head until it just disappeared like some bad dream.
And I lose heart. You look to people you’re close with to sustain your faith in human decency; when they fail, it’s hard to keep the act going.
I suppose I want to believe that people are better than they are, which is simply one little part of my hope-springs-eternal desire to see the world through innocent and ignorant eyes, seeing everything as far simpler than it is, and aren’t we all basically human and want the same things? Aren’t we?
But more than that, I want to believe, somehow, that my believing that people are, or at least can be, better than their worst impulses will somehow influence them to actually be so. I don’t know how that works, but I think I believe that if I live my life with the strength and determination to love others and support them, that they’ll learn to be good in their own ways and take care of themselves and one another. Such is the wishful thinking of a Cancer.
And so, with the tale of my drunken friends and co-workers floating in my head, all the wind just went out of me. Maybe it’s because it’s the holiday season, when we Americans decide, as a collective, to subject ourselves to inane Christmas music we hate (really, is there anyone out there who doesn’t loathe it?), consumer hysteria, and infinitely more stress and anxiety than we endure in any other part of the year. Somehow in all the madness and blinking red and green lights, the bits about love and caring for one another get lost. Or perhaps trampled underfoot, like so many unfortunate shoppers at a Wal Mart before dawn. It just makes me sadder than hell.
Maybe it was this. Maybe I’m still down about the girl. Maybe it’s just that time of the year. Whatever it is, it played out with me breaking into tears at work when my frustration with a co-worker came spilling out abruptly. I am tough in some respects, but when I speak up and tell the truth through my fear and better judgment, I become a little boy and can hardly keep from choking. I ran in the back room and hid behind boxes of cups and lids to really let it out, and then went back to work. After that, the calm and smiles returned, and my co-worker and I got along a bit better.
I just wish I had the verbal faculty to reason with people and help them stop being so self-destructive, and teach them to be better to one another. My roommate, a Cancer as well, adheres to the philosophy that you have to expect people to let you down; then it’s no big deal most of the time and a pleasant surprise the rest. I hate to admit that he has a point, but I know it’s true. I know there are good people in the world. Maybe I just don’t get out enough.
Either way, I am emotionally and physically exhausted. Thank Amanda Palmer the holiday season is almost over. The ridiculous rituals we build around these specific dates... they are just days, like any other. This time around I have no thought of New Years’ resolutions; each day is just another day, another chance to get back on the right path.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

In a Fast German Car

It has been brought to my attention that there are actually a few people who read this blog, so I am going to make an effort to update at least every few days. I would write anyway, just to stay sane, but of course I want people to read it – I’m not out to exist in a vacuum. Hell, I’ve got my ol’ Five Star composition journal for that. Pages upon pages of illegibly scribbled blathering. Not something anyone would want to read. I don’t want this blog to be a one-way conversation into the void. But most of the time, that’s what it is. I try to make each one meaningful and worth reading, so that when you’re done you don’t regret the time it took you to read it and wish you’d done something more useful and productive like whack off to internet porn or call your mother. Most blogs, after all, are just people rambling about their day with no thought of cohesion or purpose (or grammar, for god’s sake). I try to make mine a bit more polished than that. The problem, really, is this: what the hell do I have to talk about? Like anyone else, my life is rather boring most of the time. I get up and go to the bathroom and putt around my room doing this or that most of the day, eat, listen to music, etc etc ad infinitum. And these things are only really interesting to me occasionally. But if I can put some thoughts or emotions down here that transcend the mundanity of my little existence, then maybe it will have been worth your time. At least I hope so.
I guess my point is that if you feel something from what I write, I hope you’ll respond or let me know somehow. Comments or emails or whatever. It’s a vast and lonely internet, and anything is better than nothing.

Okay. Moving on.

It’s my experience that we can be told all the Great Universal Truths in the world, and until we learn them in our guts, until we come to them on our own, they’ll just bounce off us again and again. Like a song you hear so many times that it stops meaning anything. It just becomes sounds.
Moreover, we handily keep forgetting whatever revelations we've had, so we can come back later and realize them all over again! How profound it feels! Just like the last time! I’m a little bit older, but wow!
One that has been recurring in my life is the painfully simple fact that all we have is the present moment. Yes, we all know this. But I still spend most of my time elsewhere, thinking about the past (leads to wasting the present) and worrying about the future (ditto). Nice little cycle of self-sabotage I’ve got going here. I meditated for the first time in a while last night, and as I sat there I just kept telling myself Okay, at least I’m here for ten minutes out of the day. That’s all this is. Just be here. Really, that’s what meditation boils down to, if you strip away all the fluff about contemplating great philosophical questions or mulling over Zen koans in your head: sitting in one place and being present with yourself. It's simple. It’s practical. You are just paying attention for once. Over time, this practice will lead to more presence in all areas of your life, and it’s amazing the calm and clarity that come from it (for a far more articulate explanation of meditation, read this entry by the inimitable Ms. Palmer).
Today I kept trying to be in the present, and to think about what that meant. For instance, I was expecting a phone call, but then considered how much time I could spend checking my phone constantly instead of just being where I was. The phone will ring when it rings. Come back to the moment. So I’d go and do something else, like organize my room or work on a mix cd and Christmas presents and drink green tea. I would paint my nails Hedwig blue and put on my shiny red Yes, Mistress lip vinyl and then unwittingly get it all over the bathroom sink before going to make some quesadillas (and let me tell you, it feels silly to see lipstick on tortillas).
The difficult thing is to let go of one set of moments and move to the next. Say you were completely present while doing something, but now it’s done, no two ways about it. I always want to dwell on it, congratulate myself for doing something right for once. No! Keep going! Once you start down that path, it's a slippery slope straight into the arms of long periods of inactivity! Come back to the present.
I got a lot done this way. Being someone who gets really easily distracted, it helped me keep focused on one thing at a time and move on to each item on my to-do list without too much delay. It didn’t even really matter what I was doing, as long as I was paying attention. After all, we only have 24 hours each day, and they’re gonna pass one way or another. So buckle down and choose to do something you like. Something that will make you happy. You can only hope to spend the time well. When we die, all we can hope for is to look back and know we lived as well as we could. Isn’t avoiding those thoughts, denying death and all that, just more avoiding the present? It seems somehow connected. Although I’m a bit rusty on all my Buddhist doctrines.
Now I’ve gone on and on about this... I wouldn’t ramble so much except that it is still a very rambling dialogue in my head, not clear or settled at all. Throughout life I keep getting sidetracked, then putting myself back on the path, then losing it again. Revelation. Forgetting. Rinse. Repeat. And that’s okay. We’re not perfect. But dammit, eventually this practice is going to stick. If I keep at it I will become more and more resistant to slipping into a constant daydream. It'll be easier and easier to just be where I am, and then maybe I won’t look back on my whole life and feel like I was never really there, that it wasn’t ever happening to me.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Hit the Ground Running

It was mid-afternoon when I was awoken by a phone call telling me I didn’t have to work this evening, due to the snow. I rolled out of bed and showered, and looked outside. The earth was covered in white, pure and foreign. There I was with four days off in front of me. There was only one thing to do: pile on the layers, lace up the boots, and head out into the cold to buy some wine.
I wrapped my Gryffindor scarf around my mouth and locked the door behind me. The wind was mild. I plodded along the sidewalk, the ground giving beneath me, transformed. The sounds of my finally complete winter mix in my ears. The snow had settled. The streets were new to me. I walked happily, with barely any cars passing by. The light from the streetlamps illuminated everything; the red and white flags of the Arby’s, the temperature and time on display at Washington Mutual, the library closed due to inclement weather.
I reached the Safeway and took off my headphones. I found the wine and bought a loaf of bread for later and went back out into the cold winter air. I walked with the music playing, plastic bags banging and twisting against my legs, joyfully trudging through the soft snow. It is a strange phenomenon how the way back always seems so much quicker.
I reached home and prepared a pot of tea. The cat’s water bowl had long since been coated white, and I filled their empty food bowl. Later that evening there were paw prints in the snow, and I smiled.
I had such plans for the evening. After all, I had expected to have to work tonight. With the extra time, I was ready to throw myself into productivity with gusto: what was I waiting for? I drank the tea and made some soup and started a load of laundry. Not long after, Ryan arrived home and began telling me all about a girl he’d met during his trip to Canada. How well it had gone. I pulled the corkscrew from the drawer.
We started with the one and a half liters of Gato Negro Cabernet I bought from Safeway. He broke open the Chateau Lorane Raspberry Mead, and then we opened a bottle of Vin de Savoie. Some French wine.
We talked and drank and listened to music in my bedroom. It was lovely to see him so happy; he never really talked to girls, was never so smitten as I saw him then. Who cared how it would turn out? He is happy now. We listened to The Long Winters and my winter mix and sat together in the dark, lit only by candles. A holy moment. Two Cancers together, feeding off one another, sustaining one another. I love that boy. How lucky am I to have such a roommate?
Eventually we finished the third bottle and he was getting sleepy. I took him by the hand and walked him downstairs, tucked him in, and went back to my room.
So he is asleep, and I am here. I have three days off. Despite all that has been going on, things are so fucking good. I will throw myself into disciplines that have fallen by the wayside. I will write and meditate and call friends and write Christmas cards and send out copies of the winter mix. I will write letters and buy candles and walk in the snow again.
All we have is now. So let’s go play and be thankful that we can be here together. For fuck’s sake, what else can we ask for? We should be thankful for every second we have. We should hold hands and sing songs and be glad to be alive.
Our time is now. It really is all we have.
I want more nights like this.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Winter Update in Two Parts

Part One: The End is Finally Here

I used to love her from a distance, imagining a life we might someday live together. I built it up, brick by brick, until it towered a hundred feet high and blotted out any chance of seeing her as a real person. It grew and thrived. Then I found myself tasting the dream, amazed, disbelieving. And it slipped through my fingers like smoke. I wrote my book, and we tried again. But in my heart I could feel that it was not to be.
It played out more or less like it did the first time around, all those bad dreams and sad entries. I saw it coming, as I had then. Now, as before, I can't help feeling that I orchestrated it in some slightly masochistic way. The only difference being this time I was better prepared. But again I dropped her off, and again I broke into tears as miles were put between us.
I will no longer dream of her. I will still think of her affectionately, and perhaps I won't ever quite get over her. But there is no more crystalline picture of a perfect woman. Only a sad and beautiful girl too fucked up to love me as much as I love her.
I know it's not personal. It's just timing. Isn't everything? It's not good or bad. It just is what it is.
And now, finally, I can put it in the ground and move on.
I don't usually do this, but rather than go on about it, I am going to post lyrics instead. Over the course of this whole messy affair, there has been one record that has been on repeat constantly, providing an uncannily accurate score to it all. As time progressed, different songs narrated the specifics of the tale. It felt, at times, like it was written just for me, as great records tend to.
That album, of course, is Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy. So here are some lyrics.

If you want to see and be seen, then be seen. Your dress is dark red and your opening eyes are bright green. Make a scene, but don’t lie on the bed, laid out like you’re dead, because honey, you’re murdering me. Be a little sheep learning who’ll shear and who’ll feed. The hands come and they leave. Be hands holding a knife. Be a being on two feet, with his heart trembling, butchering for a king he believes in though he’s never seen. Be the princess in that stone tower, crying for that handsome butcher’s plight (and, as some princess might, she still calls him a knight.) But the best thing for you would be queen, so be queen. You’re all that I need. Though I know that it never can be, I’d be pleased to post your decrees, to fall at your knees, to name all your streets and to sit down and weep when you’re carried back through them and set down to sleep, and to lie by your side for sublime centuries (until we crumble to dust when we’re crushed by a single sunbeam).

If you want the whole experience, you can hear these fragile and beautiful words set to music here:

Okkervil River - A King and a Queen

Part Two: The Quest for Good Christmas Music

In the spirit of Lindsey's recent entry concerning how awful most Christmas music is (no argument here - it's on all the time at work and I am ready to kill) - I decided to follow suit and seek out and make available some not only tolerable, but perhaps even enjoyable and sincere Christmas ditties.
So here are the fruits of my search. Enjoy.

Low - Just Like Christmas

Big Star - Jesus Christ

The Cocteau Twins - Winter Wonderland

The Pogues - Fairytale of New York (This one is on my winter mix, so if you're getting a copy, perhaps it's best to wait till it arrives)

Death Cab for Cutie - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

Spinal Tap - Christmas With the Devil

Squirrel Nut Zippers - Winter Weather

Low - Long Way Around the Sea

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Cleansing and the Cold

I have been meaning to write for a week now. It kept getting put off somehow, between the below-freezing weather keeping me wrapped in my bedsheets and the slight depression that comes with becoming entirely nocturnal. Honestly, I rarely see the sun most days. It has gotten to the point where I am barely functioning, every part of me screaming out that I need to put everything else aside and simply write. It is, after all, the only way I stay sane. And it's cheaper than therapy.
First things first. The computer has returned from the altar of the gods that is Apple Technical Support, and not only did they manage to fix the seemingly dead-time-to-go-to-the-scrapheap logic board, they did so without needing to erase my hard drive. I had been worried and upset about losing all my files, as the crash was so bad that I'd been unable to back anything up prior to sending it off to them. I was certain it was all lost: the music, the writing, the pictures. Gone. Tears were shed, and I prepared myself mentally and emotionally to move on and just let go of all that history and memory.
Which is amusing in a way, as it directly ties into the themes of my novel. The question of memory and dream. What would you be without your past? Without your memories? I felt I was about to find out, in some small way. Being that I have a terrible memory, sometimes pictures and songs are the only things that keep my past, whether it's true or not, alive.
But it was not to be. The Apple Gods preserved it all, and I have again been given a chance to change my foolish ways (read: buy an external hard drive and back the motherfucker up. Yes sir, on it). When I saw that it was all there, I simply stared, slack-jawed, for a moment, and then proceeded to put on the New Pornographer's Twin Cinema at full volume and dance flailingly around the room with joyous abandon.
I have not looked at or touched the novel in a few weeks. It is good to get some distance from it, but I am getting anxious about the whole rewrite process. The month of November was such a flurry of producivity that I feel almost as if I'm going into some sort of withdrawal now, doing nothing. I get up and make myself cup after cup of tea and check my email and go to work and go home and drink wine and get myself off and then sleep. The days blur together.
Thank (whom? I suppose it'd be inappropriate to thank God, being an atheist. How about Amanda Palmer? Yes, that'll do just fine).
Thank Amanda Palmer that I am a Cancer and have the ability to pull myself out of depression with relative ease. If I were a superhero, it would be my special power. To see with total clarity what needs to be done to restore hope and joy and sanity, and then to set about doing it. I almost always know what to do. Perhaps it's my instincts, perhaps intuition. But I like to think it's really my good ol' Crab Sense kicking in.
There will be more writing, for starters. Still letting the novel cool off, but in the meantime I will work on new projects. I am also writing songs and playing guitar every day. The one difficulty with that is that it is usually around 50 degrees in my house, and cold fingers combined with steel strings = pain pain pain. Damn my lost calluses. I'll get them back eventually.
I will start to meditate again and I will keep riding my bicycle and start to eat more than just chocolate and cheese, as much as I enjoy being able to make the Ween reference. It's just not healthy. I will go out for drinks with friends more often. During November I saw no one. Always writing the book. I turned down invites and became quite the recluse. This will now change.
And behind everything else is the girl. The girl from the story. The girl I dream about. She is out there, behind every thought and probably underneath every creative impulse I have these days. Who knows what will happen? Right now there is hardly anything to speak of between us. But I can feel the potential. I can feel that if I just have patience, and keep living and playing and writing and dancing at Embers on Wednesday nights, that things might just work out. Don't ask me why or how. I just feel it.
Winter is here. The season of forgetting and of cleansing. We pile on layers, like animals growing extra coats of skin. The cold is brutal and utterly beautiful as well. It reminds us that we still feel, for better or for worse.
Of course, I still want to lock myself into my bed with an unending supply of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches and watch Babylon 5 and Eddie Izzard concert films until it warms up a bit. Until spring wakes from its bed of leaves and insects and saunters down to put an end to all the ice.

Until then, if you're still down, you can always listen to this song.