Reading over last years' New Years Eve entry, I find I have little to add to it. I read somewhere that you don't have numerous new revelations in your life, so much as the same few over and over again. So what more can I say?
2007 has been a pretty shitty year, both for myself and most everyone I know. There's no need to dwell on it or go into details, but suffice to say we are all quite ready for the new year to signify some sort of change for the better. After a year like this, it can only go uphill.
The only thing I know to do tonight is welcome it by spending the evening at home, reflecting on what's gone before, and thinking about what I can do now. I'm quite over the desire to pass the midnight hour surrounded by drunken people hooting and carrying on. I'd only feel lonely staring at all the kissing couples anyway.
So I will stay home and reflect, and welcome the new year quietly.
But before I leave you to make the final preparations, here are a few songs to give the old year a proper send-off and get the new one off to a good start.
Be safe, my friends.
The Long Winters - Hindsight
PJ Harvey - You Come Through (live)
Menomena - Muscle n' Flo
Monday, December 31, 2007
Reading over last years' New Years Eve entry, I find I have little to add to it. I read somewhere that you don't have numerous new revelations in your life, so much as the same few over and over again. So what more can I say?
Monday, December 24, 2007
Greetings, one and everyone.
It's almost Christmas (sorry, Dethemberween), and I wanted to say a few words. I've been feeling fairly cheerful about the holidays this year, having managed to eschew, for the most part, buying any gifts at all. Stepping away from the 1 a.m. mall rushes and the pressure of family, I'm left to appreciate the little things that usually get overlooked, like the fact that the holiday lights around my neighborhood do, indeed, look quite pretty. That there's a feeling of cheer in the air and people are, in fact, a bit friendlier to each other than normal.
So in honor of the season, I'm following my prior entry up with a few more Christmas-esque songs and other miscellany. In the way of a gift, I'm also sharing a holiday song I recorded over the last few days in my makeshift studio. If you didn't get an email from me, it is here for you to enjoy (and if you didn't, it's not because I don't love you, but because I'm very forgetful sometimes and/or don't have your email address).
Low - If You Were Born Today
Trans-Siberian Orchestra - A Mad Russian's Christmas
Doubtful Guest - A Christmas Song
On a side note, if you want to hear the full effect of my marginal recording skills, listen to it in headphones. Hooray for multi-tracking.
Happy Holidays, my friends.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Yes, it's that time again... lacking anything really insightful or interesting to say, I am here with a few tunes for your listening pleasure.
The Dodos - Trades & Tariffs
I happened upon this band through my friend S. We were sitting against the back wall at Dante's, surrounded by scantily clad hostesses, congregations of Titlelist-cap wearing alpha males, and free-spirited (read: wasted) bar patrons. The whole scene was smoky, fiery, and enough to make me wish for nuclear holocaust in five minutes, as Bill Hicks would say. The dregs of humanity on parade.
And then this band took the stage, and made it all worth it.
Hide & Go Hustle - Fight or Flight
Another band I was fortunate enough to be dragged to see by a friend who had my best interests at heart. The girl plays cello and the guy does guitar and loops and effects. Not only do they make beautiful music, they hand sew these cute little stuffed animals. I tried to bribe the cellist into selling me one, but she claimed it was for use in an upcoming music video. But once that's done, that little guy is mine.
Okkervil River - Listening to Otis Redding at Home During Christmas (live)
Okkervil has long been one of my favorite bands, and this song one of the sweetest (and seasonally appropriate) tunes from their first record. They recently came out with a free 'mixtape' for the holidays (you can download it here), which consists of various live covers they've done over the past two years. This reading of the song blows the original away, if you ask me. Okkervil are a mighty presence on stage, so to have a well-recorded live version of anything by them is a treat.
Lastly, a bit of seasonal silliness:
Trans-Siberian Orchestra - An Angel Came Down and O Come All Ye Faithful/O Holy Night
Having recently discovered this band through a co-worker, I'm amazed I didn't know about them sooner. A band that combines over-the-top theatricality, classical/christmas music and heavy metal? What's not to love? It's as if Meat Loaf, Brian May, and the Original London Cast of Les Misérables got together, drank a barrel of spiked eggnog and decided to go caroling.
This is the kind of holiday music they should be blasting in Safeways and Fred Meyers throughout the land, instead of that bloodless mid-nineties shit they fall back on year after year. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: there is good holiday music out there. You just have to look for it.
And hey, I might not flee those scenes of panicky orgiastic shopping madness so quickly if I were being pummeled by riffs like these. Everyone wins.
Love through the cold air, friends...
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
To paraphrase Neil Gaiman (quoting Gene Wolfe, in turn), you never learn how to write a blog. You just learn how to write the blog you're writing. I'll trust that sooner or later what I would like to say (or mean to say?) will sort itself out.
All furniture has been relocated around my apartment, and I keep waiting for the sound of trumpets and the glowing lights to herald in some new creative age where I will know no doubt or hesitation as I bask in the connectedness of it all.
This moment is not coming, and I realize that for all of it, were someone to walk into my place this second, the change would be registered with a moments' nod and then moved past. It is different, yes. But it's no feng shui panacea either. All the art and band posters and candlelight I can muster doesn't conceal the fact that it's still my apartment, and for all my effort, might this have been just another way to kill some time?
I have written much in my journal lately about how to slow the onset of depression/stagnancy being brought on by the bleak winter sky in the morning and the cold wind throughout the day. I've struggled to articulate how one must consider, when weighing in on any particular negative obsession, the opposite, positive alternative as equally valid. All things being possible before the mind comes along to make them so, yes? And this, in turn, leads to the question of Is Reality More-or-Less Dictated By Where You Focus Your Energy? Aye.
So, the challenge then becomes (have I gone on and on about this before? I really can't recall but everything these days feels as if I've said it a few times) disciplining oneself into focusing on, if not the positive, at least on seeing both sides of all things. Hell, not choosing positive or negative at all, but standing by watching them try to force their ideologies on you like the Vorlons and the Shadows, and then simply smiling.
That said, one can always use a bit of help. A recent blog from Lady Amanda mentioned the idea of a support staff, people/things/what-have-you that help you get through the daily mill of shit and familiarity. She made the distinction - and I'll keep this brief, as you should really go read her words - between people/things supporting you and doing the work/filling the void/completing the tasks for you. You get the idea. Something that isn't coming.
But supports are nice, and oftentimes necessary.
So I treat the apartment as one more agent of support. Being socially withdrawn to start, and it being winter, my interaction with Real People is at a seasonal low. So I turn, naturally, to this here internet and the four walls around me. I'm quite enjoying both Cat and Girl and A Softer World. Have a look at them after the gap.
The hardest part of this apartment business is that for the most part, I've had to act as designer/editor/executor for the whole process. Moving things around when you're constantly second guessing the placement of it all gets tiring quick. I've been in dire need of a second perspective, and have found none.
Anyway. It's nearly over now. I'm happy with a few things about the place. Here is one:
Now I'm going to lay down and watch "Me and You and Everyone We Know." Stay warm.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Once again it's that time of year when I refer back to Mark Morford's glorious article about getting rid of excess crap (read it here). I've been rearranging my apartment with increasing frequency these days, yet none of the arrangements have been particularly functional. I've started several blogs and finished none of them. All these ideas that will probably never be seen through to completion. Isn't that just the way?
Many times something will come over me like a wave, a series of crystalline thoughts. I long for a set of wires connected to my brain that could instantly transmit what I thought in that moment into a piece of writing. The specific details. But I'm never at my computer when this happens, and the moments are lost. This is one reason I stand in awe of Amanda's blog; she seems to be able to recreate those frenzied torrents of speed-thought with amazing clarity. Does she really write them in such a way, or are they crafted, slowly, after the fact? Some day I'll muster the courage to ask her myself. Either way, I can never successfully go back and recapture those moments. They fade, as things do.
But reading Amanda's words, especially in the form of this book has got me all hellbent on transforming my apartment into an Artist's Den. Everything functional/connected. Glorious messes. Move all the furniture around. Purge purge purge.
Which brings me back to Morford's article, and the principle in general.
It is remarkable, if you look around, how seldom we clean up and revise our environments. Hell, even my internet bookmarks are outdated and cluttered. I'm sure half the links are dead now. Long, long overdue for revision. This is true of a lot more than my imminent surroundings, but that's another blog altogether.
The onset of winter is a good time to do this. We Portlanders hibernate for most of the season (we can, however, be coaxed out by the promise of good beer and company), so it is fitting that I take the time now to give my place a good overhaul and make it actually functional/lived-in instead of just being a copy of a copy of every bedroom I've lived in since I was a boy (read: sort of nice looking, but not conducive to anything but playing on the internet).
Somehow, this will all work towards doing more creative/personal work. Maybe then I'll get around to finishing all those unborn blogs/songs/stories. Maybe not. I'm certainly open to any suggestions as to how to make the best use of my space (you artisty creative types out there). What works for you?
Now, back to the closet.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Saturday, November 10, 2007
As promised, a music update.
A quick reminder: Music can be acquired for free with minimal effort these days, and I'm a strong believer in getting a taste of things before you buy them. That's one of the reasons OiNK was so great. However, it's very easy to forget to support the artists who make this beautiful music. So if you like these songs, consider buying their records. The important thing to remember is that there are many ways to acquire an album, some that benefit the musicians far more than others. One good way is to buy it directly from them (i.e. their label). Look for them on Cdbaby. Or go see them play - even better. In any case, avoid buying things from places like Amazon if you can. With a bit of extra searching, it's easy to find a more direct line to them.
Read this article for more information. It's thought-provoking, to say the least.
Now, onto the music.
PJ Harvey - White Chalk
The title track off her new album. While I love this album in its entirety, this song stands out. It's quite necessary that you listen to it on headphones (the whole album, actually), while surrounded by grey weather. One of the best fall records I've heard in a long time.
Bat for Lashes - Sad Eyes
What can I say about this song? Bat for Lashes make haunting, ethereal, nocturnal music. This song is one of the slower tracks on the record. It's the kind of song I would want someone to put on a mix cd for me, if that make any sense.
Phosphorescent - My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys
I discovered this guy meandering around on Allmusic one day, through his association with Castanets. He plays throaty, spare folk songs that sound like the musical offspring of Neutral Milk Hotel and Will Oldham (I normally hate such A+B analogies. The subject is never equal to the referenced artists. Ever.) However, he does have a certain charm all of his own, and this cover of the old Willie Nelson song is pretty stellar.
Camera Obscura - Dory Previn
I was lying on my bed a little while ago listening to this song, and was immediately transported into some imaginary 1950s alternate reality: I am a schoolgirl walking home under orange and yellow trees, books under my arm, trying to forget about a boy and get on with my life. The words coming through my headphones are those of Dory Previn. I listen, and everything is clear. It cuts through all the useless clutter and tells me: Don't you think it's time I put him out of my mind?
The Decemberists - The Kingdom of Spain
In my recent attempts at songwriting, one thing I keep coming to is how the best songs are usually very simple. Analyzing song structures proves this point time and time again. This tune is one of Colin's most straightforward songs, yet it never feels boring or repetitive. The verse progression runs through the whole song, broken only by a tiny bridge and a two-chord outro. I need to learn from songs like this.
Low - Open Arms
Lastly, a song that just makes me giggle every time I hear it. The mighty Low, who make some of the most hypnotic music I've ever heard, doing a cover of the Journey tune. Alan cracks up at one point. Truly, this is one of the best things ever.
Over and out.
Friday, November 02, 2007
I want to apologize, in advance, if anyone should be upset by what I write here, given the sensitive nature of the subject. I can only say that this is merely intellectual/quasi-spiritual musing, and no disrespect is intended to those who disagree with me. These are just my thoughts.
I am intrigued when I hear anyone speak of the deceased. Lately, this has centered around my friend Nick Bucher, who died last February. I will hear people speak of him in a way that implies that he is still around, as if hovering, watching us in a state of perpetual amusement. Or the discussion will take on a more sinister (at least to my ears) bent: dicussions of what he would or would not think/feel/do about any trifling thing.
Talk of this sort troubles me. I think about Nick a good deal, whether it be wistful nostalgia brought on by glancing at the photograph which sits on my bookshelf, or a memory that comes out of nowhere. I do miss him, and wish he were still alive. But since he is not, I face a conflict as to how, indeed, to think and speak of him now.
I am extremely hesitant to speak of 'souls.' I'm not really interested in discoursing on the word as it is meant in the eyes of various religions; such a talk would only lead to confusion. Language always falls short where such things are concerned. My point is only to have a meaningful term to use in referring to someone after they've died. But to even arrive at that successfully seems a laborious task, and nonessential to my purpose. I have always thought that if one can claim a 'self' (Oh, the holes I am digging for myself) can be said to exist, it is born in the mind. The intellect. Again, there is the potential here to veer into endless hours of debating over semantics, which I really don't care to do. I am here concerned only with two things. For arguments' sake I will put them forth as follows:
A) That in lieu of the deceased, people will create an idea of them for the sake of comfort and to have a point of reference to direct their love/grief/what-have-you now that the body is gone.
B) That no one can ever speak for the dead.
The two are, I'm sure, connected, but let me try to address them as separate for the moment.
I empathize with my friends' need to look for Nick in such a way, and to imagine him lingering about. It's comforting to think that though he is gone, he's not really gone.
Except he, as we knew him, is.
While I have no issue with a picture in a frame, it shouldn't blot out the reality that what once was is no more. Our bodies are quick to decay. This segues into the fact that as the mind/personality of the loved one was housed in that body, it also has to go, i.e. our conception of it has to be re-evaluated. How can we naïvely imagine that one's mind/personality lingers around like a disembodied voice? That it retains cognizance after death? These are nice thoughts, but really, odds are against.
All of this leaves me grasping for something tangible when I think of Nick nowadays. I cannot permit myself to think of him as existing as he did, or else expose myself as a self-contradicting fraud. Why, then, do I bow my head when riding by the ghost bike where he was hit? If I'm honest about my beliefs, this is an act of sheer vanity, and nothing else. The bike serves a purpose, and it is a good one. But it is not him any more than anything else is. So where can I look for him now?
There is nowhere to look.
While I wrestle about whether this is an inherently bad thing, let me attempt to answer that more nebulous second part: Speaking for the dead.
As far as I am able to see, I think it's possible to articulate yourself clearly enough that others may come to 'know you.' It implies an extreme clarity of self-knowledge, first of all, coupled with the ability to express that information in a way that it can be received by someone else. Anyone who's ever interacted with other people knows how difficult this can be. One could argue that books are written as a way of preserving the minds of their authors throughout time; that they 'live' through them, and when one comes to truly understand a book (whatever that means), they have understood its authors' mind, and therefore Know Them. That's one perspective, however contrived. The analogy of the book is simply useful because it is a carefully considered medium by which someone takes great pains to make themselves understood (at least in the case of certain philosophical texts).
Much more difficult is to know the mind of someone from your everyday life. To know someone to the extent that you presume to know (or predict) what they would think/feel/do implies the kind of intimacy that few ever achieve with another person. Even at the height of such an intimacy, it's impossible to be certain. This is abetted by the slippery fact that the one speaking for the dead will usually, whether intentionally or not, color their interpretation with their own emotional biases. Either way it's suspect, and should be avoided altogether. In the case of the living, you might do well (as an exercise) to try and guess what someone would think or feel about something, only to go check with them to see how far off base you really are. But when the one in question is no longer there to put you in line, what will stop you from twisting them around to suit your needs? It is not something to be done lightly, and the potential for disaster is great.
So where does this leave me when I think of my old friend?
I attempt to remember him as he was, conceding that time distorts memory as a necessary reality. That my feelings are my own and that I can never know him any more than I did while he was alive. I may come closer to him by studying his habits or traveling the same paths (i.e. reading similar books, etc.) but never, through all of this, will I ever know what he would or would not think about things now. Really, it doesn't even matter.
Where can I look for him? Only backwards. What can I learn? Only what I wish to learn. I cannot permit myself the delusion that the dead are out there, frolicking in the ether, hoping to teach me something. If I wish to invoke their names to fuel my own self-betterment (or self-destruction), let me not be deceived: it is my doing, not theirs. I can no more speak for them than I could claim to know the mind of another. Language will fail us at every turn.
I'd like to think that this is something Nick would agree with. Certainly I can think of few people I'd more enjoy having such a discussion with, over several rounds of beer. But that's more wishful thinking...
Christian Kiefer - Prologue
PJ Harvey - To Talk to You
Shearwater - Near a Garden
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
October has flown by. October, the crown of fall. And now it is past. The days have been cold and wonderful, and strangely sunny despite it all... but the brutal winter is coming fast. I can feel it. Looking back - as we must do, this time of year - I am amazed at how much has happened, how much I have changed, and how much will change between this writing and next fall.
Growing older has, if nothing else, taught me the folly of being so serious-minded all the time, and so austere in my seemingly noble goal of constantly refining myself. I fell into the habit of never drinking, smoking, or even making the occasional appearance at the Hedge House to see my friends. All in the name of being better. Of reaching for an ideal.
Better than what? What ideal? What does this mean anyway?
I look down the road I've been on and see that it ends like this: I, old and tightly wound, with my hard-won intellectual clarity clutched in my fists like precious jewels that are no good anywhere. Then I look around for company, and see that my friends realized the absurdity of this approach long ago and have gone out for drinks.
That's all done now. Whether I've received some psychic kick to the head by some fall current or from one of my lovely friends, I have taken that path as far as I intend to.
The moment of clarity came, as far as I can pin it down, a few weeks ago when I took my first sip of Wolaver's Oatmeat Stout at a local public house. I drank, and was amazed. This is the taste of fall. This is the life I have been stubbornly resisting. This is good.
And now October is over, and winter is coming fast. What better time to shuck my asceticism and learn the finer points of good beer? To unclench my fists and go spend time with the people I care about?
Is this folly?
Let's discuss it further over a pint of Black Boss Porter. What do you say?
p.s. Good luck, Wrimos!
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
I've overheard more than one occasion tableside discussion at my work which followed some variation on the following theme: the server presents a wine, describing its characteristics and qualities. The patron then tries it, only to exclaim that the wine is terrible and that she absolutely hates it.
Hours later, the server who helped her quips back: It's not bad, you just don't like it.
Now, there are a lot of factors to consider in judging the quality of a wine, and I'll admit to being quite ignorant of most of them. That said, I know when I like a wine and when I don't, even if I can't really articulate why. But I also realize that palates differ, and it isn't for me to judge something harshly just because it doesn't agree with my tongue.
It reminds me how much we slap judgments on everything in our lives. Granted, there's a certain amount of processing and filtering we must perform in order to take the incredible amount of data we receive on a daily basis and make some sense of it. But it's one thing to observe the world we live in, and another to say it's this, that or the other. There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. What the fuck do we know anyway?
I've found myself guilty of this in the form of thinking about a girl. Forgetting for a moment the basic premise than any boy will generally lose his hard-earned sense of reason and logic when musing about a girl he likes; I have spent substantial amounts of time thinking, nay, overthinking various moments and memories until I've worked myself into a neurotic frenzy over what was probably nothing in the first place. Why did she do this? What does that mean? And will it all end in tears? And so on and so forth, ad nauseum. While I consider myself reasonably intelligent and level-headed, things like this make me question: am I so different from the woman at the bar snarling at a perfectly good bottle of wine?
There are an infinite variety of people, thoughts, ideas, expressions, and everything else you can imagine. Just because something is strange to us doesn't mean it's bad. But it's not even that. I think it's foolish to hastily attach value judgments to things, certainly; for how can you know what a thing is with only a cursory glance? Oftentimes the best things reveal themselves only reluctantly, and over time. You just need to give them room to make themselves at home, maybe have a glass of wine or two, and eventually, you might come to see what they really are. What really gets me, though, is the knowledge that beyond simple ignorance, closing our doors to new and different things is terribly limiting. Isn't that the way we grow? It scares me to open myself up to the possibility of letting myself be changed by life, instead of manning the controls with an iron fist all the time.
But if it's scary, it must be worth trying.
Friday, October 12, 2007
I'm always interested in that period of an artists' creative life between the time they began practicing their craft and when they unveil their first official release. Discovering what they were like at a more undeveloped, embryonic stage of their career is something most of them go to great lengths to prevent (I've heard of more than one musician expressing displeasure that such-and-such a demo had leaked to the internet); but these glimpses into the past do offer a fascinating look at how they came to be what they are now, which is invaluable in its own right. The official releases can, all too easily, become the only standard of measurement we have. By some perverted abuse of reason, this often brings me to the conclusion that bands such as the Arcade Fire and Okkervil River were simply born great, rather than achieving greatness, or, God forbid, having it thrust upon 'em. That they arrived at the studio, fully-formed, and laid down those beautiful tracks without a backwards glance, never breaking a sweat, and wrapped it up all in time for afternoon tea.
So when I find some recording that sheds some light on the developmental stages, I jump on it. Cracks appear in the shiny artifice I've built around the idea of 'creating,' and I'm less nervous about setting my own sub-par, off-key ramblings to tape.
I heard a wonderful conversation between Will Sheff of Okkervil River and Brian Beattie, their producer, which contains many hilarious insights into this process as well. Look for it after the gap.
p.s. I hope to update this thing more often, while removing the pressure for Grand Statement entries by cutting back the scale of the writings, and in turn increasing their frequency.
Here's a video I really like, by my #1 rock crush, St. Vincent.
Will Sheff & Brian Beattie talking about the Stage Names
The Arcade Fire - My Mind is a Freeway
Saturday, August 18, 2007
As I put the finishing touches on the Summer Mix, I want to say a few words.
I've written before that I was swearing off the mixes, and reneged.
That changed about 30 seconds ago, when I wrapped the last one up in its packaging and tucked them away for tomorrow's delivery.
To say that the creation of this mix was substantially more stressful than any other would be inaccurate. They all are, to some degree, especially near the end. This time round, however, I finally felt myself scraping the bottom of the iTunes frying pan in desperation, looking for the perfect 3rd track to bridge so-and-so other tracks, with just the right variation of tempo and acoustic sonority. Seeing in my mind something very specific and scanning through page after page of music I do not know to find The One.
And if this be madness, the method is beyond me.
Coinciding with all this is the recent hand-slapping I received at the hands of my Wireless Provider Overlords, who called me out on my flagrant violation of their terms of service by my rampant downloading habit (cough, problem). It has effectively ended my acquiring of music here at home, forcing me to take trips out to Chance of Rain coffeehouse instead whenever I wish to feed that particular urge. This does afford the opportunity to get writing done as well, for it does compel one to get busy when others are around. Especially women. Don't ask for clarification, it's simply so (And yet I cannot help but muse on the fact that while there's no doubt that winning the heart of a woman has been one of the prime motivational factors in the creation of untold amounts of art throughout the ages, I find myself constantly distracted by said coffeehouse women when in the process of attempting to create. Don't they realize I'm doing it for them? Sheesh).
Anyhow, with the influx of music slowed to a trickle, I'm forced to see (as an alcoholic might see, after sobering up, all the silly things he's allowing to go on that drinking distracts him from) that I have amassed a collection of music that a) few could hold a candle to, b) is likely pretty good music, (at least most of it) and c) I am currently familiar with less than half of.
This is the point where my inner Fuck. That. sensors go off, and I give myself a good slap-in-the-face and realize: it's time to stop.
And the truth shall set you free.
I have made it. Survived. The Summer Mix is complete, as well as what I consider (no small amount of back-patting here) the most lovely packaging I've ever designed. When I put the whole thing to bed minutes ago, I felt not only the calm and satisfaction of having seen a long-term project through to completion with patience and attention to detail, but the relief of knowing that this was the final one between me and oblivion. Between that looming external hard drive full of untold wonders, and me. Grin.
I get to stop now.
I get to listen to music just to listen to music.
If this is starting to sound a little strange, it should.
Because it is a luxury to me. I'll refuse to consider making mixes for as long as it takes for me to fully absorb all the music I've acquired, until I know the songs for what they are rather than what they can be used for. Judging by the size of my library alone, that could take years.
The mix is done. I am tired. I think I'll go listen to Opeth and call it a night.
Opeth - Closure
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
I like being busy.
It pleases me to get up in the morning, brew a pot of coffee, and make a prep (read: to-do) list on my white board and cross things out as the day progresses.
As I've mentioned in these pages before, it sometimes happens that productivity becomes a very cunning form of procrastination. When things are done less for their own sake and more to keep from doing other things. This happens to me often. The little things might have been worthwhile, but it's still symptomatic of a larger issue, and I'm old enough to know better. At least, I know myself well enough that I know I shouldn't be doing that shit anymore.
My bad habits are strong. I've spent much of my life being more concerned with appearances than actually living, and it's a hard mindset to break. Maybe that's why I so often feel as if the string's gone out of my back once I set foot inside my apartment. No one for whom I must be better than I am. No one to keep me on task. When I am among people, I become confident and clear. There is no doubt of the way. I move.
It's not an act. I feel these things. But it goes away when I get home.
Perhaps I'm focusing on the wrong thing. There's more to it, I know, than the fact of people (or absence thereof). There's this here computer with its speedy internet access. There's the fact that my apartment still doesn't feel like a home, or, more importantly, like a workspace. It feels like every bedroom I've lived in since I was a boy. That's the truth. So it could be reasoned that, as I never really had to lift a finger to get by in my life (especially growing up), being in that familiar environment might foster the same comfortable laziness. And yet, I cannot discount entirely the theory that I fall into action far more effortlessly when there is someone around to see it.
Which is kind of fucked.
All vanity aside, what matters is that it's been nearly a month since my birthday, and I haven't got a lot to show for it. I've done plenty of the usual self-indulgent journaling, and some highly illegible freewrites in an attempt to get back into the swing of things. The summer mix is nearly done. But somehow none of it feels substantial. All of the Big Things are still untouched.
I realized a few days ago (as I've no doubt realized and subsequently forgotten many times in my life), that the nature of my problem is that I am overly precious about everything I do. Attaching too much significance to every line. Never writing in my books. Never going crazy in my sketchbook. Never goofing off with my guitar (well, that's not entirely true - I wrote an old timey song the other day about the joys of friend-stalking your favorite bands on Myspace), but in general it remains indisputable that I'm holding back, afraid to get my hands dirty and make anything that might be rough or unfinished.
This must change.
I'm sick to death of how controlling I can be. It broke over me the other night, when, frustrated with the summer mix, I sat down with my iPod and just clicked on Shuffle. The fact of songs coming on without any knowledge - artist, title, etc. - was a revelation. I'd forgotten what it was like just to listen to music without any preconceptions; just hearing the sounds and words for their own sake. Much as I like giving my mixes to people, making them has largely poisoned me against having such experiences anymore: the ear is always tuned towards using songs for my own ends.
But the experience with the iPod reminded me that it's really quite simple to break these habits that are making me so ill. It's no different with songwriting or fiction: you just stop being so fucking precious and do it. Not only that: you have to do it over and over. No back patting! No pride! Write another song. Write another chapter in that goddamn novel of yours.
Yeah, I know the spiel. Hell, I wrote it.
But there are other things to write. I have a friend who is keeping after me to do some work. I owe her.
This one's for you.
Here are a couple of tunes in honor of the Shuffle experience. Because I would never have thought of following "Round the Bend" with "Sweet Child O' Mine," but damn if it wasn't a beautiful change.
Beck - Round the Bend
Guns 'n' Roses - Sweet Child O' Mine
Elliott Smith - Either/Or
Sunday, July 08, 2007
The clock ticks midnight, and my inner calender turns another page.
I am become 27.
Do I really buy that line? Click, and I'm 27 now? It's silly to think of age like that.
In fact, today marks the end of my 27th year of life, and the beginning of my 28th. 27 is over. I didn't start at 1 year after I was born... But I imagine that's a bit more conversation than anyone wants to hear when they ask how old you are.
That said, I do have a few thoughts in the way of reflection.
In the past, whenever a birthday rolled around, it entailed a general sense of depression over how little I had done with my life thus far, how much time was lost or wasted, etc. And while I still feel that sting, it's slighter than in years past. And, as I'm answerable only to myself, it's easier to shrug off the idea that I have to accomplish some imagined set of goals by some arbitrary age. Also, it's easy to forget, or diminish in stature, the things you have already accomplished, the ways you've grown, and so on. Not all change is tangible.
I do struggle with the reality that I'll be 30 in a mere 3 years, which is really just the blink of an eye. 30? I can't wrap my head around it. I've been in my twenties for decades, it seems. Then again, I have several friends who are in their thirties, and I think of them as being in their twenties as well, which is to say: they are On The Level and not at all the "thirtysomethings" one might see in some mediocre sitcom, with all those middle-age life-crises and such. They're not all that different from me. I relate to them easier than I relate to your average 19-year old.
(Ah. After checking in with Wikipedia, I realize that there was a show by that very name, which likely had a great deal to do with creating these stereotypes about age. I may be dating myself here by admitting that it was before my time, but there you are.)
I think that, when the time comes, it won't bother me in the least to be thirty. I remind myself that Thom Yorke and Beck (a fellow Cancerian) are in their thirties and are still rocking like hell. That Neil Gaiman was well into his thirties when he finished writing The Sandman. And so on. Any silly notions I have about the effects of "turning" thirty dissolve under the first bit of scrutiny.
But that's neither here nor there. The point is this: getting older is, despite all of the things I've mentioned, just wonderful. I have felt the fire of youth cool over the past few years, and I am glad of it. I rebound from adversity more easily now. I don't stress myself out or worry about needless things half as much as I used to. And above all else, I am happier than I ever was when I was young. For all the intensity that came with being younger, I was unhealthily obsessed with feeling miserable and misunderstood. Always full of pride, and always sure of my own baseless superiority. But at what cost? And to what end? Looking back, I now ask the question: if it doesn't serve to bring you joy, what is the point of anything? My purpose is to enjoy my life to the fullest, and all actions and pursuits stem from that root. As I've gotten older, it's become easier and easier to cut loose the things that kept me from that simple truth, and rid myself of all the counterproductive habits I held in my youth.
And that, I think, is the goal. To make each year better than the one before. To become better, wiser, and happier with each successive year, rather than looking back on the so-called golden days of our past.
Finally, I was reminded last night that 27 is the age when I have to either die, or accept that I will never be a rock star. This does present me with a dilemma. Do I age gracefully and quietly for the rest of my years, or crank out a multi-platinum record and then off myself?
I guess I'll have to think about that one. If I am crafty, maybe I can find a middle ground.
In the meantime, here's a song for you to listen to. On one's birthday, it seems appropriate, but the message of the song is good for any occasion.
R.E.M. - World Leader Pretend
Monday, June 18, 2007
I am always reading a few books at once. It takes focus to fight the tendency to spread myself thin among too many, so the general rule of thumb is one work of fiction at any time. Books of philosophy on the side are acceptable.
For the last few months, my fiction of choice has been Atlas Shrugged. I chose it in part because my friend Nick cited it as one of his favorite books. It has been gathering dust on my shelves for years. His death seemed as fitting an occasion as any to pull it out, to become familiar with something that had touched him so greatly.
I knew going in that it was a book which provoked extremely mixed reactions, positive and negative. On two occasions now I've had friends who, after glimpsing the book in my hand, say "I'm sorry." As if it were an unfortunate twist of fate that found the book in my possession, a cruel sentence that I was forced to read it. I always blink when people say this. I know I am a very impressionable person: whatever I'm reading tends to affect me quite a bit; sometimes my mind succumbs to a more forceful one. Though those days are over, by and large, I'd be the first to admit that reading this book has, at times, put me in a very cold and inhuman way, much like the central characters. I've felt judgmental. I've felt robotic. Full of thoughts of motive power, etc. But I remain, still, quintessentially myself.
I can see Ms. Rand's ulterior motives in her writing (come on, subtlety is hardly the woman's strong suit. You can't really miss the subtext). But my fortitude is such that reading this book is not going to transform me into a Heartless Capitalist, who suddenly abandons all thoughts of compassion as gratuitous and irrelevant. And despite her obvious agenda and seriously heavy-handed writing style, there is a lot more to the story and the characters than the capitalist stance. And love her or hate her, her intelligence can hardly be disputed. And encountering an intelligent mind, even if you don't agree with it, is always worth doing. Perhaps especially if you don't agree with it. How dull would it be to go through life exposing ourselves only to those thinkers and artists who reinforced the ideas and philosophies we have already chosen for ourselves? It is precisely those who think differently from us that encourage us to grow. Anything else is just stagnating.
So what, then, is meant by their condolences?
I can interpret it as a statement of sympathy or pity, as I said above, but what is there to pity? The hours I spend reading this paperback tome which I'll never get back? Perhaps. If there is anything I consciously try to avoid, it is the wasting of time. And should I see others pursuing a course I felt was a waste of theirs, I might feel inclined to intervene. But is reading this book really an example of such a waste? Compare it, for instance, to the hours I spend nestled at my computer, idly letting my life slip away into the recesses of the internet. Or the hours I lose when I go out and get drunk and/or stoned, reducing my mind to a feeble, ineffectual state and probably consuming a good deal of fast food in the process. Is this not pitiable, from a different vantage point? Each person chooses their own standard by which to decide what is and what is not a waste of time. Is it not enough that I find it worthy of my time, to read this long and logorrheic book? Is it not enough that I learn from it?
So what can I say to them? The same answer I would give anyone questioning my motives: I entered into it, as I do all things, with a clear sense of purpose. I chose it because it will help me grow. And, to be sure, it will shape me in ways I can't foresee. If I am not strong enough to withstand a forceful mind, what other way for me to learn but to throw myself into it? How can I hope to grow if I don't experience the diversity of thoughts and opinions that exist outside of my head?
But ultimately, the real point is this: I've chosen it for myself. Every day I see people behaving in ways that seem absurd to me, and wonder why they live the way they do. Why they do things which, to me, are so foolish and wasteful. I both want to condemn them, and, at the same time, help to correct them. But who am I to do such a thing?
Everyone has to find their own way to live as they see fit.
I read on, and remember why I began it in the first place. I think of Nick reading it, and wish I could sit down with him and talk about it. I imagine our minds meeting on the page, and I realize how much of ourselves are left in the things we loved.
And that, if nothing else, is reason enough.
Monday, June 04, 2007
I recently made a friend who hails from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She's new to the City of Roses, so I've taken it upon myself to get her acquainted with some of my favorite spots. She is a fellow library geek and bookstore enthusiast, and when I learned that she'd never set foot in the Central Multnomah County Library nor Powell's City of Books, my soul cried sacrilege and it became my moral imperative to rectify the situation at once.
We met up mid-afternoon and hopped the #14 downtown. After she filled out the form and was issued a library card, we set out into the heart of the library, climbing the marble stairs up up up. I walked a step behind, as in escort. It felt right that she should lead the journey. The second floor opened before us, and on each side of us an archway. Periodicals or Science?
Science. We went.
The Central Library is a big place. I lingered around the computer section while she explored, trying to keep track of her as best I could. I browsed through one of those yellow cartoon reference books, Unix for Dummies. It was Greek to me, even for one of those books. My mind kept looking for Mac or Windows, anything to latch onto. But no. Unix is outside of the dichotomy of my understanding of the technological world. I put the book back on the shelf and decided to postpone my dreams of designing a website using Linux until I could enlist a fellow computer geek to teach me in person.
We went up further, and now the choice was between History/Literature and Art/Music. I again deferred to her, thinking: Art/Music! Art/Music! I was, after all, there in part to see what free cds I could find to add a little more weight to my already obscenely bloated iTunes library.
She chose History.
As she made her rounds, I found myself standing by the columns of books on the west wall. I looked down, and beautiful little maroon book caught my eye. The spine read: On Doing the Right Thing. Above that: Nock. I pulled it off the shelf.
It was a collection of essays by a fellow named Albert Jay Nock, who I'd never heard of. The book itself was a first edition, stamped 1928. Beautiful. I flipped to the title essay and began to read. He wrote of the differences between Americans and Englishmen, specifically their particular inclinations towards doing said Right Thing. He put forth that there were three primary factors that influence our conduct. First, the laws of the land (whichever you happened to live in). He put it quite well:
"A man, for instance, may not murder or steal, because an organized power outside himself will withstand him before the fact, if possible, and make trouble for him after the fact."
Quite so, old chap.
The second realm of personal conduct, according to Nock, falls to things that really don't matter all that much one way or the other, such as what toothpaste or detergent you use (though some nowadays would claim that these are matters of the utmost importance). Last was the field of personal moral/ethical judgment, which the English, bless 'em, had a name for: Doing the Right Thing.
The essay continued by examining the degree to which this third category is affected by the growth or decline of the first category, and how in the States the lawmakers hold that it is the laws that keep most of humankind from transgressing into a sort of primitive and debaucherous state of abandon. The essay seemed to evolve then into a sort of treatise on the anarchist (what might be called libertarian, nowadays) reaction to this stance: that when laws were relaxed and personal freedom and moral judgment were given room to breathe, man would be able, through reason, experience and observation, to develop a strong inner sense of moral certainty and the faculty by which to exercise that certainty. To Do the Right Thing.
I realize that, out of context, these ideas are very simplistic and straightforward, but I marveled at the odds of ever happening upon this little book, among so many. The author being unknown to me, yet very intelligent, articulate, and agreeable to my mind. And here I had wanted to head straight for the music room. I tucked the book under my arm, and when we were ready to go, checked it out.
The walk to the bookstore took us past Jake's Grill, which brings out a special decoration once a year, around the time of the Rose Festival. I'd forgotten all about it until we were passing directly underneath and my eyes wandered to the rooftop. I almost stumbled, stopping us both and reaching for my camera. I directed her eyes upwards. And then we walked on.
At Powell's we did more exploring, me following her lead. I circled around the philosophy section, looking for a decent copy of Epictetus's Discourses and not finding one. I'm very particular about translations. I did, however, find a used copy of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, beautifully hardbound. And I was presented with another moral imperative: to buy it for her, much as I have felt anytime I encounter anyone who has not yet read it.
We left the bookstore and made our way toward the bus mall. I cradled the little red book in my hand, admiring it. I had half a mind to call the library in a few weeks and apologetically tell them that it had been lost; I would, of course, pay whatever replacement fees they asked. But would they really be able to replace this ancient copy? I wanted the book, but was it ethically correct to "buy" the book from the library in such a backhand manner? I looked at my companion, and then remembered the title of the book in my hand.
We both laughed.
The sun was setting over Southwest Portland, and I looked up at Jake's Grill, to bid my new friend a good day.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
And the Spring Mix is finished.
The weather this past month has made it a frustrating venture. Everything I listen to has the air of summer in it; all the Elephant 6 bands, !!!, and the rest. None of them wanted to work on the current project. It's only 3 more weeks til summer officially hits; soon all will be well in my mix-making reality again.
As her recent post illustrates, Lindsey and I are of different minds about the whole blogging thing. I've been letting more and more time pass between them, and am feeling quite All Right about slipping out of blogger brain. In fact, I'm relieved to be living more in the real world. Perhaps we are not actually disagreeing: I am still working a lot on paper, if not in this blog. Perhaps I need to keep my writing private for awhile until I've stretched out a bit in my new habits. Am I afraid? Or just lazy? The question looms.
Either way, I am keeping busy.
My little online comic The Mighty Bu should be seeing a bit of new life soon. And there are a few other things happening behind the scenes. Plus, if you haven't noticed, it's freakin' beautiful out and I am getting better about taking my body, thoughts, and pen and paper outside once in awhile, even if blog-thoughts linger.
That's all I have to say at the moment. I suppose I felt compelled to put a word in here before I turn my Ditty Bops calendar to June.
Big love right back to you, friends.
Saturday, May 05, 2007
I am told it takes 21 days to form a habit. Something about training your body, tests confirm, etc. After a little bit of Googling, I will take the word of the friend who told me about this over any of those sites I found. The theory is intriguing either way.
My past attempts at discipline were generally short-lived, perhaps why none of them took. I flare up with the initial burst of determination, and then a few days later it's all gone to shit again. I really have nothing to lose. As the saying goes, how old are you going to be if you don't give this little theory a trial run? Yeah yeah. I know.
Inertia is still alive and well. Many moments of the past weeks have been lingering in my mind, calling out "Blog me! Blog me!" S sent me a wonderful cartoon a few weeks back that illustrated this perfectly. I'll link to it when I can find it. Something about Living to Blog. Ah yes, here it is:
It's frightening. It seems near impossible to avoid the urge, near impossible to counter. I could revolt and swear off my computer entirely, as the characters do. Throw myself into the world, and L-I-V-E, as Maude would say. But how long would it take to shake the urge to simply record my life for later documentation? How long before I stopped thinking, this would make a fantastic blog? 21 days?
I do try, more and more, to remove myself from the technological world. Playing LPs rather than plugging in the iPod. Putting the computer away when I'm not using it. Lighting candles. And so on. But it does nothing to loosen the grip the technological world has over me. What can I do when even my best effort becomes impure in its heart? But I digress.
It is a beautiful spring day. It is also Free Comic Book Day, for those of you who don't have to be off to work in a few hours. Maybe you'll find the newest episode of Fables, a clever and imaginative update of all the old stories. Who knew Goldilocks was such a bitch?
The chives on my windowsill are a good inch or so out of the soil. Being the first things I've really ever grown in my home, I'm quite fond of them. Their presence makes a huge difference to the feel of the place, and is one more strike against that black hole of amorphous electronic oblivion I feel myself ever falling into.
And now, armed only with my trusty Field Notes memo book and a copy of The Elements of Style, I dive back into the trenches. Godspeed!
Monday, April 16, 2007
I subscribe to the notion that we do not have one self, but myriad selves. Ignoring for the moment the simple truth that we are always changing, moment to moment (whether we grow or regress is yet another discussion), it is clear that we become different people constantly, dependent on our surroundings. You go in to work, and you are one person. You go out for drinks with friends, and you are another. Home for the holidays, another. The associations, antecedents and consequences of our experiences change us in ways so subtle and effortless we can hardly imagine them, and it happens in a heartbeat.
As a former theater geek and (aspiring) writer, it appeals to me to experiment with acting out different characters/versions of myself. I give in to my eccentricities and switch in and out of roles constantly, observing what I am capable of when I let go of my predominant ideas of myself.
Beyond the whimsical play-acting, I've noticed a few recurring characters that have become the primary players in the past months. It's gotten to the point where I can feel myself slipping into them almost at once. Sometimes I am military Dave, all business. Sometimes I am the devil's advocate. Sometimes I am a kind man. Sometimes I am not. I almost feel inclined to explain this to people lest they get the wrong impression: no, no, don't take offense; I am simply cold Dave at the moment. Warm, friendly Dave is elsewhere.
The more aware I am of each character, the better I can play to each one's strength. Each one has a particular skill or use; a particular set of circumstances that they thrive in, where other parts of myself would crumble. I'm at the point where I can occasionally summon them up; more often the change is brought on by external factors. But imagine being able to command them precisely, effortlessly! To deploy them as you would a team of specialists. But this begs the question: if each is a facet of the whole, is there some presiding 'higher mind' that serves to guide the overall process and/or keep the whole damn thing in check? To keep the characters from fighting amongst each other? I feel there is. What is it? I have no good answer.
I have read that contradictions cannot exist by the nature and essence of existence. That when contradictions appear, it is because one of our underlying assumptions about the nature of things is wrong. I agree with this in a sense; certainly you can pin a man to his character, and the better you know him the more easily you can tell when he goes against it (in books more than real life, perhaps). But is it really a contradiction? Man seems to be the exception to the rule in the natural world: we are machines, but our humanity is displayed when we deviate from reason and consistency. We are animals, but it is our acting against nature that sets us apart from the rest. The fact that is within us to set our own parameters and realities is a marvelous realization. As if we were each a robot constantly redesigning itself; refining its OS to better serve its ever-changing motives and needs. We discard what was once useful, and learn new methods for new situations. I find this a most liberating thought.
Walt Whitman wrote: "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes."
Yes. Multitudes. So where is the contradiction?
Sophe Lux - Marie Antoinette Robot 2073 (A Rock Opera)
Thom Yorke - Analyse
Thursday, March 22, 2007
I try not to speak unless I have something to say. Lately, this has been more and more infrequent. As each day dies, I feel myself getting more sick at heart, more tired.
I've been realizing that the only time I feel satisfied these days is when I'm at work, because it's the only place I'm actually focusing my mind and body productively and getting things accomplished. Once the day is done and I slump through the door of my apartment, the string goes out of my back and I succumb to the unholy triumvirate of Gmail, Myspace, and OiNK. Business as usual.
While I'm at work, my mind can run circles around whatever it wishes; my body is going through the motions. Preparing mirepoix. Peeling and dicing beets. Pulling the stems off spinach. The motions are mechanical and meditative. And over the past few months, they have taught me something.
They have taught me that it really doesn't matter what you have to say. The real work and creation is done on the prep table, day in day out, and the only task is to get it done. Some days the brownies will look better than others. Some days the bechamel might taste a bit funny, but you make it anyway. Talking is secondary. When I'm facing the dishpit and watching the steam rise and the machine purr, I feel as if I'm watching myself go through the motions with almost no interference; I don't think at all. It's a pure, beautiful act. And people still look at me funny when I tell them no, I really enjoy doing dishes...
I realize that this blog is, by and large, very repetitive and very whiny. It is, by its nature, talk. And the sickness that has been rising in me lately grows from the unavoidable question: what the hell do I have to say, really? With all my good intentions, plans, and daily pseudo-revelations, I manage to stave off the reality that I get fuck-all done each day. Between work, feeding and bathing myself with semi-regularity, and eeking out the occasional blog, I go to sleep each day with all the Big Projects left untouched. You know the ones.
One of my favorite blogs, and from whose mind comes the title of my own, is that of Amanda Palmer. I always aspire, unconsciously or otherwise, to create in my own blog the kind of satisfaction and insight that she displays in hers. But here I am faced with the crucial difference: who the fuck am I? Amanda has things to talk about. She's got her hands in it. She is (despite her recent protestations to the contrary) living first, blogging second. And either way, her touring and miscellaneous adventures give her actual substance to report back on. What do I have to report? Same shit, different day.
I'm tired of listening to myself talk, even in the form of pixels on a screen. I'm sure some of you are sick of it too. I know Valentine is.
So in the way of resolutions, this is a small one. It's about time I started shutting the hell up and going through the motions already. My hands know what to do, and everything I have to say leading up to the starting point has already been said. Beaten into a stain on the pavement where, once, long ago, there may have lain a dead horse, if I might borrow a page from the venerable Mr. Gaiman.
This is the point where I feel the brief joy of making a new start, which is followed by a false sense of accomplishment and then immediate relapse into inactivity. Oh no. Don't let me get away with it. I'm out to earn myself something worth saying. I'm out to get dirty, and hopefully get things done. Thoughts of quality and perfection are just two pretty distractions on the way to a deathbed full of regret. Let's just go.
The American Analog Set - Fuck This...I'm Leaving
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
O February, you coldest of months.
In the dead of winter, synchronicity took a dark form. Death was everywhere. I used to write about how winter, if I could whittle it down, was the season of death. It looked good on paper. But that reality has touched all of our lives in many ways this past month. The tangible death of bodies, the amorphous deaths of the day-to-day lives we have known. The changing of the sights and scenery.
I moved from my old house into an apartment. So much of my recent past was tied to that place and that neighborhood, and I have taken it and put it in the ground. I don't look back much anymore. When Nick died, the grieving ritual began, and I tried to see to it that it was completed properly. The function of ritual and ceremony, as I understand it, has always been to satisfy our human need to give shape and form to a feeling. It focuses and sharpens our messy lives into crystalline meaning. From my purely secular perspective, ritual has a place even in our callous, modern hearts. It transforms everything, from our smallest actions to the doorways of birth, growth and death into something pure, even sacred.
I fell without question into the position of supporting my friends through the tragedy. It was simple necessity. I played my part, offering comfort and love as it was needed. Yet all the while I felt more like an observer than a participant. I observed my grieving friends, and I observed myself among them. To say I felt nothing would be inaccurate; but I was aware again and again that I felt less than I might expect of myself, in the middle of all this turmoil. I became adept at disconnecting myself from my emotions. I did it because I had no choice but to do so; to submerge my own little sorrows and private fears for the greater good. What else could I do?
The month felt like a long, arduous trek uphill in the middle of a storm. You couldn't think of how far you had left to go; you'd collapse under the knowledge, the sheer hopelessness of it. You could only think of how you'd make it through the next few feet. Then the next few hours. Then the next few days. There was too much that demanded our attention that we had neither the time nor energy to give to. So we did what we had to: we pushed everything else aside except that which was absolutely necessary to get through the moments. The rest of our burdens could wait, caught in our filters. We would attend to them in their time. Near the end we just felt like we were holding our breath, waiting for the calendar to pin itself up one more page and for the sun to begin to creep back into the world.
I learned that my ability to drive a stake between myself and my heart is far greater than I had thought. That I am capable of a detachedness I never imagined possible. I felt nearly inhuman; the cold, calculating mind that sees everything from a tactical perspective. Step by step. This is what we must do to get by. It's a strange thing to feel, especially in such a concentrated dose of time. I can't imagine that I'll ever be called upon to do it again in such intensity. Though I take some small comfort in knowing that I can.
But everything has a price.
In this case, the price is a tiredness that has crept inside of me and is refusing to leave. Even though the worst is past (it's March, hallelujah), I still finish each day desiring to disappear off the face of the planet, if only to sleep, uninterrupted and unreachable, for at least a week. To see no one. To have no obligations. I lay down in bed and can't turn away from the fact that though I manage to complete my necessary duties each day, I still leave the truly important things undone. I was surviving before. Now I'm getting by. It'd be nice to step up one further into actually living.
But I know that I'm getting better. I've got that much at least. S and I go for coffee from time to time, and I cherish the time spent. Something we recently discussed comes to mind when I think about this feeling of shortcoming. We can be the best things for others in our lives: wells of wisdom, encouragement, strength and love. But we struggle to be these things for ourselves. Even propping myself up with a clean new apartment of my own, putting up the Neutral Milk Hotel poster and lighting candles is not enough: I still, when left alone, cannot cheer myself out of a hole. Why is it so difficult to do for ourselves what we so easily do for others?
But it's a start. Living alone fills me with a small joy every morning when I awake to the blinding sun streaming in through my windows. Knowing that I have only my lonesome to answer to as I go through the rituals of preparing coffee and putting the stereo on. Sitting on the windowsill looking over Hawthorne as the busses roll by.
March has come, finally. The new Arcade Fire record has dropped, in all its holy, blistering splendor. I joke with a co-worker about how this record (centered around religion) is darker than the first (which is merely about death). The arms of the record grab me roughly and pull me back to life, practically slapping me in the face in an attempt to revive me. To remind me that, though February is the coldest month, it is also something else: the harbinger of spring.
Winter is the dead season.
Spring, as I have written elsewhere, is the season when we come back to life.
The Minbari (I know, I know, I'm obsessed with Babylon 5) have a ritual known as the rebirth ceremony. It involves reflection and meditation on what has past, what is now, and what is still to come. You must tell someone a secret that you've never told anyone else before, and you must give up something of great value to you. After all the pain we have endured, it seems only appropriate that we come together, now, to try and rebuild what has been torn apart. If you wish to participate in this ceremony, know that you will not be alone in doing so.
Ritual is for the living. We attend the funeral to say goodbye. We drink a toast at the wake to honor him. We shake hands to affirm: we are friends. And so on. Will we not now be reborn?
The Arcade Fire - Keep the Car Running
Will Sheff - Girl I Knew, Guy I Met
Pulp - Dishes
Laura Gibson - The Longest Day
Monday, February 05, 2007
My co-worker Nick Bucher (chef extraordinaire, Kool Keith enthusiast, and kind soul) was biking away from Noble Rot this past Friday night when he was struck by a car. They tell me he was thrown a great distance, and that he passed away the following morning at OHSU hospital.
This was a man I worked with three days a week, including my week-ending Saturday night downstairs shifts in the restaurant. I would slave over my dish pit while he worked his stuff in the microscopic kitchen to my right, and we would move in and out of one another's orbit, trading off bits of Thom Yorke songs or cheesy 80's pop fare (though I was not down with Mr. Big. Sorry Nick). He would pose random philosophical queries to me and I would return to my dirty water to think about them, returning with (hopefully) decent replies when I went to polish silverware. Is the expression 'god-awful' inherently blasphemous?
Well, that's a good question, chef...
Now there is this space where his body once moved, these things that we picked up and put down, and hovering over it all like a (screaming) banshee, the memories of my brief time knowing him. When I started at Noble Rot I felt shy, nervous, and quite certain that I didn't belong there, having no real culinary experience to speak of. I was thrown, for the first time, into the world of a professional kitchen, and the head chefs intimidated me. Between my fear of screwing up and general lack of common sense, I often had questions of protocol that went unvoiced when in their presence.
I would ask Nick instead.
He was the one who very graciously told me that it was best to hydrate butter lettuce in cold water, generally speaking. He was the one who I approached most often when I needed to know where some wayward pot, pan or straining implement lived.
It was some time later that I learned that Nick was 24, a good two years younger than myself. It shocked me at first to realize this; he was cool-headed, a remarkably professional chef, and a good bit taller than me as well. He exuded calm, discipline, and patience whenever I saw him. I always took him for, say, 27? At least? I always deferred to his presence as both an elder and generally wiser man.
Knowing now that he did indeed bear some of those traits that belong to the younger, less-mature types in our species (I've heard a humorous tale about his incredulously stubborn unwillingness to do dishes outside of the workplace), I can see that Nick was indeed flawed, was indeed young in many ways. I always felt that he presented a cool front, but that was fine by me - who among us doesn't do so, and with good reason? - but in the four months that I knew him I came to see him more as a real human being, rather than just the chef with the good hair and lots of obscure hip-hop on his iPod. In the last few weeks especially, I felt him opening up to me, and thought that it might, over time, become a more solid friendship. He'd even loaned me the final season of Home Movies so that I could verse myself in it in preparation for one of our Saturday-night banters.
I realize, as I have before when death has come to call, the importance of communicating our love to one another, valuing our time together, et cetera. The lessons you'd expect to learn from death. I've come to a point in my life where cynicism has a strong stake in my heart, and I wonder if we will, this time, remember these lessons. That we must be kind to one another. That we must live in a way that honors the memory of the one lost. And so on.
But what I take from it now, at least for myself, is this: our brother is dead. We must grieve for him and honor him. I know of few better ways to do this than to live in gratitude for having known him, and to remember the multitude of ways he touched (and in so doing, changed) my life.
I will watch the Home Movies dvd, and continue to quote them at the kitchen on Saturday nights. I'll strive for the same level of egolessness, of compassion, of calm that I witnessed in him. I'll sing his name with my instruments, as long as there is strength left in me to do so.
The Minbari believe that souls pass together from lifetime to lifetime. As such, they don't believe in saying goodbye, for no parting is final. Instead, they have a word: Nee'zhalen. It means good night. Literally it translates as be not alone in your travels.
So you will pardon me if I do not say goodbye.
Let me end this with a passage from The Sandman, in which the Lord of Dreams advises his son on the passing of his wife:
"You are mortal: it is the mortal way. You attend the funeral, you bid the dead farewell.
You grieve. Then you continue with your life.
And at times the fact of her absence will hit you like a blow to the chest, and you will weep. But this will happen less and less as time goes on.
She is dead.
You are alive.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Amanda, you ruin me.
I read your blog and marvel at the detail with which you recall your thought processes, your detailed memories. Your monkey mind all splayed out in glorious million-pixel clarity for me to enjoy. And then I am rendered silent.
Now I sit with slight sniffles, stirring coffee with a pen. New music flows in (maybe that's what clogs up my nose) and I am thinking about going to down to look at a new place. Lingering traces of a dream in which I was dying. I cried and bid farewell to people, and it was not at all pleasant. The runner mug sits with me and I think it is absolutely time for some Wolf Parade.
I've been trying to decode the signs and portents of the new year. Keywords are splattered on the whiteboard and my men are working around the clock to make heads or tails of them. (Slow down on that coffee, mate; once it's gone, it's gone).
I'll soon have to say goodbye to Ditty Bops springing up from cabbage patches, and welcome February, and with it, FAWM. That's right. Here we go again. I have a concept album in mind, but you'll have to wait and hear for yourself. I think it will be good.
What is this year? Left and right I hear about people flaking on their friends (guilty) and wanting to shave away all excess. All utility, all necessity. I am for this. We move together and right now we are moving towards simplicity and self-improvement, however masturbatory it may seem to Brad Pitt.
Speaking of masturbation, it seems to be another facet of life's synchronicity that everyone has split up or is splitting up or will, as of reading this, shortly be splitting up with their Other. Now let's assume that you're like me: Alone, looking out the steamed-up window of a Stumptown coffee shop as the display letters fall and break from too much moisture and manipulation, and you watch the people walking by on the street. You watch them walk by and we both agree that they resemble one another more than a little bit. They all seem too perfect, too obviously coupled, to be real. You inevitably begin to muse, for the umpteenth time, on just how many people in this heartbroken town are paired off, and really, where do these people find each other? I feel inclined to run out into the cold air with a notepad and pen, à la Annie Hall, and ask each passing pair for their secret, for the history of their origins. To study this strange beast.
I asked a friend: where are the good, non-attached women? She asked me: where are the good, non-attached, men (read: not boys)? The ones who have something to say, who like to read books and lounge about in their underwear with red wine in hand and trade off Homestar Runner quotes or geek out with Babylon 5 marathons? Where are these people?
Alas, they're probably doing just what we do most of the time: staying at home. Or working. Who wants to make an effort to meet people? It feels forced, rarely pays off, and costs a lot of money. At least the popular haunts seem to. Bars are out of the question. Work is too small a family. And, as Tom Waits said, you don't meet nice girls in coffee shops. What hope do shy romantics like us have to ever meet someone worth our time?
So it is in the face of this irrefutable dilemma that we segue back to our original discussion: what do to in the meantime. Nay, what to do instead of bothering with such trifles as companionship, friendship, and other ships. We have time. We are unencumbered. This presents us with an opportunity. To illustrate:
I will very rarely clean my room unless someone is coming over. when the public comes crashing into my life, I put on the presentation of relatively cleanliness and functionality, and this seems absurd. We put the comforts of others above our own, when we have to live with ourselves every second. S put it well: how can we expect to love and support anyone else in any sort of relationship when we don't attend to and care for ourselves in an equally loving manner?
This applies across the board. Whether you don't feed yourself properly, maintain room-cleanliness, or just get yourself off to internet porn when you could be cultivating your sensitivity and practicing separating orgasm from ejaculation (that's just for you, boys), it's all the same thing. Rather than using our solitude to learn to better care for ourselves, we continue to take the easy out and the quick fix. To borrow a phrase from another excellent blog: instead of taking the time to prepare a fine meal for ourselves, most of the time we just reach for a cheeseburger.
So we have taken this and run with it, grabbing the new year by its diapers and declared it the year of Masturbatory Solitude. Of becoming stronger. Of self-acceptance. No longer will we sit amidst a room of acquaintances and ask: what am I doing here? I like my own company just fine, thank you.
Guard your time. Use it. Don't fritter it away just because you're lonely or horny. You're not the only one, and this is the year of taking matters into your own hands. Put on the Flaming Lips, or DeVotchKa, or Greg Dulli. Stand up and say yes, chef! There'll be no break in your obligations, your trials. They keep coming. The only way is up. The only word left is onwards.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
I'm sipping some Papio and grinning as Jay Brannan sings through my speakers. I've been orbiting around a few records this past week, and the Shortbus soundtrack is the favorite of the moment. Scott Matthew's songs take my breath away. I can't wait until he releases a proper record.
The other disc is called The Ideal Home Music Library, Vol. 1: Show Songs, which, if the liner notes are to be believed, is made up of old show tunes unearthed from the Rare Book Room at the American Institute of Musicology, reinterpreted by Portland's own Michael Johnson and a few other locals. I don't know if I believe the bit about these songs really being written between the '30s and '50s (one dating all the way back to 1901) but either way the sound is unmistakably that of the classic show tunes, and the modern day Portland artists do a marvelous job of paying homage to these songs, wherever they come from.
Maybe I'm a bit old fashioned, but for my money there's nothing like the simple pleasure of a good tune (and old tunes - I'm talkin' Cole Porter here - are the best of the lot for this) to put a skip in your step and make you glad to be alive.
Here is one such song, with guest vocals by none other than Colin Meloy. And some Shortbus tracks thrown in for good measure. Enjoy!
Reclinerland - The Lady from Riems
Jay Brannan - Soda Shop
Scott Matthew - Language