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Archive for March, 2012

The trouble with
silence is
the sneaking
and trembling
and utter
comfort of
our solitude.

The trouble with
your arms
is my
hands always
seem so
frail and
they break.

The trouble with
marriage is
I resemble
a jackal
with teeth
and ugly
and musk.

The trouble with
quiet is
it always
creeps out
of nothing –
but nothing
hides pain.

The trouble with
me is
when I
fell out
I didn’t
break my
head open.

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James Murphy might be the greatest lyricist of the last decade.

That might be hyperbole.

Either way – he wrote a song (“All My Friends”) and an album (Sound of Silver, 2007) that can deservedly be called classics. More than that, they ought to be anthems to a generation.

I debated more than might be considered necessary for my 100th entry. Though the ultimate goal is somewhere in the ballpark of 366 – the fact remains that it’s something of an achievement. “The path is long…” as an old friend used to say, but here we are.

I’m writing. You’re reading. We’re enacting that age old communion of ideals.

I wanted something bolder than a stray idea, but more personal than an elaboration on the thoughts of someone I respect.

I decided, finally, that I would write about one of the most important pieces of art in my life. I’d try to crystallize a piece of myself for you.

I’m not 35. Hell, I’m not 25. I’m closer to Biggie Smalls or Ian Curtis – fuck, I could be David Bowie circa “All the Young Dudes”. You remember that one, right? Besides being a gigantic tune for Mott the Hoople, it featured heavily in that infamous downstairs sequence in Jason Reitman’s Juno. Yes, the one where Jason Bateman gets a little too handsy with Ellen Paige.

Yes, the one where he’s revealed to be one of those John Cusack types listening to “sad bastard music”. The great tragedy (and wistful beauty, I suppose) is that the music lover only becomes surlier with age. And he is, as those enamored with the rock mythos tend to be, a child. He is forever decked out in the leather of The Doors, the drug-chic of The Happy Mondays, clasping the art books of Joy Division, or hugged up in the cozy flannel of My Morning Jacket (read – Smog… read – Dylan… read Leadbelly).

Age can be a shitty thing. I think about it increasingly as I start to encounter transience. About my grandfather, who sleeps constantly in the shadow of death. About my father, who I do not wish to see or hear or speak to. About my mother, who has dutifully breathed life into me my entire existence. About the great tragedy that will be her loss, and the words of Socrates:

“Death is but another night.”

And yet how deeply I will grieve for their passage, and for my own transformation.

I ask you to listen to James Murphy, to the furious melancholy of his words, and tell me you don’t fear the same thing. That you don’t hear those strands of angst, hurt, and pain in those critical words “if I could see all my friends tonight”. It will never be any easier than it is right now. We are in the process of trading life for death for solitude.

You are old in your years already. You don’t have to be 35 to feel the tug of the chain, and certainly one of the most harrowing facets of the song is the very way it speaks to even the youngest of us. In the last year I have seen my heart and friends drift immeasurably far. Perhaps to what Melville called “a place not on any map” – but more likely to change and departure.

I am losing myself and my people in the act of reshaping my body and ideals. I am only this moment – and it is always escaping.

The difficult truth?

It comes apart. And in our everyday lives, the moral is often either painfully obvious or brutally obstinate. But that’s how it starts. That’s where it begins. And the descent – the move away from the idealism of youth is in the act of redefinition.

It’s in the act of deception. The attempt to remain young and cool, to spend time in the South of France or hang with the tan kids and their Adonis bodies that will never disease or age or sag or look ugly when they glimpse themselves in the mirror because of course they are perfect.

How petty. And how bittersweet.

And even acceptance. The quiet admission that this – this moment in time or this drug or this false contentment or the lover you do not want might just be the safest thing. Might just save your soul. Might just help you sleep through the night.

Yeah, we knew you were tired, but then where are your friends tonight?

You become the laughable dad. You settle in, hide your stash, and let life happen.

But if I could see all my friends tonight…

You realize, and isn’t this the kicker, that you really did try to drop the first ten years as fast as you could. Then you’re 35 and fuck if you’re not dead. Fuck if you never became a rock-star. Fuck if you’re out of your first marriage.

I’m not 35. I don’t have the record collection, the ex-lovers, or the dead nostalgia to prove it. But if a song so deeply entrenched in the post-30 dilemma speaks to someone like me, it’s either because I’m neurotic or it’s so deeply tapped into a fundamental part of the American existential crisis I don’t know what to do with it.

Fine – it’s both.

“Everyone has regrets”, Dr. Jack Kevorkian noted near the end of his life.

He was in his early 80s – I’m 20 years old.

I know there is a beautiful, bold world out there for me to touch and feel and experience. I know there are beautiful people who want to wrap me up in their arms and sing me lullabies. I know there is a place where all my art really reflects the shards of my soul and not my fragmented idealism.

I hope there is a world where my parents could have remained in love and my father didn’t abandon us and there was always someone there for me.

That is a beautiful world, and I cry for it in private moments you will not see. My world also has demons – my heart also treads water to stay beating. I also dream in worlds where I resemble jackals and ogres. I am also the son of human ugliness.

I re-construct my heart to surpass the mechanical beating of time. I may never escape the quick-sand of Murphy’s descent into age – but I combat it with a love and passion stronger than nostalgia.

I try to live my life and be a better person. And this could be the last time.

 

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I had a long discussion about authenticity today with a student friend.

I’m well aware of the topic in relation to our interests as a people – Jon Savage theorized in his mid-90s book Time Travel that we seek out a sense of authenticity in our consumption, whether it be personal, ideological, or temporal.

A professor friend talked about this concept with me last week – he iterated that America had no real authentic culture besides the blues and jazz (essentially – the displaced African American experience) and otherwise we are a hodge-podge of (primarily) European ideals distilled through a model of expansionism and consumption.

I’m not inclined to disagree. We are, as I recently told someone, something of a mutt culture. If you’ll forgive the base comparison, America often represents an ugly distillation of “noble” ideals from the West. I’m a romantic – but not in that sense. Every nation has problems, and America is, I’m sure, hardly unique in its attachement to faux-culture and personal self-satisfaction.

We often turn to obscure ideology – much as Churchill and Thatcher did at crucial British moments in history – to remedy this cultural diaspora (and surely, as Kanye West puts it, millions of our people are lost) and fabricate myths to forward the culture.

I don’t disagree with myth-making either – it is a millennia-old tradition for a reason. But it is important to recognize our tendency to fabricate authenticity (just look at the way of internet trends like KONY and Trayvon Martin – both complex situations reduced to talking points in an effort to maintain ideological purity) and you’ll realize our nation often stumbles blindly through ambiguous issues in an effort to streamline them.

You may, and must, ask yourself – is this authentic? A few answers come to mind.

It matters very little if the thing is and you aren’t. Just look at the hipster ethos – authenticity as credibility can be a very tenuous (and idiotic) credo.

We should prize honesty and earnestness – this was a mantra held by Randy Pausch when he noted that cool was transient, while steadfastness ought to be admired.

And ultimately – rather than fixate on the efficacy or truthfulness of other issues (although I would point out that in terms of rhetoric and discourse these are essential) we must look inward towards our own set of values. Too often we misshape ourselves in an effort to be viewed as pure, clean, and infallible. We could learn a bit from Savage’s take on authenticity – that satisfying a personal ethos is far more rewarding than a selection of arbitrary standards.

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I still have an almost supernatural connection with Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch.

He’s the author of the bestselling memoir The Last Lecture, filmed the infamous lecture itself [available at the bottom] and appeared on a variety of news outlets in the final year of his life.

I also performed as Randy Pausch during my senior year of highschool. It was a difficult, emotional, and hugely rewarding experience. Beyond pushing me emotionally as a performer, it established a life-long link between the devoted father and myself. Few challenges, as I’ve outlined from time to time with my friends and teammates, have pushed me harder than doing justice to the scene in which Randy describes crying in the shower to avoid being seen by his children.

Another lesson he taught me was about the importance of learning – and of experience. Though I am a planner, you can’t truly expect to plan everything. Randy Pausch was the defintion of adaptive change – making the best of a bad situation (indeed, the worst situation) and transforming negative outcomes into real success.

His devotion as a father is certainly a highlight. Not only did he encourage and emphasize the idea of the “Tigger” (the helpful optimist who is excited to try anything and everything) – he expressed a very heartening and understanding response to the children and wife he was forced to leave. He continually referenced his desire to see his wife happy after his death, he encouraged his children to follow their dreams – not search for his.

The impetus for this post was spurred on by a quote I happened to glance at while working today. In it, Pausch describes the beauty of the film Groundhog Day a warmly regarded American comedy film about an obnoxious weatherman who comes unstuck in time (to lift the phrase). I’ve written about the film before, and devotees of the blog might recall that I very much admired its take on the idea of finding “the one”. Pausch takes a less romantic angle – praising the storyline for showing, ultimately, how selflessness truly makes us human.

It’s that sentiment which provoked this blog post. I spend a lot of time working (as I would like to think) quite hard. That said, a lot of it is with the implicit idea that I’ll give back once my circumstances have changed even slightly. Still – Pausch emphasizes in such beautiful simplicity the very core of his work as a citizen and teacher – that we are what we can give back.

We are made stranger by embracing the beauty of those around us. We grow less feeble by joining hands with the living.

Please remember Pausch and his wonderful philosophy of love and learning.

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I ran from the police?

I bolted through the grass, jumped the pit, and ducked into the bushes off the beaten path. I caught my breath and careened up the side of the hill and onto a city street.

My only thought? You’re a fuckin’ civilian.

Coat on, shoes wet, I bopped down the street with my hands in my pockets. Wired with adrenaline, I wasn’t about to show anyone my paint-stained fingers. The game, now, was getting home.

Block one was pure paranoia. All lights – traffic – angst. Cutting the street and finding a sidewalk was the hardest part.

Block two was slight relief. A little lost, unable to return to the known path, I cut through some yards and ended up by a gas station. Ah, there’s the church. Almost there…

Block three the phone rings. They caught him. Shit. And they want me back? I’m headed to the scene with every impulse on my body telling me to jog the three blocks north and slip back into the massive crowds of the night.

Not fast enough – I’m now running full-stop to link up with the goons. And – in opposition to everything I’ve ever believed about the police – they let me off the hook. Evidently my spray game wasn’t the most important crime of the night – the guys who took a drunk party-girl into the woods are the real crazies.

On the way back to the crib we shot the shit about almost getting thrown out of school. We weren’t so much concerned about jail – like Thoreau I’m not averse to doing my one night – but it’s just plain weird dichotomy to think the night I should have been arrested was the same day I gave my mother the diatribe about how hard I’ve been working.

The same weekend that I was asked to be a peer mentor for the Honors college.

Well, you can’t pull your resume out in the middle of a tagging session, huh?

There’s very little regarding glamor about what transpired that night. As we walked back to my place, I mentioned that the only pride I felt was a certain excitement to add it to my list of experiences.

Storytellers need stories.

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There is a beautiful dark-haired girl in a class I used to visit. She is very sweet, and I like the way she dresses.

And another with whom I’m sometimes in love. Mostly we tell lies to each other about our happiness.

There is a beautiful brunette girl who talks to me about her art and travel. Sometimes I dream about kissing her, but we are very coy in real life.

And another who is very much like my heart. Always, in my secret desire, I regret those muddled feelings.

There is a beautiful blonde girl who I run into sometimes. I adore her smile, and her lips.

And another who is much too pretty for me. Tiny and fragile, our sweetness spins into nothing.

There is a boy, sometimes, with very green eyes and a ribcage like mine. We do not talk afterwards, or even meet eyes in the street.

Most days I am many things.

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Sometimes I wonder if my private self and professional self would (or do) like each other very much.

I spent ages 8 – 15 as a very humdrum child. Not only was I exceedingly shy, I came from a very ugly personal background. Occasionally people ask me about that, and occasionally I talk about it. That is for another post.

After an extremely long period of silence, I began to open up. I began to make friends, write, and adventure. This was a turning point in my life. It was, however, not the only major change.

I work very hard. I try to work very hard. And sometimes I complete tasks less for their worthiness or my belief in them than for my own self-satisfaction. More often than not, I do things for the prestige attached to them.

And how ugly. And how self-serving. And how lonely it is to stand in a room and wait for someone to talk to you.

I’ve realized, among other things, I’m not very good at creating stopping points. And what began as a general withdrawl from some of the more intimate human interactions has become full-blown isolation. I have become, in some very odd respects, bored with what humans do.

We all want attention and care. As I said, for some years I thought my work would bring me those things – rewards like friendship or groups. I can truthfully say I have never had a strong group to call my own – and one of the things I most pride myself on (working in multiple disciplines) means I frequently go to events where I’m a virtual unknown.

On a good day I cherish this, on a bad day I feel supremely lonely.

I’ve learned, I suppose, that there is no sense doing it if you don’t love it. And the things you don’t want to do, especially, are often made most difficult by devotion. The popular conceit is to say something about the winning power of purity – that your truthfulness and honesty will net you someting uniquely beautiful.

I don’t know that it will. I do believe that’s the happiest, simplest way to live.

I do know Stephen Patrick Morrissey said “Life is very long when you’re lonely”, and that it is.

The worst of it is that things are going so well, and I’m so happy, and I so frequently have the urge to scuttle the whole thing.

In my dreams, most often, I’m gardening or ship-building or painting. I do the simple tasks which add color to my life. I do not worry about friends, or fame, or attention. And I am much happier for it.

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