Tuesday, August 17, 2010

12. Insanity

Originally posted May 9, 2008.

The last of the re-posts.

And then Laura said, it's as simple as this: girls are crazy and boys are dumb.

(Almost two years later, when I have repeated this for the hundredth time, Ryan will say: that's the basis of like every stand-up routine ever. But I guess it's true.)

And then Adam said: I tend to date girls who can hide their crazy for about six months. And I always think, oh, this is the most normal, stable relationship I've ever had. And then -- bam!

(But it must be mentioned: by all accounts ((and by all I suppose I mean the accounts of my own two eyeballs)), Adam IS in the most stable, capable and loving relationship I've been witness to in modern times. So when he speaks on this, while he may speak from experience, it is also from a safe distance.)

And then Ben said: Well, the thing is, I don't tend to make … good impressions.

(And then he handily beat us all at basketball. He even took the ball home with him.)

11. Memory

Originally posted May 7, 2008

It's the weather that does it -- the sun on the back of my neck -- and the way summertime smells, even in far away California. The days are back to being bright, and it seems like the sky stretches out farther than you can see. Maybe it's the illusion of a cloudless sky over ocean, the first time I've lived next to such a thing, but just because it's an illusion doesn't make it real. What I mean to say is: old feelings are rising.

Not in the way of nostalgia. It's unfair to compare and contrast in situations like this, but it's a thing I can't help. (Or choose not to help, maybe.) Sometimes when I'm feeling clever I say "I like to make brand new mistakes every time," and it's a jokey thing to say, a kind of brag, or something that's meant to impress. But it's also (secretly) a thing that I mean to be true.

I'm often surprised, in spite of myself, by the ways that history repeats.

10. Breathe Again

Originally posted March 18, 2008.

Holy shit -- it’s springtime.

And this whole thing is going to happen again, one way or another.

9. Drive

Originally posted March 17, 2008.

The first time I drove from Chicago to San Francisco it took me more than a week. There was a crack in the windshield of our car -- a white Cavalier we called the Coyote -- and we stopped the first night in Iowa City. We left early and of our own accord, but later legend had it we were run out of town. It’s hard to keep straight which parts really happened and which parts were later inventions. I don’t think we really broke anyone’s windows.

Our next stop was Oklahoma City, gray and flat and depressing. There’s a few square blocks in town zoned as a whole other city, and that’s where they keep their porno shops and strip clubs. I wouldn’t go into a strip club in Oklahoma City -- the thought was too depressing -- but that was only putting off what would come later.

We passed through Amarillo, bought cowboy hats and ate regular fries. They don’t make them French in Texas.

We camped outside of Roswell, New Mexico, thinking we’d make up stories about aliens. Instead we were surrounded by (actual) coyotes, found bobcat tracks on the ridge in the morning, were woken up in the night by the headlights of rangers or wandering teens. We saw lights in the sky that got closer then farther, that made patterns like D&D dice. We slept with our boots on, a knives under our pillows, baseball bats in our sleeping bags.

Carlsbad has Caverns and bats that swarm through the sky at sunset. There might have been fistfights and gazes that lasted too long. There were definitely cockroaches in the bathtub.

The Grand Canyon is bigger than even you think it will be. There are no guard rails. Only rock, and then air, and then more rock. My partner waited in the car -- "I’m tired of this hole" -- and I walked the rim for hours. I thought maybe I’d go back someday, with someone who wanted to see it too.

In Las Vegas I saw a magic show. I walked the sidewalks by myself, passed through the casinos because you can’t walk around them, and spent a quarter on the slot machines. I didn’t win, but I gave it a try. I took pictures of myself with my shirt off, enjoying the tan lines on my arms. I may have sent the pictures to someone, thinking they were funny, but they didn’t find them as such. Back in the car in the morning my partner said, "Hookers are the path to a perfect relationship. You call a girl, she comes to your room, she dances for you, she has sex with you, and she leaves." And I thought, I have no idea who I will ask to go to the Grand Canyon with me.

We passed through Death Valley and drove to the sea. Bakersfield had the best radio station we ever heard.

8. Innocence

Originally posted March 13, 2008.

Mama is on the couch in the morning, same as last night. Her belly moves when she breathes, so I know she’s not dead. I can’t remember when she wasn’t wearing that very same sweater. She’s on her back and her side at the same time, if that’s even possible, all twisty and uncomfortable-looking. A blue blanket is half off her and half on.

Maria is on her side and one the floor, curled up like a baby, no blanket at all. There’s carpet on the living room floor, at least.

I don’t say anything, but maybe I sigh against my will. Mama’s eyes pop open like she wasn’t sleeping at all, just lying there awake but not really wanting to be.

"Morning," I say.

Mama waits for a moment, just long enough for me to know that she heard me, and she closes her eyes again.

I walk over to Maria and nudge her ribs with my foot. Her face crinkles and she opens her eyes -- somehow in her squint she looks like her eyes are more closed than they were when she was sleeping -- and she raises her head and looks up at me.

"Quit," she says.

"You should sleep in a bed," I say.

She shakes her head and sets it back down on the floor. "Mama needs me," she says. But she blinks her eyes a few more times, and leaves them open.

"I don’t know what she needs," I say, "but I don’t think it’s us."

Mama’s eyes stay closed, but I seem them flicker under the lids. She hears my words, I know, but I seem to make her know what I’m saying. I’m not being mean. I just want her to want to get up off the couch.

"What else would it be," Maria says.

But that’s kind of the problem. I really don’t know.

7. Heaven

Originally posted March 5, 2008.

I used to think God was a man with a mustache, dressed like Han Solo, who shot a watergun from Heaven when it rained. I asked Ma about it once. I said, "Does God have a gun--"

And she got mad and yelled, no, God does NOT have a gun, don't ever say, don't ever THINK that God has a gun!

Well, that's fine. But then where does the rain come from?

6. Break Away

Originally posted March 3, 2008.

"There comes a time when passion has to take over."

"Yeah, but what if you can't convince them of that?"


5. Seeking Solace

Originally posted March 2nd, 2008.

"It's hard for me to ask people for things."

"I know, but I'm asking you to ask me."


"I'm saying it's important for me to hear it from time to time."

"I know."

"To know that you still feel it, you know?"

"When have I ever acted like I didn't feel it?"

"For -- the last six weeks?"


"I mean --"

"It's fine. It's how you feel."

"So now you're mad at me."

"You -- you change so fast, even in the course of one conversation, it's like --"

"What do you mean?"

"You are ready to walk away, at like any moment. And that's scary."

"I'm not ready to walk away."

"I'm not saying that's what you do, I'm saying that's how you make me feel."

"I'm sorry I've made you feel like that."

"Well don't apologize for it. It's just how I feel."

4. Dark

Originally posted March 1, 2008.

The Golden Bough says the Hungarians used to light a need-fire (and first of all -- dude, they called them "need-fires" … !) at night to keep away vampires and spirits of the dead. It's from this that the belief in sunlight as a source of vampiric destruction comes, but originally it wasn't held true that fire destroyed the vampires. It simply kept them at bay, as with wolves or bears or other wild beasts. It kept the dark away. It pushed back the unknown and held it out past where we could see.

I was sometimes afraid of lights in the dark. On summertime weekends I would stay up late watching cable in the living room, on our big TV that sat on the floor. I would watch with the lights off, usually movies with monsters or sort-of-documentaries about ghosts and UFOs. And when walking down the long hallway to my bedroom, the house completely dark, running not allowed because Dad was asleep and had to get up early for work, even on weekends, I would convince myself of arbitrary rules to keep me safe. If I made the sign of the cross over and over again, for example, no ghosts would appear on my walk to bed.

But one of the frights that stands out for me was after I turned the
TV off in the dark. I pushed the off button and it crackled with static electricity. Then on the dark, powered down screen, a red and blue streak appeared -- like a tiny version of the Northern Lights -- and snaked across the screen. I became convinced, and I don't know why, that it meant a werewolf was nearby. I had a panic in my stomach that would repeat itself for years, a kind of spidey-sense warning me of real danger. I ran down the hallway -- the next day at supper my dad yelled at me for clomping down the hall as he slept -- and bolted the door of my bedroom behind me.

(It had a deadbolt because it was my brother's old room, and he put one on there against my dad's wishes. It is unclear why he never removed it. But the point is: this makes the story particularly lame, because my brother didn't move out of the house until I was 9. Which makes me a little too old to cutely describe how the werewolf detector in our living room once gave me an awful fright.)

3. Light

Originally posted February 25th, 2008.

In the attic, where it takes so long to reach. But you can still see the dust dancing in the sunlight -- the sun is still taller than the windows.

At night, sneaking outside to smoke in the corn. The yard is lit by the moon and the stars. The sky is a dark blue-black and everything around you is clearer than it really should be, but slower too.

At dawn or dusk, when the red is far off and either leaving you behind or coming to find you.

The sunlight in spring that brings the breeze with it.

The sunlight in winter that eventually reaches you, but keeps its distance.

The sun at your back that makes your shadow a giant, walking ahead of you.

Be aware of the quality of light in your place, bright and easy to see or low-lit and dark.

2. Love

Originally posted February 25, 2008

I remember living in Oakland, in a house that I did not like, pining for a particular girl for another month or so...

Oh, my.

Love, then. Love lately is patience, and asking for patience. Or: hoping for patience. Love is understanding -- or, hoping -- that March will be better, and April better than that. Or at the very least that better is coming.

Love is that smell -- you know that smell -- that even if they're not around, when you smell it you think of them. Okay, of her. It's the sound a text message makes, on somebody else's phone, that all the same reminds you that someone somewhere is thinking of you.

Love is making a mixtape, and the state of continual courtship.

Or understanding that you can get together and talk about, I don't know, the Oscars or comic books or how and why you're quite so nerdy, even though there are plenty of other things to discuss. Important things, or, "important" things. Misunderstandings and arguments and being-hung-up-on. But knowing that you'll get to those things in time. Not that you're ignoring them -- more that you're trusting the process, and that you'll get to them in time.

Or, you won't.

It's trust even in absence. Trust even in mistakes, your own or theirs. It's not quite knowing what they're thinking, but looking forward to finding out -- when the time is right, and not necessarily now. And while I'm thinking about it -- it's looking forward in general. And looking forward, and looking forward, and looking forward.

1. Introduction

Originally posted Febuary 23, 2008

This is all so hideously embarrassing.  I feel like I'm posting some old high school diary ... I wrote this two and a half years ago.

I am 29 years old. Wait -- I am 28 years old. Later I'll be -- wait -- it's 2008, I am always one older than the last digit in the year, so later this year, I'll turn 29. But right now I am 28. Here's a true thing: sometimes when people ask me how old I am I can't quite remember, and I have to work it out by doing the math like that. Sometimes I remember exactly how old I am, but I think it should still count that sometimes I don't, so I take a moment to pretend to remember. I have never told anyone that before.

I do not know how much I weigh. When I was in high school I pretty consistently weighed 130 lbs. I had ribs and no tummy then. Now I'm fleshier with little pooches of skin. I bet I'm like 150. That makes me think of this: also when I was in high school I secretly believed I had surprisingly big biceps. Not ACTUAL big biceps, but bigger than you'd think, at least when I flexed. This is not a thing I really believe anymore. But, further, that makes me think about this: a few years ago my pal Jen K. was making a movie about a guy who, for reasons I don't remember, was sometimes dressed up in a U.S. postal worker outfit, and was sometimes dressed up in a dress. And that guy would encounter himself -- or, the other -- and she needed a stunt double to appear, fuzzy and out of focus. So I played the stunt double, which means I had to play a few scenes in a dress and in makeup and tights. And when I wore the tights I thought: I have surprisingly toned calves. Not ACTUAL toned calves, but more toned than you'd think. I don't really know if that's true either. Probably not.

The things that make me happy these days: biking downhill, noveling, the Office, robots, octopi and squid (from a distance, or in pictures), being ensconced in books, being ensconced in anything, heat, not having to get up early but still having somewhere to go but still not getting home too late, Cap'n Crunch, the sun, the moon, the stars.

Things that do not: Now, really. There's a time to discuss that sort of thing, and a time to dwell on what we love. More things I like: old comics (in color and smell and never-been-done-yet), stone busts of Elvis, tight green tees, maps of the US, thinking about having a car again. I think those last two things represent "the future." Which means, to turn around a thing I once read, I look forward to more than I miss.

I am growing a thesis beard and I'm over the itchy hump. There are meetings and dinners and comics this weekend. And work to be done.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Thoughts to Shape His Thoughts

 I visited Thomas Jefferson's home Monticello twice last summer and I took a tour of the main building once.  Partly the visit sprang from being a burgeoning American history nerd, and partly it came from reading Time Wastes Too Fast, a webcomic/essay by Maria Kalman -- a brief excerpt of which is at left.

Kalman's piece on Monticello wasn't my introduction to Jefferson as a Renaissance Man, thinker, or overall complicated dude -- but it made me wonder about seeing the interior walls of his life.  It's hard to put into words, but I had the feeling I was going to get to peer into the inside of his brain in a way that reading his letters or biographies wouldn't allow.

And it's a fantastic space.  Anyone more versed in architecture could tell you about the dome, the walls, the spatial layout, I'm sure -- what impressed me most was what he put on his walls.

He covered them, for the most part.  With maps, with antlers and other animal parts, with books -- and with his friends.

He had paintings of people he admired -- mostly men, all white -- and as Kalman says up above, with the most important folks on the top.  It reminds me of my friend Adam's novel, which features a protagonist who carries a small library of essential texts -- Thoreau is in there, along with "The Man of Steel" -- as a means of surrounding himself with the ideas that matter to him.  The thoughts he hopes will shape his thoughts.

But there's a visual element to Jefferson's approach that strikes me as better (sorry Adam -- Jefferson wins again!).  But Jefferson had the added benefit of knowing cats like Ben Franklin and George Washington -- he could surround himself with portraits of great thinkers, leaders and writers who were also dudes he knew socially. 

And Ben Franklin's Ben Franklin, but I know some pretty smart/creative/attractive people too.  Which is to say, if any of you are reading this and thinking of Christmas presents (it's early!  there's time!), there is nothing I would love more than a painting of YOU.  Soon I will have brand new walls to decorate!

100 Theme Challenge

In those golden days of 2008 I started a project on my MySpace blog called "100 Themes in 100 Days" -- I'm not sure what led me to the it, but it was a challenge on DeviantArt with a numbered list, and at the time that was just too attractive to pass up.

The DeviantArt idea is to draw a hundred things based on those hundred themes, but you know, you work with what you got, so I started writing on them.  Over three months I made it as a far #12... but hey, grad school was winding down, romance was a-bloomin', and Sarah Palin was right around the corner.  What I mean is, there was a lot going on.

I'd like to take a crack at the 100 themes again, and they're posted down below so I won't lose track of them.  Initially I thought I'd start over from scratch, but there's a certain attraction in just rolling with what I wrote before.  It's all an exercise anyway... so I'll be reposting the previous 12 short pieces in the next day or so, embarrassing as some of them may be two years on...


1. Introduction
2. Love
3. Light
4. Dark
5. Seeking Solace
6. Break Away
7. Heaven
8. Innocence
9. Drive
10. Breathe Again
11. Memory
12. Insanity
13. Misfortune
14. Smile
15. Silence
16. Questioning
17. Blood
18. Rainbow
19. Gray
20. Fortitude
21. Vacation
22. Mother Nature
23. Cat
24. No Time
25. Trouble Lurking
26. Tears
27. Foreign
28. Sorrow
29. Happiness
30. Under the Rain
31. Flowers
32. Night
33. Expectaions
34. Stars
35. Hold My Hand
36. Precious Treasure
37. Eyes
38. Abandoned
39. Dreams
40. Rated
41. Teamwork
42. Standing Still
43. Dying
44. Two Roads
45. Illusion
46. Family
47. Creation
48. Childhood
49. Stripes
50. Breaking the Rules
51. Sport
52. Deep in Thought
53. Keeping a Secret
54. Tower
55. Waiting
56. Danger Ahead
57. Sacrifice
58. Kick in the Head
59. No Way Out
60. Rejection
61. Fairy Tale
62. Magic
63. Do Not Disturb
64. Multitasking
65. Horror
66. Traps
67. Playing the Melody
68. Hero
69. Annoyance
70. 67%
71. Obsession
72. Mischief Managed
73. I Can't
74. Are You Challenging Me?
75. Mirror
76. Broken Pieces
77. Test
78. Drink
79. Starvation
80. Words
81. Pen and Paper
82. Can You Hear Me?
83. Heal
84. Out Cold
85. Spiral
86. Seeing Red
87. Food
88. Pain
89. Through the Fire
90. Triangle
91. Drowning
92. All That I Have
93. Give Up
94. Last Hope
95. Advertisement
96. In the Storm
97. Safety First
98. Puzzle
99. Solitude
100. Relaxation

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Creative Life

Scott Pilgrim!  It was the movie of the weekend.  The only thing keeping it from movie of the year were two outrageously better movies, released earlier this year*.  That's not the narrative playing out in the box office tallies this weekend, but, you know...

... whatcha gonna do?  It'll find the kids on cable.

But what's been resonating with me most is something I read in an LA Times article running down the soundtrack song by song.  Emily Haines of Metric talks about their song "Black Sheep," performed in the movie by Envy Adams's band The Clash at Demonhead, and says it was a song they'd recorded for a prior album, but had rejected for sounding ... well, too much like Metric, I guess:

Aspects of the song, the electro aspects of the band, and the abstract lyrical visualizations, are extreme examples of certain aspects of us ... These are late-night conversations the band has had. Everyone has commentary on what you’re doing, and everyone has interpretations. But we are also looking at it. It’s not like we’re blindly going, ‘Oh, what’s this?’ We’re aware of what we have been, and what we want to be.

Producer Nigel Godrich concurred:  "It’s a very common criticism when you’re making records. You say, ‘Well, this sounds like somebody trying to be us."

But my introduction to Metric was through the Scott Pilgrim movie, and as of right now it's my favorite damn song on the record.  I've listened to some other Metric songs in the days since seeing the picture, and "Black Sheep" remains my favorite -- pretty much because it sounds the most Metric-like of Metric's songs.  It reminds me of what Paul McCartney has said about "Yesterday" -- that he had the melody in his head for quite some time, but initially wrote it off because it seemed too good.  I'd go a bit further and say it's the most McCartney-ish of Paul McCartney songs -- and his first reaction was not to trust it.

A lot of people react that way to things they make that are good -- McCartney didn't trust "Yesterday" because he thought it was so good, someone else must have written it first, and he was simply remembering.  Haines and Metric didn't trust "Black Sheep" because they thought it sounded so much like their band, that it must be bad.  When I was very early in writing my (still-in-progress) novel Brand New Berto, I was having a lot of fun writing about Berto and Papa on a road trip.  They leave in Papa's truck to go to a wake for a relative Berto's never met -- but Papa decides to blow it off, and instead they spend the day together in Houston.  And I was in the shower one morning, and I was wondering what the hell I was writing about anyway, and I thought Well hey -- what if I kill off Papa?  And Berto's alone in a strange city?

(Erm -- spoiler alert there.  It's okay, it happens in chapter one.)

Berto didn't really get his chance to explore the city alone, because that idea spun the entire novel off into what it's actually about -- Berto loses a dad and encounters several different father figures/mentors over the course of the book.  But my first reaction to that idea was, Naw, you can't kill Papa.  Papa's great!  But what was actually scary was the prospect of finding my story -- or, more directly, finding what it was I wanted to talk about, and write about, and explore, for the next several years of my life.  That's daunting, when you put that kind of thing into specific terms.  Somewhere in, what, 1965?, Paul McCartney writes "Yesterday" and realizes -- Oh shit, this is the kind of songwriter I am.  This is what I'm going to be singing about for the rest of my life -- and, I dunno, maybe Metric had that moment when they heard themselves making "Black Sheep." 

It's like hearing your voice on an answering machine**.  You're suddenly face to face with yourself, from a step outside of yourself.

All of which is just to say -- Metric buried "Black Sheep" under a rock, until the Scott Pilgrim folks called around looking for a song to stand in for The Clash at Demonhead.  Metric gave it to them, and Nigel Goodrich said it was perfect because, "It’s not Metric. It’s a shadow of Metric."

Only that's a lesson our man Pilgrim learned when he faced Nega-Scott -- the shadow's you.  You can't turn away from it, you can only take it out to brunch. 

(and I realize that Michael Cera is getting on everyone's nerves, but srsly d00dz -- the movie is unique and a hell of a lot of fun.  The closest thing I've seen that compares is Kung Fu Hustle.)

*Winter's Bone and Inception, in that order.

**There used to be answering machines!

The Bloggering

Let's get back to it.