The Animal

Some days the words just don’t come. There’s either not a lot to say, or there’s too much to say coupled with an inability to put forth cohesive expressions of the thoughts I’m burying in my head. This last week I ran out of gas. Rather than recharging my mind and my body, I left it, roasting away at the coals of a cooling fire, slowly rolling over until all my hairs were singed and my skin caked into crumbling charcoal crisps, like a burned hot dog.

I’ve realized recently I am not self-aware enough to notice when something I’m doing is causing myself pain. These last two weeks, I’ve floated, purposefully un-purposeful. Admittedly, I needed some semblance of a break. And it’s hard to rest when you’re not doing a lot of work. It can look like a lot of work has been done [and sure, it has] , but I can do a lot more than what’s been done]. That’s my goal. But before that, I must solve this thing in front of me. It’s like wrestling an animal – I’m afraid of the teeth and the snarl and I also don’t want to hurt it, but I’m afraid it’s become a thing that it doesn’t become for everyone. Apologies for the vagueness of the description, but I’m just not ready to fully talk or write about it. Suffice it to say, the prospect of that wrestle resulted in me not writing the last two weeks. But now I’m ready to sit down and face it. I might not be ready to voice it for everyone to hear, but I need to sit down and face it.

This might be the toughest 342 words I’ve ever written; not because I don’t know what to say, but because I’m afraid to say what I need to say, so instead I’ve danced around it, hoping to conclude without exposing myself. And now that I’ve danced around the fire with stutter steps and stumbles, I’ve not a way out. So, I’ll just end it here.

In Review: Stitches by Anne Lamott

Stitches

From January 22nd: Stitches – A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair [NF] – Anne Lamott

I’ve been meaning to read this book for at least three years. It came out in 2013, but I hadn’t heard of it until 2015, because that would have been when I read my first Lamott book, Bird by Bird, her treatise on writing [one of my favorite books]. I finally picked it up, for no reason other than it had been on my list. It’s quite short and overall an easy read, with Anne’s rambling sort of storytelling, idea-weaving method. At times it is magical, yet others difficult to follow[1]. I haven’t read any other of her work and [probably] unfairly, I had high expectations for Stitches simply because Bird by Bird blew me away. My expectations for that book were an unknown entity when I read it; for this book, my expectations were known.

I’ve discovered my sensibilities match up well with Anne’s, which is why this book didn’t push me any direction, instead just propped up what I was feeling already. Without shortchanging the book, because its message is good and important, she basically writes that in the face of tragedy and trauma, there aren’t really answers and the only thing we can really do is show up for each other and be together.

One of my favorite quotes is, “What if you wake up at sixty and realize that you forgot to wake up, and you never became the person you were born to be, and now your hair is falling out?”, mostly because I sort of feel that way at 35: one night after I stopped drinking and smoking daily, I woke up, drenched in night sweats, unable to breath, with an anxiety I’d never known: I’ve done this to myself –am I going to be able to pull myself out of it?

I woke up, drenched in night sweats, unable to breath, with an anxiety I’d never known: I’ve done this to myself –am I going to be able to pull myself out of it?

Overall it was a very self-soothing read – surprisingly natural when you consider the subject of this book and the ideology Anne is sending us toward with her message. I’m certain there are many people for whom this message is deeply important and moving; for myself, I feel like I arrived at the end of the book over the last three years without reading it. And still, I find the message tranquilizing.


[1] I generally enjoyed it and also can’t believe I fancy myself enough to criticize the author of one of my favorite books!

On Distraction

Focus

Every. Single. Time. I sit down to write something, I think about something else. It’s a terrible habit. In fact, I do a whole song and dance when sitting down to do any sort of creative work. I hit up Deadspin[.]com to get their cynical take on sports. Then, I move to ESPN to get serious sports news [I often don’t learn anything because I already got the cynical coverage from Deadspin]. After that, I rotate over to Sports Illustrated [first Internet website crushes die hard]. Then I want some local coverage, so I browse to Lookout Landing for Mariners news. I’m in despair about the Raiders, so I skip them, and the OKC Thunder…well, it’s mid-basketball season – call me when it’s the playoffs.

After that, there’s the hunt for stimulation and the internet provides about eleventy-billion means of titillation. There are the aggregate sites pumping out the same rotation of memes and lists and “You won’t believe what this 11-year-old kid did!”, bastions[1] of content streaming puerile garbage meant solely to get and keep our attention. The unfortunate part of this cycle is I take the stance that I’ll make a better effort tomorrow; I’ve got some road rage videos on YouTube to catch up on.


There are the aggregate sites pumping out …bastions of content streaming puerile garbage meant solely to get and keep our attention.

As I’ve been sitting down to write more regularly these last few weeks I’ve noticed this tendency. The moment I’m about to lean into it and begin a singular thought springs to the forefront of my mind. “What’s the weather going to be like today?” “Who won the Oscars last night [week, month, year]?” “Katy Perry. What? I just haven’t thought about her recently! Is she still with that one guy…the one with the pretty hair?” “I wonder if I’m ever going to make up with my dad. I should see if he’s still got a Facebook page that he’s not updating.”

It’s not just that I’m afraid to start actually doing the work that I’ve been meaning to do – the work that I will find fulfilling and meaningful and breathe life into daily doldrums. It’s also that I MIGHT MISS OUT ON SOMETHING. Amid the stimulation provided by the internet every day, there’s an added effect of “things happening” online that become the next centerpiece for talking points in physical social circles. This digital playground bleeds into the physical world. The other day, minutes [JUST MINUTES] after news was reported that Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, was involved in a scandalous situation, one of my coworkers came running into my office with a “Did you hear about…” and she didn’t even have to finish the sentence because indeed I had heard. Because I was sitting, waiting, and watching for that next event online.


This idea has been coined as FOMO, or a Fear of Missing Out. This is a relatively new word thanks to internet culture, but it’s also funny because, you know, it rhymes with homo. [Insert eyeroll]. At any rate, fomo[2] is this thing that is here and happening. Fomo is also probably something that has been real forever, or at least for as long as human beings have been hosting social occasions. But because of the enhancement of social stimulation provided by the internet there is so much to “miss out” on. And no one wants to look like a fool. We want to be prepared at a moment’s notice to be “in the know”. So, we binge the latest show on Netflix, stream the newest original movie from Amazon[3], and pay attention to what’s trending on social media so we can appropriately react when it’s brought up in social circles.

But here’s the thing about this iteration of fomo – we’re not talking about missing out on a once in a lifetime trip to Paris. We’re not missing out on amazing experiences like a holiday in Spain. But by indulging our fomo and engaging that portion of internet culture indiscriminately, we are missing out on more important things. You can picture the image of a couple, lying together in bed, faces shining bright with blue light while buried in phones, finger scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. Here we are in this time, together, yet separate; near yet far. We’re seeking something greater but indulging in something less intimate. We’re trying to enhance our lives and find deeper meaning, but instead of turning and seeing that meaning in our partner’s face, we’re languishing away our lives on the internet, distracted by things that won’t fulfill or bring meaning or complete our hope.

It seems we choose to live our lives in fomo of what’s happening online, avoiding the reality of what we’re facing each day in the physical world. And it happens so damn slowly until we realize we’re drowning in a flood of catching up on missed notifications. For a long while I had been good about not looking at my phone first thing in the morning. Then, for some reason, I decided I was missing out on the news [what?]. So, I would use the toilet and use my phone to read the news. My toilet time increased drastically. Suddenly, my morning schedule was off – I couldn’t read a book for as long, or I’d let my reading stay the same and just not write [link] because it wasn’t worth it when I only had 10 minutes to write. And then, it turned into the News and Twitter. This was even worse when I smoked, because it would turn into a full hour and a half of News and Twitter and Games and Cigarette[s]. And all of that is wasteful, unproductive time. I know that it is important for me to read every day because it feeds my soul. I know it is important for me to write because it is the best way I express my voice.

Many people, far brighter and eloquent than me, have written about this force of distraction. Seth Godin devoted a whole book to the idea of the lizard brain responding to your deepest desires with fear to try and protect you from failure with these sorts of distractions [see his book, Linchpin]. Basically, he says, you must teach yourself to ignore it and move past it. It never goes away, but it gets easier. Hyper-vigilance is required.

So…the answer is to just quit being distracted? I mean, yes and no. The answer is to say no to yourself. Set yourself up for success. There are about 12 different “positive image vibes” ways I could write it out. But the long and the short of it is say no to yourself.

Godin uses a term when he talks about defeating the lizard brain: ship. Just ship it. It’s more about making the decision to do something (or to ignore something) than anything else.

We live in the most distracted society in the history of the world. But, despite all the technological advances that have led to this state, we have always had to learn to deal with this idea of distraction. It’s Aesop’s fable of The Ants and the Grasshopper: there’s a time for work and a time for play. The things we use to distract ourselves from the realities of life are, in all seriousness, play. And there are times for play! But we need to do the work to be a healthy, productive, and well-functioning society.


[1] I got distracted here, trying to make sure that “bastion” was indeed the correct word I was seeking. After deciding, yeah, it probably works, like the dogs from Disney’s Up, I got distracted when I saw that “breastwork” was a related word…Yup, that’s all that did it, “breast”. But, take heart – it also led to this little footnote! Also, if you read this in mid-sentence, you’ve got a distraction problem.

[2] I’m going to avoid treating it as an abbreviation and go ahead and give it the full on, “Hey you’re a real word!” feel from here on out.

[3] I mean, seriously, throwback to the 2000’s: who in the hell could have guessed that Amazon WOULD BE MAKING MOVIES IN 15 YEARS?!?!?!?!?

Why I Write

Writing

I came of age at a time when the word “blog” was invented, circa 1998. The early to mid-2000 internet culture was ripe with fields of blogs ranging from the 15-year-old’s angst to the 50-year-old’s post-career afterlife. Blogging is not in fashion now, but I’m still pursuing it, much like an old man waving a stick and yelling at the youth on his lawn.

If you meet me in person, you won’t find much of a conversationalist. I’ll stumble on my thoughts as they transition to words; god forbid the conversation dies down because I won’t know where to steer it other than to mention how cold it’s been lately. Therefore, I write – because in writing I find my voice.

Lately, I’ve sat down each morning to write. I spend 30 minutes at my computer screen, fleshing out a new thought, reviewing and re-working that thought, revising the draft that thought becomes, and editing it down. Each Monday I try to have a final version of those thoughts borne into an essay ready for publication on the internet. But one morning, I sat down to write, and I thought, why do I write? I realized, as I began to process the question, that often I sit down to type or write, and the words just start coming out. It’s as if my brain has been holding all these thoughts, keeping them in check for the proper moment for me to sit down and type them out. If I had tried to speak them, I wouldn’t have gotten half the words out of my mouth.

Speaking Quick and Slow

It’s not as if every time I sit down the words just start coming – sometimes I sit steadily staring into nothingness as I wait for a singular idea to spring forth. When I go back to review the expulsion of words on the page, I’ll see a variety of semi-related themes. And in the following days, I’ll come back to those words and break them down. I’m finding a bit of joy in the editing and cutting process. It’s a fine line of expulsion and insertion, but it’s a delightful process. But it’s also the hardest part of the work: it’s easy to explode onto the page with initial thoughts and ideas. It’s even easy to do the first re-write [the hard work of that is convincing yourself to do it]. But then, it’s the combing through every word and letter – that is the tedious work that completes the thoughts of the page, reworking the entirety of what initially came out into a cohesive and satisfying prose.

My writing is much the same as my music – it’s an extension of my passion and my life in a manner that I cannot convey in the same way conversationally.

The reason I’m writing all of this is because I want to know, more completely, the reason why I write. Why I feel a need to put that writing on the internet. Why I want others to read it. [Why I try to hide from myself that I do indeed want others to read what I write.] I was talking with someone the other day whom I’ve only known for a few months – maybe half of a year – and she was telling me that she couldn’t figure me out [I know! I can’t figure myself out either, I responded]. She said, I was quiet and aloof, dressing in dull colors, more observant than conversational, and yet, when I was in front of people performing my music, I was expressive and impassionate [I know, again I responded, I wish I knew why as well!]. My writing is much the same as my music – it’s an extension of my passion and my life in a manner that I cannot convey in the same way conversationally. Or really any other way.

I write because it is a way for me to express my voice, but more importantly, it is the way in which I better understand my thoughts and how I process my feelings. I write to explore myself and the world. I am curious about a lot of things and the more I write, the more I understand, particularly about myself. I suppose as I gain more insight about myself, I might branch outside of myself: into culture, life, and injustice.

Almost all my writing starts with a question. The rest of my stumbling thoughts come out, searching for the answer. Sometimes I get there, sometimes I only end up asking more questions. But the older I get, the more okay I am with having more questions than answers. At least I’m getting my thoughts on a page so I can better interpret them.

On Ryan Adams

I was winding down my day at work last Wednesday when I saw Ryan Adams was trending on Twitter. Clicking someone’s trending twitter name is a game of Russian Roulette. You want to see what happened or what people are talking about but…sometimes you’ll regret finding out what is making news. When I clicked his name, I wasn’t prepared to read about how he had an inappropriate relationship with a teenage girl, lead others on with false promises, thrust himself upon them, and was a domineering, emotionally abusive, and dream denying of his own wife. Writing that sentence takes me to a state of despondency.

But why? Why do we put so much emotional energy into celebrity that when one of them fails [that’s the nice way of putting it] it hurts?

I’m so disappointed by Adams actions – and disappointed isn’t the right word. I’m pissed. I’m angry that he is disrespectful, hurtful, and such a small human being that he would treat these women that way.

Sadly, I know how he could be this way. It’s when you let yourself, unbridled in your mind, indulge in any sexual fantasy you desire. It’s when you let your mind run rampant with sexual desire that you believe asking a woman to bring you something in your hotel room and opening the door naked is a viable seduction method. Or believe that Skyping a teenager naked is a worth-while endeavor. Or having phone sex with a girl you “hope” isn’t underage. I mean, even if she was 20, it’s still fucking creepy. And wrong.

I guess I’m surprised by how upset I am. Throughout all the bastards getting exposed in the #MeToo movement, while some of them surprising, none have been anyone I’m emotionally invested in until now. Even then, I’m not an incredibly vested fan of Adams music: I found out about him watching MTV for the first time as a freshman in college, seeing his video for New York, New York. I re-encountered him a few years later in late night drunken house sessions, falling in love with his cover of Oasis’s Wonderwall. Love is Hell was still just a semi-translucent memory of my early 20’s. I came back to him again with Ryan Adams in 2014, but it was his cover album of 1989 that solidified him as god-like[1] for me,  simply because I had been inundated by Taylor Swift for a year by my daughters and I reveled in the dad-rock vibe that Adams brought with his renditions. And then Prisoner came out and it was then that I found out about his band Whiskeytown from the 90’s. And then Heartbreaker. And this is me, fondly remembering the moments of my life that are illustrated by Adams’ music, realizing that I am more invested in his music as the landscape of my memories than I knew. Which is why I’m upset – all those memories and his music are forever tainted.

I’d never understood the argument some made regarding the wiping out of the creative works of the creeps that have assaulted, abused, or wholly mistreated women. To me, it was easy to separate the art from the artist. The beauty from the distorted. The wonder from the terror. But now it’s different for me and I can’t fathom what it would be like to be one of those abused. To be reminded randomly of that abuse when walking through the grocery store and hearing a song recorded by the man who thought so little of you that he would use your body for his pleasure without regard for you. Or to discuss movies without fear that the one written and directed by that man would come up. Or to hear some idiot white guy [much like myself] wax ineloquently about how Louis C.K.’s comedy should still be made readily available.

I understand it now, although not in the way that those who have been affected by these men understand it. But now, for the first time, I can sense the dread of what Adams has dispensed by his behavior through his music…and it’s wholly sickening.

And so, will I stop listening? Will I be able to extricate myself from his art influencing my memories? I don’t know. But I do know that his art is forever altered in my mind. And that is nothing compared to what those women went through. Their stories, their voices, their songs – those are the things that matter so much more than my disappointment in Ryan Adams.

So, go give Phoebe Bridgers a listen. She’s really damn good.


[1] Listen, I know how ridiculous that sounds.