Clearly, I’m not terribly motivated to write these days.
I’ve found plenty else to do, mind you — work continues, just from my home office instead of thirty minutes away. Been getting caught up on TV/Netflix, some reading, and maybe most importantly, getting my iTunes library cleaned up (getting rid of albums that I don’t listen to any more — or in many instances never did).
Driving around is surreal — in spite of the beautiful weather, there’s little traffic, and not a whole lot of foot traffic. Maybe people are finally staying isolated? Ha.
Apparently, instead of the pandemic bringing everyone together, we’re politicizing it. In other news, water is stupid and people are wet.
The more I sit here and try to come up with something poetic and meaningful, the more depressing this is. So I’m going back to iTunes to continue the great musical cull of 2020.
The weirdest thing to me — that thing that you don’t notice how different it is, until something tips you off, and then you do, and then you can’t stop noticing it — is the sound. It’s not necessarily quieter, but it is — less traffic, more bird noises (granted, it’s the beginning of spring, but still)…
And then suddenly today, it hits me — there’s less air traffic. Duh. But you don’t realize how inured you’ve become to The Way Things Are until suddenly they aren’t.
I’m less concerned with the fears of what might happen than I am with not knowing. I don’t know if that makes any sense. Over the weekend, as Alabama went from zero cases to Hold My Beer, motherfuckers, i found myself getting hit with heavy doses of anxiety — not something I’m typically experienced with, on any noticeable level, at least. But as I processed worst case scenarios, and best case scenarios, and finally found myself settling back into the area of real-world probability — not that that’s something I’m super okay with, mind you — I found myself breathing just a little easier.
We’ve survived wars, terror attacks, pandemics that were far more deadly, and our own worst, and we’ll survive again and again. And eventually even the new normal becomes — well, if not pleasant and acceptable, then at least commonplace.
I miss the drive into work (not the drive home, yet), the lake behind the building, not second-guessing public exposure, and casually going to the grocery store to get whatever I’m craving in the moment. I’m enjoying the change in aural scenery, not having to deal with afternoon traffic, and Outlander.
You’re a guest of the MacKenzie. We can insult ye. But god help any other man who does.
“I’ve generally avoided talking about this, because my brain is in a blender as it is. But now it feels like it might be worth doing at least some kind of partial personal log of these times. Someone said to me today, “I’m freaked out that you’re freaked out. You’re usually so unflappable.” And, I admit, it got to me yesterday, I put all the news feeds back on, watched borders close, started hearing about confirmed cases within two or three degrees from me.
“I mean, I’m Generation X. We all assumed this was coming, and we’ve all been ready for decades to cut you for clean water. And, since we were the generation left to roam the streets, let ourselves in and sit around alone for hours, we are entirely prepared for all this, because we learned the tools and emotions were dunned out of us early.
Welcome to what Harper called in an email earlier “Coronapocalypse.” Day two of absolute isolation, pollen picked a fucking week to start coating everything, Cat hasn’t eaten me yet, and it turns out that Outlander is surprisingly good.
Do you imagine that trees and other plants feel? That they experience sensations, just in a way that we humans and our egocentric way of thinking are incapable of understanding? When the wind blows, or birds make their homes in the branches, or lightning strikes, do you think that maybe there’s some semblance of pleasure or pain?
Too, what do you imagine a tree feels if it is uprooted and transferred to another location? Excited for a new environment and surroundings, perhaps, or anxious about leaving the only home it has ever known?
At least it doesn’t have to worry about packing, moving all its stuff, changing its address with the USPS, transferring bank accounts, and all that mess.
Maybe it hasn’t always been this way, but it always is now. An image so clear yet dreamlike and unsharable, at least by his hands – never good at drawing, painting, sculpting, or even capturing with cameras, but his brain overflows with visions astonishingly beautiful and horrific.
And so sometimes those images attach themselves to music, something random piping through his earbuds. Heavy, ethereal, cinematic in its own right, whatever. There’s no rhyme or reason to the process, that he can understand. It just happens — music sees imagined vision from across the crowded bar, and after a few shots of liquid courage, music hits on vision and they get married and live together happily ever after.
This, then, is the source. Like an album full of songs that are crafted solely to support a single riff or short chord progression, the stories and characters and dialogue flow entirely as an excuse to describe a lone image that he can not otherwise share with the world.
That’s the sad secret, one which he shares begrudgingly but also suspects is not his alone.
METAL NOIR: Noir, in the loosest (thematic) sense, set to prog metal. Assembly of past pieces. Connective tissue on an auto-biographical threadwork. Sleek, dreamlike, ethereal when it needs to be; fixed 30fps and real enough to feel the punch or smell the copper apropos.
Lots of noise in my head lately, wanting out but refusing to let me let it out. At times, it feels a bit like some malevolent force scraping at the paper-thin membranes in my mind, maybe testing the prison walls, maybe just reminding me it’s still there.
Ah, the joys of mental illness.
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Some days, this is an accurate sonic representation of the inside of my head.
Also, it entertains me to pieces when technical metal drummers look so bored.
It comes in cycles. Each cycle has a beginning and an ending, interchangeable. When you begin a new relationship, you end a period of solitude. When you end a new relationship, you begin a new time alone, with all the good and bad that accompanies it.
Without those endings — and, importantly, honest and open self-exploration — the next beginning is doomed. And you can find yourself trapped in a loop, endlessly repeating the same patterns and endings and beginnings and endings. Well, endlessly, until you shed your human form and hitch a ride to the alien overlords on Comet Halley…
Imagine a slice of a video — like the screenshot above, for instance. It’s a picture, right? Video is simply a string of still two-dimensional images (with the addition, in our age, of audio) (try really hard to image a still-capture — a two dimensional version — of audio) (sorry for the migraine). Video is a three-dimensional thing — width, height, and time. Life is just that with depth added. (quick — imagine a three-dimensional slice of your life, removing time, leaving a frozen snapshot, like a landscape that you are trapped in)
The nature of time is debated over and over, whether its singular ‘direction’ is real or just a by-product of the way we perceive things. But if we somehow found a way to navigate, temporally — would you? Would you try to experience things backward, maybe? Relive sections of your experienced life? Fast forward past bad times?
What if your entire life and all its experiences were laid out in front of you, birth to death? What if it turns out that everything in between is terrible misery, with not a moment of hope or release?
If you knew that every relationship you were ever in would end, no matter how awesome parts of the filler would make you feel, would you instead choose to live a life alone?
Would you sacrifice the good to avoid the bad?
It’s pointless, but I keep at it nonetheless.
How do you know that something feels good without ever having experienced pain?
Look, on a long enough time scale, the survival rate of literally everything drops to zero (sorry, First Law of Thermodynamics). It ultimately doesn’t matter (unless we figure out how to experience time differently, in which case, nothing will matter either, because we’ll all just be living our own personally selected virtual realities).
And if there are infinite parallel universes, with an infinite number born every passing nanosecond, then all this starts to get really weird, really fast.
See why I drink?
(I often wonder how insane — or worse, intellectually deluded — leaving my thoughts in public like this makes me seem…)
This seems to stem from the idea that you have to be a ruthless monster in order to achieve power in the first place. The truth might be scarier. For years now, several groups of scientists have been studying the ways power impacts the human brain. They’ve found that power causes people to become more impulsive, less conscious of risk, and less able to empathize with others. The effects are severe enough to be comparable to brain damage.
In the cathedrals of New York and Rome
There is a feeling that you should just go home
And spend a lifetime finding out just where that is
-Jump Little Children, “Cathedrals”
I have lived a very fortunate life – one for which I try to remember to always be appreciative. I mean, it’s all about perspective — half-empty versus half-full, things could be better but things could be worse, etc., ad nauseum. But I’ve known poverty, and relative wealth. I’ve known health and illness. I’ve known great jobs and bad ones. I have lived so many of my dreams — I’m a published writer, I’ve played music on national releases, I’m a member of a band with a (teeny tiny) local following, I’ve made films that won awards. I have friends that on so many levels can’t be touched, in terms of quality and pushing me to be better and teaching me and always being there when I need them.
Maybe most importantly, I’ve loved a lot, and been loved more.
I’ve now sat and stared at this screen and those words for five minutes. Why ‘most importantly’, I wonder? And I think maybe it’s this: there’s a lot of life that we as individuals have control over. Not everything — not nearly enough, I might even argue. But I can work hard, I can seek out the industry secrets to success and apply them, I can find mentors and listen, I can play whatever game is appropriate and climb whatever ladders are put in front of me, for ninety five percent of what we humans think of as success. But love?
Not in the sense of cultural bindings, here. Clearly — I’m a flat failure at that. Three divorces in the last 29 years doesn’t exactly speak strongly about the strength of my sense of commitment and promise. And that’s fair, and I accept that.
YES MARGARET I’VE GOTTEN ENOUGH DIVORCES TO COVER MYSELF AND ALMOST ALL OF MY SIBLINGS SHUT YOUR JUDGEY PIEHOLE WOMAN.
And here’s why: I have a high bar. That high bar is crucial to me. Don’t get me wrong — I”m not looking for perfection. I have likely been guilty of that in the past, as I certainly possess a certain naivete that lets me believe in Hollywood romance and forever-after a bit too easily. But it’s not about that, and it’s not about “soulmates” or “the one” — that’s rubbish, at the end of the day. That’s the joy and the curse of being human, and all the variables that that entails.
But we get one life, in my belief. One. No do-overs. No greater beyond waiting past this. So I’m going to make the best of it. I want to be as happy as I can in every moment that I can, and when I can’t, I want to minimize my discomfort.
No one else is gonna do that for me. That’s on me.
Those past lovers — wives, girlfriends, even one-night stands — all had something wonderful to offer. Whether it was physical comfort in the moment, an ego stroke or a random release, or something more lasting and meaningful that involved learning and sharing and late-night drunken philosophical conversations, I benefited from them all. Some I will always care for, always love, always miss on some levels.
But that’s past.
The here and now, and the future — those are murky and uncertain, but goddamn if I can stop hoping. I miss the wonder of romance, of being a part of something one person greater than myself. I miss holding hands, and finishing sentences, and staring randomly, and getting caught, and catching stares. I miss sharing movies and books and music (oh, the poor people who have been on the receiving end of my music sharing). I miss the weird discoveries about a new person, and new food, and new beliefs. I miss the slow and awkward merging of worlds, and kisses, and the eye rolls of friends because I’m a sappy romantic, and making mix CDs, and surprise gifts.
WHY DON’T YOU EVEN REMEMBER MY BIRTHDAY, MARGARET? IT’S THE SAME DAMN DAY EVERY YEAR WOMAN!
And I miss the things I never got, but always dreamed of. I miss people wanting to read my writing and listen to my songs, no matter how choppy or geared specifically to me and my tastes they are. I miss big and maybe expensive celebrations of my birthday. I miss being treated like I have treated people.
(And a quick sidenote, because that last paragraph will make me eventually sound at worst forgetful and at best ungrateful: I do remember the times I was gifted such things, and the people that gave them to me. I promise. I’m forever thankful for those who gave more than they could or should have, and I will always remember that. Hugs. Etc.)
So… I don’t give up.
But it’s not to say that I don’t get discouraged. Dominantly, chemistry is sadly a two-way street — there’s plenty of times in one’s life that the attraction is one-sided. And then there’s the temptation to ignore things for the sake of the happy parts, forgetting that that shit will bite you eventually, and the venom will backlog in a big way.
And the worst — the absolute worst, the kind that makes you want to beg at the feet of God or deny his existence absolutely — is when the universe has shit timing, and you meet at the wrong time. Maybe you’re too young, or too old, or dying, or moving to another coast, or suffering a recent loss. Maybe you’re already involved, or maybe they are.
And maybe those times are okay, because your partner or theirs is actually a really awesome person who treats them better than you could have hoped or dreamed. Or yours is so wonderful that you never even notice them. The universe unfolds as it should.
But maybe those times are most certainly not okay, on any level. Maybe you’re stuck — for religious or cultural expectations, for nostalgia, for some sense of martyrdom or Christ complex. Maybe they’re treated poorly — from ignored to abused. Maybe there’s just something unfair —
AND YES, MARGARET, I’M WHINGING ABOUT HOW LIFE IS UNFAIR GET PAST IT YOU IRRITATING TWAT
— about the way the universe likes to remind us of things sometimes…
Fucking universe. Unfolding exactly as it fucking should, eh, Max fuck stabby eyes wisdom Erhmann?
(enjoy a brief musical break, while I pour a nice bourbon to calm my nerves a bit)
(quick random bit of trivia: bourbon is quite good for sunburms. Apply liberally to your stomach, and you will gradually stop feeling the pain of the burn)
I am fully cognizant of the entitled tone to a lot of that. It’s not a feeling that I experience often — or at least, not one that I give into I’m not a millionaire and never will be, realistically, and that’s okay. I’m not a famous guitarist, and never will be, and that’s okay. I’m not a successful writer who makes a comfortable living doing nothing but that. I’m not a genius programmer or an entrepreneur or any number of things, and that’s okay. And I don’t necessarily deserve any of what I have already, much less what I want.
But I am reminded periodically through my life that there are things that I wish I could have. I do experience jealousy, envy; I covet. I’m not proud of it, no, but there it is. And sometimes it’s easy to let go — my rich friends that are giving and generous and don’t rub anything in anyone’s face, I never think twice about. My famous or successful or brilliant or lucky friends that watch out for others and are good and conscientious, I’m happy for (truly and sincerely). But once in a blue moon… every random number of years, something comes along in the hands of someone who doesn’t appreciate, doesn’t treat as it should be treated, doesn’t deserve.
And I turn into a small crying child in the middle of the busiest aisle at the supermarket I KNOW MARGARET GODDAMNIT JESUS DON’T YOU HAVE SOME ERRANDS TO RUN OR SOMETHING FOR FUCK’S SAKE?
I’m reminded, for whatever reason, of the speech training they give to kids in rehab (and also from IT): “He thrusts his fists against the post and still insists he sees the ghosts.” But at least that helps stop stuttering…
Sometimes, the thought skates across the dura in my thick skull that maybe we all have a lifetime budget of Nice Things. Some people appreciate this from an early age, and go to their grave with a surplus of Nice and Happy Things still waiting for them. And maybe some of us (ahem) take a little too long to appreciate — maybe the rarity, maybe the actual beauty that is right in front of us — that by the time we figure out what we might like our home to look and feel like, it’s too late, and all our Nice and Happy Things are nothing more than window shopping opportunities at this point.
Shit. That’s depressing as anything, innit? Lemme try some music again:
Sorry. But in fairness, it was almost Childish Gambino’s “This is America,” so be thankful I went with the lesser of two heavies.
Jesus, Margaret. Where’d you get this bourbon? It tastes like firebombings in third world countries.
I can see where so much of what I always dreamed of and so much of what I’m come to realize I want is. And in this, too, I find a nugget of wonder — while maybe this timing is wrong and the universe is unfolding in a different direction, I can at least accept hope, the recognition that what I want does exist, and that maybe one day I’ll find it with the proper time and place and appreciation.
And in the meantime, I’ll remind you all: be thankful and show that thanks for what you have. Treat your friends and family and pets and lovers as best as you know how, and better still, because somewhere out there is maybe waiting someone who will. Be the person and the dream they deserve, and demand the same.
None of us deserves any more, less, or different than what we’ve got. But maybe those we’re with do.
Enough of me. Cleanse your palette and go enjoy some ice cream.
“On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.”
– Fight Club
Death is an unpleasant subject. No one likes to talk about it, to think about it. It’s fun to joke about (at the very least, in the if-I-laugh-’tis-that-I-may-not-weep sorta way), maybe — at least, until you realize that last joke was really ill-timed for a member or two of your crowd.
And yet, here’s the rub: it’s one of the very few things that unites us humans. No matter what beliefs or mutations or circumstances separate us, we all evolved somewhere way far back from a singular common ancestor, not a single one of us has actually read Joyce’s Ulysses, and we are all going to one day die. It’s a chronic condition, a birth defect we all share.
I’ve found that it works best for me to avoid as best I can dread and worry, especially against the unavoidable. Gotta get a root canal on Wednesday? I’ll worry about it enough to make sure I get there in time for my appointment. Between now and then, nothing I think — no amount of mental energy, no matter in what form — changes the event itself, nor the outcome, so why not spend that time in a more pleasant headspace?
“I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first.”
– Stephen Hawking
A friend of mine, Blake, died earlier this week. The word I’ve heard is that it was a heart attack, but I suppose the cause is really a secondary concern, well behind the fact that he was younger than me (and at 46, I don’t even qualify for AARP membership). I have at least four friends in my age group that are being treated for cancer, with variously hopeful outcomes. I’ve lost countless friends to car accidents, suicides, homicides, drug overdoses, and illness over the years.
Read it in your best horror movie narrator voice: “Death is coming for us all…”
Which leaves us at the end of the day with a limited (and in an unknown quantity, to boot) number of days to live. We can choose to spend that time anxious and worrying about the inevitable, we can choose to simply pass the time in a state of bland existence… or we can choose to enjoy it to the fullest possible extent, whatever that means to you.
Things to ponder heading into the spring weekend…
Sitting down on the steps at the old post office
The flag was flying at half-mast
And I was thinkin’ ’bout how everyone is dying
And maybe it’s time to live
– eels, “P.S. You Rock My World”