This Is My Hope In An Alleyway

The last five or six weeks have been oddly up & down for me. I think the stoic in me is usually able to keep things on a more even keel. The epicurean in me keeps joy as a fundamental priority. Usually, this is my mainstay: a streamlined and consistent happy.

And the last few weeks have been seen plenty of that. This last Saturday my friends and I hired a live band that put on a rocking house party AND two parades around the neighborhood. I had a great weekend in NYC recently; hopping around Xanadu. Friends are still warm, books are still wonders, exercise moves my body and strengthens me.

But there’s also been some downs. Work has had a few letdowns; both in my small area and in the larger ones (Uber’s string of headlines haven’t been rosy lately, to say the least). The weather, after being away from Chicago for so many years, probably has me down more than I care to admit. Politics, of course, have been, well, some kind of deliberate hell.

But I’m breathing and I’m alive and I’m happy despite these things. And if I get down, I’ve found a few inspirations lately that have brought out some poignant uplifting in me.

I felt compelled to share. Here they are:

February’s Inspirations

W.S. Merwin’s “Thanks”

(full poem here)

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

Pearl Jam’s ‘It’s OK’ Performance, Virginia Beach 2000

In 2000, Pearl Jam played a festival in the Netherlands. Early in the show, things got out of hand and nine people died from being crushed. That, I can only imagine, is likely the worst thing you could experience as an entertainer. The band made it clear how hard it hit them.

That was June 30.

They cancelled a few shows after that. The next show they played was August 3rd, about 5 weeks later, in Virginia Beach.

After ‘Daughter’ the band brought out a cover they’d done a few other times, but not often. This time, playing a cover of Dead Moon’s ‘It’s OK’, Eddie pleads with the crowd to sing, and sing along the simple of “it’s ok”.

His instructions: “Sing it loud. Sing it loud beacause we’re outside. Sing it loud because we’re still alive. Just…..just sing it loud.”

Clearly, it’s as much for him and the band as it is for us. But it’s a useful reminder; after tragedy, after boredom, malaise, terror, anything…..It’s ok.

This is my life/This is my chance/This is my hope in an alleyway

 

Langston Hughes’ “Dream-Dust”

Gather out of star-dust
Earth-dust,
Cloud-dust,
Storm-dust,
And splinters of hail,
One handful of dream-dust
Not for sale

Mahershala Ali’s Interview

I saw a lot of movies last year. Should-be-Oscar-shoe-in Moonlight was my favorite. And a big part of that was Mahershala Ali’s character Juan—a mentor, father figure for the main character. Juan, more than any of the other best support actor nominees, or any supporting role really, loomed on screen in nearly all the scenes he was not in (no spoilers!)

I was impressed with Ali’s acceptance speech at the SAG awards. The idea of oppressed people folding into themselves was a profound way to put it.

BUT, it was this interview he did that really got me this month. I must have read it two weeks now and I still think about it. Why?

Because, here’s a man who has had MASSIVE success this year. Like peaking in his craft, his life’s work. And, how does he end an interview? Not by saying he’s grateful or that he’s basking in the success of his hard work. No, he leaves it like this, a perfectly reflective, all-too-human look at ourselves and our own capabilities. It’s really quite profound.

“Now, I’m just dealing with the things that all men and women deal with when we recognize our faults. We all have to do work to be our best selves, to civilize ourselves in the way we see fit. I’m dealing with the things that keep me from being the fullest person I can be.”

 

 

 

2016: In Review

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In front of William Burroughs’ 1950s home; Mexico City, Mexico

2016 was, well these things are always so hard to whittle down to simple adjectives, but it was fun, surprisingly both stable and unstable at times, and packed full of new and unique experiences. All in all, it was a good year. I’m happy to say that upon reflection. I suppose that’s all we ever really want, yeah?

But it’s especially important since 2016 was the first year in a long time that I stayed put. I lived in one place for the year. I signed my first yearlong lease (since college, which really doesn’t count the same way). I built myself a room in an apartment with some friends and kept coming back to it like a boomerang. It’s the longest I’ve ever done that for in my adult life.

So I’m glad that I could find joy; both in the present and upon reflection, without needing the influx of new locations streaming through.

So the year. I’ll start with the highlights: the Chicago Cubs, my team of all teams, finally ended its famous drought and won the 2016 World Series. Since the baseball playoffs are a month-long affair, I got to enjoy their winning ways all through October and a bit into November. It’s an experience I won’t soon forget.

I got to go to Burning Man and check that off the bucket list. I was prodigious in my reading (less so my writing but that might be a 2017 focus). I finished my ebook and got it on Amazon. I got my first tattoo. I tried the ketogenic diet. I juice cleansed. I bone-broth cleansed. I’m currently in a bout of vegetarianism.

I said at the beginning of the year that I wanted to be in a relationship (since it went hand in hand with the whole being location-stable part) and I was able to do that—for most the year. I decided later in the year that I wanted to explore something else, but the relationship gave me great joy and I’m grateful for it. It’s a year that will be tied to many memories with that individual.

I wanted to spend the year in service to others. I set a very ambitious goal of volunteer hours that I did not meet (goal was 150, came out around 55). I do, in many ways, find my job to be a fulfillment of that idea, but I know it doesn’t always count when you’re getting paid for these things. Still, it’s a bonus to receive that sentiment—one of doing service to and for others—from my professional day-to-day.

My other three goals for the year are related to the above: read more books than last year (19 last year, 21 this year), get a tattoo (done!) and go on an experiential retreat (Burning Man). Accomplished. Nice! I set some professional goals as well and hit most of those, but that’s for a piece of writing and reflection outside of this blogpost.

Ups and downs. Swings to and fro. They happen in every year, but it was an important reminder for me that this year had them too. That I have an identity outside of being a nomad and a wanderer, and that life can and will reward me with its richness even as I do, like I said, stay put.

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Home; Pilsen, Chicago

 

So, some other notes, highlights, and favorites from 2016.

Other Notes

Unique Destinations Traveled To: Roatan (yep, started here!) > Chicago > Madison > Phoenix/Scottsdale > Mexico City >  London > Dubrovnik > Mostar > Sarajevo > Split > Zadar > Plitvice > Rijeka > Venice > Crothersville > San Francisco > Black Rock City > New Jersey > New York City > Flagstaff > Los Angeles

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Plitvice National Park, Croatia

Writing: In 2016, I finished my ebook on traveling while working (link). It was a project that started in 2015, got semi-abandoned in 2016 and then picked back up again. Though it’s not exactly what I pictured from my first (e)book, I’m proud to call it my own. There’s a lot of good nuggets of learning packed in there for my years traversing the globe.

Over the year, I published 9 blog posts. That’s a fairly slow year for me comparatively. (I did do a fair amount of notebook scribbling that I didn’t publish anywhere). I did have my single most successful (in terms of visitors/page views) this year; a letter to my little sister on the election of our future president (who shall go nameless).

Reading: Book list below. Goal was to read more books than last year (19) which I did! Dates are when the book was finished.

  1. Aunt Julia and The Scriptwriter (Mario Vargas Llosa); January 5
  2. Momo (Michael Ende); February 9
  3. The Principles of Uncertainty (Maira Kalman); Feburary 10
  4. Consolations (David Whyte); February 29
  5. Gilead (Marilynne Robinson); March 10
  6. The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards (Kristopher Jansma); March 27
  7. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Daniel Pink); March 29
  8. M Train (Patti Smith); April 26
  9. Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett); May 30
  10. Tinkers (Paul Harding); June 27
  11. The Bonfire of The Vanities (Tom Wolfe); July 10
  12. Notes from No Man’s Land (Eula Bliss); July 23
  13. 33 1/3 Series: Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville (Gina Arnold); July 29
  14. The Sleep Revolution (Arianna Huffington); July 30
  15. The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov trans. Burgin & O’Connor); September 26
  16. The History of Pi (Petr Beckman); October 23
  17. Flash Boys (Michael Lewis); October 31
  18. Ready Player One (Ernest Cline); November 13
  19. Modern Lovers (Emma Straub); November 18
  20. When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi); December 2
  21. The Fact of a Doorframe: Selected Poems 1950-2001 (Adrienne Rich); December 22

Professionally: This was my first full year at Uber and first full year at an office. It was nice to have that kind of stability, but it’s the unique opportunities that a year coming to the same place can afford you. This year I got to know my coworkers in a deeper way and got to enjoy the diversity of my specific office. As chaotic and challenging as my job can be at times, it’s rewarding in these ways and so many more. Several times over the year I felt a nice pang or rush of satisfaction for what I got to each and every day and the people I get to serve in my role.

Pearl Jam: 2 shows. Glorious nights at the Friendly Confines (Wrigley Field)

Favorites

Favorite 2016 New Thing: Going to the Movies Alone

I don’t mean this as a knock to anyone I’ve been to a movie with, but there’s something so much free(r) about going by oneself. And it’s not just that I tend to be shyer about showing emotions surrounded by people I know—it’s the thinking and intaking. The depth of what you’re being shown. The “is”-ness of the movie (which a friend recently sent me) that you can become part of on your own. It’s just a simpler way to go deeper in the silence of your own mind (or the walking out of the theater after), and I love it.

I did this about a dozen times this year. Lied about what I was doing once or twice, and other times just flat out told people. Either way, I reveled in it.

(This section was originally Hardcore History, the amazing podcast by Dan Carlin, but I had done a podcast the last two years and really wanted to think about my favorite new “thing” in 2016. It was the movies thing).

Favorite book I read in 2016: Consolations by David Whyte

Definition as poetry. Poetry as an attempt to escape metaphor and become concrete. David Whyte merges these and more in Consolations. And it’s a whirlwind of prose and story and explanation and precision with shades of beauty.

The book is divided into chapters which seek to define a word. A common word. Friendship. Pain. 50 others. The full title of the book is Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words and there’s a sense that Whyte takes his mission to heart. Each chapter peels a word backward only to leap them forward in your mind. No more are there limited definitions for the ways we use these words; but wider maps (*) that each allow us to explore.

Reading Consolations was like opening a dictionary to find only obscured photographs begging you to interpret, realize, define, distinguish, and so on. I was grateful to do it 52 times over.

Other Favorites: Notes from No Man’s Land (Eula Bliss), The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov)

Favorite 2016 movieMoonlight

It’s already a critical success—one of the biggest in the last few years, and I’m sure reading the heaps of praise put on Barry Jenkins’ movie swayed me in some ways. But there’s something undeniably unique about the way this movie brings you in. And, more importantly, how it spits you out.

Split into three parts, each seems to end abruptly. In the middle of some development (not necessarily action) and you find yourself aching to have that character back (or, really, that version/age of Chiron). You never get to. But you do get to see into that person’s future, and an almost fresh narrative forms around our character.

It’s a brilliant and brutal way to tell a story of an adolescent (and one just as daring, I might add, as Linklater’s extreme on the other end in Boyhood). Especially when that narrative revolves around the character’s search for his own identity. If the motif of a movie dealt with location, or a relationship, the chopped up storytelling style might play off easier. Instead, it’s hard. It’s hard to have three different actors play your main character. Hard to see the others around him grow. Hard to not see the middle parts, the ties that bind our Chirons together.

And, yet, it pulls this off beautifully. Both with subtle color and with dialogue acting as a a hammer to the emotional core.

Other Favorites: ArrivalAmerican Honey. To Hell or High Water. Demolition. Jackie

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San Francisco Peak; Flagstaff, AZ

Favorite 2016 album: Teens of Denial (Car Seat Headrest)

There were some great albums this year, no doubt about it. This one stood out as something new, but also nostalgic. It brought me back to my days of listening to punk/pop-punk and doing so loudly.

The album has its moments, some concentrated in that punk tradition and others found it longer songs, nearly jam sessions themselves, sprawling out with tales of growing up and teens of all walks (some in denial, as the title suggests).

It’s a fine tuned album that has some creak to it and it kept drawing me back. It’s hard to separate the spring and summer of this year from it. And, in many ways, it will be a quintessentially “Chicago” album for me (alongside Coloring Book, a more appropriate home perhaps, but just the same for me).

Other Favorites: Masterpiece (Big Thief), You Want It Darker (Leonard Cohen), Painkillers (Brian Fallon), Coloring Book (Chance the Rapper)

Favorite 2016 song: ‘Same Drugs’ (Chance The Rapper)

I recently made a c.d. for my car with my favorite tunes from this year. On a long(er) drive back home, flipping through the tracks, it was this Chance song that stood out among the rest.

Not just for its different genre from the rest (see below), but for its uplifting soul and storytelling. It’s a sing along that instantly possesses you, a driving piano, background vocals, a gospel-like appeal.

In it, Chance uses “drugs” as a metaphor of identity and the story is one of displacement and separation from an old friend. It’s a tale of growing up, growing apart, and interests. It carries the aura of something potentially big: a play on Peter Pan (at least the internet thinks so) or a comment on American opiod addiction. But as much as it could be these, it’s a simple song with a driving piano to back its ballad. We grow up. Time makes no guarantee that those we once shared something (anything) with will always be together.

Other Favorites: ‘Fill in the Blank’ (Car Seat Headrest), ‘Paul’ (Big Thief)

(Favorite non-2016 song listened to in 2016: ‘Drive All Night’ (Bruce Springsteen))

Favorite Place Visited: Mexico City, Mexico

It’d long been a dream to make it to North America’s biggest city. The 2000s saw an increase in violence (whether real or perceived) in Mexico’s capital, but these days parts are booming, safe, and one of the more attractive traveler’s destinations I’ve been to recently.

Whether it’s streets lined with mansions, sprawling parks, delicious street tacos (3 for $1!!!), the city has an energy that’s moving millions and tourists from all over the world. There’s no doubt that it’s a city of the world and it’s reputation continues to build. And all for good reason.

Was only there for 5 days but it made an imprint on me for sure (Sarajevo did too, but alas my trip was so short there). It’s an easy jaunt there and I hope to make it back (and stuff myself full of tacos again!). Highlights were Frida’s house, a Lucha Libre night, a dance club with swanky 20-somethings, and just the opportunity to wander the criss-crossing streets of such a bustling metropolis for the first time.

Favorite Meal: Cevapi (in Bosnia)

Cevapi is a Bosnian sausage-like dish. I believe it’s made up of various meats but mostly veal. It’s stuffed into a pita-like bread and you’re given sauces on the side. It’s intensely caloric, and insanely satisfying. I had Cevapi in Croatia before I got to Bosnia and was impressed but it wasn’t until I got to Sarajevo that I had the meal of the year (and I had it twice!). I could write poems to these sweet little sausages and checks to the chefs who packed my plate full of ’em.

The specific place for this meal was called Zeljo (there are two in Sarajevo, not sure if I ate at 1 or 2) and it’s in the old part of town—the famous part, the part that looks like an 18th century Turkish outpost and just blocks from the place where Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated.

If only I could find some good Cevapi in Chicago (might get me to eat meat again immediately!)

And, that my friends, is a wrap on 2016! Some more pics!

 

 

 

how did trump won *win

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-11-39-02-amDear Lindsey,

I don’t know a way to answer your question other than writing this out. I hope it helps.

One short answer is: I don’t know. I’m no expert in this. The only thing(s) I know is/are from experience and I’ll tell you what I think I’ve learned from that and how that might have gotten us to where we are today. You’re only 13 now, but someday you’ll learn just as much as I have in 28 years and probably more.

First, it’s important to understand that you live in a bubble. I do too. We live in a place that has a more unified message than the country at large. So part of what is happening is disbelief—that the country voted in a way that is not consistent with your own experience. It can be jarring to realize this in any manner.

In the coming days/weeks, you’ll hear a lot about how divided our country is. It’s important to take that message in, but understand that most Americans are living in a bubble too. We’re divided, but clustered together. A lot of those bubbles are different than yours and mine. And it’s hard to hear what’s going on in those other bubbles. Now we know a little bit more.

Maybe we did hear some things, though. We’ve known the country is divided and we knew that Donald Trump’s message was resonating. The losing candidate in this election, we knew, would have at least 50 million people vote on their side. That’s a whole lot of people.

We’ll get to what that message is in a minute but you can think of this closer to home. Our father, for instance, has talked about Trump and his message for months. I don’t think Dad voted for Obama, but I don’t think he voted for George Bush either. He’s a swing voter, and his clinging to Trump was a sign.

I love our father and he’s taught me many things about being a good person, but it pains me to know that it’s voters like him—white, of the working class—that have decided this election. It pains me because I’ve seen what sits within that bubble and cluster. The racism, sexism. The belief that an American white male deserves more simply for being just that.

Someday you’ll get to read and hear the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I’m excited for you to do so. Dr. King was one of the greatest thinkers in this country’s history. His messages deserve so much more weight than they are given. He once said:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice”

He wrote that about 60 years ago and it’s still true today. Things are decided by white men (and women) who are scared of disorder and choose to pursue security, safety, stability rather than fairness and justice for those that cannot pursue security, safety, and stability themselves.

This was Trump’s message. Make America Great Again was directed at the disenfranchised working class. I liked my America. It was already great. I’ve been to 35 other countries and none of them have what we have. We get to vote. We get great art, great schools, and the freedom to be (in many cases, not all unfortunately, but many) who we want to be. This is a good thing that I loved when thinking about the USA while not in it.

But that was not the case for many people. Those who lost jobs and saw nowhere to go to get new ones. Those who felt that politicians never did anything for them and their bubbles. They were frustrated. They were angry.

I don’t know if you know the word disenfranchised. It’s okay if you don’t. It’s not a commonly used word, but it’s an important one to know when it comes to politics.

A disenfranchised group refers to people feeling pushed out. They feel like no one is fighting for them or that no one cares. They feel like they’re losing and are helpless. It’s a very powerful feeling and one that an orator can exploit (you learned a bit about this with 1910’s Russia and will learn a lot more about 1930’s Germany). Still, someone needs to answer how these groups got to feeling that way in the first point.

In this race, the Democrats will need to examine this. I won’t get into the whole breakdown or game of politics but they’ll see the way the votes broke and have to create a new strategy.

For now, we know that Hillary Clinton was not the candidate to defeat the Trump message. I don’t know why, and I don’t know why there’s such a predominance of hate for her. In terms of logistics, her campaign did not do its job. They took some states for granted (Wisconsin) and lost them. They could have had a better strategy. At the end of the day, lots of voters simply just voted against her, rejecting her for one reason or another.

IF people rejected her because she is a woman, directly or indirectly, then that is a sin of great cowardice. Those people will have to look themselves in the mirror and know that they’ve thought lesser of someone because of her gender. They’ll have to live with that. Sadly, it seems like that’s the case for thousands, if not millions, of Americans and nothing about this outcome will change that cowardly way of thinking.

But, and I cannot stress this enough, you cannot let that stop you, Lindsey. You are a woman and this is not a world that’s made things easy for you the way it has for me. The best way to change that is by overcoming it, by beating down the pillars that have it this way. But it will not be easy and it has not been easy for those that have come before you. Continue to do well in school, go to a great college that challenges your mind and then spread messages of wisdom and love and peace and compassion.

My hope is that the amongst all of the pain that we’re feeling from this, we will see a strengthening of the causes we care most about. Equal rights for everyone, regardless of skin color, gender, sexual identity, anything. ANYTHING.

We will move on and survive from here. And in our fighting against the injustices that this man represents, we will find great strength and learn about the struggles of others and what we can do to help. We will band together in our bubbles and work to expand them and listen to others, but be relentless in a pursuit for people’s rights to be free.

You will be a part of that and the next four years will be so instrumental in who you are as an adult. Know that this is an opportunity and not a curse.

In those years and the ones after, there will be many times you want to fight with great vengeance. And fight you will. And so will I. But our fighting is not done with brutality, or hate, or shaming. It is done with discourse, with wisdom, with trust and empathy and love and hope and optimism. We will not revert to any level lower than that. And on the days you find it too hard to do that and so much easier to cut someone down, to debase a group of people, to hate…..you call me. And we’ll talk through it, kid. 

Try to remember what another poet once wrote: For all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

-Eric

CUBS WIN!

It’s been less than 24 hours since the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series. Most of you know this. I’ve certainly lived with that news in my blood for every hour since then. It’s been something like a rendering of heaven.

This is a picture of me celebrating the victory last night—probably around 1am or so.

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I’m no actor. That is a real face. My real face. In all of its vulnerability and honesty, its joy and curiosity. It’s a captured moment of the purest disbelief I’ve ever mustered. An inability to fully comprehend that a day I’ve always dreamt of has become a glowing, warm November reality.

It is a face of my 5-year-old self meeting my 16-year-old self smashing quantum into my 28-year-old self.

The 5-year-old is the boy who first sees Wrigley Field. Who sits next to his dad and grandfather on an April day. Who gets an official game program and learns to track batters and bases. To watch the game through observation and not passivity. That Wrigley is a special place. Open-air, unlike the United Center and those winning Bulls. Green and wide. Fully of 7th inning singers and those great radio voices that would lull me to sleep so many nights of my childhood.

The 16-year-old is a teenager who gets a summer job selling hot dogs and peanuts and coke at Wrigley Field. Who drives each day to Evanston or Skokie to take the L into the city and learns the stops on the red line until Addison. The 16-year-old works hard but not too hard, catching long looks at the game. Learning to watch the game through cheering and jubilation only to find exhaustion back on that long red line journey back up north. That Wrigley is a special place. Not a highway near it, tucked into its pocket of this old city. No parking lot, not like those other stadiums with their insane stretches of gravel. Putting on those after-game radio voices to remind him of childhood.

The 28-year-old is the me of yesterday. The one who doesn’t always appreciate the wonder of his home city. Who loved seeing the Cubs hats in Seoul, in Rome, in Vancouver, but forgets to love it here. Here where it all matters. Whose first stop on any out-of-towners tour of Chicago is Wrigley Field. Who won’t jinx the franchise because he’s been burnt before. Who bought a baseball yesterday just to grip at the seams when things got too nerve-wrecking. And they did. Who learned that Chicagoans celebrate this day we’ve always wide-eyed about with hugs and high-fives, not destruction. That Wrigley is a special place because it will be home to these Cubs. These world champions.

I still have that program from 1993. I still have my vendor uniform from 2004. I’ll always have last night.

The words are purposes. The words are maps.

Lately, I can’t escape Adrienne Rich’s words.

I first read (a part of) “Diving Into The Wreck” in a hostel in Thailand. It was on a quote page before the dedication of a book. I’d have to think hard about which book it was.

But I ripped that page out and kept it.

The lines were either these exactly or a larger portion.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.

Likely, it included a later portion too.

we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

Here’s the whole poem. The book of myths. The diving into a physical wreck and the metaphor of diving into oneself. The guidance of words and the true lack of any real guidance that words, the ingredients of stories, of mythologies, of fictions, really provide.

The words are purposes. They might not be truths. But they were once willed and strung together by a tradition of artists and writers forever. The words are maps. They are plotted lines of which to follow, or not to follow.

Reading the book I’m currently reading, I’m struck by how many words the famous mathematicians used. To describe. To map.

We are the half-destroyed instruments.

We are, of course. We are always in some scale of destroyed and some scale of convalescing and some scale of transcending and some sunshine of our own being internally.

I came to see the damage done and the treasures that prevailed.

I hope I always am finding the treasures. This is the point of life in some way.

The words, though. I keep coming back to these.

Purposes. Maps.

 

Nocturnal Clock Turns: Thoughts on the other side of 6am

I’ve been staying up all night for work this week, doing the overnight shift. That means I start my work day in the late evening and get off just before 6am and drive home (on a sleep-deprived drive I’m convinced no one should be able to do legally).

My mind is some kind of wobbly, a little bit wrecked, but also energized on some kind of reserve adrenaline. It’s a different filter on the neural network up there, that’s for sure.

It’s equally reserved and lost in haze as it is vulnerable and honest.

So, in the name of that odd congregation on the late side of 6am, here are thoughts. (In no particular order or seriousness).

Losing Bowie was tough. Prince was crushing. But I’m going to split my little blue eyes wide open with tears when Dylan dies. I’ve thought about this a lot. And it’s odd because Dylan as Dylan as I see/hear/believe in him is somewhat dead in one way. But the day will be cold and ugly and nothing good could possibly happen.

I can feel myself less happy working this night shift. It’s temporary and so it makes for a very interesting experience, but I oddly seldom feel such a loss of waking joy. I suppose, then, that’s a good thing.

Is this the best ‘Boots of Spanish Leather‘ cover? Unknown. But it’d make for a multiple choice option.

On a podcast I listened to today, Julia Turner (Slate‘s Editor-in-Chief) said she hated the word “longform” when describing journalism. She hated it as a substitute for well-investigated, deeply researched and resonating journalism. Fair point. Short articles, as she points out and I agree with, too can be powerful. Length need not determine all. To which I say, yes, but then what do you call it? How do you differentiate short pieces of shit from short masterpieces? The masterpieces, perhaps not long in length, are long in life and vitality. Maybe that’s it and space (which =time in reading terms, no?) is an irrelevant dimension like time?

Sometimes it feels like everyone is still moving to Seattle.

Here’s a passage, chosen at random, from the book closest to me:

“The circumstances of my life run counter to the coils of my inner mechanism”

it continues

“I recognize this fact and am always conscious of it, in normal conditions. I find it a cause for rejoicing. When I am alone I am left with nothing but these coils. If I succumbed to their action I would be ripped apart the minute I moved.

I mean.

C’mon.

Just from that:

Who says that so, I don’t know, casually?

Boris Pasternak.

Motherfucker.

And that’s translated from Russian.

(I should write more letters.)

Ripped apart? By the coils of his inner mechanism. So brutal. Mechanical.

(And I see where he intersects Mayakovsky. Loosely remembered: “Love for us is no paradise of arbols. It is a reminder that the stalled motor of the heart is humming.”

 

A friend asked recently: is “Science the poetry of reality”?

No. Poetry is the poetry of reality. That’s what it’s for.

More fitting might be: science is the poetry of the speechless.

 

I’ve always thought that the last word of the fourth line of ‘Badlands‘ (Springsteen) ended with the word “gut-span”. I loved that word. That not real word.

“Guts man”. That’s what it is. Disappointed.

 

Sleep is calling my deli number. The deli of the beckon(er?).

This was fun. Let’s do it again sometime. Yes, let’s. Be careful how deep you go, man. Right, safe word: Sarajevo.

Waxing [Cinematically]: Gleason

I’ve seen some really good movies lately. I finally saw Philomena which was great. I saw The Verdict, Sidney Lumet’s 1980s courtroom drama with a drunk Bostonian Paul Newman. Pleasure, for sure. Rewatched Seven Psychopaths for what must be the 20th time now.

I’ve been wanting to take a few minutes to write a blogpost for a few weeks now, as well. It’s always nice to get the fingers moving and watch the words splay out on the white WordPress screen. Makes it all the more pleasurable to write from my very, very makeshift standing writing desk that I’ve carved out of a large, standing bookcase.

None of those movies deserve a blogpost as much as the documentary Gleason does, which I saw yesterday.

Gleason explores the journey of former NFL start Steve Gleason as he gets diagnosed with, and later lives with the physical impact of, ALS disease. Nearly simultaneously, his wife gets pregnant with their first child and his (Steve’s) deterioration seems to coincide as the baby’s due date gets closer.

By the time their children (a baby boy) is walking, Steve is not. His condition worsens drastically through the film, which puts the strain of living with such an unkindly illness puts on his psyche, his body (most obviously), and especially his wife (who, though she denies wanting to be a saint, one walks away with the very idea).

Gleason, the man, did a very wise thing and kept a video diary (he seemed predisposed to the camera even before his diagnosis) of himself. Once he learns he’ll be a father, the theme shifts to keeping a video diary for his son to view as he grows up. The documentary shows some of these, but obviously not all (Gleason says there are over 400).

Gleason, again the man, is a happy-go-lucky, former bro, former athlete. He’s as goofy as he is aloof. He’s an explorer, a question asker (and he asks very, very good questions of others, and especially of himself). One gets the impression he would have been a great father, physically. Teaching his son about strength, throwing him in a pool. He says that the hardest thing for him is not being able to hug his son. You can get a sense of his personality in this guest column he wrote for Peter King in 2013. Or you can watch some videos of his. Even through his speaking technology, his boyish humor shines through.

His wife is much the same. Or was. She, herself, laments at the loss of her personality as she tackles/d the double duty of caretaker; for Rivers and for Steve. Her life revolves around them. The movie, rightfully, foreshadows on their wedding day with their officiant talking about a marriage being tested not in the good times, but in the bad. Well there were some really, really bad times and Gleason doesn’t shy from them.

But, okay, that’s the film. It’s been reviewed and talked about over and over again. The real experience is the viewers. The scenes that come through are a story of a man and a couple and a foundation and it’s vital to remember it is REAL life. What do we make of that? What does a viewer do when confronted with such non-fictional drama?

It’s hard to say. The movie induced more than a few tears in me, and I suspect it will to anyone but the coldest of hearts. To recognize that level of pain and discomfort and change in people that we learn to love in the first 10 minutes, well it’s crushing in so many ways.

What interests me is that we know this is happening. It’s an eye-opening documentary that reveals things intimately, in a small micro example. It’s not, for instance, a deep dive into the Chinese recycling industry that might blow the lid off of something we had no idea was happening. It’s investigative to the level that Gleason allows and no more.

Does this change the director? Does it change that in which it documents?

These are the perplexing questions I am left with when I choose to, momentarily, abandon the wrecking-ball sadness that the doc provides and ask the intellectual side of it. The criticism that is due of “art”.

But is it “art”? Is it important without being art. Of course, it is. It is human and I am and you are. And, in that, we share in the visuals the screen provides. We are close to the subject until we aren’t (and this includes after the movie since Gleason, the man one last time, is alive and active and wanting to make a difference).

Those are my waxing thoughts. None are necessary. Gleason, the movie, teaches us to love, live, and give, no matter the context. Because the content of our character and the story of our lives do not need to be derailed as they are supremely challenged.

 

Writing Projects & Updates

I wanted to capture a moment here on my blog and sort out some new thoughts on writing.

To start, I’ve now completed a project that took nearly 14 months: the writing and publishing of an eBook on nomadic travel (what I did from 2012-2015). The book, called The 9 to 5 Nomad, is on Amazon now (link here) and clocks in at about 91 pages written out.

It’s a collection of things I learned over my years of travel:

  • How to plan travel
  • Where to Go, Where to Stay, How Long to Stay For
  • How to limit your expenses in doing all of that travel
  • Making the most of the whole experience.

In addition, it also details what I’ve learned about online work productivity, including:

  • Building your own organization system
  • What apps/sites to use
  • Being hyperproductive
  • Being safe
  • Physical Equipment and Wi-fi around the world

And each of those sections has a lot more.

Super happy to have it done and find some completion to that project. A big thanks to those who pushed me to get the thing done, even when I lost some momentum and changed up my own lifestlye in the process.

Next steps are deciding about investments in marketing this. Do I leave it be or do I really put some words behind it and try to sell? We’ll see!

 

Now that that project has finished, I have some time to dive into what’s next. I have a lot on my reading list, of course, but my recent travels have also spun a new idea for a writing project.

What that would entail would be a personal response to Rebecca West’s 1930s travel memoir Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. West’s book is her travels through Yugoslavia; providing a rich background on the region and the current tensions it found itself in. She does this through a long trip through the region, recording her movements with her husbands and the people she encounters along the way.

I read the first half of her book while I was traveling through the same countries West does in that half (Croatia and Bosnia). Her book is magnificent and engaging. So I don’t want to deconstruct that in any aggressive way.

BUT, so much has happened in that region since 1939. It looks so different from West’s days and no one has quite tapped into that change from the angle of a response to one of the English speaking world’s most popular Yugoslavia travelogue.

So I want to write some of the updates since then (WWII, Tito’s Yugoslavia, and the Wars of Independence, just to name a few). And in doing so, I’ll also examine West’s own work as a piece of literary criticism. And, lastly, just as West did, I’ll do this under the linear movement of my own travel in this region.

And that’s the idea. To make a book out of that.

So how does that project start? Well I don’t know but it’s now next on the writing docket and time to dive in.

More updates soon!

And how about a picture or two!

plitvice waterfalls

mostar bridge

 

Waxing [Cinematically]: April Movies

Watched some great (and some not so great movies in April). Thought I’d just put down some thoughts on each.

 

Steve Jobs: Sorkin puts his words in the hands of Boyle, Fassbender, and Winslet. It’s a recipe for success and it achieves it. It’s a grand movie about a grand figure: asking big pictures. The one is asks explicitly “is a computer a painting” is the larger examination of what intersection, if any, there is between business and art. Jobs is the figure propped up most in the debate and the movie does a good job propelling his artistic argument: assholeish-drive for his vision, for example. Poor skills to work with those who do not understand his desire (or are too young to, in the case of his daughter). Fantastic film. Four apples of five.

The Invitation: Well made but with holes everywhere. Like a granite stone pierced with one of those fancy spy tools. Hipster mystery is a good genre that no has really named yet. 2 of 4.

All The President’s Men: Absolute classic. If Fassbender’s Jobs is a prime example of the culture of modern mail acting (takeover of character instead of tinge or interpretation)–Newman and Hoffman showcase the classic aspect. There are flaws in their people. They play humans, not characters. Extremely well done. 3.5 votes of four.

Trainwreck: Schumer’s worth the hype in her genre but how long does the cheap comic laugh? She’s best when she scorches the double standards for what they are, not when she’s delving into the peculiarities of the world those standards create. This, and many of the film’s key jokes, were that. It’s fun though, lots of laughs. Couldve given Bill Hader an open door to humor. His restrictions tie up the movie. No “granny hall” lines in here to provide an comedic paramore. Oh well.  2.5 of 4.

The Birdcage: Truly sad I had never seen this, but happy I got to see it for the first time at an older age. Don’t know if I would’ve appreciated it all in earlier years. What a comedy this is! Shakespearean. Wilde-ean? It’s a dramatic comedy of the perfect degree. Wonderful plot. Nathan Lane puts on one of the finest acting performances I’ve ever seen—comedy or not. Hank Azaria kills. Robin Williams, and this was pointed out in several articles/reviews I read, keeps his restraint almost miraculously but proves his ability to encourage comedy, not reel it into himself (which came so naturally to him). 4 flamboyant stars of 4.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waxing [Musically]: John Wesley Harding

Starting on March 22, 1965, Bob Dylan released, it the span of 14 months, perhaps the three greatest rock n’ roll albums of all time. The triad output of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde had immediate enormity; proving that the young star of American folk could handle an electric plug-in and play blues-infused music just as well as he could with the spectres of Americana.

There’s no span of music that I know of with such offered genius in as short of a time span as this that I know of—and really only a few contenders that would even qualify.

For years, it was Dylan’s early folk that I clung to (the ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’ tracks), but his electric albums that assured me that my idol is an undeniable genius. Blood On The Tracks (my favorite album) came a decade later to confirm that the artist, though choosing to do different experiments, still had capacity where one might have conjured doubt.

However, there were always gaps in Dylan’s discography for me. Sure, I know Planet Waves and a few tracks. I know I’m supposed to like Nashville Skyline, though I can’t get over its silly cover art. And then there’s John Wesley Harding. Dylan’s follow-up to the three electric albums up above.

JWH is Dylan’s biblical genesis, it’s said. It’s a return to roots, others suggest. A short and tidy album the master made while cooped up after his motorcycle accident. His thoughts on death and legacy after the same event.

All makes for good backstory. All etched in the gospel of the prophet Bob Dylan.

What I knew of JWH was that it was a short(er) record. It had ‘All Along the Watchtower’. It was simply written—explicated by Dylan himself as lyrics in which he chose not to waste any words.

I listened to the album in full a few years ago. My reaction was mixed. Songs didn’t stand out. It felt not just as a return to the folk Dylan, but an experiment in simplicity that denied the hero his platform. It felt bare at a time when I craved Dylan.

And then I bought the vinyl.

And everything changed.

Let me say this now: John Wesley Harding is, should be, can be, will be (?) the archetypical album which anoints the difference in listening to vinyl as opposed to an mp3.

I realize that’s controversial and the classic rock fans can have their picks for that constructed category, but it’s my winner there.

John Wesley Harding needs crackle. It needs to spin, not just play. It needs to live in what is now an antiquated platform because it’s stories are too antiquated. It’s an album of the past; of fictional people in their fictional caves, castles, or caskets.

And it’s a fucking masterpiece.

Each song is a tale of something; man’s dream of freedom, edenic understanding, etc…Each songs moves you from the beginning to somewhere else at the end, with clear intention and an even clearer bit of focus (which answers to perhaps the only criticism one could levy at 65-66 Dylan).

It’s not a rock and record. It’s not a folk record. It’s a record of dripping genius, not waking you up the way ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ might or ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ does. Its songs are not epic enough to stand next to ‘Desolation Row’ or its like (‘Visions of Johanna’ in there too, obviously).

It’s a record only Bob Dylan gets to make.

But it aches and, again, drips, with its verses. Simplicity is the ultimate strength and it cries with such. The lines keep their rhyme with structure instead of necessity (instead of racing toward it the way ‘Johanna’ does or ‘Stuck Inside…’ does).

“Dear Landlord/please don’t put a price on my soul/my burden is heavy/my dreams are beyond control”

It’s boozy. It doesn’t stand upright. It needs not the pantheon of eternal praise the way some might expect Dylan to put out in the becoming-late 60s. Instead it’s a statement. Of acoustic purpose. Of no specific purpose. Reminding us that genius sometimes sneaks out the back porch and plays you something its been “working on”. And it plays and its profoundly simple. Confoundingly brilliant.

(how does one even put a number on the work of an idol? one does not grade gods). but for some sake I don’t know yet, I’ll give it a 9.4/10