_____ and Take

I come to your dinner party empty-handed, yet I ravenously consume the food and alcohol you have graciously provided.

This assembly line is in good working order until the final step, resulting in a product that fails to meet any of the world’s standards. I’m downloading everything and uploading nothing. My bank is overflowing from your collective two-cent contributions. I’m plugging but not chugging.

I’m in the market for a goal, and I’ve called around hoping to get a good deal. I’ve been waiting for an aha! moment that has frankly never arrived. I’m tired of going halfway for a nonexistent notion, yet I haven’t yet come up with a good response to this intense inertia.

It’s like I’m saving up my energy for something gigantic, but the game is in its critical stages, and I’m still foolishly stockpiling lives – an enormous reserve which will have been collected in vain once this window disappears.

I don’t know how to fully exert myself because I’ve been able to get by with B effort most of my life, and I’ve done a decent job of hedging my bets for the instances when my primary focus wanes. I’m at a meaningful juncture right now, though, and there’s an imminent engulfing presence I can’t fully comprehend. I’m coming out of this hibernation with the idea that it will be the last, and it’s imperative I make the most of any and all resources I collected before I went under.

All I ask is to care about something. Anything. I’d like to put this overpowering cosmic indifference to rest and offer something useful to the world.

Secede to Succeed

I am driving 95 through the Carpal Tunnel. I am vertiginous in the midst of a deliberate downpour. I am experiencing a schism of schisms, and my ideal cosmic response transcends prior planetary possibilities. My only hope is to create an alternative alternative, but my universe is familiar solely with destruction. Meanwhile, the risk of exposure increases at an alarming rate. Coterminous with the ticking of the portentous clock, their lights flicker freshly in my rearview mirror.

There were plenty of signs directing me in the right direction, but I was too busy evading the authorities. I took an absurd combination of exits and ended up in the middle of nowhere, yet I still hear the sirens approaching. I find myself in a cul-de-sac of cul-de-sacs, and I am contemplating continuing the chase by foot.

Stay tuned. I might be in your neighborhood soon.

Look My Way

Look my way on the sidewalk

And I will give you

Nothing.

My eyes are not open for business

And my soul is searching for something

Deeper

Than your curiosity can quell.

We might share the same ground

But I don’t trouble myself with the world

You live in.

My abstract mind passively precipitates the future

In a series of inexpressible seconds

Rendering the body that happens to exist on Earth

A catatonic conduit

For the soul’s workings.

My senses awaken only

For the inexplicable natural beauty

That coincidentally coincides

With the otherworldly observations

Floating throughout my brain.

Talk to me

And I’ll respond with

Politely skeptical timidity.

Blink

And I was

Never there.

Our Song

A pretty good live version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6w5KCf8hXvo

 

I first heard Muse’s “Madness” on the radio in a silver Chevy Aveo on Grove Street in Arlington Heights, Illinois. I was driving, and the same g.d. argument as usual was momentarily silenced by my initial surprise. I shook my head; even though Muse is far and above my favorite band, I’m one of those people who doesn’t like their favorite band’s music to be played on the radio. Plus, the song came out thirty years ago (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRdo7WXTVoM), it’s poppy, and it lacks the traditional Muse depth. Nonetheless, I turned it up and secretly found myself aesthetically pleased and happy to share what is so personal to me with someone I cared about.

Little did I know, that song would end up representing everything I hate about Chicago.

______________________

June 2014. My car was completely packed for the second time in a few weeks. I was going to check out one last place before giving up on the apartment search.

In order to get there from where I was, I had to take the 4th Street exit, the last SF exit before crossing the Bay Bridge into Oakland. As I neared the exit, I realized nothing was keeping me here. I could just as easily escape to freedom, with the wind carrying me eastward through the mountains and across the rivers. For some reason, I had my sights set on Chicago. Maybe I was homesick. Maybe I felt like an imposter who didn’t truly belong on the west coast. Maybe I wanted to successfully re-do what was an initial failure. Maybe I just wanted to spend less money. I’m not really sure, but just as I was thinking all of this and approaching that exit, I heard a familiar tune on the radio. “Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma maaad maaad maaad…”

Haha, of course. I turned right. But barely.

______________________

Muse came to Chicago in February 2013, and I went to see them alone. Earlier that week, I put an end to Us for good. But after that moving concert, as my sleepless self ran four miles home in jeans through the freezing dark night in iffy neighborhoods instead of taking the bus, I had second thoughts, and another long night of arguing and cuddling ensued.

A month later, when things had gotten toxic and the peak of the craziness had been reached, I saw on Twitter that she posted some of the lyrics to “Madness” in a series of tweets. It happened to be a truly insane night, but I thought this was a little histrionic and immature. And I saw it as extremely manipulative on her part, because she clearly knew I would see it, and she clearly knew I loved Muse. We were both a little dramatic in this sense.

See, here’s the deal. My time in Chicago was rife with relationship lunacy. We were crazy, plain and simple. I saw a side of myself I truly never want to see again. We were on and off at the literal snap of a finger. Making up came right above laundry on the weekly to-do list. We made scenes. We surprised ourselves. We said and did really nasty stuff.

For six months or so after moving, I couldn’t listen to any of Muse’s latest album because it was marred with depressing memories. When I came back out to SF, though, I was finally able to approach it. I realize now how apropos those tweets of hers were…

 

I’m not a lyrics person for whatever reason, but the lyrics of “Madness” are simple, and they are eerily applicable to my time in Chicago. Yes, I know they are applicable to millions of people in the world, but I feel a certain connection with that song I’ve never felt with any other song in my life.

On a daily, hourly, secondly basis, I couldn’t “get these memories out of my mind.” When I personally “look back on all the crazy fights we had,” I wonder why we continued. I aged five years in just one year in Chicago.

So, was it real love, or was it just madness? I don’t really know the difference. Do I “need your love?” Do I need you to “come on and rescue me”? No, but I “have finally seen the light.” I realize now that my problems actually got worse when we were apart. Breaking up was never the fix I thought it would be. What I hated was myself, not us, and I needed freedom from my mind, not from our relationship. I brought the issues upon myself and created a hell out of that city.

I admit, I think about what could have been with us, with that city, had I been more stable. If I could go back and do things again, would I do them differently? Yes. I would have not dated anyone in the first place.

______________________

I stayed in SF. I got a temporary job. Things are looking up. Who knows how long I’ll be out here, but I need a bit more time to weed out any traces of madness before thinking about returning.

______________________

We were drinking Moscato and playing Phase 10 when we first decided to come up with “our song.” We never stayed together long enough to make any progress in this regard, but I’ve had plenty of time to think about my choice now.

 

I’ve found our song, hun!

Tornado Season is Once Again Upon Me

Every childhood spring in the Midwest brought the very real threat of tornadoes. I used to dread the white “W” in the upper right of the TV screen and the scrolling blue ribbon on the bottom. When thunderstorms loomed, I hid in my bedroom, assuming I would die. As much as tornadoes themselves are devastating forces of nature to be reckoned with, I was scared more than anything else of the wind. The wind had the unlimited potential to blow houses, cars, and people away. The idea of instability frightened me beyond comprehension.

I got over those tornadoes, but there were more storms a-brewin’.

I grew up in two, really three, households. Extremely different, you might say conflicting, households. From what I know about weather, the worst storms develop when a cold front meets a warm front. Let’s just say I got used to standing at the exact intersection of these fronts, and in essence, I had to endure the strongest of storms. When they loomed, I continued the habit of hiding in my bedroom, afraid for my life. More than anything else, and in so many ways, I wanted stability.

The weather patterns started shifting when college began. I could have let the storms go, but instead, I replaced those actual and metaphoric Illinois tornadoes with cyclones of my own. I got so grounded in instability that, once away from it, I needed more.

I’ve often dramatically referred to the ensuing three years since I dropped out of grad school in 2011 as a “whirlwind” period. That’s actually not far from the truth. A myriad of prescriptions, relationships, jobs, and addresses have seemingly waxed and waned like an intense microcosm of the lunar cycle. I (still) consider a new life path every week, and my interests come and go at the blink of an eye. I have gone on dramatically big road trips, day trips, and night rides, and I have lived on countless couches and beds that are never my own.

Tornado season is at its peak back home. You might think I am far removed from it out here in San Francisco, but I’m actually deeper in the heart of Tornado Alley than I’ve ever been before.

I still desperately seek stability. But if that’s the case, why can’t I stay in one place? Do I have a confused notion of what stability really is? Let’s cite some experts on the subject.

The famous philosopher “Curtis” wrote this two weeks ago:

“I want to anchor myself in flux, in impermanence, in transition. I don’t believe in permanence. We are human, and by definition, our worlds are ephemeral. Most people, including myself, seek stability and certainty; we sign contracts that provide us with the same mornings, afternoons, and nights, and we stick things out longer than we should for the sake of not having to go through the whole tedious process again. Yet no matter how hard we try to stand on solid ground, nothing is ever completely set in stone. Everyone experiences change, and so many things we do on a daily basis are in a state of flux. What I’m really looking for is a dogmatic stability in the midst of turmoil, if that makes sense. I am only looking for a place to spread out, not a place to stay.”

The notorious author known as “Curtis” wrote this just days later:

“The wind blows free and unrestrained through the opens fields of my dreams. It is not required to stop at the edge of the cliff. The wind I used to be most afraid of is now the wind I most closely associate with.”

So dramatic.

My takeaway:

I have been looking for stability in transit because that’s all I know. I don’t like hiding in my bedroom afraid, so I tend to do the opposite of that.

In so many ways like last year, everything this year seems to end on June 1st. What will I do with the complete freedom I (yet again) find myself with? What I am slowly learning, and what I hope to put into practice, is that I need to subdue the tornado. In my mind, it’s okay to want to blow as freely as the wind. After all, as the quote from Curtis goes, “the wind is a mighty force that enjoys exceptional freedom in moderation. The great and powerful wind that blows in the most formidable of storms does not have to become a tornado.”

Looking back, it is pretty clear that I became completely desensitized to tornadoes. This storm is not stopping anytime soon, but if I do not practice restraint, the solid structure of a body I live in will get blown to smithereens.

I’ll leave you with a dramatic cliché:

Unleash the tempest!

 

Speed Limits, Hiking Trails, and Flawed Assumptions

I’ve seen a respectable amount of highways in my short life. I don’t remember the exact location, but near Mt. Rushmore, there is a highway that winds through the depths of the Black Hills. On a winter escape a few years back, enjoying the lack of traffic and cool mountain air with my windows down, I took the Avalon on her first big road trip. The speed limit was 55. In spite of it being the middle of January, the road was free of snow and ice, so I felt comfortable driving 55. After all, that speed limit sign tells you the speed it is safe to drive under normal conditions. The roads and signs have been around for years, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people have driven these highways. There was obviously planning involved, and it is reasonable to conclude with certainty that anyone can safely travel on this road at the indicated speed. However, on this tranquil January day, I started going around a corner. Remember, this isn’t one of those side roads where you have to slow down at every turn. No, this was considered a highway. It just said go 55. No other signs. No warnings. As the cruise control was on, I went 55 around the first big winding bend, and I thought my car was going to flip. Startled, I turned the cruise off and began going 45ish. But on the next big turn, I had to slow down again at the risk of death. What in the world? Is anyone else seeing this? No. No one was there. I slowed down for the rest of the journey through those crazy hills, but I will never forget my initial shock when my otherwise firm assumptions came into question.

____________________________

I have been working six days and over sixty hours a week. It’s just a temporary thing – I definitely couldn’t sustain this. But while I’m doing it, I have been trying to make weekend trips to parks and trails in the Bay Area for the sake of getting away and finding some semblance of peace. Lucky for me, the weather has been great almost every weekend, and I have chanced upon a number of gorgeous locations in the middle of nowhere, or sometimes in the middle of somewhere.

One recent hike was particularly poignant, and I’ll get to that in a second.

In the last few interesting years, I have definitely noticed a trend: I am not able to recognize my deepest thoughts in the present. Even when I, for example, meditate on a peaceful mountain away from the noise I am so confused by, my thoughts are still muddled. Every time I would try to get away in the recent past, I would be confronted with the same frustrating blindness, and it always stressed me out that I wasn’t gaining any clarity. I chalked many of my so-called important trips up as failures, and I was pessimistic that the outcome of any future endeavors would be different. Not so fast, though. While I am still not able to articulate many of my deepest thoughts in the moment, I am nonetheless filled with an ever-increasing clarity that comes in delayed form after these getaways of inner exploration.

With this in mind, and in a greater effort to be one with my surroundings, I have focused less on obtaining any deep philosophical insights and more on freeing my mind of preconceived notions about what is supposed to happen. As a Zen master told me, “trying to be peaceful is not peaceful.” I used to try to force thoughts to occur, but this would only end up with me thinking (stressfully) about thinking. Now, I am beginning to mindfully accept my surroundings and the peace they might provide me for what they are, and I trust that future reflections will yield wisdom and insight that I cannot provide in the moment. The goal is to just breathe and take everything in without trying to explain and categorize and rationalize things that are not fully developed or that simply aren’t there. Since I came to terms with this approach, I feel more honest with myself, and I can sense some very deep insights finally coming to light.

Let’s talk about that recent hike now that you have some background.

It was a weekend, and the place was swamped with people enjoying the weather. I, of course, took the proverbial road less traveled. Besides my distaste for crowds, I also saw this as a way to get to the top faster, as I was tired from a separate mountain hike earlier that day. I found myself on what was no longer a casual hill walk but now a rocky climb. This is the last time I could safely pull out my camera. Not bad, right?

Image

Yet the moderate incline had stealthily steepened, and I realized as I kept going up that it was becoming quite dangerous. To make things worse, I was wearing tennis shoes with very little tread instead of my hiking shoes. My pace slowed. I focused on the goal, the peak calling my name. I was almost there, but I started slipping, and it became increasingly difficult to take a further step. At this point, I had no choice but to stop in place.

My assumption the entire time had unwaveringly been that it was possible to get to the top. After all, there was at least the appearance of a trail that others had definitely taken. And this had been a well-known hiking area for decades. But I started to come to a complete awareness of my surroundings. I looked behind me, and for the first time since that drive through the Black Hills of South Dakota, I was legitimately afraid of the assumptions I justified my further continuance with. Walls came tumbling down in the most abstract part of my mind. I was much higher up than I thought, and I seemed to be standing on the edge of the world. How did the cities below get so far away? I actually experienced a sort of vertigo. I was dangerously teetering, and I started slipping again, so I fell forward in a sort of standing crawl from the grade, and I balanced my unstable feet on a set of rocks that were jutting out below me. As the disorientation faded, I found myself stuck in one spot, no longer standing, no longer able to walk. I was truly afraid of what to do next. I saw the footprints in the dirt right in front of me, yet no one was in sight. What is going on? Is this a joke? This is legitimately unsafe, yet there is no warning. Are my assumptions wrong? What should I do now?

I went up. Slowly but surely, inch by inch. My goal was to get to the top, so I patiently traversed onward in spite of the fear I was experiencing. I tossed those underlying assumptions that were coming into question aside. Maybe it wasn’t safe anymore. Maybe continuing was not the smartest decision, but I had this feeling that it might be a pivotal moment in my life.

Already, I have learned something from that final push in the face of fear, from that re-examination of those underlying notions I take for granted. Maybe my assumption of where I stand in the world is completely inaccurate. I’ve been relying too much on footprints. On marked trails. On road signs. External cues telling me what is okay, which I follow unconditionally. Maybe in the instance of the speed limit sign, it would be extremely unwise to continue at the same speed, but metaphysically, I’m saying “screw you” to these signals. They are misleading. I need to create my own assumptions based on my own goals. Had the same peak been placed in a different location without a path, I would have been much more cautious. I would have gone about things in a very different way. I might have taken a completely dissimilar path to the top. In this case, I took someone else’s path, and I almost paid dearly for it. I truly wanted to get to the top, but I didn’t think about how I would get there. It’s time to think about how I alone am going to get places. While we might have similar goals, I am sick of following your path, and I am tired of driving your speed limit.

By the way, on the trip back down, I nearly died.

A Conscious Stream of Unconsciousness

Completely sober, I drunkenly stumble up the stairs to my San Francisco apartment. I dizzily open the door to my Tampa room, where she is patiently waiting for me on that comfortable Chicago bed. I haven’t seen her in a year, but I’m not surprised at all. It feels completely natural to fall into her arms and express my feelings as if no time has elapsed. I see her with another guy, and we’re in a diner in the desert, and I’m with a different girl. We’re having a conversation about destiny and randomness and the afterlife, and we disagree, and we hate each other. We kiss. I’m on the Chicago Blue Line in the middle of the Peoria night. I get off at the airport. I’m flying east, I’m flying west, I’m flying everywhere and nowhere all at once. I doze off for a nap on a boat in the Bahamas and wake up on a hammock in the Midwest summer with my best friends and a staticky baseball game can be heard playing on a radio and the Cardinals are losing, and I have twenty mosquito bites. We are drinking around a campfire. A single bird flies south for the winter. I throw my drink into the fire and after the explosion I’m in Paris, where I’m with her again. We’re walking along the Seine taking as many pictures of each other in the afternoon sun as possible. It’s gorgeous, and we’re in love, and we’d like to have more pictures of ourselves to show others we’re living. We’re crossing the Pont de l’Archevêché and I see her slowly drift by under the bridge on a boat with her new husband.

I open a sliding door to Springfield, Illinois, to my grandparents’ backyard, one of my favorite places on earth, the earth that is so much bigger than I had imagined, and what is my place in it? I’m eight, and I’m hunting down Easter eggs with my sister. I’m driving back from St. Louis, and I’m questioning love. I’m at Turkey Run with my dad, and I board an empty train in the middle of the Swiss Alps. Cheerful church hymns play in the background. Now in the foreground. Am I capable of loving another human being? If so, why am I skeptical about these feelings? I’m sitting at early service with my mom. I don’t believe in any of this, and that makes me a terrible person. Maybe if I get baptized, things will be different. I’m heading west and the sun is too bright. My youth minister proceeds with the ritualistic dunk under water, and I’m middle-aged, and I’m still pretending something changed. I’m sitting with 200 students in a lecture hall. All their homes have been destroyed by the tornado, but I don’t feel a thing. I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I tiptoe down the hallway, but it creaks, and the monsters turn around. “Colder.” I’m blinded by their eyes of lightning. “Ice cold.” I’m suddenly confused about what I had and what I lost. Now the voices are way up there, and I’m stuck down here. I’m no longer breathing. A large mirror appears in front of my dead body, and the person I see in it is alive.

I’m an actor. I’m handed my lines, but this movie is really just the playing out of my subconscious. I try to act out what’s on the script, but I keep screwing it up. My manager threatens to fire me if I keep making mistakes. I try harder, but I’m a terrible actor. It doesn’t help that the script is blank.

I’m floating through the air, or maybe I’m sinking in the water – I can’t tell anymore. The current carries me to a playground on the beach. My dad waits for me at the bottom of the slide, and I run over to the swing and jump off in the middle of the air but I don’t land, and I catch a kite, and I look down to see myself at the other end of the string running through a field. “Warmer.” A balloon pops and my soul crashes toward the ground. A violinist plays a dissonant melody. I’m weary from the journey. I’m going southwest, but the compass says I’m going northeast. The violin fades as I begin to black out, and I regain consciousness to the sound of a grand piano playing a slow and extremely familiar descant. It’s the middle of the night, and the northern lights can be seen in the zenith. It’s completely silent, so silent that you can hear the earth hum. “You’re getting warmer…Warmer…” I lift up my arms and try to meditate, and I’m on a Muni bus and I just pulled the cord to get off at the next stop. “Colder.” How is that possible? I can’t be that disoriented. This game is unfair. I’ve arrived downtown, but when I get out, I’m in the middle of a forest, and I head toward the sun. A mountain range looms in the near distance. I walk the treacherous path to the top of the highest peak, but as I approach the summit after a number of grueling days, I look down and see all the people I know and they’re collectively playing a beautiful harmony on a guitar, a song I’ve never heard, and I would really like to learn to play the guitar as well as other instruments because I think I’d be great at it just like I’ll be great at anything if I actually set my mind to it, and I miss everyone even though I don’t really know them, and the rocks I’m standing on suddenly turn to ice, which now melts, and I violently stumble down into the valley where the sound of the guitar is nothing more than a recording, and the images of my friends are actually cardboard cutouts of their faces. As I approach these cutouts, I realize they’re gravestones, and I’m standing in a cemetery. A door opens, and I walk out of the elevator into my office, and it’s snowing.

If I’m not drunk, high, daydreaming, or nightdreaming, where am I, and what the hell is intoxicating me?