The King of New York

This weekend I finished my first book of the self-quarantine era: Dave Hill Doesn't Live Here Anymore. To help explain the book, it might help by explaining a little bit about who Dave Hill is:

"Dave Hill is comedian, writer, and musician originally from Cleveland but now living in New York City. He has written for The New York Times, The Paris Review, Salon, GQ, McSweeney's, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the New York Daily News, and Guitar World, among other publications. He is a regular contributor to public radio's This American Life and hosts his own radio show, The Goddamn Dave Hill Show, on WFMU in Jersey City, New Jersey. Dave has starred in his own TV series, The King of Miami, on the MOJO Network. He has also appeared on Comedy Central, BBC America, MTV, and Adult Swim, among others, and is a regular host on HBO and Cinemax. Dave performs live comedy in theaters and basements all over the world. He also plays guitar and sings in his own rock band, Valley Lodge, whose song "Go" is the theme song for HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Dave Hill Doesn't Live Here Anymore is his second collection of nonfiction essays. Tasteful Nudes: ... and Other Misguided Attempts at Personal Growth and Validation is his first."

First picking up and digging into the book several weeks back, I wrapped it over the past two days. Dave's writing style isn't unlike his performance style: He's well adept at understated humor and has a world-class ability for injecting the mundane with some aggressive self-confidence to spice things up a bit. Dave is a genius at leaning into obviousness to a point of farce while also being a master of the over-sell. He does it all.

I don't remember exactly how I was first introduced to Dave's videos, but it must have been somewhere around 2005, when I was a senior in college. YouTube wasn't exactly YouTube back then, so a lot of videos online were still available via RealPlayer streams or QuickTime video downloads; that's how I seem to recall watching some of my early favorites of Dave's including his "Pug Luggage" vignette.

Add to it that I can't remember why I first emailed Dave, but when I did I recall it was to his AOL email address, which was something like I figured "Dave Hill" was his stage name, so when I emailed him I addressed him accordingly. My hunch is Dave emailed me back for no other reason than to confirm if I'd truly never heard of Lou Rawls. It was a silly oversight on my part, but also: Dave was increasingly kind in the emails that followed, which helped me feel like I wasn't as big of an idiot as I thought I was. It's no surprise that he's of Canadian lineage... which might have also been one of the points about myself that endeared me to him.

The next year I joined a school trip to New York City, and as part of the entertainment portion of the tour we were scheduled to hit a theatrical performance of Chicago, starring Huey Lewis. I wasn't particularly interested in the show, and when I learned that it fell on the same night, at the same time, as an event Dave was performing at I knew I had to figure my way out of the situation. The night of, I joined my classmates until intermission then bolted, picking up a cab to try to get to the show on time, but I still missed the whole thing. I did meet Dave and one of his friends at a bar in Alphabet City after though. All I really remember from the conversation was pulling out a $5 bill for a beer and initially being a few bucks short. "You're in New York," he said... or something like that. Point taken, Mr. Rawls.

The next year, I returned to New York for a personal trip and met with Dave for breakfast, to pick his brain as someone who was making it as a writer (among the many other things he was doing) in a city I was kinda-maybe thinking I'd like to move to. A couple days later I finally caught a show of his at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, and met up for drinks with him and some of his friends after. I recall lugging around several issues of Vice magazine that I'd picked up when I visited someone I knew who worked there, all the while wearing a black blazer with jeans because I was a young, hip, and single guy in the big city.

I had so much fun that night. Dave introduced me to Kristen Schaal and Reggie Watts, who I'd seen perform a night or two earlier when he performed at a small East Village club Rififi. I remember later seeing Schaal on Flight of the Conchords (and later hearing her voice Louise on Bob's Burgers) and feeling like I'd somehow tasted a bit of the inner circle the night I got to hang out with them. I saw Reggie Watts a few years later when he performed here at Third Man Records, and I have a vague recollection of an email I wrote him after, reflecting on our brief encounter a few years prior and gushing about his set. (The reality of what I actually wrote was probably far more embarrassing and regrettable than what I remember.)

One of the things I appreciate most about Dave's writing is his consistency. He's incredibly talented and hard working, which has helped him piece together a dream job of orbiting the broader world of show business, occasionally touching down to release a new book, or play in a metal band with Moby, or sit in with his buddy Malcolm Gladwell for a hell of a podcast. (Dave's helmed several podcasts, himself.)

Which brings me back to the book. That night after seeing Dave perform, I remember people being incredibly encouraging of me moving to New York, to just try to make a go of things. I was scared to death of that. They were all funny and making their lives work, and at the time I was an assistant department manager of a hardware store. For a brief moment, locked in that space, I thought maybe I could mix it up as something of a humorist... the only thing standing in my way being that I'm not particularly funny. (I mean, I can be witty and charming in person, but that doesn't seem to translate with any consistency to the written word.) But the point is, they all got on stage and tried, and Dave was right there with them. The book captures his stories about how he got to where he was, and recalls the adventures that helped pave the road he's travelled along the way.

I finished Dave Hill Doesn't Live Here Anymore while sitting on the back patio of a house I've lived in for nearly three years in a city I honestly couldn't pinpoint on a map ten years ago. I had a chance to pick up a job in New York a few years after I first moved to Nashville, but opted instead for something "easier," instead. My hunch is, given where I was at in my life at that time, had it worked out for me to actually move east, doing so wouldn't have ended well. Now, sitting out back, I felt a little envious; envious of the stories in the book as much as the intelligent and humorous manner with which they were written. But at the same time, there's a story still happening right here, and it felt good to recognize how much opportunity there is moving forward to welcome new adventures and create new memories, myself. Being faced with isolation from much of the world outside my house has already created a different view from which to look forward with.

In Appreciation of Dave Hill - A Video Playlist:

Humble Pie and the Monty Hall Problem

In terms of luck, right now, I feel like I've got more than my share. It's a lot easier to search for clarity within chaos when I'm not losing sleep over where my next paycheck or meal are coming from, or whether or not my kids or family are going to be taken care of. I'm definitely taking that into account this morning. So many things had to go "right" for me to be sitting at home at a laptop right now expanding on my thoughts over a cup of coffee.

Wednesday's book, The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules our Lives (by Leonard Mllodinow), and Thursday's book, 12 Steps on Buddha's Path: Bill, Buddha, and We (by Laura S.), feel similar, or linked in some way, despite being uniquely different from each other. The Drunkard's Walk, a book I started into a couple weeks back, has delved into the topic of randomness while the latter has thus far introduced Laura's story of addiction and how her path into Alcoholics Anonymous led her to the teachings of Buddha. In the Foreword Sylvia Boorstein comments, "Everything anyone does is an expression of all the circumstances, connections, and communities that have been part of that person's experiences." The not-so-random details of random occurrences.

How did all of this happen around us? How did a chance disease hop species and come to plague the entire planet? Why weren't nations more prepared? Why don't hospitals have enough supplies for their workers? Why aren't government officials better prepared to take action? What landed us here wasn't a single catastrophe, but a chain of events, an expression of circumstances, connections, and communities that happened create a circumstance far more probable to occur than those in charge considered possible. (Others saw it as not only possible, but probable.)

That's what The Drunkard's Walk has elaborated on thus far: How probability can be used to explain why chance occurrences aren't necessarily as random as we think they are. One story used to communicate this deals with Marilyn vos Savant and the world of outrage she created among academics, researchers, and career thinkers alike when she answered a question in her "Ask Marilyn" column about what's since become known as the "Monty Hall Problem." (This is article also outlines the whole situation: "The Time Everyone 'Corrected' the World’s Smartest Woman.") To simplify the situation, the woman with the highest IQ on record answered the following puzzle correctly in her weekly Parade column and was met by tens of thousands of letters (wrongly) explaining how she should go ahead and quit her day job.

"Imagine that you’re on a television game show and the host presents you with three closed doors. Behind one of them, sits a sparkling, brand-new Lincoln Continental; behind the other two, are smelly old goats. The host implores you to pick a door, and you select door #1. Then, the host, who is well-aware of what’s going on behind the scenes, opens door #3, revealing one of the goats. 'Now,' he says, turning toward you, 'do you want to keep door #1, or do you want to switch to door #2?'

Is this just a game of chance, a 50/50 coin toss, or is there something bigger at play here?

There's a remarkable level of outrage that came in the wake of the the "Ask Marilyn" column. Confusion and bafflement that someone like Marilyn could be so wrong. All of that. But the whole thing was generally harmless (save for the emotional burden vos Savant shouldered amid receiving such negative criticism to her work). Today's circumstances bear witness to grave results. People are getting sick at a shocking rate, and beneath it all is a fear of death for loved ones, self, and the abrupt end to "normal life" as we've always known it.

The COVID-19 outbreak isn't exactly a probability puzzle on par with the "Monty Hall Problem," and I'm not trying to dismiss the real life consequences (of which I'm not sure we're really even aware of yet). What I am saying is that there's something going on here that I don't understand. That most all of us don't understand. But, jumping over to Laura S.'s book, there's relief in recognizing the "We" involved here. As Boorstein also writes in the 12 Steps foreword, "The author, writing under the pseudonym Laura S., offers this book anonymously, in respect to the Twelve Step commitment to anonymity and in the understanding that no one does anything alone." Weaving threads together here, there's something bigger going on that we don't understand collectively, but understanding that there is a "We" aspect to it all brings with it a sense of humility that not one of us alone can do this on our own.

A moment or two on Facebook and it becomes no secret how people are trying to control this uncontrollable situation as best they can. There I'm seeing a flood of information (or many times, opinion disguised as information), every incoming post a potential life-hack that could be the one thing standing between you and certain death, each being shared and debated ad nauseam. At the core is something I understand, that fear, that uncertainty, that dread, frustration, and maybe even grief. One of the concepts that I was exposed to last year was pre-traumatic stress disorder, and I think that's at the heart of what's influencing society today; a sort of unhealthy hum of anticipatory anxiety.

For myself, spirituality is a bit of a nebulous concept, forget any "higher power" or "god" concept, just what "spirituality" means to me. Primarily the concept bears substance for me in the context of connection with other people, or the world around us. But yesterday it also rang true that hope was an element of it. Whether it's my general disposition or my brain chemistry, I often forget about that part of the equation. If hope is just a trust or belief (faith) that things won't be as they are forever, any sense of hope becomes exponentially experienced when accepting that things won't be as they are forever because the future isn't up to me; that, too, is a We thing.

Again, it's a hell of a lot easier for me to babble on about all of this while sitting where I am, but that doesn't diminish the value in the conclusion that the reality of today's situation might be an opportunity to slow down and reacquaint myself with a sense of where I truly stand as little more than a pea in a world-sized bowl of peas. There's comfort there. Comfort in realizing and accepting the powerlessness of it all.

Bring It On

"This garden that I built for you / That you sit in now and yearn / I will never leave it, dear / I could not bear to return / And find it all untended / With the trees all bended low / This garden is our home, dear / And I got nowhere else to go / So bring it on / Bring it on / Every little tear / Bring it on / Every useless fear / Bring it on / All your shattered dreams / And I'll scatter them into the sea."

I've decided that my first "Tuesday" book will be Thich Nhat Hanh's Peace is Every Step, and this morning much of what I read felt immediately relevant. Without getting overly sentimental about the power of "mindfulness," Nhat Hanh focuses on recognizing the emotionally perilous chore that is perpetually preparing for a life that is to be lived at some point in the future. People make goals—and goals are fine—but goals are made in the now, and the now is good, and to struggle to actually live in the present while constantly yearning for more only backs his point that "we are good at preparing to live, but not very good at living." That line really stood out to me. And then there's all this...

"All around us, how many lures are set by our fellows and ourselves? In a single day, how many times do we become lost and scattered be cause of them? We must be very careful to protect our fate and our peace. I am not suggesting that we just shut all our windows, for there are many miracles in the world we call 'outside.' We can open our windows to these miracles and look at any one of them with awareness. This way, even while sitting beside a clear, flowing stream, listening to beautiful music, or watching an excellent movie, we need not lose ourselves entirely in the stream, the music, or the film. We can continue to be aware of ourselves and our breathing. With the sun of awareness shining in us, we can avoid most dangers. The stream will be purer, the music more harmonious, and the soul of the filmmaker completely visible."

As I read it, this seems to nail down an idea I was trying to write my way through a couple weeks ago. That idea focused on a near-constant desire I was feeling to remain disengaged by watching videos on the TV or my computer when alone at home, particularly at night before falling asleep. Mind you, this isn't me reading books—it's gorging on the Internet equivalent of junk food. Nhat Hanh calls that situation like he sees it: "Don't you want to close your windows? Are you frightened of solitude—the emptiness and the loneliness you may find when you face yourself alone?" Well, kinda. Part of it might be a fear to face myself. But also there's fear of missing out on "important" information, or the desire for novelty, or just wanting to disconnect with something momentarily amusing (meme-hunting is excluded from this discussion... memes are hilarious and vital and that's a hill I'm willing to die on). But those moments are increasingly rare, and even in the short term I tend to recall little of the articles and videos I graze on—let alone others' social media opinions—which might be leading me to some kind of point here: If what I'm watching or reading is not even entertaining or informative enough to be remembered shortly after it's consumed, is that time and space and attention better served by leaving it empty? Or at least less cluttered, constantly engaging with someone else's "lure"?

I don't know what Nick Cave has to do with any of this, but when I was showering after exercising I went into relaxation mode with one of the Bad Seeds' albums before "Bring It On" came to mind (the above performance doesn't really hold a candle to the studio version, though I do get a kick out of David Letterman's pre-performance banter with Paul Shaffer). The first verse could well reflect an idea of defending a home—a life—rather than escaping danger only to return to find that life no longer exists as it once had... That hit my chest as something of an Us versus the Rona kinda anthem, but when accounting for the rest of the song, that theme quickly falls apart. It doesn't matter. It provided comfort tonight. Now, even if only for this evening, I think I'm going to close some of the windows and read myself to sleep. Yeah, man. Bring it on.

Little Acorns

"...One autumn day when she was at her lowest, she watched a squirrel storing up nuts for the winter. One at a time he would take them to the nest. And she thought 'If that squirrel can take care of himself with the harsh winter coming on, so can I.'"

This New York Times video gutted me when I watched it this morning. After breaking down a little, I proceeded to sit and listen to a meditation, read, and do some stretching before "going" to work. Within the reading I learned that meditation, in the Zen tradition, is referred to as "Zazen," which can translate to something like "the seated mind." I find that description very comforting.

On top of everything else going on within it, I felt shame when watching this video. Being confronted by both incredible hurt and incredible humanity, I felt like I'm not compassionate enough; not helpful enough; not caring enough. But I'm also grateful for the position I find myself in today, particularly when that very position is so incredibly rare. Both sides seem valid, but one set of feelings has a hell of a lot more to do with ego than the other. None of this is about me. None of it.

I'm going to play with an idea and see how well it works for me: Having a different book for each day of the week. My Monday book is The Beginner's Guide to Zen Buddhism by Jean Smith. With today's reading came a focus on meditation, reading, and community. Little things to take notice of, and take pleasure in. If that squirrel can take care of himself with the harsh winter coming on, so can I.

March Madness

A restless night of sleep found came to an end with a 5:45 wake-up today. My goal was to exercise, to be "productive." It's taken me the better part of an hour to get out of bed, make coffee, drink some water, and effectively convince myself to not lay back down. "Productive" comes in a variety of flavors.

The first thing I did when I woke up was to see what time it was. To see what time it was I picked up my cell phone to confirm, and from there I began to walk the usual route of websites and apps. This is precisely what I had told myself yesterday I needed to stay away from... not "wanted to," but "needed to." It's not even that it's a "waste of time," it's that doing so distances me from the general direction I want to take with my life right now. Maybe what Henry calls a "true north" in this video.

A friend forwarded me a link to Ron Gallo's blog featuring a clip from one of Henry's old videos. I know the clip well. It reminded me of something which lead me to the above video, which couldn't sound more relevant and well-timed had it been created this past week and not eight years ago.

“You must never lower yourself to being a person you don’t like.”

Already this morning I set myself up for failure by playing an all or nothing game in my head. I convinced myself I had to do one specific task that I've been struggling to complete the last several days... or bust, essentially. I can't do everything I demand of myself right now (or ever, as history has shown me), but maybe this one specific task of exercising will come as the day progresses. Moments after stepping out of that narrow mental silo I'm already experiencing how my viewpoint expanding a little, opening back up to possibility. In that space other options become available. If all I can do right now is sit, I can certainly turn on my meditation app and focus on breathing. I can definitely sit and read something positive and healthy while I drink my coffee. Then, maybe a couple body weight exercises to get the blood flowing before I shower. I have so much to be grateful for today, and suddenly I'm reminded of that rather than of how much I've already "failed myself" because one single task on the to-do list didn't fall into place.

A Point of Contact

What this was...

There's a lot hiding out in plain sight within the confines of this blog: Hundreds of thousands of words and decade and a half of identities, all housed under a single roof. A couple years ago I thought it'd be worthwhile to bring in as much of my digital past into a single website, collecting for myself what I could, rather than letting it decay elsewhere or disappear entirely. Calling the archives a hodgepodge would be generous, but I'd rather they exist than not.

What this is...

I want to use this space moving forward for a number of reasons: Maybe to add another layer of public accountability where there currently isn't one; maybe to house creative projects; maybe just to journal. I don't know, really, and I don't have a feeling for a mission statement at this point. In opening this space back up though, what I do have are genuine feelings of both fear (over sharing all that exists here) and hope (over what this might lead to). There is a lot of "me" on this website. Not everything from my past is reflective of where I'm at today, but that's part of where I think we're all coming from. The archives are no less anxiety-inducing to share, knowing that, but at the same time without all of the past this wouldn't be what it is. As for where I'm at today? And what am I doing today? And what thoughts am I feeling presently? That's the essence of what a blog is, and as antiquated as the concept might seem in 2020, the medium seems as important to me now as it ever has. For some reason that brings with it a sense of hope, or calm, or peace.

Where this is going...

Life right now is big and scary. My current viewpoint into the world doesn't help: Social media does not regularly lend itself to peace, and the contagious nature of today's fears only seem to bloom and blossom in such spaces. Further, it's difficult to look at the news right now, in the face of growing pain and concern, and not internalize that as stress, anger, fear, or sadness. But in my own house, at this very moment, if I slow down and breathe, even for just a moment, the space becomes overflowing with peace and gratitude. Today is about turning down the volume, and reclaiming a small space from which I can nurture the life I want to live. And within this screen space I hope to do something similar in creating something of thought garden—planting and nurturing seeds, experimenting, and seeing how it grows.

"Fights Will Go On As Long As They Have To"

What was saved as a draft several Sundays ago is posted today... "I'm finding myself writing a story that already exists." Isn't that a bitch, looking back on that note one day after writing it and realizing just how true it might be? I'm closing in on the finish of Dorian Lynskey's The Ministry of Truth and am coming to grips with how much my ideas for stories have in common with George Orwell's 1984, despite having never read the novel, myself. Something tells me I need to read that and We before I'll have an understanding of what it is I'm actually trying to write. Or if it actually needs to be written.

Yesterday as a measure of healthy coping I went to McKay's and walked out of there with a stack of books, adding to the shelf that already exists of materials I have yet to read. Atheism, nutrition and the economy are some of the subject matter focused on there. In trying to focus in on what my "theme", or themes, for the year should be ("moving forward," "health," and "reading" is what I came up with) I felt a desire to push myself into getting a roster of materials from which I can draw upon.

I'm about half way through Less, and spent some time edging my way closer through Dave Hill's book, and want to just keep going. Collecting ideas. Letting my imagination rumble its way through me. That's what this entry is for: To unload and start letting the words flow. But also to reflect, stay current, and document. There's some value there, I think... I hope.

This week I watched Three Colors: White, Three Colors: Red, Inherent Vice, Being There, Old Joy, Destroyer, Orange County, Victoria, A Ghost Story, Bad Taste, and Beyond the Black Rainbow. Of the films, A Ghost Story might be the one I enjoyed the most, despite remembering not having turned it on before because of how sad Kate had said it was. It is sad, but also interesting and in line with a lot of slow films that I like. Orange County is now leaving my collection, being added to the pile of DVDs that I'll sell later this year. I don't think there's a film here that I'm dying to see again. What's interesting is that I'm buying these books to essentially see if I can take away from them what I thought I could take away from DVDs and Blu-rays the past year and a half. Previously I've owned 1984, but I didn't read it. Previously I had a copy of Fight Club, the novel, as well, which went unread. It's a process, right? About two weeks ago I began writing some thoughts on Fight Club, having watched the film again, but I just ran out of steam and let it be (I forgot I had started writing it, until now, to be honest). I don't think I care to revisit the article, or even finish it. But I do want to save it. There's something worthwhile in the title I was going to use, which I'd pulled from the rules of fight club. Fights will only go on as long as they have to is something to aspire toward. I hope to only fight myself, my resistance, my stubbornness, my ideas, my hangups, myself, for as long as I have to before I can move on and move forward. Here's to moving forward.

As recent as three years ago I owned a copy of Fight Club, the novel. I read it some years earlier, but I purchased it again for a reason I can't quite place. Perhaps to find new insight or new value in it, or to make new meaning from something old. The same holds true for the film, I guess. Plus it was only three or four bucks, brand new. Frugality is in my veins.

I last viewed Fight Club a little over a year ago, jotting the following notes down with it: "Snuck in to the theater to see Fight Club when I was still underage and excused myself half-way through to go have a seizure in the bathroom. No idea if that's what really happened (I did black out for a few moments), but that's what I've been telling myself happened for the last twenty years or so. Also: Still a good movie." It's a disposable memory, but one that I carry with me. It's special to me. I remember seeing a childhood friend a couple years later by the movie theater where the "seizure" took place, and he didn't motion as if he even remembered me. I can't tell you how many hours I spent at his house. He and I were alone, playing basketball, when he lost a tooth, catching it on the net, as we had lowered the hoop to play around with slam dunking the ball. His yell was incredible, "Aww, fuck." We played on the same hockey team for two seasons. His mom told my mom that he was scared of going into junior high without me, prior to my family leaving the neighborhood. And he barely seemed to remember me. Or at least that was the put on. Rule number one: "You do not talk about fight club."

There are some vaguely Buddhist threads that run throughout the novel/film's story, including such anti-capitalist classics as "The things you own end up owning you." Another memorable line from Tyler Durden goes, "Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War is a spiritual war, our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."

Stepping back a little, there is a strong undercurrent of victimhood to the plot. Victims of ourselves, of our society, of the carelessness of our previous generations: We are but sheep, herding ourselves to our own demise. A couple weeks back I saw a friend post a photo on Facebook, featuring her and her husband standing proudly with pitch black shirts featuring white lettering which read "Unafraid." Or, I think that's what it said, I just went back to double check and the photo is nowhere to be found. Either way, I messaged her asking what that meant, and she said it had something to do with her baptism. Like, she's unafraid to tell the world she's Christian. Like, she's unafraid to tell her Protestant friends, living in a particularly Protestant part of a particularly Protestant nation that she's unafraid to be Protestant. Back to Fight Club... Certain associations people have made with the film, and how people have piggybacked on its perceived meaning, have fueled the backlash it's accrued the past two decades. White able-bodied men bitter, angry and in revolt of a society that raised them to believe they could be "rock stars" only to find themselves fully employed worker bees, making livable wages. You're not the victim here; look at me, I am! I should be able to be angry; my hate is justified! And finally it is me who is unafraid to stand up and pronounce that I, too, belong to this country's majority. We will not stand by silenced any longer! To which an acceptable response might be: Capitalism is rightly crushing us all, you moron, not just you. I'm reminded of an important quote here: "When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression."

But, depending on the lens through which you view Fight Club, the film also satirizes masculinity, mocking the narrow, confining definitions of what it means "to be a man." But it doesn't read that way, if what you're looking for is a rallying cry for why men are the victims of the same system that stereotypes gender in the first place. Drawing a connection between the dots of (toxic) masculinity and capitalism, the macho ideals on display are as unattainable as the lifestyle deemed essential by capitalism; neither are essential to living, yet both are sold to us as essential cornerstones for something we need in order to exist. Viewed from another angle, the film easily promotes heterosexuality as something of performance art, or how the closeted rules behind the secretive club of fighting men is somehow code for gay culture, as it stepped out of shadows and into the mainstream. The film is many things to many people. It can be used to defend any number of causes or positions, or it can be used as the target for so much of what is wrong with this world. To me, this time around... having now viewed it no fewer than a dozen times, I'm not sure what it has come to mean to me, personally.

To purchase the novel again was an attempt to prove to myself that I could glean something deeper from the '90s pop culture artifact that I hadn't been able to previously understand. To return to the film and write about it, maybe, hopefully was to represent an outward projection of some deeper inner understanding of the film and my place in the story surrounding it that I continue to craft in my head. Now, after looking at what others have concluded about the film, and after thinking about what it's meant to me for twenty years, it's interesting to see feel a different understanding of what it might all mean to me at this stage in life. Rule number seven: "Fights will go on as long as they have to."

Throughout the film, the act of being someone else helps Jack (I don't believe Edward Norton's character is actually given a name, but that'll do) live his life, because the self that he had become—influenced by the world around him—was slowly killing him. However made up the identity might have been that Jack took on, it helped him save himself. Jack had become a product of what other people, and society, had told him he should be, but in creating a new identity in his mind he was able to move forward.

As author Chuck Palahniuk mentioned in the film commentary, we can hide out in our beautifully decorated homes or we can decide how much of the world we want to take responsibility for. That includes the self. Is society out to destroy me, or have I walled myself in to this believe that it is, and it's not in my personal control to try to find a way forward? How much baggage am I carrying with me that is utterly irrelevant moving forward? I'm certain that I picked the film back up to view it, process it, and write something worthy of validation from others, hoping to find some form of positive feedback, leaving me feeling better about myself in lieu of ever being able to truly appreciate myself in the same way that I'm hoping others might.

An Ode to Chiron

Restless sleep, gnashing teeth
What-ifs grow into a kingdom of hope
But when tomorrow comes they'll still be there
And so will I, shield always up
Still unable to cope

Ten years gone by, never letting go
That look, that touch, only he only I
Seconds in after picking up the call
His voice, an overdue reward
For never saying goodbye

Small Doses

Denis Leary has this music video that played in moderate rotation on Much Music in the early to mid '90s called "Asshole." It was a complete gag, but it sounded and looked its vintage, which lent it a certain authenticity to a kid just entering his teens. To my young eyes it seemed just about the grittiest, most crass (and thusly interesting) thing I'd seen at that point in my life, and I remember it being one of those things that I'd watch with remote control queued up in case I heard the crack of footsteps in close proximity so no one would catch me watching such a thing. In 1997 Leary released his Lock 'n Load stand-up album, and it was somewhere between then and 1998 that I picked it up, along with No Cure for Cancer, which was the original vehicle for "Asshole." I would usually fast forward through the song to get to the comedy, which hasn't aged particularly well, though I still find myself thinking from time to time about one spot where—in between spurts of seizuristic cigarette huffing—Leary planted a seed that continues to sprout seasonally in my mind. "Happiness comes in small doses, folks. It's a cigarette butt, or a chocolate chip cookie or a five second orgasm. You come, you smoke the butt you eat the cookie you go to sleep wake up and go back to fucking work the next morning, that's it! End of fucking list!" It's a wonder I made it out of my teens alive... The concept's value ebbs and flows with me, but today it returned and it made sense. My brain is constantly on a hunt for The Answer, as if it's even possible for any answer to deliver the satisfaction of a long-lasting cookie or an endless drag from a smoke. And if a cookie or an orgasm won't do, the modus operandi has been to keep going until I feel something. Maybe it's in that space where feeling different becomes confused with feeling better. More is better has been a subconscious mission statement for so long that it struck me as epiphanic when a video I watched this week challenged the idea of binging on food by asking whether or not I'm even enjoying any of it. How much of it is for genuine "mouth pleasure" and how much of it is just mindless habitual self-soothing, seeking something "different" which has become a stand-in for something pleasurable? It's hardly a stretch from there to wondering which actions are in pursuit of what I'm lead to believe "happiness" is, and which actions are actually in pursuit of the things that make me happy? The small doses seem to matter most.

Somewhere in Paris

I don’t know much about other people’s trauma, or upper case Trauma, but I’m learning, and I’ve got my own life I’ve lived experiences… Traumas and traumas. I’m starting to learn about the difference between re-living and healing though.

Cracking open the chest plate for a deeper examination isn’t where the change seems to happen. Revealing that there is hurt isn’t how to stop the pain. Re-living those events—as warped, distorted, and amplified as they might have become after years of self-imposed chest cracking—only gets us so far. Eventually the pins need to set, the scabs need to form, heal, and the stitches removed. Sometimes this happens with the help of others, sometimes not.

There, acceptance is supposed to be the reward, even if what remains seems unacceptable. Sometimes this is healing. Sometimes this is peace.

Hope for Ghosts

In love with a ghost
Ideas mostly
Like, what could have been
If only everything was different
Including us.

To feel that close to you
To touch skin
To feel you pull away
To sense hesitation
To see careful restraint in your eyes
To hear the distance in your voice
Reminding myself it's only just a dream
Doesn't make it hurt any less.

There's no way to know
Who you really are now
Pictures are real
And a few moments together
Spread over years
But mostly nothing
Mostly my imagination
Mostly hope that ghosts exist
That they'll continue to haunt
Because some days it feels like
Without them there
Really might be nothing.

I Don't Believe You

The night was nearly over by the time she joined the band on stage, but something opened up within me as Tristen encouraged the audience's participation. With a gentle bob to her knees she stared into the crowd and crooned, "I don't believe you, I don't believe you." It's just a song, but it's hardly rare for music to embody something greater. Gratitude for being there, regret, maybe, and for the whole ride home frustration with myself that I hadn't been writing lyrics of my own for the past ten years. Maybe regret that I hadn't treated myself better, too. Where did this decade go?

Two or three songs in Paul tapped my elbow, and I turned around to be met with his eyes, which said everything. William is a genius. And to be part of what took place on stage tonight is to be in the presence something memorable. Yet I was continually back and forth between the present and the past, absorbed in the moment and awash with memories. Still in college I remember the exact table I was at in my school's library, sending predictable questions by email to one singer's publicist who forwarded them to her. When I published the interview using her middle name I was reprimanded and had to quickly edit it out. I don't remember what I thought it would add other than I saw it on Wikipedia and felt like it made the blog post seem more legitimate, so I rolled with it. Ten or eleven questions for another singer via email when I first moved to town. Herself a recent transplant, I thought deep-diving into facts about her and her music might seem endearing... Being a self-absorbed drunkard at the time, I thought maybe she would follow up the interview with a request to meet. I saw her waiting tables at The Stone Fox a couple years later. I've always wanted to tell her how beautiful I think she is, but that's an inappropriate thing for a stranger to tell someone, let alone someone who isn't single. A few questions for him via another email. I didn't know his music then, he was just someone who crossed my path via a solicitation for press from a record label. She—another of tonight's performers—I can recall tweeting with. About what? The Sandlot. Damn near a decade ago, and I remember that for some reason. I had dinner with her mom once, as part of a larger group I got wrapped into after a performance for Swedish TV at the Bluebird. My place within the party was uncertain—if anything I was probably just there to help make it appear as though another of the performers had people working for her even though we were paying our own way. This city's streets are paved in the allure of a payoff. And him, I feel guilt every time I see him because I publicly pirated a couple songs from his label eight or nine years ago. He politely asked me to take them down from my blog, which was incredibly kind considering I had never asked for permission to post the music in the first place. All of this being held onto as if it means something, anything. Awash... As the night wore on, however, there was relief. I closed my eyes to just listen. I never realized how just jealous I've been. How I've wanted to be a part of all this, but never allowed myself to feel like I was. Or that I could be. Drinking played its role, but so did blatant self-deception. "IIIII don't believe you."

As the show ended, the increasingly faint scent of incense wafted through the air. Earlier, someone said Alison Mosshart was standing next to us but I only ever caught the back of her head. I was there, too. For a change it felt like that was actually true.


“I don’t quite understand where you’re going with all this, but I can tell you I don’t exactly have the patience for it right now,” she said, pushing the cocktail napkin back to him. “Maybe I’m getting the word wrong? I-idiom? It’s an idiom. W-what I’m trying to say is I think people like us think we’re special, but also like w-we’re not worthy of special attention.” Picking the napkin back up, the words smacked from his lips, “‘Y-you have to treat me special for me to feel average. A-and if you treat me average, I feel rejected.’ Get it?” She let out a deep sigh, trying to use the momentary pause to alert him that sitting in public with a drink at 3:34 in the afternoon is never as much of an invitation for random men to talk at her as they usually seem to think it is.

“What was your name again? Greg? Greg, I don’t think you’re listening to me when I tell you that I don’t want to talk right now. It’s not about you. It’s not about anything you’ve done. I just want to sit here and try to not think about the day I’ve just had without the constant babbling of another human being trying to insert themselves into a moment of my life that I haven’t welcomed them into. You sat down here—what—twenty, thirty minutes ago, and not once have I asked you a question. Greg, I don’t care who you think I am. I don’t think approaching a stranger with this bullshit is cute or heroic or whateverthehell you think it is. I don’t care about the message you’re trying to give me about the type of person you think I am; excuse me, the type of people you think we are.”

Gary sat quietly with his napkin, nervously working it into a tight ball in the middle of his palm. “And because you don't seem to understand that I’m not interested, you’re forcing to me to leave just so that I don’t have to be bothered by a stranger anymore.” Claire stood up, leaving her drink untouched as she walked to the bartender’s station to retrieve her credit card. “R-rejected again.”

The Rearview Mirror

While it's not something I've done much of the last few years, taking photos has been a big part of the past decade and a half for me. With 2020 fast approaching, I used the last 50 days to post 50 photos from the last 15 years on Instagram. I couldn't tell you what I hoped to gain from the process when I began—if anything, my mind was probably geared toward a little emotional molting—but completing the project has inspired some thoughts this morning about losing sight on what's directly in front of me that I'd like to share.

I don't quite have a handle on where I'm at with it all, but the deeper I went into the memories over the past several weeks, the more I got caught up in detours. In selecting the pictures I found myself judging their aesthetics, thinking about how they might be received by others, and curious about whether the stories that the photos represent to me genuinely tell the story of what my life has been like. In reflection, it feels like subconsciously weaponizing snapshots from the past to harvest social dividends in the here and now. This must be why they say 'If you have to go up into your own head, don't go alone,' as you can see what kind of mental webs I'm prone to getting caught in.

I hope 2020 will be a good year. It's got a lot of potential—the way I'm lookin' at it—though much of that contingent on letting go of what once was, and being present right here, right now. As easy as it is to look back and toy around with nostalgia, this little project has shown me how much of a trap doing so can be. It might be true that to know where you're going you've got to know where you've been, but it's also true that to keep moving forward the mind can't remain forever focused on the past lives that lurk in the rearview mirror.

The Lost Weekend [1945]

Toward the end, Don is fighting himself as much as his addiction; maybe more so. There is desire that had grown rigid with inertia to not allow himself the victory that comes with recognition of hope that there is—or merely could be—something for him beyond eternal misery. Helen leans into him with her words, the typewriter re-appears, Don lights his smoke and saunters to the half-filled glass that he had turned away moments before. Then, he seems not to extinguish his cigarette so much as bear host for an action that had long before put itself in motion. For the moment or for the rest of his life, it doesn't matter: That was the end. Half slumping on his bed in both victory and defeat, Don's mind quickly seems to reel from painting him as the lowest man on Earth to the most hopeful who might ever have ever existed. While allusion to the silent screams for help of countless others is how Don paints us out of his story, this is the same scene that is replayed every minute of every hour across the entire world. Despair defeated by hope, one action at a time.

Eaten Alive [1976]

Eaten Alive is a raw and violent romp in the swamp, but it fails to stick its landing the same way The Texas Chain Saw Massacre does. (While it's never been my favorite, Chain Saw did a lot of things right.) I showed up thinking it would be a gator flick and instead it's about a bunch of rapists in the bayou... Seeing as this is the fourth of his films I can remember watching, it might be time to conclude that I'm just not a Tobe Hooper guy.

Bride of Re-Animator [1989]

Every bit as playful, silly, and grotesque as the original. With another watch or two, the Re-Animator series will have probably ousted the Evil Dead movies from the space they've held in my heart since I was a teenager.

Carrie [1976]

This year there've been more than a few noteworthy additions to the list of "classic" horror films I've checked off my "to watch" list: Night of the Living Dead, Black Christmas, Rosemary's Baby, Phantasm, Suspiria... the list doesn't stop there. Despite my general lack of disinterest in Stephen King adaptations, Carrie contends for my favorite among the bunch.

American Mary [2012]

This is more of a body modification drama than anything, though it is certainly one which dabbles in horror along the way. That aside, I was a little turned off by the lack of plot of and suspense, which left it feeling like it dragged on a bit too long for its own good. American Mary peaks with its surgical scenes, which are really well done, though I still feel a stronger affinity toward Excision, in terms of similarly-themed movies I've watched in the last several months.

Maniac [1980]

Maniac straddles a line between slasher and exploitation for the entirety of its screen time. Set within the grimy cityscape of ‘70s New York, it bears thematic relation to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, though it also possesses a uniquely different space, serving less as a voyeuristic guide to psychopathic mayhem, instead twisting more into the absurd delusions of the killer’s mind as the movie progresses. Crudely shot and thoroughly raw throughout, there are still standout scenes including the shotgun murder (whoa!), but while the whole of the film is meant to find validation in its finale, the realistic element of misogyny that is woven throughout leaves the whole thing feeling repulsive.