The Internet

Where my mind forgets, The Internet remembers. That sticky residue of the past like sap, a historical cache of connections, moments, and memories sticking to a person with the frightening permanence of an industrial adhesive. Everything stored in the cloud, held in a weightless currency of bits and bytes while its heaviness is immeasurable.

The apps act as portals to an infinite feedback loop, each providing the opportunity to lose myself in a state of endless narcissistic reflection. The glow of the handheld window never reveals a vision of what’s happening, currently, however, but of what just happened — the present moment perpetually revealing itself with a slight lag caused by a period of electronic digestion. Being present in this sort of arena means being forever trapped in what just happened. And with both feet planted in a moment that no longer exists, my input in this space is recommended — encouraged even — with the energy behind each unique platform begging a similar form of shorthand feedback, insight, or opinion of me. The destination of this process is a forced nostalgia for something that’s barely finished happening, as if that moment had something remotely to do with me in the first place.

I’ve never forgotten that “if you’re not the customer, you’re the product,” but whose best interest the creators have in mind is of little consequence when the chemical surge of validation hits the brain. Here, in this space of limited peripheral vision, this instinct to participate is only fueled by the reciprocity of others — each instance of their noticing, liking, favoriting, or commenting all further solidify the habit of impulsive clicking to gauge personal value by way of virtual credibility.

What meaningful connection is there to be had if any interaction relies on a foundation of highly self-edited digital personas intelligently navigating through a vast jungle of confirmation biases to find common ground on an actual human level?

Into the fireplace go the yearbooks.

Living Well

“What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.” —Seneca
How does the saying go, “The best revenge is living well”? Isn’t that the truth? Looking out over the balcony, there’s a calm to the traffic — no horns, no revving of engines, no screeching tires or thumping speakers. To the east, the cars merge effortlessly – the mechanics of a zipper in fine form, seamlessly consolidating two lanes of all-but-silent single-colored two-door sedans into one. To the west, Main Street – smily pedestrians waving as drivers yield to the crosswalks, their children holding hands as they march in unison, moving briskly so as to be of as little an inconvenience to the commuters as possible. The drivers get to work on time, the children to school, the pedestrians to their routines.

A cigarette burns too close to the fingers as I lean out over the rail to smell the nothingness of the air, and with the sizzle of the skin I flinch, losing my grip on the smoldering stub, sending it falling to the ground. “Howdy, neighbor, I think you dropped this,” he says, raising his voice while looking up at me with a distended smile, extending his arm to emphasize that he’s the one who the butt fell by. “I used to smoke these, too, pal. Watch out,” he continues, with his smile now reaching the edges of his face, “you could have dropped this on the patrol. That sorta thing could land you in hot water!” Living well. Just once I’d like to listen to music on a stereo, the speakers so loud that my walls shake. Or bump into somebody on the subway. I remember when I was a kid, and we’d have spitting contests — then, drinking contests in our teens. Now, they only let you smoke on Fridays, and when you do you have to smoke whatever these things are. I miss real cigarettes. Maybe living well is just payback for the way things used to be.

Walk of Shame

“Let me stop you right there – this isn’t going down like I think you think you want it to go down.” Those weren’t the words she used, but they’re close enough. The impression of what she said is what lingers. She’s met him before. This has happened before. Maybe he hurt her before, or that’s just something he tells himself about his type to convince himself that it wasn’t something he did. Absorbing blame by association made sense to him. She knew enough to stop the progress they were making together, maybe for fear that it’d turn serious, or maybe because she realized it had already become more serious than either of them wanted it to be. “Telling you any more will only allow this to get more out of control.” She was right. Dramatic, but right.

The Paper

I got that corner early and didn’t earn much — only made about seven bucks by then — when he showed up with his girl. You could see he was an addict. It was all about the attitude. It was all about me-me-me, take-take-take, but I got it all on my camera. All of it. I used to be that way, but and he’s lucky I’m not like that anymore. They started causing shit, saying it was their spot, told me to fuck off, that I should go back to my country. I was like, fuck you, man, I’m from here. He said he was part of The Brotherhood, but I don’t even know if he really was. My people were from here way before his were. He’s just ignorant, man. Ignorant. He’s lucky I’m trying to turn my life around. I got it all on video and I’m going to tell the paper when I go back in tomorrow. It was my spot first and I don’t need shit like that. I’m going to report him — they’ll suspend him. If I see him again I’m going to call the cops and get a restraining order.

When I was walking away some guy called me over and was like, “what happened, bro?” I told him this junkie kicked me out of my spot so I had to go somewhere else to sell the paper. He said he was sorry that happened and gave me twenty bucks. At least I didn’t hit him. Fucking ignorant, man. He’s just ignorant.

Given to Fly

It seemed out of place, like a leftover relic from when he had fewer reasons to be careful. That was a different time, and now when he spoke he did so with caution. He was guarded with his delivery and his eyes weren’t always there — it sounds stupid, but it was his ink that made him seem real. There was so much about him that I wanted to learn, but this made my mind wander — what sort of story could be so special that it was worth becoming someone’s only tattoo? I wanted to know why it spoke to him, what value it had. Who was this person with a small rectangle on his wrist, its negative space revealing the fuzzy outline of a seagull.

Reading a book about transcendence and personal freedom to gain the acceptance of a stranger isn’t without its irony, yet even now I don’t know what I was really hoping to gain by doing so. Was I trying to learn, or grow, or find something new out about myself or the world, or was I just leveraging personal nostalgia to gain someone’s good graces? At the time it felt like such an act of tenderness — absorbing myself in what had clearly helped make this person who they were. Hindsight aside, whatever good intentions might have existed weren’t enough to bridge the gap between who I thought he wanted me to be and who I thought I was.

Through the Woods and Far Away

The ghost of scarcity plagues this town.

As a child, growing up in Illinois playing music with your family, your vision of success peaked with the concept of being paid to play music. The utmost achievement was a few dollars collected in return for a performance. But our dreams all tend to shift, and in looking out beyond ourselves someone else’s vision can easily undermine our own. With it, the illusion of scarcity begins to encroach. For certain, success is what you choose it to be. But there are problems that accompany assuming someone else's definition of the word as your own. For some: personality is what first draws attention, but shifting goal-posts signal that the cost of widespread acceptance might be to shed bits and pieces of one's true self — the core traits that inspire others to take notice in the first place. The music industry was built on this, commercializing uniqueness by way of dimming the lights and sanding smooth any unusual irregularities. Belief changes, and suddenly what you really want isn't as good as what you think they're offering.

This is where my imagination places you and your group — and at this place, an evolving vision led to a first hand experience of how external ideals conflict with internal dreams. "What band do you want to sound like and what are we going to do to create that sound?" they demanded of you. This only confused matters: you were already the band you wanted to sound like.

From this side of the table any guess as to what happened is purely speculative based on a story that continues to repeat itself, as if any lesson to be learned from gambling with your creativity is meaningless when weighed against the payoff. The vehicle that transported you from your childhood years to the brink of adulthood attracted industry suitors, and somewhere a contract was signed that promised opportunity. But opportunity for what? Promotion? Features? Was there really a mainstream demand for a wholesome freak-scene country band with a "vibrant, fashion-forward sense of style every bit as head-turning as their music"? What a trip it must be, opening yourself up, creating something from scratch, exposing your vulnerabilities, and that being someone's take away.

Commercial success was limited and the label pulled the plug on its support, but you kept playing. Of course you kept playing. Because the opportunity they spoke of wasn't the culmination of all that you had worked for. Nothing ever will be. At times we all fool ourselves into believing that there's something just out of reach that will make the entire process make sense. The key rests in not quitting when the success they promise you doesn't materialize. After all, not quitting means more opportunities. And here, within more opportunity a gig in a high-profile "crack touring and recording combo" emerged, where you played fiddle, mandolin, and sang on a stage dwarfing that of Music Row's promise. An avenue to record a solo 7" and full-length album followed, the latter a collaboration with tour-mates stemming from yet another unforeseen opportunity. Now, after all of this, Rolling Stone writes of your "debut," an album produced by a modern-day Legend who called you a "one in a billion"-type talent. This all happened after the idea of success that someone else had sold you on had collapsed.

No doubt, all of this is to invent someone else’s story for them through a spotty narrative, trivializing a life of creativity and unknown struggle for the purpose of convenient storytelling. There's very little to be gained by merely restating plot points or press-release highlights, but in looking back at the timeline, the aperture expands, and with it the bigger picture takes focus. How much abundance does this world have to offer if only we refuse to accept someone else's definition of success as our own.

This town tends to haunt those who fail to question that.

Another Queen

Royalty in passing, a red carpet is laid out for you in my mind. Who you really are never seems to cross my thoughts though, because in that moment you are grand — a leader of nations, powerful enough to sway the will of men with a wave of the hand yet wise enough to not allow the masses your attention. The projection of nobility always bears an expiration date however, which usually lasts just long enough for me to agree with myself that the upward boundaries of class mobility are there for a reason. Another queen off to find her king.