Archive for December, 2010

December 28, 2010

kid alpha

before sitting down to write each morning, i click on the electric kettle and look through my shelf of LPs for a soundtrack to that days’ work. i largely go on instinct; the weather has a lot to do with it as well. i don’t like to overanalyse the particulars.
today my hand fell upon radiohead’s kid a. i put it on.
listening to an album i’ve listened to so many times got me thinking about the first time i ever heard it. it was back in 2000 or 2001, when i was attending the evergreen state college. it was being played in a small room; not a dorm room, but some kind of commons-room, or the room where you went to check out av equipment. there were three other people in the room, and as i stood there i became aware of what was on the stereo. i knew that kid a had come out but i hadn’t bought it yet; when i registered what i was hearing part of me wanted to flee to avoid spoiling it until i could really have it to myself.
sitting here nine years later, with the same sounds flowing through my sennheisers, i thought about how the recording had not changed one bit. only i had changed. i am helpless to even attempt to try and retrace the steps of my relationship with that record. i went from practically worshipful to yeah, i love that record!, with less and less feeling each time i uttered it. i remember another moment in my school days – it had to be six months or so from that first exposure – that i performed ‘how to disappear completely’ at an open mic. i haven’t thought about that night in almost a decade.
while i listened and wrote, an idea for a story popped into my head: what if there were a device that let you listen to your now-favorite albums again for the first time? i know i would be sorely tempted to use such a device if it existed. but there’s a price to pay: maybe it has to perform some kind of partial mindwipe to accomplish it; what would be affected by such an action? how many neurons have been touched and shaped by an album that you’ve lived with for a decade? who would you be if all that got taken away?
would it be worth it?

December 26, 2010

no future

the heartbeat of the time lord goes rat-a-tat-tat, four by four: the drumming, the endless drumming. so too have i noticed fours creeping into my timeline. four days between each itch telling me that it’s time to up and put something on the internet again. four days between tinnitus episodes. four days in september. three has cornered the market for too long.
the idea has been kicking around my head for a little bit that if you meet me once, you might never meet that version of me again. imagine: two people meet and fall in love in one breathless weekend abroad, and when one finally comes to visit it is awkward and the whole thing seems a terrible mistake. meeting people once is dubious. first impressions are such strange psychological imprints: they can be overwritten, but why do they exist in the first place? come on science, gimme something.
so too are things never settled until you ship them to the publishers, or hit send, or whatever. consider: you don’t think what you’re doing in this moment is important, or at least, there isn’t a lot of weight on it. quite right. tangent over to consider how much you look down upon yourself in the past; the things you said to that girl, the small decision you made that no one else saw. only you knew what it meant. i often feel a strange disconnect with my past selves, but at the time it was hopefully the best i could muster. it is worth keeping in mind that in the future this moment is also history (if future me is reading this, hello).
it feels uncharitable to take such a critical view. much of my life has been spent giving undue concern to future-present times, attempts to act accordingly to arrive at predetermined goals. consider the analogy of the man at the end of his life. when he looks back does he see the events of his life as inevitable, or does he see how things could have been different save for all the small particulars? i think of that beautiful quote from douglas adams: i may not have gone where i intended to go, but i think i have ended up where i needed to be.
it is easy to look at the past as a fixed thing, as if the things we see always were and would always have been just so, as if their hardened, finished forms existed from the beginning. this is the view that you get from outside. but ask anyone who has every made something big and unwieldy – or better yet, make something like that yourself – and discover how uncertain every step of it was, how different it ended up, how it was anything but solid. it was more like a jar of chemicals that could have combined in any number of ways, maybe exploded, maybe sat there still and lifeless. but they were loose and fluid and could just have easily never have existed. if we’d met at a different time, so would we have been different people. history books cast everything in stone, but that does history a disservice.
over and over in my notes it has been popping up: no future, no future, no future. it sounds like the nihilistic scribblings of a young john connor in the second film, but it means something different to me. to me it means don’t think about the future, think about where you are. do something clever, or do something fun, but do it right now. you can’t do the future.

December 21, 2010

i’ll remove the cause, but not the symptom

for the last month or so i’ve had the off-again on-again symptom of hearing a background-hum type of white noise inside my head, which amplifies any low-level sounds around me, from the boiling water of the electric kettle to the hiss of the shower. being around generators is especially unbearable.
i have no idea what’s been causing it. at first i thought it an aspect of some passing flu, but the winter bug has come and gone and still this one thing returns again and again. when it comes over me the whole world ceases to be real in any meaningful sense; everything i think and see and do is happening in my head, not in the world. i don’t retain the words i read. the things people say are just echoes in my mind. functioning in the world becomes akin to performing onstage; i hear the lines around me, even if they don’t mean anything. i can respond to them, but once they pass the whole episode feels like lost time.
being a hypochondriac makes it hard to know how much an ailment is real and how much the product of imagination or stress or what have you; after a while you start to mistrust yourself. i take notes of the symptoms while they’re upon me. later on it will feel like everything is fine and perhaps i blew it all out of proportion, because that is what i do. i have been to the doctor for this – naturally, the day of my appointment fell when i had no symptoms and could only describe them in post – and left with neither of us the wiser. it is bad enough to know that something is wrong; it is worse to know it and be unable to prove it to anyone else. when the doctor looks at you and can find no trace, you are one step closer to madness, one step closer to shouting deafly that something is wrong, why won’t you believe me, and no longer being certain that this is so at all. it makes you long for an illness that can be identified by a simple blood test, for a world where they take one look at you and know what it is.
if living with strange and possibly imaginary ailments has taught me anything, it is to learn to live with them. i used to begrudge people with good eyesight their never having to deal with the hassles of contact lenses and checkups and the like; now i imagine how dull it would be to live in a world where you could not help but see well all the time. the ability to take out your eyes and let the world go blurry is undervalued. i don’t use it often, but having the choice is the thing. so it is that sometimes i go into my own head and the world is all but blocked out; i cannot choose when it comes over me. but it is a world – isn’t how we perceive and experience the world the same thing, meaningfully, as reality? – that few people get to see.

December 17, 2010


i’ve been living as if it were already 2011, because it helps to get a little warmup in when you’re aiming for new beginnings and i am basically done with 2010 in all the meaningful ways anyhow. i’ve redone the bedroom into two areas separated by bookshelves; the bed has its nook and the desks have theirs. rearranging furniture is a constant thing in my home, but i have a feeling this new arrangement – the third or fourth in the past three months – will see me through a good period. i know this: i couldn’t have come to it had i not lived with the other layouts and seen them fail. spending time visualizing possible designs and straining to anticipate what you will do with them is a hard way to operate; designers have no easy task. it is lucky to be able to change; live a few months this way, make adjustments, live a few months that way, etc. until you get it right. i read somewhere, i think it was in the design of everyday things, that common wisdom in the design industry holds that no one gets a product right – right meaning to a place where it’ll be commercially embraced and accepted – until the fourth or fifth try. the implication of this is that all those innovators who poured all their imagination into turning out a brilliant new product – the first of its kind – watched as it was rejected, misunderstood, or ignored. nine times out of ten this means that there won’t be a next time. how lucky are we to have lives that can be exceptions to this?
it started with a few lines slipped into evernote for my future selves to see, lines that come in the midst of hypochondria and anxiety like slivers of light through a fog. little things. separate your computer from your work desk. choose five books – no more, no less – to live on that desk as daily reminders of what is most important in the days to come.
these little ideas usually refuse to go away and once implemented always give you that feeling of i should have done this months ago. that thought forgets the obvious, though: you don’t get to that point without doing it wrong first. i’d never have been hit as strongly with those seeds of correction if i wasn’t so deeply on the wrong path. again.
the subject of who i am has been weighing on me a lot lately. normally i see such existential musings as pretentious timewasters in disguise and ditch them altogether; adding to that the knowledge that i don’t really accept the notion of a unified self/soul/etc. to the mix – neuroscience has done away with that notion, thank you – it becomes more of a headache than anything to wonder about who i am, really. but it comes to me now, at the end of another year, and what i feel is not the need to know who i am so explicitly as being sure that this, whatever this is, is not it. i intently let the past fade into oblivion and sever myself from past versions, but all the same there are patterns that keep repeating and holes that we do fall into again and again. so when i ask, who am i? what i come up with by way of example is not a name, or a title, but a choice: i do this, i don’t do that, that’s not who i am. this is a difficult business. and who i am is not the person i’ve been telling myself i should be all these years. even if i continued (successfully) to work towards that ‘goal,’ it would be wrong. the only parts of me now that feel true and strong are the parts that were born from constant practice and constant failure, parts that couldn’t have been foreseen.

December 8, 2010

bedtime stories

it’s a little before 5 in the morning and for the third night in a row my dreams have been vivid and harrowing enough that i feel i’d rather go without enough sleep than endure them any longer. i always have bad dreams, but only rarely ones that feel so pointedly doomsaying and dire. i’ve grown accustomed to them to the point that i analyze what might be affecting me down to the way i’m laying in bed, sleeping barefoot vs. wearing socks, to the adverse effects of being too warm (a heavy, warm comforter becomes a weight or a trap in dream language). i know the dangers of sleeping on my back vs. on my side and i know that tucking one foot into the curve of the other is my best chance to pass through unscathed. lately i’ve been trying to decide whether i’m getting worse or if this is just the way of things when i’m feeling particularly hypochondriacal.
the story of getting older seems to be, at heart, the story of more things going wrong, more often. it feels impossible not see illnesses as tests or trials in the personal narrative we cobble together over time. when one thing is wrong, i can deal. more things start going wrong and i can’t help – literally – feeling that it’s a reflection of my character, as if we were living in a greek play where the gods despatched malady for fun, to keep us on our toes. it is a trick of the mind to observe an onset of pain, or infection, and take it as a reaction to whatever it is you’re doing at the time. it may be that, but it’s just as likely random and without any meaning at all, like most things. i wish this were an easier concept for us to live with.
in the light of day it is easy to be rational. i like being rational. but it becomes more and more clear in the night, when we’re most vulnerable, that rationality is not really a human trait. it could be argued that this is our natural tendency to imagine and think in stories, which sets us apart as a species more than anything else i know of. it is one of the finest things about being human.
but not right now.

December 4, 2010

so that happened

i’ve been putting off writing about my trip and it’s starting to give me bad dreams.
after a vacation the first thing everyone asks is ‘how was your trip?’ they do not want to know so much as to hear you say it was wonderful and continue on with their day. i have said how good it was half a dozen times now and each time it’s left me feeling a little more dead. the truth is much more complicated; on the last day i was so homesick and heartsick that i nearly broke down the moment i buckled my seatbelt on the airplane. there were moments of pure anonymous bliss, walking the streets of hanover, and the empty spaces that fill every day that’s already been foreseen. a week is a long time, and also no time at all.
much of the time it feels as if days react to one another. good days always precede bad ones. in the same way a trip of any length takes on a narrative arc; the first day was a mix of exhaustion and euphoria at getting away, at last, thank god, followed by endless airports and the final collapse into the arms of a new place. i’ve found the more you look forward to something the more you are certain to have nothing to say when it finally comes. talk fills the in between moments. after a few days this wears off and you’re still in a place, albeit a new one, and it is as real as anywhere else.
i made one very basic mistake before the trip, and that was having certain expectations of how things would go. getting away is never just getting away; it carries the burden of providing, in your mind, everything you had been missing from the place you’d left. portland had been my home for 7 years, yet it had never been my community. just a place i live. soaring over the middle states, i was expecting to find some sort of home in vermont; some sort of closeness and camaraderie – i should have known this for the red flag it was by the sheer vagueness of it – only to arrive and find it just another place, with people living their lives same as anywhere. a beautiful place, a glorious place – but i was just visiting and so the narrative was maintained.
my expectations did color my experience, but i must remember the good things. i went and saw the possibility of another life, one that puts everything back here in a new light. i met a bunch of good people and they reminded me who i was. i wouldn’t trade it for anything. it wasn’t what i wanted in a lot of ways and in some ways also left me more tired and alone than before i went. doesn’t mean i regret it.
by the last day i’d come to the end of the arc, as if finally coming to peace with my mistakes and learning to live without expectation. it came just in time to leave. so it goes.

but being back, i get that damned question: ‘how was your trip?’

what can i say?

Tags: ,