Monday, June 21, 2021

Back on Track, Baby!

 


Just a short post today because I am running behind schedule this morning.


I feel like I have been running behind schedule since I got back from my Washington trip about two weeks ago. I’ve expended lots of emotional and mental energy over the last several months trying to make adjustments to this life of mine, with varying degrees of success. Going out of town — while fantastic — screwed up my progress and last weeks I lived more like I had been living for most of Quarantine, which is to say I let my sleep schedule get away from me and my diet somehow decayed back to wine and pizza. That seems to be my default setting, which is no good.


So here I am today, trying to get back to the business of living better, healthier, and non-Quarantine-y.


So while I slept later than I was supposed to today, I have still managed to wedge in the time to sit down here and write out this little post. So now at least I have this little marker for when I started to get back on track. 


Today I have a full day of work, followed by what is supposed to be a run this afternoon, followed by a reasonably healthy dinner this evening. Back on track, baby!


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Thursday, June 10, 2021

Boating with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.


Aaaaaaand I’m back!


I took a little vacation. I went up to Washington state with some people and spent a few days staying in a beautiful house on a lake. I had a wonderful time, thank you for asking. I got to ride on a boat. I got to run in the forest. I went to new places and met new people and I only embarrassed myself a little more than the normal amount.


The pandemic is not over, I know, but the scientific miracle that is these vaccines has given us back a version of life that I am incredibly grateful for.


It wasn’t until I arrived back in my empty little apartment on Tuesday night that I realized how debilitatingly lonely I have been. My situation is not unique. Lots of people went through quarantine alone. I was lucky to have family zoom calls and a supportive group of coworkers and friends to talk to, but nothing is quite as life affirming as being in the same room with other people. It is with good reason that some countries consider solitary confinement to be a cruel and unusual form of punishment. 


I’m not going to lie, I cried a little when I got back here. Not because it is terrible here — I’ve made the best of quarantine, I suppose — but because of how much simply being around other people felt like such a warm blanket. It was like walking in out of a bone chilly cold into a room warmed by a fireplace and with chocolate chip cookies baking nearby. I had to go back out into the cold eventually, but the experience of the cold is different after you’ve known warmth.


There is a scene I always think about from the book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It is a book about prisoners in a Stalinist gulag. Each morning they have to pile out of the bunkhouse into the Russian winter and the guards inspect each prisoner to make sure they’re not taking anything illicit out on their work day. Solzhenitsyn goes on for like two pages about Ivan’s strategy for standing in front of the fire in the bunkhouse absorbing as much warmth as he can before he has to step out for inspection. About the way he’s learned to buckle his coat over his body to make sure he takes as much heat with him as possible. The thing that sticks in my mind about it is that Ivan knows that the guards are going to make him open his coat once he lines up outside. He’s not trying to take the warmth with him all day, he knows he’s only going to get to enjoy it for a few brief moments. But he has a whole strategy for it, because he knows that at the very least, those are moments that he can enjoy. Ivan has learned to appreciate things as brief as that.


Now, I am not in a gulag. I did think of Ivan though while I was gone. I so enjoyed being able to be a person in the world again, to talk to people, to drink with people, to play cards with people, to enjoy people again, to laugh until I cried. There is so much life out there still and bit by bit by ever-too-slow bit, it is coming back. And I am eager for its return.

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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Leaving on a Jet Plane (Tomorrow)!


Short post today.


I am doing a half day of work this morning and then this afternoon I am driving up to the Bay Area to meet up with some travel buddies and then in the morning we are driving to Oakland Airport from which we will be flying to Washington state where we will be spending a few days in a beautiful house on the shores of Lake Whatcom, which is basically in Canada.


I know what you’re thinking: Is this an adventure? Because it sounds like an adventure …


Let me ask the judges … Judges???


Judges say: YES! IT IS AN ADVENTURE!


Man, I love an adventure.


I am especially looking forward to this one because of — you know — Covid. While I know that the pandemic is not, strictly speaking, over in America, I am fully vaccinated as are all my travel compatriots. My county is doing great, the county we’re flying to is doing great. We have reached the point where those of us who are vaccinated in this country need to start giving the middle finger to this disease. Vaccine summer, baby!


I have practice-packed and repacked my little black backpack, my travel clothes are ready to go, my devices are charged, my airplane snacks are ziplocked and loaded. Let’s go!


We are getting to that point where life like sunlight after a storm is beginning to break through the glowering clouds of quarantine and I am here for it. Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, I am returning to cheap airfares on budget airlines to go to weird places just for the pure fuck all joy of being alive.


It is good to be alive again.


Not sure if I will be able to blog tomorrow morning, not sure what the morning will be like, but if I don’t just know it is because I am just so busy being alive again.


It is good to be alive again. 

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Tuesday, June 1, 2021

How to Feel Grateful When You Don't Wanna.

 


I’m in an odd little funk today. I have a bunch of work I need to get done today for my job and I’m feeling a little weird about it. Tomorrow night I will begin my first post-Quarantine trip and I am very excited about that! But there is this pile of work between me and that.


Interestingly, this might be one of the first real “vacations” I have taken as a professional and grown up person that is specifically happening because I need some time to chill the fuck out away from work. Most of the times I have taken vacations they occurred because there was someplace I wanted to go or an adventure I wanted to have. This is that too. This trip basically fell into my lap (a friend put it together), but I was going to take some time off no matter what. My boss even told me recently that if I didn’t use some vacation days, she’d make me. That was very nice of her.


I’ve explained to people before that I am not a workaholic. In fact I’m the opposite; I’m just doing what I have to do to do my job well. Lately that has just required a lot. The stress of it kind of ruined my weekend too, but that is a longer story.


Perhaps it is because I know that tomorrow I’ll get to check out that today already feels like such a slog. I don’t like feeling this way at the start of the day. 


But we carry on, right?


Attitude matters, not to get all self-help-y on you. Sit up straight. Smile. Grit your teeth and get your nose to that grindstone. 


All the minimalists that I follow always eventually get around to talking about what you should do AFTER you have purged all of your stuff, because it isn’t really about the stuff, it is about the life you are trying to make for yourself, and eventually they get around to gratitude. About how important it is for people to recognize how much they have in their lives and to feel grateful about it all. I’ve been trying to do that more. Sure, my job is hard, but I am happy to have a job. Yesterday I drove down to the beach for no reason and sat on a log as the sun was sinking into the sea and I just watched the way the light played on the water and it was a nice and peaceful moment and I’m thankful that I got to have it. I have people in my life and tomorrow I get to take a trip with them. I have a place to stay and people who will welcome me. I feel gratitude for all of that. Or, I’m trying to feel it, at least. I’m not good at this part yet, but I’m working on it.


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Friday, May 28, 2021

Will Androids Dream of Electric You?


There is a writer whose name I can not remember and whose work I can not find, but I have been thinking about him a lot recently. He was not actually a writer. He was some sort of business analyst and what he did was start compiling information about his life on a blog and then each year he would put together an annual report in the style of what he did for work. 


So the final report would be like: 650 Diet Cokes, with a trend line increasing in Q3 & Q4. If I remember right, he correlated his increased trips to the gym in Q1 & Q2 with the anticipation of summer in Q3, with a steep drop off in Q4. That kind of thing. 


In one of the years he did this reporting, his father died. That was the one that I remember most, because that was when he worked on quantifying the existential. Therapist visits, moods. He tried to tried to look backward and figure out what had made his father a good father; he tried to sum it up in charts and graphs and it led him to explore the question of what it even means to live a life and how one can measure a life well lived. It was interesting work and I’ve always been peeved that I didn’t think to do it.


Man, I really need to find that guy’s stuff because it was great.


I’ve been thinking about him lately because of some stuff I’m doing at work, but also because it seems like the sort of project we should all do from time to time. We should be able to buy a workbook at Target that we just fill out, or maybe a piece of software that’s free to download from the US Census Bureau. 


I keep a journal. I call it a “bullet journal” even though I’m not one of the crazy bullet journal people (watch one of their videos on Youtube; they’re nuts) and I also write this blog (or rather, I have started writing it again) and I also keep a time log at work, just a simple spreadsheet where I track each time block of my day and make notes about what I was doing. All of this is in addition to whatever creative work I’m out putting, like the silly daily drawings I post to Instagram (@standard_kink) or the actual writing I do. Creative work, be it fiction, or photography, or painting, is always a pretty good record of where you’re at emotionally and intellectually during the period when you’re creating it. I know a lot of poets who would argue with me about that, but they can go write their own blogs for no one to read, thank you very much.


My point is simply that without meaning to holistically, I have documented my life extensively. Add into that my camera roll (I’m one of those jerks who takes pictures of interesting looking bugs and I love a well cracked window) and — let’s get Big Tech about this — my internet history and my debit card spending, and you have a pretty good sense of me as a person. Obviously this is not new thinking. Amazon and Google figured this out a long time ago, it’s the basis of their business models: by learning what a person does, you can figure out what they will want to do next. And they’re good at it. That’s why people think that Facebook is listening to them through their cell phones. The reality is that would be a less efficient way of learning about people because you’d have to sift through how they present themselves (ie: the person they want others to think they are) when it is far easier to simply watch what they do (ie: who they really are). 


If you’re not like me and creating your own documented life (which, again, I have ended up doing mostly by accident and via accumulation), then when you finally shuffle off this mortal coil, the most accurate biography of you will be a long string of code living inside a server in a data warehouse owned by Amazon.


We like to think that our lives will be remembered by the loved ones we leave behind, and to a degree that is true; in bits and pieces of ever decaying memory we will live on for a generation or two. There is a novel I can’t remember the name of where when people die, they all go live in the same afterlife city until the last living person forgets about them, then they just pass out of existence entirely. They’re walking around the afterlife city and then one day *poof* they disappear because no one living remembers them anymore. I wonder how that would work with a data farm. Would it be enough if Facebook remembers you for eternity? Because we all know that Facebook never forgets.


When the computers eventually gain sentience, I wonder if they will be able to read the code of our lives and know what we were like. 


I know this post probably sounds like I’m leading up to the revelation that I’m dying, but that’s not the case. I’ve just been thinking on that tension between what we believe about ourselves and what is objectively true about the lives we lead. It’s that old chestnut about how we judge ourselves based on intention, but we judge others based on outcome. It seems like in reality, everything is outcome, but we aren’t very good at figuring out what that means. We should probably find ways to get better at that.


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Thursday, May 27, 2021

Tips On Not Buying A Decorative Owl Statue.


Like many people, I spent a lot of Quarantine trying to make my home more comfortable. This was no small task for several reasons. I had only lived here about five months when the lock down started and when I’d moved here I’d done so with all my belongings packed into my little 4-door hatchback. It was me and a cat and some backpacks filled with clothes and books. And that was it. In some ways it was the culmination of a decade spend slowly and deliberately shedding things and slimming down my life. It is possible that when I got here to Monterey I was living as light as I ever will (though I do still harbor the secret ambition to just live out of a backpack, but more on that some other time).


The problem with having only an economy-car’s worth of things though is that it makes the actually-living part somewhat difficult. For instance: nowhere to sit. That first weekend I bought a couch that came in a box and inside of a couple weeks I had a Craigslist kitchen table and a microwave and soon after that a TV and some bookcases. But that was about it those first few months.


One weird thing to know is that I live in an absurdly GIGANTIC apartment. The cost of modern housing being what it is, I have learned not to complain about this, but it is one of those odd ironic curve balls that life throws sometimes. I work for a public university that occupies a decommissioned Army base. I live in the old Army housing, which means that they don’t have studio apartments or anything (because the army had no need for that sort of thing), so I live alone in a two bedroom apartment designed for a military family. When I got the job here I told the housing people I just wanted the smallest, cheapest thing they had, they said, “Sure thing; it’s a 2-bedroom with a garage and a balcony.” God has a sense of humor.


So those first few months this place was pretty bare. A friend of mine called it ‘The Empty Place.”


If you’re into the aesthetic version of minimalism (which I kind of am, but that is really a secondary part of it for me), then you’ve no doubt seen the simple clean lines of white and gray rooms on Pinterest. Always with beautiful old wood floors and great light. Open concept floor plans and lofty ceilings. Kind of Frank Lloyd Wright crossed with the star ship Enterprise sort of look, but with more plants. Well my apartment is not that. Wall to wall cheap-ass carpet in most of the rooms. Old wood kitchen cabinets the color of wet cardboard. One living room wall is unreasonably long. The whole place is just damn weird. Bad design. Roman Mars would be very unhappy with this apartment.


I put my brain to it and tried to figure out how to make this a pleasant home without filling it with a bunch of crap … then Quarantine came along and things got … strange.


Like many people, I was forced to spend so much time here that I noticed every weird uneven-ness in the walls. I noticed every piece of crap joinery on the door frames. The place began to annoy me and rather than feeling like a minimalist, I felt like someone who didn’t know how to make a home, like someone who didn’t know what to put on the walls. And that isn’t actually me. So I went about fixing it. I bought another couch in a box, delivered by a singular intrepid UPS driver. I started my little window sill herb gardens. I bought some rungs and had ordered prints of pictures from my various travels. I even bought a cool black minimal desk for my living room. Throw pillows. Guest bedding. Lamps. I briefly even considered purchasing a decorative owl statue (Did not but it because it didn’t do anything but look like an owl).


By anyone else’s standards, this place is still pretty bare, but I think it is pretty about it.


One time I read an article about the way fancy restaurants and bars are designed and decorated. The guy in the article explained, “people love restaurants because the kitchens are practical and simple, but even better is the sense of plenty: lots of wine, lots of candles.” That made an impression on me and I wrote it down in the Notes app on my phone.   


Simple, but with a sense of plenty.


I guess that is what I have tried to do here, but I still feel weird about it because even though I am still mostly surrounded by things I care about, I do still feel like I could get rid of most of them in a heartbeat. So my minimalist brain shouts at me, “If you can live without them at all, then you should get rid of them now!”


A few months into Quarantine, I realized that all I really needed to live in this apartment is a mattress and a bar stool (the kitchen has a counter bar) and that's it. So why do I have all this other stuff???


The part of me that wants to live out of a backpack also wants to throw out the couches and the rugs and the lamps and the throw pillows. Most days it is a challenge not to over-purge and throw out my flatware. I’m not kidding. I have one set of bamboo utensils. Why do I need more than one knife, one fork, one spoon?


The answer of course is: other people. 


What kind of life are you designing for yourself when the only place to sit in your entire phone is on your one bar stool? It’s a life that doesn’t have anyone else in it. And I know that I would like this life to have other people in it. The loneliness of Quarantine has taught me that. 


Even though I only NEED a mattress and a bar stool, I don’t WANT the life that would create for me. I want a life where I host fucking dinner parties. Right now I could host a small one, but only because I have a table and chairs and haven’t thrown out my flatware yet. Now I just need the people. That part of life is slowly beginning to happen now that we are poking our heads out of our homes like suspicious meerkats.


It isn’t about the stuff, or the lack of it, not at this point in my life anyway. It’s about simplicity with a sense of plenty. The simplicity part I have locked down, now I have to work on the sense of plenty. And that is the work of a life.


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Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Let’s Talk About Text, Baby!


I’ll be honest here, I’ve been in something of a creative slump for quite awhile now. 2019 was a hard year for me personally and I’m not great at writing my way through adversity. So I didn’t get a lot written. Then 2020 … I had such high hopes as 2020 started. The — you know — there was some more adversity. The anxiety and isolation of the pandemic did not do much for me creatively. I did some stuff, I still made some things, but nothing that was worth anyone’s time.


Now as we are beginning to return to a world filled with interesting and inspiring things, I have been getting prepared. In much the same way that I have been trying to get my body ready again for the world, I have been trying to get my creative brain back in gear again as well. That is part of the reason I have started writing this here little blog again. I know that no one reads it, but I have never really written it to be read. I’ve always written it just for the writing of it. This is the mental equivalent of going to the gym. I just have to do it. I have to rebuild a daily writing practice and I have to reacquaint myself with the simple little joys of typing words on this keyboard. 


It has always seemed odd to me that a writer has to be an idea-haver and then a kind of story structure architect, someone with the loose whimsy to think up people out of nothing, but then also someone expected to have the self-discipline to sit down and write every day, but then also someone who has the dispassionate bloodlessness to slash and edit their way back through the thick damp word jungle that they themselves grew and tended. It is an odd way to exist. You can barely blame writers for having the reputation of being prodigious drinkers. It is a weird way to spend one’s time and life.


And I have been wildly unsuccessful at it. At least lately.


And yet, here I am on a Wednesday morning before work, typing away. Even when there is no inspiration in the fingertips, it is important to still type away. 


And I have  a few ideas. A precious few, but ideas nonetheless. I’ve been trying to tend to them like the sad, constantly dying herb garden I’ve been trying to grow since the beginning of the pandemic. I’ve had about the same success creating as I’ve had gardening, but the lack of success is not the same as failure; failure is giving up, everything else is just learning.


The other day I read a poem that I liked and it has been stuck in my mind for a while. I have been turning it around like a skillfully cut diamond, trying to appreciate the craft of it. This is what I used to always be doing. It feels good to be doing it again.

 

It is hard for me to dive back into long narrative writing, which was always my home for most of my life. So I have been looking at these smaller things lately. One can produce a small collection of poems in a weekend if one is properly energized. I’m not saying they will be good poems, but I have never concerned myself with that sort of thing. 


And I have a three day weekend coming up.


And I have my first late-pandemic out-of-state trip just days after that. 


And I have hope that those things will produce ideas.


And that those ideas might produce words.


And that those words might become text.


And that that text might become something called “writing” and then I will hold that writing above my head and proclaim, “Behold, I am a writer again!’


And then maybe if I say it, I will feel like it again.


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