Archive for the ‘Pseudo-wisdom’ Category


Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

I’ve hit a cultural tipping point with the sea of beards, hair everywhere I look, even in my own mirror. So I’m considering a shave, even though I like my own beard-face. There’s a young guy under there, the Me from ages ago. I grew up with that face, wouldn’t mind meeting that old friend.

However, this is one case where I really do need to think of the children.

Many of us have or had fathers with facial hair. The beard. The mustache. The pork chop sideburns.

My dad has been gone for nine years now, so my memories of him are a pastiche of ages, from a cigarette-dangling, clean-faced youth-parent to the full beard that he carried through the majority of my life. You get used to the beard, the shape of his face. It was a part of his being.

He was a serious beard-man in the man’s-man sense. I watched him take things apart, figure them out, improve them. I grew up camping, hiking, loving nature. And, of course, there was the drag racing.

He was a considerate beard-man. His work ethic became eponymous, and I try to carry on that aspect of Brucker, aspire to it every day.

He was a funny beard-man. Goofy little songs accompanied our marathon Monopoly sessions. After dinner, he referenced any food stuck in his beard as stuff that he was saving for later.

And there was that one time when he shaved it clean, and all of a sudden he wasn’t my dad. The guy sounded like my dad, wore my dad’s clothes, wore his life. But his expressions were alien. Reactions and facial twists that the beard had softened became disturbingly overt. New expressions, new judgements.

You are not supposed to “get to know” the parent you already know. This is the embodiment of the given, the constant. Change the constant, and life unravels.

I had to train myself to stop staring at his FACE. Nothing but Face, all the freaking time, talking and talking. Holy shit, is that the guy who was under there the entire time? Yikes, he’s moving his alien lips and talking like my dad but it’s like watching a puppet, a man made of living wax, and even his eyes are looking “off” and distant and transformed. This was some real Body Snatcher shit. Every conversation was an incessant challenge, a taunt. His voice became weirdly frontal. Form trumped content, and the voice itself seemed to change into this anti-dad. Stop with the Face, stop it! There’s just too much of him.

And he must have felt the same way, looking in the mirror every morning, warping time with this aged version of his youthful self. Worse, what daily climate did he navigate? People staring at him. People staring away from him. People freaking out during any given conversation, and him knowing the entire time exactly what was freaking them out, both of them trying to keep it under control. A Möbius strip of reaction begetting reaction. Madness.

His beard returned, eventually. Thank god.

Let’s just pretend this never happened.

But now: The ubiquity of Man-Face weighs on me, particularly the well-waxed and intricately squiggly Hipster Beard. A dude sports that shit like a narcissist nimbus, ready for your selfie. There’s a point when something you like about yourself and others becomes a “thing,” and then vomits itself across the cultural landscape. And then you watch it turn silly, turn sour, turn into a commodity or a ready-made attempt at personal expression.

I know men with wonderfully wild beards, beautiful sculpture, tight designs, all of those outward expressions of inner chaos, order, freakiness and depth. And I like them, like my own beard. After all, beards make it easy to identify the “males” in our society.

It’s become a “look,” though, part of a complete package, with matching flannel and boots and whatever-the-hell. For you selfish lot, you fashionistas, I wonder if you understand how this will impact the people who depend on you. I wonder if you understand that this world is not about you, that you have committed to something greater than your vanity. You are tampering with communal history.

I wear my beard as my dad wore his, clean-cropped and hand-trimmed. When he died, I took on a variety of pants and shoes, jackets, shirts – we had the same build and the same shoe size. It’s taken nine years to wear through almost all of that, to no longer don a piece of my dad as each item disintegrates, as memories merge and degrade and swirl into the historical wash of the deceased. I have a coat and an aloha shirt that I always wear on airplanes. And this beard, serious, considerate, funny.

So I haven’t hit on any beard jokes with my own son, but they’ll come in time. If I whip out the “saving it for later” line, I’ll have to attribute it to the grandpa he never met. The grandpa who lives on through my beard, channeled. Every day Simon gets a little glimpse into his Grandpa John, looking through me and into him. If I keep this beard, my decision transcends the crap-wave of culture. It bonds us in love and a shared loss.

I can’t shave that away.


Friday, January 2nd, 2015

I am having a rough time cracking through the layer of petrified shit that ensconced 2014, to find the good stuff, the elements that are worth keeping, celebrating and repeating. Because I derailed myself, then was shoved around by abusive monsters, and momentum became a wobbly top at best. I have struggled with dangerous depression, tried to get on top of it by making it uncomfortably public, then retreated in confusion and doubt, allergic to humanity and fellowship.

I have found some sort of resolve only recently. This has not been accompanied by comfort, and, sliding into 2015, I’m realizing that “comfort” might be an invalid concept. I hit a similar realization regarding “closure,” how we inflate these panacea concepts and struggle to forge catch-all buckets. Life cannot be simple, though. That is, simplicity is the opposite of life. Simplicity is the burnout of nuance and the unknown, a wish for linear predictability, with major events, opportunities and challenges approaching slowly as well-labeled off-ramps. Simplicity is bullshit. It is the tail end of a comprehensive lobotomy.

The ideal “comfort” that hangs out on the cognitive fringe is peripheral, disappears with direct focus. Life is messy, frightening. You rely on people who step up to the plate (your plate, their own plate, some sort of freaking plate). You rely on people who seem consistently intent on proving their own shitty unreliability or narcissism. You rely on children and lovers and cats and dogs. You rely on the additive and destructive dynamics of all of those interwoven elements, and it’s a swirling stew, both tempest and aurora. None of it is particularly comfortable in the sense of calm stasis, and the whole is so nuanced and fluid that it is gloriously unpredictable.

The thing that made 2014 so difficult was not the overwhelming complexity. It was the exclusion of “self” from the tapestry. I placed myself outside of the Venn diagram, so the roiling beast was something I needed to manage or flee, some “thing” that I viewed as separate. This alienation started with skipping the simple necessity of relying my self. I didn’t throw myself into the mix.

So now I’m going to do that. That’s the resolve. Goals and ambitions will shift about and clarify. But none of that will have meaning or permanence without the initial participation, without relaxing my personal expectations enough to allow myself to be the weird, creative, cranky, goof-ass person I am, and to start with that. The rely on it. Find comfort in the core instead of somewhere in the shimmer.

My Paiva Hump

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

I’m thinking of something that’s a bit of a trigger topic: Body Shame.

The default is related to weight and body shape. And that’s important, permeates our culture. There are other elements, though. Specifically, a simple thing, perhaps the definition of the Obvious and Simple. Your nose.

I have no issue with my nose. It’s somewhat big, sometimes bulbous (whiskey-enhanced?). My mother’s family, the Portuguese Paivas, have a genetic nose-shape called the Paiva Hump, and I’ve always thought of it as a feature, not a bug. Then again, as a man, an over-accented facial feature isn’t much of a target. For women, as usual, it’s different.

So before I move into my “love your nose” speech, please understand that I don’t mean to trivialize sensitivity. We carry these things from early ages, hoisted upon us by terrible people. And the general advice of “well that person should just love you for who you are” doesn’t do much to alleviate the pain of judgment. But judgment rarely, if ever, involves understanding or connection.

To be sensitive and critical of your own face is a constant strain, particularly in this streak of “selfie” fever. When you don’t like yourself, either inside or out, the “selfie” is either a constant work in progress, or an anti-option, a ubiquitous social element that reminds you, over and over, of the thing you prefer to avoid, the thing you feel that you can’t change, the anchor tied around your neck. I’m okay with my face, my looks. I avoid a chain of “selfies” because I eschew vanity.

So there’s the first punch. Universal judgment of the “selfie” (the thing I refuse to un-quote). Again, though, that’s from the mind of someone who, on the whole, has not been comfortable in his own skin. And by “skin” I mean “self”. If Self = Something Rotten, then Selfie = Celebration of Rottenness. So even though I’m okay with my looks, there have been plenty of times when I couldn’t stand the look of my own face.

Many people are not like this. And that doesn’t mean that they are all vain. This gadget-empowered revolution in DIY portraiture has helped plenty of people who were on the fence about their own looks. Even when you don’t like the way you look, or believe yourself to be ugly, there are still those photos that you like, the ones that either make you look glamorous or happy or, well, normal. The photos that show you as you want to be.

A “selfie” can provide such evidence, and even though I make some grand statement about vanity, the truth is that I love to see photos of the people I care about. And of those photos, I particularly like the ones that show true beauty.

Beauty is a combination of contentedness and pride. Beauty is happiness. It is lack of artifice. Or: It can be a celebration of artifice, an acceptance of it. Makeup does not make someone beautiful to me, but the wearing of makeup, the confidence of makeup that does not cover or distort, but accents the contours and features, that can be beautiful.

Beauty is energy. Soul. The most beautiful portraits I have seen are of people who smile, who seem at ease, happy, accepting and, in turn, inviting. There’s a good chance that your favorite photo of your favorite person is simple, pure, and just so “them”.

So: The nose. It can’t be covered up. It is the central feature, the bullseye. And, as with all beauty, it must be owned by that person. Proudly.

Every face has the capacity for great beauty, and the nose is a divining rod of that beauty. I’m not talking about the tiny snip of a nose that blends into a face so perfectly that it disappears. Why would you be proud of something that people never notice?

I’m thinking of art, of the variance in women’s noses over hundreds of years of depiction. The Helenistic Beauty of expression and humanity. Flaunt that nose. Put if forward. Jagged, bulbous, humped (or Paiva-Humped). Flat, dipping, flared. Own it. Recognize that this is the thing you are not supposed to fake. Your face is your gift, your own gift and the gift for those around you. Your face, tied into your persona, is what sticks with people, what makes them remember you and want to be with you. It is You.

However, here’s the confession: I rarely take notice of someone’s nose. Watching a movie on the big screen, the nose disappears into eyes, lips, chin, teeth, cheekbones, etc. I have to force myself to zero in on the feature that is right there at center of a person’s face, the element from which the face blossoms. The nose is some sort of linchpin, a blind spot. It is the open secret, always more prominent to the owner than the observer.

Stay with that last statement. If you want to know how a person views him or herself, focus on the nose. That’s the thing that pops in the mirror, the “self” in the “selfie”. It’s the reason why the reflection doesn’t always match the reality, why we rarely see ourselves the way that other people see us. So I’m going to train my attention to your nose. And it might make you uncomfortable, me staring into the center of your face during any given conversation. But I want to understand how you see yourself. I want that connection, without judgment.

This is where I get to the classic: If someone is going to judge you by your nose, thoughtless and devoid of understanding, that person isn’t worthy of you. It seems like a placation, a thin wafer of consolation that begs you to pretend that the cold, hard facts somehow don’t apply. Because we spend so much energy defining ourselves by reflection, using other people as a conglomerate cornerstone, this Sartrean gaze of the Other warping reality at full bandwidth. And those people who are trapped into depending solely on the opinions of others to measure self-worth and beauty will always be hobbled. It’s the human trap.

Finally, this is about whatever the hell you want it to be. Nose. Smile. Hair. Humor. Body. The people who don’t recognize quirks as amazing, unique manifestations of beauty, conduits of soul and personality, elements of truth — they are lost, and we don’t need to join them as they slouch through featureless, prescribed lives.

This might be the most difficult goal, to disempower judgment, to project truth instead of seeking definition. It might be a feature of living.

Frameworks and Habitrails

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

I see the same people on the train every day, every week. These strangers are absorbed into their phones and books and music, or staring into shoes, knitting, whittling away myelin in nano-thin shavings to pass the daily stops in anticipation of home comforts and lifeblood launching points. We’re a group misalignment, disconnected nodes sharing a contained experience, rarely nodding or acknowledging each other. And we shouldn’t.

The domestic life, the stability we cherish, is also a deadening of the weird skin that sets us apart from each other. We blend together on this train, in plastic fleece and work shoes, well-worn lunch bags and overcoats, often a spectrum of exhaustion or distraction. I look at these same people every day with alienation, a void of camaraderie. A fear of assimilation, of normalizing yourself into a diminished approximation of the personality that’s gotten you through this life.

In general, the only people I want to connect with are the weirdos. Artists, derailed souls, unique personalities who shine or fight or live in isolated clouds. And the weird people that I love are always a little weirder than I am, dug a little deeper into themselves. So even then, there’s a disconnect. Weirdness can be disparate, incompatible, and when you’re used to not really connecting with people throughout your life you tend to either miss the opportunities for connection, or just remain in a state of poor social practice.

So I might see someone on the train who is a little more like me. Someone who isn’t comfortable in succumbing to suburban pleasantries. But even with that person, polarities are repulsive. We just want to suffer the ride, read books, listen to podcasts, and get out of the metal box, away from the strangers, away from quotidian reflections.

I cling to remaining an outsider, to defining myself by what I am not. The train is full of those people, and I’m inclined to judge them. It’s the easy way to make yourself feel better. Branding, and then juxtaposition from those simplistic categorizations. No one is simple, though. Every person riding in that car is a mushy stew of light and pain, a real bio-mess. I project labels of triviality onto people who I don’t know, who I would never take the time to know, even while my own thoughts and concerns, weak threads of passion and ambition, are just as complex and trivial.

Prejudice is simple-mindedness, inflating massive presumed history into a thin, momentary slice of another person’s existence, refusing to invest the time and intellect necessary to consider why someone lives a certain life or thinks a certain way. The “suburbs” become an ostracized nebula. The city becomes a distant carnival attraction. The fear each populace projects onto the other is bidirectional.

Here’s the deal: The greater your feeling of being “better” than everyone around you, the greater your failure as a human being.

The train is everywhere. A well-built life. Frameworks and Habitrails. Those aspects we construct for ourselves to stay sane, maybe constraining sanity’s spectrum to minimize dangerous variability. That’s what we are supposed to do, to settle into ourselves, build the base, flourish within. Branch out safely, strategically.

But I’m fighting against this. I want to “stay weird,” which is nearly impossible because the backlash of weirdness attacks you at every stage in life, every age, and you push through it, incorporate it, sometimes bend to it or allow it to derail you into an alternate path of identity. And as time unfolds, you understand that you aren’t the flavor of weird that you once were, and it becomes really hard to discern if this is just an element of overall change, as we constantly change and mature (and sometimes de-mature), or if you’re editing out the good stuff to keep on with a sustainable life.

And that, I suppose, is why I am often compelled to babble on in this blog. Clinging to that Jim-ness in some way.

The Myth of Closure

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

I’ve been digging through fissures, cleaning out my mind and emptying it onto journal pages (see previous blog entry). It’s been a healthy challenge, trying to zero in on tangible motivations while flashing through a variety of hurt-states, buying into confusion rackets. And poking out from the heap of detritus is a surprise notion about Closure: It doesn’t exist.

The therapist would argue otherwise, I suspect. But hear me out.

Consider the times in our lives when we desire closure. You’re mid-way through creating a great meal for friends, and inspiration seals the dessert — it’s going to be spectacular. You’re on your third date with someone who managed to Pass The Test on the second date. You’re prepping for the incoming class while proofing a co-authored paper. You’re taking your kid to the beach to help him fly a kite.

Does any of that require closure? Of course not. This is all LIFE, in its glory and ruin and intricate fractal absorption.

How about these:

You almost made it back in time to watch your father die. You’re sitting on the couch after the final explosive argument that caused her to march away into her own life, without you. Your friend, the one who no longer seems to desire any Venn overlap, name-checks you in a Facebook post.

Ah yes, there are the fractals.

Moments of longing. Reminders of unfinished business. This stuff digs into you and festers, and you long for a way to temper those neurons, to put it all to rest.

Closure becomes a component of transition. You feel yourself moving in some direction, or maybe just being pushed somewhere. And you want to release your grip on an old life. So you examine that life, again and again, searching for the release points, the elements needed to finalize thoughts and feelings, put that all into a box. But you’re still in it. Examining. Stewing. Digging. Never letting go.

So what is closure? How is something “closed”?

You want a chance to tell him the things left unsaid. To get it out in the open. Okay. Let’s go back in time and do it, right now. Call him up and tell him, get it out. Close it.

And then… what? Has the hurt been closed? Did the admission of unrequited love manage to eliminate that love? I doubt it. You might have made yourself feel better in the moment, and that’s valuable, but the most likely scenario is that the complex puzzle of pain and love isn’t wiped clean, and the “situation” could manifest itself again in some other way, perhaps requiring another intervention.

This is what I’m getting at. We respond to the cues of transition (upheaval, exodus, death, etc.) with a desire for context, for a bookend. We convince ourselves that the magic bookend must exist, that complexity of emotion (and is there anything more complex than that?) can be tied off with a single knot. Then we tell ourselves that the bookend always existed, that we should have closed it all when we had the chance, as if life had always been that simple. And then we force ourselves to find a way to close it anyway, burning people out, burning ourselves out, or forever approaching the limit.

But the reality of the situation just might be that there would never be a bookend. The “closure” in which you invest is a fantasy of a simple life.

Life is like the X-Files. Each season-ending reveal and solution opens a shit-box of tangential mysteries, and pretty soon you’re wading through Season 9, wondering what the hell happened to Mulder. Lost within the tangles, grasping for meaning.

The deep, interpersonal challenges that are woven into our fibrous makeup are not simple, and cannot be clearly resolved like some Help-Desk Ticket of the Soul. Resolution is a conglomerate of emotions and time vectors. It’s an aspiration, and a good one, but it shouldn’t be the Thing We Do, in some constant state of resolve. The Thing We Do is what we are doing right now. Resolution is part of it. So is breathing and eating. Laughing, crying, puking, walking. I don’t drive relentless focus into walking. I just… walk.

Here, I’ll really murder this freaking metaphor for you. You’ve been through some shit. You need to walk away, put it behind you. Yes, do it. Walk. But this intensity of “closure” plays out as walking while looking behind you. You are focused on doing something about this thing that you are walking away from. You are putting yourself out of reach, while wanting to hang on. And worse yet, you aren’t even looking forward, don’t even know where you’re going. Turning around and looking forward doesn’t bring closure. But it shifts your attention from that nagging construct, gives you some ownership of direction. Perspective fills your wake, and what seems to be closure is actually distance and space.

In the end, I think life can be less like the X-Files and bit more like Doctor Who. Loop around, get goofy and serious and very, very weird. And, when the time seems right, regenerate. Gloriously regenerate.

The Art of Not Journaling

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

We’re coming into one of my favorite and weirdest times of the year: School Supply Season. I’m a pretty descriptive person, but it’s hard to pin down the appeal of a new notebook, new pen, that clean, open promise, unfolding of unlimited possibility. I don’t fear the blank page. The blank page is beautiful. It’s the moment, the caesura, just before something moves from the internal to the external. And that motion, transcribing thoughts, living with them, giving in to them completely and letting them take on an unintended path — that’s just about as perfect as it gets.

I have a few Moleskines, but, really, just a cheap Mead was always enough. And a Pilot V-Ball. I’m a machine of habit, comforting habits. Some time in the late 90s I ate spaghetti with red sauce every night. For at least a year. And yes, I’ve eaten the same sandwich for lunch for, um, yeah – many years. Sometimes I am stiflingly confused. But other times I know exactly what I want.

So I was looking for a few old photos the other day. Pictures from Baltimore, from when we found the abandoned Blair Witch House. Instead, I found a box of materials. Manuscripts and such. One of my “writing” boxes. And there were several journals in there from the years. Not all of them. My journals are spread out, on random shelves, in boxes, drawers. This was a sort of cache, though, and I’ve been sifting through a very overbearing Challenging Stage lately, so this stuff is valuable.

I grabbed a nice, square-bound tome, flipped it open. A few entries from some time, long ago, during some phase of soul-wandering. Ten, fifteen pages in, and then it was all clean and blank, all the way through. Another notebook: same thing. A few entries, then nothing. Blank and blank and blank. Just about all of them.

In the moment of buying a fresh notebook, I’m giddy. Actual butterflies infesting my viscera! Even when I’m full of darkness, there’s this “first date” excitement, and that sustains for at least a couple entries. Then the shit hits the fan. Some sort of shit. Hitting something.

Maybe the journaling was just a quick panacea. Lancing a poison sac. I’d like to think that, but- I think it’s some other action, something on the other side.

Some time after 2002, after I moved back to Chicago and set onto building this life, I abandoned notebooks. Still did a travel journal, but nothing on the home front. Instead, I took up this blog. And look what we have: the same fucking thing! A few spurts of activity, then months upon months of nothing, like the looping pattern of serial dieting.

But the blank pages, the blog voids – there’s something in there, written in invisible ink, invisible blood. I don’t stop the journaling due to some satisfactory plateau. I stop it because I am too scared to continue. Because some of my thoughts seem so dangerous and destructive that I’m afraid to mediate them into a corporeal state.

The blank pages contain pain. Locked gears. Dissolved language and obfuscated thought clouds.

I’m there right now. In the blank.

Right now there is a voice in my head that says this, looping for hours, days: Shithead.

Nothing else. No argument, no “you are bad, you are an asshole, you are not good for the people around you.” I’ve been there, quite a bit. Went there a lot this winter. Got around and on top of it, ahead of it some time in the spring. And that particular voice hasn’t come back.

But this one doesn’t care about logic. There is no additional suggestion of what I should do about it (obliteration). It’s just simple. Relentless. Impossible to argue with because it is not trying to pick an argument.

Because it’s right.

I can’t unwind myself from this, can’t unclench long enough to do what I have to do. That is, I’m not in a state of illogic. I know that my next step, really, is to find the evidence, the support on either end of the scale. Proof, through action, that I am, indeed, a shithead. And episodic proof that I am not a shithead. Lists to weigh against each other, as on Thoth’s scale.

The trouble is the persistence of the simple voice. The shithead loop. At least a thousand of them an hour. No space, no pause. Like sitting across from some asshole who won’t shut up, won’t enter into genuine conversation. In a state of constant interrupt, trapped within a solipsistic hoax.

Eating spaghetti every freaking night for a year.

Hummus and cheese and carrot and spinach sandwich. Every every every day.

And I wish this was just a different word, different accusation. If I was hearing “stupid,” over and over as I used to, well, I can get past that because I know for a fact that I am not stupid. And I might act like an asshole from time to time, but that isn’t who I am.

This is different, and it’s a tough one. And I’m not even certain how to define a “shithead,” so something inside, something waiting, has managed to leverage a slippery nebula.

So… the blank page. This isn’t blank, not any more. I’m putting this down to get over the fear of making it real. It’s already real. But, inside my head, silent to everyone else, it’s safe, unlimited. Out here, now it has to reckon for itself. Now I can push against it and at least ask the questions, in tiny steps:

What is a shithead?

If I am a shithead, am I also anything else?

What is the point?

And how much does that even matter?

I’m afraid of the answers.

The Riches of Embarrassment

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

I’ve been time-traveling quite a bit. I think you have, too. It’s built into our humanity. We move forward through time, the linear path, conscious perception staying just a split-second behind the actual vanguard point of existence. And every so often we push a tack into the timeline. We don’t stop. We can’t stop, even when we wish with every fiber, every struggling neuron, that this Time thing could freeze.

But we do go back. The tack is node, a return point. It stays hard and fixed, and our fluid lives flow around it.

Here are a few tacks:

Backwards Day. I don’t remember how old I was. Eight? It was Backwards Day at school. Everyone shows up dressed “backwards”. I embraced it, went all-out. Backwards pants and shirt. Glasses. Inside-out socks. Straight-jacket approach to a backwards coat. My coat was brown. I remember that. When something becomes a tack, there are very specific visual details that remain flawless and sharp.

When I got to school, all backwards-jacked, one of the teachers came over, concerned, and let me know that it was not Backwards Day. I was the only person dressed like that. A black hole funnel opened beneath me, and I buried my face in a brick wall near the front doors, crying into my backwards brown coat.

I don’t remember switching my clothes forward. Don’t remember anything else of that day, that week. But I feel it, right now, immediately. The desperation. The embarrassment.

It was the embarrassment that created the tack. The tack is immobile. Hard. Cold. It is a fact. It is present, today, right now. I’m there, leaning into the brick, crying, hating the stupid coat. That moment has become autonomous, existing persistently, unaffected by time. I can travel there without effort. To a degree, I am always there.

The First Date. Yeah, I bet this is a tack for quite a few people. It was a good date, actually. I took her to see Rocky 3. Okay, maybe it wasn’t a particularly strategic date. Back then, there was a single theater, one movie, that’s your option if you want to stay close. And I wanted to see Rocky 3. Sue me.

We came back to the house, sat in my room and talked. Watched some television. Talked a little more. And when I dropped her off we kissed, made out a bit. On the whole, the date was a bit emotionless, not particularly awkward, just sort of present. Kissing changed that. That was the moment when emotion entered the picture. I was feeling good, full of something new. Something.

So I assumed that I was full of love. And I told her that I loved her. She backed up, wrinkled brow, and said, “But you just met me, we don’t even know each other.”


I’m there, right now. I can’t even remember what I said, trying to explain myself. I was wearing my nicest clothes. She had long, dark hair. We were in front of her family’s townhouse, my car running and not even in Park – I had my foot on the brake the entire time. And the embarrassment materialized, fully-formed and metallic, and has remained present. Right out of the gate, I second-guessed what love might be, and have never really recovered from that.

We never went on a second date. I couldn’t bear to call her. This wasn’t a case of having my heart broken. That would come soon enough, with a different girl, a guitar and flowers waiting in my back seat while she decided that we weren’t working out, that we should be friends, blah blah blah. That’s vivid, too. But a broken heart is both a moment and a process, and, while elements weave through your soul, it remains within the flow of time. That’s how we heal, or just become different, from those few people who were able to get inside and change us forever. The heart is mutable.

An embarrassment becomes self-defining, impenetrable. It becomes distinct from the moments around it. You carry it like a Mind Stone, never to be passed.

But every now and then, something challenges that corporeal parasite. You see, the tacks of these moments do not encapsulate other people. They are reactions to reactions. And maybe those other people carried their own embarrassments from those very same moments. Or maybe they carried nothing.

I shared a tack with someone recently. Recalled a tack that involved this person, from quite some time ago. For me, it was present, alive and true. But for her- she couldn’t even remember it. It was nothing, washed away in the time-stream.

And now that tack is breaking apart. The moment remains, but now it has been attached to a new moment, this debrief, a bookend of realization that allows the embarrassment to exist as a normal part of my additive lifeline. And maybe it will fester every now and then, flare up, but I know that time will have its way with that moment. Now it’s just another story, another goofy part of the person I am always becoming.


Sunday, July 27th, 2014

I’ve been fantasizing about winning the lottery. The instant cache that derails misfortune, opens the sky into a liberal infinity. It’s common, perhaps elementally common, of the people, all of that. This is why people buy the damned tickets, to dream of a better life, solid gold house, champagne bubble bath.

But my fantasies haven’t been focused on what I would actually do with the cash. No, I’ve just had these notions of escape. It does seem that the easiest way to solve your problems is to strap yourself to a rocket and blast the fuck away from everything and everyone. Move to Tralfamadore. Slip into a tesseract and try it all again.

Avoid life by buying out of it.

Meanwhile, options appear self-constraining, each one a collapsing event horizon. Hopelessness starts with this dismissal of options. Yes, there are choices all around you. But your brain takes each choice and derives an assumed outcome. Those outcomes contract. They don’t branch out to fractal choices. They are processed and crunched, projected forward in the same way that a limit approaches zero, until they seem both inevitable and futile. Terminal. You assume that these options are just flat out improbable. You transform choice into autopilot fate.

So winning the lottery becomes just as likely as acting on slippery, unattainable options. You fantasize about all of it, push it all into fantasy.

That’s hopelessness.

And that’s when suicide seems concrete.

It comes to you dressed as a choice. And it is a choice, yes. But it is not a legitimate choice. Your brain doesn’t push suicide into the same “it could never work out” scope. You know it will work. There is no risk of failure. And in that, nothing to gain.

All of those choices that you have assumed lead to shit, they are all rooted in your current situation. Your job, your love and happiness, your loss and mistakes and hurt. Suicide addresses none of that. It just takes the “you” out of everything. The problems don’t disappear. The people don’t go away. Suicide seems like a solution, but it can’t be. There is no problem solved or addressed. It is out of scope.

It’s ugly, trying to look straight into your own illogic.

I do know this: If it all seems hopeless, if suicide seems to be one of your choices, then what is the harm in at least trying one of the things that is destined to fail? You can always kill yourself later. The suicide choice is not a moment of opportunity, it’s an absolute.

So that ran through my head the other day, when I had shifted from lottery-fantasy to despair, to really thinking that I had no choices. I had to stop myself, my brain, and ask myself why in the hell I was seriously thinking about something like suicide and NOT seriously thinking about doing something about my problems.

In my work, I often receive packages of cluttered, jumbled information, usually as PowerPoint slides. Then I’m supposed to dissect them and reconstruct them into something that makes sense. Blow it all up and create something clean.

Every one of those projects starts with a moment of dread. It’s just too much, too convoluted. There’s no way to wrap my head around all of it. It’s hopeless.

Then I come back to it. Read through a few slides. Start taking a few notes. Nibble away, bit by bit. Tiny clicks. Moments. Mini-solutions. There is no cloud-bursting beam of illumination. There is no instant satisfaction. But I work through it, and it is no longer impenetrable.

There are options. And those options are rooted in taking the time to think about your problems and chip away, in any way. No lottery windfall. No rocket to oblivion. No grand solution. Just work.

And the thing is, I don’t even play the damned lottery.


Saturday, July 19th, 2014

I bought a six-pack of tall Schlitz cans as a sort of research endeavor. The beer pops up throughout a novel I’ve been finishing, in the late-editing stages. The book takes place in the mid-80s, so I figured that Schlitz would be nice touch, and the name is just so unbeatable. Then I started seeing it show up here and there, general cultural references throughout the last couple years, and now it seems about as uniquely comedic as PBR. So I decided the better move would be to buy a little, activate the “spirits journalist” side of me. Yes, I have actually been paid to drink a bunch of alcohol and write, in great and accurate detail, about what the hell is happening inside my mouth.

Today’s Schlitz is a revival of a pre-80s recipe. After a bit of research (which I should have done before writing the damned novel), I found that they screwed up the flavor some time in the early 80s, and it basically killed the brand. So now I’m drinking my way back in time. Really.

This is the taste of childhood. It’s the taste of that first sip of my dad’s beer, out on a family camping trip, sitting around the fire and the marshmallows and the warm, exhausted feeling of having played in the woods and the sand all day. Honesty, singularity of purpose.

We all miss it, and I have met very few people who have been able to hold onto it. Some of us have been able to come around full circle and rediscover it, the child, the purity. I’m not going to say it goes into “innocence,” because kids don’t stay very innocent. They are devious and secretive, destructive. But they still tend to be honest to their own tendencies. They haven’t built the layers of behavior and reaction that can push us into becoming an extrapolation of who we really are.

I’m speaking of myself, here. Extrapolation, distance from origin, confusion of intent. This has been a major focus for me, to recognize my actions and understand the origin of intent. It’s dirty work, and it’s very much in progress. And, in that progress, I’ve hurt people. It’s not good.

Still, I’m recognizing reactivity and the way that it drives my actions. That is, a reaction doesn’t always have a clear connection to deliberate intent. I’ve been very reactive lately, depressed at times, even fatalistic as if watching a string of dominoes, having no idea where or how they started falling. And there’s a madness in that, in trying to dig up the origins of the reactions and understand them. An instrument can have a hell of a time trying to operate on itself.

Today, though, driving all over Chicago with the windows down, Rush and Bob Mould cranking, cruising through my first neighborhood, I started to think outside of the dominoes. Yes, there are reactions and cascades of emotion and despair. But within that turmoil, I’m never taking the time to ask myself what I actually want. And I’ve found that to be a profound and very difficult question: What do you want?

I don’t know the answer. Not at all. But that’s at least a better place to start, instead of getting carried away with my own drama, forgetting that I am still a person who has free will, that the moment I am living in is now, right now.

So: I decided that I wanted a Schlitz.

And I remember my dad, remember the simple sweetness of our camping trips. I do what we often do when we’ve had a few tall ones. We remember the people who mattered to us, the ones who are gone. The ones who are still here.


Monday, January 14th, 2013

My three-year-old son told me this today, completely of his own accord:

“Some days are poop, and other days are better.”

And that is now the mantra by which I will live my life.