Monthly Archives: November 2014

Guth’s Inflation

Once in a while, I reach a point of fatigue that requires me to admit that I have had enough. Without realizing it, lately I have slipped back into a pattern of “What do I have to do next?” and “What’s my next deadline?” Mind you, I work in education, so for the most part, the only deadlines with which I should be concerned are those I impose on my students, and yet I find myself scurrying from one check mark to the next, worried sick about making it “on time.” This has gone on so long, I don’t even remember what it is like to enjoy long stretches of time, which I qualify as more than three days in a row. I am exhausted, and it is showing. It has been showing for a long time.

This occurred to me less than an hour ago. I am drinking a beer and people-watching, on my one true day off this week, which only means that I didn’t have to clock in somewhere today, not that I don’t have fifty things to do. More check marks. I swore to myself a long time ago that I would not live a life defined by obstacles, and that is all I have done for more than four hundred days. I would do the math to determine the exact amount of time, but I would make myself sick by doing so. In the last year, I have fought more battles than I needed to, lost a massive relationship, rekindled the sparks of another two or three, made almost no progress on the work I want to do on my house, floated paycheck to paycheck, read few books, watched few movies, and generally have not lived the life I want to have. As it is for most of us, I have been my chief obstacle. Most of us know exactly what we want to do, at almost any given time. And then, we don’t do it. More check marks. More nonsense. More time wasted.

One high-top table away from me, a father sat opposite his young son, who was probably around four years old. People are coming and going in waves, and really I was minding my own business, but their conversation was intriguing. My eavesdropping started around the seven-minute mark, when Dad asked son who was the best football team.

Son: “I like the Bad Guys.”

Dad: “There is actually not a professional team called ‘The Bad Guys.'”

Son: “Yeah. I like them.”

Dad: “What colors do they wear?”

Son, starting to cough: “Dark colors.”

Dad: “Cover your mouth–what kind of dark colors? Black?”

Son: “Yeah, and other dark colors.”

Dad: “Ah, I see. What about teams that have dark colors and light colors? For different game days?”

Son: “I don’t know about that. Definitely The Bad Guys, though.”

Dad: “Gotcha.”

They went on like this for more than ten minutes, in a very casual tone. I did my best to pretend I was otherwise occupied, but I could not help laughing aloud more than once. A little while later, Mom showed up, and it became apparent what was actually going on. Mom and Dad said a few things to each other, but it seemed forced. Mom didn’t look at Dad, although he looked into her eyes and watched her lower lip tremble. She didn’t respond to his hug, and she seemed to shrink into the background as Dad walked around the table, stood son up on the chair, fixed his coat, said, “I’ll see you Tuesday, okay? I love you, buddy.”

Mom and son went into the food market part of the store, and Dad looked over his shoulder at both of them as he walked away, out into Sunday night. I finished my food, and stopped disinterestedly flipping through a text book. The dark blue of the late afternoon has turned to black. Christmas music is playing faintly in the background. It’s hard to breathe.

This year has been another hard one. I am tired of being alone, but I am more tired of doing things I do not want to do. I am tired of running from check mark to check mark. I am sick of this manufactured life. I refuse to do this for another year. I did not forget how to spend my laughs, but I scheduled them to occur after obligations were met. It’s not much of a way to live, but it is a pretty efficient way to watch time pass.

I want more smiles, and more evenings spent with warm looks and sincere embraces. A kiss at midnight on New Year’s Eve, in stark contrast to last year. No more lists. No more deadlines, except for the self-imposed. This has gone on long enough. I’m listening to the younger me, the one who remembered his dreams the next day. The one who lived according to the next wave.

Small eternities

At some point, life is nothing more than a collection of imperfect moments striving to capture perfect frames of mind. We have these times we want to freeze and relive, even when we’re not fully sure what made them worthy in the first place–we never truly get back to that complete frame of mind. Music does a hell of a job helping us remember these moments, even if we use it to sweeten the years.

On a Saturday in late August, I drove to Columbus to see School of Seven Bells, a dream-pop group originally consisting of twin sisters (twins, Basil!) Alejandra and Claudia Deheza and guitarist Benjamin Curtis. I first heard “Half Asleep” at one of my favorite haunts in Pittsburgh years earlier, and I assigned the song to a recurring love I just can’t seem to shake, nor reconcile. I’m a big music fan, and I have been most of my life, (which may seem trite–really, who isn’t?) but this particular song went straight to my Top-20-of-all-Time Status–no small feat. Sadly, the object of my musical affiliation was not available at the time of said concert, but I did travel to see the show with a lovely young woman.

It was my first time in Columbus in years, and the Wexner Center for the Arts was definitely an impressive venue, but this isn’t a music review. Most people are unaware of School of Seven Bells, anyway, so I’ll get to the point. The night was memorable because it afforded that singular moment that is one for which you can usually only hope, from the opening act (a Joy Division-esque brotherly duo whose wall-of-noise shoegaze is still very cool) to the end of the show. Nothing disappointed. Unfortunately, the main act was, by then, Claudia-less, but the remaining founding members knew what everyone wanted, promising the crowd early that the songs they wanted were coming. Concert-goers know that performances are rarely studio-perfect. We really want to feel those songs we’ve never heard live, maybe to see if they move us like they do the dozens of times we play them before then. We buy the ticket, and we wait, and most of the time, we are rewarded. Sometimes, it is more than we thought.

The Wexner Center is a small arthouse venue, and the band walked right through the crowd for their final break, and although I have been fortunate to meet artists before, there was something a little different about the way Deheza and Curtis flowed through the crowd. I was schoolgirl-giddy as they walked past us, less than a foot away. The audience waited patiently for that small eternity that elapses before encores, and when they took the stage the final time, “Half Asleep” began washing over us by an undulating Curtis’ strums. Truly, I didn’t want to be the guy standing there with a phone in my hand, but something deep inside me needed to record at least one part of this–one of my all-time favorite songs being played right in front of me. I had my own motives in doing so, and the song was (and is) intimate for me for more than a few reasons, but that perfect moment lasted for a little more than four minutes, and I still feel it wash over me today.

I watched Alejandra Deheza’s eyes close as she held the microphone with two hands, forgoing her own guitar-work at certain points of the song, as though she had no choice. I was disappointed that her sister had left the band some time earlier, as seeing them harmonize for that song would have surely been the death of me, but it was Curtis’ movements and manipulations that showed how essential he was to the group. He was in a perfect moment, and he shared it with us.

I recorded less than half of the song, and then barely managed to pocket my phone and drown in that gentle wave. I was partly embarrassed to have recorded it at all. In those stretched seconds, time slowed down for all of us, and we did our best to sip it.

Less than a year later, Alejandra announced that Benjamin had been diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, but that it was treatable. The band was optimistic. After months of treatment, Curtis died on December 29th of that year. The end of a life is something everyone laments, but I was selfishly sad: I knew that Curtis would never again have the chance to do what he loved. No one would see him put his soul into that guitar. That’s not the point, though. All signs indicate that he felt fortunate to have done what he loved, and from that day on, I started to wonder how many of us take the chance to do the same thing.

Even if you don’t dig it, check out the song, and maybe even the lyrics, if you can spare the time. More than that, think about those moments that you should be freezing.

Exogenous processes

I started this site a year ago, because I wanted to do something more than just work, rinse, and repeat. I don’t write as much as I would like to, but I’m starting to remember what it is like to pursue what I want. I think that must be something we lose in this thing called adulthood, whatever the hell that is supposed to be. From what I’ve seen in the last two decades, it can go sideways pretty quickly, depending on one’s proclivity for bad decision-making or on the amount of time spent living up or down to the expectations of others. This last year has been especially useful in teaching how useless is a life lived for others’ eyes. The shining moments are those when we live for ourselves, with those happy to be along for the ride. Not everyone wants the same thing, and that is more than okay. In fact, I think most days are okay days. The little challenges come and go, and when we remember how impermanent all of this can be, I think we are at our best. Somehow, though, in the day-to-day, this gets lost. We fool ourselves willingly into thinking that we have so much time, when we don’t. I hope anyone who reads this stops for just a moment and drinks in everything nearby, slows time down, and attempts to answer these very real questions: What am I doing? What do I want? What am I doing to get it? It’s maddeningly simple, and yet the weeks speed by, and sometimes we have little to show for it beyond bills paid and X’s on the calendar.

I want to be surrounded by dreamers. I know they’re still out there, because my circle is filled with them, and even though we don’t always dream together, I have a feeling there are many more of Us than Them. I also think one of the keys to happiness is unlocking the door for the dreamer inside. There’s far too much beyond the simple career boundaries–unless that career truly is part of the dream, in which case, my glass is raised. That hasn’t been my experience yet.

In typical fashion, I have bitten off more than I can chew, but I think this time I’m going to finish it. Strange little tributaries of distraction and experimentation have worn through the familiar landscape, reshaping the terrain and working their way to join together on the other side.

A river is forming.

I think this will be the last year that work, rinse, repeat will suffice. Something much bigger has called for too long, and the more I listen, the more I hear it.

I’ll see you out there.