Monthly Archives: October 2016

Old haunts


Dear friends,

Today I sold a house–part of a copy & paste steel-mill-expansion neighborhood that I came to love for all of its quirks.

It was terrible to own. At times, I struggled mightily to afford it, and for many years, I only got by.

I never met my own expectations in it, and I certainly never excelled. But sometimes, throughout those long years, the house bought me a Quiet unmatched.

A puppy ran up and down the streets in front of it, and perched on the back of a love seat as she grew older, surveying the neighborhood during the day, waiting for my return from work. Snow days were fun. Cosmic conversations painted the back porch, which afforded beautiful sunsets and cold, clear moons, when I could be bothered to stop to see them.

Friends came and went, and during the time I was there, I learned more about myself than I am likely to do again.

Sometimes our burdens provide us with priceless insights.

With the ceaseless help of family, I endured that house, and in our final months together, we began to turn it to something more than I could alone, for all of my effort.

A place is what you make of it, and sometimes that house was a home. More importantly, it helped me understand the true meaning of home, that I might forge one wherever I go now.

I am humbled. I never could fully make it on my own during this time, and I am grateful for the months that led to my departure from that house. Today was a subtle finish from a long race I lost a long time ago. Thank you to all who knew me while I was there.

Here is to what lies beyond the walls behind which we are lost for a while.

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Compass

A moderate breeze is pushing east across the lake and I’m trying to create and hold a peaceful scene. Casey’s tail wags slowly, and I wonder if it’s just the idea of being outside that changes her day, and I simultaneously envy her and feel a little revulsion at my inconsistent attempts to be a little more. Sunlight flicks off of rhythmic, rounding crests and I think about sand dunes and also mounds of snow and diagrams of wavelengths from an introductory physics text and wonder why I won’t just wake up in the morning or go to bed at night trying a little bit harder to be a little bit nicer. I wonder if there is a cartographer’s map of what level of energy passes through me before I allow an imbalance in quadrants one through four to disrupt what should be harmony in the vivisection of what constitutes me (see figure 37.4), this alleged vessel. Phil sent a Bukowksi pic, and I think about all of the times ol’ Chuck must have sat down with a bottle or five and poured his guts into a short story, and I wonder whether he ever felt better about any of it, or if he was just grudgingly satisfied with the way the weathervane pointed. It’s going to be record highs this week, and I can’t remember what I read earlier this week about how habits can build or destroy you, and I wonder if I can slow my thoughts down enough to match my breathing. I’m picturing towns from a travel article describing the forested northwestern corner of the state, and Casey’s left eye winks at me when she looks back and up at me from a dandelion-dotted shore. Earlier this week I followed or liked or saved a bunch of VR software companies, and I’m fairly certain Brautigan would kayak right up to us as we stand here for just a minute, calmly place his paddle across his lap, and tilt his head while holding eye contact until I say, “I would like to think of” and my thoughts break off. He’s probably more of a canoe guy. Rust and gold and even lavender are a little more insistent than last week in the tree line opposite us, and I hope autumn lasts as long as promised.

Revelations

one-mans-trash

Abandoned dream

At 10:37, I take a left onto W 28th Street and enter the campus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and I slowly drive through the campus until I pop out on the other side in a sketchy neighborhood. I circle under and around the southern end of the campus, take a right onto University Avenue, and this time when I enter campus, I park in a remote northern parking lot. I don’t have a pass, but where I pull in looks like the end of the land development, so I’m not too worried about a parking ticket. I walk at a decent clip (might as well try to raise the cardio a little and make the steps count) to arrive at the Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology building. I’m early for my appointment, so I slow my pace and take my time looking around the lobby before I decide to take the stairs to the next floor. The building is impressive, and I decide to check the directory to make sure I don’t do something stupid, like assume the floor number for the room where I’m headed. I feel a measure of relief when I see that room 547 is, indeed, on the fifth floor.

At 10:49, I sit at a small composite round table adjacent to 547, and I flip through an issue of Arkansas Living. In the July 2016 issue there is a two-page spread about the Bachman-Wilson House at Crystal Bridges. It’s a Frank Lloyd Wright house, acquired in New Jersey, and transported and rebuilt in Arkansas. I make a mental note to actually see the house, instead of just making a mental note to add this to a future unfulfilled To-Do List. Three minutes have passed. Thomas Wallace, Program Coordinator for Web Design and Development and the Information Technology Minor program (among others) says, “Vincent?” as he walks down the hall toward his room. I stand, shake his hand, and walk inside his office. He has an iMac and a MacBook Pro on his desk. His room is Spartan (environmental irony) and he has a genuine delivery. His hair is cut short and he wears a darker blue UALR polo shirt. His age is indeterminate, but I feel that he might be close to my age. He is in shape, physically. We make small talk before the information starts to flow, and he tells me that he has climbed in West Virginia a few times. He encourages me to check out northwest Arkansas, as it is clear that I like the outdoors and Arkansas has much to offer.

where-have-you-been

Where have you been?

Before the actual appointed time of 11:00, we’ve already begun to get down to the heart of the matter–why I have contacted him, and why I asked for a face-to-face with him. I explain how I am ready to leave my English classroom, but that I am not quite “through” with education. I explain how I have a deep love for technology, but that I have not formally studied it. I offer truncated versions of why the education industry, at least at my level, is fairly terrible, and why I am attempting to evolve my employment. I talk about a failed online school with massive funding and zero buy-in, and I share three anecdotes about students really not knowing how to do anything with technology. I throw in the term “digital native” and scoff at it, mostly due to the fact that I will never miss a chance to mention Mark Bauerlein’s Dumbest Generation.

I have been a teacher for 3,711 days. That is 5.34 million minutes too long.

Mr. Wallace breaks down the details of what UALR’s IT departments aim to do. He profiles some of the partnerships, and he shares some insights as to how he thinks certain programs may benefit me. He mentions that he feels I could also be an asset to a few of the programs. I shake his hand at 11:36, and I am filled with something I do not understand as I walk out of the EIT building. I cross two parking lots and stop to take two pictures as I try to sort out what I am feeling. It is hope. It is a different kind of hope.

where-are-you-going

Where are you going?

At 11:47, I drive east through run-down neighborhoods that eventually lead to the area near the capitol building. Barred and boarded windows abruptly become Starbucks and the Childrens’ Hospital, and I’m on 13th Street, looking left and right at scores of businesses, some of which I might not ever see unless I take an errant route. My phone keeps updating my route and offering multiple upcoming turns in the hopes that I may course-correct and take the most efficient path. I decline.

 

At 12 noon I am drinking a scarlet red Berliner Weisse at Lost Forty, and although it looks like fruit punch or a sorority girl’s jungle juice, I don’t care. It’s delicious. I eat a small lunch. At 12:26, I am unexpectedly near tears when I hear Thom Yorke’s falsetto voice float down from the warehouse ceiling. Denial, deniiialll. It’s “House of Cards.” That strange hope that now made it hard to swallow, and I have to lean back to redirect my watery eyes. I crane my neck to make sure it’s Radiohead, and I pay the bill as I listen to the rest of the song. I snap a picture of Bald Bull on “Punch-Out!” on my way out to the car. I have a Crowler of Wet Hop Ale for when I get home.

retro-hit

Retro hit machine

I listen to a few songs as I drive north across the bridge and head west toward home. I have my phone plugged into an FM modulator and I am playing a few songs from a Playstation video game soundtrack. At a long red light, I pull off to quickly check out a sizable junkyard hidden in a grove of trees right off of the main artery of Maumelle Boulevard. I’m surprised by the gems hidden inside. There is a miniature mansion across the street from the entrance. I leave the Acura running; I don’t know who runs this forest, or if there are surprise guard dogs. I snap a few pics and retreat. Before I climb back in, I look north behind my SUV and see the sun reflecting from the Arkansas River.

another-mans-treasure

Rusted treasure chest

Hope persists as I pull into the driveway, and I realize that in one hundred and fifty school days, I will not teach English again. I may not be in a classroom again. Ashley has become a pioneer (O, pioneer!) and has 2,400 classroom minutes remaining, if she finishes her notice. She is free. I am not far behind.

I will finish the school year. I would like to break contract right now–today–but I won’t. I can carefully shape the clay of this dream, and I can cultivate the energies to direct them efficiently.

1996

*An immediate disclaimer, as I genuinely enjoy the fluidity of memory: some of this could have happened as early as 1995, and may have stretched into 1997, but probably not. 1996 was pretty important.*

In no particular order, here is how I construct it: Lauren was responsible for Underworld, Meggan was a go-to for rap (hip-hop) and random industrial, and Phil guided me to the best of the best. Many others contributed heavily, and you know who you are. This is a necessary trip back.

Dan had more skate- and ska-inspired rock than I knew. I borrowed or was gifted countless CD samplers, and honestly, to this day, Gracie is responsible for some remote part of my brain randomly surging forth an energized rift and Oi Oi-stylized vocals. I couldn’t ska-dance for shit, but he would break out mad custom moves right by the register or the fryers without hesitation. Dan is the reason I know a tiny bit about NY Hardcore. I might never have found the Wrens without you, good sir.

Lauren handed me Second Toughest in the Infants one night after work and said, “Hey, you might like this. I got this disc through WaxTrax (I think she had a subscription or something very similar), and it’s not really my style.” I had bought a Panasonic head unit from Chris (double-floating anti-vibration system) in a 1986 five-speed hatchback Accord, and I inserted the disc on a Sunday night. The parking lot lights made the empty streets amber, and there was a slight haze on my windshield. “Juanita” started playing, and it has not stopped playing in my head since. I even get a little upset when other fans play the remix of the song–the original was that strong. Thanks, Uncle L.

Meggan could finish any lyric I started. It was super-weird. Fast food (or most teenage jobs, for that matter) are tedious at best, so it’s kind of a big deal if you can entertain yourself and each other while going through the motions. I must’ve thrown everything from “1nce Again” to “Doin’ It” to “Wish” at Megs, only to have her immediately complete the lyric and send it back my way. Sometimes, like a true fool, I’d be so excited I’d sort of hop rapidly while completing some mundane task. I can’t be positive, but I feel like maybe she was the first to show me mustard and lettuce directly on top of a chicken tender, with no bun. You can’t learn that type of thing yourself. It’s taught to you. To this day, a raised eyebrow or a slight head tilt can signal, “Look at that asshole over there.” I bet it always will.

Phil and I went to see Depeche Mode. Millie dropped us off way back at the entrance to Star Lake (it will always┬ábe Star Lake, regardless of corporate sponsor), and I got to see Dave Gahan command a stage under purple lights. Phil always had the drop on The New, but it was his portal to the Older Unheard that really blew my mind. I think he took a lot of pride in casually, stealthily introducing super-rad shit. I was listening to NIN before I met Phil, but I’ll be damned if our combined Trent efforts didn’t result in a brand-new universe of sounds and art to which I definitely would not have been privy. For the thousand nights of sitting cross-legged on carpeted floors and feeling unholy rage at bad A.I. to a few dozen live shows, thanks for being that guy who can pick up where he left off six months or six years ago without a beat missed. This is where I should slip in a “First” reference, but it’s true, and we all know it.

In about an hour, I’m taking a meeting that will likely set the stage for the next ten or twenty years of my professional life, even if it begins with the smallest of steps. It helps to look back before we storm forward. Always forward.

Play a tune for me, and send some energy out there.

The Wheel

King wrote about Ka being a wheel in such a way that anyone who followed the gunslinger knew it was cyclical. I did not like all seven of the books, but those that spoke to me did so in strong fashion. There are 4,250 pages in all, and each book reads like an epic; each story could stand on its own–but then we would not see the full scope of Roland’s quest. King wants us to appreciate the full circle, even though it is painful at times. He kills a lot of darlings, and sometimes parts of us go with them.

My dream is not to write thousands of pages. I want to leave a crater in just one strike. I do not mind if I have to gather energy for months. The act of completion would be more than enough to warrant the investment. If I would be fortunate enough to revisit the site of impact and expand the effect, that would be more than I can imagine at this moment.

I delved back into the Law of Vibration and positive energy and reframing thinking and dozens of similar somewhat DIY-centered schemata, but I am wondering how many people routinely realize the futility of daily enterprise, only to explore surface-level alternatives and then eventually slide back into the same passive routine. I’m guessing the numbers are impressive. How many times I have done in the last several years is not something of which I am proud.

On the drive to and from my day job, I think about the brilliant energies of the people in my life for the last twenty years, and most especially, the last five. Not all of us are artistically talented in traditional senses, and not all of us are able to pursue passions, but not one of us wanted to succumb to routine. The great defiler. We didn’t shelve our imaginations just to become consumers.

I think that I have kept thinking that passion alone will carry me, as it has certainly directed me more faithfully than just showing up. However, the signs show that lasting peace or something approaching satisfaction requires dedication. For most of my adult life, my dedication to self-improving or any type of evolutionary cause has wavered, to put it mildly. I have no excuse for this, other than weakness of will, and a disappointing disposition to submit to stress. Some days I cannot allow myself to spin the Wheel at all. I get up, halfheartedly engage in Sisyphean tasks, commiserate with other pushers, and the days pass.

Sometimes we get a rare opportunity to burn it down, though. Currently the days are passing, and certainly the challenges are never-ending, but now we can help each other glimpse past the boulders, and–behold: how much of us we left out there. I have counted suns for too long, and I rarely watch the moon.

As the year’s last, loveliest smile finally stretches for us, let the Wheel turn again.

Bike Hike

The GT had an oversized frame, so I grabbed a Schwinn mountain bike, and Matt picked a Raleigh hybrid. The sun was out, and the cool edge of a slight breeze insisted itself through the streets. We pushed the bikes out of the front doors and aimed north. People were milling around the River Market area casually as we adjusted our seat posts, then coasted half a block closer to the river. I angled into an open-air pavilion and flicked the thumb shifters a few times to gauge the gearing. I was already smiling. Matt rang his bar-mounted bell a few times and grinned. We pushed out of the city proper and onto the winding concrete path of the Arkansas River Trail.

Matt had already put in a mile or two in a run earlier that morning, but we laughingly acknowledged that our fitness was inconsistent at best, and that this ride would be more than just a throwback to fun. It was necessary, even moreso for me. Satisfied with our pre-flight check, we startled peddling on the trail, which was a twisting concrete sidewalk here. I grinned as my beer gut jiggled and I picked up speed and moved the handlebars to weave and adjust my balance, calibrating myself to the long-dormant, yet quickly-remembered feeling of two wheels. Where the sidewalk undulated, I pulled back the handlebars quickly and jutted my legs forward to lift off of the ground, ever so briefly. The kid inside me said, “Didja see that? We can still get air.” I shook my head at myself (I’m sure both wheels were in the air for all of five inches) and we rode on, weaving in and out of smiling couples and little kids acting as moving markers. 

A few blocks west, the Broadway Bridge demolition caused part of route 10 to be closed, including the trail. We squeezed brake handles, shifted our weight to one side, and dismounted quickly, hoisting frames to shoulders to ascend stairs below the Doubletree. Pausing briefly at the empty street, we saw piles of concrete two blocks down grow as machines dropped off chunks of the former bridge’s foundation. Remounting,  we coasted into an underground parking garage, only to circle back out and push back up to street level. I didn’t have anything mounted to my bike, and soon we were starting to move beyond the boundaries of the street grid in Matt’s handlebar-mounted gear bag and map. We pushed west for several blocks; one uphill push was an absolute monster. I tapped out immediately, butcMatt shifted gears in a slow-motion machine-gun burst, and I could hear him exhale in determinations that sounded like “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” as he pumped his legs furiously to reach the peak of the hill. It took me at least another minute and a half to join him, and I secretly marveled at the heat and growing tightness in my legs. We rested for a minute, and Matt passed me his water bottle. We looked around us at a few dead-end streets, then zig-zagged westward, eventually passing behind the capitol building. I almost forgot I was on a bike as its neoclassical architectural commanded most of my peripheral vision on my left. Another gentle hill or two, and we stopped to check the map on my phone. In the sunshine, it was difficult to see the screen at all. I cupped my right hand at the top and pinched the screen with my left thumb and index finger to zoom into a section of Little Rock. “It looks like we have to go at least five blocks before we have another chance to push north to the river.” Across the highway, the Children’s Hospital rose impressively. I nodded to point at it. “That’s bigger than I thought it was.”

Matt looked down the roller-coaster hill arcing out below us. “Let’s head back toward the city that way,” he said, motioning with his head, “because if I do that hill and we have to come back up, I think I’ll be done.” I smiled in agreement and laughed, admitting, “There is no way I’ll make it through two more hills like that last one.” We peddled east. 

The terrain was much more friendly as we  ramped off and on sidewalks along 7th Street. We took Broadway back north toward the river, and snaked back into the River Market area, eventually carving toward the Clinton Library. I stuck my left arm out like a wing to make sure Matt saw the wooden boardwalk snaking below us, although there was no way he could have missed it. We circled in front of the mirrored glass of the library, then pushed up the gentle slope of the bridge in front of it. Stopping halfway across the Arkansas River, we took a few photos after I fished my phone out of my left pocket and pushed the home button: 1:30. “We’re good,” I offered. “That was hour one.” 

We coasted off the bridge and onto the north shore, picking up the trail again via Harper’s Loop. Construction dotted the landscape in the blocks around Dickey Stephens Park, and I mentioned I was looking forward to spring to see baseball again, lamenting how quickly summer accelerated away from us after The Move. We took a pic outside of the ticket box, and looked through the bars at the green field, then pedaled east. A darkly-tinted late model Accord almost smacked Matt as its texting driver ignored the crosswalk and a red light at Washington and Main, and we agreed that indeed, that would have sucked, getting run over. We crossed the Main Street bridge to head south for the final time, and rode a few more blocks erratically, with no real direction. Above the trail, thirty or more kids and adults surfed the grassy, hilly landscape by sitting on cardboard sleds.

I felt tired and happy as we rode the final blocks back to Bobby’s Bike Hike, and as we returned the rental bikes, I felt that this was the perfect way to spend the first half of Saturday. Matt said it best: “I saw more of Little Rock today in two hours on a bike, then I would have in weeks behind the wheel.” 

Sometimes all we have to do is move a little differently from A to B.

“That was the name of my first indie band”

“To dullards!” I smirk and raise a glass to my reflection from the bedroom mirror bounced into the bathroom mirror reflected back into the bedroom mirror. It reminds me of those perspective drawings from grade school, and as I tip the glass to you and me and me and me, I’m thinking about M.C. Escher’s works, and how they might be roadmaps to Insanity or Truth, and as I finish the glass and pour another, I’m wondering, “Is there a difference?”

Daylight. I constantly add and subtract hours to the digital clock displays around me. I think about who is doing what, and when. I try to slow the constant buzz in my head. I delineate five simultaneous high-speed conversations created by and featuring me and at least eighty-seven Parallel Universe versions of me and I attempt to pick which one is the best Logical or best Illogical path to embrace wholeheartedly. The answer is blurry, at best. Again.

Quick subtraction, and I have how many hours (or minutes, if you really dig anxiety) are left before the alarm goes off again. Each day is one step closer to the finalization of a signed contract. It’s a ticker-tape waiting line until the Last Day of this most recent Hell. I’m excited to find a new way to burn. Another toast to my reflection. Another empty glass.

Relaxation. Two warm lights: a candle, half-spent, and the small lamp on the other side of the bed on its lowest setting.  

Nighttime. There is less light pollution here, and I’m one thousand miles from the last nineteen years of a twenty-mile radius. The Little Dipper reflects over the lake. I’ve never lived next to water, but I always wanted to. I even managed to forget for a few weeks that it was two blocks away. A morning walk and an evening walk to calm the mind. Deep breathing. Lower blood pressure. An hour of peace.

Dreamtime. A final toast, to you and yours, but mostly to me. It’s been a hard road, but not as hard as others. I focus on a soft hum outside the windows after I turn off the TV, blow out the candle, and switch off the lamp. Tomorrow is a new day. Another opportunity we will never have again.