26 Days That Pretty Much Reset My Life

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Ten days before my last post, I started working as a server assistant at a little place in Lakeview that’ll henceforth be referred to as the Vegan Place,* which was a god-send for two reasons: 1) because it ended a five-week stretch of unemployment–my second this year, I’m not at all proud to admit–and, 2) I’m finally surrounded by great people. At least, people I feel comfortable with. My previous employers, most of whom are retailers, seemed to collect people I just don’t understand. The fashion-magazine/ romance-novel-readers and reality-TV-watchers who, though not stupid, are willing to let others spoon-feed them life without questioning where it came from. I never succeeded in those environments because I couldn’t stop questioning. Why a spoon? Why not a fork, or a spork, or a tiny snack bowl? And why do I have to wait for you to feed me? Why can’t I do it myself?

Anyway. The Vegan Place lets me feed myself–literally and figuratively–and I appreciate that. At this point, it’s the best job I’ve ever had.

If you follow my Twitter feed, then you’ll know that I just recently finished The Island of Knowledge, a beautiful work of science philosophy by Marcelo Gleiser, a theoretical physicist, professor, and author of other works of nonfiction that are now on my ever-growing list of need-to-reads. His exploration of where science was and how and why it became what it is now got me excited to read in a way I didn’t realize I’d been missing. I haven’t been that emotionally attached to a book since Seven Year Old Me first cracked open a hardcover copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. On the surface it might seem sacrilege to compare the two, but once you’ve read both it actually makes its own kind of sense. Both books kicked my imagination into gear and opened my eyes to what I want. I want to be a writer and a scientist. Not a crime writer, on the outside looking in; I want to be an investigator, on the inside looking out with the window flung open wide so I can run to the ledge and announce to anyone passing by how much more fascinating and complicated the world is; how romance novels and reality shows pale in comparison to the stories microscopes can tell.

On top of all this, my Fellowship broke: One friend moved to New Orleans, another to Michigan, and another returned from Europe and then left again with promises to be back soon. If I didn’t have Travis to be the Samwise to my Frodo, the Ring might’ve gotten really damn heavy.

So, yeah. Twenty-six days…has the dust settled yet?

 

*I’m still not sure how specific I want to get about my daily life here on the site. It’s connected to my other social media accounts, so it isn’t my anonymity I’m considering so much as respect for my employer and coworkers.

Ok, so, I lied a little…

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Did I truly believe the US would beat Belgium? No.

I wanted to, though. I want to believe in a lot of things. I just can’t.

When I was about five years old I reasoned myself out of believing in Santa. I remember the precise moment it clicked, too. I sat on the couch watching TV when an add for Toys R Us came on. This was the mid-’90s, so the logo was all yellow bubble letters and the R still backwards, and as Geoffrey the Giraffe rattled on about a Christmas sale and percentages I didn’t yet understand, something bothered me. If Santa is real, I asked myself, then why do we need toy stores?

Now, I have two older brothers, so this was probably not the first anti-Santa thought to pass through my glossy little grey matter, but it was the most damming. For a moment, I reasoned that parents wanted to buy their kids presents in addition to the ones Santa brought, so that’s what toy stores were for. But I wasn’t convinced, and from then on, Santa and his subsidiaries–the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy–were more or less like characters from a picture book, like the Cat in the Hat or the Berenstein Bears. Part of me liked the idea of them being real; but I didn’t believe.

A few days after Belgium defeated our national team 2-1, Germany eviscerated Brazil. 7-1. Five of those goals were scored within the first thirty minutes of the game. I watched it live and it made my soul hurt. Inevitably, the cameras panned through the stadium brimming with Brazilian fans in yellow, green, and blue who’d all been kicked in the gut by the German team. They weren’t just frowning and disappointed; they were weeping. Disillusioned, despairing, and helpless.

That’s what happens when you believe in something. There are seven billion people on this planet, so the chances of something happening in your favor are astronomical.

So, what am I saying? I don’t know. I’ve been an atheist since I was fourteen; the trouble is I never replaced my faith in a Christian god with anything else. I just embraced skepticism and became one of the most jaded high schoolers you could meet in real life. I was the April Ludgate of Millersburg, Pennsylvania.

We would’ve been BFFs.

It takes a lot of energy to maintain that level of misanthropy. I can’t do it anymore. Since I graduated college last year, I’ve realized I need to refocus. Rather than living in contradiction to the people I grew up with–a personality by elimination–I need to take a breath and trust myself. I need to have faith that the passion for storytelling that moved me seven hundred miles west and catapulted me through college has enough momentum to carry me into an adulthood where I’m content with myself; where I feel capable and creative.

I some people call that hope. It’s a nice idea. Maybe some day I’ll believe in it and make it real.

Pasuckquakkohowog

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Translation: They gather to play football. It’s a term the Wampanoag tribes in Massachusetts ascribed to the massive ball games they’d play along the beach during low tide. Compared to Pasuckquakkohowog, World Cup matches are piddly. Their pitch was a mile long, half a mile wide, and single games could go for an entire day or more. They’d play for animal skins, property, and village pride.

It may come as a shock, but the Puritans saw evil in this game–much like contemporary Conservatives who’ll remain nameless because I don’t want to feed their soul-sucking need for attention. But, I bring it up because I didn’t know this word until today, when I was looking up a timeline of World Cup appearances for the Men’s National Team. It took two minutes to uncover “pasuckquakkohowog” and follow it to an anecdote on Google Books. It took two minutes to uncover the fact that some form of futbol has been in the States since before colonization by Europe, and is, therefore, more American than baseball, or apple pie, or unregulated banking. Two minutes.

I came of age in a Conservative slice of Pennsylvania during the Cheney/Rumsfeld administration. Fortunately for me, my parents grew up elsewhere–my Dad in and around New Mexico, my Mom in a suburb of Philly–and they often felt like the most Liberal people in northern Dauphin County. They taught me to take nothing at face-value, especially when Dubya said it. My mom would even get pissed at commercials.

“They’re creating a need,” she’d say, as the two-bit actor on screen lost control of her appendages and failed to flip an egg, or dust a bookshelf “the old-fashioned way.” Maybe that’s how I learned to spot bad acting, too.

Anyway. I tell you that to give context to this: I’m not a patriotic person. Nations are just imaginary lines we scribbled across the world to make ourselves feel powerful. ‘Merica? Fuck off.

But, it’s the World Cup. The US Men’s National Team has made it out of the Group of Death–so-called because we weren’t supposed to survive it–to the Round of 16. This doesn’t happen often. When it does, our path usually ends here. There’s a very real chance that Belgium could send us home today. And yet…

The USMNT looks good this year; almost as good as the Women’s National Team. And unlike Portugal or Brazil, we don’t put all our faith in one striker’s basket. Howard’s the Hulk in goal and Dempsey’s up front, yes, but Jones, Bradley, Beckerman, Johnson, and Zusi make our midfield proud by living the definition of teamwork. That sounds cheesy as hell. But it’s true. We are a team. That’s what I respect, and that’s what I’m cheering for this afternoon. I’m wearing red, white, and blue, which is something I won’t do on the Fourth of July. This isn’t about jingoism. This isn’t about politics. It’s about the team. It’s about futbol.

I believe that we will win.

Oh, You Know Why

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This is a brief pre-post post, for the sake of sharing something beautiful on a muggy Monday.

After re-evaluating The Doors last week I uncovered many other versions of “Alabama Song”–aka “Whisky Bar”–that are far better than their cover.

Did you know it’s a cover? I didn’t. It’s from Brecht and Weill‘s 1930 opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, which satirizes the decadence of the 1920s. “Alabama Song” is Mahagonny’s “Lovely Ladies,” sung by a troupe of unrepentant prostitutes on their way to “the next little dollar.” The Doors don’t include that verse in their version, nor the verse that demands, “show me the way to the next pretty boy,” for mostly obvious reasons, I guess. They also changed the refrain from “Oh, you know why” to “Oh, don’t ask why.”

Don’t tell me what to do, Jim.

Two versions on YouTube stuck out to me:

1) Uber talented Israeli singer, Michal Shapira, performed the original version solo on Tel Aviv while wearing a fantastic hat.

However, 2) nothing beats Nina Simone‘s frantic, theatrical, cocktail-jazz version. Compared to her, The Doors sound trite and monotonous. While you’re down that rabbit hole, you should check out Simone’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman.” And then listen to everything else she’s ever done because she’s wonderful and I told you so.

Stranger

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Two years ago, almost to the day, I was in a cafe in downtown Prague drinking my very first mimosa. It was the tail-end of a six-week study abroad program in the city, so about ten out of the twelve of us from the Fiction Writing Department gathered together for one last brunch and, as it inevitably does in a large group of creative people, we started in on music, which led to The Doors–Jim Morrison, to be exact. My newly-acquired friend, Gibson, who’s like Courtney Love without the heroine, and Matt, the Grad student who used to live in L.A., agreed on their admiration of Morrison’s lyrics.

“Hm,” I cut in, halfway through a mimosa on an empty stomach, “he always came off kinda pretentious to me. He’s kind of an asshole. I mean, if I dropped acid and recorded what I saw, I could sell it as ‘poetry,’ too.”

Gibson sipped her mimosa. Matt took a long slug of coffee.

That’s the day I learned how to alienate an entire table full of people with one thought.

Two years go by and somehow Gibson’s still my friend, though we stick to Fleetwood Mac on vinyl when we’re together. And then, last night, my boyfriend, Travis, and I are walking home from Village Discount on Elston when The Doors come up. I reiterate my opinion, this time tempered with more self-awareness than I had in Prague.

His eyes widen a bit. “Wow, yeah, I have to disagree with you on that.” His smile stays in tact, so I plow ahead.

“I know. Most people do. I don’t really know when my opinion of them sank so low. It’s odd.”

Here’s the thing: I don’t hate The Doors. I’m neutral about The Doors, musically speaking, and that annoys me. They’re boring. Background noise for an acid trip. Glorified elevator music.

I liked them as a teenager, but I was never enamored with Jim Morrison like some of my friends were. Then again, I was the sober one; no booze or pot until senior year of high school, and to this day I’ve never dropped acid or eaten ‘shrooms. So, maybe there’s an element to Morrison’s kaleidoscope of nonsense that I can’t see because I don’t have first-hand experience tripping balls.

I remember embracing “People Are Strange” when I was about fourteen, though:

People are strange when you’re a stranger

Faces look ugly when you’re alone…

As the child of liberal parents in the conservative armpit of Pennsylvania during Part Two of the Dubya Administration, I often felt like an island of open-mindedness adrift in a sea of xenophobia, jingoism, racism, and homophobia. I felt like a phantom.

Faces come out of the rain

When you’re strange

No one remembers your name

When you’re strange…

True, direct, sharpened on the whetstone of teen angst. The song struck a chord with lonely, frustrated, teenage me. Maybe that’s the trouble.

In his 2012 article for L.A. Weekly, Jeff Weiss commemorates the 40th anniversary of The Doors’ L.A. Woman by reconstructing the winter of 1970-71, and more or less resurrecting Morrison in his final year. Though Weiss’ title calls L.A. Woman a “bluesy masterpiece,” the narrative he weaves is a Fear and Loathing-esque love-letter-meets-obituary for a band and a decade marred by self-erosion. He makes a point that might explain what I can’t: “They are the greatest eighth-grade band of all time. Like Holden Caulfield or Jack Kerouac, Morrison artfully conveys the eternal teenage conviction that everything is bullshit.”

I do the math, and my dad was fourteen when “Light My Fire” first rocked the airwaves, just like I was when I realized that his music was full of the unapologetic rock I craved above all things. If the mid-sixties was this country’s adolescence, then the seventies were its early twenties, and that explains a lot.

Maybe I’m disappointed by The Doors as an adult because I’ve graduated, in a way, from “bluesy” rock to shrieking, sexy electric blues. Like jazz, story, and peanut butter, I don’t like my rock and roll smooth. I love a bass line that scampers down the street, doubles back for half a block, then makes a hard left; drums that kick you around their syncopated heartbeat like a pinball master; keys and horns that clamor like competitive church bells. I like layers, multiple perspectives feeding off each other. In this regard, Jack White is my Jesus; Hendrix is John the Baptist; Stevie Ray Vaughan, Clapton, Buddy Guy, and Santana a choir of angels; B.B., Albert, and Freddie my Wise Men. There’s no room in my pantheon for a false prophet.

That’s harsh.

After all, L.A. Woman is a good album, “Love Her Madly” a good song. But does Morrison’s moan make my marrow quiver? Nope. For me, a distorted, six-string wail is the voice of God.

I’ll let Jim Morrison be Moses. If anyone’s liable to lead a mass of people on an aimless journey through the desert, it’d be him.

3, 2, 1, go

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I’ve been hesitating about my first post for far longer than I want to admit, and I’m finally sick of it. Honestly, how many people are going to read this? It’ll be buried in my archive before I know it, and by then I’ll have crafted more interesting things to say.

I see this site as a sort of non-fiction writer’s journal. I write both fiction and non-fiction, but there are times, like the past few months, where one dominates the other. I’m in the midst of a non-fiction up-swing. There are many reasons for this, but what it boils down to is my need to tell my own story by listening to how my brain processes information. I research things for fun. Not kidding. I fucking love me some one-on-one time with LiveScience.com, or Nova, or Google Scholar. I kept all my notes from my gen-eds in college just in case. I ingest as much information as possible and then…nothing. I argue with pundits or religious fanatics or that group of high schoolers on the bus the other day, but only in my mind. Until now.

But don’t worry–I’m challenging myself to make these brief. Flash Essays, or Micro Essays, or whatever the buzzword is now. Less than 1,000 words including quotations.

Let’s see how this goes.