Wherever I Lay My Phone Is My Home

Today is an unniversary of sorts for me. It was 3 years ago that I responded to being asked to move out of my house where I’d lived for 10 years with my son and my then-wife of 17 years. I moved in with my friend TJ for the next several months, at which point I began numbering my housing situations as if they were software revision numbers. Because of divorce math and the best interests of my son, I got to pay my own rent and also the full mortgage on the house for the next 20 months, after which the house was finally sold at a loss of 17 thousand US dollars.

So if you see me out this week and I seem conflicted, it’s because I am half-way celebrating and half-way pissy. I am ultimately very glad that the turn of events has helped me to see who I really am and what and whom I value in my life. I am thankful that my health and my mind are intact (to my knowledge, at least, though some of my friends may beg to differ on the latter) and that all of this change is leading me (sometimes painfully against my so-called will) to a more peaceful recognition of who I am inside and how I spend my time when I am all by my solo, but I am also occasionally very frustrated about the continued financial and psychical costs of this knowledge.

I’ve been working (not working, actually) on a longer post about the revision numbering of my dwellings and the craziness involved in leaving my most recent residence to move into the one I’ve had since May of this year, but it seems I’ve been more content lately to have new experiences than to write about past experiences. That is all.

Shortest/quickest post yet. Look, ma, no edits!

Re-ignition

I once read somewhere that an ongoing chemical reaction that loses fuel as we age is the reason it seems like time is flying by as an adult compared to its glacial pace as a child.  It’s not that the days actually fly off the calendar faster as we age, it’s that our brains respond to the passage of time differently when we are younger.  Each day becomes more meaningful as we realize there are fewer and fewer of them available to us.  Perhaps that is why it seems more and more like everything is happening more quickly than it ever has before, and why it seems sometimes that all we can hope to hang onto is our own memories of moments that we create for ourselves and with others.

Lately I have seen this quote from Cesare Pavese in several places, and it is something that struck me the first time I heard it:

We do not remember days, we remember moments. The richness of life lies in memories we have forgotten.

Along those same lines, I just sent the same exact message to my son that Jackson Pollock’s dad sent to his in 1928:

The secret of success is concentrating interest in life, interest in sports and good times, interest in your studies, interest in your fellow students, interest in the small things of nature, insects, birds, flowers, leaves, etc. In other words to be fully awake to everything about you & the more you learn the more you can appreciate & get a full measure of joy & happiness out of life.

As my chemical reaction slows and the days whiz by increasingly faster, I have found myself trying to worry less about things that I cannot control and to be more conscious of my surroundings and my present moment.  The future either will or will not take care of itself, but in this particular moment –in spite of the anxious flailing that certain friends know I seem to be doing in certain moments–, for the most part I am happier in many of my present moments than I recall being in 10 years.

Into the heart of a child,

I can go there,

I can stay a while.

My son (not pictured above) spoke very articulately early as a young child, and neither his mom nor I ever really did the baby-talk thing with him; we both always talked to him calmly and with humor, but using our normal voices instead of the oddly affected voices that some people use to speak to babies.  When he was 23 months old, he was speaking very fluently, but he still had never spent any time unattended in front of any sort of age-inappropriate TV or movies (and had spent only a very few hours apart from either or both parents), nor given any frame of reference for a statement like the following one he made one evening while we were eating dinner:

When I was a man, I died in a hole with a gun in my mouth.

He said it just as sweetly as he said anything at that age.  His mom and I looked at each other, each turning pale because we each knew the answer to what we were about to ask each other before we simultaneously asked it: Did you hear him say that?  Yes, we did.  So we asked him to repeat it for us, and he did –just as calmly.

That was more than 17 years ago, and we’ve all gone through various changes and revelations since then, but that topic never again came up until I mentioned it to him not long after the time I moved out of the house in 2009 — and it was met with a gentle and thoughtful I-don’t-know-what-the-fuck-you-are-talking-about-but-thanks-anyway response, so I hope that is that.  You never know what kind of memories people are carrying around, how they were formed, or how they may impact someone’s bias about life or any of its subtopics, and so I was glad to know my son seemed as oblivious about having said such a thing as a youngster.

So now he’s 19 and living at school in Kentucky, and I consider myself lucky to have just recently needed to replace the computer I had just gotten for him a few months back.  The one needing replacement burned up in a house fire several weeks ago.  His phone burned up, too, as did his keys and his shoes and the clothes he had with him.  Everyone was fine, and I hope everyone who was involved whether directly or indirectly has had their eyes opened.  I know that I will long recall what I saw remaining of the house more than 24 hours after the fire was extinguished; I cannot imagine what it must’ve been like to be in it, nor what memories my son and his friends must have of yelling to each other to make sure they all got out, barely escaping it with their skins.

Since that event ended much more happily than it could have, I am glad to know it will be the positive aspect of those memories that affect him as his chemical reaction continues; however, it is the moment of his proclamation about his demise as a previous man that is just one of the memories that affects mine. From the moment it was spoken, it struck me as some sort of message about the value of passing time, and how and with whom it is spent.

Part of the flailing I mentioned previously is a by-product of wrestling with myself over how exactly I have been affected by the conclusions drawn (or lack thereof, in some instances) from previous chapters in the book of my life –and how I choose to integrate the many lessons learned into the chapters that are still being written.  Some of the flailing has included activities that intentionally took me out of my comfort zone; it has been up to me to decide if the potential reward from these forays make them worthwhile or not.

One realization is that my time spent considering the online dating avenue is time that could be better used doing just about anything else.  That whole process is just too formal and stilted and iffy for my comfort, at least for where I am in my life today; it seems like machinery that has to be set in motion with diligence and caution, much more so than the natural way that I am accustomed to meeting people by virtue of them being involved in doing the same kinds of things in their spare time as I am.  The whole thing was starting to be way more of a hassle than the time it took was worth to me.  By way of illustration, I provide this summary of the date I went on months ago after carefully constructing a profile of my own and diligently sifting through the profiles of women who some computer thinks would be a good match for me:

After initial messages agreeing that the system thinks we’d be compatible, we sent a few more tentative messages back and forth comparing observations about each other’s profile.  After a few tentative messages, we had a few tentative telephone calls to make sure neither of us said anything alarming/dull/stupid enough to be a show-stopper, during which we agreed to meet for dinner at an Italian restaurant that’s about a 45-minute drive for me.  All of this being based on the prospect of maybe one day growing to like this person –whom I don’t already know at all– enough to want to spend a lot of my future time with them?  The process was starting to seem really hollow.

When the appointed evening and time arrived, I had already been wondering whether I’d be better off just canceling the date and going solo (as has become my custom for the past few years) to see either of the 3 bands I like that I knew were playing in town, but I went ahead and drove out to the restaurant.  I got there a few minutes early, and was soon greeted by a woman who looked somewhat like the one posted in the dating service profile.  Our conversation went well, I suppose, for one that had none of the kind of built-in history between friends or real known-solid common ground that is usually required for me to understand what to do when it is time for “small talk”.  I had mentioned prior to meeting that this would be my first computer-matched date, so most of the conversation started from there.

Once we covered most of the where-ya-from and whatcha-been-doing topics, my date volunteered that she was very comfortable using dating services, that it helped her to meet people that she wouldn’t otherwise meet.  That was followed closely by the comment that she had been on a long series of first dates recommended through the service, but that ultimately it hadn’t resulted in much more for her than allowing her to dine out with new people on a regular basis and making her very conscious of how many first dates she’d been on.  I thought to myself that her statements would likely fit my future assessment of my use of the service, as well, again wondering why I was bothering with such a stilted approach myself when I already know a more organic approach is required for me to ever reach true comfort with someone.  We were getting along fine, but it seemed to me that the best-case scenario would be for us to become friends, and then only if we both actually wanted to try to hang out often enough to make that happen.

As I was thinking these things, we arrived at a lull in the conversation; it wasn’t any more awkward than any other aspect of the date, but then I’m not one of those people who feels as though every little space needs to be filled conversationally.  In situations like this one I am often reminded of the propensity of one of my college roommates to document the 13-Minute Lull:

One evening at a party in my college days, my normally-understated roommate interrupted the lull in conversation among 8 or 10 friends by mentioning a study he’d read recently in one of his psychology or sociology classes.  He cited the name of the study, the journal in which it appeared, and also the principal investigator, details that immediately lent credence to the point he was about to make: research across social gatherings between peers in the same age group has shown that, on average, approximately every 13 minutes there is a period of silence that lasts for roughly 45-60 seconds.  He went on to say that the study suggested that the period and duration of the recurring lull varied across ethnicity and age, but that the averages he mentioned were those that are appropriate to our situation, and that his observations that evening had actually shown that the lull in our own party’s conversation roughly fit the pattern mentioned in the study.

At the time, my roommate sounded full of shit, and when I called him on it, he agreed that he was and that he had made up the entire story of the 13-minute lull.  I have since that party gotten quite a lot of mileage out of the retelling of that particular story, but it was my unwillingness to tell it that night just to pass the time during my artificial date that made me realize that I really probably should start looking for a polite way to wrap things up and perhaps salvage what was left of the evening for the purposes of rock-and-roll.  While I was mulling this over, this conversation happened instead:

Girl:  Well, this is going pretty well and you seem to have a good sense of humor, so now maybe I should tell you the weird part.

Me (raising both eyebrows)Ooh, now it’s getting to the good part.  Well, I haven’t met anyone who’s not weird yet, so it can’t be that bad.

Girl:  Well, I told you that I recently moved back home from having lived in [other state] for a while, but I didn’t exactly tell you up front that I’m living with my mom.

Me (relieved, brows back at rest, wondering if that’s all): Ah, well, that’s not weird.  I can think of a whole lot of reasons why that would make sense and wouldn’t be weird.

Girl: Well, I live there in part to save money, and in part to help my mom get over missing my dad.

Me: Oh, I am sorry, is your dad gone?

Girl: Oh, no, it’s not like that; he’s a preacher and he lives down in [other state] now.

Me: Preacher, as in Southern Baptist minister?

Girl: Yes, good guess!  But he, uh, converted because he is a woman now.

Me: Wait, did you just say your dad is a Southern Baptist minister and also that he is a woman now?

Girl: Yes, my dad is transgendered and living as a woman, and he had to switch churches or find a new line of work.

Me: Wow, that’s what I thought you said!  I bet he had to switch churches.

At this point I decided I couldn’t be sure if this was actual conversation or if she was trying to give me some kind of reason to bail, so I carried on with the conversation for a little while longer.  We covered a lot of ground about sex-change operations, hormones, her dad’s post-op vocal range change, and as many other related questions as I could muster without saying something regrettable.  I finally asked how often the family overcame the distance and got together, and this was her response:

Girl: Oh, it’s easy for us to get together because we have a time machine!

Me: Wait, your dad is a preacher and a woman, and  a time machine is how your family gets to vacation together?

Girl: No, silly, a time-SHARE!  We use our time-share two or three times a year to make sure we get to spend time together.

Me: Ah, and here I was thinking your were just trying to come up with something I’d find really weird.  The time machine would definitely have qualified.

And that’s the moment I stopped wrestling with the idea (task?) of online dating, and decided there was still time that night to cut my losses and go back to Nashville and catch one of the bands I’d been wanting to see, and so I politely wound the conversation down and did just that.

I’ve since decided to just shelve the whole online dating thing as way more hassle than it’s worth, and just to go back to the plan of experiencing as many as I can of the fine moments that are presented to me by virtue of living where I do.  Thankfully, very shortly after making this decision, out of the blue I was given an opportunity that I am hopeful will develop into a very positive relationship with someone I’ve felt close to for years now.  No one knows what the future holds, and it either will or will not take care of itself, but for the moment I am happy with the hope that includes a past and a future pieced together from a growing list of memorably good moments.

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Learn something new every day:

The Power of Lonely (Boston Globe)

Learning from Regret (Brain Pickings)

The Power of Vulnerability (TED Talk)

Eye Against I

It seems normal for people’s eyes to open wider as they get older, and it seems only natural for people who have a more diverse experience base to see deeper into their surroundings, and perhaps occasionally to take deeper meaning from events that unfold around them.  However, it’s good to recognize that the windows through which we see ourselves, our experiences, others, and others’ views of us may actually need to be cleaned out on occasion in order for us to receive full benefit from these experiences.  Recall the Biblical warning to not call attention to the speck in another’s eye while there’s a plank in our own; whoever was responsible for that verse knew that we can never fully understand what is going on around us without first understanding how and why we see things the way we do.  Sometimes it is much easier to see why someone would interpret a message the way they did than to understand why we delivered it the way we did.

There were a few specific moments somewhat early on at which it became appropriate for me to unlearn some things that had been either directly or indirectly taught to me at some point in my childhood:

  • Reading too much is weird.
  • Reading science fiction is weird.
  • Reading fantasy is weird.
  • Reading stuff that’s outside the mainstream best-seller lists is weird.
  • Children whose parents are divorced are not to be trusted.
  • People who would get a divorce are not to be trusted.
  • Gay people are not to be trusted.
  • People who adhere to other belief systems (and people who dance) are wrong and going to burn in Hell eternally, even good and kind-hearted people who haven’t had the opportunity to learn the “right” religion.  Also, meditation is the active practice of inviting demons to possess your body.
  • People who live in apartments are not to be trusted.
  • Blatant racism is okay, but under-the-radar racism is better.  Going on record as speaking out against racists who are in or seeking positions of power is a bad thing; if you oppose their views, it is best to keep your opinions to yourself.

Luckily, along the way I came to understand more about the background of the people and the institutions who initially transmitted those beliefs to me, and was able to rationalize the invalidity of those messages.  It’s relatively easy, assuming normal interaction with other American humans, to unlearn some of the more obviously fucked-up lessons like the ones listed above.  But after multiple decades of thinking and behaving in certain manners, it can be tougher work to recognize the effect that bias from our own unique cultural programming has on our own thinking, not to mention the effect it can have on one’s interaction with others.

I learned in college (and earlier in high school) that the 3 primary requirements for communication are the SENDER, the MESSAGE, and the RECEIVER.  And, of course, there is the ever-present foil to the communication process, NOISE.  Good communicators understand that NOISE can be problematic enough to completely undermine the formulation, transmission, and receipt of the message.  Mitigating noise can be problematic, because only the obvious factors (if even those) can be identified and eliminated; one of the hidden components of noise is BIAS.

In judgment and decision making

Main article: Cognitive bias

A cognitive bias is the human tendency to make systematic errors in certain circumstances based on cognitive factors rather than evidence. Such biases can result from information-processing shortcuts called heuristics. They include errors in judgment, social attribution, and memory. Cognitive biases are a common outcome of human thought, and often drastically skew the reliability of anecdotal and legal evidence. It is a phenomenon studied in cognitive science and social psychology.

Bias can skew the message to such an extent that the information being received has little to do with the information that was intended to be transmitted by the sender.  Bias, in fact, can fuck up a message before it has even been crafted, before the receiver even has anything to do.  Bias influences not only thought formation prior to transmission of the message (e.g., bias against left-handed people), but also the words and tone and body language used during its transmission.


Considering the level of influence that bias can exert before the transmission of a message is even attempted, once you stir in auto-correct, it is amazing that humans still haven’t killed each other off completely.  On the other hand, if computers can now render the images our brain is currently processing, perhaps humans can still hope to eventually understand each other if they really try, right?


Maybe not.

————————- BARELY TANGENTIAL————————-

ATIONS

If we meet and I say, “Hi,”
That’s a salutation.
If you ask me how I feel,
That’s consideration.
If we stop and talk awhile,
That’s a conversation.
If we understand each other,
That’s communication.
If we argue, scream, and fight,
That’s an altercation.
If later we apologize,
That’s reconciliation.
If we help each other home,
That’s cooperation.
And all these ations added up
Make civilization.

(And if I say this is a wonderful poem,
Is that exaggeration?)

–(Shel Silverstein, A Light in the Attic)

Dagnabbit

One reason I like to use Google Image Search to see what it returns for random words is that I learn things about myself.  For example, today I learned I am a bigger fan of Winona Ryder than I would have really considered until I did an image search for the word “dagnabbit” and eventually arrived at this great photo in the results listings.

Dagnabbit

Dagnabbit, Winona Ryder.

Dagnabbit!

Of course, not all search results are quite so relevant.  These two other images were just a few more clicks further down the list, but neither of them make me say dagnabbit in quite the same way…

It’s been really interesting for the past several weeks.  All I can really say about it is dagnabbit!

On the Trustworthiness of Beards

I have for years felt that the world’s biggest social deviant was the first guy to shave off all his facial hair.  Can you imagine what his friends must have thought when he walked up to the fire-pit like nothing was new?

When I first started growing a beard, I figured it would be less work than shaving, but I was wrong. At this moment, my facial-hair configuration suggests that I am operating at three different levels of he-needs-to-shave:

  • the lower-jaw beard part that I can’t decide how to trim, except that it can’t just grow all the way down my neckline because then it would connect with my chest hair, and we can’t have that;
  • the mustache part that I trim down to the #4 setting on my crappy beard trimmer whenever it starts to seem like it needs it; and
  • the “chops” area, which I keep theoretically shaved clean, though I only shave it clean about twice a week, maybe.

I’ve had this beard in some configuration since the Cumberland River topped its banks last year, and Nashville residents were urged to half their water consumption til the water treatment plant that failed was brought back online.  My only previous real beard was 8 years ago or so, and it was for a little while the topic of conversation with the check-out lady whose line I fell into on seemingly every visit to the Publix supermarket near Grassland.  This woman had some kind of accent that I never could place, and I never asked where she was from (likely Balkan?), as I was always more concerned with paying up and getting the hell out of there than hanging around in line to chit-chat.

Over the course of three of four visits with the then-new beard, she told me that she knew what I looked like without it, and she thought it was interesting that I was growing it.  I told her that I was just too lazy to shave every day since I had no real reason to do so, but that I had found it took almost as much work to keep a beard presentable as it took to keep one off altogether.  On one visit she finally told me that the reason she was so interested in my beard was that she came from a place where people would say men who wear beards are not to be trusted.  I told her that I came from a place where people who would say something like that to men who wear beards might find themselves in a fight.  She laughed.

*Mine is not depicted.

Are these questions testing whether I’m a replicant or a lesbian, Mr. Deckard?

Messages from a variety of sources have been urging me to maximize my enjoyment of my current location and position in life, and to be cautious in not unnecessarily limiting myself in terms of experience both personal and professional.  A recent horoscope pointed out that it is an ideal time to bring more balance by enhancing my professional stature.  I must say that, given the amount of enjoyment I have wrung from my free time for the past several months (and planned for the next few), it probably is time to buckle down and absorb some professionally-useful technological knowledge so I can feel as if I am at least remaining current with whatever industry I think now best fits my aptitude (attitude be damned).

As I mentioned to my boss when we were comparing personal notes on last Friday morning (and also a dead horse I have surely beaten to paste in this blog by now), almost everything anyone else can see about my life –except my job– has changed radically over the past few years.  I am hopeful that my job will remain steady for the foreseeable future, as well as thankful that I am reaching the point in my narrative in which I can no longer use the distraction of any of my personal goings-on as an excuse to not focus on some level of professional growth.  That said, I write enough about work at work, so this blog will rarely deal with rows and columns, table names, data types, transformation scripts, nor the various means of Getting Things Done that I should probably adopt.  Work to live, not live to work, amiright, amiright?

I know people who spend their free time getting excited about new software development technologies, who complain (to other people who secretly don’t care, I hope) that they can’t get Spotify’s newest beta client to run on their alpha-release Linux-variant deployment, and who like their phone to tell them whenever someone on their extended social circles passes gas within earshot of the coffee shop they’re currently in, but I am not one of them.  In fact, I tend of late to have more of an adversarial relationship with technology than one that involves early adoption –or even much of an embrace.  It is especially irksome that the problems typically manifest in areas of my workflow that have been working perfectly fine for years, using software tools whose provider has suddenly deemed worthy of a new and horrible look-and-feel to enhance the “user experience.”Chris Ware is not a replicant.

The combination of the new Windows OS and the new Office “productivity” suite at work has done more to foil me than to facilitate visible progress.  My Outlook email application now has three different Sent folders.  One is empty, one contains 2 copies of everything I have sent, and another contains only one copy of only some things I have sent.  Outside of work, Facebook’s finally forced my account to use the new messaging system that seems to really want me to Chat and also to pipe all my FB messaging activity via txt to my phone.  MyYahoo, which I’ve used for longer than I care to admit as a personal Internet launch pad / RSS reader and e-commerce oriented email, now makes me tell it every fucking day that I don’t want to play Fishville or have my FB wall integrated into my RSS feed –and it’s been trying to politely tell/nudge me for months that it is going to drag me into using its new webmail interface by the middle of this month whether I ever finally click OK to agree or not.

The more often I have to squint to see the squiggly and warped phrases with lines and cross-hatching across them so that I can key them back in to a text box on Ticketmaster’s reCAPTCHA system and be deemed human enough to buy tickets to a concert or a hockey game, the more often I am reminded of the Voight-Kampf test (scene from Blade Runner), designed to help the administrator determine if the subject was human or an android replicant.  The other day when Wilco tickets went on sale, I finally got the Ticketmaster system to tell me that I was human enough to successfully select and pay for 2 tickets, but by the time I had ruined my vision and exhausted my patience with trying to re-type something I cannot visually discern, I was just too irritated to believe the show would be worth the hassle (no offense, Wilco), so I clicked Cancel and let the show sell out instead.  (Good thing I’ve seen them 5 times before!)  You get the idea.

So, couple what you just read with this: Now that I am down to such a small circle of local friends, I have also been thinking that it would be smart to expand my social scene a bit, and that exploring a preference-matching profile-driven online dating service may be a valid way to do that.  I have never done anything like this before, but I kind of figured how the software would work, based on having used preference-matching type services for music recommendations, etc.

What I didn’t expect was how much attention I was going to pay to the construction of the actual profile questions and the wording of the multiple-choice response options, nor how easy it was going to be to weed out huge populations of prospects simply by glancing at their choice of username (e.g., KeptNoMore, I-Wud-Bi-4-U, DaddyzBadGrrl, PssDoff, Want2BHappySoon) –not to mention the stuff they choose to put in the written portion of their profile.

The written profile can be a huge time-saver if used properly.  For example, one woman’s profile actually stated that she prefers her partners be so physically fit that, even if all other factors indicate a strong likelihood of a mutually perfect match in all other areas, “if I can outrun you, I probably will.”  She didn’t say this to me personally, but it’s very convenient to know in advance that she would if I were to make the mistake of attempting an introduction.  In the system’s defense, I saw that woman’s profile because as a noob I accidentally clicked outside the Recommended Matches list in response to some message-y thing from someone who I am sure is nice, but who is also a bi-sexual married chick who “likes Christian rock and heavy heavy metal”, and was wondering if I had more pictures.

Then there are the people women who have two profiles that are similar enough that both show up in the recommendation list.  I have no idea why someone would do this other than as an admission to themselves and others that they suffer from (or possibly embrace) schizophrenia.  This happened twice within my first two weeks of having an account on the system:

  • one is a woman who I already know from other common interests, who has proven to take much more than she gives and also to have poor control over what she says to others about others;
  • the other is an Asian woman (or at least her photos for each profile are slightly different photos of the same Asian woman) whose one username begins with Sweet and whose other of which begins with Spicy.  Both are better than Sour, though, right?

So, when I first started clicking to answer the profile-matching questions, I noticed that some of the questions are generated by the service, and others are submitted by other users of the system.  I quickly began thinking You know, there are some questions that I’m just not going to answer into a web-based form to remain in an online database in perpetuity.  Then I became just as interested in trying to imagine what some of the users who created the user-created questions must actually be like, and what (if anything) their question says about their proclivities, and whether those proclivities were actually real or imagined as part of the persona they’re portraying while using the service.

So next I’m thinking surely the Voight-Kampf test must make use of the sequencing of the questions.  Here is the exact sequence in which I was presented with a couple of interesting questions for my profile:

Do you use a fresh towel to dry off after each shower, or is it okay to re-use the same towel for a while before washing it?

Would you consider cutting your partner during sex if they asked you to?

Would you consider performing anilingus on your partner if they asked you to?

followed immediately by

When you brush your teeth, do you brush your tongue?

Wait, can I go back and answer the question about the towels again?

—————————————————————————————-

I receive an email (sometimes two) each morning from a photographer who pairs one of his photos with a couple of positive quotes from various philosophical sources.  These come at roughly the same time each day, and usually on M-F at a time when my day’s to-do list has just gotten either nearer to the cannot-all-be-done-today level or has started to make me dread the arrival of one more email.  Here’s a recent one:

Perhaps the deepest reason why we are afraid of death is because we do not know who we are. We believe in a personal, unique and separate identity; but if we dare to examine it, we find that this identity depends entirely on an endless collection of things to prop it up; our name, our ‘biography’, our partners, family, home, friends, credit cards…It is on their fragile and transient support that we rely for our security.

-Sogyal Rinpoche

When I got that email, I was listening to Alice Cooper’s “We’re All Clones”, which I have attached below for your clicking pleasure.

Following the reasoning of Mr. Rinpoche, some of the more interesting things I’ve used to prop up my identity lately include:

  • Participating in the comparison and contrast of Marilyn Manson and Gene Simmons (with nods also to Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie) as rock-and-roll icons and commercial entities, over cheeseburgers one of my new favorite dive bars.  Seeing a rich variety of top-shelf musicians and high-quality people in a few others.
  • Getting tickets to the Ellnora Guitar Festival, which I am hopeful will constitute a very nice and much-needed vacation, as well as for jazz legend Sonny Rollins.
  • Arguing for things and actions I never figured I’d ever advocate (and many more that I wish more Americans would find obvious), some of which mark me as highly altruistic and some of which mark me as extremely cynical and darker than I care to admit.
  • Helping my son prepare for culinary school and beyond, hopefully in a manner that is giving proper credence to gratitude.
  • Manning the light switch at the magnificent Dyer Observatory to provide light/darkness at the appropriate moments during the laser-assisted alignment of a new sundial to the North Celestial Pole.  It was also the only of about 10 visits to Dyer that was on a night clear enough to actually use the telescopes, so I got near-optimum viewing of M13 –not the Mexican drug gang, the cluster of stars 27,000 light-years away and once thought to be a comet.
  • Getting to interrupt a renowned Australian scientist just long enough to cause him to get “out of the zone” to meet some nobodys while he was otherwise nearly done calibrating the world’s first University-operated browser-based robotic telescope.
  • Getting a new tattoo, below.
Owl tattoo.

My new distinguishing mark.

I want more life, fucker.

Musique Nonstop

I’ve had an extremely dynamic couple of weeks, punctuated by

  • finding renters for my previous pad, so the landlord wouldn’t sue me for breaking my lease;
  • my son’s graduation from high school, followed by his move to a neighborhood about 5 minutes by car from mine;
  • wonderful tacos and tamales walking distance from my new apartment;
  • the sale of my house that I lived in from 2000 til October 2009, which has been on the market for 17 months (with a LOT of my unnecessary crap in the garage);
  • excessive cicadas;
  • wonderful shrimp and grits;
  • being called Honky! by a passing ‘hoodmobile while out on an evening walk;
  • the arrival of a new air conditioner in my (most recent) apartment, and the rehabilitation of my shower into something that actually directs water onto the person standing within its confines;
  • my receipt(?) of an unplanned root canal, complete with same-day visits to a dentist and an oral surgeon, from whom I was given(?) a total of 34 injections to the gum in the almost-all-day attempt to do what started out months ago as a routine repair on an old filling;
  • being given a new and interesting task at work, where I am continually glad to remain employed;
  • the clarification of the preferred scope of a few interpersonal relationships that have been needing it; and
  • several instances of hockey-related and music-related socializing.

The rate of change in my life over the past few years has had me considering a lot of things over the past few weeks, mostly of the kind David Byrne and Thom Yorke have already covered much more succinctly than I could.  In the past couple of years, almost all of the superficial (using this term in its neutral sense, not negatively) aspects of my life have changed significantly, and some of them repeatedly.  Obviously, we are all going to be presented with changes of various sorts throughout our brief lives, and, after a decade spent with my nose to the grindstone trying to prevent change, it is probably my turn to be experiencing some of the ups and downs that I have.  While part of me keeps hoping the pace will slow now that a few particular pages have been recently turned, I am trying to be careful to remain aware of and open to the changes going on around and within me — and to learn if I am doing things out of habit, and if being here now is where I am supposed to be now.

“Once in a lifetime./Same as it ever was.”  “I’m a freak, I’m a weirdo; what the Hell am I doing here?”  “Home is where I want to be, lift me up and turn me ’round.”  Before any relative feels the need to step in, I don’t feel as if I am a freak or a weirdo any more so than anyone else is, they’re just songs.

And so daily lately I have received reminders that, unless some other kind of change requires it, I can’t see any reason to consider moving from Nashville any time soon.  Why would I leave a place where one can be entertained by a band of top-notch Nashville musicians collectively known as The Spaghetti Westerneers playing for tips on a Sunday afternoon that’s too hot to permit outdoor enjoyment of any sort?  I didn’t go, but it was only because I chose instead to finish the move-in, arranging furniture, dishes, and CDs.  I don’t know how long I’ll be in this apartment, but I think it’s the right place for me to be right now.

Live Performances That Have Provided Outstanding Distraction Value Since The Turn of the Year 2011:

  • The Walkmen
  • Yo La Tengo
  • The Clutters
  • Paul Burch & the WPA Ball Club
  • Reeves Gabrels & His Imaginary Friends
  • The City Champs
  • The Coolin’ System
  • North Mississippi All-Stars
  • Robert Plant’s Band of Joy
  • Gypsy Hombres
  • Kenny Vaughan
  • Greg Bryant Expansion
  • Duffy Jackson Big Band
  • The Long Players Perform Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon
  • Ladysmith Black Mambazo
  • Elephant 6 Orchestra (Holiday Surprise)
  • The Scissormen
  • Guitar Orchestra of Barcelona
  • The Greenhornes
  • Jerry Lee Lewis
  • Fleet Foxes
  • Jonathon Richman
  • The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger
  • Flaming Lips
  • Chuck Mead
  • Kevin Gordon
  • Jabe Beyer
  • Porter Hall, TN
  • Bonnie Whitmore
  • Ben Cameron
  • Amanda Shires

I did miss the trombone quartet doing an evening of Kiss songs, but it was the same night as Fleet Foxes, so that’ll have to do.

Also, Alice Cooper and Vince Gill did a brief set during intermission at a hockey game.  Does that count?  I’m counting it.

I also met Wynonna Judd down the street at the bar late in the Winter.  We talked about how funky the bass line was in Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “Tell Me Something Good”, and also about a house in Franklin where she used to live before a buddy of mine lived there (and stored my canoe for me).  She agreed that it was an effective place to freeze your butt off in the Winter.

Magicicada Surrealis

Shirt Design by supermaggie.com

I am writing this well into the move-in to my new place in East Nashville, where the locals have nearly finished digging our part of the city out from being completely covered with cicadas.  The critters grow underground, and emerge as crawlies that shed their skins to become flying things –seemingly highly agile but mindless malfunctioning tiny helicopters with no flight plan but an audibly powerful drive to fly throughout all visible foliage and have one huge screaming brood-wide tree-top sex party.  They’re not locusts, and it’s not a Biblical plague.

I have been around cicadas before; my papaw’s tree farm in rural North Central Louisiana was full of them, as were everybody else’s tree farms.  As mentioned previously, they shed their skins (the video is paired with music from Enya, which just seems weird to me), and these harden to form little crunchy brown husks that can be used to decorate your shirt or hang on your earlobe.  My memory of them includes trekking through the forest to see which cousin could first collect enough “locust shells” to full up a paper grocery bag.  This was when we weren’t collecting Graveyard Grasshoppers (which is a completely different critter, so named due to the hundreds of them that migrated across my papaw’s property every day in part of the summer, seemingly originating from the graveyard on the adjacent church property (and captured by us because they were beloved by the bass in the ponds of the area)), riding 3-wheelers, or building forts out of fallen pine limbs and/or preparing for pine-cone battle.

But they have been everywhere here for the past seven or eight weeks, to the extent that you find yourself scanning sidewalks and doing the cicada dance to avoid stepping on them while batting the ones that are flying around you away.  I have had several of them land on me, and had to remove a few of them from my car.  Some people deal with being near a swarm of several hundred thousands of screaming flying one-inch bugs differently than others.  I have found the whole thing somewhat amusing, but others are clearly freaked out by them.  During a previous emergence when I lived in Huntsville, AL, a woman called 911 to get them to send the police to deal with the noise’ I found this out because they played the tape of it on the news and asked other citizens to not call 911 about the issue.  This time around I have seen a number of hoodied youth pedestrians (very common where I live) get totally zipped up, pull their drawstrings tight, and either withdraw their arms totally from their sleeves or just run down the sidewalk waving their arms around, as if they bugs care about the flapping or not-flapping of human arms in any way.  My car, though, is a testament to their presence.  They are stuck all in my grill, and they are smeared across my windshield.

Somehow I have managed to keep the bugs out of both apartments while moving, but their hissing has been incessant during certain parts of the day for several weeks now. During its peak, I could actually hear it over the hum of the window-unit A/C that it seems I will have to run constantly in order to maintain normal body temperature in this old 2nd-floor apartment at this time of year.  The noise they make is close to white noise (like the kind that little girl in Poltergeist used to watch after the local television station has concluded its broadcast day, played the National Anthem, and turned off the transmitter til tomorrow), droning and hypnotic, and they make it quite loudly.  I haven’t kept up with the exact details on the dates of this emergence, but I can tell my sitting next to my window that we are nearly done with this brood.  By this time of day last week, I couldn’t hear myself think at this window, and now I can hear the footsteps of the guy next-door as he walks through his grass.

Home Again Home Again Jiggety Jig

The cute/creepy creatures made by JF Sebastian in Blade Runner greeted their creator with a cheerful “Home Again Home Again Jiggety Jig”, and that is what I used to tell my (ex-)dogs when I would return home from work for the day.  “Home” has obviously taken on different meanings as I have gotten older, and is again this week at the forefront of my attention, as I am moving from what has been my shortest-lived independent living space into one of indeterminate duration that is approximately 8 blocks away.  While I will miss aspects of this residence greatly, particularly the front porch from which I start and then heavily edit these vain blog posts, my economic situation simply cannot justify the expense of continuing to live here alone.  A roommate would be a valid option to allow me to remain in this space, but at this stage of the game, I find myself unwilling to cede full control over the bathroom, stereo, TV, or peace and quiet, considering the excellent array of affordable living options available around Nashville.

I fell asleep exhausted on the sofa after a particularly dramatic day recently, then abruptly awoke and couldn’t readily get my bearings.  This has happened so rarely that it has actually occurred to me that it’s never even happened on a camping trip or sleepover or a hotel situation, which would be when I would think it most expected.  In this instance, my eyes were still closed, but I had the distinct feeling of not knowing where I was.  If I were as inclined toward panic as I have been accused of by a select few who seem to know me less than all would imagine, that would have been an opportune time; however, I remember laughing out loud about what a weird thing the human mind is.  As quickly as it came over me it was gone, and I realized I was likely waking from a quick dream.  They say dreams are your brain’s way of sorting through the experiential mail, so to speak, deciding which memories to keep for further processing and which are of less significance.  My shift in “home” over the past few years has given me a lot to think about during waking hours, I imagine it has my subconscious doing some heavy lifting as well.

The same day this happened, I read a horoscope advising me I’d benefit from opening the windows in as many ways as possible, which reminded me that my current place –while wonderful in many aspects– has lots of windows, but none of them open, having long ago been painted shut.  Luckily, my new place has lots of windows, and all of the ones I’d open are willing to be opened.  There are no screens, however; so in order to keep the squirrels, cicadas, starlings, and other critters out (it is an extremely wooded lot, with a very active squirrel nest within 15 feet of my door), the windows that are opened should be propped up with the framed screen inserts.  [REMINDER: get more framed screen inserts so you can keep more windows open.]  So this weekend I am moving to yet another place called Home, but I guess it is possible that the Rapture (and successive destruction of the planet) could change all of that.  Either way, I have another new place to call Home for at least the next few months, and I’m going to keep the windows open while I move in.

Twist

As the 13-year cicadas began their invasion, I started writing this one on the front porch with the blue skies graying to black, listening to the increasing humming of the bugs, the continuous clanking of the railroad crossing due to whatever type of construction is happening there, and hoping tornadoes and floodwaters decide our state has had enough for a one-year period.  I drove to a tornado-affected area last week to help ensure that a colleague of my boss was able to respond to the documentation requirements for that county to be reimbursed by /ˈfimə/ for clean-up of debris from within the right-of-way.  I did not view any damage (the roads were barricaded, and I would have felt like an ass asking to ride along with the officials just go see in person what had caused so much suffering for those affected), but I did hear some first-hand stories from people who were in the first wave of clean-up effort.

One of the guys who worked for the agency I was visiting was the brother of a guy who’s mobile home was “disintegrated and sucked up into the sky.”  They said there were no pieces of his trailer found anywhere on his lot, and they found the guy dead up in a tree in the woods nearby.

They said another guy who works in their department went to the hospital to have them check for internal injuries, because he got trapped outside with nowhere to go when the worst part of the storm came through.  They said he was okay, but his body looked as if it had been lashed with a belt or a whip across most of the surface.  That is when I remembered, but thankfully had the tact not to recount, the Ron White joke about the stubborn guy on the coast who tied himself to a palm tree to prove to his buddies he could withstand the wind.  They found him dead, crushed by a car, and that is when they learned: Sometimes it’s not THAT the wind is blowing, it’s WHAT the wind is blowing.

Another story was of an old lady who was in her bed when the tornado went across her property.  It took the roof off her house, and set it gently down on the ground, and then it did the same to everything that wasn’t nailed down.  Apparently she got dumped out of her bed just as it landed softly on the ground outside, and she was later declared by the hospital to be uninjured.

As I was leaving that area to return to Nashville, I stopped at Waffle House to get something with grits and some coffee to open my eyes for the drive ahead.  Since the pacing waitress’ singing along to every song that came on the jukebox seemed more and more like a psychic attack, I tried to make myself less vulnerable by focusing on the conversation that was cranking up between the two overall-wearing old-timers who were at the counter closest to my table.  (I will likely wear overalls exclusively when I am an old-timer, so take no offense if you find yourself currently in this demographic and think I am being condescending.)  One of them asked the other if he had seen any damage or had any interesting debris land on his property.  The other replied with the following story, re-told here as closely as I can recall it, but not quite in Twain-like dialectic detail:

“I was walking in the pasture, and I was looking at the edge of the woods, at how hundreds of trees had been snapped off at the same exact height and the broken tops were all facing the same direction.  I was noticing that, but I was still thinking about how a couple of my old trees closer to the house had been twisted off of their roots, when I saw a hawk land nearby to snatch up a snake.  As the hawk was just getting airborne again, carrying the little green snake in its claws, a big owl –musta had 8 feet of wings– dropped down on it, and spent 20 or 30 seconds tearing the hawk to pieces.  When that owl was done, there was just pieces of a snake and a pile of feathers!  Now I heard an owl can see a mouse’s tail twitch from 6000 feet straight up in the sky, but I ain’t never knew no owl could get the drop on some hawk, and then tear him to pieces like that.  So, the owl flew off toward the woods, and I just stood there trying to see where he went.  After about a minute later, a second hawk landed close to the spot where the other one had been killed, like he was tryina check out his buddy.  Some hawks hunt in pairs, you know, and I figure this one had been watching when his partner got tore up by that owl.  All of a sudden, BAM! that huge owl swooped back down on that other hawk –it was like he came out of nowhere–, and tore him right up, too!  I ain’t never seen nothin’ like it.”