Even Older

adviceTime
Is marching on
And time
Is still marching on

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The old adage that you become wiser as you get older has, so far, proved to be absolute crap as I have watched my own odometer turn over.  I have met a wide range of people in my life, many of which were older than I, and most of which were no more skilled or able to make sense of this world (or any other) than I have been able to on my own.  More pointedly, the desire to gain wisdom needs to be present first, before anyone of any age can make heads or tails of it.  Like with self-help, religion, exercise, or really anything worth a crap, you have to want it to get there first, you have to want to take action in order make it happen, and when you stop moving in that direction, you stop making any kind of progress toward wisdom.  You can’t get there without trying.

I remember as a child thinking that people older than me had insight or knowledge that could be useful to me, and for many years that was true.  But by the time High School rolled around, I started to notice my teachers began to make stuff up if they didn’t actually know, and would stutter and fumble with ideas and thoughts almost as often as I did.  They were capable of as much pettiness and poor judgement as any teenager I had every met, and I started to suspect that they had no insight that I didn’t have myself.  My theory was that they had all stopped trying to make sense of the world, assuming they had as much as they already needed.  In the years that followed High School, I distrusted anyone who acted older, and made a point of illustrating that they are no different or more informed than I could be after a trip to the library.

Now that I have passed 40, I not only feel certain that I was right then, but the evidence at hand points to the same kind of self-help axiom I’ve always struggled with: you have to want something to get something.  Because, essentially, that is the case for anyone who hasn’t tried to pick a direction for themselves and pursue it.  That component of reaching out for something that you want – again: personal improvement, a new faith or belief in something, a goal or desire that you will not let yourself live without – if you can’t be bothered to even want it or find out if you do want it badly enough, then you will have no idea what you are doing and why you are doing it.  This happens to be the case with most people – young or old – and is the state of being most people prefer to adopt because it is easy.

But what do I do with this revelation?  This is the problem that I have encountered in the mental exercise of working out how you communicate this information downstream.  At 17, what would have resonated with me that would have opened my eyes?  How could anyone have taught me that I need to chase my desires with confidence, that I need to outline what I want and take physical actions to achieve my goals.  How do you make that clear to a teenager who is convinced that everything is unfair, and stacked against him?  It’s a hard nut to crack.  My natural state as a youth was to feel put-upon, to feel abused, to feel distrust toward the world around me, and to feel that the only place I was understood was in music and books of my choosing.  Short of taking me to a $5 show where all the bands I like had written ‘zines about how you need to set desire-based goals and pursue them, how would I have ever made this observation at that age?  Is is even possible?

A lot of this has to do with confidence, something that I have never been good at and felt little reason to carry as a defining trait.  I was not confident.  Until I met my wife, I was pretty sure I would be doomed to having short and largely meaningless relationships, and only in the years since we have met, fell in love, and got married do I feel the kind of confidence that I longed for a needed as a teen.  But how do you imbue confidence to the awkward and uncomfortable, without the years of experience that created it in me?  I still feel this overwhelming panic that my wife will leave me at any moment, and for any reason, and this hyper-vigilance regarding this thought tends to color my every action, even when I know in my heart that this won’t happen.  I want her in my life, but the nearly 25 years of experience prior to meeting her has trained me to think that everyone leaves.  Even at 40, I don’t have the confidence I’d like to have.

If learning confidence is complicated, developing sophistication is even more challenging.  I value my ability to think critically, to hold two thoughts in my mind at once, to consider new ideas and to abandon old ones that no longer work.  This is something I wish I had at my disposal as a teen, because in those days, I clung to the one idea I liked with a virulent fervency that bordered on being unhinged.  I was convinced that everyone’s ideals never wavered their entire life, that you would always cling to these powerful thoughts of “right” and “wrong,” and that these notions would guide you as you move forward in life.  But as you move out into the world, and meet more and more people who challenge you and your ideas, your own level of sophistication begins to increase dramatically.  Punk Rock is not the only kind of interesting (or valid) music being made (in spite of a comment to that effect that I might have made as a teen), and the greatest movie of all time is not Pump Up The Volume.  (Though that movie is quite excellent, nonetheless, there are much more interesting movies that I’ve come to love more.)

Sophistication allows us to recognize when something is of high quality, even if we don’t like it ourselves.  Sophistication suggests that there are more ideas in the world than our own, and that the exploration of them – and the discarding of things that are insane or poorly developed – is a healthy part of interacting with the world around us.  We need confidence, to become fully realized people who feel they have purpose and direction, and we need sophistication so we can make sense of other people who are different from us without resorting to racist, sexist, or other exclusionist kinds of behaviors when we meet them.

So: how do you teach a teenager, who is still more excited about video games and exploring their own body and ignoring the entirety of the world that is outside of their peer group, how do you convey the value of analytical thought and personal self-worth?  To a teenager, everything is emotion and frenzied thought, barreling through life with a pulsing pleasure center between their legs, an uncomfortable body still growing into maturity, and a huge set of social rules and axioms that dictate how you should be acting.  Even the idea of embodying confidence and sophistication is outside of everything a teenager experiences, save for the few that have extreme skill in one area or who have been forced to grow up quickly.

I’ve wrestled with this for a while, but I have no real insight into how to help out my past-self, or even the current crop of youth that are coming to terms with unfairness and adolescence here and now.  Being young is hard, and only as I am starting to consider the second half of my life do I feel as if I’m starting to get a sense of how I should have gone about things then.  It isn’t that I have a secret that I can share with kids that will even be helpful, any really they must experience this for themselves for it to really hit home.  But if anyone younger (or, perhaps, older who still isn’t sure) happens across this and might want to distill my thoughts into something they can use in a practical sense, here are a few thoughts to consider as you try and deal with the universe around you:

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1.) Nobody Else Knows What You Need.  Only you can make that call.  Only you know what your dreams and goals are, what your hopes and desires might look like, and what will keep you motivated to live the way you want to.  Describe what you want to yourself, make it as clear as possible, and be willing to do this as many times as you need until you think you’re on the right path.  You don’t have to share it with anyone unless you want to, but you should ask yourself regularly, “What do I need?  What do I want?  Can I define it?”

2.) Most Everyone Else Doesn’t Know What’s Going On.  They may say they are adults, they may point to more education or experience, they may think they are genuine authority figures, and they may claim that they know better.  But they don’t.  They never did, and they are faking it if they say they do.  They don’t know what your life is like, they don’t know what you’re after and what is important to you, and they probably never will if they haven’t defined what they want in their own lives, too.  Be patient with them.  Try to understand that they are clueless, and don’t take the things they say as “truth” or “valid” unless you happen to agree.  When they are ready to see the world from your eyes, then you will be able to have a valuable conversation (for both of you).  Until then: be patient.  They mean well, but they don’t know any better.

3.) Try Not To Be A Dick.  This is really the only rule in life that I have to say is 100% worth following, even if you don’t believe it or see the value in it at first.  This won’t stop others from being a dick.  You might even be a dick occasionally, and that is okay too.  We all make mistakes.  But try not to be.  Imagine someone else acting the way you are acting, and see how that feels for a while before you do it yourself.  None of us are always successful, and that’s okay.  We can forgive you if you are trying.  But please try.  It is easy to be a dick, and you might even get somewhere at first by being one.  But once you start acting like that often, you will find that it becomes a lot harder to stop.  Act the way you want to be remembered, not the way you think will yield the biggest result immediately.

4.) Be Willing To Be Wrong.  We learn from our mistakes, honestly.  It seems counter-intuitive, but as I get older I see it in action every single day.  A mistake might seem bad at first, and can be awful depending on the kind of mistake.  (And I’ve made plenty of them, for sure.)  But you will not be the first person to make a mistake, and you will not be the last, either.  I have changed my mind hundreds of times, I have been wrong more times than I can count, and I will continue to make mistakes and be wrong for most of my life, not because I’m trying to make mistakes, but because I only learn the right way after I have exhausted all the wrong ways around me.  Be willing to fuck up.  But also be willing to learn from that experience.

5.) Don’t Be Afraid To Be Childish If You Want To Be.  There is a race in this world to grow up, to put away the interests of your youth and to “embrace” the world of adulthood as soon as possible.  This is absolutely insane, because these same people eventually get older and insist that adults should, “never grow up,” and that the way kids see things is precious and valuable.  Clearly, they want kids to act like adults, so the old people can act like kids.  Don’t listen to them, and pursue your interests, even if they are childish.  If you like cartoons, watch cartoons.  I do, and I love them.  If you want to color, color every day.  My wife has coloring books that she loves and uses often.  My passions as a kid – computers, comics, writing – these are things that have been lifetime companions for me, both as a child and as an adult, and they have made me happy throughout my life, in spite of what adults told me when I was younger.  There is no “one time” when you should act a certain way, and when people start telling you otherwise, you don’t have to listen.

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And, it is also likely that I don’t know what I’m talking about, so you don’t really have to listen to this advice at all.  Maybe you shouldn’t, at first.  Maybe you need to learn these on your own.  But maybe it is helpful.  Maybe you already know it, and maybe you think I’m full of shit and will never understand you.  All three are probably true, for some of you anyway.  But these are the things I wish I had heard in High School, and more importantly, things I wish I had believed then, too.

Getting older can be awful.  There are times when you want to give up being responsible, give up acting the way everyone says you need to, and you will long to give up adulthood and move on to something more fulfilling.

What I’m saying is: you can do this at any age.  But only if you want to.

A Day In Aleph

Dirty_dishesA Day In Aleph [1]

Jordan finally pulled himself out of his reverie, and went to the back of his house, where his kitchen was. There was a sizable pile of dirty dishes in the sink, and the quality of the plates and mugs seemed to extend to the kitchen as a whole, creating an oppressive atmosphere. Jordan sighed and turned on the radio, and slowly began to busy himself as sound filled the air around him.

He found the largest pot he owned, and used the spray hose to fill it with warm water. Jordan had to grab and squeeze two empty bottles before he was successfully able to add some soap, and then let the pot continue to fill. In the air, a caller asked if there were warning signs that a parent could use to diagnose mental illness. Four experts all gave different answers.

Jordan hated doing dishes. He used to claim it was genetic, but his friends knew differently having met his brother and sister. Not that it changed anything for him; as far back as he could remember, he hated doing dishes, and had assumed that his parents did too, since he was often given the chore. Jordan turned off the hose and began to rearrange the contents of the sink, trying to make a plan of attack. Even though he lived alone, he briefly wondered if anyone would get on his case, or try to step in and show him how to do it correctly.

This rarely happened anymore.

A new caller asked about how We can promote green practices, not just in our homes, but our communities. Jordan laughed to himself, imagining the dialog to be about dope instead.

There was a particular case he remembered, perhaps one of the first times he ever had to wash the dishes. Even he had been surprised at how quickly the chore was finished, and before long he was back in the living room, wondering if Duncan & Orko were going to make another appearance.

Then: “Jordan, come here.”

Where had he heard that before? It sounded so incredibly familiar.

Jordan came into his parents’ kitchen, all of eight years old. The cabinets towered over him. His stuffed bear, Buffalo, nearly dwarfed him as he trundled along. The smooth, vinyl floor stretched out in front of him like a football field, expansive and grid-like, where any number of games could be entertained, provided the adults weren’t around. In front of the sink, next to the Formica counter, stood his father and the stool that he’d left behind.

“Get up here, you’re not done yet.” Déjà vu.

As he began to work on his own sink, he could picture his childhood kitchen perfectly. As he would run a sponge through the handle of a mug, his own father, years ago, repeated the exact same motions, teaching, explaining. No matter how differently he tried to clean his dishes in the present, his father in the past matches his every movement.

“Jordan, come here.”

Jordan turned around, with a spatula in one hand, a young man in a uniform, to see his boss – or was it his father again? – standing next to the industrial sized sink that loomed against the entire back wall of the kitchen. In comparison, his boss looked miniscule, pathetic. The enormous mat on the ground, pock-marked with the remains of food within it’s mesh, enveloped him with an oppressive sensation that seemed much more current than the job he once held, 15 years ago.

“Get over here, you’re not done yet.”

As he approached the sink, the kitchen seemed to grow, making each step toward it seem like a mile as the work ahead of him seemed to instantly fill up the rest of his shift, his week, his life. The murky water swirled in his father’s, his boss’, and now his own sink, a dark whirlpool of soap and filth, past and future, water and air, pulling Jordan in like a hole in space and time.

Uncanny. As Jordan gathered the silverware from his own sink, he vividly saw himself do the same from his father’s sink, from his boss’ sink, from sinks familiar and unfamiliar. “Jordan, come here.” Was that his friend Devin, who needed some help in the kitchen after a party? Maybe Martha, who was tired of him playing Civilization, and wanted him to clean up in their first apartment. The callers disappeared from the air, to be replaced by a physicist talking about string theory.

He began to cry silently. “You’re not done yet.” He looked at his own sink, and no, he wasn’t. Tears began to splash onto the food still stained on his plates and spoons.

How many times had he been shown how to wash dishes? How many times has he stared at the water, and felt overwhelmed by the work ahead of him? How many times have people that loomed so large in his life made him feel useless in front of a sink? His apartment was only big enough for himself, but his kitchen seemed crowded now with ghosts of the past and present.

Jordan, come here. Who said that? Or rather, why is it always being said at all? Being alone was supposed to be the ultimate reprieve from the daily chores that fill up our lives. When you only have to impress yourself, there’s no reason to make the bed, sweep the floor, or scrub the windows if you don’t want to. And yet the impression that’s been made over time fills him with constant guilt. You’re not done yet. He cannot escape it, no matter what town he moves to, or how many years pass between then and now. There will always be one more load of laundry, one more box of recycling to sort, and more dishes to wash. The drying rack will always be ready to receive the next communion saucer.

Jordan continued to wash his dishes with his own tears, and began to pull taught the thread that ran through his entire life. It connects his past to his future, and ran through him completely, filling him with the anxiety that there will always be another load to finish, and someone else not completely happy with his work. Every point along the thread came into focus as he moved through the contents of his own sink and as he sat there, overwhelmed by the cumulative effect flooding through him at that moment, as the air around him filled with abstract explanations that did nothing for him spiritually, he let out a long, sputtering exhalation, punctuated by the fury of his eyes and nose that were now working overtime to make sense of his inner turmoil.

He moved, imperceptibly forward along the thread, and soon 20 minutes had passed, and he was finished. He turned the radio off, left the room, and went to his bathroom to clean himself up. He reached for a towel, wiped off the water now on his face, and locked eyes with himself.

“You’re not done yet,” he said.

[1] Suds & Scrubs, Dishwasher Pete!

I’ve Been to the Bemsha Mountaintop (Retrocast)

(This podcast and essay was originally posted on 21 January 2013.  At the time, I worked for Portland State University, and got MLK Day paid off.)

This Was The Last Speech He Gave Before His Assassination The Following Day.
This Was The Last Speech He Gave Before His Assassination The Following Day.

I’ve Been to the Bemsha Mountaintop
(Featuring an audio-essay cut-up of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s last speech delivered to an audience, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” from 3 April 1968.)

I have always taken for granted the holiday that we take in January to honor Martin Luther King Jr.  It was not that I didn’t care, but that the day usually came when papers were due, or when I worked a job that already required me to work that day.  But in light of my new job, getting the day off – paid – felt a little weird.  I had to be honest with myself that I had never really listened to any of MLK’s speeches all the way through, and that I knew very little about the work he did other than the most general, basic sense.

So today’s radio blast is a bunch of stuff culled from my collection of audio that relates to MLK Jr.  I have an edited cut-up of his last speech, and a radio broadcast from just after his assassination, as a way of presenting some of what I discovered in actually doing some research of this amazing and incredible man.

I do not have any great epiphanies to share with you, and there is no great revelation at work in this show.  It seems very clear that, as he delivered this speech, he knew his days were numbered, but this seems to be the case leading up to his assassination.  I think the arrangement in this little mini-cast works to reveal why he was considered to be one of the best orators of our day, but also to illuminate much of what his work was about in the most basic and general sense possible.

For those who stay to the end: there’s a little joke to ease the tension of such a serious subject.

I urge all of you to listen to his speeches, read up on this man, and let yourself actually understand the value of this holiday.  So much of what happens to us seems so passive, and we let days pass without reflecting on them too often.  This time, stop for a moment to consider who this man was, and what effect he had on the world around us.

And: let’s hope you MLK Day was full of the promise and wonder that every new days brings us.

Be seeing you

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I’ve Been to the Bemsha Mountaintop

01.) (What Did I Do To Be So) Black & Blue [Excerpt] * Louis Armstrong * Say It Loud: Celebrate Black History Month & Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
02.) “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” [Excerpts] * Martin Luther King Jr. * 3 April 1968
02.) Bemsha Swing * Thelonious Monk * Say It Loud: Celebrate Black History Month & Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
03.) Martin Luther King Jr. Assassinated * Bill Kurtis * We Interrupt This Broadcast * 4 April 1968

It’s Time For A Geekly Update

geekly6Every Sunday at 2 PM on KMUZ.

One of the first things I searched for when my wife and I hit upon the idea of moving to Salem was local radio, and I remember in those early days when I found KMUZ online.  It took a while for us to get our marriage and our life in Salem sorted out, and thus my involvement with KMUZ has been only a recent development.  I haven’t done a whole lot of mentioning of it (save for a passing reference in the last NewsZine), as I’m still the low guy on the totem pole, but I have been recently adopted by the team at Geekly Update, and have appeared on two recent episodes.

For those who haven’t listened yet, Geekly Update is a panel / talk show format program where guests and hosts talk about all of the topics-de-jour that are of interest to the nerdy and nerdy-adjacent.  Comics, novels, movies, TV, music, and anything that comes close to something you would find in your comic collecting friend’s house is covered on the show, and they’ve been going strong for a while.  Jason Ramey David Duncan are the primary hosts, and run the show on alternating weeks.  The guests vary from week to week, but some recurring characters appear every week.

I will be archiving my appearances on this program over at AnywhereAnywhen.com, using my newly minted Geekly Update Feed.  In an episode from 27 December 2015, we gave an overview of the things we enjoyed from 2015.  In an episode from 3 January 2016, we talked about various pieces of culture and whatnot that we are looking forward to in the coming year.  (I had to phone in for the second show, as the roads were too icy for us to drive in for the show that day.)  I should mention that there was no show on the 10th due to host illness, but I will be back on the 17th, certainly, and hopefully Jason won’t still be sick.

I have been wanting to launch a talk show of my own for some time, and some out there may remember the original incarnation of A Momentary Lapse of Reason was focused on talk.  (That is, until Miss Rikki & I turned the show into a collage-based sort of dadaist presentation.)  But even that show was not going to have the kind of spirited conversation that we’ve had on these shows.  Plus, the subject matter is something that I’m passionate about, but don’t really have an outlet for at the time.  As someone with thousands of comics in my basement, I feel bad that I never address that part of my life.  Hopefully now I can.

So, make sure to tune in on Sundays, at 2 PM.  It’s a good time to listen live, and there will be a podcast either later that day, or by Monday at the latest.  Geekly Update.  It’s something new I’m involved in, and I’d love it if you listen.

Bowie & Lemmy & Hundreds of Other People Who Weren’t Famous (Oh My)

lemmy-kilmister-tumor-cancerIt isn’t that I want to be the flea on a house cat, or just to be contrary, but there’s always such a mixed bag of emotions when someone well-known passes away.  I was absolutely broken the day Leonard Nimoy passed away, but found myself at peace when Lemmy’s death was announced.  (Probably because I had seen Motorhead live four times, and felt lucky to have done so.)  I remember spending hours watching Nirvana videos the day Cobain killed himself, crying and maudlin over someone I never met, but was almost filled with glee when I heard about Jerry Garcia passing, and actually celebrated when Ronald Regan finally died.  We all have our own group of myth-makers that we respond to, and my love of Captain Beefheart can’t measure up to that of Robin Williams, no matter what the Inter-Web-A-Tron thinks I should feel that particular day.

1976: David Bowie poses for an RCA publicity shot in 1976. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

It isn’t that I don’t like David Bowie.  I have a few albums, and there’s some songs of which I’m certainly a fan.  He was interesting, too, a character that was looking to create a certain kind of art, not necessarily art that was popular at the time, either.  He looked how he wanted to, acted how he wanted to, made music that reached and affected a lot of people, and made a huge impact.  I don’t want to deny any of that, or talk shit about him.  He was who he was.  He just wasn’t my favorite artist in the world.

And, even worse, not even the first well-known person to have died on January 10th of 2016.  A well known mathematician, two well known dutch sculptors (the other one is here), a well known writer, two additional musicians (American & Venezuelan), a LGBT activist, a footballer, a journalist, a politician, a businessman & an Australian yachtsman all died on the same day, and a few of them also went to cancer, too.  And that doesn’t even account for the scores of others that have already died in 2016.  Wikipedia’s Lists of deaths by year is quite eye-opening, and while that doesn’t mean that Bowie’s death isn’t a loss, or isn’t tragic, it is strange to consider all the other’s that are not being remembered as part of this event.

Humanity has never really done well when we try to cope with death.  The best we can do is invent an afterlife of some kind, speak to them as if they are still alive, and postpone the actual grieving until we are faced with the fact that this person really is lost, that they really are gone, that they are never coming back.  Sometimes we can process these kinds of events in real time.  But death is almost always sudden.  I didn’t go to bed on the 9th with any kind of preparation that I would wake up in a world without Bowie.  None of us did.  But it has happened, and we must learn to find a way to deal.

In a way, celebrity deaths are how we come to cope with the fact that humanity is dying.  The thought that there will never be any more Motorhead shows is a big thing to process, and it stands in for the fact that everything ends, eventually.  There was a time when there were never going to be any more Beatles, or Elvis, or Django Reinhardt, or Mozart.  But life continues.  Bowie has now been relegated to “old” culture status, and we will only now be able to live in a world that has lost that, and hundred and thousands of those who came before us.  Learning to live without new music is a bit like having to come to terms with Grandma dying, or the city we grew up in changing dramatically.

Yes, it is sad we lost him.  It is sad we lost everyone.  We should be mourning the loss of people, of those who were not famous but touched our lives anyway.  We should be learning to come to terms with everything that we might not ever see again, and not just new albums buy a guy who had done the bulk of his best work a few decades ago.  This should be an example of the amazing things that we have in front of us, and not a chance to dwell on the great things we used to have, that are completely gone now.

Nostalgia is great.  But it is too easy to feel steeped in it, to let it overwhelm us as we realize the thing we love is gone now, or different.  But celebrities will live on in our memory longer than our friends, or neighbors will, and rarely do we celebrate them with the same kind of grandiosity of a passed superstar.

No one will ever forget Bowie.  Who will remember everyone else that died that day?