Ten Years of Becoming

Categories Words on a Screen

Everyone has a story, and most of it isn’t interesting.

Very little of what was spoken between them remains in his memory except a prediction: That ten years from now she was bound to be impressed by the person he’d become. It’s been nine years since they’ve spoken, but for all the words he could have held on to, those are the words he decided to carry with him.

So much had been given to him at such an early age that it never occurred to him to ever be grateful for what he had. But now, today, it’s back. Most of what he lost had returned. And with it, plenty of reflection. A look back on all that’s happened. How desperate he had become. How little he had. How much time has passed. How much he’s gained through the process of becoming. “I wonder what she’d think of me now? I wonder what she’d think of my story?”

But as with any story, how much of it do you share? And whose sake are you sharing it for?

Holy Ghost

Categories Words on a Screen

“People need to believe, because without that belief, whether it be in their heroes, their country, their church, their world view, their ideology, their political party, or their own goodness, they will crumble. They MUST believe in order to be able to face the day. If their belief system is shown to be a fraud, they wouldn’t have anything to stand upon, and everything about them would be a lie, and that would mean they would be mentally and emotionally obliterated. Their identity would be shattered. They would cease to exist. Without their belief system/identity, they are nothing, they are cast into the dark abyss, the void of ‘not knowing’. That is a frightening prospect for most people.

We as humans need to bend reality in all sorts of bizarre ways in order to be able to survive and keep our psyche in tact. We ignore some things, and focus on others, all in an attempt to make ‘reality’ fit what we want it to be. We suspend our disbelief so that we can be loyal to our country, or our president or whatever is important to us. We hold contrasting beliefs and attitudes simultaneously in order to make our belief system make some sort of sense to us internally, even when it makes no sense externally. This is the human condition. It is not a disease that only infects those of a certain political party or religion, it is a disease that infects mankind, and it is epidemic. In America emotion rules the day. Instant gratification means we have an impulse and we have to follow it. Facts, truth and reason have no place in our current culture, except as objects of ridicule and scorn. We know what we know and we know it is right because we FEEL it is right. We would rather shout someone down than go inward and question ourselves, our beliefs, our worldview, because God forbid we are wrong, then the whole house of cards will tumble and no one wants that.” —Michael McCaffrey, ”Truth, Justice and the Curious Case of Chris Kyle

The Paper

Categories Words on a Screen

I got that corner early and didn’t earn much — only made about seven bucks by then — when he showed up with his girl. You could see he was an addict. It was all about the attitude. It was all about me-me-me, take-take-take, but I got it all on my camera. All of it. I used to be that way, but and he’s lucky I’m not like that anymore. They started causing shit, saying it was their spot, told me to fuck off, that I should go back to my country. I was like, fuck you, man, I’m from here. He said he was part of The Brotherhood, but I don’t even know if he really was. My people were from here way before his were. He’s just ignorant, man. Ignorant. He’s lucky I’m trying to turn my life around. I got it all on video and I’m going to tell the paper when I go back in tomorrow. It was my spot first and I don’t need shit like that. I’m going to report him — they’ll suspend him. If I see him again I’m going to call the cops and get a restraining order.

When I was walking away some guy called me over and was like, “what happened, bro?” I told him this junkie kicked me out of my spot so I had to go somewhere else to sell the paper. He said he was sorry that happened and gave me twenty bucks. At least I didn’t hit him. Fucking ignorant, man. He’s just ignorant.

My Town

Categories Words on a Screen

What’s to make of the city as its population continues to change, the transplants quickly outweighing the natives, yesterday’s vision being resurfaced by an incoming freshman class of civilian? In that pocket of confusion, the circumstances of this city’s facelift served as a fine excuse to guard myself from committing to whatever any of this really is.

There’s a division that was created in my head several years ago, with one of the most prominent voices arguing that Nashville is a city divided, and I was on the lesser side of whatever that divide might be. It’s all related to insecurities: You’re either one of worth or you’re not. Beauty, cool, and success all play in to it, but at its core it was only just a way to validate an internal feeling of victimhood. When you tell yourself you’re never going to be one of them, whoever they are, there are few limitations to the levels of slack you’re willing to cut yourself.

I felt I deserved to be welcomed from the moment I got here. Without realizing it at the time, I used that sense of entitlement to paint myself something of a social refugee. “Look at all the outsiders,” I thought. “I’m an outsider, too — they should be welcoming me.” But in that headspace, it felt like if you weren’t one of the original outsiders, you’d never be welcome. I blamed others because I’d convinced myself I was insignificant.

I’ve not been much for prayer, but several weeks ago I committed. With eyes closed, my hope was to set the right tone for whoever was listening, myself included. I’ve been here a while, but now I’m trying something new. What makes a town someone’s town isn’t just living there, but being present there. It’s terrifying.

Good Friday

Categories Words on a Screen

Getting to there from here has almost always felt like the point. This moment, just something to bear on the way to right now becoming something better. This experience a lesser version of what I’m really preparing for. And suddenly the future disappears. With countless conversations touting the value of mindfulness behind me, a feeling has finally caught up to the concept. My eyes look through the book I’d been reading and I focus on the ground. Then the distance returns, separating me from the present. I grab my phone and scramble to type, my digital shorthand capturing a moment, maybe to process it, maybe to drop an anchor tethering me to a place I hope to return to. For a moment there, an ideal had become practice.

Having returned to my baseline, my range becomes broad again. My attention is lost and focus strays to a group of teenagers off in the distance — singing, playing guitar, keeping a beat, a dozen of them in a chorus of praise. Some sway, some raise their hands casually to their shoulders making an exaggerated shrugging gesture as if trying to prove their exaltation by way of awkward physicality. My judgement flails, striking out at them for them being them, then back at me for mocking them, then again back at me out of jealousy: Never can I recall being so committed to a moment, sober, as they seem right now. For some, a better Friday than for others. I walk away thinking how an epiphany marred by regret is still an epiphany.

Another Queen

Categories Words on a Screen

Royalty in passing, a red carpet is laid out for you in my mind. Who you really are never seems to cross my mind though, because in that moment you are grand, a leader of nations, powerful enough to sway the will of men with a wave of the hand yet wise enough to not allow the masses your attention. The projection of nobility always bears an expiration date however, which usually lasts just long enough for me to agree with myself that the upward boundaries of class mobility are there for a reason. Another queen off to find her king.

Artifacts

Categories Words on a Screen

“Imaginary flirtations with the second amazing waitress of the day float through my mind as we drive home for the night, a bleak country-sized horizon lit up by the high-beams. I feel lucky.” Memory of writing down those words has left me, but the vision of those high-beams has stuck, us driving away from the city, back through the nothingness, feeling a just-slightly-buzzed hum run through me. Several months later, in recapping my notes from the trip, I wrote “The goal now is to stop imagining and keep committing until the person in the mirror matches the person I want to see looking back at me.” However faded it might be in certain spots, there’s a line that’s been drawn through each of these plot points, that continues on through today. There are so many memories I want to hold on to, telling myself that maybe they can become useful in relating to someone else. Maybe those photos, those notes, or those ideas will reflect upon me in a way that building something new can’t. The risk of letting go is made to feel so much more imposing by the fear of having to try something new. What’s the real value of these artifacts if they don’t help move the needle.

Oklahoma

Categories Words on a Screen

Travel back here to find solace, she told me: This is a place to be cherished; visit when you feel the need to escape; make frequent visits in your mind… In the moment it seemed so real, so genuine, so inspirational. Moments like these manufacture believers.

The Internet

Categories Words on a Screen

“I’ve never stepped so lightly in all my life / And all the months of my childhood turned to eggshell when I wasn’t lookin'”

Where my mind forgets, The Internet remembers. That sticky residue of the past like sap, a historical cache of connections, moments, and memories sticking to a person with the frightening permanence of an industrial adhesive. Everything stored in the cloud, held in a weightless currency of bits and bytes while its heaviness is immeasurable.

The apps act as portals to an infinite feedback loop, each providing the opportunity to lose myself in a state of endless narcissistic reflection. The glow of the handheld window never reveals a vision of what’s happening, currently, however, but of what just happened — the present moment perpetually revealing itself with a slight lag caused by a period of electronic digestion. Being present in this sort of arena means being forever trapped in what just happened. And with both feet planted in a moment that no longer exists, my input in this space is recommended — encouraged even — with the energy behind each unique platform begging a similar form of shorthand feedback, insight, or opinion of me. The destination of this process is a forced nostalgia for something that’s barely finished happening, as if that moment had something remotely to do with me in the first place.

I’ve never forgotten that “if you’re not the customer, you’re the product,” but whose best interest the creators have in mind is of little consequence when the chemical surge of validation hits the brain. Here, in this space of limited peripheral vision, this instinct to participate is only fueled by the reciprocity of others — each instance of their noticing, liking, favoriting, or commenting all further solidify the habit of impulsive clicking to gauge personal value by way of virtual credibility.

What meaningful connection is there to be had if any interaction relies on a foundation of highly self-edited digital personas intelligently navigating through a vast jungle of confirmation biases to find common ground on an actual human level?

Into the fireplace go the yearbooks.

“Ain’t no sense in keepin’ around somethin’ that really ain’t worth keepin'”

Danielle

Categories Words on a Screen

The choir wails. She looks up from her hymnal long just enough to lose her place. No one’s listening anyways, she tells herself, before gently closing the book and returning it to its home. Her voice is beautiful. As she stands there, the chorus echoes throughout the sanctuary, alive with song toasting the trinity. The organ’s massive pipes tower over the congregation. She looks to her left — her parents — and to her right — familiar faces — and wonders how did I get here? How did this become the thing I do? How did this become what I’m supposed to be? The music returns to silence and the pews creak and moan. Attention returns to the altar. Reinforced consequences leave her tense with fear. Her guilt is heavy. She’s doing the best she can.

An Intersection

Categories Words on a Screen

“It’s a big thing that’s present in the white liberal community. That, ‘I’m talking about it so I’m doing something.’ No, you’re just talking about it. And you’re talking about it usually to other white liberals. You’re not really doing anything here. Talking is not action. Don’t just look at what you say. Look at how you socialize. What is your work environment? What do you actually do to help legislation along to protect people who are in a more compromised position than you are?” —Brett Gelman

Sitting here with my coffee, reading just the headlines, the intersection of thought is hazy as so many crossroads enter the fold. Everything is terrible, in-fighting is heavy on both sides of the division line, yet somehow we’re still getting by. Smoldering ash rising from the fire of a better yesteryear hasn’t completely blocked out the sun. Yeah, morale is down but apparently the market is up — though that isn’t particularly good news for me, having not had the foresight to structure my life in a way that would lead me to have a stake in such a game. But it’s good news for many who, I assume, probably already have plenty of reasons to celebrate. They’ve got rising returns, we’ve got neighbors we might never fully understand, even if we actually tried.

Something felt so wrong about what was happening when the power changed hands. But then, what followed was confirmation of why: we’re to understand that something wrong had already taken place, this was the reaction that we couldn’t see coming, us trapped in our bubbles within this new era of segregation. If this is on us now, what are we to do? Judge, condemn, fight? Donate, protest, volunteer? Take action? Get to work? The dumpster fire disappears when you close your eyes, but from it you can still feel the heat.

“I think you’re doomed if you start trying to present yourself as anything more than someone that’s trying to do the right thing. I think that people who put themselves up on a pedestal of integrity and moral high ground are making a huge mistake, especially when it comes to music and art. It doesn’t leave a whole hell of a lot of room to indulge all the shit in your head. It doesn’t leave a whole hell of a lot of room to write. I think that there are plenty of people who have gotten trapped into that mode in music, even, and in rap, who can’t find their way out of it, who felt like they had something important to say but also forgot that they had something that wasn’t important to say… I think that one of the ways that we all fuck ourselves is by demanding that not only do people do the right thing, but they also act the right way or say the right thing all the time. I think that that’s false. Victories are won by embracing the fact that the filth and the dirt and the humor of goodness are just as valid as the pretense and the proper sort of intellectual mind frame.” —El-P

Every day I see the face of the person I’ll be spending the rest of my life with, and every day something reminds me of the wreckage of my past. I’ve done well to rearrange the furniture and the setting that exists now is presentable. But that isn’t for one moment to act like the image of what exists would survive any sort of thorough investigation. There’s plenty of filth and dirt that I’ve merely swept under the rug. Even then, my hall-of-mirrors memory grants a certain level of hubris with regard to where all this is going; none of us were informed enough before, but I’ve corrected this for myself. I get it now. If hindsight were a disease, sometimes I feel my sickness would be terminal.

Living Well

Categories Words on a Screen

“What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.” —Seneca

How does the saying go, “The best revenge is living well”? Isn’t that the truth? Looking out over the balcony, there’s a calm to the traffic — no horns, no revving of engines, no screeching tires or thumping speakers. To the east, the cars merge effortlessly – the mechanics of a zipper in fine form, seamlessly consolidating two lanes of all-but-silent single-colored two-door sedans into one. To the west, Main Street – smily pedestrians waving as drivers yield to the crosswalks, their children holding hands as they march in unison, moving briskly so as to be of as little an inconvenience to the commuters as possible. The drivers get to work on time, the children to school, the pedestrians to their routines.

A cigarette burns too close to the fingers as I lean out over the rail to smell the nothingness of the air, and with the sizzle of the skin I flinch, losing my grip on the smoldering stub, sending it falling to the ground. “Howdy, neighbor, I think you dropped this,” he says, raising his voice while looking up at me with a distended smile, extending his arm to emphasize that he’s the one who the butt fell by. “I used to smoke these, too, pal. Watch out,” he continues, with his smile now reaching the edges of his face, “you could have dropped this on the patrol. That sorta thing could land you in hot water!” Living well. Just once I’d like to listen to music on a stereo, the speakers so loud that my walls shake. Or bump into somebody on the subway. I remember when I was a kid, and we’d have spitting contests — then, drinking contests in our teens. Now, they only let you smoke on Fridays, and when you do you have to smoke whatever these things are. I miss real cigarettes. Maybe living well is just payback for the way things used to be.

Nothing If Not Crazy

Categories Words on a Screen

“To the south, there’s a vast city. And here you find civilized man. Civilized man refused to adapt himself to his environment; instead, he adapted his environment to suit him. So he built cities, roads, vehicles, machinery, and he put up power lines to run his labor-saving devices. But somehow he didn’t know where to stop. The more he improved his surroundings to make life easier, the more complicated he made it. So now his children are sentenced to 10-15 years of school, just to learn how to survive in this complex and hazardous habitat they were born into. And civilized man, who refused to adapt to his surroundings, now finds he has to adapt and re-adapt every hour of the day to his self-created environment. For instance, if it’s Monday and 7:30 comes up, you have to dis-adapt from your domestic surroundings and re-adapt yourself to an entirely different environment. 8:00 means everybody has to look busy. 10:30 means you can stop looking busy for 15 minutes. And then you have to look busy again. And so your day is chopped into pieces, and in each segment of time you adapt to a new set circumstances. No wonder some people go off the rails a bit.” —The Gods Must Be Crazy

It’s rough in the jungle.