Tag Archives: Writing

A Traffic Stop with RobotCop – Author’s Note

I had my first real taste of writer’s rejection recently, with my “short” story A Traffic Stop with RobotCop. As you can see, I’ve decided to just post the 16,000 word beast on my blog (and on Medium). I understand that this is sort of a no-no in the writing subculture, as it represents a thin-skinned response, a lack of resolve, a devaluation of one’s hard work yadda yadda…

The thing is that I want the story to be readily available, in the record, and off my desk, even if very few people actually end up reading it. Apparently the U.S. Supreme Court decided very recently that illegal stops (by cops) can still yield admissible evidence. Justice Sotomayor wrote a scorching dissent and her obvious outrage, frustration and compassion made me remember how I tried to distill my insignificant howl at the power structure into a document that is incisive, enjoyable and has some ring of truth to it.

So I submit my story to the blog-o-sphere. I’m going to reprint the note I included with my first email submission, because I think it still adequately expresses how I feel about this story:

I won’t be coy: RobotCop is my response to the recent media attention surrounding the killing of civilians, mostly of color, by police officers. However, my intention for the story is not for it to function as a screed or polemic. There is plenty of shouting going on in the media already, and besides, I know all too well the feeling of reading or hearing something I agree with fundamentally, yet feeling repulsion due to the author or speaker’s clumsy expression or interpretation of the facts and ideas in question. So I wanted to explore these issues with a light touch. The question that prompted me was essentially this: what if someone designed a robotic police officer, but he refused or was unable to take part in even the smallest acts of corruption? The opportunity for a dark, gritty tale was evident, but with that approach, bitterness seemed a foregone outcome. So I designed RobotCop with a humor circuit, and added a few zany touches to the narrative. I cast Rombus and Argyle as archetypes, but attempted to humanize them both – populating their thoughts with noble ideals, yet having their actions play out in sometimes ugly ways, and at cross-purposes. I hope that I’ve come up with something that makes its point without being heavy-handed, and I hope you, the editors, will be interested enough to request the full story.


Tagged , , , , ,

Evaluating Sabbatical, Part 1

My “sabbatical” is in the books. Part of this blog’s stated purpose was to serve as a cautionary tale or a yellow brick road to someone seeking a not-so-conventionally-wise way to change their career. I was planning some logical blow-by-blow scorecard on the whole thing, but that just isn’t going to happen. Here are a few perspectives on the sabbatical and the first few weeks of the aftermath.


I. Warm Piss and Cold Beer

A few weeks before I moved to Providence, I got stuck in traffic on Interstate 95 on the way to band practice. This is the first time this had happened. As I crawled along, I took out my drumsticks and practiced some rudiments on the steering wheel. I looked at the bored, anguished faces of my fellow motorists. I felt my bladder swell painfully. “Hey guy,” it seemed to say. “You and I both know what’s going to happen here.”

I had a strong rush of déjà vu – not the natural kind mind you, but the more thoughtful, (in this case) rueful sensation of “I’ve been here before”. This used to be MY LIFE, sitting in the car, in traffic, traveling 40-odd miles each way every single goddamned workday. These became my last memories of Chicago, not rooftop parties or exploring the city with yuppie-moneyed friends or languid strolls along the shore, but long daily car rides, their hard bruising edges rounded slightly by a selection of audiobooks.

Eventually I decided to piss into my “emergency bottle” – a former Vitamin Water receptacle which I always keep in the car. More Chicago memories came flooding back as I self-consciously unzipped and began the shameful, necessary adjustments to get the altitudes and elevations correct. In the end the process was a success: none of the other motorists saw my foul penis, and only a few inconsequential drops of urine got on my pants.

I set the nearly-full bottle down in the passenger legroom. It was warm in the way that vessels of new urine are always surprisingly warm, contrasting strikingly with the cold beer I had purchased to share at practice.

I have to belabor the point here – This incident was a microcosm. My old life in Chicago had become about control denied, frustration, obeisance to some god of routine and self-denial whose face I could not see. Alarm bells of self-preservation were ringing the whole time, first in the form of panic attacks, and later as a determination to escape with some shred of my soul intact. Friends hinted I could look for a better engineering job, while others laughably hinted at engineering graduate school. For the last year I heard these suggestions, and maybe pretended they were somehow helpful, but I was already checked out, ready to split from the whole fucking program. If I was going to subject myself to that kind of mildly demeaning, insidious, pervasive suffering again, it would be for a damn better reason than checking The Man’s fucking spreadsheets.


II. Confidence Intervals

I have had low self-confidence since childhood, a condition based around some real or perceived shortcoming or unmet goal. Acne, unpopularity, lack of attention from girls, not being black enough, being too black, thinking I was ugly, being shy and awkward, being in the wrong major, being in the wrong career – the list goes on. By the time I became a college grad and an “adult” I began to see more clearly the hierarchy, the game and what people (like those secret-nerd fratboys at Northwestern) were getting away with. However I never learned the proper techniques for myself. So it was a noteworthy occasion when I would have a conversation with someone, at a party or wherever else, and I could tell right away that I was more confident than them.

I felt invincible. Shall we dance? I’ll lead, is what I would think, and go at the conversation like some corporate interviewer who knows that he holds the key and can lose nothing in the exchange. I never picked on or intimidated anybody (at least I hope not), but it was exhilarating to be the advanced one in the confrontation (for all conversations between highly-effective types are confrontations).

However, it is deathly strange to be in a conversation with someone who seemed confident at first, but suddenly seems vulnerable and unsure of themselves. I have to be careful here, but (a composite) someone I had been around a bit, who has great natural resources and a great personality, did not seem nearly as steady on their feet the next time I saw them. It was like seeing them for the first time – like walking into a restaurant or business when a room divider is open and some secondary aspect of the space is revealed – and it changes the character of the whole. It was also like looking in a mirror, time-distorted, one concaved toward yesteryear. I could see all the mannerisms, the stammers and trailing sentences, the desire for a firm guiding hand, the desperation to please. Indecision! Woe! THE DEEP AND UNREMITTING PAIN OF BEING HALF A MAN!

The whole (composite) incident made me realize something that has been dawning on me – that I’m finally heading in the right direction. After college, one visits their hometown and realizes that a lot of their friends and contemporaries peaked in high school, if not before. Friends become townies – some happily, some not so happily. I don’t feel like I’ve peaked at all. Even though my body is creaking and grinding and falling apart and I (to paraphrase Henry Rollins) see my face changing and it frightens me, I still feel like my best days are ahead. That is not how I felt when I was in my cubicle – twisting in a cold sweat over the idea that life was just an endless string of hassles whose far end was tied irrevocably to the grave.

Sometimes I visit my friend Mary Jane. I talk and she listens. Once, in college, my friend and I went to her place. On her black leather couch, I had a severe attack of self-loathing, realizing that every action I took in support of my self-styled rebellion stemmed from the fact that I hated myself. I almost had a panic attack right then and there. So I worried a bit about visiting ol’ MJ place during “sabbatical”. I was an apostate from my field with no desire to go back to it. I was living unsustainably, and I had no accomplishments or qualifications in my newly chosen field. I thought I might really crack, that the floor would fall from beneath me and I would tumble into complete despair, falling into the abyss alone and never to be heard from again.

And I did have a few anxious thoughts, but for the most part, the same idea bubbled up on every visit (though regular readers of this blog may disagree): You know how to fucking write. For perhaps the first time in my life, I feel strongly about something I do. I’ve never felt like I was actually good at anything (like professional-level, of high enough quality for others to use good), ever. It is a buoyant thing, this idea that I am a good writer – unpolished and inexperienced sure, but with real potential and enough skill to set me apart from Joe College Essay. This confidence has radiated outward like oxygen-rich blood, making me feel as though I am actualizing, approaching that vaunted two-thirds-of-a-man mark. I don’t feel ashamed of my career path anymore, just under-accomplished and with a galvanizing feeling that I have more work to do.

I still have to answer a lot of embarrassing questions though. I sublet (rented) an apartment for the summer from a RISD student and I live with a bunch of bouncing college-aged kids. On first meeting, each and every one of them asked me if I go to RISD or Brown. All of their friends followed suit. Nope, I’m just a guy, I say. I used to be an engineer now I want to be a writer. Some of them are cooler about it than others, but I still get that feeling, that miffed reaction, that cognitive dead end (“Oh, so you’re just hanging out?”) and palpable loss of face (I am an outsider, a nowhere man, an intruder on their little community) that comes with being de-institutionalized in this society. Why have so many of us become dependent on our unfeeling corporate or academic overlords for our feelings of belonging and self-worth?

Regardless, I still carry that glowing coal of self-realization. I never would have earned it if I had stuck around at my stinkjob, or made a lateral move within my stinkcareer. I used to feel a very real twinge of fraudulence every time somewhat asked me what I did (a gauche question in this day and age, by the way) and I answered that I was an engineer. My heart wasn’t in it, so when people would say “That sounds cool” or “Ooh that’s interesting” I would have to decide whether to just give the game away and shout “I HATE MY JOB!” I may be a late career-changer, and some people might think I’m just on some weird suicide lark with the writing thing, but life feels like a kind of adventure now, provisional, but open-ended, with real choices, not just prioritized obligations. Conformer needed an operation, and now he’s a train gone off the tracks only to discover he has the ability to steer. Conformer really needed that operation, and FormerConformer is growing stronger every day.


III. Rejoining Society (Somebody Blew Up the Kitchen)

After I had to give the house back, I moved to Providence, into the aforementioned RISD sublet. Did I mention that living alone was a dream come true? I’m not saying that I want to be a hermit forever, but solitude and I have become pretty good friends. I was doing rotations of three days alone, one day with human contact with the greatest of ease.

But that’s all over now. For reasons I won’t detail, I moved into an apartment that was far messier and more decrepit than I expected. This caused a fiasco, which I won’t recount.


Welcome Home!

My roommates are all really cool people, and a cute kitten lives here! However, any more than a summer here and I would revert to my old bitter-roommate ways. There is a gulf here, between my standards of cleanliness and theirs. I have already started writing a scathing, unpublishable poem entitled Somebody Blew Up the Kitchen (a parody of Amiri Baraka’s Somebody Blew Up America) based on all the injuries and indignities that have come with sharing kitchens in several apartments over several years.



I should just say that there are tradeoffs. I live in the city now, practically next door to downtown. I can bicycle to things, including band practice. I can go to happenings downtown, and I no longer have to impose on my friends by languishing at their apartment and on their couch. There are things I miss though. I still don’t have the keys to the practice space I pay rent on, so I can’t practice the drums at will (update: I have keys now). Even if I had them, my kit is mothballed for lack of space within the space. I have the internet now, and I feel its mighty, distracting pull every time I sit down to write. Overall I just feel like it’s harder for me to get in the zone. I have stirring memories of sitting downstairs at the house, next to the wood-burning stove, banging out a chapter of the novel and going to bed with the mildly euphoric buzz of having been fruitfully creative. These seems to be a fog about me now, some feeling of looming deadlines and vague commitments, expanding to fill the time available and making me feel sluggish and unproductive.

However, I have the city and can live in it. My roommates aren’t really up to much themselves, so I don’t have to live in the baleful yuppie-judgment of 9-5ers coming home to find me haunting the apartment. I have a little money coming in, and I can afford a little slyness – as in “I have my ways” or “I have a little gig that keeps me going.” The focus issues will get resolved. Once they do, it’s gonna be a good summer.


IV. Conclusion

In the end, the sabbatical wasn’t some self-contained wonder-treatment that fixed me completely, but it was a fair-sized leap in the right direction. Conformer became Formerconformer, just like that. Every time I tell someone I’m a writer, it feels a little more comfortable, like shoes breaking in. Every time I tell someone I used to be an engineer, it seems more and more like I’m talking about a bad dream that never really happened. I would cautiously say I’m entering the “paying my dues” phase that most people who want some swagger in a reasonably creative field must go through. There is a sort of ephemeral censure at my age, at my having picked the wrong career the first time, but that could be lingering self-doubt jumping, like static electricity, into the gestures of those I’m speaking with. At least now I feel like I’m making something of myself, making my sacrifices to the right gods. If I could look through a wormhole at the version of me that stayed in the cubicle, I’m pretty sure he would beg me to trade places, and I’m pretty sure I would laugh at him, and tell him to get back to work on those spreadsheets.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Rejection Hurts! + A Shitty Music Review

Rejection hurts! They say you are supposed to get used to it, accept it, even embrace it. “I sent out my short story to 100 literary journals before one accepted,” say websites run by smart-looking women with their arms crossed. “You will have to as well, if you want to be a writer.” Is that supposed to be encouraging? Why can’t I succeed much earlier, and at a much higher rate?

I recently applied to write about music for a culture website. They had me send in a test review on an album of my choosing. That apparently got me to the next stage (It’s the Tera Melos review that I posted on here). Next they gave me an album to review. I was juggling a lot of stuff at the time, so I tried to pass off stinky brown-wet garbage with no redeeming qualities as music criticism – or so I found out later.

In this case it wasn’t the rejection that hurt. At the time, I didn’t know if taking on another unpaid writing gig was a good time commitment, so I was halfway planning to fail (I planned to turn in something really pretentious and overwrought, but I didn’t have time). In the end I didn’t want to turn in sloppy work, so I did a quick, OK job – or so I thought.

I got an email back saying they’d pass. Fine. Then, wanting to be some young sponge, some paragon of self-improvement and humility, I asked the editor if he could send me an area or two to improve on. WHOOPS – BIG FUCK UP THERE! He forwarded me the comments of the editors, which read like any round-table review of some half-baked screenplay, or one of those stage-lighted undressings on American Idol-type shows, where the poor fool who just tried their best smiles helplessly as their screaming mind runs for the nearest 12th story window. It was kinda clinical and cold, the way they judged me. Took me apart on a cold metal table, naked. Cruel in print, and battering to the ego. I read some of the other reviews on the site, and I didn’t think they were very good, but apparently neither am I…

NEITHER AM I. Yes, I had a crisis of confidence. I’m not some established writer. I’m just some daydreaming, word-spewing asshole who earned the wrong degree for five years and worked in that same wrong field for four more years (four more years! Four more years!) after graduation. I wondered if everything I’ve ever written has been crap, and nobody had the heart to tell me. I had cold-sweat thoughts about the 100,000+ word novel-in-progress that is sitting on my computer. It just really bothered me a lot, that spectrum of mostly-fair criticisms those editors leveled at me.

I replied with something like “Oof! Well, thanks for passing that along.” To which the editor expressed “Sorry man,” and that maybe it would have been better if he didn’t send the email. To this day I don’t know whether I agree with him or not.

I write for another music website, and after every review, my editor writes glowing praise at me until I blush. “Awww [editor], you always know just what to say,” is what I usually coo as I smile into my email. After The RejectionTM, I wondered if I wasn’t just being glad-handed so that I’ll keep working for free.

Eventually I got over it, but I don’t know how many of those gang-judgments I could take. Constructive criticisms, yeah alright. But being rejected and told I’m lousy? Ugh. I suppose I should ready myself for more. Nobody just waltzes in and takes the literary world by storm right? Gotta pay dues right? Gotta paaaay those duuuues.

So without further adoo, here is the doo doo in question, my ham-handed bungling of Ought’s More Than Any Other Day. Enjoy!


Ought: More Than Any Other Day

Review by [FormerConformer]

3.5 / 5

There is a danger in naming your band Ought:

“Who is this?”

“They’re called Ought”

“Well they Ought to have made a better album! Haw haw.”

Ought they have? Is the band’s first proper full-length More Than Any Other Day lacking in some essential way? At first the answer seems like a resounding NO. Album opener “Pleasant Heart” strides through the gate beautifully. The song is an enthusiastic stew of wonderful noise, led by the rambling post-punk guitar and impassioned vocals of Tim Beeler. The rest of the band collage in complimentary parts, building the song into a chaotic, idealistic mix that recalls a less jaded This Heat. “Pleasant Heart” is about six minutes long and earns each one, with even Tim Keen’s extended interlude of scratching violins feeling necessary and harmonious.

Ought conjure up a different kind of energy on “Today, More Than Any Other Day”. Here, after a bit of brooding, Beeler jumps up and runs barefoot through the neighborhood, shouting out how excited he is for “the milk of human kindness”. He beckons his listeners to follow behind, to expose their naked joy to the whole wide world and to delight in the idea that “We’re all the fuck-ing same”. Skinny fists will pump to this, at music festivals and lakeside campfires and farmers markets for years to come.

However, it’s on “Habit” where Ought tip their hand and reveal their real motivations, as well as their real shortcomings. Beeler’s eyes roll back in rapture, and he begins to roll off a rather shameless series of David Byrne-isms. These shtick-y life lessons sound odd coming from a singer and a band, who are so patently young and idealistic. Even in bittersweet mode, Ought’s reveries are all college-beard wistfulness, the sound of wool coats with upturned collars on brisk invigorating city nights. The overriding characteristic – and perhaps theme – of More Than Any Other Day is that optimism permeates all.

More Than Any Other Day offers a good deal of variety, from the cutesy plinkety-plink of “The Weather Song” to the pastoral, ambient violins of “Forgiveness”. “Clarity!” rises and falls with the rollicking energy of a carnival thrill ride. “Around Again” is a groovy, disco-ish post-punk strut, until it swerves suddenly (on a cringe-inducing bit of poetry) into an eerie, chiming menace of an outro, featuring more Byrne-ish incantations from Tim Beeler. Album closer “Gemini” hums with latent energy in the verses, and erupts into a riotous clangor-in-three during the choruses.

In a later part of the Talking Heads Stop Making Sense concert film, David Byrne dons the comically oversized “big suit”. Ought are trying to wear that suit, but the support structure just isn’t there. More than Any Other Day is the somewhat patronizing, slightly pretentious sound of young musicians setting goals for themselves, and beginning to fake it until they make it. Ought may not embody the cool-and-knowing urban shaman sensibility they are striving for just yet, but the results of their first attempt are exciting and mostly enjoyable. They Ought to give it another try.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Gettin’ Meta about my Blog (On New Year’s)

I recently looked at fresh, piping hot year end blog posts by a friend and a(n acquaintance) friend of a friend. They used pictures, graphics, color contrasts and links to create a vibrant array of information and connections. Following a link back to my blog from the friend’s blog I realized “Man, my blog really is grim. It’s like ‘Dourblog! – by Douramillian McMiserableson’.”

This wasn’t my intent! I chose the Vostok theme because it is economical and spare, limpid and pure. I wanted visitors to have private moments with my words. I wanted to allow them visualize any images coming across in my writing without coercion or distraction. In a later, foolhardy decision, I added snow (until Jan 4th!), which has probably only provoked confusion and lost me credibility.

I also wanted a dark theme because I knew I would be writing a lot about Heavy Metal. But by compromising I may have missed both marks. My blog is neither terrifying enough to be KVLT, nor vibrant enough to be eye-catching. Right now it’s just spangled in shades of vaguely depressing grey.

This moment of naked self-consciousness made me take a quick mental stock of just why I keep this blog and what it means to me. People ask me what I’ve been doing on my sabbatical, and I reply – embarrassment apparent in my voice and body language – that I’ve been keeping a blog. Why should I be embarrassed? Is it because I have a miniscule… audience? Is it the idea of blogging itself? I used to think of blogging as a pastime of lame-o’s and terminal optimists, then I started one. If I’m going to blog, I should be proud about it, but I also need to know why I’m doing it – so here we go.

1)      To practice my writing:

Once, at a party, my friend and I met a sad man who beat himself up in front of us. He wanted to be a writer, but gave the impression that he didn’t write enough, or didn’t know how, or didn’t have confidence in his ‘voice’. My friend offered sympathetic advice – “Writing is like a muscle, you have to exercise it every day.” That stuck with me, and I thought starting this blog would be a good way for me to exercise that muscle. I’m happy to report that it has been. I used to write the odd article and post it to facebook’s ‘Notes’ section. I might as well have moved it to my computer’s recycle bin.

Since quitting my job I’ve been able to write dozens of posts, and I have been happy with their quality – that is, I read them later and don’t feel embarrassed. I have also honed in on my ‘voices’ – different styles I can use for different goals. It’s useful to be able to describe events, describe music, describe emotions, describe imaginative visuals, be funny, self-effacing, philosophize, etc. I think the blog has been fairly successful in that regard.

2)      To build up writing samples:

Inevitably, I will have to start applying for writing gigs or jobs. Most of these require writing samples. While I might not have any significant exposure, I will at least be able to show off what I can do in the technical sense. There are a number of posts I would feel comfortable attaching to an application to a writing gig. So in that sense, the blog is a tentative success (I’ll find out for sure when I actually have to pick my best ‘writing samples’).

3)      To soak up sweet, nurturing social validation:

I want everyone to love meeeee! I quit facebook thinking I was tired of being fawned over for facetious and banal turns of wit, and ignored for the actual barings of my passions and influences. I thought I’d write in a vacuum and let like-minded strangers enjoy my work. Once this happened and (a few) likes and follows began to roll in, I realized I was just seeking validation in a new venue, but I decided it was OK. As Morrisey once sang – “I am human and I need to be lovvvved, just like everybody elllllse does”

Because I’ll tell you right now. It can get pretty lonely in my rented house in Rhode Island. Sometimes I worry that if I don’t communicate somehow, if I don’t release a little bit of my soul, I’ll implode into complete nothingness, complete self-deluded pathetictude. Expressing myself through writing – and feeling competent and confident while doing it – makes me feel better when the dreaded self-doubt doldrums begin to hover.

4)      To document my leap of faith:

I want to have a journal of my ‘So Long, Stinkjob’ period, so that – whether I find myself stuck back at the engineering desk, or in a bookstore signing copies of my celebrated debut novel, or roadie-ing for some obscure crust punk band – I can look back at the time I took and see what I did right and what I did wrong. I can see where I grew as a person, and where I missed opportunities due to old fears and inhibitions. I’ve never kept a diary, and I’ll be damned if I comb my facebook timeline for clues to my level of maturity – waaay too embarrassing.

I would also hope others could benefit from the record of my actions. If things work out, I can say without caveat to a friend in an unhappy job – “Hey, I took a leap, and it worked for me. Here’s what I learned, and you can read about it here, in the FormerConformer archives.”

I originally wrote this post on New Year’s Eve / Day. I was prepping myself to change the theme, which I already did! I hope it’s an improvement. I’ll keep blogging, but perhaps with less fervor than at the outset, as I have other projects in the works.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

On Wanting it All (Stylistically)

I haven’t heard it said in so many words, or at least not recently, but I get the impression that one way to become an artist is to work through your influences – to aspire to what your idols do, to find parallel ways to approach your process, and even your life, in search of some reflected light from their suns, until you become a luminary yourself. I feel like this is especially true for an “outsider” “aspiring” “artist” like myself. Having been too busy in the past conforming, following the path of least resistance, and eventually suffering for years in the art-allergic, expression-averse world of engineering, it’s safe to say that I haven’t quite found my own voice yet.

But I have certainly found my influences. Like those characters in Cormac McCarthy novels (more on him later!) I kept the light alive. This meant relentlessly chasing culture, pursuing it into the deepest, most esoteric rabbit-holes (this mostly applies to my taste in music – it’s much easier to find great, boundary-pushing literature) to find the artifacts that resonated with my soul. It was only through this activity that my essence was kept intact.

But now the time for consumption is fading away. I must produce if I am to keep any portion of my freedom. What’s difficult is the vast gulf between the culture I so admire, even worship, and what I am able to produce myself. It’s no secret that I want to ditch the doughy masculine yawn-fest that is engineering and become a dashing, mysterious writer, so let’s take a look at that.

I have read or audiobooked a number of great books lately, and each one has left me pointing at something and yelling “I want to be able to do THAT!” I’ll list a few examples.

Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison) – To frame race in such human terms, that is, to illuminate both the large and small violences, injustices and misunderstandings that still create a gulf between black and white. To play with identity in such subtle ways. To create such a strong narrative voice with such an uncertain and unassuming narrator. To create such an avant-garde work in such a politically charged era.

Freedom (Jonathan Franzen) – To become one with the zeitgeist. To speak from a modern sensibility in a way that is natural and relatable.

Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe) – I didn’t actually like Things Fall Apart. I thought it was little more than a glorified children’s book. For at least five years I’ve been mildly curious about Achebe’s masterpiece and it was a simplistic, bland disappointment. I suppose part of my dissatisfaction was due to listening to it after Gravity’s Rainbow, nonetheless, I have no idea why this is such an acclaimed book. I just had to get that off my chest.

Gravity’s Rainbow (Thomas Pynchon) – God, where to start. To be able to use language to create such baroque masterpieces of description. To create such an immersive world of shifting absurdity and truth, history and confabulation. To represent characters, their actions and motivations fully without giving up the privilege of writing in the most ornate and ambitious way possible. To use one’s imagination and prose fully, to indulge in writing about everything all the time and somehow still accomplish excitement and drama (unlike Infinite Jest!). To write something this wild and get away with it.

Blood Meridian, The Road (Cormac McCarthy) – To write such grim, spare stories and use lots of fancy vocabulary, simile and metaphor without ruining the overarching mood of the work. To eschew dialogue most of the time, and eschew quotation marks always. To write uncompromisingly, seeing the vision through to its organic, stark conclusions. To write novels that somehow get better after you read them.

White Noise (Don Delillo) – To use one’s skill with prose and meaning to achieve great humor. To dissect hallmarks of American life without the usual agendas. To approach a vague but universal subject through the interactions of endearingly oddball characters. To make a reasonable main character do unreasonable things and have the reader still understand him.

A Scanner Darkly, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (Philip K. Dick) – To be a clumsy writer with a knack for awkward sentences who can still make a story compelling. To be able to use grand visions, everyday experience and above all, sheer force of imagination to create works that will not be denied, no matter how poorly the prose reads out of context.

I also went through a Hunter Thompson Gonzo phase, a Joseph Conrad phase etc. I used to read Mark Prindle’s music reviews and I wanted to be zany and hilarious like him (this mostly came out in emails to friends). Unfortunately the only writings I pushed out during any of these infatuations were private emails, dumb facebook statuses and decent-enough facebook notes (music essays and such). Now I have a blog so yeah, I’m taking it to the next level.

I think you get the idea. Ideally I would be able to do all of the above things – to take the best parts from each style and become a sort of dynamo. Sadly I don’t think it’s going to work out that way. I have a feeling any work I can get finished – and, lord willing, published – will probably be slavishly and obviously indebted to this that or the other author.

I imagine finding your voice is saying “I don’t really care what those other guys are doing, I’m just going to do me”. I’m definitely not there yet. So for now I’ll just have to want it all, to imitate the masters in ways that I think I can get away with. When I can cobble together enough experience and finished work to see what is working and what isn’t, what feels challenging and fresh and what feels trad and banal, then I can start speaking in my own voice. I hope I find it sooner than later.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Honeymoon in Providence

It has been almost a month since I said “So Long, Stinkjob!” and began my “sabbatical” in Rhode Island. These things are never like you imagine them – there are just too many unknowns. So how has my experience been so far? Should you follow and quit your shitty job as well?

Let me preface with the fact that I am still in the honeymoon phase of the funemployment. My finances are still close to where I had them when I quit my job. The weather has been mostly a procession of leftover and imperfect summer days – a TJ Maxx rack of warm, but not hot, sunny days, weekends in the 70’s, and most importantly, no chills, frosts or other temperatures requiring indoor heating.

But what a honeymoon!

Around the house, I have been reasonably, but not exceptionally productive. I spend most of my time working on this or that, and it’s not lost on me just how many weeks I would have to aggregate in my old life just to scrape together a few short hours of project time. I’m practicing the drums every day, but hardly for the ambitious 3-4 hours that I had aspired to – I just don’t have the attention span. I have been doing a decent amount of writing – Especially on this blog, as these posts are very easy and fast to finish and get off my figurative desk. I recently posted a remix I completed, and will doing a few more. I am also trying to get the balls to make a song of my own performance – stay tuned.

Living alone in a town where you don’t know anyone is different. I certainly don’t miss all the headaches associated with having roommates who don’t share my standards of cleanliness, attention to detail or cultural outlook. I don’t really miss all the racket, concrete, visible poverty, competitive vibe and space constraints of the city either. However, when the sun goes down, I do get a little lonely and sad in my big empty house. I usually go to the library once a week to check out materials, run wild on their free internet (I pay by the ½ gigabyte at the house through my phone plan with Ting) and to be around other living breathing souls. However, on the whole, hermetic living during the weekdays isn’t so bad. I’ve talked a lot of shit about wanting to be alone and have time to myself in correspondence and conversation with friends, and thankfully, the shit I talked was fairly accurate. Having time and space at the cost of human interaction works for me at current levels.

And the reason it works is because of the “Weekends in White Satin” I have been spending in Providence. They have been a whirlwind of fun and introductions, drinking, hookah, carousing, biking, eating, exploring, conversing, joking, cat-petting. Perhaps there’s nothing novel about this. I could have had (and probably did at one point have) all of the above in Chicago, but there’s something new and fresh and different here. Something more.

On the one hand it could be me. I have internalized the cliché of the “fresh start” and I can feel it flowering within me. I feel unburdened, no longer in the cold shadows of loathsome jobs, a boring dead-end (soulwise) career, Northwestern and its zeitgeist of conformity and institutional striving (it perpetuates outward via some of the alumni – sorry NU friends), terrifying anxiety attacks, annoying and stressful living situations and the upsetting time competition between my social life and my creative impulses. When I head up to Providence for the weekend, I don’t have to worry about the work I should be doing on beer, or personal fitness, or drums, or remixes, or clothes darning and dyeing, or food preparation (gotta make lunch for work on Monday! Gotta bring food or drink to the potluck!) or whatever else I used to worry about on the weekends. I can give my time freely, to the point that I have to be careful about not hogging everybody else’s.

When I meet people here, the hardest part is explaining that I’m a bum, not working or seeking work, living in a giant house by myself. However, if I can get past that hurdle, I no longer have to talk about my shitty fucking job that I hate and how my career looks from my point of view like a long bleak march out of the city and towards the suburbs, conformity and death. I don’t have to tell the person I just met that sometimes I get so enraged that I put Car Bomb’s “Third Revelation” and Today is the Day’s “My First Knife” on my car stereo and literally SCREAM along at the top of my lungs until I feel light-headed and exhausted, but somewhat relieved.

For the most part I can be myself, a man without a past, looking toward the future. I can try to be witty or well-read or any of the other things I like to do in conversation. I can let the other party handle the work-talk, and sympathize sincerely.

And beyond that I can take on challenges, try to leave the old fears and hang-ups behind. Few people here know me, so what do they know about who I am, how much of a coward and an ineffectual I was? It’s a positive identity crisis. I never biked in Chicago, now I’m zipping through downtown with a deathwish, and it’s a real thrill. I didn’t always dress like a hipster, but now, with all my crazy home-dyed pants, and my writerly glasses, why the hell not? It’s liberating to move with your essence, by your own choice, not beholden to any institution. You get to be the mystery that people want to figure out, the one that takes a little more time and examination. The one that can’t be put quickly categorized by institutional metadata and placed in the array accordingly.

But to be fair, maybe it’s not me at all. I have a feeling it might just be my best friend. He has such an acute outlook on life, and such an iron will. When I’m around him, it’s impossible to see anything but possibilities, voids, niches and malfunctions in the system where a person can go boldly and make hay until someone makes them stop. He has opened his doors and his Providence life to me and for that I am thankful. If I had to come here, or go anywhere truly alone, with no one, that would be a much more frightening proposition. My friend is always propping me up, checking on me, alerting me to opportunities, cultural trends, little bits of insider knowledge that, even if I don’t use them immediately, keep my mind open to the sheer amount of life that is out there to be seized. His very aura boosts my confidence, and I hope that I can (or already do) have some positive effect on him now or in the future.

So in conclusion, so far so good. The weekends are like some wonderful vacation. I feel that I have been allowed to keep any and all earned wisdom in my account, and leave behind the vast majority of the bitterness and anxiety that marred my time in Chicagoland. I still have a ton of work to do if I’m actually going to capitalize on my hobbies, passions and interests, but with the prospect of going back to the office leering at me, it’s not very difficult to stay motivated.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,