One Wanted Fifty Pairs of Eyes to See the World

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Stop Calling Taylor Swift a Feminist, She's Part of the Problem: On Bad Blood.

As Nick’s father on the first page of the Great Gatsby reminded him in his youth, “whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” This came to mind when I began to wrap my head around how to say that which I felt after watching the new Taylor Swift video, “Bad Blood.”

The video comes hot on the heels of what I’m being told by everyone these days is a hot summer box office blockbuster of a feminist film, the new “Mad Max.” Apparently, it’s supposed to be a marker of just how far we have come, that now the same shitty action movies made for Summer and dominated by violence and domination are now filled with female leads, performing the roles otherwise left to men, in an attempt to bridge the gender divide, in an attempt to bring in some of that “Pitch Perfect 2” money into studio coffers, as the value of women’s dollars has become, suddenly, more apparent to these people.

The Taylor Swift video opens with a fight. She and another women engage in hand to hand combat, and we are treated to the sound of a man’s arm being broken as provided by the same shitty sound effect that I’ve heard in shitty violent video games one after another from my misspent youth. He gasps, they all fight, Taylor Swift gets kicked out of a window by a Katy Perry lookalike, into a waiting open top Cadillac. Then, for some reason, we are taken to a montage that includes Lena Dunham, in the first of a cavalcade of cameos, even more than the shitty Entourage movie coming out this Summer. She is, of course, ever the strident feminist, smoking a fat cigar, the phallic significance of which is hard to miss, looking something like Tony Soprano or Jay Z. From violence, to feuding, to choices made to tend to an oral fixation, we have women enacting “masculinity” left and right.

Luckily, we have Kendrick Lamar – for some reason – to rap for us, to provide some kind of “hardness” or “gansta” element to the song, one whose lyrics include “band aids don’t fix bullet holes,” which inspires an irony lost on Taylor and the rest of her crew, which is that the only person in the whole fucking video that can actually, literally relate to such sentiment and violence is the black man whose voice and visage have been rented to substantiate the video in the aforementioned ways. Kendrick grew up dealing with bullets, the real ones. Taylor Swift did not.

We get images of a blade being thrown into a teddy bear for some reason. We watch Taylor Swift and “Frostbyte” (spelling intentional, I suppose? Ev3ryon3 is doing it) duel with a chained blade in a snow filled room, as they are dressed in snow-bunny like outfits with fur hoods. They do that, while other girls ride around on motorcycles, carrying guns, as we are reminded that “you forgive, you forget, but you never let it go.” This begs the question, if we aren’t letting it go, what the fuck is the point of forgiving and forgetting? It’s like a claim to some moral high ground, but leveraged against the kind of animosity and resentment that the forgiver is supposed to be against. But let’s not linger on that any longer, because the video sure as hell doesn’t. It doesn’t make any sense, and it contradicts itself, but that seems to here be par for the fucking course. Apparently, in your face passive aggressiveness is in vogue these days. 

Finally, after spending three minutes of our life watching these so called feminists dance around playing patriarchal action hero, we seriously – SERIOUSLY – watch them walk, the whole Bad Blood clique, towards a camera with guns in hand, while a huge fucking explosion happens behind them, as if it was Armageddon. If we were going to give them credit for being ironic, this moment would be where, if it wasn’t so abundantly clear that satire is the furthest thing from their minds in this piece. They seem to think that being a feminist means just coopting dominating, violent “Male” behavior. The closing montage includes a girl shooting a bazooka, before the two cliques at the end come together, and Taylor and the Katy Perry look alike fight, bringing the video to a close and solving the narrative’s problem, its conflict: Hero gets betrayed, hero gets weapons and friends together, hero goes and kicks ass, and everything ends happily ever after. I dare not ask what the moral of this story is.

This is why I thought of that line from Gatsby: because before I judge Taylor Swift too harshly, it’s important to remember she didn’t go to college. She hasn’t taken English classes, Poli Sci, philosophy, sociology, let alone ethnic studies or theory. She’s been thrust into a position where she has a huge, huge platform, where an entire generation of young people look up to her, especially because she’s supposed to be the classy, put together, sincere and sweet one in our current collection of instagram stars and the YouTube famous. She’s not spreading her legs and rubbing her vagina on stage, or smoking pot. She’s the anti Miley, if you want to think about it that way, but at least Miley is up front and honest, even while she’s coopting black culture as a means of establishing her trademark “edginess.” She throws around the word "homies" in much the same manner as Seth Green's character in Can't Hardly Wait.

It’s all especially troubling when you imagine this, when you put yourself in her shoes: you’re rich, famous, a musician. And you get into a beef with a girl in your same business over, apparently, among other things, a stolen back up dancer, remarks made over twitter. So, you hype a video you made like crazy, and fill it with a passive aggressive fictionalized takedown with you and all your friends and celebrity acquaintances who are desperate to still be considered relevant – Cindy Crawford – and put them together to show up another woman. And, the way you do it isn’t just by talking shit, isn’t just by making snarky remarks: you make a violent video, the gist of which surrounds your desire to inflict pain and maim her. Classy move, T Swift. Nothing like taking your violent daydreams and creating a space to enact them. That’s what all your wealth is for, right?

But then again, Taylor considers herself a feminist.  She herself has said that patriarchy and discrimination against women is a life long issue for her, in a recent interview.

“Misogyny is ingrained in people from the time they are born,” Swift said. “So to me, feminism is probably the most important movement that you could embrace, because it’s just basically another word for equality.”

And here lies the rub. Swift is right when she says feminism is vital, and important, but I think she’s enacting the fallacy of those faithful old words, that “women who seek to be equal to men lack ambition.”

This isn’t to say women shouldn’t be equal under the law, and in pay, and how they are treated socially. However, it seems Swift has taken the equality literally in a way that’s distressing. She seems to think Feminism means just substituting women for men in violent videos and graphic images, that Sojourner Truth would be proud that, all these years later, now little millennial white girls can watch their hero enacting all the terrible tropes of our patriarchal media environment like any other beefed up male sell out actor would. But that’s the problem. Feminism is about rejecting centuries of male dominated thought, including values of domination, aggression, violence, subjugation and commoditization. And Swift is guilty of all of these in her cute little film.

She enacts domination, aggression and violence, clearly. She’s commoditized herself and the violence she engages in, which perpetuates the falsehood of violence as the favorite means by which to wrap up a narrative. It’s an old device, traditionally a masculine one, one that has taught too many young boys that heroes have to be big, physical, hulking and willing to use violence to solve their problems, which is clearly what Swift does here.

We are only years past Newtown, and days or weeks, perhaps even hours away from the next major mass shooting in America. Our biggest sport is a contest between grown men as to who can better concuss each other, and better weather those concussions they themselves suffer. Commercials for Cadillac tell us it’s “ a weak man that seeks compromise.” We’re supposed to covet the cars in these commercials, where some guy drives around town like it’s the fucking Indy 500, in order to feel good about the size of his dick, the brand of his car keys, his status in our world.

Taylor Swift is part of the problem. Shit like this, and then going around talking about how you are a feminist is a problem. She needs to educate herself if she wants to pretend to be serious about her platform, and going around enacting the same bullshit values of our masculine dominated society isn’t helping, it’s actually hurting. And having Lena Dunham there doesn’t change anything.

In her interview, Swift goes on to say that there’s a seeming double standard revolving around the expression of sentiment, feelings.

“A man writing about his feelings from a vulnerable place is brave; a woman writing about her feelings from a vulnerable place is oversharing or whining.”

In what world do we privilege men who share their feelings? Is she completely unaware of the Sopranos? Does she have any male friends? I can tell you right now, after spending many years of my life around men, sports teams and in college, that men who share their feelings are certainly not considered to be brave. In fact, they are often considered “pussies” or “fags,” and if you don’t’ believe me, there’s an excellent film “The Masks We Live in” that I can recommend to you, and to Taylor Swift as well.

Apparently, Swift’s feminism is new thing for her.

“I didn’t have an accurate definition of feminism when I was younger” she said. “I didn’t quite see all the ways that feminism is vital to growing up in the world we live in. I think that when I used to say, ’Oh, feminism’s not really on my radar,’ it was because when I was just seen as a kid, I wasn’t as threatening.”

She still doesn’t have an accurate definition of feminism, but if she’s looking for one, I can provide it. Bell Hooks, in her work Feminism is for Everybody explains just what she means when she uses the word.

“Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression,” and she goes on to say  that she loves that definition because “it so clearly states that the movement is not about being anti-male. It makes it clear that the problem is sexism. And that clarity helps us remember that all of us, female and male, have been socialized from birth on to accept sexist thought and action. As a consequence, females can be just as sexist as men.”

Like it or not, Taylor Swift is sexist, and is engaging in spreading the same bullshit around violence and domination that lays the ground work for oppression. Feminism teaches us that showing our emotions, and being cooperative is all right, and that bottling ourselves us, pursing reason as blind, absolute truth, and engaging in domination is fucked up. But when you watch Bad Blood, you don’t get that message. Instead, you are told that when a girl gets you riled up, talks shit, whatever, the response is to get your posse together, take a shit ton of instagrams to show how cool your clique is, and make a dumb fucking music video where you play with guns, have “cool” explosions and pretend to kick other people’s asses, because that’s just so hip and transformative for kids to see. Like, all feminism was missing was a female lead for a Grand Theft Auto video game. That, friends, is fucking feminism, right?

To quote Jenny Lewis, it seems like Taylor Swift is trying way too hard to be “Just one of the guys.” And that, friends, is not feminism. I don’t have a vagina, I don’t get  cat called, but I have been routinely mocked for being sensitive, non-competitive, and, in a variety of ways, “feminine” most of my life. I played football to prove something to myself, as I’m sure you can imagine. I learned that that shit ain’t for me. I went to college, read some books, had great teachers, and I’m just now getting to a point where I can accept myself for who I am. But when I see shit like Taylor Swift’s stupid fucking music video advertised all over social media, and when I see her giving interviews about how she’s this big fucking feminist in MAXIM fucking magazine of all places, it makes me sick. Luckily, for me, I have bigger fish to fry. I’m broke, in debt, and about to graduate college like every other child of my generation. I’m hoping to go to grad school, got in, trying to pay for it, so I can be taken seriously for writing down my opinions like this. But maybe I should just make a stupid fucking music video about being aggressive, playing with guns… in other words, mimic Dan Balzerian. Because, based on Bad Blood, T Swift and him have a lot in common, along with a lot of money. And those seem to be the only people anyone listens to or cares about these days. I’ve got like four dollars in room on my credit card. Guess I’ll buy a lotto ticket. I'm only 72 hours removed from some asshole in a black GMC Yukon trying to run me off the road because I honked at him after he cut me off, so he swerved into my lane and dared me to hit him, to swerve into a parked car, or slam on my brakes. I questioned him, I guess, and he demonstrated his masculinity through dominance. I'd hate him, but he's just a product of his environment, like all of us. Maybe he'd just seen Mad Max - that would explain it. He needs feminism, as much as anyone. Just as much as Taylor Swift, even.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Fuck Jim and John Harbaugh: on leaving football, masculinity and competition.

In a personal essay that comes on the heels of his brother Jim’s declaration in a recent Real Sports interview, wherein the little brother claimed that football is the “last bastion of hope for toughness in American Men” – much to the chagrin of Bryan Gumbel - today, according to John Harbaugh, “football is under attack.” And we should be worried.

These brothers have come to embody football in its truest, grittiest, purest sense: they teach two back football, power blocking and aggressive, determined physicality at the point of attack. They are known for their intensity, their will to win and their indomitable spirit. Jim has quoted Hemingway after tough losses, like the one against his own older brother in the Super Bowl, the very pinnacle of the sport, reminding us that “a man can be destroyed but not defeated.” I, myself, have followed Jim’s career especially closely, for reasons personal and particular: he coached the 49ers for years, my family’s favorite team; he coached at the University of San Diego, where I currently go to school. I saw him on campus, once, as they used our facilities to practice before a preseason game against San Diego. I’ve watched his nearly 90 minute video of him at a clinic at USD, explaining the most intricate parts of quarterbacking: apparently, the top hand of the quarterback, when he is under the center, ought to have its middle finger’s middle knuckle right in the asshole – literally – of the man in front of him. That’s a coaching point to remember.

I’ve struggled with my love and passion for the game of football since the Fall of 2012, when news of concussions and their effect began to come out, mostly in articles in the New York Times, like the one on Hockey enforcer Derek Boogard, who lived a sad, lonely life in which he made his living fighting and fighting through fear, abusing drugs and alcohol to numb the pain he felt. I heard about Dave Duerson, I read about “CTE,” whatever that was. I felt uncomfortable about the way in which Americans each Sunday, so soon after attending church, and professing their faith in Jesus Christ, he who certainly would never levy an open field tackle, got together over beer and brats to watch and gamble over – pools, fantasy, etc. – grown men giving each other concussions.

In John Harbaugh’s piece, he claims that football need only adapt, again, as it did in 1905, when Teddy Roosevelt stepped in to change the rules, to reduce the deaths and injuries that were an epidemic. According to John, we need only to find “better helmets” and improve tackling in order to take concussions out of the game, and save football forever.

What many people don’t know is that football wasn’t an organic creation, one spawned from kids playing a rugby styled gaming, and incorporating Yankee ingenuity. Football was very deliberately designed by Walter Camp, the father of the game, for the expressed, explicit purpose of instilling “toughness” and “manliness” in prep school aged boys, in order to assuage the fear that America’s male youth might become less manly as a result of not having a frontier any longer, of not having any wars to fight.

And here we are again, older men worrying about the young ones, fearful they are becoming soft, weak, less masculine, all because they aren’t hitting each other enough, not breaking or delivering enough tackles.

I have been, in my life, as any of you know, an ardent, desperate, loving fan of the game. I played three years of it in high school, three before it. I did the lifting, came to early morning practices. I said “Yes, sir,” and I buckled my chin strap. I hit boys twice my size, and endured the fear and pain that came with it. I saw, many, many, many times, white lights, green colors, blues. I had “my bell rung” plenty of times, and been staggered by contact to my head. I never was diagnosed with a concussion. I never lost consciousness, but on at least three occasions in particular, I sustained blows that effected me, that left me feeling strange. I never saw a trainer to be examined: once, there wasn’t one on the field. Another time, it was before a varsity game I wasn’t supposed to even play in, and I couldn’t be seen by coach being attended to as a sub relinquished to the sideline.

I never had a concussion in the way in which we all thought they exist, when I played. When on the first day of contact freshman year, as a fourteen year old boy, lying there in the dewy grass of an August morning, the coaches read the warning label attached to our helmets on the back – the ones we were never allowed to removed – they, the grown men, and us, the children, laughed. They described the possibility of sudden death, brain damage, paralysis. It was all one big joke. If  weren’t willing to accept these terms, we shouldn’t be out there, stretching and preparing to play this game. We could always, as they might remind us, go play the sport for “fags” and “pussies,” water polo, lacrosse, which ever game they felt threatened by that week.

We always felt special, tough, unique for what we did, what we braved, and as we should. The bond that I feel to those brothers of mine that I shared those fields with is one that I feel to this day, that keeps me retracing my steps through dreams the night before, when I was once again on a sun bleached practice field, hitting a sled, being driven by a coach, a member of the scout team.

But in light of what we know now, how anyone can defend the game in good conscience is absolutely beyond my understanding. We know now that even the subconcussive hits [i] are dangerous. In other words, all those lights I saw, all those colors, even though I never lost consciousness, damaged me. I’ll never know how much the game changed me, or what CTE I could or could not have until my death, and until my brain can be examined. But in terms of the indicators, in terms of a tendency towards depression, drug abuse, rage and moodiness, I know I have all of those. Whether or not football caused them is a slippery slope, as I’m a lot of those things to begin with. But to be fair, I was a different person before 5th grade, when I began to knock heads against other kids, and feel that tell tale sign of contact in my nose, the feeling of water going up in when you jump into the pool, the sensation I thought would go away but never did.

John Harbaugh tells us that “football has saved lives,” but he fails to mention any of those that its irrevocably damaged and destroyed. The Steelers of the 70s are a case study in the cost of playing the game. The 49er linebacker who quit the game after one excellent rookie season speaks to the clear and present danger players of the game face, and the obvious decision anyone would make if thinking logically, sustainably, clearly.

You can change helmets all you want, but you can’t change the inherent violence of the game, anymore than you can change its angles, and that is really what it is about: the angle taken by a receiver on a 45 degree slant route, and the one of the linebacker in the middle cannot be changed. Their point of collision cannot be made any different. The physics of the game are inherent to it, as much as the violence is. Whether you lead with your shoulder, or your helmet, the viciousness of the collision remains. We can legislate helmet – to – helmet contact out of the passing game, preventing safeties from obliterating receivers as our coaches in high school taught us – “helmet underneath their chinstrap” – but it doesn’t change the innate, unavoidable collisions that happen each and every play at the line of scrimmage.

I was taught a technique in high school by a coach, one that I even then tried to refuse to use. It’s called the “butt and jerk.” The coach wanted me to grab the man in front of me trying to block, extend my arms, pull him into my helmet as hard as I could, “stun  him,” and then toss him away. It is not legal, by the letter of the rules, as far as I can imagine or understand. But he demanded we do it anyway, and when I didn’t want to relent, he screamed at me, called me a pussy, demanded that I “man up.” I remember having tears in my eyes as I fearfully and angrily performed the “butt and jerk,” saw the white lights and felt the sting in my nasal cavity. I quit some few weeks later.

I went on to play lacrosse, and it wasn’t much better there. The hitting is much the same, and the helmets, far, far worse, like cardboard, really.

Violence is inherent in both of these sports, at the very base level of the game. And the question we have to ask, is how any of this is ethically justifiable? How can we justify encouraging our kids to commit acts of violence, in the name of a game, of competition? How is it ethical to teach our kids to objectify each other in this manner? Why are we instilling violence into our children, and putting them at the risk of serious damage? Why does “toughness” always have to be about hurting someone, and being able to endure being hurt?

Football serves to perpetuate a masculine paradigm that revolves around domination and violence, and even its biggest fans would have to agree with that. They might cheer it; I don’t know how. America is now watching MMA like it used to watch boxing, and kids by the dozens are signing up to learn how to choke each other out, how to turn each other’s lights off. Why?

What is it about America that makes us love violence so much? How can we praise Christ, turning the other cheek, doing right by our brother and sister, and then watch each other commit acts of violence punishable by law anywhere else except a football field?

Why didn’t someone stop me from playing the game? My dad and step-mother tried to, but I didn’t listen; I wanted to prove myself, my masculinity. I wanted my macho step father to be proud of me, for us to have something to share. I wanted to be other than myself, and I have paid a price for it. But not nearly like others have.

In no uncertain terms, the Harbaugh brothers – two of my up to now favorite coaches – have blood on their hands. It’s a cheap and trite metaphor, but there is no other way to look at it. Every man who perpetuates this bullshit fear about men becoming weak and – though they don’t say it explicitly – more “feminine,” and that football is the “last” or only place to protect it, is encouraging boys to line up and damage each other. You cannot take concussions out of football. You might be able to lessen the number of hits that leave people flat out knocked unconscious, but you’ll never take away the contact that occurs at the line of scrimmage. Even now, NFL running backs still lower their helmets to “protect themselves,” turning their bodies into de facto battering rams, their heads the tip. Adrian Peterson is notorious for this. Does anyone remember Earl Campbell?

We need to stop valuing men for being aggressive, domineering, violent and devoid of sentimentality. Masculinity doesn’t have to mean being a sociopath, one who can at one second deliver a crushing blow to his fellow brother at practice, and the next second be expected to demonstrate compassion, kindness to others, to women. It’s a schizophrenic comprehension of identity. It’s like the male version of Madonna / Whore, but for us, there’s no duality. We aren’t expected to be a lady in the street while also a freak in the sheets, but instead, to be physically domineering, willingly violent, aggressive and unsentimental. We can’t wear certain colors, nor can our clothes fit a certain way without being ridiculed for being gay – as if that were such a thing to be ashamed of (but of course, to many of our followers of Christ, it is apparently a choice, and sinful). Men like the Harbuagh brothers are always full of fear of some dark, encroaching presence on masculinity, but then again, it makes sense. Patriarchy, as we know it, can only exist with its defenders. There are people who benefit from the status quo, and who know nothing outside of it. These boys were brought up to be who they are by their father, and they will never change. They are good Catholic sons, and they believe in the value of suffering. But I don’t think Pope Francis would have a damn thing to do with the Super Bowl, nor would Jesus Christ. In fact, I think we should be able to easily agree that neither of them would ever endorse anything that perpetuates violence, that distracts us from the plight of the poor, that enables us to vegetate on our coaches, stuff our faces with unsustainable meat product, drink ourselves into a stupor and avoid the pain of our empty, late capitalist existence. Jesus would weep at the thought of his “followers” going to church each Sunday, decrying gays and difference, hating Muslims, and going home to watch the new gladiators duke it out, most of them from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, little different than the slaves made to fight for the glory and pleasure of Rome.

If anyone can defend the game better than John or Jim can, I’d like to hear it. Because although they constantly remind us that football teaches lessons, and instills values, I’m quite skeptical. What exactly does it teach? What are these values?

I was taught to not cry, to “suck it up,” to fight through injury. I was made to practice with a broken wrist, after the doctors told me I wasn’t cleared for contact. Was this a lesson? Risk permanent damage to my body, for what? Some stupid Spring practice? I was instructed in the art of violence. The value of being able to hit my friend was instilled. I wasn’t supposed to think twice about leveling my friend in practice when he came over the middle. I had my chance to lay Keith Roberts out once, on a ball thrown too high, on a slant. I didn’t. I paused. I couldn’t do it. I always liked Keith. He wouldn’t have done that to me, I think.

Ryan Bautista did, though, in the summer scrimmage we as freshmen had against the JV. It was a “crack block.” I didn’t see it coming, and he had a running start. Apparently, the corner should have called it out, to warn me. I remember being hit hard, going limp, and struggling to comprehend what had just happened. What was this supposed to teach me?

I’m sorry, but I’m so fucking fed up with men like John Harbaugh’s insisting that football is a metaphor for life – an actual quote. What the fuck is that? It’s absolutely fucking ridiculous.

Life is not a fucking game, nor is it a fucking competition. Capitalism might encourage us to think otherwise, but we should have Christ to remind us otherwise. And even if it were a game, some stupid fucking competition between winners and losers, it certainly isn’t one of inherent violence. Hobbes might think it is, and the “realists” like O’Reily might say otherwise, but, and I know I didn’t go to Sunday School much, isn’t the whole point of Christianity to make the Kingdom of God as apparent here as it will be there? Isn’t the whole point that we are supposed to overcome our base instincts, our will to division and strife, in the name of Love? Maybe I missed something.

I’ve heard of a “kiss with a fist” being better than none, but I can’t comprehend how football is in any way compatible with love. I know Tim Tebow might think otherwise, and I truly respect and admire the guy, but the reality is that the violence of the game he loves is diametrically opposed to what his savior taught. Who would Jesus tackle? Who would Jesus lay out? Jesus wasn’t Malcolm X, and he didn’t encourage violence. He was more like MLK. He was into peaceful protest, so don’t give me some bullshit like “Christian warrior,” despite how fucking popular I know that notion is with films like American Sniper being shown at my school tonight.

So, today, I’m writing to say that I’m no longer going to be a hypocrite. I cannot support the game of football. I cannot be a fan of something so vile, so truly incompatible with any thinking person’s values, be they love, cooperation, or sustainability. Football is the great American Vice, and we owe it to our sons and daughters to not perpetuate the game. Life is not a sport, nor is it a place to compete. Life is a place where we are to cooperate together, to bring peace to Earth as close as we can get it, to live in harmony: with each other, and our planet. The only people opposing this are those who believe that life is a game of winners and losers, the chosen and the damned. But I don’t. I will not accept that. Denigrate me as an idealist, as a dreamer, but to accept anything less is certainly not Christian. I don’t go to church, I don’t even necessarily believe in the ethic of selfless love, but when I see so many of my fellow Americans demonstrating this kind of cognitive dissonance, it drives me absolutely crazy.

Football is under attack in America today. As it should be.

The only questions remaining I have are these:

How do you justify the game any more? Whose sons deserve to suffer brain damage in the name of being masculine? And is that the kind of man we want our sons to be?

Who would Jesus concuss?


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What to write?

I have a question:

What is it that I should write about, next?

It’s a big one, hard to answer, but I can whittle it down to a few options:

A narrative on my either four years at USD, what happened, chart the course, or the seven year odyssey of my college career, starting back to part time at OCC, coaching and Costa Mesa. Four years at USD is more manageable, I can start with Fall of 2011, and go forward, but I’m wary of cutting out my time coaching. I could, of course, start with Fall of 2011, go through year to year, and use flashback to interact with the coaching, those years at Park Newport and Fashion Island. I’m not sure.

Part of my wonders about just writing it all in a chronologically sequential manner, then playing with it later, but that’s just simply not how I write. I tend to bounce around. I don’t know. I think just starting in the Summer of 2008 and going forward would be daunting, somewhat tedious, but probably a pretty god damn good place to start.

In that sense, what I would be writing would be a memoir.

Or, there’s what every most major authors do to start out: a short story collection.

I have ideas for themes/ subjects.

Football, masculinity. Mostly masculinity. Sub-subjects within that:

My step father. My dad. My step brother. Coaches: Grostcost, Alex Buckley…

I think the answer lies somewhere inbetween. It’s probably a series of essays that function together as a memoir, as a collection or remembrances, but that settle around a concrete and cogent theme: Masculinity.

The question for me is always, where to begin? This is far better than having nothing to write about. Rather, I have so much I want to talk about, write about, access, that I’m not sure where to begin. Childhood too is so rich, so ready to be mined. But how does one begin?

It could be like with Proust, memories inspired by a moment, by a sensory experience, as in the bite of a cookie. A writer I recently asked, on the subject of where to begin, says that she likes to begin by destabilizing the reader. This would seem to disqualify the traditional chronological mode, of beginning at the beginning. I like the idea of starting, perhaps, in some heady scene, maybe in Fall of 2013, after a big check came in, during my Kanye phase… but I feel like that would be difficult to stomach or engage in without context. In other words, I don’t want to turn off the reader with my bullshit, immediately. I don’t want to alienate sympathy.

I loved Miguel Street, V.S. Naipaul’s collection of short stories, the Caribbean Hemingway, as some say. The conceit centers around the street on which he grew up, and each chapter details a different character from his childhood. The stories don’t necessarily follow each other, but they do map his growth, his coming of age, as they say.

I love Cather in the Rye – obviously – and the way in which it is told. It’s Holden, narrating his experience to a shrink as he sits in a mental hospital, or at least that’s the interpretation I remember. I love it because it forces the narrative to take shape, by virtue of the limits set upon it. Creativity comes from limits, and that’s probably where I need to start: finding my limits. What are the ingredients I’m going to work with? What can I realistically accomplish? How many pages am I really ready to write? Long form is daunting, and I’ve tended to not necessarily earn the length I’ve lent to that which I’ve written in such a style before; too much a first draft, not tight enough. In other words,  I haven’t been finishing my breakfast.

That’s why short stories are attractive. It lets you be a singles hitter.

What do you want to hear about? What is interesting? Comments below.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Going for what hurts

I’ve heard it said that bliss, a special kind of happiness, that which inspires awe, and terror, even, stems from a particular context: the apparent sense of its inevitable end. There’s a certain kind of entrancing beauty of feeling, thought and space that can only exist when you are damn certain of its termination. This is what I think they mean when they refer to the sublime. My professor discussed it in terms of Sandra Bullock’s character in “Gravity” as she spins through space, at once intoxicated and overwhelmed by the beauty of the scene before her, a perspective she’d never attained, but one that she’d never have again, and which depended – in terms of the experience – on its very certain conclusion. In other words, it’s the kind of awe that comes from the divine, heavenly and impermanent. In other words, it’s like life: beautiful, and in such small portions.

This summer, before it’s even begun, I can see already, is going to be typified by this very particular kind of Lana Del Rey inspired “Summertime Sadness,” an acknowledgement of all that is, now, and all that will eventually be, and be no longer. August, as Simon and Garfunkle sing, comes she must, and in September I’ll remember a love once new that has grown old. I will be in another state, miles and time zones away from friends, family, and lovers lost. I will be sitting somewhere in Morningside Heights, buying a latte or an Americano with financial aid dollars, or the change made from waiting tables or whatever it is I’ll do in my spare time to make money, thinking, dreaming, of a May in which she will stay, resting in my arms again. Or will she?

I’ve never been good at goodbyes. I didn’t know this about me until I went to debate camp one August at the University of Southern California before my junior year of high school. There, I was somewhat fearful of being away from home, outside my comfort zone, away from my girlfriend at the time, but quickly – the first day, even – fell into a group of friends that I had always lacked, and have lacked ever since: goofy, fun loving, down to earth and gregarious, those that inspired me to be as such, that brought out a great inner and personal comfort, and inspired me to be other than my typical self: I did open mic night, I stood up before groups; I walked up to girls I didn’t know, I found charm in parts of myself I didn’t think I had.

It wasn’t until the last day, when goodbyes needed to be said, busses loaded and bags packed, that the intensity of it all hit me, and the tears, too, rendering me utterly incapable of saying anything cogent or meaningful to Italo as he departed, my new friend from D.C. who would eventually come to visit me that Fall. I guess I just didn’t expect it, considering how little before I’d felt such things, passion and fervor for a friendship, for a group of people. I’d left summer camp before as a kid, and cried when I said goodbye to my favorite counselors, but then, there was always the thought of next Summer, of a return, one inevitable. Life, however, as you move forward, or, rather, as you age, doesn’t offer the same securities of a future Summer, in which friends reunite like clockwork. Instead, things became altogether less predictable, even as they become more routine: meet people, hang out, love them, leave them, move forward, forget, rinse, repeat.

I don’t say it to be cynical, but by the age of 25 – not some great age of perspective, I assure you – you have at least come to see friends and lovers and such come and go, you’ve had the girl you loved with all your heart, and you’ve since lost touch, even though you couldn’t imagine her with anyone else, even though the thought of her in another’s arms was once so painful that it put your whole arm through a plaster wall in a shitty beachside apartment you once rented many references and security deposits lost ago.

I am, as I stand on another great precipice, another threshold to a great step in my life’s progression, or at least its cycle, here I am, concerned by impending loss, finding love and feeling loss even as the former still yet lingers, as it grows, as it deepens. Here I am, knowing I will be leaving, and becoming hopelessly attached.

Jonathan Franzen, in an op-ed for a long since passed Sunday edition of the New York Times, once wrote that “we have to go for what hurts.” We cannot be satisfied by liking things, but must fall in love. And love, requires risk. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Love is, the greatest of all illogical and rationally indiscernible decisions, the greatest reference point for the inherent goodness man might offer, our only hope for future generations. I’m not saying that is what this is, to be clear. Nor that it isn’t.

What I am saying is that I am going for what hurts, and that it does, hurt. It is deliberately and excruciatingly painful to become attached to anything in this world of constant change, impermanence, this strange scene of constant becoming that Heraclitus might have described, according to Nietzsche. In one world view, for the Buddhist, we have to avoid attachment, and accept change. We have to abstract ourselves from the pain of becoming attached to anything. This, to me, is not an option.

Joe Paterno, even as the greatest football coach that ever lived, one day, had to retire – and infamously, and degradingly. Hemingway, at one point, had to put down his pen. I’m not sure that I’d pick up the pistol, next, but I do understand that anything that brings joy and meaning is inherently subject to cessation. Nothing lasts – not baked ziti, not love , even though the former can be never ending at Olive Garden. The point is, at some point, you’ve got to get up from the table. At some point, everything ends.

Love ends too. Whether it’s the tragic, romantic kind, the one we’ve seen in those Nicholas Sparks novels, the kind that ceases only in one sense when the last breath from one partner is spent, or any other, inevitably, there will be a close, if not closure. And here I am.

Here I am, head over my calloused heels, hopelessly, helplessly intoxicated by it all, while at the very same time more than ever aware of my need to leave, and determined to do so. I have to go to Columbia. I will hate myself forever if I don’t, always wondering, bitter, behind my secondary school desk, what could have happened, had I taken that step. I cannot stomach such a thing. I can go, fail, succeed, come back, whatever. But I cannot not go. I must walk the campus. I must sit in the classroom. I need to workshop my shit. I’ve gotta get feedback and see where it takes me. Anything less would be a waste of time. As my Uncle says, I’m “already two years behind,” relative to other graduates, I guess, so it’d behoove me to get on with it, I suppose. I’ve got friends there I miss, friends who are or may be moving there too. I’ve got a city that never sleeps, late night take out, bars open until the morning hour. I’ve got an acceptance letter to turn into current registration. I’ve got loans to take out, to work towards paying back. I’ve got a book deal that I’m aiming for, regardless of what my uncle thinks. I’ve got articles to write. I want to be published in GQ by 30. I’ve got a pace to catch up with. I’ve got moves to make.

And move I will, and here we are: me, sitting, sipping, worried, anxious, at the same time unwilling to trade it for anything else. I would not change the fact that I’m going to Columbia. I also wouldn’t trade lazy afternoons in a dorm room, or sunsets sat through on the sea wall for anything else. And therein lies the rub.

How does one love with the knowledge that it is coming to an end? Not in the ephemeral, implied sense, the one that comes when you get together with any girl and aren’t so sure you’ll be someday married. I don’t mean the kind that you fall into, and enjoy, without planning for the next five years. I mean the kind in which there is a very definite date of termination, the point at which neither of you will be in drive over distance, when kissing will no longer happen, hugs too far for either of our arms to reach. I mean the love that exists in the context of impending separation.

August, come she must, yet even not yet in the last week of April, and I am anxious, here, this the only thing I can even think to write about. It’s five or so hours until Mad Men, 36 hours or so until I’ll have to disconnect the cable, and there’s not a god damn thing I want to do other than that which I just was: spending time with her.

This is not to say I haven’t felt this way before, but is to say never quite like this, in these circumstances. I remember my high school sweetheart, and the pain that lingered over our last and only lazy summer together, when the news that she loved her trip to Missouri State hit me, when it didn’t make any logical sense to continue our relationship only to watch her go. I didn’t want to do the long distance thing, then, but I did. And we did it, together. We did it until we didn’t, until I couldn’t any longer be all alone, all my friends then girls. I needed some company. Between the bus rides, living alone, let alone on my own for the first time, it was hard. So was hearing about what happened after we broke up, the back and forth over holiday breaks, and breaking it off all together.

Things are different now. I’m seven years older and in a far different position. Yet, here I am, anxious over all that is impending, and at the very same time, still struggling between the selfish desire to hang on to what we have at all costs, and to let her go and enjoy her college experience. The more things change, the more they stay the same, perhaps, or rather, life may just be like jazz: seemingly spontaneous and erratic improvisation, set over a stream of constant, recurring beats.

Until then, it’s bourbon, it’s Lana Del Rey, it’s lazy Sundays and goodbyes tinged with sadness. As each breath taken is one closer to my last, so too is each second spent with her one more tick tock to the great and final so long: airplane to board, bags packed, tearful, red eyed, sobbing, soon to be drunk departure. Sunglasses on the plane, notepad in hand, and for the love of god don’t try and make small talk. Wild Turkey, on ice, please, and keep them coming. No, really: I’ll be okay.

I have a flair for the melodramatic, as should fit an aspiring author. I have more faith in me and her and us to think that it should be so sad, or at least, so finite. I do know though, I am a jealous guy. I am not one for goodbyes. My program isn’t for a semester, a year, but for two, or even three. I do have winter breaks, I imagine, and summers off. I do not have any place to stay during those times, not that would be anywhere near her. All of this, though, supposes her, there, still “waiting,” interested, not having moved on.

Not that I should be afraid of such a thing. I’ve made the decision to go for what hurts, and I’d be rightfully accused of wanting my cake and eating it too if I were to both try and enjoy what we have, and refuse to accept its impermanence. It would at least reflect a certain lack of maturity, but then again, we know I’m not the most fully developed creature on this Earth. I want to hang on, cling, keep, even as I know that I can’t. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

The sun also rises, however, and even in the sunset of a beautiful summer’s day, one that never seems to end, even as Autumn inches ever closer, I do know that life is long, life expectancies longer, and perhaps there will be another summer’s day we can share in a time in which things won’t be so god damn final.

Until then, there are nights of teary, unspoken subtext, of biting my tongue, literally, to draw attention away from the other, emotional pain I’m feeling. Until then, it’s wiping my eyes in a manner as sly as I can muster, trying not to show the water in my reddening eyes. It’s kissing, holding, trying to find the passion to overcome the sadness, the wanting that can overpower the leaving. It’s uncommonly meaningful and poetic moments over bbq pork and fried rice. It’s two to three beers, trying to stay in the moment, trying to live for that ever privileged present, all the while cognizant of the so many changes that are so overwhelming to me now. But it could be worse.

I could be alone. I could never have found anything. I could be going through this all, alone. But I’m not, and for that, I am thankful.

And until August, I will make due. I’ll dry my eyes, keep it together, and do everything that I can to keep from getting bitter, to keep from being saddened by it. I’ve never been one for “acceptance” let alone “letting go,” but I’m going to have to be, in some sense, open to change. Because change is coming, like it or not, and I have to go to the city that I need to in order to become the writer and person I want to be. And unless they have plans to move The City to a stone’s throw from the 92107 area code, I’m not going to have much of a choice. Everything, as my grandmother always said, has a price. The price to become who I want to be is going to be awfully high, and made infinitely less easy by the life I am currently leading, but I couldn’t do it any other way. I have had to go for what hurts, because what hurts is what matters, and I’m not big on abstracting from it all, trying to be Zen. I feel, constantly, hopelessly, infinitely. I’m a sensitive motherfucker. It’s all a lot to bear right now, but what other choice do I have? To escape from it? To pretend I don’t want to spend each and ever waking and slumbering second next to her? It’d be a lie, a grand falsehood that I cannot stomach, no matter how much bourbon or blow or whatever I would turn to in order to escape. I will be fine, I know it, but that doesn’t make getting there any easier. It’s less than four hours till Mad Men, and I’m already out of mixer.

Friday, April 10, 2015

making moves: my statement of purpose for a teaching credential program at USD

I want to become a teacher for the same reason I became an English major. It’s less a matter of choice, than of identity. It’s less a matter of making money or ends meet, and much more about who I am, what I want to do and what makes me happy. In my few years I had the privilege to coach high school sports while taking units at community college before the University of San Diego, I found that the happiest I have ever been was when given the chance to teach, coach, and instruct. I was probably too young to be coaching kids that were in some cases the same age as me, but what I found on those sun soaked fields in late Septembers and wet Springs was that heaven on Earth can exist. I know that can sound cheap, or trite, but to be honest, when I had a lot going on – when my girlfriend at the time had suffered sexual assault at a frat party after going away to college, when I was stuck with a bus pass and a two hour commute for what would have been a fifteen minute drive – I was blown away, completely surprised at just how all the stuff I was worrying about fell away as soon as I stepped onto a field, what was then my classroom. As the years passed, and as my passion for English grew, in my few chances to step up in front of the class,  I found myself remarkably more confident, self assured or at peace than I am ever accustomed to being.
            I had the chance to coach at three different schools, one of which was Costa Mesa High School, the other, Newport Harbor. They could not have been more different. At the former, I walked up to my freshmen players stretching, only to find the fallen face of Alfredo, my favorite sixteen year defensive end, whose quiet, peaceful sense of assurance inspired me in my more flummoxed moments. However, one day, I noticed something was wrong, and I took the step of asking him what was up. “My sister, coach… she’s pregnant. She’s fifteen. I know the guy who did it, and I want to…” His voice trailed off, and I knew what he meant. Contrast that scene with the one at Newport Harbor, when kids came to practice straight from AP and SAT test prep or Associated Students events, and I got to see two different sides of the same school district, separated by fifteen minutes and two different worlds.
            My time at Costa Mesa makes it hard for me to believe that our country’s educational issues and availability of opportunity boil down to individual accountability, or personal responsibility. What I saw were kids without dads, moms who worked too many jobs for too many hours, whose children were lost, filling the hours between class getting out and a parent coming home with the kind of mischief that people seek when they have holes to fill, and little hope.
            I too, came from a broken home. My mother was abused by a step-father whose anger issues stemmed from losing his father to a motorcycle at an early age, and suffering the loss of his best friend and brother in the same year, one from which he’s never recovered. I too, know what it is like to come to practice, to play with an angry edge that drew the coach’s attention, praise, and concern. I remember the day I moved out of my mom’s and into my grandmother’s home to escape the chaos, and the next day reading Catcher on the Rye on the bus with no clue what the book was about before starting, heading to a game in Downey wherein my emotions, bottled up, were released in fiery tears and too many fouls. I’ve been there.

            I have come from privilege. My grandma gave me the opportunity to go to college, and though I come from a land of cardigans and four dollar coffee, I am no stranger to distress, dysfunction and violence. And, as the years of my childhood come to a close, and as I think forward towards my future, and the one I want for my kids, I know that I want to make sure the children I can reach have the kind of support I way always able to find in the English teacher’s of my not so distant youth.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

wasting away again in margaritaville, with concerns

It’s 3:17 p.m. and I’ve poured the first drink of the day. I just backed my car up into the solid concrete wall of my school’s parking structure with a friend in the car, and then nearly threw it into drive and rammed directly into the shining front grill of a 6 Series BMW, but luckily, I found the break pedal in time. It’s the kind of mistake that an old person made that lead him to mow down eleven to fifteen people in Santa Monica some decade or so ago. I’m doing that kind of thing, sober, at 25, all because I’m not anywhere close to being present. The last time I did this kind of thing, when I scraped the side of my car against a wall, I was talking to my girlfriend at the time, and she was saying something that made me jealous, or that I was made jealous by, and I remember having that thought as I made the mistake; I remember being distracted. I am distracted, today, by a myriad of concerns: my mother not calling me back, making herself as available to me as my dead grandmother is, all while I’m going through a lot. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go to Columbia. I got my FAFSA rejected today, because I filled out something wrong, marking my application for undergraduate instead of graduate studies, some stupid, juvenile mistake to make that hopefully doesn’t compromise my ability to get non-loan aid. We will see. I’m worried about my future, as anyone who reads this stupid fucking blog can see. I’m worried about loss. I’m worried about what moving to New York will mean for my relationships, all of them. The one with my mom is basically already severed. My dad and I stay close through texts, mostly, as it is. My friends, here, are somewhat few and far between, except the girls I’ve suckered into hanging out with me, in between me freaking out over all the shit I avoid, have going on in my life. It can’t be all that pleasant being around someone like me, no matter how tan or handsome my face might be in moments: I’m anxious, stressed, worried, negative, never in the moment, and totally isolated from the basic joys that bring people happiness: eating, sleeping, running, dancing, loving, sex, socializing, etc, etc, etc. I have my roommate – one now – and he’s great, and I’m lucky to have him, but he’s different than I, and there’s only so close that we can be, at least in terms of me being able to open up, express myself, be heard, have him care. He works a full time job for just above minimum wage, and works hard to make that money, to pay rent. He doesn’t have a trust fund – not that I do either, at this point – nor does he have the luxury of being bailed out like I might. In other words, my problems are nothing to what he has going on. My problems are just that: mine. No one cares, and I can’t expect people to, though saying something like that is pretty self-pitying. I know I’ll be okay, I suppose, I know, eventually, I will.

But I’m worried about moving. I’m worried about what it will mean for my relationships with people back here. I’m worried about how I’m going to pay rent, how I’m going to find another roommate, about having to move into my house’s laundry room in order to afford it without a reasonably paying job. A job: I need something fulltime, twenty dollars an hour kind of thing, the sort of job you get after graduating college, but then again, aren’t I moving? Or am I? I have no fucking clue.

On days like these, after my grandmother died, I’d get real down, because she was the only person I could ever turn to in moments like this, who could tell me what to do, who could make it better, who loved me despite how anxious I am, despite how much of a turn off that must be to people. Who wants to hang out with a nervous wreck? Who finds someone who hopelessly in his own head and upset attractive, let alone sexy? I’m isolated. I see girls, pretty ones, jogging down the street, healthy, every guy looking at them, their big dog running along with them, and all I can think about is how far I am from being in a relationship with someone like that, let alone anyone, how far I am from being able to have someone like that in my life. I don’t know where I’ll be in six months. I can’t really afford to date. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, except stalling. That’s it. That’s what I’ve been doing, this year, probably all of it: treading water, checking off the last boxes, delaying the inevitable: get a job, grow up, get serious, pay all my own bills. I’ve got this bitch Sallie Mae calling me twelve times a day, that same unknown number that I know exactly who it is.

Like Drake says, something to the effect of “waiting on a check again, ain’t no tellin” I am utterly lost when it comes to what I’m going to do to survive on this planet. I say I will teach, I say I’ll coach, but I don’t even know how to get a fucking credential. I don’t know what I’m doing. I keep writing, but at this point it’s for me, only me, as I’ve given up any kind of serious hope of being able to create something that people outside of myself, and my life will find remotely interesting. I want to write outside of myself, write something for someone else, but I’m completely consumed by my own bullshit, my own thoughts, worries and concerns. I’m a total fucking narcissist.

And as such, I have to wrap my head around the fact that ain’t nobody got time for that. I’m smashing my car nearly into parked ones, yet there are plenty others with far more pressing concerns than this spoiled brat at his private university with his sadness, his anxiety. Over what?

Over whether or not he’ll be able to go to that expensive private grad school he wants/ wanted to go to? Poor baby. Someone will have to say no to him for once in his life. Or maybe I’ll just run away, take the debt on, start my life anew. Far from family, farther from friends, at least the ones on this coast, few of which remain, anyway. I’m closer to tequila than I am those I have mistakenly called best friends, over these years. Tequila, at least, is there for me, listens, makes me feel better. It doesn’t judge, it doesn’t flake, it doesn’t have other plans, it doesn’t have its own concerns.

I’m sad these days. I’m sad because I realize that even if I stayed, it wouldn’t matter, and, probably, things would get worse, much worse.

I am a cautionary tale in leaving your child up to his own devices, what happens when a child is left to raise himself, without supervision, with way too much lax freedom, money, and anxiety. I’m 25 and completely unprepared to be a self-sustaining adult, despite my myriad of advantages.

I need to get the fuck out of dodge.

In my dream of dreams, I’d run away, but then, god knows I’d be so lonely. Leave it to me to make scramming sound bad, to make my delusional fantasy of taking whatever money I have and running away to a hammock and a margarita bar sound bad. I’ve always joked that Cocktail is my life’s plan, and more and more lately, that’s less and less far from the truth, except I’ve never tended bar. Go figure.

I’m a lost boy. And no matter how many words I type, blog posts I make, none of that is going to change. I desperately need to go somewhere to level out. I need to pack up my shit, sell everything I can, get out of rent, escape utilities, and just, be, at, peace. Somewhere safe, regular, where I won’t have to worry about all the exigent realties of existence. But, who wouldn’t want that? Leave it to someone as sheltered as me as to feel deserving or entitled to something like that. I haven’t just come back from war. I don’t work seventy hours a week. I take two classes, just came off two weeks of vacation, and yet I’m a shaking, nervous wreck who’s crashing his car into inanimate objects.

Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, blah blah fucking blah.

Self-pity, whine, etc, upon endless etcetera. I should have just applied to law school, not that I would have gotten in with my grades.

Not that it stopped my mother, I guess. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I suppose at the end of the day, all I really have to do is make rent for May, put in my 30 day notice, sell all of my shit, get through my last classes, graduate, and then…? HA return home? Live with my parents? I can’t even get my mother to return my calls, and I’m not going to live in the same house with the guy that broke her ribs, and that belittles her. I guess there’s my dad’s house, in Torrance, completely isolated from everyone and anything I’m close to. My Uncle Bill’s condo? Assuming, he’d have me? I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve got a little money set aside, I guess, that I could use to get established, if I had a cosigner, on a new place, a studio, somewhere here in San Diego, by myself, or perhaps, what, back in Orange County? Is that really what I’m doing? Moving back to Huntington fucking Beach? Not that that is such a bad place to be. I mean, Faulkner never left the South, but James Joyce did leave Ireland. Mark Twain did go to write in Elmira, New York. Hemingway left Illinois for Europe. And who the fuck am I to consider myself in that same metonym? Jesus.

I hear there are organic farms you can volunteer to work on, where you do work, they feed, house and clothe you. That might not be the worst thing for me. I mean, I’m getting real outside of the box right now. But I don’t know how else to not. I’m truly lost, without any notion of what my future is going to look like, outside of a massive amount of debt, and a degree that I can only hope gets me jobs to pay it off. I’m probably, definitely, just terrified of it, moving, leaving, going out on my own. That’s probably what keeps me from fully committing to NYC, that, and delusions here at home.
I don’t have anything here to stay for. I have people I will miss, but people who have lives all their own, whose won’t be benefitted by my staying. In fact, they have their own lives to the extent that my presence here would be inhibiting. I need to get away. I need to get away from the people I’ve clung to, and go do whatever it is I need to do to take care of myself, to grow up, to get settled. Whether that’s Peoria, Illinois, Julian, California, or somewhere in New Mexico, I’ve got to get established. I need a cheap cost of living, clearly, as no one is paying to read my blog anytime soon. But then again, what of Columbia?

I guess that really is my only option. I don’t know what else to do. I’ll just go there, take on the debt, and hope and work for the best. I suppose that’s been the only option all along. I guess what I need to do then is just graduate, and survive in some way until August, when I can begin to move in.

I’ll be all right, at some point, I guess. But I just don’t know anymore. I just don’t trust myself the way I used to. I feel all of a sudden very, very old, high school far removed, and myself all too much separated from the young and lovely faces on my campus, so happy for Spring, joyous, without all the bullshit I carry with me on their faces, let alone their bullshit, which they do a better job dealing with, or sublimating.

You don’t realize how good of a friend you have until you aren’t around them, and it’s in times like these I really miss Michael LaBlanc, but then again, if it were easy enough to appreciate people in their presence, their loss wouldn’t mean so much.

I’m definitely going through loss. I don’t know how else to describe your own mother not returning your calls. It feels like a death. I guess one that is inevitable, literally, but not one I expected so soon, clearly. At least baseball is starting today any minute, and the twenty dollars I’ve got on the games, who knows, could just solve all my problems. I am definitely quite the degenerate gambler, one who wins just enough, largely enough, to justify, in my mind, the whole god damn thing.

Buy the ticket, take the ride, roll the dice, hope it doesn’t come up sevens.  I keep betting long odds on deuces, and they never seem to show.

It’s a half hour till five on the west coast, and happy hour is long since started.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Turning the Page: Me, Myself and I

It was sometime past ten o’clock in the evening and I’d had what I’m not sure was too much, or not enough wine to process that which I’d just saw. I’d seen, in my Twitter feed, distracted as I was by the performance of particular players tonight in Major League Baseball, various instances of concern, expressed by the usual players, accounts linked to Anonymous, those favorited and re-tweeted by them, posting pictures of a white man, and something about another racially motivated policing incident, this time in South Carolina. By the time I’d gotten to reading the paper on my phone, in the eventual hour or so before bed, whatever it was had made it to the top of the New York Times mobile app’s front page, with a video and a warning: graphic language and content, viewer beware.

What I watched, then, first, with the sound off, as ESPN played still in the background, some major league manager giving his explanation for a move made in a game after the fact, to satisfy a reporter’s question as to “what he was thinking,” was what appeared to be a police officer shooting an apparently unarmed black man as he ran away, with his partner joining him over the dead body minutes after. I wasn’t sure what to make of what I’d just saw, especially not after what appeared to be a weapon was clearly planted deliberately and directly next to the fallen body, all in the view of a recording cell phone camera. After rewinding the clip, and turning on the audio for full effect, I heard then the videographer’s few words of narration, exist as a refrain:: “Oh, shit. Shit.” A fifty year old man, son and brother, was shot dead after a traffic stop for a broken tail light. He had been arrested before on charges of failing to make payment for child support and failure to appear for a court hearing, as well as assault and battery, in addition to a charge regarding the possession of a “bludgeon.” These charges are noteworthy, first and foremost, for the role they will play in Fox News’s coverage of all this tomorrow, in their framing of the discussion. The father of four breathes no more after a stun gun failed to fall him, after a former Coast Guard and current cop fired eight shots into him as he ran to escape, the wires from the “less than lethal” device still attached to him, as his body became a corpse.

As I go back into my Twitter feed, across four hours of bullshit, I find little. All of the #WalterScott coverage was left to a moment four hours past, with a flurry of outlets and accounts mentioning it, then little else, the conversation apparently having turned back to the Women’s Final Four, Rand Paul and the California drought. The thought that, at the least, a climate change issue is trending would be inherently helpful and positive, if not for the fact that the conversation was now shifting into a blame game over how much water particular crops take, and why its not fair to hate on Almonds. When it gets to the point where people are willing and ready to give up eating beef for the sake of living more sustainably, that’ll be something. Until then, we’ve got to ask for water at restaurants, take two minute shows and not flush, because In-n-Out has money to make, and addictions to assuage.

Realizing now, as I fumble through the feed, I see that almost each and every instance of the Scott case that was presented came by virtue of a retweet from an Anonymous account. These are the same people that posted a video of a man in a Guy Fawkes mask denigrating Kanye, because of his infatuation with chasing high fashion’s acceptance, and for marrying an amateur porn-star turned reality TV queen, the latter of the two striking me as somewhat misogynist, in terms of shaming a woman for their sexuality and promiscuity, but then again, how many people are willing to defend the path to stardom that she took as a model for their future children? At the same time, who is anyone to judge someone who has so cleverly and successfully built themselves into a globally recognized brand? And at the same, should a brand be such a proud thing to be? I think that’s the tack that Anonymous would take. But that then begs the question: how likely and serious is their idea of a New Renaissance? They called for it this year, in their video polemic against Mr. West, in which they recognized his talent, but decried his dedication to his ego, and to pet projects of vanity, rather than working for global change, or to solve any of the many problems he’s dealt with or addressed in his work. I think they are right to hate on Kanye for his stupid thing with sneakers, as I’m not sure peddling consumerism to young and urban audiences is an appropriate thing to be doing, especially when the wealth inequality gap is greater than ever. Yet, we have the rich selling the poor stupid looking $300 sneakers, holding them up as the next great thing. If cool means subscribing to that bullshit, than making cool mean spending that much on sneakers can’t be good for the world, at least in the Pope Francis sense of it all. And isn’t that the one we should aim to embody?

I mean, I’m not trying to make Saint, personally. But then again, I think it’s hard not to see what Pope Francis is talking about when he talks about a culture of narcissism, consumerism and a callous hardening towards the poor. I know this is probably much too much negativity for any of the Fox News watching set, who watch their sacred channel because of the good way it makes them feel about their country. For certain people, criticism and dissent and dirty words. It reminds me of that old Woody Allen joke about commentary and dissent merging to become dysentery. Well, that’s how Sean Hannity feels about criticism of his country: it’s like an STD: not to be mentioned, and to be dealt with in privacy behind closed doors.

I guess what compelled me to write is the way in which what I saw in that video shook me out of what I self-diagnosed as my narcissistic condition. According to the DSM, I exhibit, if I’m being honest, and if I’m answering the questions, plenty of the particular traits associated with the type. I don’t think, however, that I don’t experience empathy. I think I’m pretty sensitive, to which I think many would attest. I can, however, be incredibly cold and in moments cruel, perhaps the product of experiencing loss and disappointment often in a childhood marred by adults who often didn’t act like it, but then again, that’s probably exactly what a narcissist would say. They’d throw pity at you, and hope for you to bite. They’d reel you in with sadness, and seal you in with obligation.

To be fair, however, I’m not sure that it’s my fault, nor that I’m alone. I was, definitely, over-praised as a child, and made to feel better than others, like I was special, the owner of some innate gift, and as that gift was more and more selectively described to be my writing, my ego only grew, and grew. Add to the fact that I now write mostly non-fiction, and in the first person, and about myself, and you can see just exactly what twenty-five years of this kind of thing will do to a person, how it can lead to someone absolutely and completely self-obsessed, lost eternally in their own mind, who struggles constantly to stay in any moment, even the most beautiful. This is not to mention the fact – though here it comes, because of my ego – that I was accepted into an Ivy League grad school for that very writing, and for its explicitly first-person and auto-biographical bent, and here you have someone truly insufferable: at once, too narcissistic and pretentious to deign interest in committing to any of the things that would make him feel like part of a community, while at the same time so uncomfortable with his own ego that he feigns humility and charm to obfuscate his true intentions: status, acceptance, pleasure. Probably, in that order.

But am I being too harsh? Is there not a part of me that is truly and beautifully kind? And loving? And dedicated to his friends and family? That is fiercely protective, and loyal to them? That spends most of his time, in some way, thinking or dreading about them?

The same loyal son who denigrates his mother in the blog post that he writes? That feels kinship to Eminem rapping about his mother? Who can’t get a call back for nearly a month after an email he wrote? One he swears to himself includes not a single word that he would take back?

The son whose beloved father he barely visits? Who he didn’t even call on Easter?

The wonderful little sister he seeks to shape and protect, but whose live he blogs about online? Beyond her knowledge, in hiding, through deception and privacy settings…

I’ve never been good with the concept of self-love, because I’ve probably never loved myself for the right reasons. I’ve spend too much time priding myself in things that are contingent rather than inherent, on the conditional rather than the not: best delegate awards in Model U.N., playing time on the football or lacrosse team, having a pretty girl around who is willing to have sex with me, or my teacher’s appreciating my written work. It was never, doing well in school, or, how well I played the game. It was about consequences, about results, about how the arithmetic added up in my head. It had little to do with, cliché as it is to say, my heart.

Here I am, twenty-five years old, about to graduate college and getting ready to embark for the East Coast and graduate school, or to set up roots in Southern California, and get ready for teaching, for a life of coaching lacrosse, learning to take care of a puppy and watching the sun set over the water, rather than rise from it. Until I know the offer Columbia is going to make in terms of financial aid, in terms of loans as opposed to grants and scholarships, it’ll be hard to say what exactly it is that I should do. I’ve been weighing the scales, thinking about pros and cons, but all it comes down to is the idea of taking out over two hundred thousand dollars in debt, and whether or not I’m just afraid to go.

School is starting again, at least, and I’ll have that to attend to as I figure out how to make ends meet in the interim, between coming to a decision and not knowing. Whether it’s a seasonal job to tide me over till August going door to door fundraising for PBS – really, I did a phone interview – or locking up something more substantial with the understanding that I’d be full time starting in June, committing to at least another year here while I work, teach, and perhaps apply to more and other grad schools this time, rather than just one – see what I did there, always rubbing the ego points in – and see where I am this time next year. Though, I am not getting any younger. I am, however, only twenty five, and when I began to think back today where I was this time five years past, compared to where I am today, I felt pretty good about it: from Park Newport, OCC, twenty years old and reeling from the death of my grandmother, to Ocean Beach, graduating USD with an acceptance to grad school. I do, at least, know what it is I want to do: write, teach, coach, and repeat. I do, also, have plenty on which to write. If I’m being honest, and if I’m being willfully engaging of my ego, I can say that I have stories to tell, some, if not many of which, could be usefully told and interesting, that could have value if repeated, and if told with the direction that they ultimately should be afforded. I had a fairly unique view of the 1990s, of 9/11 and the jingoism around the Iraq War coming from conservative Orange County. I played football as a nerd, did performing arts in addition to lacrosse. I wore pink to school, got a black eye boxing in the football locker room. I came from a broken home, with drug and alcohol abuse, and I’m also a product of divorce. I’m the sum of my parts, and there is a story in their compilation, and through the mosaic of the man I am I think I might have a thing or two to offer, if not only in the struggle I show in telling what it is that I want to say, which, for better or worse, seems to be fairly all consuming at the days pass, and the nights grow longer. There still aren’t any more than twenty four hours in the day, but as each day passes, and as I get one day closer to death, the ease with which I can frivol away time reduces, as do the stakes with which I know I ought to live the next day. Depression results from all that which I want, and hope to achieve, and my lack of faith or hope in my ability to achieve them. It’s stilly, because you can accomplish nothing without blind, irrational and unconditional belief in yourself. But, as I’ve heard it problematized before, is it so irrational, then, to ultimately believe you will be able to handle whatever cards are dealt? Probably, but perhaps not if you consider it less a matter of being able to deal with what is dealt, rather than being willing to come back to the table, time and time again, no matter how bad a beat you just suffered. Failure, it could then be said, occurs only when we accept defeat. It also occurs, however, when you lose.

But how often can I in my life remember truly losing? I remember defeats: in Model U.N., in sports, in student politics. I’ve struck out with girls, and flunked classes. But I don’t know many times in my life when I haven’t put my mind to something and not accomplish that which I set out to do so. Whether it was getting to know a girl, getting a grade, or getting a job, I’ve had pretty good success with my passion meets my ability for Zen-like focus, the kind I only turn on in rare occasions, when my anxiety is tuned out and I am fully present, like in those Model U.N. conferences of old. They were always a marathon, not a sprint, and my ability to stay focused and on task through the duration of the entire weekend, never feigning to play cool or talk about the party that night, or how hung over I was from the night before, meant winning. But then again, after a sentence like that, I’ll leave it to you to judge who was the one really having success. Clearly, I wasn’t exactly popular in high school.

It’s edging closer to midnight, and I have only the sound of the keys beneath my fingers, as they dance along, and the wind running through the palms outside the screen door, a storm coming in from up north, the weather of Spring as indeterminate as my own mood and spirit these days, in winds that seem to constantly change. The beginning of the end of my undergraduate education starts tomorrow, still some more homework due, tests to take, attendance to record before it’s over, before I move on to the next piece of debt or to being on the other end of the teacher’s desk. They say that at the root of anxiety is uncertainty, and that a man’s (or a woman’s) ability to handle that kind of thing says a lot about their character, but I think a corollary of that is also true: That successful people, though they may thrive in indeterminacy, are such because they eliminate the need for decision. They streamline, they save their energy for the things that really count, not for which Starbucks to drive through, which Mocha to buy, or figuring out what outfit to wear. I think rituals, routines and some sense of order tend to help me inordinately, especially to the extent that they minimize uncertainty, and the need to make decision after decision continuously, throughout the day. I know Obama does this, and doesn’t pick out ties as a result. God knows he eats the same thing for breakfast each day. As I describe this, it sounds quite boring. Another word would be monk-like. I, for one, would like to reserve the right to eat something different each day for breakfast. Then again, I’m also not the leader of the free world. This is all, of course, a way of dancing around the big decision, of what is going to happen with grad school, where I am going, or not. I’ve taken solace in saying it’s not up to me, that it’s more a matter of what they offer. But to be honest, even still, some part of me believes that if I fully believed in myself, I’d buy the ship, take the ride, and burn my boat behind me, fully committing to New York, to being a writer, a professional one at that, and knowing that when I make it that debt wouldn’t mean shit. But also too, there’s the part of me that thinks the brave choice would be to be happy, to teach, to coach, to be near family… But I could also be happy I’m sure on the East Coast. Especially if I was taking classes from John Jeremiah Sullivan. But perhaps it would be rough knowing it was at a cost of borrowed money to the tune of $80,000 a year. Decisions.

And what then to of the idea of spending a small fortune – a large fucking amount of money – to be certified as a writer! To buy a degree that says you are accredited? Surely, the advice, support and teaching you’d receive would be, perhaps, priceless, right? But that’s also what they say to the student-athletes about the value of their education. Things, do, however, have a price, as does everything, and the cost of going to Columbia, without grants and scholarships, would be a hell of a lot. Especially to learn how to do something that you either can, or cannot do. It’s not like going to school to be a lawyer, or a doctor: it’s a natural thing, that’s honed, or it isn’t. It’s not instructed, there aren’t hard and fast rules. Once you are past grammar, if one can ever be said to be, it’s all down hill from there. The rest is just practice.

Graduating with 200k in debt is one thing for someone in the medical or legal professional field, let alone the business one. For an aspiring writer? It’d be as if I was trying to make myself broke, destitute and better able to embody the cliché. Then again, a master’s degree would be nice, as would anything that would keep me out of the real world and a true 40 hour a week gig for the time being. You can live well on financial aid, I’m sure, especially with a side job of some sorts. But then again, it’d be on a tab yet to be rung, or, rather, one that was continually ringing, only to be deferred…

At the end of the day, to quote that easily imitable Kyle Manning phrase, what I want is a house, land owned outright, my own Woody Creek. I want to be able to make money teaching, and writing. I want to have privacy, and quiet, as much of both that I can while not living completely isolated in some suburban or distant interior. I just want to be, in Drake’s terms, if not literally, then figuratively, successful.

I’d like not to worry about picking up the check at dinner, be able to afford to have kids in the next ten to fifteen years, and to be financially secure enough to attract the kind of women who would want to do the same. As it is, if I’m being honest, I’m two months graduating and one grad school not gone to away from being another unemployed college grad with a degree that doesn’t lead directly to a job, debt on his head and a body that’s the result of a sedentary and anxious lifestyle, self-medication and not enough sleep. I mean, if I am being more self-loving, and I’m trying to do it unconditionally, I know, deep down, I’m still me, and I still have music, and words, and writing, and the books that I know that can and will protect me. But I also know what it means to be judged by the terms of a particular system, and in our society, in our culture, being cool or liked means well off, it means having means and independence – as it well should – and no girl likes a guy who sits on his ass all day, nor one who has no career or direction, like every other Peter Pan in the Bear Flag State. I’ve said before that there’s nothing wrong in my life that a job and a gym pass can’t solve, and that’s almost true: it can’t lay out the path ahead of me anymore clearly, or give me any more definition about what I should do, or what I have done, about my future, or my family. All I have instead is what I’ve always had: my stories, and myself to entertain me. I have my words, my pads full of pen ink, my worries, hopes and dreams. I have my blog, my bitching, my online dumping ground of emotion, thought and despair – thanks for reading! But above all else, I have my struggle, which, I guess, puts me in the same category as Hitler, because he had his too, and he termed it just as such. Great. It’s about that time.

I’ve had a professor once ask me what the purpose is to so much self-conscious in my writing, in a particular piece, and he made the point that it has to serve some kind of end, that it has to serve the piece itself. I suppose when I’ve figured out that, how my self-consciousness can serve me, let alone my writing, I’ll really be somewhere. But then again, I wouldn’t hold my breath. I’m five more years to thirty, and no closer to being published in GQ by then. I mean, there’s Columbia, and that’s a clear path. But then again, I’m not sure it’s magazine articles I really want to write. But don’t listen to me, because I’ve talked myself out of both options back and forth today than I care to admit. A pro becomes a con and back again, which is easy to do when you’re scared and unsure of yourself. That’s not easy to admit for someone who has so often trusted his intuition, at the expense of his better sense. But at times, when your gut leads you do a decision that doesn’t lead to a clearly defined outcome which you might have desired, let alone any tangible, visible outcome, it’s hard to be an honest judge. But then again, if I’ve learned anything – perhaps, like to use another connective phrase then the same one I’ve been repeating endlessly – it’s that you cannot live nor act based upon consequences, at least not alone. In a world in which cause and effect is still theoretical, in which we have control only over the intention and spirit or motivation with which we can, how we act, getting caught up in what happens as a result is probably far too close to Monday Morning Quarterbacking than I’d ever like to be. Nobody likes the guy who does that. Least of all the guy who was wrong on Sunday.

But then again, none of us are going to be around to see who was wrong on Sunday, let alone make it past Monday or Tuesday, so we might as well enjoy the game. Bad metaphor? Probably. But as every good football player knows and has experienced, the lights, at some time or another, do go out.

Until then? While they still shine? While they may still even be a few fans left in the stands?

I guess we have to enjoy what’s in front of us. To live with any other motivation seems a bit vain, and trivial. I hope that doesn’t imply, or mean that I ought avoid suffering, or difficulty, because we all know that’s very important in life and according to Graham Greene life and its enjoyment comes down to one’s ability to develop a taste for pain. But all of that is so god damn Catholic to me, and despite how much I love Pope Francis, I’m just not into the whole self-flagellating thing.

It’s getting late on the West Coast. I’ve got Biology and Math in the morning.