A Bend in the Tracks

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You were young when you first started down the tracks. They were long and narrow. As far as you could tell, they were never ending; two straight lines extending out in front of you, coalescing into a single point at the farthest reach of your vision. Protecting the tracks on either side was a great, green wall of wooly coniferous trees that stood more than forty feet high, which made you feel safe; which made you feel alone, but somehow out of harm’s way. You could hear the sounds of the forest echoing softly beyond the towering trees, but you couldn’t know for certain whether the howls and caws of the wild were meant to disturb you, or meant to embolden you. But without knowing what lay beyond the tall trees, you let fear creep up behind you and trail ever so silently in your wake.

On you walked, for days upon days, never ceasing, always sure of where you were going despite not knowing. There is only one place these tracks will lead. You don’t remember when you began walking. It really feels like all you’ve ever been doing. And the tracks, they stretch out far beyond your eyesight just as much behind you as in front. Not until you’d been walking for a long time—when the forest around you and the tracks out in front took on an achingly familiar aspect—did you begin to wonder what lay behind you. Had you forgotten? You don’t remember having started your march. All you’ve known is these tracks; this path, narrow, long, and straight; and walking.

You do remember some things. The trees that protect you used to be taller—at least ten, maybe fifteen, feet higher, making them even more looming, and the shadow they cast much darker than it is now. The iron nails that hold the ties in place used to stand out, especially at noon when the sun was high above and the polished heads would gleam and spatter bits of light into your eye. The tracks themselves are now more weathered and rusty, owing to the countless days and nights they’d spent under foot, waiting to be passed by. Those tracks behind you served you well, and you’re grateful. But you worry about those yet to be traversed because they are more worn and weak. Your only hope is to pray whoever laid the tracks constructed them well.

Still you’ve no choice but to trek onward, still staring into the distance at that single point which never quite ends. You’ve become quite used to your days on the tracks. They stretch on and you move forward, and the days pass and the seasons change and the trees on either side grow shorter and shorter the farther you walk. But then you see something new. Where the tracks once coalesced into a single point, now, you notice, they begin to bend. It is still several days ahead, but you can’t escape the sight lest you turn around and stare back behind you. Best not to do that now.

You march onward, and the bend creeps toward you. You’ve been walking for so long that you knew for sure you’d have reached the bend by now, but still it lurks, menacing and illusive. You wish that you could see beyond the bend in the tracks but the tall green wall still stands high enough to shield your view. The bend before you begins to weigh heavier on your mind. Thoughts of what may lay beyond hijack your mind, leaving nothing for the comfort you felt on the straight and narrow. But this wasn’t your choice, you cry out. You never wanted the tracks to bend. No one told you it would happen. And then the agony of not knowing became too great and you decided to turn back the way you came. But when you do, you see not the long and narrow tracks coalescing into that familiar point, but instead, you see what haunts you in front. The bend you’d been fearing had already come, and you see no more of where you’d been than of where you’re going. And panic begins to rush. You stop in the tracks. Do you continue forward into the unknown, or do you go back the way you came? Neither option is ideal. You consider a third option. Should you sit there where your steps have ceased and wait for someone to come along? Will someone come along? Even if they do, you realize these tracks are just as mush theirs as yours, and perhaps the pain of not knowing fills their gut just as much as it fills yours? What if they have stopped some days back? And you realize you can’t be sure you aren’t the only one on these tracks. These tracks are yours. They are long and winding, but they do not end here. They continue forever, until you decide to quit. There is no going back, you know. Those days are gone.

The trees are shrinking beside you as you continue on your way. The bend never ends. You considered waiting some days back, but if you walk, you decide, at least you know you’ll be going somewhere. Eventually the trees become waist high, and you see on the other side not wilderness, but another set of tracks. These ones are not yours but they are very close. You see someone who is not you carefully tip-toeing across the ties of his tracks. He sees you for the first time and he waves. You wave back. The bend continues, but you aren’t afraid. You realize the tracks may not always be straight, and that is a good thing, for if they were, they would never meet.

Forward.

Keep walking forward.

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A Momentous Event

Let’s flesh out some of the details first, before I dive right into the gist of this story. I run, typically in the evenings, around seven o’clock—I leave my house by seven, arriving at the park maybe ten minutes later—which is when it’s not so unbearably hot and humid that I could possibly keel over from heat stroke or maybe even drown in the thick, wet wall of slap-you-in-the-face water vapor that floats just about head-high off the ground down here in the South during summer; and which is also when it’s not quite dark yet, an important requisite for seeing and such. I run at a place where I am ninety-three percent likely not to encounter motor vehicles of any kind (although I do encounter MVs every now and then on the one-quarter-mile portion of the facility’s entrance which is highly trafficked and which junctures with the four-, sometimes six-, lane highway running East to West on the South side of main campus), which is pretty much the only reason I run here, other than the fact that it’s got trails and trees, and on most days, especially weekends, it’s got an eclectic bunch of R/C hobbyists who fly neat little R/C planes and helicopters and, Jesus, I know the enthusiasts hate the term but I’m using it here only because that’s how most laypeople would have heard them referred to: “drones,” or quadcopters. This is fun, because I know how damn difficult it is to fly an R/C plane, my own dad having tried (and failed) to do so on several occasions in the past, and seeing guys whip the Styrofoam and plastic aircrafts around in neat little loops and hair-raising dives is really exhilarating when you know just how tough that stuff is. The park is not really a park, though. It’s more a tract of land which partly belongs to the university, and which partly belongs to the Dorthea Dix mental hospital complex thing, which is now owned by the city of Raleigh. The complex is massive, sitting just between Western Blvd and the Centennial campus, and the sheer size of the place makes it an exceptional locale within which to plan long, continuous routes for running.

So I was nearing the end of the second mile of my run when the urge to pee overcame my will to push on and finish my three-and-a-half miles. Fortunately I was getting close to this part of my run where I’m eighty-five percent certain no one ever goes because it’s kind of a side trail off of the official greenway (a network of walking/running/biking trails throughout Raleigh and the rest of the triangle), and up ahead you can see those orange plastic netted construction fence things that you see at, um, construction sites I guess; and this, I would assume, would deter your average pedestrian from heading off in that general direction. Plus it literally leads to nowhere save a minuscule little dirt path back up to Centennial Drive, which path is almost invisible from the road. You’d not know it was there unless you took the chance to go looking for it. So I’m heading up that way towards the orange plastic netting and I stop running and walk a little to the side of the path to do my business, and that’s when it happened. Now before you get all antsy and wound up about this thing I’m preparing for you here in this blog post, I should tell you that at its face, it is quite unremarkable and probably not worth mentioning in the first place. But I’m not writing about it because I think it’s very interesting. I’m writing about it because, at that moment, when it happened, I realized something about life and the universe that I think we should all get to realize sometime in our lives, and it was moving to me and that’s all I’m really trying to express here. So I start off toward the side of the road, I’m listening to a rebroadcast of the Diane Rhem Show on my NPR app, getting my fix of political banter, and as I’m walking over to the trees on the edge of this crumbling asphalt path in the middle of the woods, I see two scrawny looking female deer staring at me approx. thirty yards up ahead. Initially, I didn’t seem to notice the deer. It was like a passing thought that slips into your mind while you’re running, like, “Hey, I forgot to pick up windshield-wiper fluid while I was out earlier,” or, “Hey, there’s a deer up there,” and I didn’t think much of it at all because I really had to pee and not much else in the world could have distracted me from such a very important task right then and there. But as I was peeing, I looked back over my right shoulder, up the hill just a ways, and noticed the deer a second time; and this time it was different. I no longer had to focus on what was going on down below because, well, things are pretty simple once they get going, so as I’m apt to do in situations like these, I let my eyes and my mind wander, taking in the sights around me, allowing my brain to simply be. Up the hill just a ways, like I said, off the left side of the asphalt, in a little patch of grass that’s sandwiched between forest and path, these two deer are standing there, their mouths agape having probably been chewing on leaves, and they’re staring right at me watching me douse the trees with pee. I’m eyeing these things, relieving myself, and it’s taking a while because I really, really had to go, and they aren’t moving at all. They’re just watching me pee. I don’t say anything because I don’t want to scare them away. It isn’t every day you get to pee in a forest next to a couple of deer. And that’s when it hits me. I’m standing in a forest, in the middle of Raleigh, peeing not thirty feet away from wildlife that by all accounts shouldn’t really be here because this little patch of forest spans an area of no more than ten acres, which is small actually, and completely surrounded by concrete and asphalt. But here these deer are, and here I am, and we’re here because it’s the only place we could find that’s totally secluded and safe and just plain away from everything else, and there’s something really profound about me peeing in the woods next to deer in Raleigh. I feel strangely like I belong here on this overgrown path through the heart of what’s left of untouched land. I feel a connection with those deer who are staring at me, hoping I haven’t seen them yet, waiting for the best chance to bounce away without me noticing. But I still see them standing there, and I think they can see my eyes staring back into theirs, and one of them takes a daring step which causes some dried up foliage to crinkle under its feet and she pauses, still hoping I haven’t noticed her there, her head sinking low to gain a better line of sight through the bits of tree limbs that are peeking out of the forest and sheltering them mostly from my view. I consciously turn away as I’m finishing up, and I hear them both leap into the forest. I glance back towards where they would have dived in and I see two white tails bounding up and down, up and down, gently through the trees, their hops dainty and nearly silent, like dandelion seeds bobbing on a breeze.

. . .

I’m finished and my spectators are all gone. The moment passes. I look up at the sky. Back down at my feet. I breathe. I run.

To Be What Comes After

I haven’t written a blog post in a long time. I don’t know why. Maybe because this past year has been difficult and I haven’t had the time. I also forgot about this page because I’ve been too focused on making other things. I know that no one reads these words, and that is kind of meaningful to me in a way. I have this space all to myself, yet anyone could come along and see what I’ve written and receive a deeply sincere, unfettered, at times immature, deluge of my real self. At least as real as I’m willing to be. Know that this place is one where I feel more comfortable being my true self. The place I am most comfortable is Reddit, where I can hide in anonymity.

Earlier tonight I submitted a comment to a discussion thread in one of my favorite subreddits, r/INTP (it’s a Myers-Briggs thing). The thread was about depression and how others cope with it. One commenter, the one whose comment my own was in response to, said that s/he experiences depression only when s/he thinks too much, which is something we INTPs (again, wikipedia it) tend to do A LOT of the time. But this commenter said something that really struck me and prompted probably the longest response I’ve ever written on Reddit.

S/he said: “I think too much about what happens after life (nothing, IMO) and I have a nihilistic view on the world now.”

Being a rational being (and desperately trying to avoid sounding obnoxious about it), I have pretty much ruled out the existence of a god. But there has always been a little part of me that is unsatisfied with the idea that when I die, that’s it. Nothing happens. The end. The rational part of my brain says, “Of course that’s it!” but the idealistic part says, “But is it really?” I could go on, but I think I’ll let my response speak for itself.

This is what I said:

“I know this isn’t exactly relevant, but your comment on what happens after life, i.e. nothing, intrigued me. I think you might be right. But I also think that there are two things that could happen. Either you’re right, nothing happens and we turn into dust and fade away forever; the whole universe does–it dies having spent every bit of energy it could muster–and nothing comes after; or all of that happens (the death and fading and expansion into emptiness) but there is something that comes after, another universe comes into being, the whole cycle happens all over again. The only reason I think this is even possible is that I can’t seem to rationalize the existence of an eternal nothingness. Of course, even if there were an eternal nothingness (and I’m talking total nothingness, like no spacetime, no dimensions, not even the so called laws of physics, which are arguably not independent of the existence of anything anyway), there wouldn’t be a way for it to manifest itself. It wouldn’t make any sense to even consider. The only thing that can be is something.

So sure, maybe after all of this ends there’s a long period of cold empty space. Maybe this universe is destined to stretch on forever and wither away. But what’s to say there can’t be more somewhere else? I went through a period when I would listen to Alan Watts lectures on YouTube, and I know the guy is a bit of a kook, but I think inside all of his profoundly incoherent babble is a little inkling of truth, but it’s a truth that is so difficult to express with words that those who try to explain it often end up sounding crazy, or taken damn seriously by a few who are too easily affected by things which sound pretty but are pretty often way over their heads in terms of complexity and use-of-language. When you can’t quite understand what the man is saying, but it sounds really good, some of us will blindly follow even though we don’t have any clue what it is we’re actually followers of. Religion comes to mind. But the bit of truth that I remember taking away from Watts is that we can only ever truly do one thing: experience. So when we die, that’s it. It isn’t some eternal void that we get to experience. The thing which has done the experiencing has moved on. The only thing which could ever happen after death–and it’s probably not very likely, but I like to think there’s a chance–would be for us to wake up, begin anew, fresh as the day we were born, completely unaware that there was ever any past or that there will ever be a future, because we are once again infants devoid of any notion of these things (past and future), only living, experiencing the present as purely as it was ever meant to be experienced. And we’ll grow up and eventually feel as if we are moving forward through time, and this feeling will haunt us until the day that we die, because we’ve been given a taste of experience, and it’s a powerful drug, and we’re too afraid to lose it.”

Anyway. I don’t have any concluding remarks, which is fine. This space is for me. I don’t have to explain myself. I’m writing a book. It’s tentatively titled: A Very Long Time to Wait for Death. Goodnight.

Young people, we need to talk…

We don’t vote. I get it. We aren’t confident in the system. We don’t think our vote matters. There aren’t any candidates worth voting for. We don’t think congress cares about our problems, therefore we don’t care who is running for congress.

 

A poll by the Harvard University Institute of Politics recently found that only 26% of young people, ages 18-29, “Definitely will be voting.” The same poll found that 80% of young people don’t consider themselves politically engaged. And 60% of us don’t follow politics closely at all. 43% of us think the nation is “off on the wrong track” while 40% of us aren’t really sure where the nation is going. We disapprove of the president. We disapprove of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. There isn’t much we approve of, really. And we still don’t vote.

 

The executive summary to that Harvard IOP poll concludes that we are “pessimistic, untrusting, lacking confidence in government and suspecting the motives of the Congress in general and of [our] own elected leaders in particular.” We don’t vote because we think the game is rigged. The candidates are phonies. Our Democracy has failed us.

 

But we care.

 

We were the heart and soul of the Occupy Wall Street movement. We recognize huge issues that plague our country, like increasing wealth inequality, astronomical student debt paired with higher job scarcity, and unnecessary government spending. We think poverty is an important issue, but our government is unable to do anything about it. 42% of us think that community volunteerism is the best way to solve important issues facing the country, while only 18% believe political engagement is the key.

 

The Harvard IOP poll also found that, while we are unlikely to volunteer on a political campaign, 67% of us are likely to volunteer for community service. A Pew research poll found that 50% of us are politically independent. We don’t like institutions. We’d rather get out there and fix the problems ourselves, because big institutions and government can’t get the job done.

 

So we don’t think our vote counts. We don’t think politics fixes anything. We are tired of political parties. We are tired of the gridlock in congress. And we believe that the best way to solve a problem is by getting out there and fixing it ourselves. Now let me tell you what the real problem is.

 

Money in politics.

 

The real problem in American politics is there is too much campaign spending. The election industry in America (yes, I said industry) pumped through nearly $4 billion during the 2014 midterm. In the 2012 presidential campaign, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney spent over $1 billion each, while total campaign spending in 2012 exceeded $6 billion. Why is there so much money spent on political campaigns in America? Because money buys elections.

 

In 2014, 28 out of 35 Senatorial campaigns were won by candidates who spent more than their opponents. 407 out of 435 House of Reps. campaigns were won by candidates who spent more money. Campaign spending has increased at an incredible rate because politicians, and those who fund their campaigns, recognize how to win elections. No longer does a candidate’s political platform determine his electability. In 2014, Republicans overwhelmingly took back the majority in the Senate and gained seats in the House without stating a clear platform. They did it by making Dems look bad.

 

Harvard Law School professor, Lawrence Lessig, claims in a 2013 TED talk that the American Republic is broken. He points out that no average Joe in America can just decide to run for public office. (Well, he can–but he won’t get elected). No, in order to run for public office, you have to get funding. This might seem reasonable enough. I’ve given you the statistics. In order to have a chance of being elected in America, you’ve got to at least spend as much as your opponent. How do you get funding? Do you go door to door the old school way and ask people for their support, and maybe a small contribution? You could. But you won’t get very far.

 

You see, the people who fund elections are a very small minority in this country. In 2014, 0.21% of the population, 670,000 people (less than the entire population of Wake County, NC), contributed a little more than $2 billion to federal campaigns. Less than 1% of the population of the United States contributed 66% of campaign funding. To us young people, that statistic should sound quite familiar. Might this be the same 1% who control more than 80% of the nation’s wealth?

 

So in order to have a reasonable chance of getting elected, you must appeal to the funders, the 1 percent. Without their blessing, there is no hope. What does this mean, exactly?

 

Care to provide examples?

 

Sure! There are plenty of examples. Let’s look at one high profile example which I think is particularly interesting.

 

In his 2012 presidential Campaign, President Obama raised over $700 million himself. OpenSecrets.org lists “the Blue Team” as having spent $1.1 billion in the election, but this “Blue Team” consists of both the candidate’s own political spending as well as outside spending by SuperPACs and other political organizations.

 

OpenSecrets.org lists total donations by sector for each presidential candidate. Sectors being things like Agribusiness, Defense, Health, Labor, etc. for instance, Obama received more than $20 million in donations from people associated with the Communications/Electronics sector, while Mitt Romney received about $7.5 million. This is a large difference, which at first glance might seem harmless, but let’s look at things a little more closely.

 

In 2013, Obama named former cable and wireless industry lobbyist, Tom Wheeler, to head the Federal Communications Commission. As chairman of the FCC, Wheeler oversees the regulatory body for the telecommunications industry in America. According to The Guardian, Wheeler raised more than $500,000 for the Obama campaign, and personally contributed more than $17,000 to Obama’s reelection and to several senate campaigns.

 

Wheeler is seen as a threat to Net Neutrality by internet activists who believe he will enact policy changes which allow ISPs to charge websites for access to premium load speeds. Although Obama has recently come out in favor of a free and open internet, he hardly has any say over the matter, and it was he who appointed this new Chair. One can speculate as to why he appointed Wheeler to the position. I am inclined to think it’s because he owed him.

 

More examples? The top contributors to Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign are all major banks. That is, individual members, employees, or owners of the banks, and those individuals’ immediate families, made the most contributions to Romney’s campaign. Of course, Mitt wasn’t elected, so we don’t know what this statistic would have meant. But it sure speaks volumes about what Mitt would have done for the Banks.

 

Harry Reid (D) received $1 million from lobbyists alone in 2014. Two of the top five contributors to Mitch McConnell’s (R) campaign were big banks. John Boehner (R) received $1.1 million from the Securities and Investment industry in 2014.

 

In nearly every case, more than 50% of total campaign donations are in the form of large individual contributions. The point is that, instead of being funded by the people, our political candidates are funded by a very small minority, the uber rich.

 

American Oligarchy?

 

A study by Martin Gilens, of Princeton, and Benjamin Page, of Northwestern, which made a striking discovery about the influence of public opinion over policy change in America. According to the study, when average citizens overwhelmingly support the adoption of a piece of legislation, it stands an approximately 20% chance of being passed in congress. And when average citizens overwhelmingly oppose the adoption of a piece of legislation, it stands an approximately 20% chance of being passed. Whether average citizens support or oppose a law, it has the same odds of being passed in congress.

 

This isn’t too weird when we look at how our government was designed to work. There are deliberate checks and balances built into the system meant to make passing new laws difficult. The authors of this study acknowledge this status quo bias and don’t deny that it is to be expected. But they found something quite disturbing as well.

 

When economic elites oppose a particular piece of legislation, it has nearly 0% chance of passing. Conversely, when economic elites support a piece of legislation, it has almost 40% chance of passing. While both of these numbers being below 50% reflect the same status quo bias we noted above, the stark contrast says something profound about the political system in America. It doesn’t matter what average citizens think. Gilens and Page sum it all up nicely: “In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule.” And so it goes.

 

All hope is lost?

 

So we’ve identified a major problem in American politics, one that seemingly won’t be an easy fix. How are we supposed to fix a system from which those who make the laws stand to benefit? Americans are all about the status quo. We don’t like change.

 

Ah, but we–us, the young people–we crave change. We need change. We’re sick and tired of the status quo, so much so that we’ll get out and solve problems ourselves. We occupied Wall Street. We got on Facebook and Twitter and let the world know just how absurd the growing wealth gap in this country really is. We lit up social media with our outrage at the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases.

 

We’ll fight the NSA and our own government who believes that Edward Snowden is a traitor and a spy. We won’t accept it when older generations say they don’t mind government spying because they don’t have anything to hide. We won’t stand for our internet and cell phone data to be collected and analyzed.

 

We won’t allow Tom Wheeler and the FCC to deregulate the internet. We’ll make our voices heard everywhere so that the internet will always remain free. We’ll protest in the streets and invent new #hashtags. We’ll post YouTube videos to our Facebook feed and comment on articles on HuffPo and upvote Reddit posts and reblog pages on Tumblr, all so that our message can be spread.

 

We have a collective voice that is growing louder each day, and it’s becoming harder and harder for politicians to plug their ears.

 

There are solutions to the problem.

 

Call it Campaign Finance Reform. Call it taking back America. Call it whatever you like. The point is there are solutions to the problem. What we need to do is spread the word. Check out these links, read up on the proposed solutions. Share them on Facebook and Twitter. Do your part to spread the message. This is the most important thing.

 

OpenSecrets.org is a website run by the Center for Responsive Politics. Their mission is to “Inform, Empower, and Advocate. It is a non-partisan, non-profit organization which “aims to create a more educated voter, and involved citizenry and a more transparent and responsive government.” It is a vital resource for those of us interested in learning just where the money comes from, and where it’s going.

 

Lawrence Lessig has a brilliant TED talk entitled “We the People, and the Republic we must reclaim” which you can find at www.ted.com. He also proposes one method of Campaign Finance Reform called the Grant and Franklin Project, which he discusses further on his blog here.

 

The Fair Elections Now Act is a proposed bill which would enable anyone who garners enough popular support to run a competitive election. It seeks to render irrelevant campaign funding by big donors and corporations, or at least limit their influence.

 

The American Anti-Corruption Act would overhaul the current election system in America. It is a “sweeping proposal that would reshape the rules of American politics, and restore ordinary Americans as the most important stakeholders instead of major donors.”

 

Not only are these three proposed solutions entirely viable, but they would restore our democracy to the way it was devised by the founding fathers of this nation. We the young people have a chance to save our country from crippling clutches of the economic elite. Fight back. Spread the message on social media. Change the world. That is what you want to do, right?

 

Fireworks

Being that it is now July, and Independence Day is right around the corner, I thought I would jot down a particular memory I have from when I was in elementary school.

I don’t know how old I was at the time, maybe nine or ten. Every Fourth of July we would go down town to see the fireworks display at the city park. This is a tradition that every American can relate to, I’m sure. I remember being fascinated by the grandiose explosions of color and light, as all children are. I remember laying out on a blanket in a crowded baseball field, watching the dancing fire cascade down almost directly overhead. There were hundreds of people gathered around, celebrating in unison our day of freedom and independence, collectively ooh-ing and ahh-ing with each spectacular release of energy.

It was fun for me at the time, but looking back I can’t say that I ever really understood the point. It was just something special that happened every year and I was content with simply taking in the moment without any regard for the millions of lives lost in order to make such a moment possible. (Although, I’m sure we humans would find any reason to shoot fireworks simply because they are pretty cool.)

One thing I remember being truly fascinated by was the whole mechanism by which the fireworks were hoisted into the air. Most kids, I think, could’t care less about the mystery behind the mysterious explosions in the sky. But I remember noticing the tiny projectiles soaring high into the sky well before they popped. That was cool. I asked my mom what the little things were, and where they came from. She was always good about trying to at least give her best guess as to the process of things, and she told me that they were rockets being launched from someplace far away by men who were paid to design and produce fireworks displays. Neat.

So the real story begins here, sometime after having gone to the fireworks show one July Fourth, in my childhood neighborhood. When I was about five years old my family moved from the mobile home outside of Chapel Hill into a small subdivision in Saxapahaw, NC. Some (few) might recognize Saxapahaw as a sort of local haven for hyper-liberal, folksy types from Chapel Hill to gather on weekends to listen to live music and eat organic food. When we moved into the area, it was little more than a tiny hole-in-the wall, former mill-town with little more than a postoffice and a polluted river running through it.

My neighborhood was very small, at the time probably no more than six houses along a gravel road with a col-de-sac at the end. It was very quiet. Oddly enough, there were several families with children approximately my age living there, so it was a great place for me to grow up. One family lived in the only two story house in the development at the top of the hill at the end of the road. My house was next to theirs. They had a son who was one year older than me and we became friends almost instantly. In fact I cannot recall the day we met, so it must have been when I was very young.

On the day this story takes place, Houston, the neighbors’ son, and I were looking to get into mischief, as most kids do, and we happened to find one of my father’s toolboxes. My father has always been a handy man, working as a carpenter at the time, and constantly building and tinkering with things in the shed out back. The toolbox was filled with heavy craftsmen wrenches of all sizes. Somehow, Houston and I had the idea that if we through the wrenches across the yard, the sunlight shimmered across them in such a way that reminded us of fireworks. Naturally, we decided to act like fireworks technicians and launch every wrench into the yard from my front porch. I cannot get into my head to determine what on earth I was thinking, but it must have felt like a good idea at the time.

I was something of a leader as a child, always getting my peers to play along with my little games and being “in-charge” of our pursuits into the land of pretend. Houston sat on the concrete stoop in front of the front door, the red toolbox by his side, and I stood next to him delegating when to launch the next wrench into the sky. All was well at first as I would call the orders “REady. Aim. Fire!” and Houston would hurl the wrenches, but things going according to plan wouldn’t make a very good story.

I can’t tell you what went wrong, how it happened, whether it was my fault or his, but suddenly, after I called “Fire!” Houston reared back to throw a particularly large wrench, and as he swung his arm forward the end of the wrench caught me just above my eye with a heavy thwap, and I went down to the ground and began to scream from the intense pain. I must have turned my head or been to close to his throwing arm. It still eludes me how the wrench managed to find my head given my position next to my friend, seemingly outside of harms way. But it did, and it hurt, and I cried, and my dad found us out on the porch and hell hath no fury to match my father’s rage that day.

He immediately began to scream and shout, demanding to know what happened, coming to his own conclusions before either of us could explain our game. He must have thought Houston had intentionally hit me with the wrench, and I remember him chasing my friend around the yard, cursing and spitting and appearing absolutely terrifying. Houston ran home scared out of his skin of my father, leaving me to endure his fiery fury.

My father can be prone to flipping completely off the handle at the tip of an ill-behaved hat. What I was less aware of at the time was my father’s heavy drinking habit, and the propensity for alcohol to induce such bouts of rage. I don’t remember the details of my punishment, or what my father did to me or said. What I remember is some days after the incident I met up with Houston, and I apologized for my father’s behavior, that it must have been frightening. And he said something to me. He said it’s okay. He understands. He said he could smell the alcohol on his breath, and that he wasn’t in his normal state of mind.

This struck me as somewhat offensive. I didn’t really understand what he meant by that. How could he smell the alcohol? how did he know he was drunk? After all, I was used to my father’s heavy mood swings. I was used to the anger that he could display.

So the memory ends, and it was certainly a dazzling display of fireworks if I ever saw one. And I lived with my father’s condition as much as he did. Needless to say, fireworks were never quite so interesting to me, not after living with them my whole life.

Understanding Me (in retrospect)…

I began this blog originally as a place for my fiction. I’ve uploaded only one short story (my very first post), and while I’ve written many more, I don’t think much of my work as of late is worth posting here yet. Some editing is required. Lately I’ve been writing short essays (I’m not sure what to call them. Journal entries?) expressing whatever insightful conclusions I’ve made about life, a way to “organize my thoughts”. But I had an idea. I read some of Proust last summer for a class, and I didn’t exactly get it at the time. A whole year of soul-searching, self-reflection and satisfying my own curiosity for things has shed a little light on what Proust was actually getting at.

When I look at myself in the mirror I see a version of me that I am wholly familiar with, but sometimes I find myself suddenly lost in memories from when I was much younger. What is odd to me is that there tend to be some memories which are much more frequent and detailed than others. What’s more, often times these memories pop into my head involuntarily, for no discernible reason. Still, many memories come to mind when I consciously search for them, although the mechanism for retrieving memories is completely foreign and inexplicable to me. How can I consciously make a decision to retrieve a particular memory without first having the memory in question suddenly appear in my mind? There must either be some sort of trigger caused by some feature of my environment, or the memory must be randomly selected by my brain. What I am trying to say is that there is never any conscious agency when having or selecting memories in the brain. Memories are either triggered by the environment or by other memories.

But let me get to my point. We are limited in our capacity for capturing and storing memories. The bulk of our lives will be forgotten entirely. We are creatures of forethought and retrospection, which means, while we live in the present moment, we spend a great deal of time thinking about the future and remember the past, most frequently as far back or forward in time as not more than a few hours. But, without putting forth a whole lot of effort, I couldn’t tell you what I had for breakfast yesterday, or this morning. And I couldn’t tell you what I’ll have for dinner tomorrow. Briefly we spend time considering our distant past and future, but only the important stuff, like what kind of job do I want, or where I had my first kiss.

I’ve decided that the memories I have, some of them blissful, some traumatic, must be worth putting into words, if not to entertain some lucky reader, then to better understand myself. Looking at my life and the person I’ve become, I’ve become more aware of the significance of many of my memories, and I feel that this is as good a place as any for writing them down. Every word I write will be off the cuff, unedited and raw. I can’t guarantee that I’ll be exactly chronological as it’s hard to be so precise without lost of time and editing. But I’ll try my best.

I’ll begin with a vague set of memories, some of my earliest. The first house I remember was actually a mobile home in rural Orange County, NC. I don’t recall the exact layout, but I remember my bed spread, blue with Disney characters riding bikes head on. The reverse side was green, with the same characters being viewed from the back. I’ve seen pictures of myself being thrown onto this bed by my father when I must have been three or four. Maybe it’s because I can imagine myself being playfully tossed onto the bed, and that I’ve seen direct evidence for the event, that I have a memory from such a young age. I tend to think that it may be a false memory, however.

One memory I cannot refute though is from when I was even younger. I am lying flat on my back. Four towering walls surround me in my bed–a crib–and the ceiling is specked with plaster popcorn. I must have been crying, because suddenly I see a silhouette hovering over the crib with long hair pouring down over my face. My mom places a baby’s bottle into my mouth and I begin to suck on the nipple. Cold cherry Kool-Aid swarms into my mouth and quenches my thirst. I am satisfied. The memory ends.

There are several other memories from the mobile home, but I am tired. This was a good start.

What does a writer write about?

That is an interesting question. So many of us who make the bold choice to become writers are faced with an initial period of wondering what the hell to write about. This “warming-up” time can last many years for some of the least spirited workers. I have a professor in college whom I have come to rely on for guidance in my writing, although he only reads and comments on fiction. I’ve had him for three consecutive semesters for various creative writing courses and he is my academic adviser, so we’ve seen a lot of each other over last year or so.

I remember the very last day of class this Spring, a conversation we were having in the classroom. All the other students had gone, except for one. He was a decent writer. He had more to say than his talent for writing had to show, but that’s never a bad thing. Anyway, the professor says to the both of us, “The best thing for you to do is get married to someone who really brings home the bacon, who says ‘here you go sweetie, here’s some money, you be the artist and I’ll be the bread-winner’.”

I understood what he was saying, at the time. But I don’t think it really clicked until tonight. If either of us was going to have any chance at living a respectable life as a writer, we’d need to get hitched to some rich girls, sure I could deal with that. I hadn’t really been considering marriage, but it was never out of the question. But what did he mean by that? Sure, he’s only a professor of English at a school known for it’s STEM departments. But he makes a respectable living. He can’t possibly be speaking from experience, which I would think to be the case for such advice.

I always thought this guy has a bit of an air about him, like he’s got a secret and he knows you know about it, but he won’t tell you. Like he’s some sort of pseudo-Socratic guru always trying to egg you in the right direction without telling you specifically what to do. He tests the lot to see if they catch on, knowing only the real ones, the good ones, the one’s who maybe can’t write that well but definitely have something to say–only they would see the light.

There is nothing to write about that hasn’t been written, he tells us. The only thing different about the stories we tell is the perspective from which we tell them. The eyes of the artist see only the subject as it appears before him. We are stuck in this thing called time, scratching words onto paper, preserving the moment for all eternity. This is what is important. This is all that matters to the artist.

The advice from my professor is more than that, it is an insightful analysis of the human condition, that in order to be an artist, I must live without any hope of fame and fortune. Art isn’t what the people want anymore. Money and greed has changed that. Technology has changed that. Time has changed that. The words here on this blog are themselves representative of the apparent death of Big-A Art. The market has been suddenly and rapidly flooded with every Tom, Dick, and Larry’s contribution to whatever artistic medium, so the only way to make any profit is to cater to the multitudes. In which case, big-A Art loses its flair, its meaning, its singularity, its value.

I live in a time where art is tried by the court of the world, and judged in accordance to its popularity. The world enjoys simplicity and ease of access. Where fits art into the formula? And so I am to accept that no matter the quality of my art, it will never be cherished and praised by the multitudes, nor probably by scholars and bibliophiles of future generations to come. The information age is the beginning of the death of Art. I can hope that our society transforms and will once again be able to appreciate true and inspired art, but it might be more likely that time-travel becomes possible.

I can do one of two things. I can be the artist who writes as he sees the world and have faith that my art is truly saying something despite not selling, or I can write work that sells and have faith that because it is loved by the people, it is truly art.

As I was saying above, every writer goes through some initial dilemma over what to write about. I’ve broken down the problem and come up with ultimately two options. As it stands, I’m still struggling to find the right answer. I’ll leave that up to you.