Stop Swimming

I’m taking this week off from a few things — most notably, as much as possible, forward motion — because a few things have occurred to me recently (as recently as the past thirty minutes, in fact).

I was listening to a Porcupine Tree compilation disc that I made myself not too long ago, and Stop Swimming came on.  I’ve always read the lyrics to be about suicide (and let’s ignore for a moment that you can infer a lot from the interpretations that listeners make about lyrics, etc.), and listening to the song as a whole doesn’t stop me from coming to that same conclusion.  But my favorite bit comes right in the middle of the song, and tonight’s frame of mind put the words in a new context for me:

Maybe it’s time to stop swimming
Maybe it’s time to find out where I’m at
What I should do and where I should be
But no one will give me a map

And then, reading over a few of my favorite blogs, I was struck by how few stories I feel like I have to tell.  Which is weird; I’m thirty four, and I genuinely feel like I’ve lived more life than most people ten years my senior.  It’s not that I have nothing to say (although the validity and importance of which can easily be argued amongst yourselves).  It’s not that I’m intimidated by other writers, or have no voice of my own.  It’s not that I’m not experienced in plenty of areas — hell, right now, I’m a designer, a computer nerd, a bartender, a musician, a filmmaker, and a writer.  A single guy.  A Southerner.  I’m many, many things, giving me many, many perspectives on life.

And it hits me: I’m too busy living to appreciate any of it, to enjoy any of it, or even make notes of any of it.  Head down, shoulders squared, I charge through each day just trying to make it to the next one lately.  I’m passing a hundred stories a day without hearing or seeing or living any of them on any more than a cursory level.

Maybe it’s time to stop swimming.  Just for a bit.  No map required; just a little reconsideration…

Is this you?

12:30, Monday, I’m heading out of my parking deck, getting ready to make an unrecommended-if-not-illegal left turn. I pause, checking left and right to make sure that no traffic is coming from either direction; not much, just a single SUV coming from the left, slowly, up the hill. As it nears me and is almost past, I start to edge forward, and then realize that the SUV isn’t actually going to pass me. Instead, the driver chooses to park in the middle of the road, in the middle of the hill, effectively blocking traffic and me.

I turn right, instead, and here comes that driver again. It’s a slightly different shade of blue, and more sedan than SUV as I had thought, edging well over the center line into my lane (ostensibly to avoid the line of parked cars on that side of the street?), not slowing down, not returning to the proper lane, apparently expecting that I will stop or somehow magically move the cars parked on my side of the street to avoid them.

I’m less calm about this instance of poor driving. The poor students waiting at the next corner to cross can vouch for that, as well as my expanded vocabulary of insults.

I finally make my way to the bank, where my nominee for Bad Driver of the Year waits for me yet again. I was wrong; it is a sedan, compact, but more tan than blue, two doors (not four), tinted windows. Backing up in a one-way alley that leads to the drive-thru tellers, sees me coming and brakes, and then sits there, waiting for me to — well, I’m not sure, actually. And then leans out of the window to wave me either backwards or around them (ignore the fact that the road is barely wider than our cars). And then sits more. And then honks at me. All before realizing that I’m staring blankly at them, throwing the car in to a forward gear, and peeling out inside the alley.

I would have made up more words for them, but the tire damage they did to their own car made that unnecessary, I felt.

Deposit dealt with, I pull out of the bank and head for the Cantina, one of my favorite lunch places in Birmingham (home of the best damn Cuban sammiches in town). Headed down 7th Ave South, I turned the air-conditioning down and opened my moon roof (I’m still puzzling that distinction, by the way). A beautiful day, if a little warm — but the city felt good. And then, suddenly, I realize that I need to stop, fast, or I’ll be hitting the car in front of me. This is surprising only because we’re on a three-block stretch of road that has no lights, there’s no pedestrian traffic — point of fact, I can’t even begin to guess why the person in front of me is stopped.

And then I realize it’s him again — Birmingham’s own traffic jam. He’s changed cars again, from tan compact sedan to white pickup truck, but it must be him. No one else can be this bad, right? There can’t possibly be that many people in one small radius of town that are this ignorant of the roads and drivers around them, can there?

Maybe he’s turning left, I think, though there is no oncoming traffic to give him pause. Or perhaps there’s a dead or wounded animal in front of his truck? But the sudden release of brakes and forward motion reveals that neither is true; this guy has just become bumper sticker inspiration.

“I Brake For Nothing.”

Ooh, double meaning. I like it.

Somehow, I make it to lunch. Even though the Cuban tastes great, even in the heat, I’m still watching the roads, waiting for the driver without a clue to pass again.

Makes me wonder how bad to trip to Crestwood will be tonight.

Skin Me

Devin Townsend comes up with some of the best song titles ever. From the first Strapping Young Lad CD, there’s “Cod Metal King,” “Skin Me,” and “Goat”. Oh, and “Filler – Sweet City Jesus,” too. Glorious, glorious mp3 of “SYL” is even free for download…

The name of the album? HEAVY AS A REALLY HEAVY THING. Pure, unadulterated cornball brutality. And Century Media has just rereleased it in expectation of the upcoming sixth SYL disc The New Black, and it’s such a glorious reliving of the mid 90s. Angry, brutal, harsh, and creamy like chilled pudding.

Yes, really. Pudding. Sure, pudding that could kill you with a single punch to the throat, but tasty, tasty pudding. Chocolate, even.

It makes me wish that I could grow a full-face beard (instead of the dust spots that I can cultivate, over time and with much effort [and a Sharpie]). I’ve always wanted to be able to pull off that Miami Vice five o’clock shadow. Granted, I didn’t even hit puberty until the age of 28, and even today I still only shave every three days. So maybe that’s just envy speaking.

The invisible segue, by the way, is that Devin (who is my age) has quite possibly the bestworst look in metal: long, nasty hair with a receding / male pattern baldness hairline. I remember Melissa seeing it and just rolling her eyes — which of course makes it infinitely cooler.

Yeah, I know. It’s not much of a transition. My writing ability has taken the weekend off, starting last March. So this is what we’re stuck with. But at least we can be happy that my writing is enjoying a hard-earned vacation, chilling on the sandy beaches of Aruba, chatting up young women and seducing them with tales of decadence and hedonism barely disguised in a thin veil of overly big words.

And I’ve still got my iPod, so all is well with the world.

Kids say the darnedest things…

“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.”
Jessica, age 8

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.”
Billy, age 4

His story is written again and again

History is written by the loudest voice.

In a room full of people, in a crowd before the news cameras, the scene of the crime is described by people who are willing to come forth and speak, faces on air, names and numbers taken for followup contact by the detectives. There are three sides to every story (yours, mine, and the truth); the more sides that are heard by the outside observer, the closer you get to the truth; but not every side is heard, and eventually, the observer adds his own perspective.

We all have the power to repeat something enough times that it becomes the truth, Gospel from the lips of god. We have this power not just as individuals, but as groups, collectively changing the past until our chanted murmurs overtake reality and replace the words found in books of the times.

Bits of history are forgotten. Other bits fall victim to the game of Telephone or, if you prefer, Gossip, spreading from mouth to ear down the chain until all but the basic facts are morphed (and sometimes even the basics lose their identities in the process).

Some things can never be known for certain. The truth is lost to the perspective of the singular witness, or to the he said/she said duo of observers.

Five blind men describe a snake, a tree trunk, a rough wall, a rope, and a cool and sharp cone of ivory. Without the fable, the elephant in the room is never a part of history.

History, too, is written by the strongest fist, by the generals of the largest armies, by the ruling forces with the power to crush dissenting voices. How many scrolls and books have been destroyed by the despots and dictators that wanted the past to read a certain way that countered what was documented to come before? How many times have the words been tweaked or omitted to fit the dreams and schemes of overlords? Or just the majority?

We all have our own views, supported by convenient facts and sources. If you are careful and selective enough, you can find evidence to support any past you choose. It’s important to remain open to other possibilities than what you accept as hard fact.

There are no rules, only expectations.

Intelligent Design? Possible. Evolution? Possible, as well. Flying Spaghetti Monsters? Not likely, but possible.

The past is, in some ways, no different than the afterlife: beyond a certain point, our beliefs are nothing more than opinion, informed as they may be. Odds are we weren’t there; certainly, beyond a lifespan. And even if we were, our account of history is colored by context, by perspective, by the shadows and winds of time and the decay of memory.

Ignoring the evidence that six million deaths can be blamed on the Nazis is a fool’s game. Claiming that the South won the Civil War flies in the face of documents and present conditions. Claiming that historical figures never existed is selective perception, at best.

And yet, what if all that we know about what came before, about all but the things that we’ve actually experienced and witnessed for ourselves, with our own senses, is a plant by a louder voice, a stronger fist?

Can any of us prove otherwise, beyond any shadow of doubt, to the satisfaction of all but the most mentally unfit?

Can there be a love which does not make demands on its object?*


Which is to say, I suppose, it all depends on you, and what you define as love, and your background and experience and expectations and hopes and dreams and fears and insecurities and neuroses.

Not terribly long ago, in the greater scheme of things at least, I would have said yes. That’s the hopeless romantic in me, though, which has become – er, less hopeless, I guess is what I’m trying to say. I used to believe that, but I’ve come to recognize that, for me, such undemanding behavior is an extension of the codependence that I learned growing up, and a sign of the martyr complex that exists (hopefully) somewhere buried inside me.

Expecting selfless behavior of myself works in very limited contexts, but eventually, I need something back. I think, probably, that we all do, to varying degrees — whether a simple bit of recognition, or perhaps a full return of the attention in whatever form it was given. Without some return on my investment, though (and again, the ratio of give and take is entirely contextual), I become resentful and bitter.

Not to mention reminded of the person that I was, a person that I worked long and hard through my twenties to not be.

Not to say that this sort of thing — a totally selfless, one-way street sort of love — doesn’t exist. I’m sure that it does, although I have to imagine that it is rare. Mother Theresa, for one — I suspect that she wanted nothing in return. But then, there’s a reason that she was called the Living Saint.

Nor would I say that people who are capable of this are ill in any way, neither codependent or martyrs or anything else that you or I might try to classify them as. That, I think, is an outgrowth of the human conditioning, to automatically label something that we can’t relate to or understand as damaged in some way (when, really, it’s the person who can’t take the time and effort to understand who carries the burden of damage). If you’re one of those people who can love without expectation or condition, then more power to you.

Don’t hold yourself to standards you can’t live up to, though, as noble and ideal as it might be. The damage that that sort of self-expectation can cause is immense, and the scars it can leave are not something that people in your future will want to deal with.

I guess what I’m saying is that the world would be a much better place if we all got oral sex on at least a weekly basis. And a free steak dinner afterwards. Unless you’re vegetarian, in which case I guess a salad would do.

* Today’s subject helpfully provided by one of many pieces of spam mail that I received throughout the course of a sngle day. If you wish to send thanks, I understand that many spammers really like to receive bricks with sharp edges. At high velocity, of course.

(screenplay research)

Can I cause another person to dream?

Studies show that you can bring about a dream in another person. One way is by holding an open bottle of perfume under the sleeper’s nose. Another is by whistling. A third way is by blowing air across the sleeper’s face with a fan. Someone else can also affect the content of a sleeper’s dream. For example, turning on a light produces happier dreams. And darkening an already bright room can induce nightmares.

Just another day

Life is a prison.

Life is a gift that far too many people don’t understand or appreciate.

Life is fleeting, far too short in the interest of fairness.

Life drags on and on.

Life is an open journey with infinite pathways to explore.

Life is a straight line to death.

Life sucks.

Life is not a choice.

Life is choice.

Choose life.

Life is for the living.

Live fast, die young, and let god sort out the underwear situation.

I’m standing outside my office building, iPod drowning out the world with whatever is on the shuffle at the moment — a little of the new OSI, some Dark Lunacy, Colin James Hay. The air is perfect, dry, cool, carried on a constant but shifting breeze from the west that seems to push the constant flow of traffic past me. I light my afternoon cigarette, and as Waiting for My Real Life To Begin segues into William Orbit’s Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, the breeze becomes a steady gust, and the world is filtered through effects that every independent filmmaker wishes they had in their computer. The color is firm and pristine, every gradient smooth, every border fine and distinct. The light coming through the layers of tree branches and spring leaves creates beams that you can’t see but know are there nonetheless.

And then the shadows on the sidewalk begin to dance, a kaleidoscope of shifting sand chaos patterns, levels of shadow moving independent of one another, an abstract music video for a non-linear piece. I’m all-too-briefly caught in what I can only barely describe as a hallucinated shared memory as the world passes at it’s usual rate all around a magical display in back and white at ten frames per second.

Life is in between moments, small details, things that you find between ticks on the clock and inside of individual breaths. Life is in the here and now, and it’s easy to miss if you’re too busy thinking about the then and there, whether coming or gone. Life is infinite potential, defined by perspective, shaped by experience, shared by forever too few.

Even in a world that has too few hours in the day, too few days in the week, too little time to accomplish a tiny fraction of everything that I hope, life goes on all around me, and anyone who thinks that I’m missing out on something simply sees things through different eyes than mine. And that’s okay, because they’ve got life, same as me.

Life deserves more appreciation from a distant standpoint.

Even if it’s just a dream, or the product of a far-away brain in a jar, or a collective memory, or an accidental side-effect of too many micrograms of lysergic acid diethylamide taken fifteen years past, life is full of anything you want to find, if you know how to look for it.

I can never submit to all the things you’ve said God
If you want me dead, I’m right here God
But fear is a funny thing God
In that it gives you the strength to resist just about anything God
Pain of Salvation,

Life is. And that’s enough for me, today.

If you say so… then I do, too.


Following a report that the U.S. agency in charge of a domestic spying program is building a database of every phone call made in the country, President Bush on Thursday told the nation from the White House that all anti-terrorism efforts are within the law.

I’d like to make it known that all the things that I do, whether considered by the rest of the nation to be legal and valid or not, are within the law. This includes but is most certainly not limited to drug use, sex with minors (as long as they are really hot and could pass for over eighteen in dim light), theft, destruction of church property, fraud, tax evasion, and wearing white pants after labor day. All my efforts in these and many other innumerable areas are, like your anti-terrorism efforts, well within the law. No matter what anyone else says. Even those pesky “lawmakers” and “courts”.

My gosh, W. You’re amazing! I really do feel better, and rationalized as well.

I sure hope this counts if you say it from outside the White House and don’t have more money than you could ever hope to spend in one lifetime. And if you’re not a Republican.