I really, really, really don’t like doing laundry.
I admit, it seems a little weird that I would post just a few new entries to my blog after so long away, only to then disappear for over two months. Again.
The thing is, this time, there was a reason.
Picture the scene: it’s mid-November, the middle of a gorgeous fall in New York City. (You know, except for that whole devastating storm thing that happened a couple of weeks earlier.) It was not yet cold and wintry enough for me to talk myself out of riding my bike to work, so I hadn’t. It was midafternoon and I was on my way home, walking my bike across the street onto the bridge.
Sometimes, many people don’t know how to drive in NYC. Annoyingly, one of the things that these people like to do is stop in the middle of a crosswalk. This is maddening in any situation, but it is especially galling when that crosswalk leads onto the Brooklyn Bridge. I assume that this guy had never heard of it before, because that’s the only reason I can imagine for his failure to stop at the proper place.
I had to cross the street in front of him, in a space that was narrowly large enough for my to fit through with my bike. Sadly, I miscalculated, and accidentally nicked his bumper with my pedal.
Apparently that showed him that I am a fucking faggot.
Drive is what happens when Lost in Translation and Oldboy have a baby.
My personal philosophy has long been to not regret. My basis for this is fairly simple: given the assumption that the total outcome of your life’s decisions has led you to where you are, if you are happy, then you have nothing to regret. After all, even the bad or “wrong” decisions you made were part of what got you to a happy place, so there is no reason to regret them even if you recognize that they were incorrect.
I certainly don’t mean for this to be the sort of thing that everyone takes to heart; there are dozens of reasons for any given person to disagree with me, even if they are by my standard perfectly happy. However, for me, it has worked. I have made plenty of incorrect decisions in my life, but the place where I resided was, after a fair number of bumpy spots, generally happy.
I never really considered the flip side of that coin, though, which is that if you are not happy, then you are going to be filled with regret. I had just kind of assumed that regret was something I could forget entirely, when I was actually setting myself up to be crushed by it.
I had never really thought about it before, because I have been unhappy at times since I decided to think this way. However, in those times, there was always something particular to point to, a specific reason that I was not doing so hot that I could sort of hold onto, like a life raft that would float me back to normalcy once I overcame it. That always worked for me, and maybe never appeared to be contradicting my basic stance. Sure, things sucked, but they would be all right soon enough.
Now, though? Not nearly so simple. The past year or so has been a series of (I guess) not-so-good things, made in series, not always related to each other but each compounding in my head, drowning out the good things to a point where I… I don’t think I’m depressed, but I am certainly edging in that direction.
The short answer is that my personal philosophy is a fucking nightmare if the problem in my life is, well, me.
I feel like such a fool complaining about this. I know that people have it far worse than I do, and I also know that there are tiny things that are taking on major significance that they do not necessarily need, only because my mental makeup is a mess.
I’ve started working as a barista again in the past few weeks, and that has helped me see just how much of a regretful mess I have been. The things that are giving me psychic comfort these days are enough to drive any sane person to melancholy; while one should definitely take joy in the little things in life, those little things should not be the only joy tucked into a veritable orgy of self-destructive thoughts. I mean, at the very least, I should be able to listen to music on my walk back to my apartment without losing myself in dark thoughts.
I’ve always had a propensity for a sort of negativity in my thoughts; when I started writing seriously, a friend asked me what I wrote about, and my pithy response was “love, sad endings, and the idea of home”. While that has changed some (not as much as I would like), the basic idea that I don’t think much about happy endings has remained. I mean, at its most basic level, the greatest number of happy endings a person can get is one. There are many more opportunities for the sad ending, and some people, maybe a lot of people, never even get the one happy one.
The counter to this is that whether an ending is happy or sad depends on where you stop reading the story. I concede this argument and respectfully disagree.
So, if I’ve even been sort of negative when I was happy, what the fuck did I expect to happen when I wasn’t? And the answer is, I didn’t expect anything. I just sort of assumed that I would be happy, insofar as never considering the alternative is assuming. The problem there is obvious: we all know what assuming does.
So here I am, filled with regret for the first time I can remember, over decisions I’ve made and conversations I’ve had and job interviews I’ve blown, and I am literally at a loss as to how to get out of it. And, irony of ironies (if you’re into that sort of thing), I regret that most of all.
[This entry is the fourth for #reverb10, an online initiative to reflect on the year and manifest what's next. Today's prompt is to write about what I did to cultivate a sense of wonder in my life this year.]
Wonder is such a strange concept for me. I do not usually feel wonder in any sense that I think of the word; my idea of “wonder” is that sense you get when you are a child and you find out that something you did not know was possible is, in fact, possible.
Probably the closest I get to wonder is the feeling I get when I read or see something that makes me want to create. The feeling I get in those situations, whether it’s my 30th or 40th rereading of Gatsby or watching A Single Man for the first time and understanding all the little tricks that make it so heartbreaking, is dangerous, in its way. I get dreamy and distracted, thinking only about what I could be doing, how I should be better.
Given that this is, of course, me that we are talking about, this is oftentimes followed up by crushing depression brought on by the fact that I end up doing nothing with the lightning strike flash of inspiration. Many times, this is practical; if I’m two stops from getting off the train, starting would be nonsensical, and inevitably by the time I get through the door of my apartment and complete the process of settling down, the inspiration has passed.
Other times, it is less defensible. Indefensible, even. I will be at my apartment, sometimes even by myself or alone late at night (as I frequently am), and I will get that flash, but I will not follow the compulsion. I know I should, I really do; the laserlike focus that I am granted on these occasions is good for (writing-wise) a few pages that I will reread in the morning and actually enjoy. If I followed the flashes of wonder, I would write about pretty girls that smell of powder sitting in a swing strung under a tree in the fall when it’s really too cold to be outside, and she will break my heart again in exactly the same way when I read about her later as she did when I was making her.
I wish I felt wonder more often, in the childlike sense that I miss or the literary way I consider it, but I think I might have damaged my ability to feel it. Most of my teens and early 20s were spent doing everything I could to inure myself against getting hurt. I put up walls, withdrew, learned to use my charms not as aspects of my personality but as things I could deploy in the right situations, to defuse or disarm or, more literally, to charm. I thought for a long time that this would make me happy.
We think a lot of things when we are young and stupid that turn out to have absolutely no fucking bearing on reality. I have tried to open myself up more, to let go of trying to make everyone happy and protecting myself, to be the real me. The problem there is that in a lot of ways the me that I showed people was more likable than I really am, but then again, I was able to cull people who didn’t belong in my life, or maybe let them drop me, and gather friends who actually like me for me.
That is worth something, and has on occasion been wonderful. Even still, I am afraid as always to open myself up any more, to allow a sense of wonder to sneak past the cynical, knowing half-smile with which I usually greet new information. I fear getting hurt more than I am usually willing to admit.
What is it holding me back from?
You know, there is a really easy answer to this question, “what did I do to cultivate a sense of wonder?” I should have said I watched Double Rainbow, all the way.
Now THAT is wonder right there.
This is a story about my bicycle. It was built for me by Danny, the man behind the infamous karaoke show.
Danny bought a pretty sweet bike, an early ’80s Raleigh Grand Prix from the just after Raleigh was bought by Huffy, before the quality dropped off. It was too small for me, but I fell in love with it. I told him to find me one if he had the chance.
Three weeks later, he called and told me he had it in my size. You’d be surprised what Danny’s capable of.
In the first six rides I took with it, I had three accidents. Danny thus christened it “Trois Clangours”. Jerk.
I’ve had a LOT of trouble with this bike. The accidents, mechanical failures, all manner of trouble, adding up to it spending far more time out of commission than in use. Which is weak sauce, obviously.
Nevertheless, when it’s working, it’s my machine. We get along, it and me. I can feel it doing my bidding reflexively. I don’t worry that it’s going to do anything that I don’t want. It’s going to get me where I’m going, safely, as long as I don’t make a mistake.
Sometimes, though, I get in accidents that just aren’t my fault.
Like that raccoon? I couldn’t have slowed down. Even my slow-motion memory of the event barely gives me enough reaction time; no telling how long I actually had to react, but it wasn’t long.
Yes. That’s right. I hit a raccoon. In New York City.
For what it’s worth, I was riding on the loop in Prospect Park. There is actually something resembling woods in that area. I was riding home from work one night; it was around 7pm or thereabouts. It was October, dark, and chilly. I was wearing my blue-and-brown striped sweater. There was a guy riding ahead of me, about the same speed. He was two bike lengths ahead, and to my left. I heard him say, “Whoa!” and saw him dodge something. I caught site of the something, just had time to recognize it as a fast-moving raccoon and yell “Fuuuuuu–” as I tried to jerk my bike around it.
There just wasn’t enough time. I hit it square.
I went airborne. My front wheel was bent, destroyed, and my forward motion ceased instantly. My rear wheel went in the air, and I lost contact with my bike. While I was in the air, I had two thoughts. First was that I didn’t want to land on my head. Curiously, this had nothing to do with my own safety; I didn’t want to crash my helmet and have to buy a new one. That in mind, I judged my trajectory, put my arm out, and used it to absorb the majority of the fall and transition into a roll.
The second thought was “I hope I don’t break my phone.” [Spoiler alert: I didn't.] It probably says something about me that I thought nothing for my own personal safety, only that of my material goods. What it says is probably not good.
I rolled off my left arm, onto the shoulder, and up the other side. My momentum actually took me momentarily off the ground again. Here, the memory is blank. I know that I ended up crouched on my elbows and knees, hurting with a pain so pervasive and so powerful that I can still feel its phantom when I think about it. But I don’t know how I ended up that way. Did I land like that? Did I roll again and crawl up to it? I could not tell you. I wonder now if I did end up hitting my head at some point, causing me to black out for a fraction of a second.
It’s not important, I guess. I crouched there, first making sure that no part of me was searing white-hot with the pain of, say, a freshly broken bone or an open gash.
I looked at the raccoon, just in time to see him dash off into the trees, apparently uninjured.
I was a little bitter. It’s entirely possible that I remain that way. I mean, couldn’t he have at least been a little bit maimed? COME ON!
Then I looked at my bike.
It didn’t make me happy.
Things that were fucked: front wheel; handlebars; brake levers; stem. Things that were somehow spared: fork; saddle.
Now back to me. The guy who had initially dodged the little bastard was beside me. He asked if he needed to call an ambulance. I ran a piece-by-piece check and decided that I was unbroken, just bruised. He asked if “all parts are working.” A new bystander looked at my bike and said “No, man, his bike is fucked.”
I said those weren’t the important parts.
I was finally able to drag myself off the asphalt and get to my feet. I was a little woozy from a body full of aches, but I was only a mile or two from my house and didn’t have cash or desire to find a taxi. So I walked.
I called ahead and asked if maybe there could be some hot chocolate waiting for me when I got there.
There was. For that I am ever grateful.
And now my bike is called “Quatre Clangours”.
To start, I have to prepare to be savaged by Afistaface, Andey DeLesDernier, because my mixtapes long ago ceased to be rendered on actual cassettes. She is the only person I know who is more of a purist than I am.
Mixtapes are a very important subject to me. I’ve been thinking about them for as long as I can remember, even though I was never quite the savant that some of my friends were when they were younger. In fact, I don’t think I ever made a proper mix until recordable CDs were on the scene; I made a few tapes to play in my car or give as gifts, but I didn’t really use them properly back in their heyday, and it’s definitely a case now where “mixtape” is more the preferred nomenclature than any representation of the physical product.
As I tend to do in my life, I have over time evolved a set of rather draconian rules about what a mixtape is for me. Of course, as with most of my self-imposed rules, they apply only to me; I think someone else using them might even defeat the purpose.
(This gets into a whole other issue of why I give myself strict limitations for work on which I have historically failed entirely to follow through. But I think that might be an entirely different subject.)
When I first started making mixes on CD, roundabout 2000 or so, I generally slopped songs on until I filled up the time, then arranged them in a pleasing order. My crowning achievement of this method was a mix I made for a girlfriend around then; clocking in at 79:59.80, I came as close to perfection as anyone I’ve ever known. Unfortunately, this was all undone by the fact that the version of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” that I’d put on the mix was incomplete by a couple of minutes; when I listened back over the CD and the song cut off in the middle, I learned a valuable lesson.
My insane rules for structuring mixes had their genesis not long after. I picked up Nick Hornby‘s High Fidelity at work one day. I was vaguely interested because I’d heard the movie was good; in fact (shamefully), my copy of the book is the movie tie-in version. In the book, the narrator mentions a few rules that I adopted for myself; a couple years later, when I first started trying to codify my rules, I came back to that passage and realized that he’d not put in nearly as many as I’d remembered. Nevertheless, it was a critical moment for me.
I refined my rules over time, starting with “Never allow two songs by the same artist on a single mix”, still my number one most important rule. I became better at making mixes. I learned the pleasure of a well-sequenced mix from a tape that a friend brought over one night to listen to while playing video games. I picked up the need for context on a tape when I was pulled over for speeding while listening to a particularly high-energy tape after a rough night at work; I stopped listening to fast, angry music if I was already angry.
The next turning point for me came just a few years ago, with the release of Rob Sheffield‘s Love is a Mix Tape. It is, ostensibly, the story of his life with his late wife Renee, but one of their main methods of communication was the mixtape. Every chapter is headed by the track list of a mix that one or the other of them made, or someone made for them. They capture moments in time, documents from people who were in tune with the music of their lives.
I don’t make that kind of tape.
It was instructive to learn from the way they made their creations. At several points, Sheffield writes about the 20 or 30 songs that fit on a 90-minute cassette, which made me think of the early mixes I made on CD. What hit home, however, was a critique of precisely that medium: CDs are 80 minutes, but they’re uninterrupted. Tapes are 45 minutes per side, so each is, as a listening experience, 2 mixes (barring an automatic flip cassette player, of course).
This opened my eyes. Just because there were 80 minutes to fill on a CD didn’t, and doesn’t, mean that every one needs to be filled. I further restricted my own mixes. Initially, I was planning to cap length at an hour, but I changed my mind, instead deciding to put exactly 13 songs on every mix I made from then on. This has been so ever since.
I make many types of mix; if it’s all pop songs, 13 songs might come in at 40 minutes or so. Sometimes I’ll mix it up and make a 20-minute Godspeed You! Black Emperor track one of the 13; those tapes tend to run a little longer. But in addition to the restriction of how many songs there will be comes my ultimate, end-all be-all rule, that the transitions must work. I listen to my tapes slavishly, not least to avoid repeating the mistake I made with “Sweet Child O’ Mine” all those years ago, but mostly to assure that every track flows from one to the other, telling the story I want it to tell.
This is ultimately what mixtapes are to me: using other people’s words and music to tell my stories. And I like it that way.