Life in better times. | via The Australian

Life in better times. | via The Australian

Cristiano Ronaldo kicked the soccer ball, but he may as well have kicked me in the stomach. The only thing about which I am fiercely and unrepentantly patriotic is also the only thing at which American exceptionalism has never allowed this nation to unconditionally succeed.

I have never been affected by a sporting event in the way I was affected by USA 2-2 Portugal. I’ve been hurt worse, many times; I am a San Francisco 49ers fan, and saw them lose the Super Bowl and the NFC Championship Game in the last minute in successive years. I was not happy.

This was not like that. It’s true that I wasn’t happy, but it was in a remarkably different and possibly unrepeatable way. After 90+ minutes of game time, I was something close to deliriously happy. The USA had, for the first time in its World Cup history, come from behind for what looked for all the world like a win, one which would advance them to the knockout stages. That all this came in this year’s “Group of Death”, after the team had defeated its old nemesis Ghana, made it so much sweeter. That it was happening against Ronaldo, whom (despite the many good things he does) I despise beyond reason, was just a sweetener.

Ronaldo was playing hurt, which I feel should be acknowledged. He is also, unfortunately, the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year. It is easy to say in retrospect that I should’ve seen it coming. Yet… when Ronaldo’s cross found Silvestre Varela’s head and Varela’s shot found the net, I was not prepared.

The moment unfolded for me in dreamlike unsurprise. There was no celebration from the Portuguese after the goal, which is not something that happens often in soccer. It almost felt preordained, everyone already having read the last page of the book.

In my apartment, there was cacophonous silence. There was nothing for us to say, really. Everything was just there, in the air, unbidden, rendering words moot.

I can speak only for myself when I say that I don’t remember much about the moments immediately following the match. I sat for what, in memory, feels like forever, but can only have been a few minutes. I roused myself by slapping an errant fork harmlessly off the living room table and tried to feel something.

The goal led not to a loss, but to a draw; there is something about a draw that feels unfinished to me, a remnant from my childhood when I firmly believed that tying was as bad as losing. (It’s strange that I was ever that competitive now that I think about it.)

On top of that, the result did not lead to an elimination for the USA. It kept them from going through early, but it was not the worst possible outcome. The team’s odds are still good of getting through, and the hypothetical me from the beginning of June would have been happy to know they would have four points after two matches in this group.

All those factors combined to give me something I had never experienced before: a gut-wrenching result with no closure. The match was not lost, the tournament was not over, the goal may end up being a mere footnote on the story of USA’s World Cup 2014 run. For the moment, there was nothing for me to focus on. The match was over, but the story was not.

It is hard to come up with any other examples where this is even possible. The number of divergent factors that led to this specific emotional response may never be replicated. I certainly hope they won’t.

The next day at work, people were remarking even more than usual on how tired I seemed. I agreed with them, mostly. It felt like explaining that I was experiencing a heretofore unknown combination of limbo and depression because of SPORTZ would have been too much to try and unpack. Nevertheless, my day consisted of counting up the hours since the game had ended and realizing I was still not over it.

I think sports are a good thing, generally, and get irritated when people who do not enjoy them get snarky about people who do. Nevertheless, I do understand that some people care too much, putting too much of their happiness in the fortunes of their teams.

I don’t feel like my reaction was caring too much.

The worst.

Such a mundane thing to be a bane of my existence.

I really, really, really don’t like doing laundry.

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Justin Timberlake by Tom Munro

And he wears Tom Ford. | via toobaditsgood

So, Justin Timberlake.

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Droste effect

It has to stop eventually.

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.

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I am worried about the state of my creativity. I am very good at starting things, but not so good at finishing them. I take it, from something that has recently come to my attention, that I am not alone in this phenomenon, but I don’t like it.

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Fucking faggots

You’ll understand it in a minute, probably.

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.

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Drive is what happens when Lost in Translation and Oldboy have a baby.

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Those were the droids you were looking for.

The mind trick wore off. | from Very Demotivational

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.

I Wonder by Natalie Dee

This is a wonder with which I am familiar. | by Natalie Dee

[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.

I am amazed, I guess, by things like flying cars and new forms of life and Jupiter Jumps, but I don’t class those feelings as wonder.

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.

1984 Raleigh Grand Prix

This isn’t my bicycle, but it’s the same model. From Chuck’s Bikes

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”.