A Snapshot of Restlessness

I woke up to the sound of hard rain angrily beating on the exposed end of the air conditioner that hangs precariously over a row of trashcans two stories down outside of my bedroom window. I groggily looked at the clock and saw it was still early morning. The dull echo of my dog snoring in the corner synchronized with the hard pelting of angry rain droplets to create a rhythmic melody that failed to do anything but keep me up.  I stared at the white ceiling which had been turned charcoal by the purgatory between deep night and morning, and I tried counting the specks, but when I got to 10 I would lose track and be forced to start over.

I could faintly make out a stack of books in the far corner of the room on top of my bureau that I had bought to read, but had failed to do any more than make a weak focal point for overnight guests who happened to be unlucky enough to be turned around while I debased myself at their expense. That sentiment always made me angry. Not so much that they were unlucky to be with me but that I felt the need to see myself as both the conqueror and the defender of my victims. Were there even victims? Was it really my fault they were in that situation? I never asked them to fuck me or to get entangled in my business.  They chose to feel sorry for me, and worse, to feel like they were significant enough to fix me. Wasn’t everyone winning in this situation? They could feel powerful and fulfilled in their quest for pseudo maternal domination and I was able to get out of my head long enough to get off. Maybe they didn’t see then end and I never saw a beginning. Poor them. Poor me! I was defending myself against fictional accusations I personally made up.

After a while my legs grew restless. No matter what position I was in I couldn’t get comfortable and I kept kicking the covers off because they felt too warm just to pull them back on because I became too cold. I got up and walked through my apartment, hoping the need to sleep would ambush me and I could return to bed. I walked past a large antique mirror I had bought at a thrift store for a few dollars. It was only one of a few things I had furnished my new place with and it stuck out against a wall of white nothingness.

My reflection was surprising to me. I often tried to avoid it. I was gaunt and thin. It felt good but compared to the fat cheeked me of months prior it was different and foreign. I was heavy before I moved out. Now I wasn’t. Was this what women saw when they looked at me? A handsome hollow shell? Some beautiful mess? A mess no doubt, although despite my change in appearance I can still hotly debate my own looks with myself. I’m not sure why I even looked-for companionship when I was so adept at keeping myself company. I had companionship and I lost it. Maybe I was outsourcing the job and filling the role until I met the right fit for the position.

I returned to my bedroom and grabbed one of the books from the corner in a feeble attempt to both make good on my promise that I would read them, and trick my brain into leaving itself alone for a minute. The book at the top of the pile was A Farewell to Arms by Hemmingway. I grabbed it and returned to my place beneath the sheets. I thought of Hemmingway and how he was an awful man but how brilliant his writing was. I found that comforting. I wanted that duality because I believed it embodied me. I was a good man who got lost and became a reflection of his environment. This pain would be useful to me someday.

I fell into a nice rhythm and before I knew it I was well into the novel. The rain kept falling and the sun still hadn’t risen. My dog paid no attention to me and continued her dreaming while snoring quietly. Time seemed to change its fluidity as I read. Moments became hours, and before long the sun had begun to peek over the dilapidated house my bedroom window looked towards; something bright dawning over something dark.

I always read with a pen in my ear in case I find something quotable. Hemmingway was often too quotable that most of his words were underlined or circled, leaving a small swath of conjunctions untouched like a field between two forests. I had already read this copy so the need to highlight was null. I could just immerse myself without the need to obsess over gulping down every last quote.

It struck me that A Farewell to Arms is less a story of war and more a story of the pursuit of happiness, even if the happiness you conjure up isn’t real. Catherine and Henry’s love in the book is flawed and more aspirational than anything. Catherine is trying to distance herself from the heartbreak of her love. Henry seems to be subconsciously looking for a distraction from war and for someone to obsess over. I could relate to Henry. Despite true love forming, it was born out of the ashes of tragedy and the idea of happiness as a whole seems to be obtained by accident. Despite the constant search for happy moments, once you have them they are already fleeting.

I pondered on what it would be like if those two were living in modern day and had smartphones. They would be one of a thousand couples posting weekly about being soulmates and how their love is deeper than anyone could ever know. It would be all for show in the hopes that if they showcase a lie they might someday believe it themselves. It dawned on me I was jealous of a fictional relationship, a deeply flawed one at that. I wanted badly to pretend to love someone and have others believe it. I wanted to lie and to believe my own lies just as badly. Is crippling co-dependence better than loneliness?

Daylight had come and I was halfway through the book before my eye lids began to wilt and crumble into themselves. The rain had slowed down and turned into mist that sort of hovered outside making it seem like a wet veil. I considered love and lust once more before sleep pulled me in. Lust is mysterious and makes you thin. Love is comforting and makes you fat. All the while I was in love I craved lust, and now that all I have is lust I crave love. Why do we chase what we can’t have only to miss the thing we left behind? I whispered out loud “Nostalgia is a bitch” and fell asleep.

Waves (and Other Romantic Trash): A Story

The gentle salt filled breeze of the Atlantic wandered off the cool waves and ambled a bit over the large rocks before fanning my face with its pungent fumes of seaweed impregnated with brine. The sun had fallen hours ago, but despite its counterpart’s elegant exit, the moon was still mostly absent, except for the occasional shy peek through the slow moving dark clouds, helping to briefly illuminate the retreating tide.

My family had come to this lonely stretch of beach for most of my life. Unlike the well-known beach towns that made this area famous, this was not a place of wealth. There was little sand (it was more like gravel than anything else) and a heavy bit of debris that washed ashore from the harsh high tide including large wooden logs and piles of algae. In spite of that, it felt quite elegant to working class families like mine who were lucky enough to spend a few weeks here each summer. We liked to think of it as a hidden gem, where as I am sure those that resided in large beach bungalows just north of here would consider it a poor man’s retreat.

I had waited for everyone to fall asleep before I let myself out so as to not invite the puritanical lectures on the dangers of the sea and nightfall, or wake any other line of questioning in regards to my motives for such an outing. Explaining why I was even awake at that hour, let alone traipsing off onto a deserted beach would make for some uncomfortable lies, especially to the children would would telephone them to ears not meant to hear truths or lies alike. I had to walk lightly so as to not give too much pressure to the old weathered stairs that would let out a loud creak if stepped on wrong. Once free of the decking, I quietly let myself out through the little brown gate out front and took off down the dirt road.

After a quarter of a mile I dipped into an overgrown dirt path down a steep embankment that gave entrance to the beach. There were several entrance points like this where once accessed you could walk the open shoreline for miles, however you had to know where they were. You had no other way of admission to the beach other than taking a 30 foot dive off of the steep cliffs that lined the coast of the shore or by swimming in from an anchored boat.

When I was young, myself and some other kids had built a hut out of branches and weeds that somehow, despite harsh winters and raging summer storms, continued to stand. This is where I sat, alone with only the whispers of the waves breaking just a few feet from the edge of the hut. I thought of the kids I used to spend my summers with, many of which had grown up and had families. Some still came back, a powerful reminder of the magnetism of this place, or maybe the nostalgia of youth; I still hadn't decided. I took my shoes off, inviting the frigid water to lap at my toes which it seemed to appreciate and obliged. This was my refuge, seemingly so far away from the pressures of "the real world" or whatever constructs people assigned to that phrase. The reality of my life at home seemed melancholy in comparison to the relative freedom of late night walks on the beach, and was worth forgetting even if only for such a short period of time each year.

I squinted at my watch; 1:57. I was on time. I thought about the tides and how similar they were to romance. There were dominant forces, the sun and the moon, both buying for power and control. Although it seemed like they shared the tides, often times it felt more like the tides controlled them. So the dance would go, each partner taking turns being the lead. When the Sun was so inclined, it would be heavily involved, pulling at the currents and washing their surfaces with passionate reverence. Yet, it would grow tired, and then the Moon would come to coo with all of it’s zealous reverence. One worships while the other grows distant. Only at the right time do both give and receive their love at the same time, and that is why it is called the magic hour. A love as old as time cannot be perpetually in sync, it can only weather the distance until the forces that be coincide for one enchanted moment.

I felt a tickle at the back of my neck and I knew it struck 2 a.m. She was always on time. I did not turn around, but closed my eyes and smiled. When I opened them, she was standing in front of me smiling coyly and gently petting the side of my head. I said nothing and buried my head into her torso. Silence fell, with the only audible noises being that of our deep breaths. My pulse was quicker now and my chest felt hot.

“It’s nice to see you.” She finally whispered.

I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I just nodded in agreement. She sat down beside me and we both stared stoically out into the dark undulating abyss. I could feel her gaze re-focus upon me. She grabbed my hand and gave a little pressure, indicating she wanted my attention. My heart beat quicker and my breathing grew shallow.

“Look at me” she said in a soft but firm voice. She seemed to have known of the rigidity in her voice so she followed with a softer “please?”

I raised my head and met her gaze. Her eyes looked like slate in the murky darkness but they were nonetheless piercing.

Moments or hours later, I’m not sure which, I remember laying under the hut, my head on her naked breasts as her chest softly swelled to the rhythm of the flow surf. My fingers traced the rim of her belly button. Her skin was milky and pale and soft like aged down feathers.

“I should leave, they’ll wonder where I’ve gone” she said with a tinge of reluctance.

“Me too.” I uttered.

We dressed and got up, fixing our eyes not on each other but still on the waves. The moon had revealed itself finally and the beach became awash in a pallid glow. I could see her finish the last chest button on her flowy dress.

“Same time tomorrow?” She asked.

“Don't go” I blurted out.

“Shh. Don’t do that.” She replied.

I looked back out to the sea. I thought in the moonlight I could make out a distant shore. I wondered about the idea of multiverses, and if there was a beach somewhere in the galaxy where another version of myself did not need to visit. That beach would be empty because I would be asleep in bed conjoined with her and our sheets. Then another thought came into my head that there was equally as a likely a chance that on the same beach in another world where there was me and only me. Maybe there was another where there was no me and only her. Maybe there was another where there was a beach and no one ever found it. The speculation of parallel universes is a silly endeavor.

The sun peaked out over far reaches of the adjacent shore but the moon had already fallen. The sun was in charge of the tide again and the wind smelled of dead fish.

“what’s wrong” she asked as she put her smooth hand on my hip.

“If the world was flat we could just walk off of it”

“What?” She asked half concerned.

"Never mind."

Memoir of a Retail Dropout: Forecasting the Fall of Urban Outfitters

Retail as a whole is changing, there’s no denying that. This realigning of consumer values and habits is surprisingly more evident in the realm of big box retailers than it is on your small down main drag, despite what the media would have you believe. I am witnessing this first hand. I currently work at an indie bookstore on a busy street in a small beach town that is thriving. It is a seemingly alternate universe to Urban Outfitters where I worked for many years up until this recent transition.

The world of corporate retail I recently departed from is flailing, and a good deal of household name retailers taking up large mall spaces (not unlike Urban) are finding themselves in a tailspin, grasping at any small branch they can to stabilize their business, which more times than not alienates them further from the target base they were initially so appealing to. I weathered seven years with fast fashion’s Urban Outfitters and I have lived to tell this tale.

Urban Outfitters, the former “cool kid” of fast retail, is a great example of a brand living in the purgatory of modern mainstream trade. I know from experience how the company operates, having worked for them for such a long time. Up until a month ago, I spent four years managing one of their stores in an affluent mall. At the head of the business, I was privy to all flash points in their world, from marketing fumbles and P.R. nightmares to higher management restructuring.

When I began with the company, it was a cool company on the rise, and with its alternative image, it was breath of fresh air in the retail world, helping them to open handfuls of new stores every year. But as the years moved on people lost their fanaticism, the company’s vision had gotten too big, and they got greedy, so when the economy and the market landscape drastically changed, like many other monolithic chains, they had risen too high and the descent began. In several failed attempts at re-branding their business, including recent re-alignments and large-scale terminations of key people (particularly almost the entire visual branch,) the company seems to be desperately trying to hit some sort of solid ground by trying bigger and wilder things.

From my vantage point, the clunky world of the Urban Outfitters corporate home office seemed to be a key problem. As the company expanded, so did the workforce, and with that expansion came more mouths barking conflicting ideas on what should be the new face of the company, making the overall vision of the business blurry. Home Office culture and Store culture polarized, with the in-store foot soldiers getting paid less to do more and the Home Office group trying to change the wheel and re-define retail as a flourish for their own resumes. As time progressed, it became an US vs THEM mentality, with neither side knowing or caring how the other side wanted to conduct the business.

I think the source of this odd cold war came from the company’s strategy of hiring the hippest and most trendy people, which seemed better on paper than in execution. At the store level, they would find creative types and convince them that working for far less than a living wage is acceptable because you can wear what you want and be an individual. To the age group the company targets, this seems like a fair trade, and in perhaps a transitional period where you think retail is a stepping stone, you get pulled into the rip tide of comfort and nonchalance. It felt the same tactic was being employed at the Home Office. This recruiting tool brought in a niche of “progressive” types who dressed the part and lived the lifestyle but often didn’t seem to have the vision for their position in the ways you would traditionally expect, which seems like a fundamental outcome when you are fishing for “vibes” over talent.

If a civilian were to read the employee message board on the back end of the site, it was like reading a bad street zine of pretentious ideals, bizarre music and art referrals, p.c. complaints and ramblings, and bizarrely enough “KIMYE” hero worship. Instead of getting people who were actually alternative and high functioning in the workplace, you got self-absorbed weirdos. The train kept moving and the worlds became more and more polarized, with both sides constantly asking of the other “what the hell are you getting paid to do?”

From the recruiting plan to the overall fake hipster image the company wanted to mine so badly came ideas like creating a non-gendered unisex shop in the front of their men’s department, raising prices and lowering inventory, the countless re-revivals of neon, and a bizarre array of clothes that were so ironic that there was no market for them (like Guy Fierre flame hats and shirts to match.) Instead of serving one lifestyle well, the company began a predatory campaign to grab a slice of every corner of the millennial world they could.

Worlds like streetwear, P.C. tumblr kings and queens, ironic 90’s revivalists, workout addicts, sexy internet models, and moms and dads who want to be young began to have bits and pieces marketed to them. A wide net was cast and although people from different lifestyle groups emerged, they began catching a lot less fish. This scenario has played out across the retail world, especially in lifestyle brands like Pac Sun, Journeys, Hot Topic, and others. To try to offset the damage and make up for dipping sales, they skyrocketed prices. In essence, they made something undesirable even less desirable by making it unaffordable. The idea here was it would make the company seem high end and draw in a new crowd given the fact all the others had disappeared. The wide net idea didn't work, so they essentially began looking for a few big rich fish. In an effort to gain more customers, they alienated the one they already had (and probably a few others they were aiming for,) and frankly, they alienated a good deal of the people who worked for them right alongside.

These blunders repeated themselves over and over until their products appealed to no one in particular except each strange wave of trend followers and impressionable teens, and as a result, despite having low traffic, the traffic they did have didn’t want what they were selling or couldn't afford it.

As mentioned before, in a recent move to cut costs, Urban Inc. decided to cut their entire visual branch, effectively destroying what was once a vital part of their business. Foot traffic is an issue, I’m not denying that, but the real problem came down to the panic it caused and the irrational decision making that followed. Urban Outfitters has become the new Forever 21 or H&M, but it can never match their prices, so unless the company moves in an entirely new direction, the hipster goliath seems to have met its match.

Urban Outfitters CEO discussed his business and wrote off recent declining business to a crisis in what he called “the retail bubble.” He argued too many brands are selling clothes and “This created a bubble, and like housing, that bubble has now burst. We are seeing the results: Doors shuttering and rents retreating. This trend will continue for the foreseeable future and may even accelerate.” Although this is a fair analysis of the current state of business, it doesn’t get Hayne or his company’s poor decision making off the hook. There are a lot of musicians in the world, but I don’t think it’s fair for a band who falls in popularity to argue that there are too many acts to compete with and that’s the problem, not that they couldn’t re-define their sound or find a way to market it better to people who already liked them. Competition is competition, and coming in second has its consequences, regardless of the excuses as to why the winner had some sort of edge.

When most recent re-alignment hit, a lot of us who had been long time employees said fuck it and hit the road. With no visual team, unhappy remaining staffs, and further budget cuts, an already sinking ship’s engines caught on fire. Retail is a survival of the fittest world, and the cult of UO for better or for worse is losing its flock.

I was stuck in the mold for a long time, constantly helping to feed the bloodline. When I started with the company, it seemed to mean something. It was different, low key, and actually alternative. But as the years tumbled on, the amount of work and lack of pay began to feel especially cumbersome when most ( not all ) of the message from the top tier of the company was that no one was doing enough and growth became a pipe dream. You can only being in the middle getting screamed at by customers and the company you work for before enough is enough. I was offered an out and I took it. Working for an indie store is so different and rewarding, it had made me question the very nature of large chains. Convenience is great, but now I know what that convenience costs. Grass is grass, but in this case, it really is greener on the other side.

2013 - Artifacts

After I got home from being at the bar for a few hours with some friends, I felt too awake to sleep and too scatter brained to absorb any tv or reading so I decided to clean out my side tables. Logical right? I have been feeling a need to throw away some things and get rid of some of the crap I have accumulated over the last few years for a few days now anyways so I figured I would give in to that urge. There was a lot of meaningless stuff, like old band pins, random receipts, notebooks full of lyrics and poems I thought were good and weren't, cords to technology I no longer own, loose change, film I don't remember using, and so on. I did however find these pages from a book I started 4 years ago with some fuji mini photos I took right around the time I started to get back into photography. These photos, although meaningless to most, captured a short time in my life that I struggle at times to remember. They say hindsight its 20/20 but I lose track of it more often than not. These photos show a few things. I was young, much younger than I felt at the time, my band was writing the final record we wrote  (my personal favorite of any musical work I have created), I lived in two apartments that year, I was in an upswing of interest in fishing, and I was with close friends. Some of those things have changed. Some of those people moved away or I simply don't see them anymore, those apartments are no longer mine, the house my bandmates lived in where half of these photos were taken burned down and was demolished, the band itself is no longer together ( reference house burning down ), those two cats are no longer in my life, etc. Nonetheless, it was a cool time to live through and I'm happy I found these brief windows that allowed me to see back to that period and to have tangible proof of those times.

Are We There Yet??

The end of a relationship is rarely an easy one, at least if that relationship had substance and there was a mutual love and respect there at one time (even if neither were present at the end.) Even those with the purest intentions to remain friends and be civil hit the critical and unavoidable point where they fall off the cliff of kindness and civility into a pit of rage, hatred, emotional exhaustion and resentment. I have seen this happen without fail to countless marriages and relationships, and I always thought that it would never happen to me. I am sad to say, I like many before me and many after have fallen into that pit, and the way back out is vast and daunting.

In my head, I always assumed friendship and love would win out and that with some sort of mutual respect and co-operation, if I ever did reach a point where the relationship would end, I would rise above like some kind of valiant conqueror of breakup or divorce generalizations and pitfalls. But, the process that comes before the actual severing of ties is a gradual one, and it snowballs with little annoyances and larger issues until the weight of it is too strong to carry. For those who do not experience the added bonus category of jealousy, betrayal and depression, it is not necessarily easier, it is just categorically different although I fall into the first camp, and from where I sit I miss the days of not feeling deceived, jealous and enraged. The early days of working with one another and leaning on one another for emotional support and the reassurance that we were both feeling depressed over the loss seem like a distant memory. The entire relationship often feels like some bygone era that I have read about but don’t actually remember, and I feel like the 3rd generation member of a family feuding with another family over events that I wasn’t even alive to witness, nor were anyone else I know, yet a distorted false memory forms in the absence of experience and the rage still stand and the hate still floods my gut.

Why do we do this to ourselves? This question has long been asked and I don’t have the frame of mind or intellect to answer it, but I can only say it is like a drug. Love and comfort are these intense drugs that change your mental state and you lose track of your physical body and become one with another being seemingly across all space and time. You forget you ever had a past, and the future is simply this moment. But drugs end, or bad trips happen, and detoxing off of that drug is the most painful, excruciating process man can know. It is mental, physical, even spiritual. It takes every molecule of my body to do simple tasks like walk, talk or eat (which I don’t do much of these days.) All of my spare energy is spent on hoping the pain will end, hoping the hate and love will stop changing so quickly, hoping to salvage the relationship, hoping to stop hoping to salvage the relationship, and so on.

I have made a point of documenting all of this because I think it matters. It will matter to me in the future, it matters to me now, and I believe that somewhere out there someone is going through what I am and they will think these thoughts and feel this pain and maybe read words much like mine and know they will be ok. And it’s ok to feel so horrible and to wish away the abysmal, insufferable state of hate and longing. Sooner or later, I hope these pages will do that for me. They will remind me that you cannot love someone who does not love you back, and that you cannot love or even be friends with someone who has lost the claim to your trust. The moment I realize that, this blog will have served its purpose and I will end it, the same way I created it; out of the blue with no explanation except that it was right for the time.

Back to The Stone Ages

There’s something unsettling about your first night in a new environment. That’s not to say that it’s a matter of safety or danger so much as it doesn’t feel real. Your body wakes you up every few hours to check your surroundings, a defense mechanism from our ape years when we wandered the globe for food, never sleeping anywhere longer than a night or two. Now that we have roofs and floors and chain locked doors, you would think that primitive part of our brains would be inactive, but I assure you that underlying component of the human brain is alive and well under the right circumstances. Your brain still accounts for new lighting, the subtle difference in nightly noises, even differences in temperature than what you are used to. You concentrate on things that you normally wouldn’t, and you have to grow accustomed to the sounds of new human lives being lived around you, the habits and idiosyncrasies of new people you never had to accommodate before. When things like a breakup, separation or god forbid a divorce occur, it resets your life, often times entirely, and many of those changes cause you to go back to default mode. Your life goes back to the stone ages, and before you begin the process of adapting to your new existence, your primary ape brain takes over.

I can say all of this with a certain level of experience. With a separation under my belt, I accomplished something on the human experience roulette wheel I never thought I would have to. The same is to be said about living alone again. In my case, there never was a first time living alone, so really this is my first experience. I had roommates in college and a girlfriend turned wife that populated my living space from the time I moved out until several days ago, and although I have been alone in those spaces, it’s a far different beast when you know no one will be returning to your home. Despite minimal experience with aloneness, I wasn’t prepared for it on such an inflated level.

This idea can be ever so accurately described in my first trip to the grocery store on my own. I’ve grocery shopped 1,000 times before, many times alone, but for some reason this time it felt different without shopping for two. I felt intimidated, and somehow exhilarated at the same time. It was new and being on my own, I could buy anything I wanted to without judgement or scrutiny, and that level of freedom should never be granted to a 27 year old man with the pain of a separation who has never lived alone before. I got my staples and reasonably healthy choices, but somehow I decided in a fit of newfound independence that I would buy a family sized box of Fruity Pebbles and a 36 pack of Pop Tarts because in my head I decided “That is what single dudes eat for breakfast on TV so I should too!” I got overwhelmed by my totalitarian rule over myself and rushed out realizing only later that I did not buy produce or any protein. I basically left with items that were 90-100% sugar and some cleaning supplies, an odd combination of necessity and gluttony.  I’m not proud of my decision making abilities in that moment and I am beginning to think maybe Ape brain is more predominate in men, although my sample population is skewed by being too close to the test subject. Chalk it up as a mistrial.

In general, after almost a decade of living alongside someone else, it’s amazing what basic tasks you could make a two person job. There’s a balance even in the most mundane decision making. You hold one another accountable and ground each other so that when you walk down an aisle with breakfast for children, you don’t go grabbing every brightly colored bulk box you can find. The Ape brain covets shiny intricate things, it’s a common issue. 

Perhaps the most jarring aspect of a change like a separation after such a prolonged period of time is when you realize you are alone, truly alone. I don’t mean it like a breakup is the Walking Dead and all your friends are zombies, but when you relocate and move out on your own, you forget how much interaction existed on a day to day level beforehand. I have found myself walking around the apartment talking to no one in particular, stating questions that would normally be meant for my partner. I can only imagine my neighbors reaction to hearing me, very clearly alone, yelling things like “Where are my goddamn keys!” or “I thought I left that over there why the hell did I put it in the kitchen?” or just a plain “Is anyone listening to me right now?!” It must be an adjustment for my neighbors to have to hear me dropping things at 2 in the morning, singing tone deaf renditions of Phil Collins songs while dropping things in the shower in the morning, or swearing about dropping things at basically any time of the day because for some reason I am very aware now of how often I drop things. Dexterity and hand eye coordination took a few millennia to evolve after all.

One could think at this point in the narrative of my new life that I’m coming pretty close to winning a Darwin award and perhaps any hubris about my ability to survive on my own was more of a front than anything, and no one is in that camp of thought more than me. However, if you take into account recent trauma and factor in how quickly I was forced out of the nest that was the last decade while also considering I still have all my appendages and my apartment hasn’t burned down yet, I think it’s reasonable to give me a pass. All in all, I’m doing better than a lot of other people I know who have endured ¼ of the changes I have had to undergo. All things withstanding, I’m alive, and despite the occasional sugar crash from my poor shopping habits ( I went back to get protein today, panicked and bought Eggo Waffles because I thought guests might like those ) I’m thriving. It may not seem that way, but humor aside, there’s redemption in failure. Sometimes you need to slash and burn a crop to grow a stronger one, and sometimes there can be beauty in the ugliest of life’s trials. Maybe the grass isn’t green on either side of the fence, and maybe there isn’t any grass at all, but so long as you have a few seeds and some intermittent sunlight, you can make it work. Even with primitive brains, early man figured out how to make fire.

The Empty Earth

The Empty Earth came about as a reaction to my failing marriage. It was born out of the original fires of doubt, loneliness and misery that accompanied the realization that perhaps this institution I signed up for would not pan out the way I had intended. It was an attempt to subtly and silently fill the gaping void that was left when love was no longer available to me, and this attempt at self came when what was left was no longer strong enough to hold my psyche together. I created this site from pain, and what is here is essentially a map of my struggle to find some sort of clarity in the midst of chaos.

The words and pictures in this site all act as a diary across 9 months of the increasing ache of botched talks and interventions on behalf of what can only be described as an emotional sinking ship. I used it to silently reach out to everyone around me including my wife, a sort of faint cry for help. It both informed the agony I was feeling and acted as a smokescreen to hide it at the very same time. As you skim through the pages, you can see my many stages of grief, making this group of work a very visible and tangible form of my mourning process as it was happening. The teetering marriage that started this site has now found its resting place, and in the same spirit I had passively nodded to its end while it was happening, comes a direct and honest evaluation of how my life got to this point, and hopefully if possible, where the hell it is going to go now that the cards are finally down.

My wife and I met when we were kids. I was freshly 18 and she was 20. I had just started college in a new city that was nothing like the small farm town I grew up in and I had very few friends in my new environment. My wife was this gorgeous spirit, and the embodiment of everything I wanted in a woman. She was fashionable, she was smart, and being two years older than me she had this air about her that made her seem so worldly. Three weeks into our relationship my mom died, and somehow it brought us closer together when in every other situation when a trauma happens that early on people would have split up.

Over 9 years we tumbled back and forth over each other, somehow managing to grow together like spiraling Blackthorn trees, our trunks literally conjoining instead of growing apart (or at least growing side by side as normal trees do.) As we chased sunlight, instead of racing upward we spun around one another, fighting for the same illumination and warmth, but somehow managing to maintain a tight visceral grip upon one another, forever continuing the entanglement and subsequently hindering our ability to individually gain the sustenance we needed as separate beings. We found our sunlight and broke through the canopy when we got married, but after the initial elation of reaching what was essentially a finish line in our heads, we did not know how much oxygen it took to sustain us in our new state, and two trees cannot live off of such limited rations. Our trunks began to unwind, and we began to grow apart; two trees having become one tree began the slow process of returning back into two. Love was lost, and our roots were beginning to grow brittle.

In the face of losing everything I had once had, and everything I had ever hoped I would have, I knew nothing but to dig my nails deep into the slowly decaying flesh of my relationship. With every death rattle, I would choke tighter, trying to gain any affection or passion from its guttural wheeze. Nothing could satiate me, and with every desperate attempt at forcibly excavating any meaning or reassurance out of our union, I further desecrated the body of our relationship. My desire to hold everything together subsequently tore us further apart. 

The desperation slowly turned into an uneasy paralysis. I was in a state of suspended animation, a still frame of panic and despair with a stony facade. The cool and collected still images seen in deep black and white littered across the home page of this site were attempts to take a rapidly moving and unclear situation and slow it down so that it seemed less frenzied. The deep blacks and striking whites seemed to balance out the otherwise extreme grayness of my life. I focused on things I loved, moments in which there was some sort of calm while the beast of heartsickness and anger slept. I tried to bottle them and keep them for later when I thought I could somehow find meaning in their stillness. Photos can tell lies in the same way they can tell truth.

Stories and poems of broken people, broken situations and lofty existential ramblings helped to slowly release the tension that inspired those writings. They helped to place markers on significant events or days that came and went; a sort of high water mark or low water mark at any given time so that I could try and have something to look at and assess my grief. As in any process, towards the end there came despondence. I gave up documenting because I simply didn’t have the energy. My mental fatigue peaked and my emotions, although very much present and at an all-time high, mixed in a way that caused a mental block. I would call it denial that really caused my absence creatively rather than indifference. I was in denial that this thing that had shaped so much of me was coming to an end, and I didn’t feel the point in documenting the decline of something I had convinced myself was no longer declining.

We both fought tooth and nail to keep it alive, but that effort was futile. We destroyed ourselves in an effort to save our relationship. When you grow with someone over nearly a decade, whether it’s romantic or platonic, or in my situation a healthy dose of both, you weave a connection. Speaking every day and sleeping mere inches from one another creates this unexplained connection. Your brains sync and you become one. In our final moments, that connection was still there, although no longer insulated with the protective coating of passion or lust. Looking into the eyes of someone and watching your own heart break in their iris’ can be a disturbing feeling. There is a comfort in their gaze, a familiarity that soothes you despite the knowledge that the focus of those eyes are no longer meant for you.

But, despite the immense weight of the whole first chapter of my adult life coming to an end, and the frustration and fear that accompanied that realization, there came a calming clarity. I no longer needed to fight, the outcome was no longer negotiable, and I was free of the burden that came from trying desperately to resuscitate the cold, dead body of my relationship. There is no fault to be placed, matters in the changes in one’s heart and mind cannot be dictated in terms of guilt or innocence, right or wrong. They simply ebb and flow, as does time, and when the conditions are right, love is created or love is destroyed. That's life. 

What is surprising in the aftermath of this is my ability to think rationally and compassionately. Who would have thought that in the end all there could be was grace? What other option is there? In this moment, looking into the murkiness of the past and the absence of a foreseeable future, all there is left from the erosion we allowed is the high road; A road not yet traveled that would hopefully carry me to a safer place, somewhere far away from the wreckage of this bitter ending.

True friendship is a rare thing in the affairs of romance. I have seen many couples who were romantic but who were not friends, and in their final days, all they could do was settle on pride and hate, because love and friendship were not their default. That cannot be said for my relationship. After the fog lifts and the hurt fades, despite the romantic aspect of our relationship having left, the foundation of mutual respect and friendship will still be there, because something that strong does not get destroyed. My wife watched me torture myself for years, and I did the same. We were each others home, literally and figuratively. We weathered storm after storm and found new ways to cope with anything that was thrown our way. I am forever grateful for her love, and her for constant devotion to giving me happiness, even if at times it came at great personal expense to her own. I want there to be a way we can both travel out of this together, but everyone moves at their own pace, and for now that dusty high road littered with what ifs is mine to take alone until perhaps our paths converge later in life.

The title The Empty Earth has now become literal, at least metaphorically. My world has become singular, and I am left to repopulate my own sphere. It achieved what I created it to achieve and has allowed me some semblance of stability. As I move on from this, I hope to use this site to document this new chapter and to try to bring something new and fresh to its pages. Even though the main reason for beginning this site has seen its conclusion, I believe that there are better things to come out of this endeavor. If anything, there is a whole new genre of stories to tell, of poems to write, and of pictures to take, all of which will be new for me. It's come time to rebuild, in more ways than one.

 

HOUSE VS. HOME

My mom died when I was 18. She died in her sleep in her bed across the hall from my childhood bedroom. My grandfather went that same route 20 years earlier in the same house in a room that sat directly between my bedroom and my mom’s, creating a triangle at the end of a hallway. When my mom passed, I was no longer living in that home, at least not regularly. I was in college so I spent my breaks and vacations at home but otherwise lived in an entirely different world far away from what went on there.

The home that had housed my family for two generations where two highly influential people in my life died slowly became more and more vacant after my mom passed. I was already gone, then my mom died, and soon after that illness struck my dad forcing him into prolonged hospital stays, effectively removing him from the home as well. My sister was the only one left to inhabit the house, but pretty quickly after everything changed she decided to move out because she didn’t want to live alone in what she called "a depressing old house". Even though we all left several years ago, we still own the house, so It has sat entirely empty, vacant except for the drafts from old doorways and the silent lives of window plants. 

As Mother’s Day approaches, I do think of my mom, but more so I think of her in relation to that old house. We still own it (for how much longer no one knows), so that house sits, with occasional visitors to make sure it is doing alright, but otherwise as the days and weeks and years drag on, it slowly ages. I think of my mom’s grave the same way I think of that house. Two pillars marking the resting place of giants, slowly forgotten out of pain and a resulting inability to connect with the past. Places people visit for small periods of time with a confusing mixture of comfort and grief.

When my grandfather died, there were experiences of ghostly activity that my family attested to. When my mom passed, the same sorts of experiences were had. My father, my sister and I all experienced strange things in the house. Maybe we wanted there to be something, or maybe there actually was, at this point my memory is unreliable, but there is a catalyzing moment when it stopped that I wish never occurred. I see that moment as the turning point from the house transforming from a home into what I can only describe as a poorly managed museum.

There were the typical bumps in the night, some worse than others. There was a feeling of a presence, sometimes in a comforting way and sometimes not. There are countless occurrences that have been told to death, many corroborated by those close to me, but in the final one, the one that I remember vividly, it was a night that I was alone in the home and it started with noises I couldn’t identify. Small knocks and pressure on old floorboards. Small bells chimed off in the distance, but close enough that they felt near. They grew more frequent and the knocks and creaks came closer to my room where I was listening with the door shut. As it all swelled, I felt what I could only describe as an inescapable dread. I remember frantically demanding into the air that my mother (or what I considered to be my mother’s spirit) was no longer welcome in the home and that she needed to leave. I told her I loved her but her presence was terrifying and that you can’t scare the ones you love. I told her I was ok with never hearing her again and that if she loved me, she would move on and leave me the hell alone. After that night, no one experienced anything again. The house stayed perfectly silent right through to present day.

I have gone through several extremely difficult periods in my life since those days where I have needed my mother more than I ever needed anyone else. I wanted her when I got engaged and before I got married. I wanted her when I was trying to figure out what to do about my dad’s illness and how to deal with the several times that I had to essentially go say goodbye to him because the doctors thought he was going to die. In those moments, I went to that empty house and walked its silent halls, hoping to feel a presence I knew I would never feel again. I have spoken to the house, more so to my mother who I imagine watches silently over it, pleading with her to reveal herself again and to come to my aid when I needed it, but all I got was the smell of old wood and dust and the feeling that I was extraordinarily alone. A consequence of my own wishes, silently judging me and taunting “you get what you wish for you little prick.”

When people leave us, a part of us goes with them, and sometimes when that person is such an important part of you like my mother was to me, huge fundamental pieces of you simply walk off without you realizing, leaving gaping holes in their place you don’t find until much later in life. I have often imagined that when I demanded my mother leave me, she packed a part of my soul, a part larger than I would ever allow her to take, and took it with her. Maybe she did it out of vengeance and spite, or maybe she wanted it so badly and justified taking it because she felt my soul was large enough that I wouldn’t notice; I’m not really sure.

I do know that current me has been searching for that 18 year old care free version of myself that existed before my mom died for years, and I have found nothing. I have combed through every nook and closet in that house, every dust bunny and spider web. I have played old VHS tapes and read old journals, wondering if I could find him in one of those many areas he used to frequent, but still I have found nothing. He is not in the basement, the attic, the backyard or the garage. I tried looking inward, to see if he retreated into me and never let me know, but ones consciousness is deep and full of hiding places, and as far as I know, it’s the last place he would feel at home.

I worry that he too is silently lurking through that blue raised ranch, watching over those who come and go, never revealing that he is there. My grandfather, my mom and he, milling about that little house, bumping into each other and telling jokes when none of the living are around. When I am there, sometimes I think I catch the old me in a mirror, smiling back at me, reassuring me that he’s still there, but when I take a second look, he is gone. He was quick, I remember that about him; it was all the sports and caffeine he didn’t realize was in the coffee he drank. Maybe that’s why I go to that house so much when no one is around, or worse, maybe that’s why every time I do go; it takes everything in me to leave it. When I do leave, as I take the final step onto the stones that lead to the driveway, I wonder which ghost is actually trapped in that house and which one gets to leave. Some nights, I worry it is the later of the two.

A Letter from a Solider in the Heat of War

Dearest Katherine,

                I hope this letter finds you and that when it does you are well. It feels as though it has been ages since I received your last letter, and I hope that you have not forgotten about me, as you are always on my mind and my eventual return home to you is all that is keeping me going.

We are stationed somewhere in France. The people are kind and the landscape is beautiful, although I don’t much prefer it to home. I think you would find this place lovely and you would want to live here if you saw it. There are flowers everywhere and the land is green and lush. I can just imagine you keeping house in one of these quaint country homes and us taking trips to see the shore as it is not too far from here.

We have been lucky and have not seen any battle since we arrived here, but I have been told to expect enemy forces any day now. I can’t imagine battling in these quiet lands, but so much of my expectations for war and where it could be waged have changed. Sometimes I think war could be waged in front of the gates of heaven under the right circumstances.

Although the pleasantries in our notes are nice and they keep me grounded, I cannot concentrate on anything other than being downright sick not being able to see you and be in our home together. This foreign land and the views of the sea just remind me that it is this war and those waters that keep me half a world away from you. I have half considered abandoning my post and diving into those icy waters to start my journey back home, but If they catch me I’ll rot the rest of this war in jail and I’m not a decent swimmer in calm waters, let alone the breakers of the mighty Atlantic. For now, all I can do is look towards the American shores and hope you might be looking back my way.

I must admit I sometimes worry you do not long for me as I do for you. Being at home, you must have your comforts and your priorities, but I sometimes lay awake at night wondering if you ache for me in the way that I ache for you. Perhaps it is homesickness or a fear of what is to come, but outside of those things I could not imagine fighting these bloody fights to return home and find you not loving me the way you did when I left. It has been so long since we were together last; I am finding it hard to remember the way we used to be before this horrible mess, and perhaps that is where my unease is coming from.

If I return, I want to take you someplace nice so that we might be able to be alone so that I can tell you all of these things and see your face. I want to hear your voice and smell your sweet perfume. I pray you have not moved on from me, as I am unsure I could ever move on from you or that I would ever want to. I hate this war for ever coming between us and planting such rotten seeds of doubt in my mind, and know that If I could change it, no sea or land would be between us tonight.

I know you do not care for such discussion, but should I not return from this solitary land, know that I loved you with every fiber of my being. Know that if my heart is all that’s left of me, should it be intact when I am found, it should be buried next to my mother’s plot back home where I hope you will visit me from time to time. And please know that I would never haunt you, but that I would be with you should you want me there, keeping watch over you and looking out for your safety. I do not plan on letting death be the final ocean to come between us, but should it occur, you should know how I feel.

Please write back soon, your letters are such a comfort to me and they make this foreign place seem a little more like home. Again, I hope you are well and should I make it through to the end of this mess, I cannot wait to see you.

Yours with love and affection,

Samuel

Obsessive // Compulsive

The young man sat in the dark looking out the south window of his apartment as the headlights of cars on the main stretch danced through the room as they passed. This was a familiar place for him as of late, and the solitude of watching and waiting was becoming all too routine. As the early morning hours waned, he began to feel the prickly sensation of anger and anxiety slowly creep up his spine, past his neck and build inside his skull. He knew he could be anywhere else doing anything else, and yet time after time, this was what he chose.

Every car that passed slowly, he would feel a surge of relief, believing the car he was searching for was finally arriving and that he would be able to sleep easy soon and that feeling of loneliness and abandonment, albeit unjustified, would come to an end. But, as every such car passed the driveway and continued on into the night, unaware of the young man's anticipation, his hope and self respect slipped ungracefully to new lows.

The young man thought back on how he had gotten here in the first place as he had done many times before, and each mental retelling took something out of him, leaving each retold story blurrier than the last; a copy of a copy. He did not waste his time trying to recall an exact date or moment in which things had changed because he truly could not remember a time frame, but he did remember the beginning in terms of the shift between the then and now.

He remembered happiness, but he did not remember what happiness felt like. He knew that at one point, he was content, but trying to recall the emotional sensation of being content was painful, because everywhere he looked he found nothing but the ache of further confusion. He had learned not to try to recall emotions for which he had no basis for, so he simply moved on to the rest of the story, trying to piece it together like the small bits of a broken vase.

There was sunlight, and cheering. He remembered driving on a foreign coast and sleeping in unfamiliar homes. There was reminiscing and there was pride. He vaguely remembered talks of a future someplace new and exciting. Then things got blurry again. There was drinking, and crying, and laughing, then more of the same. He remembered bursts rage and moments of clarity. His recollection got blurry again but he remembered a door slam and being alone. Worse yet, for only a brief second, he remembered that somehow he had caused this. Then, as he remembered very well, there was this room and there was nothing else.

The young man squinted at a car far down the main stretch, wondering if this would be the car he was looking for. He felt clarity for a moment as he thought that perhaps he had made everything up and that he was his own prisoner, a slave to his own neurosis. He tried to change the worry in his head to enlightenment, but as the car neared and then passed the driveway, the enlightenment disappeared and the anger was back. The young man suddenly erupted with a fury and jumped up. He furled his brow and whispered "fuck it" and left the room. He went into his kitchen and got a drink of water and then went down the hall to a bedroom adjacent to the room he was just in.

He got into bed and turned out the lights. He told himself that he should accept the things he could not control and he half expected it to calm him, which it did not. He was tired, bone tired. This had been all too regular for him. He knew he wanted to sleep, but with his brain soaked with images of distress and the anger that they caused, he felt panic that there would be a much longer night ahead of him.

He began to wonder if he even knew what he was waiting for. He couldn't find an answer for why he felt the way he did, which caused him to become more anxious. He began to obsess over his obsessiveness. He felt his eye lids twitch and flutter as they slowly closed, like a feather falling from the limb of a tree. As he felt the weight of the night and his own mania fall over him, head heard a car lock chime outside his window, and he descended into slumber.

Those Days Are Over

On Saturdays my dad and I used to get up early to go to the dump. We would grab the week’s trash, throw it in the back of my dad’s red Ford truck and head out. The dump was on the exact other side of the town from where we lived, so it generally took most of the morning to do. Add in a stop at Dunkin’ Donuts for my dad to get coffee on both the ride there and the ride back, plus my dad arguing the price of bulky waste and it would be almost lunch by the time the whole thing was done.

What I remember most about these trips besides the free donut I would score for even agreeing to go, is hearing my dad talk about growing up and his love for music. He would brag about seeing The Rolling Stones play in small clubs, and being in the crowd and seeing Led Zeppelin sell out Madison Square Garden. He had story after story about these music icons and witnessing history as it unfolded around him.

My dad’s fondness for music fueled an insatiable urge in me to love and witness music the same way he did. Maybe it was that my dad was a hard guy to read and get love out of, and maybe I thought that if I could love music as much as he did, it might make it easier for me to understand him or vice versa. I’m not exactly sure why, but I remember those rides being the spark that turned into the fire that is my love for music.

As I quit listening to radio rock and immersed myself into punk rock and various other genres of music, I started to rebel against my dad’s taste. I saw the kids at school in Pink Floyd tee shirts and I found them pathetically out of touch with where music was at the time. I was a modernist, and I only wanted what was new and unfolding around me. I thought that all the bands of my generation would trump the old fools of my dad’s generation, and that my era would take the torch and carry it on. I saw myself growing up and feeding my kids the same nostalgic stories my dad fed me about these cool bands I was into. I saw myself handing down back patches to an eager son or daughter who would sit in the side seat of my truck on weekends, eagerly soaking up stories of stage dives and mosh calls the way I once had about stories of smoking weed in the desert at a festival and seeing Black Sabbath. 

A little ways down the road I joined bands and met bands I had looked up to and saw myself and all my contemporaries as immortal and pure. We were going to change the world man. Then, after a few years, I started to fade out of all of it. I started to grow out of my rebellion against my fathers era and started rebelling against my own. I lost that kill the father raise the child mentality in music and started re educating myself on rock and roll, country, blues, etc. I started to see these bands I had grown up idolizing breaking up and becoming unknowns. “What is so and so from what’s their name doing these days? Oh wikipedia doesn’t even know? Shit they’re all broke? Wait what band are you talking about?” Spotify allowed me to revisit the graves of all the bands I liked when I was a teenager and the headstones aren’t pretty. As of late, we have seen unprecedented revival tours, but even then, after the original buzz and the first few festivals end, those bands go right back to their lives where they were, maybe with a little extra padding in their pockets for the time being, but people still forget. The pedestal is fragile and fleeting.

There is no new Led Zeppelin in our world and I doubt there ever will be again. I mean this both for anything coming out of the so called "underground" as well as the mainstream. There are too many bands, too many labels, to many genres, and too many basements or festivals to keep careers going that otherwise would have and should have ended. The frontier for music has been found and settled, and much like when the Wild West ended,  the experience was boxed up and mass produced on a smaller scale. The Wild West experience was boiled down into Wild West Shows, and yes they’re fun to watch and fulfilling enough, but it’s not the real thing, because the real thing had happened and could never happen again.

It all makes me truly wonder if my kids will be as envious of me as I was of my dad when I tell them I saw Alkaline Trio a dozen times, or that I saw Coheed and Cambria for free in Central Park one time. It just doesn’t seem to have that same special ring to it. It all depends on what way you look at it I guess. At the end of the day, Isn’t seeing people play instruments on a stage the same no matter when it happens? Yes, in essence, and who cares what my hypothetical children of the future think about music, because I believe they will loathe whatever I like eventually in the same way I did to my dad. The key component is legacy. What will this generation pass on in the world of arts and culture to the next generation? It certainly won’t be any of the bands I’m paying to go see. Are Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Fetty Wap enough to impress future dump-run children, or will just the promise of a donut be enough?

The Show Must Go On

“Stop the music and pull up the stage lights! God, this scene isn’t working!”

The stage fills with light but the seating is still in total darkness

“What are you finding so challenging about it?” asks a soft voice from the blackness.

“I have no idea how to play this part, the character changes every few scenes, there’s no consistency.”

“That’s the character Chris, that’s how it was written.”

“I don’t get it, he’s happy one second, he’s miserable the next, one second things are going great and the next thing you know it's a train wreck, It’s impossible how fast those switches occur!”

“What’s so impossible about it?”

“It’s unnerving. Why would you write this character like this?”

“...Are you questioning my writing?” the voice said with a hint of annoyance.

“No.. I just don’t get the angle.”

“The only way this play is going to work is if everyone plays their parts correctly.”

“What about the love interest in this play? What about the friends? Everyone in this play gets re writes as often as they want and they get to improv half of their lines and re work their characters and I’m stuck playing to every literal word!” yells the man on stage as he throws down his script

There is silence in the black audience. A moment passes without a whisper.

“God?”

No one answers.

The man on stage paces back and forth, angrily kicking his script around the stage.

“Chris.”

“Where were you?” The man on stage demands

“Worry about your part, this issue is not my problem, it is yours.”

“You always do this! You're on me, then you zone out, and the blame always gets put back on me. What kind of a director do you think you are!?"

“You seem to be forgetting who you are speaking to!” The voice from the crowd bellows. “ I hired you for this part, and I have every ability to cut you from this play!”

“What if I just quit! What if I just pack my shit and leave?” The man on stage demands as he casts an icy glare into the darkness beyond the stage. " I didn't even want this part, you chose me for it! I had no say in any of this!"

“I have heard that argument a million times before and it's bogus every time I hear it. You chose the part just as much as it chose you. As for quitting, you know what happens to someone who quits my plays. You will not find work if you quit this Chris, I promise you that, I won't allow it."

The voice takes a break and softens.

"Besides, this role is made for you; you just don’t want to accept that. You are spending all of your time focusing on the aspects of the part you don’t want to play, that you are missing the parts that make this role so unique and compelling. You are so hung up on the dynamic between you and the love interest that you are losing sight of the struggle your character faces in his own plot-line. You worry about the friends, but they are playing their roles perfectly, with little complaints may I add. You need to look at this character as a hurdle, not as a wall."

The voice begins to get louder and more stern.

"Relish the challenge, lose your fucking attitude, and play the part the way It is meant to be played! There is wiggle room for improv but so far everything you have tried has sucked. Figure it out Chris and make it work. Until you do, I’m not helping anymore, and If you quit, I will make sure you never get work in this town again!”

The man on the stage stands silent, frozen in his position. After a moment he speaks.

“Should I start from where I left off?”  He asks meekly.

He gets no answer as the stage lights dim and the music begins to play.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

In my experience, I have found that depression and anxiety are moving targets. They are shapeshifters. The combination of the two is essentially Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th, and after you think you defeat him, he disappears into the murky lake and comes back again to kill you, most likely while you are trying to have sex with a hot lifeguard or when you smoke weed. In my case, much like the Friday The 13th series, this has happened 12 times with plans for more, and every year it seems like there’s a new remake with new characters but the same old killer.

Statistics show that 1 in every 10 American adults suffers from depression, and anxiety disorders plague around 18% of the U.S. population. I combine anxiety and depression into one category because it's not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa, and with both the symptoms overlap quite a bit. Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and parasitic on those plagued by it.

An unknown statistic is how many “funny people” out there suffer from one or either of the diseases; however it is well known that many of the greats in comedy have suffered from and many times succumbed to both. The assumption is that the two can often times go hand in hand even without empirical data to prove that, and it raises the question whether being depressed makes you funny or whether funny people just plain get depressed.

Depression and anxiety themselves can actually be funny, I have found this to be true when retelling stories from episodes in which I was suffering from one or either the most. I think the humor comes from the ineptitude to follow rational thought, and therefore ridiculous things happen because your brain is too clogged up with the panic and the smog to deal with anything else other than trying to flush them out. The kicker is that you have to flush out the bullshit to be able to appreciate how absurd it really was, because in the moment, nothing is funny and everything sucks.

One instance that I find appropriately tickling is one time right before my honeymoon when my wife and I were trying to go through security at the airport. My wife often gets the brunt of my anxiety when traveling, and coincidentally handles it quite well and acts as my studio audience for when I’m ready to laugh about it. We had stayed up late the night before opening wedding gifts because we had pushed it off to be able to attend a cookout at my dad’s house. When our 3am alarm went off, we had gotten about 3 ½ hours of sleep so we were cooked, and we had to load the car with our luggage in the pouring rain, drive an hour to the airport in the pouring rain, and then sprint from a faraway long term parking lot to get into our terminal. My nerves were going already, and the rain had soaked my entire body, but my shorts got the brunt of the soaking as did my underwear. My wife was rushing, and we decided to go to the bathroom quick, but as a result of my unfortunate drenching, I decided to change. Feeling the time crunch, I changed into jeans but did not change my underwear, so as we walked towards security I had on warm jeans with sopping wet boxers underneath them clinging to my like an extremely cold and wet below the belt hug.

I hate the airport and I hate the security line so my nerves were really going and with my sleep deprivation in full show, I was barely able to do anything other than check my pockets repeatedly for guns and an ISIS badge that my obsessiveness made me consider that I had. The airport had installed this odd wind tunnel that you step in and it checks your whole body and you step out. It seems revolutionary in hindsight and was not something to be worried about, but in my head it was a lie detector that could read every bad thought and injustice I had ever committed and my incarceration was soon approaching. My wife went through, and she was fine. There are breaks in anxiety for profound things, and sometimes dull things that seem profound, but in that moment, right before my doom, seeing her walk through that tunnel smiling and putting her shoes back on drove home how happy I was she was my wife. Two days before we had committed to this, but in that moment, although for no reason at all, she looked beautiful and I felt calm. Then it was my turn, and no wife or happy thoughts could save me.

Shoeless and beltless, I stepped into the truth cage that I briefly was worried would morph into a gas chamber, and the wind began and the detector started detecting and with a whirl of the wands it finished and I heard a loud buzzing noise as I stepped out. They told me I was failing the test and had to go back in. “Fuck, they found a knife or some bottle with too much liquid and I’m going to Guantanamo. Goodbye Netflix and Cheese-It’s! Goodbye Freedom!” I thought. I went back in, my mind raging with fear and panic as my wife watched me get checked by the honesty machine. I stepped back out and heard the familiar buzz again. I could see on the screen outside of the machine to my left the image of a human man with a giant red circle around his crotch. Two T.S.A. agents came over and I froze. One big man said “Sir, we are showing a "crotch anomaly", can you tell us what is causing it?” It took me a minute to not laugh at the phrase "crotch anomaly" and then another minute to think of why my crotch would be going off. Again, the worry about weaponry and a possible terrorist tattoo that I didn't ever get popped into my head until I realized that I was failing the detector because my underwear was wet. I had to somewhat loudly explain in front of a bunch of curious onlookers why my underwear was wet but my jeans weren’t while I got my crotch felt by security and while my wife snickered in the background. They took my story after a few minutes of being skeptical and let me go. I grabbed my shit as quickly as possible and off we were.

The trip was full of these types of occurrences. I took Tylenol P.M. thinking it would replace the anxiety medication I left at home, and then had to walk the Vegas strip and watch a burlesque show high on P.M. medicine. Once I got my medicine by calling home, I overcompensated and took too much and in the morning I was found sleeping in a bed with a scorpion and once alerted I barely flinched. A few days later I lost two nights of sleep worrying about a well known female hotel ghost raping me because I read she was into male visitors, and various other bizarre events occurred on our two week married victory lap.

I have been able to create a witty and humorous persona to compensate for the darker side of myself, and in general through this I believe I have been able to make my default personality the bright one, as opposed to letting the dark one reign supreme. There are a lot more events in the spectrum of these dark episodes that are not funny, and those moments make me wish away any comedic skill to be able to never feel the darkness again, but I do admit I am grateful for being able to strike the balance I have.

The hardest part in all of this is that when things are good, you worry that lurking around any corner is the hockey masked killer waiting to ambush you with his machete made of hopelessness and panic. When things are bad, your brain chemistry seems to change as you are in the embrace of it, and you forget ever feeling good before. There is a pervasive feeling that nothing good will ever come again. American existential psychologist Rollo May summed it up best when he said “Depression is the inability to construct a future.”

I don’t think the right response to feeling this way is to hide it. I agree that some people can overshare, and I can sometimes fall into that camp, but if you are to hold in all of the madness, I believe it changes you for good, and your default becomes the dark, not the bright. I believe that in our American culture, my experience is not unique, but I don’t see others accepting it and bringing it out of the shadows the way I attempt to, and that scares me, because I believe sooner or later, the slasher becomes the slashed, or worse, you have a “I Spit on Your Grave” revenge narrative where the only success is a high body count which we see all too often in this modern day.

Front to Back : A General Musing on Time

There is a finite amount of time in any given day. To be exact, there are twenty four hours in a day, or if we were being real sticklers for the facts, a complete rotation of the Earth actually takes 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.1 seconds. Regardless of the technical facts, 7 billion people ramble through that cycle every day, 365 times a year, and if you are lucky you get to do that whole process a handful of times. I live in a first world country, so my twenty four hours looks a lot different than someone’s twenty four hours from a tribe in the Amazon, but my point still stands that a day is finite, as is a year, or even a lifetime.

The famous question “where does the time go” is actually a loaded question, because not only do you have to answer the whole question of where it is that time goes, you also have to answer where time comes from and what the hell time even is. I realize we have an understanding of hours, minutes, seconds, and so on, but there is a larger theory of time that makes the whole topic much broader but a lot less concrete.

We thought for a long time that time flowed like a river because of a theory of time called “The Arrow of Time” theory. This is how Doc Brown accomplished heading back into the past, and subsequently as the film so accurately describes in its title, this is how he headed back to the future. The DeLorean was a boat, and he had some complications going upstream, but nonetheless time was portrayed as being linear so it was a straight shot in both directions. The idea of a linear singular time, has been hotly contested, and in general, widely debunked. A professor at M.I.T. Dr. Bradford Skow put out a “ Block time” theory in early 2015 that essentially argues that the past present and future all operate together, and that we exist at any given time temporarily scattered in time.

The “Block Time” theory is important because it implies that although everything you experience does actually exist, it can’t be played back or revisited in a literal sense, because travel between the different times is not possible due to the block. Time is laid out in the way that a floor full of a child’s toys are laid out, and we have to think of those toys are moments. The child is continuously moving and scattering the toys, so a toy is never in the same place at the same time, making it impossible to find the toy after it has been played with initially. If time were linear moments, it would be more like toys or moments were neatly stacked in a toy box and every toy gets put away right after it has been played with as opposed to just being scattered about. In a linear sense, it would be possible to re play with these toys as they are right where they were left the last time they were played with. The key point in the Block Time idea is that we can never revisit old positions as we are now in a different part of space-time, and the old points in time we once inhabited are moving and being scattered along with us, making it impossible to ever visit them again.

The real world implication to this, besides me focusing on being incredibly butt hurt that I can’t drive a car into the past and have wild adventures, is that you can’t re live a moment. Your childhood, High school, college, or the first experience of anything cannot be rewound and played back. This is true now and nothing significant is gained by that knowledge, but we were working towards a future where that was possible. For me, I held out hope that I could go back in time and see my mom again before she died, see my parents meet, fight for the Union at the Battle of Gettysburg, or visit J.K. Rowling as she was writing Harry Potter. These are foolish, but we all have them, and now thanks to some Professor, I’ll never have that.

If someone far beyond my age were to read this, or any of my writings in which I discuss my age and how the years are passing me by, they would probably spit in my face. They would wonder why the hell I am so obsessed with fleeting time, and they would propose that I have every opportunity to go out and make new glory days or go and be a part of the new Harry Potter If I wanted to, to which I would scoff and start a heated tirade that there could never be a new Harry Potter or anything better than Harry Potter and so on until they get to the point of murdering me. Theoretical arguments aside, this professor proved not only that Y.O.L.O is 100% a reality, but that also it makes no sense for me to continue worrying about the past and being so obsessed with time lost.

I want to put forth something else as well. I suppose that to those who know me, I do dwell heavily on the past, more in an anecdotal way than anything else, but I still do like to bring it up. Some say people do this when they aren’t happy in the present. In my case, that is actually categorically untrue. I love where I am, and where I came from, although hilarious at times and full of once in a lifetime occurrences, it was full of embarrassment and missteps. I like to go over it so much because it acts as almost a handbook, and it shows me how much I have grown. It helps me accept where things went wrong and relish in where things went right. It also reinforces who I have grown into, and the person I grew into on most days is someone I never dreamed I could've been. I bagged the girl of my dreams and we are happily married with a great home, I am focusing on my writing which is light-years from where it used to be, my bill of health is clean, I have easily some of the best friends in the world, and all In all I actually believe it when I say that I think I'm a pretty cool guy. The fundamental issue is not that I lost time before, it’s that I don’t want to lose the time I have now in the way that I lost the time before. I didn’t appreciate what I had or even realize what I had when I had it, and what I did have then doesn't hold a flame to what I have now, so my key fear in terms of time and loss is that I will squander the amazing point in my life and never have an opportunity to live in the moment once the moment is gone.

For now, knowing this is one thing, and acting on it is a totally different beast. I know barely anyone who takes their own advice, and the amount of times I have acted on my own advice is hovering close to 0. Maybe there is no time machine coming for me, and maybe time doesn’t operate like it does on "Lost" or on "Doctor Who" like I once dreamed it would. For now, not having life be like Television is probably in my favor. I have to cherish what I have now and stop caring about losing it, because in effect, that very act has caused me to lose enough already.



Real Recognizes Real

The idea that one reality is greater than or more accurate than another reality is a quandary that has troubled me for some time, and frankly I do not see any end in sight to the worry and frustration this issue has caused me. I believe this is such an issue for me because it is challenging for me, and for anyone really, to pull myself out of my own reality, which has been shaped by every minuscule event over the entire duration of my life, and put myself into someone else’s for which I have no possible way to gain any insight into those important indicators that have shaped their viewpoint. What is most troubling, and why it is even remotely worth considering and trying to understand, is that we live in a world of polarized realities, and even worse, of non-realities that masquerade as being authentic. 

We will start off with the mundane, and move further into the grandiose, so that we might be able to effectively iron out what the issue with this dilemma is. Lets imagine that two people get married, and they come to the table with completely different backgrounds on a familial sense (at least we hope in these modern times). They come together with totally different experiences, habits, and possibly different interests although that is generally par for the course. For many, these differences are a positive thing ( think opposites attract ), but as time goes on, although joined in a union, these people still continue to expand and adapt their realities on an individual level. This happens all the time, and it is a perfectly healthy thing to do. However, in some cases, this growing and morphing can drive two people, who at one time shared a very similar reality, to be living in two worlds so far removed on a fundamental level, that their shared reality is no longer applicable or present, and of course we know that this can lead to a separation of their life together and new futures for the two of them, possibly two wildly different futures neither had anticipated.

This same ideology can be applied more broadly and topically to this election season we find ourselves in. You can’t go 5 minutes without hearing how crazy Donald Trump is or how unappealing Hilary Clinton is or how scary people find Bernie Sanders or how unlikable Ted Cruz is. Just the chatter alone about candidates and people’s fears about the direction of the country is nothing special, and I'm not saying this season is any different in that sense. This behavior is the same in any given political race going back as far as there were political races. So, what is it that makes this one so worrisome? It all goes back to the idea of reality. We have seen unprecedented turnout and enthusiasm for both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump because of how unique their supposed "anti-establishment" platforms are. I would argue that although we have seen so much coverage on these two, we have heard even more nonstop about their supporters. Really, the critique comes down to their supporters more than the candidates, because these people are living lives that have been said to be marginalized and isolated for a good deal of time before this election started, at least in a political sense. The supporters are where the reality takes shape, and where the breakdown in shared reality is most present.

We're all American right? The answer may not be a simple yes as we have once thought it was. As the country polarizes, its identity changes, and from that emerges a new identity, or identities to be more accurate. In some scenarios, this is important and necessary, like when we look at social progress and the continuation of the melting pot that has shaped how diverse and multi faceted our American culture is. The issue is when it comes to the parties, particularly the two main parties fighting for control of the country. If we peel this back further, the two party system can be tied back to the married couple analogy I brought up before. We have a couple, once just two individuals by themselves who came together and made a decision to be married. In our country's case this is a second marriage we are talking about, but the analogy still applies. The union grew, but as it grew both parties grew individually too. One side decided it wanted to take up studying the environment and social change and the other didn’t like how their partner was spending money and what they were spending it on and sooner or later, after small changes in viewpoint and interests grew into large hot button differences, both sides were living in totally different realities that caused them to split further apart and not be able to communicate any way other than with extreme hostility and hate. Finally, the rift became so big that reconciliation became impossible. Politically as a country, we are the children of divorce, with each parent trying to persuade us the other parent is the wrongdoer. We are bought off as the only way to be shown love, and the two continue to fight, openly at that, as we watch and wait, hoping our parents will get back together although we know deep down they wont.

If all of this isn’t hard enough, you bring in the internet and social media where people can be whoever or whatever they want, and even if they want to pretend to be something totally different or not at all real, they can be. You get trolls and troublemakers alike, along with marketing and big data creating digital havoc one small interaction at a time. If the point is lost on you, go spend 15 minutes reading YouTube comments. It could be any video, it’s the dealers choice. Find a baby or a puppy video and you will see the most hateful, disgusting content, all for the sake of either inciting other people with fiction for fun or actually expressing extreme hatred, and unfortunately you never know which motivation is the true one. It is in this toxic environment of false truths that political ads are sprinkled in for good measure, and the internet with all of its anonymous glory that plays host to these public forums where we can say whatever we want, and not be penalized for it. Beachbabe69 or dirtbikekid11 can say whatever their heart desires about foreigners, the economy, race, or any other category that would suggest a deeper distaste for someone or something and with the exception of their photo, which half the time is a cat or a meme, no one can call them out. This type of behavior is rampant on both sides of the aisle in terms of political taste.

Some say mental illness is on the rise, or that stress and anxiety are at an all-time high. Some would argue that it has stayed constant, and that people just have more of an outlet now to express it and that the media makes money off of reporting this to be the case for the sake of readership/viewership. This same ideology is applied to the fanaticism that has engulfed any and all of the candidates in this race. The media draws battle lines, and drafts in their audience, further creating divisions. To me, I think it is irrelevant, because at the end of the day, as selfish as it sounds, my reality is all that I can process. I believe the world is changing, and that we are seeing ourselves separate and be torn in different directions, sometimes a different direction each day, or each hour some days. There are one thousand ways to have an idea or a product marketed to you, and there are infinite ways you can process them. Maybe it is naivety to think there was a simpler era, and maybe I am a dead ringer for the stereotype of the wistful millennial who yearns for something I never knew, but I find it hard to be able to put myself in the shoes of a Trump supporter, or to ignore the glaring inconsistencies in Clinton's record. I can't ignore the Texas style blind eye Cruz casts on any social issues and I really can't understand how a revolution can be led by Sanders when he too blindly ignores key issues for the sake of adhering to his own narrow vision. I can't do these things because my reality won’t let me. Politics, the internet, and the mass of general opinions are all grey and I live in a world that has to be more black and white. Again, it could be ignorance, but I believe there was a time when a fact was a fact and people held true to one belief or standpoint instead of purposely blurring the lines to confuse the real issues.

I suppose what worries me is the question of where do we go from here?  As humans we are adept at finding bridges to meet on when we need to get things accomplished, but as a relatively young person whose reality is shaped by 9/11 and the recession, I thought a bridge should have been built a long time ago, yet all I see are different factions agreeing that they want a bridge but spending all their time arguing over what color the bridge should be. In one breath these factions say the children are our future but then in another breath they dictate who these children can and cannot marry and they raise them to hate other children even more so than they were ever capable of doing. As my mind tumbles on with fleeting thoughts of red faced politicians and religious figures yelling at each other from floating balls in the sky, I think to myself “Is this even worth writing about? Am I just some stick in the mud alarmist who can’t adapt?” I realize now this is what scares me. What if I can’t adapt? Where is the line in the sand that I can’t cross? This not so fictional line where the world leaves me behind as it progresses towards what I consider insanity, and as a result I decide to buy whatever the future version of a “Make America Great Again” hat is and yell at the television about some kind of America I dreamed up but never actually lived in.

Every Time I Die at College Street Music Hall ( AUG. 2015 )

Written By: Chris Hague

Photos By: John Kritzman

Last night, New Haven’s newest venue College Street Music Hall hosted the Common Vision tour headlined by Every Time I Die with direct support from pop punk up and comers Real Friends. This is undoubtedly the first of its kind for the venue by way of the style of music and demographic of the crowd. I wasn’t sure how it would work, but the venue lent itself surprisingly well to the crowd and their staff didn’t overcompensate with the brash physicality as we are so used to seeing from similar venues in the area at shows like these.

College Street Music Hall recently opened its doors in May of this year and boasts a 2,000 person capacity, several bar areas, as well as balcony seating. It is an impressive space to say the least, and it complements the spirit of the New Haven live music and bar scene perfectly. If you haven’t been, it’s your classic re furbished theater with tall ornate ceilings, various viewing levels so there’s never a bad view of the stage, and dim but somehow inviting lighting. What differentiates it from its contemporaries (think Lupo's in Providence or The Palladium in Worcester) is that you get the feeling of its grandiose antiquity without all of the grime, maybe just because they are new, but they also made it feel modern around the bars, entrance, etc.

Besides all of the bands and a lot of the crowd commenting on the venue, the other buzz topic all night was how mixed the genres were on this tour, and for some of us, how old we felt amongst the fans of some of the openers. Every Time I Die is well known for mixed bill tours (think their tour with GWAR that came through Toad’s, or essentially every time they are on Warped Tour) so for those few seeking genre purity, this was by and far not what you’d expect. Keith Buckley, the vocalist of ETID, commented on what everyone was undoubtedly thinking, saying that they knew the tour lineup was varied and crossed a lot of genres, but he added that “that’s what is cool about hardcore kids,” noting that despite there being such a mixed bill, hardcore kids are notoriously accepting and that’s what makes a tour like this one work. Some brave few even raised their hands when Buckley asked if anyone had never heard of them before and just came to see Real Friends but stuck around to see what the buzz was about.

 

The night had a good mixture of serious music, with none of the bands taking themselves too seriously. It wasn’t until Counterparts, a melodic hardcore band from Canada, played that the crowd began to get into participating, but even before they started their set, the long and skinny pit area opened up and the crowd was unanimously hooked. Vocalist Brendan Murphy had some deep words to share, but also was able to laugh at himself when he fell offstage during a sing along part. Real Friends held their own despite being labeled the odd duck on the tour, and though some of the older element in the crowd flocked to the bar, they kept things moving and kept it lighthearted and interesting before Every Time I Die took the stage.

The thing that is so awe inspiring about seeing Every Time I Die live, whether it is for the first time or in my case seeing them regularly for over 10 years, is that they are very clearly having fun. During their set Keith made it a point to high five every person who crowd surfed to the barrier, and the rest of the band was never in one place very long, specifically Jordan Buckley, who climbed his cabs multiple times and spent a solid amount of his time jumping around and getting close to the crowd, who couldn’t get enough of the band’s antics.

The other perfect thing about seeing Every Time I Die live is that they mix up all of their records, and even when touring on a new record, they play a few songs from each release reaching all the way back to 2001’s “Last Night in Town.” On this tour, they even included a cover of Nirvana’s “Tourette’s” which was a welcome surprise.

This tour offered up a little something for everyone, and Keith Buckley was right when he said the crowd was accepting, because the whole night seemed to mesh perfectly despite the vastly different ages and tastes that came together to join in on watching this bill. Whether you like pop punk, hardcore, metal core, or whatever lurks in between, you got what you paid for, and speaking for myself, I left the venue feeling a sense of hope and even pride about the state of shows in New Haven and its apparent bright future with College Street Music Hall at the wheel.