Celer – Xièxie

As this mild winter comes to a close, I find myself once again deep in a state of reflection, discernment, and change – not sad, as these conditions often entail, but perceptive once again. I have been reading a lot of ambient music reviews and find others in parallels of contemplation.

The poignance and lucidity ambient music helps draw out is a shared, conscious experience: precise emotions rising from within, experiences heightened and amplified, a sense of wonder bestowed upon the ordinary. It’s an interesting perspective to have while reading, turning the window of a bus into a critical lens, or the perimeter of a sidewalk into a winding labyrinth. It helps one see value and meaning in other’s experiences, from the ordinary to the transcendental. The ability to relate cannot be diminished, warped or stolen from us; it is an intangible asset of enrichment that enhances our perspective of others, and to engage in a effulgent medium that adds to that is such a meaningful process. And when there is resolution, the reader themselves partakes in that victory.

I have been dealing with a longstanding struggle recently. Ironically, this struggle is sourced from a lack of struggle. Growing up, I was blessed to never be for want: food was always on the table, our house was always warm, and while my family didn’t always get along, we loved each other enough not to walk away (and still do). That’s not to say it was always easy, but it was never as hard as it could be. As I’ve grown older and interacted with more people (especially in the workplace), I have found myself increasingly isolated by my struggle-less perspective. There is a unspoken validity granted to those whose lives have been a challenge. For many, there was no where to go but up, and that was, and still is, worth fighting for.

My first attempt to resolve this was in college. I felt disconnected from friends and peers alike and wanted to be taken [more] seriously. I remember taking an extra leap in each conversation, grasping for straws of meaning and depth that weren’t there. What experiences did I have that could amount to a unique critical lens that added value to another’s perspective? Not enough, and I think most people saw through that façade with ease. Relationships terminated, friendships tapered off, and I missed out on valuable progression professionally and socially that set me back. Still, I trudged along, pretentiously surmising that it was others who were wrong for misinterpreting my viewpoints.

I walked into my first full-time job in 2014 with a similar disposition: why am I here if my unique perspective does not add value? But you can’t skate by in a performance-driven position, where bodies are hired to fill seats and results determine how warm they get. I was vastly outperformed by old and young peers alike, and continued to lament factors outside of myself that I believed were suppressing my potential. I was eventually edged out of my position by management by way of ultimatum (“You have 30 days to find a new job here or you’re fired”), and accepted a new position shortly thereafter for less pay and a less-than-ideal schedule.

My second attempt to resolve my struggle (or lack thereof) was in 2016. I was dating someone new, I felt divinely inspired by the new work I was doing, and I shed the aforementioned critical perspective that had bled its way into every facet of my being over the decade that preceded it. Still, I maintained the serious demeanor to act as a binding agent for the new life I wanted to love. This ended up being auspicious in the workplace – shrugging off stress and having a willingness to grow are conducive to success in corporate America, after all. Working in opposition to all of this of course was a souring relationship that eventually culminated in the phrase “I’m just not going to be happy with you.” How could anyone?

Two years and change removed from that, I usher in a third attempt, not the product of epiphany or influx, but the resurfacing and subsequent confrontation of my long-ignored, suppressed struggle: what have I given up in the search for meaning?

In short, my answer to that is people. 2020 saw the birth of my nephew, the death of my last-remaining grandparent, the fostering of a new job, the near death of my cat, the nurturing of several new friendships, and, most expectedly, the listening of a plethora of great ambient music. Ultimately these things have helped me realize that not everything has to be dissected and ripped apart, leaving no stone unturned, for its existential purpose. It is okay to celebrate, to be joyous, and to be thankful for the enrichment others provide us, and for our potential to enrich others as well. After all, they would do the same for me.

People have become the wax that keeps the candle burning. The truth is I’ve always had people around, but I’ve never cared enough to listen. Asking questions, engaging, knowing when to be responsive and when only to listen, has granted me so much perspective. There is so much value in learning, sharing, and ultimately helping others. It is a joyous process and one worth celebrating. If only the clock could be rewound so I could hear, once again, the words I have missed.

I write all this with a tinge of irony, of course. This post is just one droplet intercepted from the sea of somber, reflective blog posts inspired by ambient music, and is probably still too existential for most. But I feel inspired to reach out and help, to listen when necessary, and to ground myself with the perspective of others.

Autechre – SIGN

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“How odd I can have all this inside me and to you it’s just words” ~ David Foster Wallace

I found it quite fitting that Autechre released SIGN during what is hopefully the latter half of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Amidst a flurry of panic, hurried data, and incompetent decision making worldwide, it was nice to find a pocket of very emotional electronic music buried beneath the soot – a dignified sign of life pushing against the harsh grain of emotional aridity.

“Unprecedented times” is the 2020 buzzword for me. The next time I hear it will be the 10,000th. This is the reactionary prompt from the regularly uncaring, the regulated drop of empathy in our emotional coffee, and the sobering reminder that, to many, sympathy is no more than a chore when things are good and no less than an obligation during crises. Corporations will bend and bow to the trendiest movements, but never truly align themselves. Within the deeply encoded high level speech is the unbreaking precedence that they only care because they have to, and for as long as they need to. As the body counts continue to pile up it has become increasingly clear that nothing lies beyond the thin veneer of optimistic vomit spewed daily by our employers and elected officials. If we want answers, we must find them; if we want love, we must give it; if we want light, we must seek it. Beneath the furor, I hold hope that many of us continue to look for the light in the emotional pockets that reveal themselves to us.

SIGN was one of the pockets that revealed itself to me in the last year. On previous albums, I’ve been unable to penetrate the genre-defying and generally idiosyncratic nature of their music, which has often struck me as alienating, robotic, and lifeless. SIGN is much more revealing, with a textured benevolence tucked gently beneath the mechanistic chaos that coats its surface, and marks the first time I’ve been able to unravel the beauty within. With so many releases in the bag and so many listens under my belt, why SIGN? And why now?

My connection to this album extends far beyond the metaphysical, and is something I can only broadly define by a deep examination of the metaphorical. I have been told on more that one occasion that I am robotic. Unfortunately for me, not robotic in the stoic, impenetrable sense, but rather in a programmed, emotionless state where sensory responses are pre-fetched and automated, and everything else just feels cold and phlegmatic. That broad stroke judgment feels harshly unjust as I know how inwardly emotional I am even if there is a misalignment between what is felt and what is outwardly expressed.

It’s meta to assume that one’s outwardly cold presence hides an inner beauty, and I also do not want to assume the role of a rose whose delicate beauty is protected by layers of thorns. Still, I feel as if Autechre has brought something out from within me that has masqueraded itself for several years now. I have dug up something hidden deep within myself, and I will pay careful attention to where that leads me.

The Field – From Here We Go Sublime

“… What about the main thing in life, all its riddles? If you want, I’ll spell it out for you right now. Do not pursue what is illusionary -property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life -don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn for happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes can see, if both ears hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart -and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it may be your last act before your arrest, and that will be how you are imprinted on their memory.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

The last ten years of my life can broadly be defined by the pursuit of knowledge. My high school did not encourage me to learn, nor inspire me to autonomously pursue the wealth of knowledge available to me in the Internet age. Consequently, I couldn’t help but feeling a little malnourished when I arrived at the gates of what I once considered to be “the real world.” For years now I have had an acute obsession with abstract, intangible concepts as a practice of catching up on what I felt I had missed. Anything from YouTube videos, deep Wikipedia dives, obscure podcasts, difficult reads, and philosophy and psychology forums, have been water to the branching tree that was once nothing more than a seed. To learn and to know is such a precious concept to me – more important than anything else.

If learning is such an important concept and widely recognized as good then why, by the time our brains are fully functioning, is it so often forgotten? Is it our association with education? Do we view knowledge only as a resource proprietary to the confines of a school or university? If so, did you feel on your final day, dressed in cap and gown, that you knew all you needed to know? Did the walls that instilled knowledge not inspire you to continue its pursuit? Pity. Perhaps we can reference the the biblical tale of The Garden? Where life was and always would have been, so long as we made the choice not to know, but we know how that turned out. In choosing to know, we also chose to see. And what did we see? And how hungry were we for more? Why were we shamed? Why did we feel guilt? Why has the acquisition of knowledge over time not freed us from those superstitious chains? And what are we to make of the fear this conjured up within ourselves? What environments promote learning? Why do our parents brag of the near-authoritarian environments created that “encouraged” children to learn just half a century ago? Even now, we are encouraged to create and maintain a space which offers reprieve from our daily lives – a functional area where we learn and try new things, plants and animals that help us be responsible, artwork that consistently inspires. Is there a way to encapsulate the incorporeal elements of this space into an ideology that, in its universality, does not surrender its integrity?

A few days ago at lunch, I showed my friend a video of the flash game Line Rider (in which you draw lines that a cartoon in a sled rides down) which was synchronized to some classical music. The game was really popular in 2006 and I was heavily involved with community surrounding it. The wave of nostalgia hit me like a freight train and I got really excited trying to explain all of the elements that made it special to me. My speech was spry, my expression welcoming and excitable, smiles not withheld. I guess my friend saw what I felt and he told me that while he didn’t understand everything I was talking about, he was glad to see me so joyous in remembering it. That’s the way I get when I’m talking about things I am passionate about, and I get that way a lot because I am passionate about a lot of things. The fire to learn courses deeply through me, and it pains me when I can’t find that in others. Everyone of course does not wear the deepest desires of their hearts on their sleeves, but it shouldn’t take three cigarettes and a sixer to find out the guy across the way at work likes it too.

Knowledge and growth are powerful tools that help us chase the ever-elusive better versions of ourselves. Plant your seed, find your water, and grow. Let your thirst be forever unquenched and at the end of a full life, look down to see not branches or roots, but forests.

Frank Ocean – Blonde

I’ve never been fond of keeping track of the passing of time via the New Year. Each calendar year gives you these weird 365 day chunks that start with senseless optimism and end, frequently, with this cold, harsh disappointment. It’s akin to a night of drinking and partying with your friends. You’re not yourself in those moments, though you may temporarily be a more ideal version of yourself. You talk big talk, embellish the best stories you’ve got, and make promises you can’t keep. In the morning we wake up with fragmented memories gently meandering in the bubbling mess of our thoughts, slowly feeding in as the day goes on. So as the hangover cures the night, the calendar year treats our bigger promises, failures resolved with “Next year I’ll be better.” I generally segment and layer my time whenever major life events happen. It helps me track progress where I want to make it, and more importantly, when. In any given track, I know precisely how much focus I’ve given it between major landmarks. Instead of tangible, numerical goals, I can just subconsciously keep track of where I’m at compared to where I was at said landmark, so long as I’ve dedicated some of my time towards creating a separation between the two. For me, it creates less pressure to absolve past failures and transgressions, or set unachievable goals for your future self, albeit you can no longer fall back on that yearly reset.

Speaking of segments, I’m approaching a year being single, and I’m reflecting a lot on a younger version of myself. When I was 17, I broke up with my second girlfriend. We had a weird tiff and I stopped talking to her. We went to different high schools and a few days later she tried to track me down on my lunch break, but was unsuccessful. She let me know things were over. A few months later one of my best friends started dating her. He asked me if that was okay. I was naïve and didn’t want to cause any animosity between us, so I said yes. I remember the months that followed with clarity: it was bitter cold that winter; I would never take off this hideous blue-and-cream white letterman style jacket my dad had given me, and a sense of betrayal lurked behind me at all times — not from my friend or my ex, but deep within myself.

The next few months were a downward spiral for me: I dropped out of a hilarious Music Theory class my band director had created and opted for a study hall so I wouldn’t have to be near my friend; I took petty jabs over social media and text; I went to prom by myself, wore a top hat and ruined most of my photos with this goofy smile I felt like doing in the moment. As high school came to a close, I became more jaded with each passing day. I didn’t enjoy that summer like I could have, and didn’t prepare for college like I should have. The night before my first day of college classes started, I told this same friend, whom I hadn’t seen all summer, that I wasn’t familiar with campus and would like to walk around to go find the location of each building for the next day. I showed up to his dorm and he showed me around. He was living with another one of my best friends from high school, who happened to be dating a friend of my ex. I remember seeing my friend and my ex as his PC wallpaper, which he quickly closed and laughed. So did I. I knew in that moment that we were going to be alright. We walked around for an hour or two in the dead of night. It was hot and humid, our words were accompanied by the constant buzz of college nightlife, and my anxiety about the impending semester was, for a moment, lifted.

The next few months were very busy. I was quickly distracted from any hostility I had built up, but my friend and I didn’t see each other in this time. While eating lunch on campus one day, I saw another one of my best friends from high school. He informed me that my friend and my ex had split. Shortly after, I texted my friend and asked him to go get some coffee with me, playing clueless. I didn’t even drink coffee at this time, and neither did he. Regardless of what we drank, he informed me that he and my ex had split. I was expecting to feel this massive burden lifted from my chest, but instead I felt more conflicted than ever. The enmity that had compounded over the previous year was exhausting, and I felt that a significant amount of my time was lost to thinking about it. It would take me a few years to fully shake that feeling. Still, my friend and I worked to recapture our former friendship. He got me drunk for the first time, and two semesters later we were going to be living together in a downtrodden apartment across town. Things were good.

During this time, I got the urge to message my ex and ask if she wanted go grab lunch to catch up. She told me no. A few weeks later, she messaged me and said she had given it some thought and said it would be nice to catch up. We went to lunch at Zaxby’s and it was extraordinarily awkward. She told me she was sorry for dating my friend. I had spent so much time resenting my own actions, I had forgotten how others perceived the same situation. Still, if an apology was ever owed, it was years overdue. Over that same summer, I thought a lot about how angry I was over the whole situation, despite it being two years removed at that point. Eventually, I sort of just forgot why I was ever mad at all. Months later, my friend and I were hanging out and talking in his bedroom at our apartment. I don’t remember anything we talked about but it was the first real connection we had managed in several years. I remember worrying the whole night that one of us would bring it up, we’d cry a little bit, hug it out, then things would be alright. Thankfully, we didn’t. Before we knew it, the sun was rising in his East-facing window. Time had passed in more ways than one, and a sizable amount of the hefty burden I had been carrying was lifted that morning. We bought donuts at a nearby donut shop, came home, and passed out.

That entire experience was the first time I remember thinking about my life in “pre-” and “post-” terms. There was before and after that event, and not much else seemed to matter. In that brief two year period there were two landmarks, and I made substantial progress in between them. As I’m revisiting 9 years later on a meaningless Tuesday night, I’ve concluded that very little that happened when I was 17-19 mattered much. Still, I find it important to revisit these experiences and recall them with as much clarity as I can. It helps me keep track of the passage of time. And if a younger me can make such meaningful progress in seemingly hopeless situations, so can 27-year-old me, or any me, really.

My friend and I are still on good terms. He lives with his girlfriend and my best friend. We get some beers every other weekend to remind ourselves that life isn’t as bad as we make it out to be. I hope he reads this because I think he’ll get a kick out of it, and if you do, go ahead and throw on Frank Ocean’s Blonde while you’re at it.

Grouper – Ruins

Focus shifts.

In the middle of September, I informed my director at work that I was tapped out. Five and a half year in operations positions at a transportation company and I was, to say the least, exhausted. He told me that he was sorry to hear that, and reminded me that the remainder of the year wasn’t going to get any easier. He recommended I apply for a new job in a Pricing position that would be less stressful but still busy, and allow me to keep my pay and benefits. I interview well and was a suitable candidate given five and a half years dealing with a specialty business segment — the exact segment of which the position I was applying was created to fill. I interviewed and was told they would get back to me the next week if I got the job. A few days later, I received a degrading email saying that if we didn’t want to keep up with the intensity required to make the account succeed, we should leave. I immediately informed my director that my last day would be October 18th, assuming I didn’t get the job I applied for. The remainder of that week was stressful — I was tired of my job, mad at the leadership, frustrated at my inability to reconcile the two, and shameful that I was choosing potential departure over powering through another busy season.

The following week I sent a follow up email and was offered the job I applied for. I recall quite thoroughly how I felt after I received that offer. The weight of the previous week was lifted — I could breathe. I started that position on Wednesday of last week. I like it so far, and time will tell what direction this takes me as my career rears its head. I don’t say any of this to defame anyone I’ve worked with in the past, but rather as simple observations of what I felt conflicting with what was in front of me.

After work I spent time with a friend of mine. I told her I wanted to buy a new pair of jeans, so we went shopping. Finding 29×30″ slim fit jeans isn’t an easy task, but I walked away with a pair I liked, to match the only other pair I wear. After that we went to a Vietnamese street food restaurant and talked about all the good stuff: coworker’s music tastes, healthy eating, mental illness, awful dates, the importance of writing, and more. A recent resurgence of what I consider a speech impediment has my mouth and brain on different pages, but words seemed to flow fine today.

I ended up getting home earlier than expected — it was barely dark. I had time to clean, shower, play a video game with some good friends, and, unexpectedly, do a little writing. Grouper has been the soundtrack to this full day, and since my words are sometimes not enough, I’ll end with hers:

Grouper – “Clearing”

Open up the window
Try to let the light out
Try to let the curtain float in
That way I can hear the water

Pulling on a pathway
Calling on the pathway
Whisper and passing
Shoes rattle and I was thinking I was running

And every time I see you
I have to pretend I don’t
You thought that it would help
But it’s only made us fall apart

I’m treading in the water
Human in the shadows
No longer your shadow
Clearing, I know where your light is

More or less nothing changes
Maybe I’ve been seeing things
Cry to yourself with worm that are
Going out of home

And can’t you see us fading
Soon there won’t be anyone there
It’s funny when you fuck up
No one really has to care

And sometimes I wish
That none of this had happened
Let our sad song
Be carried out to sea

And steady as the water
As tender as the evening
Where we hurry
Down to build a shadow

As softly as an echo
As solid as a triangle
Send a message as you
Where everything is walking, there’s a hallway

And maybe you were right
When you said I’d never been in love
How can I explain why it’s safer when
I feel alone

And what has been done
May never be undone
So take your sad song
And sail into the next life

And maybe you were right when you
Said I’d never been in love
How can I explain
Why it’s safer just to be alone

Billow Observatory – III: Chroma/Contour

It’s been a day.

My sleep was interrupted several times last night by a migraine. The pain was amplified by an accompanying dizziness. I requested a few extra hours of rest before heading to work. I didn’t feel comfortable or safe being behind the wheel in that state.

When I arrived at work, my muscles felt weak walking to my car. The intensity of the sun’s heat was magnified on the long walk from the very back of the parking lot. The chilled building immediately gave me goosebumps as I entered. I fumbled the keys in my pocket in an attempt to scan my badge. Lugging myself up four flights of stairs felt more draining than ever. As I sat down and logged in my computer, I looked at my hands: skinny, pale… I eyed the movement of each finger and corresponding veins and muscles. The world moves a little slower for me after I’ve suffered from a migraine. It’s easy for me to be more attentive during these times.

I interviewed for a new position within my company last Monday. I think it went well, or at least I have a lot of takeaways from it. I shadowed with a member of that team today. The swift, fluidity of his navigation through Excel and a host of foreign programs was heady to me. Maybe it was the medicine. I asked questions when able, and was as observant and inquisitive as always, but I have not for a moment felt entirely there. I went to the bathroom and freshened up. The upper outside edges of my nose get curiously dark when I am sleep deprived. It’s the one thing I look out for when I’m severely depressed or restless. They were very dark today. Someone later stopped by my desk and said I looked tired, and I just don’t have an alibi to object.

After work, I had a date lined up. It went well. It was the first time in a long time I’ve been able to be so open and honest, nothing withheld. I haven’t done a lot of laughing and smiling in the past year — I want more of that.

On the days where I’m not entirely here, what a blessing it is to find ways to feel complete.

C418 – Minecraft – Volume Alpha

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb

I’ve been playing a lot of Minecraft in the last few weeks. It’s been a nice break from the everyday. I haven’t played much over the past few years so there are a lot of new things to find and explore.

The home I’ve built has a wooden roof outlined in stone, a small wheat farm nearby, and sugar cane growing adjacent to the small creek. I fenced in the entire area to keep me safe at night. The storage chest and some of the first items I made/gathered are still beside my first bed, a homage to my first few nights trying to survive. One of the rooms in the home now leads downstairs to a large open area scattered with poorly-filtered storage chests, an enchanting table, anvil, and potion brewing stand. Nearby is a dual staircase with the right side down to an underground farm and the left side leading up to my animal pens. The underground farm was made using acacia wood and stone, with wheat and potatoes speckling the orange and gray of the wood and stone. The animal pens were made using birch wood and stone, which nicely contrasts the spotted cows, sheep, and chickens. At the end of my farm is another staircase heading downward, leading to a large, hollowed area where several tree varieties are growing in different underground rooms (this is Minecraft, after all). Further below still, a strip mine is slowly expanding outward as the demand for simple, common resources like iron and coal increases.

On the surface, there are several large stone monuments, littered with torches, indicating spots where I surfaced from below after a long day of exploring, should I want to later revisit. A nearby river meanders through a not-so-distant desert. I’ve built a dock nearby so I can fish from sunrise to sunset. As night falls, I sleep to avoid the hostile mobs that spawn in darkness, not far outside of my well-lit home. When I wake up the next morning, I do it all again, whatever it is. There certainly is something to be said for the allure of simplicity, and the happiness we find tucked within.

The official Minecraft soundtrack by C418 is, much like the game itself, deceptively simple and endlessly complex. Several tracks are gentle piano melodies draped with light, organic synths. The game plays them when you are safe in your home, on your farm, or fishing on the dock as the sun sets. Conversely, tracks like “Oxygène” and “Thirteen” are hollow, ghostly shells of their companions that remind us of the dangers that lurk beneath, or in the darkness, or as we dig underground and are about to break through into a cave. C418’s soundtrack fits so perfectly into Minecraft’s adventurous, exploratory nature. Deep into this pixelated, synthetic world, things feel very real. The hard part to accept is not the fact that this world is not my home, but the realization that it feels more like home to me than home ever did.

Kyle Bobby Dunn – From Here to Eternity

My head hurts. My body aches. My mind is heavy. My heart needs mending. What salvation is there for this godless soul?

I had an incredible conversation with my best friends last week about the pursuit of meaning vs. the desire for happiness. I asserted firmly that finding meaning is paramount and that while happiness is a byproduct of the pursuit of meaning, it is not a worthy pursuit in itself. I mentally reviewed all of the different ways in which I’ve found meaning in my own life over the past few years. There’s a lot to sort through.

The most important piece of advice I ever received was in 2013 from a good friend of mine who told me to start writing down all my thoughts. It does not have to be a grandiose statement about the banalities of living, but rather a short yet poignant documentation of what I feel or think at a moment in time. This has helped me tremendously in sorting through what I know is important and what I feel needs to be let go. To me, the pursuit of meaning is self-evident and revealing in our values, virtues, and manifests itself in the actions which help to achieve them. This sounds all too important, but a close and thorough examination of the micro level reveals the meaning unfolding itself like a flower, hidden in every corner and crevice of our everyday lives. People always told me “It’s the little things that matter,” but I didn’t think they meant like this. Little things matter only as long as we find meaning in them. Once we fail to seek it out, it will stop revealing itself to us.

I’ve been keeping tabs on everything I’ve been working on recently: major and minor shifts in life’s course, small projects, workplace accomplishments, self-betterment, etc. I’ve found it productive to notate how well I’m progressing, and if I’m progressing in a meaningful direction. Something as simple as coming home, reading a few pages of a book, texting a friend to make sure they’re okay, and calling it a night is a step in the right direction, even if my footprints are not far apart.

Even so, progress has its limitations and it doesn’t come without its setbacks. The past few days have taken me backwards. I feel like I’ve put up a cheap façade and it’s finally peeling.There are goosebumps all over in this most warm of apartments.

I feel very lost, and very broken.

Joanna Newsom – The Milk-Eyed Mender

My birthday was one week ago – I turned 27. I spent the week in Boston for work and then Nashville with friends. This was the first birthday I had spent away from my family. It was nice.

When I was a child, I used to get so excited for my birthday. It was the best thing. I thought about it every day during the weeks leading up to it. I remember making birthday lists and picking out a restaurant and eating up all the attention. It was perhaps the only day of the year that I was comfortable with all eyes being on me. May 8th – That was my day. As I’ve grown older it’s been so much more difficult to invest the same energy. If I want something, I’ll buy it for myself. I want a decent home-cooked meal. I loathe the attention. As a child, it was hard to understand why my dad was always so exhausted on July 1st but now it makes a lot more sense. There’s nothing really special about most days, and there’s typically nothing special when the bells ring the next year, either. Rinse and repeat 75 or so times and our time here is done. Damn, when did I become this cynical?

I’m not very adventurous so new experiences are pretty euphoric for me: traveling, making friends, finding hobbies. There are fleeing moments inside of those things that make me feel refreshed, happy, and thankful. They are endorphins to the pain that is living. Waking up in Boston the morning after we got in was one. I noticed a lot of blood on my pillow from having accidentally scratched my scalp the night before (a common occurrence). I took a shower then dried off. The room was too bright, the walls too white, and my eyelids too heavy. I walked to the lobby to get some coffee and when I got back, I remembered it was my birthday. I guess the magic really has worn off over time. It was a few more hours before I received my first happy birthday text from a coworker. It took me an hour or two to reply to it. I felt very small and unimportant. It felt good. Big cities are amazing but they certainly don’t make us feel powerful. I was but a faceless ant on a gridlocked canvas – I felt very vulnerable. Finally, I did not feel that this day was about me. It simply was, like so many others simply are. Sometimes I have a good thought and the muscles in my mouth I use to smile instinctively flex, even if the grin doesn’t quite come through. It ends up coming off as more of a smirk, which I’m okay with.

I smirked.

Still, I wonder what happened to feeling like this more often. Maybe I’ve just been a little down. Maybe this is a logical node of my neurological development. I hope it get to feel it again soon.

This place is damp and ghostly
I am already gone
And the halls were lined with the disembodied
And dustly wings, which fell from flesh

And I go where the trees go
And I walk from a higher education
For now and for higher

It beats me, but I do not know
And it beats me, but I do not know
It beats me, but I do not know
I do not know

Palaces and storm clouds
The rough, straggly sage
And the smoke
And the way it will all come together
In quietness and in time

And you laws of property
Oh, you free economy
And you unending afterthoughts
You could’ve told me before

Never get so attached to a poem
You forget truth that lacks lyricism
Never draw so close to the heat
That you forget that you must eat, oh…

Joanna Newsom – ‘En Gallop’

Rafael Anton Irisarri – A Fragile Geography

The topic of social media’s role in the contemporary world has been recurring this week between myself and several friends and peers. What was once a mystical new way to engage with friends has taken a horrific turn down a path many wish never to return. Amidst the barrage of unwanted life updates, agenda-pushing news fabrications, multilevel marketing schemes, and an entire generation being raised by it, it’s no wonder many twenty and thirty-somethings find themselves feeling increasingly more isolated in the communal online spaces we once could call home.

One of the primary and most obvious criticisms of social media is that it often times will lead us down the path of least resistance. Every discernible metric has been cross-examined to determine what the most convenient way for us to engage with it is. The problem with convenient all-inclusive strategies like this is that they generally tend to get more diluted (dumber) as more and more people get involved. Even something as simple as writing a positive thought suddenly became too much effort for the things we “liked.” The thoughts in our head were no longer important. What was important to those pulling the strings wasn’t the thoughts in our heads, it was the emotions they were manifesting themselves from. So we simplified our ability to even react to/engage with content in the most trite way imaginable:

  • Do I like this?
  • Do I love/support this?
  • Does this make me laugh?
  • Do I think this is cool?
  • Does this make me sad?
  • Does this make me angry?

They are the “comedy and tragedy” masks of a generation too afraid to show their true face, and who couldn’t look themselves in the eye, even if they did. The oversimplification, convenience, and false satisfaction of these reactions has left only a handful of us willing to reply and engage to content online. Typically it’s the most outraged who will strike first, if at all. Facebook is even kind enough to tell us which reactions are most common for each piece of content, lest I decide for myself. The greatest problem of social media is that the speed of content often times transcends our ability to communicate in return. For those looking for the engagement they once felt they had, perhaps it is a good time to take a step back. Quick communication may be the first step into a dystopian future, but it will not be the last.

For anyone willing to jump ship (again, perhaps) from social media, I’d recommend checking out Rafael Anton Irisarri’s A Fragile Geography when you get a chance. Underneath the tumultuous pillars of sound is something incredibly beautiful and unique – to hear it we simply need to listen through the noise.