On Ritual

I see a lot of potential in the morning. When I am awake, I try to be. Living with someone who isn’t quite as into mornings as I am, I’m starting to understand that not everyone feels the same way about it as I do. That time between waking and working is my most productive for a number of reasons, the least of which is the quiet. When I started my new job, I began waking an hour earlier to solidify some new habits in my day to day. I get up and out of bed, take too long a shower, check Reddit to see if the president has been impeached while I was sleeping, groom myself, brush my teeth, get dressed, and then I walk to the subway, careful to lock the door behind me so that no one breaks into my apartment while my girl sleeps. This is her fear, but I respect her enough to trust it.

Using public transportation gives me a closer look at people in this early stage of the day. It is a time of silence for most. The occasional cell phone or lack of self-awareness will break the quiet, splintering the illusion that we are all collectively still asleep. Sometimes the trains make emergency stops in the tunnels for one reason or another. Perhaps someone is on the tracks again. It happens sometimes. One person will start to freak out a little. In my experience, this is usually an overweight woman, who says ‘Lord’ a lot. Just an observation; it’s happened three times to me now.

When the trip goes off without a hitch, I arrive at 34th street with my supplies for the day: a good pen with plenty of ink, several notebooks, and my computer. I make my way to Friedman’s for coffee, which is a new habit. The waiters are starting to recognize me now—by face not name just yet. This is fine, because they are always cordial and not in the way waiters have to be cordial. They flash genuine grins and say things like ‘welcome back, man’. I like it a lot. It’s probably because for an hour or so, my time feels like it has some meaning. We’re all together. They’re doing a job for someone that’s grateful to receive it, and I think they’re a little grateful, too.

I don’t think any of them want to be waiting tables that early in the morning, but they have to in order to support themselves in this city of high expense and exorbitant costs. A.J. says hello and asks me how I’m doing this morning. He wants to be a writer. He writes reviews because that’s what pays, but he’d rather write plays. He’s already written a few. One about “dog parties”—a party for instagram famous dogs—and one about his friend’s suicide. It’s a one man show, he says. Instead of answering his question, I ask him how he’s doing. I don’t know why. That’s just how it came out. He tells me he’s doing well but that he needs another cup of coffee. I say something like that makes two of us. He smiles. I smile. It feels good. He pours me some coffee. I’m waiting for the day I walk in and someone says black coffee, right? That’s right. Thank you so much. I mean it.

I sit down at the counter in the same place I always sit. It’s beginning to feel like ritual, and I need ritual in my life. I don’t know why. The seat at the end of the counter is part of the ceremony. If I’m not there, where am I? Once I ordered an omelet, which they made with onions and mustard. It tasted like the cheeseburgers you can get at Country Boys Hamburgers back home. If it wasn’t $20 I would get it every morning, but unfortunately the food is a little expensive. The coffee is reasonable though, and I don’t mind paying a little extra in tips for the good service.

Stacking my notebooks on the table, first I check my calendar to prepare myself for the oncoming day, making sure nothing sneaks up on me. I have an hour before I have to be anywhere, and if something were to come up, I’d have a little bit of cushion. Exercise has become a regular part of my day as well, and when I’m looking at my schedule I start to wonder if I should exchange this time for a run instead of a writing session. Nah. This is good.

Pen to paper, I get some journaling in to warm me up before I go to town on whatever fiction I’m working on. I’m a terrible fiction writer. I’ve just now started to admit it to myself. I have no direction. As much as I want to be William Faulkner/John Steinbeck, I’m beginning to think it might not happen. My characters always end up sitting at some coffee shop—sometimes in Brooklyn, other times Nashville—writing things down and mulling things over. Fuck. Not again. Start over with something else. Two guys sitting in a diner talking things out. That’s the same thing, you dumbass, except now there’s two of you. Goddamit.

I’m running into a lot of creative blocks lately. My voice has been caked up for days, and I can’t seem to find new lines for songs. Everything sounds the same, and I’m frustrated. But these mornings remind me that it’s work. I have to be my own midwife, giving birth to whatever it is that has to be pushed out. That’s a stupid and romantic way to think about it, but an important part of that process is just showing up. Some days are fruitful and others are stoppered. Some days I question whether or not any of it matters and quit so that I can make more time to play Grand Theft Auto.

I don’t have any answers, but it helps to reflect on the questions that tend to crop up. Maybe my rituals will become part of someone else’s. It’s funny to think of yourself in a supporting role, but for everyone else, that’s exactly the part you play. Often my advice to myself is to try to pay attention as much as possible, because running on autopilot is time wasted. We’ve had all eternity before we were born and we’ll have all eternity after we’re dead to be unconscious of this world.

The top of the hour approaches, and I look down at my watch. 10 ’til 9. I ask for the bill, and A.J. goes and gets it. Another guy behind the counter asks if I want my coffee to go and then asks if I’d like for him to go ahead and top off the to-go cup. I tell him I do and he does it. Here you go. Thanks, man. I usually write something about how good the service was on the receipt. Maybe no one reads that. It’d be okay if no one did. I feel like I’m giving them something back, a little gift for later in addition to the tip.

Gathering my things, I set the notebooks in my tote one at a time, slipping the pen in my breast pocket for when I arrive at my desk upstairs. The morning ritual is over, but it’s fine because I’ll get to do it again tomorrow. I’ve managed to start the day off slow, and I’m almost always in a good mood when I walk out the door to go to work. There’s something about that kind of thing, the repetition of procedural step-taking. The day might end differently than it did the day before. I might have plans with a friend or a television show to catch up on with Marisa after dinner. But the fact that I’ve begun each day with intention helps me set the pace for the rest of it. It gives me time to decide what kind of person I’m going to be. These are the things I’m going to do every day. This is an appointment I must keep.

 

On Delusions There Are

I bought my guitar at Corner Music on 12th Ave. in Nashville, TN the day after my ex-wife and I split our joint bank account into two, very separate bank accounts. Having no piano in my new apartment, I needed something to play, something to control with my hands and bring some good into my world again. What I got was a lot of anger and a lot of grieving, a fight between playing hymns or playing Bright Eyes. I settled for both. It’s crazy what you turn to, you know? After work, I would pick up my guitar and play, attempting to sort things out with impressions and sounds just to see what might come out of my mouth. Thankfully, I had some experience with the guitar, and so I wasn’t starting from scratch (my now calloused fingers would like a word with me on that one). I didn’t really want to talk to god. I didn’t really want to talk to anyone. I only wanted to talk to myself.

Where was I between June 7th, 2013 and July 7th, 2015? This and other questions permeated my thought process. My prayers, Hail Mary’s to the heavens, became poems to music at my bedside every night. Three other guys, to whom I feel I literally owe my life (They gave me a room to myself but wouldn’t leave me alone in it), occupied the same space as I, and so I tried my best to keep practice hours to a minimum when they were around. I was juggling some heavy shit, and I suck at juggling.

Everyday

I can’t tell you how uncomfortable I was, waiting for things to be finalized. When someone very close to you does something seemingly irrational and unanticipated, it stands that the person isn’t to be trusted (at least for a while) to do what you expect or to act in your self-interest. And so I waited for the wrong to go wronger, never kidding myself for a minute that the situation was as bad as it could’ve been. I had no sense of humor about that shit. So I sang.

Everyday was the result. I like that song. It’s desperate and honest and a moment captured in time just like I was. I wanted, needed, to speed up and move me like a river to somewhere else, anywhere else, where I could finally feel truly known and loved without so much conflict in my life. I am literally begging for peace that I’m not sure will ever settle on me. I’m writing this now and thinking that song is like a time machine in more ways than one. Not only did it give me what I needed to move forward but here and now it has the ability to transport me back to Rosemary and those uncertainties I felt then. I’ll sing that song to my kids, and then one day, I’ll tell them what it’s about. Maybe it’ll be of some use to them. Maybe not.

Finally

There’s a guy in my mind that, upon hearing a “happy song”, simply dismisses it as bullshit that isn’t real. Happiness. What does that even mean? Well, it isn’t some end-goal. I don’t think you can stake that elusive sumbitch to the ground, although there are a lot of people who try. I mistrust him about as much as I mistrust that an eight-year Trump presidency will go just peachy (winky face).

But Holy Hot Tomale, Batman, I met a goofy girl when I moved to New York that actually made me feel good about things again, and I thought, maybe this time it will be different. Maybe this time, I’ll feel like I belong to something I can really lean into. And so I did what every newcomer to the guitar does: I stole a Mayer chord and wrote a musically catchy but lyrically sub-par song around it.

Finally, in a lot of ways, is the opposite number to Everyday, a song about waiting around for an end that might never come. Reaching out for just a scrap of hope and expecting none stopped when I met Marisa. Finally, I had a reason to dance and someone willing to dance with me. That’s enough, sometimes. It’s enough to push you past thinking about the grand scheme of things and what’s real and what isn’t, who’s wrong and who’s right, even if it’s just for that tiny moment. You’re just doing your damnedest not to step on your partner’s toes.

Window

There isn’t a person who’s read David Foster Wallace that doesn’t have an opinion on him, even if that opinion is that he can be a bit longwinded at times. He was a tragically brilliant savant with incredible articulation and an ability to dissect a feeling and show you what’s inside of it. He also wrote that brick of a novel, Infinite Jest, in which I couldn’t get further than 200 pages. In 2008, DFW hung himself from the rafters of his patio. He’d suffered from an alleged 20 year battle with depression that he could no longer fight. In an interview a several years before his death, Wallace discussed suicide as such:

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’ can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

It’s a fucking brilliant quote, right? Anyone who knows the realities of clinical depression can tell you what a godddamned devil it is. You burn. You burn all the time, and although there are flashes of beauty and brilliance, when the stars align and the music carries you up and over the enormity of the black, you can still feel those flames, licking up from behind you, reminding you that they will still be there when you come down. And you will come down.

My friends, the thought occurs to me and I contemplate the jump. I think the thing that’s walked me back time and time again has been the memory of hugging the mother of someone who has just left the window, holding her in her confusion, destitution, and strange nonsense. The ones that are left behind feel no relief. They feel no peace. They break and then enter a different kind of burning that sets their minds afire with an unwavering madness.

They are never the same.

Window isn’t just about that, but it’s a huge part. I wrote the first lines of the last verse initially. They were the ones that don’t really settle down. Everything else is pretty self-explanatory, but I needed people to know “I could not stand beside the challenge of a different man who chose a window over the fires behind.” Then again, the heat never stops, not completely.

Hosanna

What is happiness? I asked that question earlier, and I still don’t trust it or know what it is. But I know what I’d like it to be. Paradise and the idea of a utopia sometimes brings to mind huge blimps over a sprawling retro-futuristic metropolis, one of classic Orwellian scrutiny. When I think of Paradise, I think about Jayber Crow, and living in one place your whole life, watching it grow from behind your barber chair and sipping whiskey from your front porch at the end of a day worthy of your name. “Riches, I need not nor man’s empty praise,” but I’d be content with the security of enough. That’s where I want to go.

But I don’t think Hosanna is a particularly happy song. Jesus arrived in Jerusalem to palm leaves and praises only to be betrayed, beaten, and broken. Jerusalem wasn’t his home, either. I wonder if he trusted that his arrival would bring peace. It hasn’t. I don’t know that it can. All of the things I list off in that song are things that I want so bad I can feel them brushing just beyond my fingertips. They are right there, which is the worst kind of prison. Batman taught me that.

Delusions There Are Ep

This EP, Delusions There Are, isn’t just a couple songs to me. I put some of my soul on display, and I am damned proud of the way it turned out. It isn’t perfect, but for someone with minimal recording experience, at best, I felt I did alright. It wasn’t about the quality, anyway. For me, this was about sharing part of the story and maybe giving others something they could lean on and trust. They are just songs, but songs have moved me and lifted me up and out of the ditch in some of the hardest times of my life. I only wanted to do the same thing for someone else.

And I’m now starting to work on the album, which will be coming out probably next summer. It won’t be as stripped down or all acoustic. I’m hoping to add some electronics and more layers to the sound; that’s not to say I won’t have a few raw tracks there. It all depends on what works and what doesn’t.

There are so many people to thank. Marisa has been nothing but an absolute delight in every single way. She pushed me to do this, revamped my shitty website, created the album artwork, and kept encouraging me until the work was done. I could’ve done it without her, but it likely would’ve been crap.

Paul Lowder told me to buy a Yeti Microphone, which was a dope suggestion.

Mary Alice Truitt and Jess Vieira listened to my shit to make sure it didn’t suck as much as I thought it might. Outside opinions, checks and balances, are key. You can’t create amazing things in a vacuum. Franz Kafka did, but he was a goddam genius. I’m just a human person.

Melinda Petty gave me my first seed money to record some songs and put them on CD when I was in high school. She believed in me even then enough to hand me over a pretty huge donation for a kid in high school that had no cash, whatsoever. She also cut my hair from when I was a baby to when I was 18.

I know these songs and the things I write sometimes make my parents feel pretty conflicted. Sometimes the truth is hard to hear; I know that, and I’m thankful you still love me. We disagree on a lot these days, but I still owe you everything.

This is literally a shameless plug. I want people to listen as long as there is something to say. Everyone deserves to be heard.

I still haven’t built the box in which I put everything I have, but maybe one day I’ll be able to look back and say, “There’s still room.”

Michial

Delusions There Are EP can be downloaded here.

On Mastering the Mundane

My room is quiet.

You wouldn’t think so, living in the city, but it’s true. With the exception of the occasional rumble of the local train, coursing the rails from Harlem to Downtown Manhattan, every dust particle floating through the air hangs on the absence of sound (can you hear Simon and Garfunkel playing softly in the recesses of your mind right now, because I surely cannot). There are tombs noisier than this.
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On My Own

“Don’t date anyone for at least a year.”

This piece of advice is given to men and women who are recently divorced. I’ll admit that no one said this to me exactly. “Take your time,” they said, “you’ll find someone who adores you. Someone who really loves you. They’re out there, and when you find them, you’ll see the difference between what you had and what you’ll have.”

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On Laziness

or The Art of Doing Nothing Ethically

Hey, we’re in this together, right? You and I? Writer and reader? Since you’re reading this exercise in narcissism (I’m clearly no philosopher), I’ll elaborate, and if you make it to the end, I think it will make sense—I think. Maybe it won’t,  but I’m going to take you through my stream of thought now, regardless.

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On Divorce

Or…

On a Window into Divorce

Here we are: closer to the places I’ve wanted to arrive. Let’s get our hands dirty, shall we, in the miry substance of sticky relationship talk. I can’t promise that we’ll all come out clean, but I can promise that things might be a little better—for us both.

If you don’t want to read me get some shit off my chest, then it’s probably best to stop here. There you go. You’ve been warned.

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