Sunday, December 30, 2007

Auld Lang Syne

As I do annually, I went home for Christmas. Home, for those who aren't familiar with the identity behind this moniker, is in the northern tip of Kentucky. I've been in New York for close to seven years, and it's always been a bit awkward to go back to my old stomping grounds for what's never been more than a week or so at a time. The first time I returned home after moving to New York, I was an eighteen year-old freshman on his first Thanksgiving break. I nearly broke my neck turning my nose up at the whole place, not to mention at my friends (who took it well and let me work through it). I desperately needed to feel like I was better than everyone else, especially since my leaving Kentucky felt like some kind of triumphant escape. If I want to give myself credit (and my behavior doesn't deserve excuses, let alone justification) I had to face my first love, who had effectively left my heart in my hands - and I'm not sure any eighteen year old knows how to deal with rejection.

Over the years, the defense mechanisms melted away to the point where I could enjoy being home and appreciate it for what it was worth - namely family and old friends. I realized I wasn't carving some kind of new life for myself in New York, but instead I was simply evolving; and evolution naturally implies that heading somewhere new means that you once had to start somewhere, too. Kentucky was as much a part of me as Washington Square - it seems that only when I'm home do the lines distinguishing past and present blur to indistinction.

My friends in Kentucky are the same ones I had when I left six and a half years ago. My acquaintances have remained my acquaintances and some people that were only strangers have pleasantly surprised me once we got the courage to finally speak to one another. There is and has always been a social network in which I'm always welcome, but I have two best friends back there that, not matter how long we seem to go without getting in touch with one another, have always been able to meet up over coffee, beers, and at least for a few years back there, a crap-load of cigarettes. Back when we were all in college, there were a few Christmases where it felt like the gap between us erupted when it became apparent that our natural growth just happened to be in opposite directions. There were larger gaps in the conversations, and I don't think anyone knew what to do with their hands (how many times can you really check to see if there's any more coffee left in that pot?), but the distance, which was looking like a curse, turned out to be a blessing. Mike, Chris, and I (I think I can use their names, I can edit this later) always profoundly understood each other, even if we had no clue, factually, what was going on in each other's lives. The distance between us allowed us to do some of the more annoying/pretentious growing up on our own, or (I should say) at the expense of others. Everyone else had to put up with our bad moments, while we got to revel in the finished products.

There was a turning point one summer (2004, maybe?) when Chris threw a huge party, and Mike was playing guitar on Chris' deck. With a set of pedals, he recreated Howie Day's Ghosts, and there was something beautiful about the performance - it was one of those times when everyone at the party stops what they're doing and they just watch. Everyone was impressed, and I couldn't help but remember when, in high school, Mike and I acted opposite each other in the school plays and sang A Capella in our school choir. He's grown up, I thought. And I was proud.

There was a time in senior year of high school where Mike was, with no competition, my best friend. I don't like to hand that label out, because I deeply cherish many people, for many different reasons, but something happened with my group of friends that year that left Mike as, pretty much, the only person who I knew understood me. I told him everything, and he did the same with me. We dated girls that were friends, and we helped each other through the rough patches in our first, respective, loves. We were performers in a school of jocks, and when I got into NYU, we both knew something big had happened. It was a weird year for him too, as he was transitioning between social groups (he would ultimately land and be fine the next year), but for that one year, it was almost as though it was he and I against the world. I don't think I would have rather had anyone else in that emotionally awkward foxhole.

He's inspired me - he's the most talented person I've ever met, hands-down, and seeing him that summer night on Chris' deck reminded me that, after all, nothing has changed.

Last Christmas, I saw his band performing in a bar in Kentucky. He's so talented. I was so proud of him. He was savvy, and on, and it was a great performance. Mike and I didn't spend a lot of time together last Christmas; we never do, really. We went to a bar, I saw him perform, we went to our diner, and I left. It's pretty much how it always happens. We talked a lot more than we usually do this past year - and by that, I mean, you know, twice or so. We've never had to spend a lot of time on the phone. Practice has proven that we can pick up, with no exaggeration (and pardon the shameless use of the cliche) right where we leave off.

Mike called me in December, and when I finally got back to him a week later (I don't know why it took so long....I never know), he told me that he enlisted in the Marines. I can't write why it was a good decision for him without making myself look woefully ignorant (not to mention pompous), but he is confident that it is what he needs to do. I never knew what I would ever say when put in that kind of situation; I honestly hoped it never came up with any of my friends. But I found a staggering amount of trust, and somehow I have faith that he'll be better for....all of it.

He performed again last week, and I saw him play. I spent the better half of the night just trying to keep out some of the darker thoughts, but it was impossible to ignore the fact that the place was PACKED. People came up to him and shook his hand and said goodbye, and while not everyone at this bar was there to see him, most of them were, and just like that night all those summers ago, I watched him, and I watched others watching him, and I was proud.

Mike and I went to our all-night diner late the next night. It was uneventful at best, and while we made tentative plans to hang out last night, my last night in Kentucky until months after he's already left for basic training, those plans fell through (as they usually do). I flew back to New York today, and I don't know when I'm going to see Mike again. At the risk of sounding naive (and I have to be, otherwise I don't know how to take all this), I know that no matter how different things may seem when we finally do meet again, after enough time, after we've caught up on the facts and felt each other out enough to know how to be around one another again, we're going to pick up....

...maybe I've been wrong. Maybe it's not picking up "right where you leave off." Maybe it's that great friendships survive by becoming something new when enough things change. Yeah. We'll do that then. We always have. I have to be believe that we will again. I absolutely have to.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Chipmunk/Chipettes - Girls of Rock N' Roll

In belated commemoration of Alvin's CGI debut, I searched for some old school AATC and came across this. I had completely forgotten about the Chipettes!...and, we're completely okay that they move like that, right? And we don't care that we get to see their, a lot?

Moreover, what a weird concept - mutated chipmunks in floor-length sweaters that sing.

(By the way, as of this posting, Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007) has a 25% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes.)

Quick Link for Wednesday

I just came across this in the New York Times and thought it was interesting:

A professor at M.I.T. has the lectures from his intro level physics course made available online. They're hosted by M.I.T.'s Open Campus program, but they're also available on i Tunes U, and some are available on YouTube. He's pretty phenomenal, and after reading a bit into the article, he appears to be gaining quite a following - both in Cambridge and beyond. I'm a big advocate that writers should be avid learners, and that includes the left side of the brain, too.

**On another note, I love that some of his lectures are appearing on YouTube. Given that most of the TV and movie companies have taken pains to remove any and all episodes/scenes/clips/references to their properties, it's promising to see that there can and will be engaging, original content that's worth searching for.***

Write on...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Finally, Waiting

Last Wednesday after work, I FedExed the supplemental materials for my graduate school application to the University of Iowa. It was the last of such materials to be sent in this bizarre journey, and with the exception of forwarding some transcripts (which should have been received, but haven't been), all I have to do now is sit back and wait until mid-March.

The entire fall can be lumped into "applying to grad school," and no matter how minute I try to fashion my memories, the truth is that the process has consumed my entire being since August, when I first made the decision to apply. It make sense when you consider that I had to study for the GRE's, work on my manuscript, secure transcripts and recommendation letters, and finally complete the applications themselves. It gets more complicated when you consider that each school requested that certain materials be sent to the english department, while others needed to go to the admissions department of the arts and sciences/humanities school...and some things could be uploaded to the application while others needed to be mailed, and some recommendation letters could be uploaded, while others had to be hard copy and needed to be accompanied by forms -- in short, it required much more organization than I expected, and that organization required a painstaking attention to detail. I ultimately developed a system that worked for me, but it didn't happen overnight, and left me double-checking (read: second guessing) myself every step of the way.

I find it difficult to express how frustrating the process was, and I can't help but think why? There's no logical reason for it being so complicated, yet it was. And I just can't figure it out. I'm going to go ahead and assume that if I have to reapply next year (and if all of this turns out to be fruitless, then I will be reapplying), it will considerably less...taxing. I'll have another year's worth of material to submit, recent teachers from whom I can request rec letters, no GREs to take, and the applications themselves will be familiar (and those statements of purpose...well...they'll be on file). I honestly wonder if universities require so much as a means of keeping down their applicant pool. It would make sense - back when I considered applying in 2006, it was intimidating enough to make me reconsider my "plans." No one bends over backward for something their heart's only half-into.

I chose to work on my novel and submit the first two chapters as part of my applications. I completely broke my writing habits in that I wrote my opening over and over and over again. I lost count of my drafts, for better or worse, and while I'm quite happy with the finished product, I'm looking forward to writing again and not having to perfect any one thing. I'm looking forward to writing a rough draft, and I've been rolling a short story around in my head for months. I'm really, really excited about writing it, and I finally have the chance again.

There was plenty of good. I loved having to write as much as I did. It was good to get back in touch with the left side of my brain in having to go over all that math for the GRE. I got in touch with some old professors, and if nothing else, the whole process got me excited about being a writer. I wasn't seeking motivation, nor was there much of a doubt, but I really want to do this with my life, for the rest of my life.

I just turned twenty-five, and it feels like so much is changing. I have no idea what, but it's like when you're driving, and you're making this really tight turn on one of those on-ramps that's shaped in a wide loop. You're going so slow, but you keep teasing the engine because you know the road's about to straighten out. And you've got to fight against the force of gravity pushing against your body, and your foot just gets heavier and heavier, and the wheels keep gripping, and you keep pulling and the anticipation is just right there...

...until next time.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Are we De-Sensitized

I was heading home from work the other day and saw flashing lights and a throng of people outside of the subway station I had to enter. My vision is really not very good, so I stopped to put on my glasses. I was curious about what the commotion was over, yet I was more concerned that whatever it was meant that my subway station was closed.

My vision cleared, I was able to see that what looked like a bus was parked in the middle of a street that had been cordoned off by police. I walked a little bit closer, my curiosity peaked, my mind settled after having seen that the subway station was, in fact, still open. So, like any rubber-necker, I approached the congestion to get a better look.

I soon wished I hadn't.

My knees went weak. My stomach turned. I felt my hands shake.

The bus was parked diagonally across the street. There were clothes scattered by the door to the bus, and take-out bags strewn across the pavement. A sizable portion of a bicycle frame was wedged under the fender over the front, passenger side wheel of the bus. One of the bike's wheels was lying about ten feet away.
There was no indication of the person who had been riding the bike, but I cannot imagine that, if alive, he or she was in anywhere near good condition.

People, especially media types and educators, like to blame video games and movies/television for desensitizing us these days. Young generations are believed to be much more violent and blood thirsty because of the images they are exposed to through entertainment. Yet, I can tell you this now: I have seen people hit by buses and cars and shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, burned, and torn apart in movies. I've chopped off heads, grenaded, shot, stabbed, and punched all sorts of people and monsters in video games.

But at merely the prospect of seeing the aftermath of such a horrible accident the other day, my legs went weak. I saw the bus and the clothes lying in the street and hesitated, not knowing if I actually wanted to look closer and take in more. I decided to. I don't know why. But I seriously had to think about it.

And I could not watch for long.

Mind you, I didn't actually see the individual who had been hit by the bus. The remnants of the food delivery and the bike were enough to shake me. On the big screen, I'd probably have even been a little bored with the image, wondering if we were going to see a flashback of the actual event. But in real life, that was all it took to rattle me.

So tell me, are we desensitized?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hopes and Fears

In order to avoid writing last night, I started scrubbing the bathroom. It’s always a bad sign when I prefer to get on my hands and knees and pull weeks of hair out of the drain rather than write, but hell, I was even ready to do the dishes, vacuum the floor, balance my book, AND call my mother to stall the enviable need to open Final Draft. Yet denial can only last for so long. Bathroom cleaning only takes 20 mins tops. While washing out the remains of Scrubbing Bubbles, the sense of dread I blocked returned.

The forced I used in pouring out the bucket of water must have been filled with displaced anger, because it promptly knocked three tiles surrounding the tub off. Along with the tiles, grout showered down into my newly-cleaned tub. Where the tiles have once been is a section of soft, black, moldy wall. I stared at it for a moment, then went and wrote, trying to block out everything else.

I wrote more than usual. It was a very productive night.

Monday, December 03, 2007

A New Sense Of Space

Every writer knows how crucial it is to have his/her own space. We need to be able to get away for a bit to where it's just us and our characters. Any small intrusion on that space during times of creation can prove disastrous for our characters and our worlds. The experience can quite jarring, like being woken up at the climax of a great dream. I've gotten better at having my space molested by the sub-creatives of society, but there was a time when it would make me feel like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

Back home one of my daily assignments was to make the salad for dinner. I know, it's a pretty lame chore. (FYI, 8 years ago “lame” would have been “gay”. I'm glad I've outgrown that.) Anyway, it would end up working out that I would be doing some of the best writing of my younger years shortly before dinner. I can't count how many times my soldiers have been ready to charge the enemy, or my unsuspecting villain has been in the crosshairs of a rifle, or my likable but expendable character is about to say his last words when all of a sudden my mom shouts across the house, “Make the salad!” “Dude, are you serious?” says my expandable character as he laughs at me from the page.

So here I am in New York, things working out pretty good at a glance. I find myself staying either at my brother's or my girlfriend's, but whereas I've always had some space to call my own, I now find myself to be the awkward molester of other people's space. I have experienced some of my worst writing droughts during this time. The solution isn't as simple as being alone, as I thought it would be. Being alone certainly helps, but there's something about having a location that you are completely familiar with, a location in which you are aware of every creak and slope and shadow, that incubates the creative mind.

My next big goal is obvious. I have to find my own space. And when I do I will certainly have a new found appreciation for it, because I've learned something about myself. I can make it in New York City (and probably any other city) without a space to call my own, but I can never be a writer of any kind until I find my home.