The Blue Line

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As I’m watching the de-icing of jets on the Frankfurt airport tarmac, wrapped in a music playlist I put together a lifetime ago in Madrid, a strange realization comes over me: I don’t have a desire to live in Chicago again. I love that city so much. But in this moment, my time there feels complete.

The soft spot will remain, but I’ve carried around the regret of not choosing to move back there when returning to the US for years, possibly for as long as I’ve lived in Colorado. The beauty and grime that mix in the most uncontrived way possible has always captivated me. The other great American cities are actually great city-states, unique cultures in their own right. But Chicago, more than any other city, represents the good and bad of America: the friendly welcoming nature, excitement, opportunity, modern beauty, and livability, while also contributing the violence, wealth disparity, obesity, isolation, and god-fearing weather, that I’ve come to associate with the country where I was born.

Chicago is unmistakably American. And so it’s strange that here of all places, in this clean and sterile German airport, that my thoughts have returned to the Second City. Chicago felt comfortable in a way that few places ever will. I’ve wanted to relive my life in Wicker Park and Logan Square: slowly crawling down the blue line from The Whistler, Rainbo Room, Big Star, Violet Hour, until finally, inevitably, ending at Empty Bottle. But I’m not that man anymore, and I’m ready to feel that connection with someplace new.

Technology is not Culture

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In the airline seat I grow restless. I watch as the teenager next to me purchases wifi to rip through Instagram, and then Snapchat. He moves faster than I could ever consume the information. When I was younger, and people would talk about their disgust for technology, it always revolved around the speed of things: shortening attention spans, more information, less human interaction. That’s how the fear of technology was explained to me.

I always thought I would be fine, that the fear wouldn’t find me, because even if I couldn’t keep up to date, I believed that I could empathize with the desire to move faster. But as I watch him, I realize that it’s not the speed at which the photos and videos fly across the screen that weighs me down, but the sheer inanity of the content: in every one it’s a picture some has taken of themselves, or a video they’ve taken of themselves. I can’t hear what they’re saying, which usually gives me solace, but in this case strips out any of the distractions. It’s one endless stream of selfies, monologues, dancing, singing, staring at food, drinking water, faces framed in landscape, cameras being passed from duck face to pouting face, and blank stares. It’s overwhelmingly repulsive, and I realize it’s not the technology that people struggle with, but the reconciliation of a culture that leaves them feeling empty and severed. And then the sadness sets in when you realize that the culture didn’t change, you did. You could have consumed this five years ago, but now it’s at best a curiosity, and at worst a terror. Culture doesn’t change, you do.

And yet technology is not culture. But it is the most effective mechanism of delivery. And in that effectiveness lives the fear, because it accelerates the alienation. And so what do I do with my repulsion? I get out my notebook, and write about myself, the biggest hypocrite of them all.

Closing Doors

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It’s raining, but pulsating with light, when I wake up. I walk towards the glow of the window, and look out across the patio, and into a courtyard that seems slapdash and tight. The buildings surrounding me are all about the same height, and all I can see rising above the skyline are the cranes of new construction.

As I wake, I realize I’ve never seen San Francisco in the daytime. I’m embarrassed of the fact, given the industry I’m in, and my love of film noir. I need to find a map to get my bearings, as the hills and the flat height of the construction, make it impossible to find any landmark from the apartment.

I haven’t been here before because it doesn’t fit my endless travel trajectories, and as a result my corresponding life. I go East now: Minneapolis, Chicago, Kansas City, New York, Amsterdam, Germany, not West. The next ten years, at least, will be an exercise in moving further and further East. I want that to happen, because I want to be closer to my daughter. However, I like it here. Not just San Fran, but the entire Northwest: Portland, Seattle, Vancouver.

I know what it’s like for a closing door to feel like a gift, but it doesn’t in this instance. I’m sad that I wasn’t able to spend more time in these places, or maybe it’s a more base sadness that the opportunity has been pulled from the table. I don’t know if I could have made a life here, but I have the feeling that I could have been content for years.

Yet that limitation is a small price to pay, and one I give willingly, to have something so meaningful as a life with my daughter.

In This Moment, I Know

Posted on 1 min read 62 views

My daughter is sick. We go to the zoo but she refuses to walk, and so I carry her on my shoulders. She won’t speak, but only points at things she wants. Eventually she points to a bench, and we sit down. She sits a few feet way from me, but as she get more and more tired, she slowly closes the distance between us. Finally, she rests against my shoulder, and closes her eyes. I pick her up, and hold her in my arms. Instinctively her hands burrow into my coat, and she falls asleep almost instantaneously. As she breathes, I rest my cheek against hers, and I realize this is the best part of the trip. This moment, even if it’s one she won’t be able to remember, means more to me then anything else that has happened since I arrived in Germany. And because of that I know that I am happy.

A Defense Mechanism

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My thoughts return to a repeated question: are we born to be happy, or is it a learned behavior? I don’t want to know from some study of lab rats, or by analyzing people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. I simply want to know anecdotally, in my own life. I remember being happy, and I remember being sad, but then when I dive into the memories, I can barely recall either. There is a prevailing sense of anxiety slipping through everything, as if I were throwing a caffeine pill into each memory, simply to watch the shearing effect it would have. But feeling happy, and feeling sad, are so rare it strikes me as artificial.
And if that’s the case, then why do I feel so fucking guilty when I’m happy? Not to be left out, I feel guilty when I’m sad as well, but that feeling of guilt seems more appropriate, given my relatively positive circumstances. But happy, happy just about kills me. Because happiness ends, and even when I can acknowledge it, and live in the moment for as long as possible, it still doesn’t seem worth it. Given that my most obvious memories of happiness come from my childhood, it’s likely that I’ve actively trained myself to avoid it: a defense mechanism to a naturally ever-progressing world.

Balance It Out

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I feel like a man possessed. I find myself drifting back down 17th St. in Denver. A place I lived only briefly, but where I felt a rare connection in a city that has the depth of an also-ran Dubai. I write for hours in cafes and bars, and look back on what I’ve written with surprise and déjà vu. The writing is strange to me, but vaguely familiar.
I must look borderline insane, my head resting on the back of my hand, inches from the paper. I drink coffee until I can feel my heartbeat in my eyeballs. And then I switch to beer to try and balance it out. I’m no good after two drinks, but I drink slow, and feel the slow warmth of reassurance spreading through my brain. It’s not a novel feeling anymore, but there’s more pleasure in the familiarity then I would have ever guessed when I was young.

Feel Better

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I forgot for a long time why I ever started writing in the first place. It wasn’t to keep the memories for longer than they would float in my head, and it wasn’t to share the writing with others. It was simple; it made me feel better. It kept me from circling the drain: it was therapist, Xanax, and best friend, all insulating me from the grating quiet of everyday life.
Somewhere it moved away from that. It became another part of my life where I needed to allocate time, another pull on the thin thread keeping things together. And then, when I’d forgotten how it feels to write frantically in a dirty notebook with ink covered hands, when I’d forgotten that it’s even an option, it finds me again. And I realize it’s the simplest siren song: I just feel better when I write.

Drunken Rat

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A while ago, for a number of situational reasons, I decided that I had had enough of living in the least communicative life I had ever occupied. It consisted mostly of me running around like a drunken rat during work hours, and letting unspoken things dominate my personal life. I became a high-functioning nervous wreck, and so the concept of vulnerability was appealing to me: put it out there, and let it go. Regardless of the outcome, at least you put it out there. What an appealing concept after years of insomnia and motor skill deterioration.

Like a drug addict that’s found religion, I’ve taken it too far. I hate this new “vulnerable” me in equal bizarro measure that I hated the old “stoic” me. I went from living on pins and needs, to sulking around with dark circles under my eyes. Vulnerability is just a one-sided conversation, which leaves me feeling embarrassed and exposed. Apparently, I’m not good at either. I should have known better, because that’s the problem with binary solutions, one way or another, they each get their pound of flesh.

A Younger Me

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Middle age comes on hard. People like to say it’s a state of mind. I don’t disagree, but there are elements that are unavoidable, regardless of your mindset.

I often times think about what I would say to a younger “me”. It’s seems like such a waste that despite all of the mistakes I’ve made, they will have to be repeated by the human race ad infinitum. A part of the life experience, I suppose. But if that were actually true, I wouldn’t be jealous of my younger self. I keep hoping that something from that old version of me rubs off on the person I’ve become.

Giving up the Ghost

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From November, 2015:

What am I missing? What am I not seeing? I’m in a club so full of smoke that I can’t distinguish things 2 feet in front of me. It’s a long time before I realize that this is strategic. Again, what am I missing?

I’m not sure how I ended up in this place. But I’m with someone that I used to love. In fact, I probably loved her more than I’ve ever loved anyone, besides my daughter. But instead of love, I feel empty. I can’t tell if it’s because we’ve drifted too far apart, or if it’s the smoke, or the drinks, or if I’ve become something unrecognizable, but I can’t get back to where I was. Yet every time I look at her, I know why I once felt that way.

What I’m left with is one constant phrase: if you love something, let it go. Perhaps one the hardest things in life, is realizing that someone you loved for so long, is a stranger.

I met her in the hallway of a bar: I was twenty, she was nineteen; she’s Czech, and I’m American. That night should have been all of it. Except that it continued for years. Except that we grew to love each other. It was my fault when it ended, but in a situation that was far from clean. That was a long time ago now. And after all this time, the only thing holding us together are those shared memories.