Interview With Randall Sokoloff (A Brief Excerpt) (Post #421)

The writer Marty Fletcher interviews the writer, blogger, artist and psychotherapist Randall Sokoloff. This interview will be published in our upcoming summer issue of WEDONTEXIST Magazine, which will be about the art of blogging.

Randall: Hello?

Interviewer: Hi Randall. Should we continue the interview now for thirty more minutes or so?

Randall: Sure. What was it you were saying last time we talked?

Interviewer: I’ve been reading your blog and other published writings for a long time now. I can’t seem to figure out what exactly you are doing but this interview is an attempt to make some sense of your writing. Is it one big lie you are constructing or are you actually telling this continuous, never-ending story with each piece that you write, like an open ended novel? I think of your writing as merging somewhere in between these two points, but I wanted to ask you, what are you doing?

Randall: With my writing?

Interviewer: Yes.

Randall: I like a quote from Stevenson about fiction: “The novel, which is a work of art, exists, not by its resemblances to life, which are forced and material, as a shoe must consist of leather, but by its immeasurable difference from life, which is both designed and significant, and is both the method and the meaning of the work.” So for me the meaning has nothing to do with what I write, the meaning of what I write is entirely in the distance from what is being written about.

Interviewer: So you are merging both method and meaning?

Randall: I suppose. Each story that I write is really just setting up the need for another story, so yes your statement about my writing as a kind of continuous and unfinished novel or literary project is correct.

Interviewer: The meaning of what you write is to be found in its distance from reality?

Randall: I think that fiction is realistic when it reminds readers that what they are reading is a complete lie. Getting readers to a point where they can accept the pleasure and excitement of the text they are reading as being just that and not a reflection of something else. In fiction meaning only exists in the experience of reading. Outside of the book or blog entry the story does not exist. The meaning is temporary, transitory, like all forms of meaning. It is the same when watching a film or listening to music. The meaning is transitory. The problem is when people try to extend the meaning of art into reality (the world).

Interviewer: What I like about certain stories or pieces of music is that they are not trying to offer up some kind of conclusion that you can take home with you. There is an infinite bundle of possibilities within the piece but ultimately it does not mean anything beyond the experience of reading or listening. Even though I feel like sometimes you are offering solutions in your work, I don’t feel like there are any conclusions. Just infinite possibilities.

Randall: I like that reading of my work. Thank you. For me, fiction is the only authentic terrain where anarchy is still possibility within a society that has become completely militarized and regulated. Within the context of fiction the writer has limitless possibilities. They can shape realities in whatever way they want. This is the exciting thing about blogging. There are no rules online. Do whatever you want! There is the freedom to create whatever meaning you want to create. Where else in life can a person do this?

Interviewer: This is why it so important to not accept any conclusion, even though it may look good.

Randall: Absolutely. In our current society, if you accept a conclusion, chances are you have accepted propaganda- not straight talk.

Interviewer: I feel like your work has something to do with a kind of resistance. Resistance to the status quo, to the society you find yourself living in. It seems like there is a kind of heroic struggle in your writing.

Randall: I don’t know about that. Sure there is a lot of resistance in my writing. Writing for me is an act of resistance against status quo. Ultimately, I’m trying to work through the problem of sincerity. I am attempting a kind of sincerity between what the story is about and what is being said. This is the interesting problem for me to try and work out in my writing.

Interviewer: Yes. The pleasure of reading your work, for me at least, is going on this journey as you try and work through the interesting problem you just spoke of. You are a terrific narrator and you make things happen on the page that I identify deeply with. Even if you are not understanding what may be going on there is still the pleasure of discovery when reading what you write. I feel like I get to join you on the path of discovery, that reaching into what you do not know yet.

Randall: Thank you. I like that and would like to say more about it. Do you mind if I go get a cup of coffee quickly and then you could call me back in say twenty minutes?

Interviewer: Sure. No problem. I could use some coffee myself.

Read more of this interview with Randall Sokoloff in the upcoming summer issue of WEDONTEXIST Magazine!

Why I Am Breaking Up With Facebook (Again). (Post #420)

My writing is a mixture of quasi-autobiography and fiction. I pull from my life but then run it through my imagination. Some people go to sports events, bars, sex shows or movies to have fun. I have fun by combining my real life with my imagination and then blending it all together through writing.

Several years ago I wrote a mini-story called Confessions Of A Facebook Addict. It was ten percent autobiography, the rest was fiction. This is why I distinctively remember having a lot of fun writing the story in my small writing studio in Davis, California. I sent the story out to several publications but no one was interested. I posted the story on my blog and no one read it. Confessions Of A Facebook Addict, like most online stories, hung there suspended and unread in digital space. After a few weeks I forgot all about it.

But then I began receiving emails. The New York Times, The Huntington Post, Money Magazine and many other on and offline publications I had never heard of wanted to interview me about my Facebook addiction. I thought about whether or not I should tell the truth and let them know I am not really addicted to Facebook and it was just a story I made up. But I have always been interested in the intersection between life and art. I love it when art gets away with imitating life. Doesn’t happen often that art can be victorious over the forces of banality and conformity that are continually trying to destroy it. But sometimes art sneaks in and no one knows it’s happening. Blending art with the banality of real life is something I never had the opportunity to do outside of my blog and other writings. This was my moment, my one shot to make my small contribution. So I played the part and pretended to be the character that I wrote about in Confessions Of A Facebook Addict. I was interviewed and confessed to being a Facebook addict and before I knew it the fictional character was being made real in many on and offline publications such as The Huntington Post. This just goes to show that A LOT of what you read online is not true.

I did leave Facebook not long after. I broke up with Facebook because I already had enough anxiety in my own life and felt like Facebook was adding an extra level of anxiety that I really did not need. Like most people, my relationship with social media is complicated and not having this added complication present in a life that already felt complicated, was really nice. Facebook keeps a person in touch with people who in a world without Facebook would remain in the past. I think it is healthy for most people you have known to remain apart of your past. The past heals. We know each other for a period of time and then we don’t. This is natural. But holding on to a past that should be long gone creates all kinds of unnecessary difficulties. It is something that is not supposed to be happening and we suffer the consequences for holding on to something that really should no longer be there.

As it is with a lot of complicated relationships that have a blend of love/hate feelings, after a three year absence I returned to Facebook not really knowing why. It was good to be back because Facebook is a realm in which time stands still. In a world where time ravages everyone I know and knew, it was nice to find a warm place seemingly immune from the ravages of time. Sure the interface and various Facebook accessories changed, but more or less everyone was still doing the same thing; posting about fun times, feelings, people they love, opinions, songs and bands they love, things they have accomplished, political and spiritual perspectives and on and on. As a man who is not entirely comfortable with the rapid passing of time, Facebook provided me with a kind of SAFE SPACE in which to hide from storm. A space where whether people are aware of it or not, everyone is taking collective shelter from the ravages of time. This is what creates that underlying sense of community on Facebook. It is a community of people all connecting up together and pushing back against the forces of entropy.

Like most communities that provide people with a safe space, it is easy to get too involved, too quick. Of course I involved myself too much, too quick. I got in over my head as I often tend to do with most things. I shared and said too much. Without Facebook, a person is much more alone in the outside world. Fewer people listen to things you have to say. You get to be less yourself. At times being alone in the outside world can feel isolating. You might even question if you really matter anymore especially when you know that to be relevant in this tech driven world, you must join the gathering going on inside. I already have a tendency to share too much in my day to day life. Give me a microphone and I become that quiet guy who has so much more to say than you ever thought possible. Like most people, I keep a lot in, but when given any opportunity to express myself, it will be a gushing forth.

This time around on Facebook, I deleted more status updates than I shared. The status updates I did share, I felt apprehensive about. Did I say too much? Maybe I should not have said that? This was my common thought process every time I posted something. I did not want to post banal status updates about say my new puppy or the plate of food I was eating but I was also aware that Facebook is a pretty conservative place where people are overly concerned about what others might think of them. Most people on Facebook just elect to play it safe. Personally, I find this boring but maybe that is my downfall. Like Icarus, despite your warnings, if you give me wings to fly I will definitely get too close to the sun. And besides, do most of my “friends” on Facebook really need to know this stuff about me? Maybe they need for me to be just as a part of their past as I need them to be apart of mine. This is not a bad thing.

So in a sense, maybe Karma has bit me in the ass. The character in Confessions Of A Facebook Addict is a neurotic man overly concerned with all the different nuances involved in the Facebook world. He is continually wondering about what others think of him, angry about the vast degree of passive aggressive behaviors and judgement of others that is an epidemic on Facebook. He is annoyed with his own narcissism, human folly and frustrated that he allows Facebook to turn him into what he feels like he has become. In a lesser way, maybe this is what is starting to happen to me now.

Some people, like my wife, can be very responsible with their Facebook usage. They check in every few weeks or so and that is it. Some people have no need to share at all. They play the role of the voyeuristic troll going on Facebook to see what certain people are up to. But then there are those of us who go on Facebook several times a day. When given an opportunity for self-expression, we indulge. As an artist, writer or any creative person this is a great asset. The artist or writer who has a lot of self-restraint when it comes to self-expression makes mostly boring art. All surface no depth. But Facebook is not the place for most kinds of self-indulgent, self-expression and if someone does not take the mike away from me I will keep expressing myself when maybe what I really need to do is shut up and sit down. This is why I am breaking up with Facebook (again). It feels like the right thing to do before karma really sneaks up on me and turns me into that character in Confessions Of A Facebook Addict.

It is always a beneficial human ability to know when it is the right time to jump ship and then to be brave enough to actually jump. Without this ability, we just live our lives stuck on the edge.

I’m jumping (again).

Conversation With A Record Store Clerk (#Post 419)

*This will be my final post for a week or so. I will be finishing a short novel, which I hope to self-publish in full on this site. Thank you.

 

UnknownI am not a conversationalist. At least this is what I tell myself. When I do engage in interesting conversations with certain people, I often find it a relief to get out of my own head for a bit. I then wonder to myself, what would I be like if I was more of a conversationalist? What would I be like if I actually struck up conversations with random strangers? But I don’t. Normally I keep to myself and pretend not to see other people.

Maybe if I took a small dosage of a certain psychiatric drug I would be more of a conversationalist? Or, maybe if I drank beer or consumed marijuana on a regular basis I would be more interested in talking with other people? What would it take? In my normal state of sobriety I don’t really want to talk to anyone. This is why I was so surprised when I walked into the record store yesterday and started up a conversation with the record store clerk.

I startled even myself when I said, “Hey, how are you doing?” Startled, because when I said this I was actually interested in hearing his response. Normally I am not. I use this question in the same way I use soap, it’s a habit. Do I really care about the response? I’m not certain. I am often asking the question before I know I am asking the question. Hey, How Are You Doing? It’s a question in a can that I have been trained to pull from without thinking about it.

Hey, How Are You Doing?

Hey, How Are You Doing?

I feel bad about how often I have disingenuously utilized this question. I try not to do that anymore but like all bad habits, it sneaks in. For whatever reason, I meant it this time. Maybe it was because I have a deep respect for anyone who works in a record store.

Walking into a record store (for me) is always a feeling of walking into a happier place. A record store is a place filled with endless possibilities, endless new discoveries. Very rarely am I more excited about life than when I walk into a record store. What new discovery will I make today? I am no different from a child walking into a toy store or a religious person walking into their holy space. My mood is instantly lifted every time I walk into a record store.

“Oh, I don’t know. I am existing I guess,” the record store clerk replied in a defeated kind of way. Shoulders hunched, back bent from carrying too much psychic weight as Sade played on the sound system. I don’t know why or what this says about me but immediately I could relate. I stopped at the counter and he moved towards the counter. I wanted to hear more of what he had to say.

“Other people just really suck, you know? The mass human beings just fill me with such disdain and disgust. I really don’t like other people at all. Such a selfish and ugly species, destroying everything we touch. Like cattle or something. Just a really stupid people. You should see the crap I have to sell everyday. I don’t know man, I just don’t like other people one bit,” he said while looking me straight in the eyes.

He looked like a nice guy. A guy that was once a cute kid deeply loved by his parents. He had wide brown eyes and a boyish smile. His hair was short, black and parted to the side but his style (Guided By Voices t-shirt and black jeans) indicated that maybe he stopped caring about fashion after the nineties ended.

“I understand man, I really do.” I meant what I said rather than saying something I did not mean just to be nice. I have found myself thinking similar things about other people from time to time.

“Other people can be really troubling, I know. I get it. We are in a really difficult period in human history. I get it man,” I said.

“You do?” he said with a smile breaking through what I assumed was a permanent grin on his face.

“I do, I really do.”

“You know, I think my day just got a lot better. I am so happy to know that I am not insane for feeling the way I do,” he said.

“No, you are not insane at all. I get it and don’t disagree with you but the question is what are you going to do with the set of circumstances you have found yourself in? You live in this society surrounded by people you have immense disdain for. What do you do?” I asked. I was hopeful that maybe he would provide me with an answer.

“Suicide?”

“Didn’t Albert Camus write that the only real question is whether or not we should kill ourselves?” I asked not thinking that he would know.

“Yeah, but Camus advocated against suicide in favor of making life as meaningful as possible within the meaninglessness of life. In his book The Myth Of Sisyphus, Camus wrote about how we, like Sisyphus, are doomed to have to roll the boulder up and down the hill every fucking day for a lifetime and that we should learn to make the best of it even though none of it means anything and it all sucks,” he replied. I was impressed.

“I thought Camus thought that suicide was the only reasonable answer given the situation human beings have found themselves in?” I asked.

“No, he argued for making the best out of a life that would always be filled with suffering and ultimately has no meaning. That is existentialism,” the record store clerk replied.

“I see, I guess I had that one backwards.” I was slightly embarrassed by my ignorance but glad to finally get it straight.

“So then what do we do?” I asked him again.

“Roll the boulder with a smile? I don’t know man, I just spend most of my time reading and listening to records. Outside of work that is all I do. I am a consumer of culture. A culture whore. I consume but do not produce. I don’t produce anything. All consumption with no production. I just read and listen to records. It’s pathetic, I know.”

“I dont think its pathetic at all. How old are you?” I thought he might say 32 or 33.

“I am 40 man,” he said as if it was something to be ashamed of. As if he should have all of this figured out by now.

“40, that is tough. It definitely gets harder at 40, I know,” I replied sympathetically.

Again his eyes opened wide and his back straightened. “Really. Thank you for saying that. I really appreciate that. Everyone is always telling me that No Everything Will Be Fine, Everything Is Ok, Don’t Get So Down but no one seems to acknowledge how much harder it actually gets. I am glad you do.”

“Yeah, it does get harder,” I said. I wanted to say: Yeah it does get harder especially if you have a lot of self-judgement, are working retail and have a strong dislike of other people.

He kept looking around the store trying to see if his manager was looking at him and getting frustrated that he was taking up so much time having a conversation with a customer. I didn’t want to get him in trouble, so I started moving the conversation towards an ending point.

“Reading and listening to records all the time is not a bad thing. Someone has to do it in order for there to be writers and musicians,” I said. “Some of the greatest artists, musicians and writers were obsessive consumers of culture.”

“Yeah I know but I am not producing anything, just consuming.”

“So what? That is great that you have something you love to do!”

“Yeah but I am not consuming stuff that the mass of people consume. I can’t stand all that crap. I consume obscure books and records that no one reads or listens to so it can feel really alienating and isolating,” he said while looking around the store.

“I know man. I like all of that stuff as well. It does make you an outsider,” I replied.

“Thank you, an outsider. That is exactly what I am. A doomed outsider.”

“Oh common, you are fortunate to have discovered and cultivated an interest for music and books that the mass of people have no idea exists. Don’t look at it as a bad thing. By working at a record store you are just buying time. Buying time so that you can spend the rest of your time reading and listening to records. It’s a very noble pursuit in a time where most people’s interests are shaped by massive advertising and entertainment companies making a fortune from figuring out how to feed the mass of people a steady diet of mind numbing crap filled with propaganda,” I said.

I really wanted him to know that he was not alone. That we were floating along in the same boat.

“Maybe so, but I’m not producing anything. A person should produce something.”

“You just need to stop judging yourself for that one. That is your real problem. You got to just let yourself enjoy what you love doing. Stop beating yourself up about it. Listening to obscure records and being a reader is a perfectly productive way to spend a life.”

It seemed like he was becoming a bit lighter. Like his mind was backing off from the beating it was always giving him. He told me about his two divorces and his recent break up with his girlfriend. I asked if the decline of these relationships had anything to do with his misery. He said no, then yes, then definitely his first two marriages but not the recent break up with the girlfriend. I asked him his name.

“Anthony,” he said.

“I’m Randall,” I said reaching out my hand to shake his. I felt like I was meeting someone who I could be good friends with but probably never will be. We seemed to be similar in many different ways except that he was still spending much of his time beating himself up. I like to think that I finished with that long ago.

He looked around the store again, this time he looked worried about being reprimanded by his manager who was walking around the store pushing a cart filled with records and then filing them away into their correct resting place.

“Well, I am going to go buy a record. It was really nice talking with you,” I said.

“Really nice talking with you as well,” he replied.

I walked further into the record store, ready to make a new discovery.

Sleeping Upside Down (Post #418)

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It is difficult. It requires commitment and a will to succeed. It is not something that you just do, like watching television or driving a car. No, sleeping upside down requires a discipline and willpower that most humans would rather not engage in. But anyone who succeeds at anything must push through immense resistance and be persistent even though all they want to do is quit. Persistence is not easy and it requires moving against the forces of gravity. But persistence is the only way that human beings can achieve anything that is impossible for most people to do, especially when it comes to hair growth.

I was always the one with a full, curly head of hair. In a crowd of people my head of hair would be the first thing noticed. I had (and still have to an extent) the kind of hair that can only be bestowed upon a person through the inheritance of certain genetic predisposition. I won the cosmic hair lottery. But I suppose all good genes suffer the same fate- there must come a time for their rapid decline. A decade or so ago, as I was at work on my first novel entitled The Absurdist, I noticed strands of hair collecting on the paper as I wrote. I remember thinking, Oh no, the time has come. I felt like I was still too young to really start losing hair, but I also was well aware of the destiny that awaited me.

My father, my four uncles and both of my grandfathers all had large bald spots on the back of their head. As a young man I remember thinking that they all looked like they had encountered angry Native Americans seeking revenge on Jewish white men. (I did not realize then that being scalped involved taking out a chunk of the scalp along with the hair. I just thought it was the absence of hair.) I grew into adulthood assuming that one day I would look like I had been scalped as well. The site of my father’s bald spot would induce a depression in me so deep that I would refuse to get out of bed. What was the point of growing older if this was my fate? I thought. (This was before I knew that having a completely bald head had some sex appeal.) But like most things that horrify us, I put balding out of mind, stopped looking at the back of my family members heads and forget about it until years later strands of hair started falling from my head like a winter’s snow.

A decade later and now the bald spot is just about to break through the thinning hairs on the back of my head and declare itself for what it is, a bald spot. I still have enough hair to hide the spot but it is kind of like a girl wearing a thin, white t-shirt without a bra. If you look hard enough you can see her breasts just underneath. I am now at this point, what my barber calls the balding line. There is little time left before a spot of bald scalp will appear on my head. I needed to take radical action. I tried all the Thai, Swiss, Arabic, Australian and Russian massage techniques and a plethora of nutritional remedies but nothing seemed to work. Online I found a community of almost balding or bald men who wanted their hair back so bad that they were willing to sleep upside down. The site claimed that sleeping upside down is the best way to generate new hair growth but they also claim that it is no quick fix. In the About Sleeping Upside Down section of the website it reads: Sleeping upside down can be brutal. It is not for those who are not desperate and it is filled with obstacles. You can no longer sleep next to your partner and this might create intimacy issues. You can no longer read or watch television in order to fall asleep due to nausea and headache issues. If you have to wake in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, it is at least a thirty minute process. Sleeping upside down is a radical lifestyle change but it will give you your hair back.

Using the instructions in the Sleeping Upside Down How To section of the website, I created my own sleeping upside down contraption. The contraption is not unlike an inversion table. The difference is that with the contraption I made, I am using a long piece of the strongest kind of silk material that exists. It is so strong that it is used by various inversion and ariel artists. I attached this piece of material to a bar and hooks that hang from my ceiling and can hold my body weight. When it comes time for bed I sit inside the material (kind of like a hammock) and then with a strong push of my body weight I swing myself upside down. I rest my legs and feet up against the wall and support my head with a pillow that I keep inside the silk material. This took getting used to (the continual pulsations in my head and ears were the hardest part) but over the past ten days I have become more and more accustomed to sleeping upside down.

My wife is frustrated that we no longer fall asleep holding one another, but she is fifteen years younger than I and the last thing she wants is a husband with a bald spot. As a result she has been supportive. I have yet to see any proof that sleeping upside down is working. The testimonies and information on the Sleeping Upside Down website claim that it takes at least two months before a person sees any significant new hair growth. Over time, immersing the scalp in at least eight hours of blood flow directly to the scalp will generate new hair growth (so they say). If a person wants to achieve what most ordinary mortals consider impossible, then they must be willing to take great risks. It is the only way. All I want to do is quit and return to my comfortable bed and hold my wife tightly as we fall off to sleep together. This is all I want to do but if I do it I know I will end up with a bald spot. So I must persist. Persistence is the only way anything impossible become possible. This much I know for certain.

I refuse to go bald just yet. I have a wife that fell in love with me because of my full head of curly hair. The way that I rebel against the forces of normalcy (that run rampant in our American society) is by letting my hair grow longer than I should. If I had a bald spot in the back of my head, I would loose all cultural legitimacy. It is at this point that I presume I would begin to hunch over, go limp and grow old (unless of course I made the radical decision to shave my entire head). A bald spot in the back of my head would be the ultimate defeat, which I realize is inevitable with age. But I am not ready for this yet, since I believe I have many potent years still to go. Every night I will sleep upside down for as long as need be. I will tell my wife I love her and kiss her goodnight from a distance. I will persist and hopefully in the end, all this sleeping upside down will allow me to prevail over the forces of my genetic destiny.

Ten Ways To Escape From The Outside World (Post #417)

Sure, it is good to go out and get in to the outside world. But the opposite is also true, it is just as good (if not better) to escape from the outside world. For those who love peace and calm the outside world can be a very difficult space to navigate. While it may be healthy to go out now and then, here are ten tips (which, I have tested out myself for weeks at a time) for periodically or permanently escaping the outside world:

#1. Procrastinate. Don’t think about it, don’t worry about it, don’t care about it. Just leave it alone. Stay present and let the future work itself out. Just enjoy your time now and don’t worry about what may or may not be coming up ahead.

#2. Really try to stay offline. Turn your phone off as much as possible, don’t check email, don’t go online. Try to live your life as if none of that existed. Do anything else but use the internet.

#3. Be creative. Write a story or write in a journal. Paint something. Make a detailed drawing. Build something. Garden. Make a sculpture out of wood. Think up your own philosophy about something and write it down. Talk to yourself about something interesting. Play a musical instrument. Move the furniture around in your house or apartment. Do anything that feels like you are engaging the more creative parts of your brain.

#4. Listen to music. Find interesting music that engages your creativity, or imagination and listen to it. Currently I am listening to the earlier work of Klaus Schulze, who is a German electronic musician. If you have yet to listen to much Krautrock, I recommend starting there. Give Kraftwerk’s earlier albums a try. Or listen to classical music. Listen to records. Listen to cassetes. Listen to the radio. Spend quality time really immersing yourself in musical sounds.

#5. Don’t worry about stuff. This is so important since the outside world really gets its hooks in you through worry. This is how the outside world holds you hostage. So do whatever you can to stop worrying. Meditate, play music, listen to music, go for a walk, drink a glass of wine, do deep breathing, make art, write in a journal- anything to get control of your worry.

#6. Watch cats, birds or dogs. Notice what they do, how they spend their day and try to learn from them. Eat, play, go to the bathroom, rest, listen, observe, sleep.

#7. Just sit there. Pascal, the French writer, mathematician, inventor and philosopher (he made good use of his time while escaping the outside world) said that most of what ails human beings would be avoided if we could just learn how to be content sitting in a chair, alone in a room. So just stay where you are. Hang out. Control yourself. Stay put. Relax. Chill. You really do not need to be running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off.

#8. Don’t drive anywhere. For the most part, once you are driving a car you are immersed in the outside world. Driving a car involves you in the affairs of the world. You are subject to the legal system, stress and other driver’s personality disorders. There is no way to escape the outside world when in a car. Walk wherever you need to go. Stay on foot. You can walk all around in the outside world but still be free from it.

#9. Stay Home. I know this will be difficult for many, but and ideal way to escape the outside world is to not go into it. Stay home. Many of the above recommendations are things to keep you occupied while home. If you are really involved in your creative work you will have no need to leave your home (other than possibly for food). Find a space in your home where you like to be and just stay there. Don’t go online. Don’t talk on the phone. Don’t text. Read, write, meditate, listen to music, clean, sleep, watch films, cook- just be home.

#10. Read. This is the number one way to escape the outside world. Have you ever met a prolific reader who feels like they are all there? Probably not because the reader exists mostly in their head, not the outside world. If you are not a reader, chances are that you are completely swallowed up by the outside world. Reading prevents this from happening. Read novels, read non-fiction, read magazines. Read. I recommend reading really obscure, independent fiction. There is so much good stuff out there. Start with independent presses like Penny-Ante Press, Coffee House Press, Akashic Books or Two Dollar Radio. Engage your intellect and imagination. READ. If you become an engaged reader, this will guarantee your escape from the outside world.

Confessions Of A Worn Out Superhero (The Man In Black) (Post #416)

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I have a confession to make. What better place to make it than here? It is a little embarrassing to be telling you this. Maybe it is a lot embarrassing since no one knows about this, not even my wife. I don’t know why I feel the need to come clean now, but it is time. I must. My hope is that my readers will not judge me too much. I realize that this is much different from anything you have read from me before. I also understand that what I am about to tell you may sound crazy to many. It may seem even mentally insane, but for me it is something so normal that I am not bothered by it. What does bother me is what I am about to confess to you.

Let me tell you the more typical part first. You ever see a spider trapped in its own web? Well, this is how I feel. We all play a part, a role in our social lives. In our day-to-day social lives everyone is acting. The role that I play is that of a psychotherapist. I am a very well-respected psychotherapist who is good at the job that I do. I care about the people I work with, probably too much. Everyday I come to work, conservatively dressed and ready to help others in need. Not far from my office I have a nice two bedroom home, on a quiet suburban street. I live there with my wife and three dogs. My wife is also a psychotherapist and we share the same office. Since I was married five years ago, my wife and I have built a very comfortable, safe, secure and meaningful life for ourselves. I suppose that you would be correct if you were to say that we live in domestic bliss. But underneath domestic bliss, there is always someone who feels stuck.

Unlike city living, suburban living demands a certain degree of conformity. One must play a particular part if they want to not deviate from the norm. If a person deviates too much from the norm in the suburbs, they could lose all of their cultural legitimacy. In the city, the norm is not as narrow and rigidified as it is in the suburbs. This is why many people who live in the suburbs live very different lives behind closed doors than the lives they live while working. If we really knew one another, we would be shocked by how different they are from the person we thought they were. Maybe this is why the suburbs breed a quiet life of desperation. You would not be wrong if you said that I was living a quiet life of desperation. I have done exactly what I am not supposed to do if I really wanted to be the person that I am. I am not supposed to find domestic bliss just yet.

So I guess I will just come right out and tell you. I apologize for taking so long but I needed to preface my confession with some important supporting details. In the back of my bedroom closet I have what I guess you could call a uniform. It has been hanging there for years, unworn by me. The uniform consists of a black suit, with a black belt and black button down collared shirt (which, I wore buttoned all the way up). There is also a black face mask and a black rimmed hat. Beneath the suit there is a pair of wingtip  black shoes with a pair of black dress socks stuffed in them. The black face mask I keep hidden, so my wife has not seen it. She has seen everything else though and wonders why I have never worn my “nice outfit.” I tell her it is something I wore a lot before we met but have just not had a chance to put it on since. She has often wanted to go out to a nice club, a place where I could put the black suit on and have some fun, but I always tell her I am not in the mood. She basically thinks of my black suit as an outfit I used to go out and have a stylish, fun night in. She knows nothing about The Man In Black.

Yes, I was once The Man In Black. I was what most people would refer to as a superhero. I never thought of myself as a superhero but I guess I was. In my mind I was just some guy who was inspired by the graphic novel The Watchmen and wanted to do something about all the tricks I saw the police and local government officials playing on the more disenfranchised people in the city where I lived. I bought my black suit and all of its accessories at a Salvation Army store in downtown Oakland for less than forty bucks. From the moment I put the entire outfit on, in my small studio apartment, I felt strong and powerful in a way that I had never felt before. I was in my mid-twenties and living in a poorer neighborhood of Oakland, California. I was confused and angry like most men in their mid-twenties who are yet to figure out what they are going to do with their life but the moment I put the black suit on I found my life’s purpose. I knew I could not change the world, but I could make the city where I lived a better place for those with less power and money. This became my main objective.

I suppose that I was not your typical kind of superhero. I did not get in fights. I did not kill anyone. I did not jump off buildings or scale walls. I had no real superhero powers other than that of my intellect and sense of confidence when I put the black suit on. All I did was talk to people. Go figure. I would walk around the Oakland ghetto (West and East Oakland) dressed in my black suit with hat and face mask on and speak with the prostitutes, the crack addicts, the pimps and the gangsters. I would tell them that they were capable of so much more than what they were doing and that they were falling into the trap that society had created for them. I would tell them that the government wanted them to be doing exactly what they were doing so that they could catch them, charge them, put them in jail and make lots of money off of them. I would help these “social deviants” to see the errors of their own ways and get them off the streets and working towards bettering their lives. I believed that knowledge was ultimate power and because of this, they listened.

I would walk into the middle of a dark street and stop the men who would spend hours and hours driving around the ghetto looking for young prostitutes to pick up. When the men would see me in front of their cars they would be startled. It was always after midnight that I would go out so I imagine that the site of me was quite frightening. I didn’t mean to startle anyone but it was better that they be shocked by me than handcuffed and publicly humiliated by the police once they got caught. There is no greater social disgrace than to get arrested for soliciting a prostitute and I would make these men, some of whom would spend hours in their cars day after day searching for just the right prostitute, realize this. I would walk up to their car window, make them roll their windows down and then tell them who I was and that I realized that they were addicted to pornography and trying to live out sexual fantasies but what they were doing was incredibly dangerous to their social reputation. I told them of the humiliation they would suffer if caught by the police and most of these men would listen and head home when I was done speaking with them. I would go out on these missions at least three or four nights a week and every time I returned home to my apartment I felt incredibly satisfied, like I was doing real good in the world.

I did this for around ten years, until my wife and I moved to the suburbs. There was never any mention of me in the newspapers but over the course of the ten years that I would go out on what I called my midnight missions, violent crime, prostitution and crack abuse declined by 70% in Oakland. There was word on the streets about a crusader who went by the name The Man In Black, but outside of this, I was completely unknown. No one could understand the reason for the massive decline in illegal activities in Oakland. All I knew was that I was happy because now the police, the city and state government where not making nearly as much money off of those who had fallen into less fortunate fates. In fact, Oakland was going broke because they were now making very little money off those who were considered serious offenders. They could not get nearly as much money from parking, speeding and jaywalking tickets as they did by incarcerating prostitutes, pimps, drug addicts and gangsters. I was succeeding at the job of setting people straight. The only difficulty was that no one knew about me.

I was just Randall to everyone. No one knew what I was doing after midnight. I was just some poor, struggling artist who worked as a waiter and was confused about what I was going to do with my life. This is what most people thought of me. But I knew I was so much more than this but could not figure out how to make any money off of being The Man In Black. I did not want to sell out (like most superheroes do) by publicly claiming who I was and then getting all kinds of comic book, action figure and film deals. No this would be despicable. I could not live with myself if I sold out, so I kept my secret to myself. When I unexpectedly fell in love with my wife, I knew that I was going to have to give up being The Man In Black and go back to graduate school so I could find a decent career that would provide us with security and a comfortable life. Since I cared about righting the wrongs that had been done to people and since our parents are often the ones who do real wrong by us, I decided to go to school to become a psychotherapist. This way I could help undue the damage done by dysfunctional parents with personality disorders. My wife decided to join me and we became psychotherapists together.

But it has been very hard for me. Being a psychotherapist has been nice. I am grateful that I have been able to be successful helping others undo the trauma from their pasts but being a psychotherapist is not what I really want to do. I am not made to be confined to an office all day long. I need to be out in the world, late in the night, wandering around. Now my job as a psychotherapist causes me to become so exhausted that I can not keep my eyes open after 9pm. I end up falling asleep in front of the tv. I am also a quiet man. It is not my nature to have such deep and emotional conversations with other people for such an extended periods of time. Having to have these conversations over and over again, five days a week leave me feeling flat and with no energy to do anything else. I have gone to various hypnotists and healers to find a way to keep my energy intact, while working with other people, but nothing has been effective thus far. I have tried to only work six hours a day, three days a week, but this is 18 deep interactions with people a week and I am still feeling flattened out after day two.

I have no energy to even think about being The Man In Black anymore, so my uniform is collecting lint, dog hair and dust in my closet. I do not know what to do at this point. I know I am not living my purpose but at the same time I feel fortunate that I can help others as a psychotherapist. But being a psychotherapist is not in line with who I truly am. I feel that in order to live a life that has some cultural legitimacy, where I have a good income and am able to support a comfortable life for my wife and I, I must continue working as a psychotherapist. I have no other choice since I have no idea how to make a living as The Man In Black. I’m stuck. I remember reading in The Watchmen about how if a superhero lives a more conventional and domestic life that this would lead to their rapid decline. I suppose I did not take this into consideration when I built the life I have now with my wife. I did not realize that it would leave me with very little energy to pursue my deeper purpose.

So here I am now, sitting at my desk dressed in sweat pants and a sweat shirt. I am wearing my bedroom slippers. My hair is still the way that it was when I woke up this morning. I have a cup of coffee by my side and after I am done writing this I need to get dressed and ready for work. I live with this deep pain about continually having to pretend to be something that I am not. In truth, deep in my soul I am still the strong and powerful Man In Black that I felt like the first time I put on the black suit in my studio apartment. But now I have to go to work each day and pretend to be someone else. I must pretend to be a conservative, professional and upstanding member of my community. I must spend my entire day sitting in a chair, stuck in a dark office talking with other people about their lives and helping them work out deep emotional traumas. Things could be a lot worse, but it is difficult to pretend to be someone other than who you really feel like you are. Maybe if I came to work dressed as The Man In Black this could help, but I think that I would scare most people away. No longer would my clients see me as the qualified mental health worker that they think I am. Most professionals suffer this fate. They must compromise their personal values, their sense of who they really are in order to create a persona that gets them paid. I try very hard not to fall in to this. I like to think that I am being myself but it gets tough.

So this is my confession. Now you know who I am and what I struggle with. I am a superhero who can not be a superhero anymore. I am The Man In Black but I am seen as being a nicely dressed and conservative professional man who lives a simple life. I have my black superhero uniform hanging in my closet. I struggle to embrace and make peace with the more domestic life that I am living now. This is me and I needed to get it off my chest. Hopefully in time I will figure something out. This hope keeps me going. The hope that things will change, that I will find a way to live a more authentic life that does not compromise my personal values and sense of self as much. To become again who I really am, The Man In Black.

Thank you for reading.

 

Procrastination, The Importance Of Putting Everything Off (Post #415)

“A nice piece of modern contemporary philosophy and contemplation about the way we live our lives in the modern world.” -Tracie Sokoloff

Nothing makes me happier than the complete absence of all obligations. Nothing. To be alone in wide open time and space, free to go and do whatever I want, is the ideal condition for myself to exist within. Free to listen to music, free to write, free to make art, free to fall asleep in my garden, free to go for a long walk, free to drift in whatever direction I get blown in without any concern for time or things that must be done- this is what I consider to be basic human freedom. Human freedom is a basic need that we all share and the more that this basic need goes unmet, the more we experience mental and physical illness. (It is ironic or tragic that in the society we have created, the more this basic need goes unmet the more material and financial gain we often get. This is why in America more people are on psychiatric drugs and suffer various addictions than any other country in the world.)

For close to thirty years now, I have managed to put everything off. As I get older I am becoming more skilled at doing this. Prior to thirty years ago, I still put everything off but I had my parents continually placing in front of me what I was trying to put off. Without anyone forcing my hand, I am able to keep everything away. The difference between myself and most Americans is that I see what is often referred to as procrastination as a very healthy behavior (if done right). In fact, I feel it is necessary to put things off in order to live a life freed from as may obligations as possible. I have always believed that the person who dies with the largest amount of things put off or not taken care off, has lived the fullest life. In a society where a person’s value is in equal measure to the amount of obligations that they have, we must actively engage our ability (which we all have) to put things off, if we want to live free from this often self-made prison.

In order to successfully put things off for as long as possible (in order to live more fully now), it is important to know how to be alone. If an individual is not able to be genuinely alone without anxiety, it will be difficult for he or she (or it) to free themselves from all obligations. Putting things off will be a struggle for the individual who is not able to be alone. By being alone what I mean is the ability to be completely undisturbed by the outside world. To shut the entire outside world out as if it was not even there. When we shut the entire world out, people who want something from us no longer exist. Other people become like trees or clouds in the sky- they are just there, coexisting along with us rather than wanting or demanding something from us or us needing something from them (obligation means to need something from another person or for another person to need something from you). To be free of obligation means to not need anything from others and to not be disturbed or anxious about what others might need from you. This is why being alone is a skill that is crucial for successfully being able to put things off.

The skill of being alone is in great decline in American society. This is one of the most tragic phenomena of our time. The ability to be alone is disappearing in front of our eyes. Individuals can no longer even be alone while sitting on the toilet! Most individuals sit on the toilet with some kind of digital device in their hand. These digital devices (computers, smartphones) serve one fundamental purpose, to prevent people from feeling alone. Most of us can’t handle being alone. We don’t like how it feels. We become uncomfortable and anxious, feel like we are missing out when alone and digital intervention comes to our rescue. This is tragic because the human soul needs to be alone in order to flourish. Less time alone equals less soul and more mechanization (which is what the corporations who sell us these products need and want us to become- mechanized).

The one phenomena that differentiates our period in human history from any other period is that we can now avoid being alone even when we are alone. Our phones and computers are doorways through which the outside world can slip in and fill our aloneness. Most of us voluntarily open up this door for the outside world to come on in when we are alone because we have forgotten how to be alone. Being alone is a skill that requires practice. Once we are constantly interrupting our aloneness by checking our emails, texts, Facebook and Instagram our ability to be alone becomes weaker and weaker until we can not be alone anymore without some sort of distraction present. This is a human tragedy.

If we are not able to shut the outside world out and be fully alone, we will not be successful at freeing ourselves from all obligations. As long as we let the outside world in, even if we manage to put most things off, we will still be tormented by the lingering feeling of all the things we are not getting done. There is no greater waste of time (life) than putting things off while worrying about what we are not getting done. The entire world must be completely shut out, forgotten about or neutralized (meaning everything is just how it should be) in order for a person to successfully put things off. Our day is spent doing exactly what we want to be doing, free of any extraneous concerns or worries, free from the constraints imposed on humans by time. We are fully content and at peace in our aloneness, not worried about what is being left undone or missed out on because we are fulfilled (engaged) in our lives now. This is what it means to be free and the only way to be truly free in our contemporary world is to put everything off.

Interview With My Protagonist (Post #414)

Protagonist: You might not want to drink that second cup of coffee that you have there.

Me: Thanks, but I need it. I’m feeling tired this morning. Probably will not drink all of it though.

Protagonist: Don’t you think you should start exercising in the morning rather than sitting here doing stuff like this?

Me: Probably would not hurt, but I am too tired. Besides, this is my time for drinking coffee, reading and writing.

Protagonist: I remember when you would wake up, meditate for forty-five minutes and then go for an hour walk. I think you have just become lazy and neglectful of your mental and physical health.

Me: Ok, well I appreciate your perspective but this is actually supposed to be an interview with you rather than a therapy sessions for me, so would you mind if we begin the interview now?

Protagonist: Ok. Hey you might not want to keep sipping from that coffee cup.

Me: Thanks for coming today. I appreciate your willingness to be interviewed.

Protagonist: I did not have much of a choice, right? I have to just show up whenever Randall is ready to write. This is the unfortunate thing about being a protagonist. No free will. No matter what I am doing in my own life, even if I am in the middle of making love with a beautiful woman, I have to stop, get up and show up for Randall whenever he is ready to write.

Me: Ok, well thank you. I do appreciate that.

Protagonist: I don’t think you really do. I do not think you really understand how difficult it is to be a protagonist. Imagine, if you were in the middle of making dinner and you were really hungry and then without any choice you had to suddenly leave and go play some part in someone else’s story.

Me: Sounds hard but I think we all have to do this in one way or another. Most of us live lives that are parts in someone else’s story. Besides, you are a protagonist, this is your job. But this is not the point of this interview. Tell me, what is your life like when I am not writing about you?

Protagonist: You don’t want to talk about this stuff because it is true. My life has been greatly sacrificed by having to show up whenever you want me and I have never even made a single penny off anything you have written.

Me: Well I am yet to make any money either from writing. But please, tell me about your life outside of my writing?

Protagonist: Maybe if you got your act together, made more of an effort to get your work out there rather than just publishing your writing for free on your blog that no one reads we both might be able to begin making some money. Life is not easy for an artist, you have to push yourself beyond your blog.

Me: Maybe so.

Protagonist: You have to be willing to work harder! Did you know that Beethoven was sued more than once by his landlords for scribbling all over his walls?

Me: I did not.

Protagonist: Now that is a sign of someone hard at work.

Me: Maybe so. Are you going to answer the question that I asked you?

Protagonist: Would you mind turning off the heat? It is getting uncomfortably warm in here.

Me: Sure (I get up and turn off the electrical heater).

Protagonist: So what are we doing here? It is early Sunday morning and I am not so sure what the point of all of this is?

Me: I am trying to ask you questions about yourself. I thought that since you have been a fundamental character in my writings for the past ten years that it would be good to get to know you better.

Protagonist: Get to know me better? You are the one who creates me. Shouldn’t you know more about me than I know about myself?

Me: Sure, but I want to know about the you that exists outside of my writing. I want to know about your life outside of my stories.

Protagonist: This is one thing that frustrates me with you Randall. You are always looking for the easier way out. You want me to help you learn more about me? Yet you are the one who creates me. How the hell would I know more about myself than you know about me? Outside of what you write, my life is not interesting. You want me to tell you about how I live in poverty because the author who creates me is not willing to make any money off of what he writes? You want me to tell you about the shit jobs I have to work because the writer I work with is always looking to take the easy way out by self-publishing on his blog rather than actually trying to get legitimately published?

Me: Ok. First of all, I am certainly not always looking for the easier way out, that is ridiculous. You really think it is easy to be sitting here for hours doing this? Writing and editing and then publishing on my blog regularly is no easy undertaking. I would much rather be reading or doing something else. As far as not getting legitimately published, well I don’t know what to tell you. I tried for years and it came to nothing. I believe that this blogging thing will pay off in time, we just have to be patient. The purpose of this interview is not to talk about what I am doing wrong. It is just to learn more about you!

Protagonist: That is your problem, not mine. Randall, did you know that James Joyce had lost all his teeth by the age of forty-one? Aren’t you forty-five?

Me: I am yes, almost.

Protagonist: Hasn’t it been more than a decade since you have been to the dentist?

Me: Probably.

Protagonist: Well, you might want to take better care of your teeth because there is nothing worse that a writer with teeth falling out. What if you become a successful writer later in life? You going to show up to book readings and signings with no teeth in your mouth? That will really help your career.

Me: (My protagonist is really starting to piss me off.)

Protagonist: Did you know that the painter Monet was so broke when he was thirty-nine that when his wife died he could not find the money to be able to redeem the pawned locket that he knew his beloved wife wished to be buried with?

Me: I did not know that. That is sad.

Protagonists: Life is never pretty for artists and writers but it is even worse for protagonists.

Me: So lets get back to the point of this interview. I am curious to know what you think of how you are portrayed in my writings?

Protagonist: Honestly?

Me: Yes.

Protagonist: Honestly, I’m bored by what you write.

Me: What do you mean by this?

Protagonist: I mean I like how you make me out to be this troubled and neurotic, middle-class misanthrope who is always at odds with his life and family but you no longer take enough risks. You are now playing it safe and it’s getting a bit boring.

Me: Ok…..

Protagonist: Remember years ago when you first started self-publishing on your blog? The stuff you wrote then was great! Sex Life Of A Man Without One, Part One through Part Twenty. Now that was a great series of writings to be a protagonist in. You had courage back then. You were unafraid of taking deviant right turns. Now it seems like you are going left instead.

Me: I remember that stuff. Times were different then. I could afford to take those kind of risks. Now I have more to lose.

Protagonist: You’ve become fearful.

Me: Maybe so.

Protagonist: Once a writer becomes fearful, their work becomes dull.

Me: Maybe so.

Protagonist: Did you know that the writer John Kennedy Toole was so convinced that his writing career would come to nothing that he committed suicide by running a hose from his exhaust pipe into his car?

Me: I knew that he had committed suicide but did not know how or why. Why are you asking me these questions? I feel like you are testing me.

Protagonist: No, I just want you to know that the path you have chosen is no easy path. Even those who came before you that you think of as being successful at their craft suffered immensely.

Me: Point taken. So I am curious if…..

Protagonist: Did you know that Gustave Courbet died when he was fifty-eight? Towards the end of his life the guy was drinking a full dozen bottles a wine a day!

Me: I didn’t know this but thanks for letting me know. I always liked his work.

Protagonist: Oh common, you didn’t know his work. What work of his do you like?

Me: Look, can we just get back to the interview?

Protagonist: Tell me, what work of his do you like?

Me: Look, I don’t know right now, nothing comes to mind, but I am trying to conduct this interview with you and you are making it very difficult. If you do not want to participate, lets just call it a day. I am getting sick of this bullshit. I am not interviewing you so you can teach me some kind of lesson about how hard being a writer is and how much I am failing at this task. This is an interview that is supposed to be about you and I have had it with your bad attitude.

Protagonist: My bad attitude?

Me: Yes, your bad attitude. You always have a bad attitude.

Protagonist: Really?

Me: Yes!

Protagonist: Well dammit you might want to take a look at that because my bad attitude is your creation! You are the one creating me, lets not forget! I am not choosing any of this for myself. You think that if I was given the choice I would be the way I am? You think I would be behaving in the ways that you make me behave? If you do, you are nuts. I have always just played the part you want me to play without any complaining. I am the blank canvas for you to project your disturbed mind all over. My bad attitude is your fault dammit. Not mine.

Me: My fault! My fault! I don’t have any say about what I write. I just sit down and write. You are the one who does the rest. I give you complete freedom to be yourself! You think I am creating you? That is such a crock of shit. That is such an easy way for you to take no responsibility for yourself. Sure, just blame all of your actions on the writer. Typical. Raskolnikov tried to do that with Dostoyevsky and the stress from that relationship caused Dostoyevsky to become a drunk. I will not let you do this with me! You are responsible for your actions just like everyone else.

Protagonist: You know, I am tired of this. I have had enough. You know damn well that Raskolnikov had no say in things. You know that he was Dostoyevsky’s slave. I don’t have to sit here and listen to you tell me about my bad attitude and how I want to blame you for my behaviors. That is a typical cop-out that writers often take. I thought you were better than this. You never take any responsibility for the way you create me and I am tired of it. You need therapy. You need to take a better look at yourself so that you can realize what you are doing to me and my life. If you are creating a character that might end up destroying you in the end, are you going to blame your down fall on my bad attitude? Probably. I have had enough of this bullshit for today. The interview is now over.

Me: Fine. Lets call it a day. This has gone a lot worse than I ever thought it could. I will be sure not to make the mistake of ever trying to interview you again. Have a good Sunday.

Protagonist: Did you know that the Russian writer Emile Zola died from smoke inhalation when the chimney in his bedroom fireplace backed up? He could not afford to have it cleaned.

Me: Enough! Enough! I am feeling really agitated and anxious and just want to get my stuff together in peace and get out of here.

Protagonist: Fine. Fine. I told you not to drink that second cup of coffee.

The Beetroot Jew (Post #413)

IMG_8071I had no idea that things would turn out this way. How could my grandmother of lead me to this place? Nothing that I have Googled says anything about what to do about this problem. I’m angry. Angry at the world. Angry at other people who have been treating me like I am some sort of freak. How could I have been so naive? How could I be so stupid? Why would no one help? I’m not sure how to resolve this. I did not listen to my grandmother when she was alive, so why did I do it now? I have places to go. I have to work but I can’t go looking like this. I don’t even want to go out of my house.

My immune system had been low for some time. This was unusual for me since I had always prided myself upon my strong immunity. Swollen glands, scratch in the throat and feeling fatigued had all become a normal part of how I was feeling. I tried all kinds of remedies; high doses of vitamin c, cordyceps, elderberry, circumin, colloidal silver and a plethora of Chinese herbs. The swollen glands were still there. The fatigue and the scratch in my throat laughed at these natural remedies. Nothing worked. And then my Jewish grandmother came to me in a dream (she was wearing a long dark purple dress) and said:

“Beetroot Randall. Beetroot! Beeeeeeetrooooooooot. I do not understand why you are not remembering what I taught you. It really hurts my feelings that you would forget. Remember all of those times I would make you Borscht when you were not feeling well? Remember how much that helped you? Why are you forgetting about your Jewish heritage? Why are you becoming a gentile? Please take the beetroot and start going to Temple again. You’ve really disappointed your grandfather and I. You must keep our Jewish heritage alive and consume beetroot. Go to Temple, ok?”

Being subjected to guilt from family members all of my life has made me very skilled at subverting feeling guilty. Feeling guilty is one of the main feelings that drives Jews. I don’t fall for it any more. My grandmother’s spiel about hurting her feelings and disappointing her didn’t work on me. I have no desire to go to Temple and if I am letting the Jewish heritage go, that is ok. All things must end. Besides, Judaism no longer appeals to me. I like to think that I have grown beyond it. But I don’t know why I had forgotten about the main ingredient in Jewish remedies for all things that ails a Jew- beets! That afternoon I bought several bottles of beetroot juice from a health food store.

The directions explained clearly: No more than two tablespoons a day. But it was beets! I used to drink bowl after bowl of my grandmother’s beet soup, so how harmful could it be? I ignored the directions and drank two large glasses full of beetroot juice everyday. Immediately, I began feeling better. Within a few days I had my energy back, my glands shrunk and the scratch in the back of my throat vanished. After a week I was even getting my erections back. So I kept drinking one or two glasses full of beetroot juice everyday, for weeks.

I don’t know why I did not notice the signs. Maybe it is because I am lost in thought all of the time. Why did it take a friend of mine saying something about it for me to notice? How did my wife not notice? Humans really do not see each other, when we see each other everyday. We become habituated to one another. We only see the image that we have formed of the person in our mind projected onto the person standing in front of us. We do not see the actual person in the present moment, as they are. Wether it is ourselves or someone we live with (see all the time), after a period of time we only see them as we think they are. This was proven to me by what happened with the beetroot juice.

For weeks I was drinking so much beetroot juice that my skin, nails, eyes and hair all turned a darkish purple color. It was almost as if I was covered in dark purple paint. My gray hair had turned dark purple. My white nails had turned dark purple. My brown skin had turned dark purple. The whites of my eyes had turned dark purple. Without my wife, dogs or I noticing, I had turned dark purple!

My friend asked me why I was covered in dark purple paint and I said, “What do you mean?”
“You are dark purple!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Are you kidding me? You really don’t know?”
“Don’t know what? I really don’t get what you are saying.”
“Randall! YOU ARE DARK PURPLE. Go look in a mirror.”

So I looked in a mirror and for the first time noticed that I was covered in a darkish purple color. Hair, skin, eyes, nails- everything was dark purple. I had been going to work, going out to cafes and restaurants and no one had said anything to me! But everyone one had been treating me differently and I could not figure out why. This is why I became angry at the world and other people. I was being made to feel like I was some kind of freak. That there was something wrong with me. Little did I know that there was! But someone could have said something.

After I returned home from being with my friend, I immediately Googled the effects of too much beetroot juice. There was nothing about the external parts of the body turning dark purple. I don’t know why or where this came from but I then Googled: Beetroot Jew. To my surprise several entries on this topic came up; Jews Turning Purple, Jewish Beetroot Syndrome, The New Beet Jew, Beetroot And The Jew, What Every Jew Should Know About Their Favorite Soup.

Turns out that because of a Jewish person’s biological constitution, if they ingest too many beets or beetroot they are prone to turning a darkish purple color! I could not believe what I was reading. Why did my grandmother neglect to tell me this? I continued to investigate. In the 1930’s and 1940’s there was a phenomena of Jews using Beetroot to cure themselves of various serious ailments and many of these Jews ended up in hospitals because their entire bodies turned a darkish purple color. One Jew in particular, Abraham Yisrael, after not being able to rid himself of the color change, joined the circus and was referred to as The Beetroot Jew! I couldn’t believe it. As I sat there at my computer reading all of this, I felt like I was going to faint. What if I was going to be the Twenty-First Centuries version of The Beetroot Jew?

I don’t know what to do at this point. Now that I am aware of what I look like, I will not go anywhere. I refuse to go to work, which has put a huge strain on my economic and marital situation. “Just go to work. Who cares what you look like,” my wife says and I become angry at her terrible advice. (I work as a psychotherapist. Being a successful psychotherapist is dependent on the therapist’s ability to present as being the archetype of mental health. If I show up for work looking like this, no one will take me seriously. I will lose my psychotherapeutic reputation.)

I have been angry at my wife for several days because I can’t believe she didn’t notice what was happening to me! If she would have just said something, so much of this could have been avoided! How is it that she was so preoccupied in her own life that she was not able to notice these drastic changes that were taking place in the man she falls asleep with every night? How can something so obvious be missed by the one person in the world who is closest to you? I don’t understand how it is that she missed the obvious effects of ingesting too much beetroot juice. A a result I feel neglected. This has made me very concerned about the state of my marriage. I have recommended that we go see a couple’s counselor in order to try to get to the bottom of this (obviously I will not go until my normal color returns).

I stopped drinking beetroot juice. All of my low immune symptoms have returned. I have been drinking a lot of water in an attempt to flush the dark purplish color out from my cells. Nothing on the internet tells me anything about what to do in this situation. Should I go ahead and join the circus like Abraham? This is not an option for me since I think the circus is not what it used be. I’ve been trying to get in touch with my dead grandmother, but have heard nothing from her. This is typical Jewish behavior. Jews are so filled with guilt that the moment they feel like they have done something wrong they retreat so as to avoid feeling the guilt. I know this because I used to do. This is one way I have grown beyond being a Jew. Now, when I have done something wrong or wronged another person, I confront it right away. Even in death my grandmother is obviously yet to get to this level in her personal growth. She is still hiding away, since I am sure she feels bad about what has happened to me. I understand, so I will wait. I will wait for her to reappear and hopefully she will know what I should do next.

 

The Beetroot Jew.

How To Become A Night Writer (Post #412)

unnamed Want to become a night writer? Does the idea of writing when everyone else is entertaining themselves to death in front of televisions or falling asleep in beds while glued to their smart phone or iPad screens appeal to you? Would you like to write without feeling like there are other things that you should be doing, without feeling like the day is getting away from you as you slave away on some story that will never be read? Does writing when everything around you is dark and silent and going to sleep sound like the ideal conditions for writing?

If so, I have no idea how to help you do this. For the past several weeks I have been disciplined about writing at night but so far everything I have written after 7pm has been an absolute failure. I am not certain why my writing is so bad after the hour of 7pm (or even 6pm) but I have a few ideas, which I would like to share with you.

First, I would just like to say that I got the idea for becoming a night writer after I listened to the writer Jarett Kobek (the author of brilliant novels such as ATTA and I Hate The Internet) speak about the benefits of writing at night. When I heard him I thought: Maybe this is why my writing career has been a failure? Maybe I have the timing all wrong? Maybe if I wrote at night instead of mornings my writing career would start going better? Maybe I could actually finish writing a novel? I decided to give night writing a try. So far, this try has been a disaster, a failed experiment.

I just can’t write at night. I continually fall asleep. Once I wake myself back up again and start writing, my words are just a blur on the screen. I mean what the hell kind of writer who is any good, falls asleep while writing? This is unacceptable. I am not falling asleep because I am bored with what I am writing (well, maybe a bit bored). I am falling asleep because after ten or twenty minutes of writing at night my eyelids feel as if they have been stuffed with heavy bags of sand. I regret not asking Jarett Kobek how he does it. How does he keep himself awake at night? Does he drink coffee or green tea? Does he take amphetamines? Does he smoke stimulating marijuana with lots of THC? Does he wake up really late in the day? How the hell does he do it? This is what I want to know. What’s the secret?

I don’t want to ingest any stimulates after 3pm. If I do I know I will encounter a restless nights sleep. If I don’t sleep well, my entire life suffers. I can’t smoke weed without freaking out, so this is out of the question. I have tried eating sweet grapes and pineapple, drinking a large glass of orange juice, eating a large bowl of frozen yogurt, all in an effort to use the natural sugars to keep myself awake while night writing. But this has failed. Natural sugars from fruit and dairy assists my digestion while gradually putting me to sleep. I don’t eat artificial sugars, so no Snicker bars for me. Falling asleep while writing is a major problem that I do not know how to fix.

Normally (when not kept up late by a good film or unexpected sexual experiences), I wake up early in the morning. I will meditate for 45 minutes and then make coffee. After I have my mug filled with coffee, I will take it to my writing desk and start typing away by 7:45am at the latest. But I do not enjoy writing in the morning. It is no fun to be sitting in a dark room with a desk light on while the morning sun shines bright outside. I would rather be reading out in my sun filled garden or at the local cafe. I would rather be on a long walk. Anything but writing, even though I write anyways. Maybe this is why my writing career is not working out? I am writing at the wrong time. But if I want to be a night writer, I must go to bed later and wake up later. This is a fact. I can not wake up at 6am and expect to not feel tired while writing at night. It is just not logical for a 44-year-old man to keep himself awake this long.

I can’t stay up past 10pm. I have tried but my capacity for staying up late seems like something I lost along with my youth. The past two weeks I have tried to force myself to stay up past 10pm. Even though I am too tired to write, I listen to records, I paint, I do yoga, I watch erotic French films, I eat a large bowl of red grapes, anything to keep myself up. But I fail every time. Once the clock hits 10pm, all I want is to be falling asleep in my tempurpedic bed with my arms wrapped around my non-tempurpedic wife. In the mornings when my eyes open at 6am, I try to force myself to stay asleep longer. I do breathing exercises, I put lavender oil under my nose, I wrap my body up against my wife’s body, which is still sound asleep. I put my hand on my wife’s breast in order to feel more relaxed. I do everything that I can to stay asleep, but by 6:30am I have to get out of bed. I can’t take it anymore.

I do not know what to do. I have no clue about how to become a night writer. I know that night writing is an excellent idea. The absence of the sun, the silence all around, the disappearance of all people and distractions and the darkness outside are all ideal conditions for any writer. But this falling asleep while writing thing is really getting in the way of what could otherwise be a brilliant writing career. A tired writer does the world no favors.

And then there is the issue of my sex life. I am sorry to have to talk about this but I presume it is something fundamental that any night writer must confront. Like most married couples, sex time is usually nighttime. Having sex during the day is something for young people and for those who are at the very beginning stages of their sexual relationship. Sex is like an elevator going up, the more you have it with the same person the more it moves up towards the later hours of the evening (eventually I presume it arrives at the top floor where no one is getting off). If I am writing at night, when will I ever have sex with my wife? It wont happen during the day, I can tell you that for certain. I am just not the morning or daytime sex kind of guy. If it is not at night, it will be never, so I am not sure what to do. Literature is important to me. Probably the most important thing (besides the health of my wife, my dogs and myself). But I am not so certain that at the age of 44 I am ready to sacrifice my sex life for my writing career.

How to become a night writer? How about you tell me? Once you figure it out or if you have figured it out let me know, because I am getting nowhere with this night writing business. On second thought, please keep your ideas to yourself. I don’t care. If I can’t figure this out on my own, I would rather not figure it out at all. This is just the kind of person I am. I will keep writing at night. I’m not giving up just yet. Maybe writing at night is a muscle that a writer needs to develop over time. Like any developing muscle, the beginning stages are always the worst. Maybe if I stick with it, my eyelids will gradually lighten up, and I will be able to write for longer periods of time without sleep interrupting some great idea. Maybe I will figure out how to make quick trips into my house for some brief sex time with my wife and then return to my writing desk when all is done. I doubt this, since I become very sleepy after sex, but it is worth striving for. It is worth trying because a writing career is still important to me (even though I try and let the dream go). If I figure it out, then I will be able to let you know how to become a night writer. For now, I have no idea.

Time for bed.

 

*If you came across any grammar errors, my apologies. I really should not be writing at night.

The Complainer (Post #411)

“We made the world we’re living in and we have to make it over.” -James Baldwin

I don’t want to write today/I just don’t want to do it/Writing does not feel like fun/Instead it feels like drudgery/And after all who wants to put themselves through drudgery if no one is forcing them to do it?

I don’t want to write today/I just don’t want to do it/So I am not going to/Sometimes writing is such a burden/No pleasure at all/Writing/Editing/Editing/Writing/Editing/Writing/Editing/Who in their right mind would want to be a writer?

I don’t want to write today/I would rather listen to music/I would rather finish the book I am reading/I would rather eat and nap/I would rather walk around or go fishing/I would rather leave the world alone to be exactly what it is today/I don’t want to write.

I don’t want to write today/No one cares if you write or you do not write, a writer once told me/I did not believe him/Just stop writing for a few months and see if anyone says anything, he said/I stopped writing/No one said anything.

I don’t want to write today/James Baldwin believed that the writer’s purpose is to describe things that everyone else is too busy to describe/Maybe so, but I don’t want to do it today/It is a thankless job/A job that often lands the writer in more trouble than it is worth/People stay busy so that they can forget, this is the point of being busy/If the writer describes things that people would rather forget, the writer will not be liked/We live in dark ages/In dark ages, the more the writer tells the truth, the more the writer is not needed/I would rather leave the world alone today and maybe even tomorrow.

I really don’t want to write today/Anything but writing/Why do I keep wasting my time with writing?/Why do I write when I do not want to write?/Here I am writing about not wanting to write but I am writing!/This can’t be good/I can not even not write when I do not want to write/This must be a really bad habit/Maybe writing is a way to feel productive in life/Maybe writing is an attempt to construct a different kind of world/Maybe writing is how I protest an undesirable world that has been constructed by undesirable people/I really can’t say/I just need to leave the world alone today.

I don’t want to write today/I really do not want to write/I know that we made the world that we are living in but I do not want to be responsible for making it over today/I do not see the point/I don’t need to understand why I do not want to write/I just do not want to write/Leave everyone alone to not look at the things that they do not want to look at/Just leave them alone/Don’t write/So then, when are you going to stop?

Sit Down Butt (Post #410)

“Randall sit down!” My father-in-law had all ready said this to me several times. I had been standing up all through lunch.

After a three-hour Sunday lunch, we were now at another restaurant. I am not used to spending this much time with anyone, but my wife’s parents enjoy being with their daughter and I (and we with them). When we go out to lunch together this often means we will not get home until 8 or 9pm that evening. This is what happens when a family really loves one another (and gets along).

“ I really don’t want to sit down, but feel free to stand with me,” I said to him. He had been sitting for hours, so I thought standing for a bit might be good for him.

“No way. I’m sitting down just like everyone else,” he said with a smile on his face, after taking a sip of his beer.

“Just sit down Randall! It is getting a bit much,” my father-in-law said again after ten or so minutes passed.

I have not sat down in a week. I will not sit down again until I have resolved, what to me feels like a serious problem. I eat, read, watch films, write, meditate, work and relax standing up. Everything that I once did sitting, I now do standing. There is more pain present in my lower back and legs now, but that is the consequence I must suffer in order to get back what I let go.

Last week I was walking down the street when I notice two attractive young girls standing around a bench. I noticed that they were looking directly at me and smiling as I walked. For a moment I felt my self-esteem rise but it quickly went way back down. I heard one of the girls say to the other, “See that is what Sit Down Butt looks like.” I noticed that the other girl was looking directly at my butt as she said, “Oh god, I see, yeah, that is a Sit Down Butt.” I continued walking, pretending not to hear, but I heard and now regret not stopping. I should have turned to them and said, “What do you mean by Sit Down Butt? You really think this is a Sit Down Butt?” I should have engaged in more conversation  about this subject with them since it has bothered me so much ever since.

Sit Down Butt. I have asked around about what this is since there is not much information on-line about it. What I have learned is that it is a term used by people mostly under the age of 21 to describe an adult who has a flat butt. Sit Down Butt is a derogatory term that is meant to insult adults who look like they have let their butts go. It is also meant as a condemnation of growing older. From the perspective of a young person who uses the term Sit Down Butt, they are describing an adult who they think spends most of their time sitting down, a direct result of loss of vitality and youth. In the young person’s mind, a flattened butt is a direct consequence of what is often referred to as giving up.

One fundamental downside to my job as a writer and psychotherapist is that involves a lot of sitting. The hours spent sitting quickly add up. I once had a nicely rounded and firm butt but I was not aware that it had gone away. I suppose I have been working too much to notice or care about something that I assumed would always be there (this is the problem with aging, it takes from a person everything they assumed would always just be there). But after having my Sit Down Butt pointed out to me by two, attractive young girls- I immediately drove home, pulled my pants down in front of my bathroom mirror and noticed that they were right! I have a Sit Down Butt.

How had this happened, without me noticing? Am I that detached from my body? I felt humiliated. It felt like I had developed Sit Down Butt so quickly. I tried on various pants and noticed that there was indeed no sign of a butt in there. All the sitting down that I had been doing had caused my butt to atrophy! I was (and am) not ok with this since having some kind of butt is a sign that a person is still an active contender in perpetuating the human gene pool. Once a person is no longer an active contender and gene mutations and genetic drifts begin to set in, it is all down hill from there.

“Randall, common, just sit down buddy. I am begging you,” my father-in-law said. I wondered if he had Sit Down Butt. I wondered if everyone who was sitting down had developed Sit Down Butt.

“Just leave him alone. If he wants to stand let him stand,” my mother-in-law said to him.

“But I don’t understand why he has to stand this much! He has been standing all day,” my father-in-law said to my mother-in-law.

“You don’t have to understand. It is none of your business. Just let him do what he wants,” my mother-in-law said. This is why I love this woman. Unlike my own mother, she stands up for me.

My father-in-law left me alone for the rest of the day.

We went to another restaurant for dinner. It felt as if we had just had lunch not too long ago, but lunch had ended four or five hours ago. Everyone sat down around the table. The hostess looked at me as if she was waiting for me to sit down in the one available chair. I looked at her and said, “No thanks, I will stand.” She handed me the menu. My mother-in-law looked sternly at my father-in-law who was just about to say something.

I spent the rest of the night standing up.

I am determined to get rid of my Sit Down Butt.

How To Escape Mother’s Day (Post #409)

We realize that many sons and daughters are still stuck in relationships with their mothers, which they would rather not be in if given a choice.

We here at HOW TO have created this brief guide to give people a choice in various matters. Future guides will include: How To Escape Father’s Day, How To Escape Mandatory Days Of Celebration That You Do Not Want To Celebrate, How To Deal With The Guilt That Comes From Refusing To Celebrate Holidays and How To Escape From Your Life Without Killing Yourself.

Escaping from Mother’s Day is not easy. From day one, individuals have been conditioned to experience an extreme degree of guilt and shame if they refuse to celebrate Mother’s Day. As a result most of us celebrate this holiday no matter how we really feel about our mothers. Many people live lives built upon the futile effort to outrun or hide from both shame and guilt. They remain in relationships that are not good for them, they remain close with people that they would normally have nothing to do with, all because of guilt and shame. Any successful escape from Mother’s Day will involve finding healthy ways of dealing with the guilt and shame that you are sure to feel.

Please see our guide No More Addictions: Healthier Ways Of Dealing With Guilt And Shame, for more information on how not to let these feelings force you into living a life that does not feel authentic to you.

Many people celebrate Mother’s Day because they feel they must. Deep down they feel their mothers have failed them but they give in to societal and family pressures and celebrate their mothers anyways. They force themselves to believe that this is the right thing to do, despite feeling like they are not being true and authentic. This is understandable behavior. Sigmund Freud called it wish-fulfillement. Everyone wants to have a mother that they deeply love and respect. For many hurt sons and daughters Mother’s Day is a day of pretending that they really do have this kind of mother. It is an opportunity to try and feel like what it would feel like if everything was good with mom.  As a result, Mother’s Day is often a day of fake smiles, clenched fists and biting tongues. It can be a very painful day for hurt sons and daughters.

In order to sucessfuly escape from Mother’s Day a person must be honest about how they really feel about mother. It requires no hiding behind guilt in shame. The first approach that we recommend is sending your mother this text on Mother’s Day:

Mother. I still carry a lot of hurt and pain that I feel you have caused me. This hurt and pain has made my life very difficult. You still seem unwilling to acknowledge how you have failed me as a mother and try and do better as a result. Therefore, for my own well being I must opt out of celebrating Mother’s Day. I hope you understand that this is as sad for me as it is for you. With Love.

This is an approach that requires a great deal of courage since you will probably ruin your mother’s day. You will experience a great deal of shame and guilt after sending this text (please see No More Addictions: Healthier Ways Of Dealing With Guilt And Shame) but keep in mind that you are remaining true to yourself and in the end this always feels best.

If sending the above text feels too harsh or hurtful then the second approach we recommend taking is to pretend that you are very sick. Very few things win a mother’s empathy like a sick child (although we realize that some mothers feel no empathy for their child even when the child is sick!)

If you decide to pretend to be very sick you must spend the entire day in bed and fake illness as best as you can. YOU WANT EVERYONE AROUND YOU TO BELIEVE THAT YOU ARE SICK. This is crucial. The reason for this is that you will be able to find a husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, son, daughter or friend to call your mother for you and let your mother know that you are sick. This way you will not have to go out for Mother’s Day brunch and you will not have to call your mother on the phone. Also, if everyone believes that you are sick you will receive more sympathy and as a result feel less guilt and shame about escaping from Mother’s Day.

The third and final approach that we recommend is to fake sudden and temporary insanity. For the days leading up to Mother’s Day, begin acting as oddly as possible. Create suspicion about the state of your mental health. Walk around with underwear on your head, talk to yourself, pick your nose continually in public, become easily angered, talk about really bizarre things such as aliens, make no sense when you talk, do not take showers or brush your hair. Do whatever you can to appear mentality insane. If you do this well enough someone close to you will have you committed to a mental institution on or before Mother’s Day. If you are committed to a mental institution you will be free from having to celebrate Mother’s Day.

EVERY TIME we have seen this approach taken it has worked. Do not worry though, normally if you are committed and then begin acting in more normal ways once you are committed, you will be set free within 3 to 5 business days.

We have thought long and hard about successful approaches that a hurt son or daughter can take in order to escape from Mother’s Day. These approaches are almost guaranteed to work and even though they may seem radical, we believe that these approaches are far better for the hurt son or daughter than continuing the cycle of pretending and drinking way too much orange juice and champagne at Mother’s Day brunch.

Ultimately it is up to the individual which approach they feel is best to take.

Please see our guide, How To Stay True To Yourself Rather Than Give Into Parents Who May No Longer Deserve Your Unconditional Love.

How Radiohead Saved My Life (Post #408)

Most of what I write is not as autobiographical as this. This piece of writing is complete autobiography told in stages according to Radiohead album releases. It encompasses the period of my life from 1995 through present day. Due to the release of Radiohead’s new album tomorrow, I decided to self publish this today. This is a longer piece than what  I now normally publish on this blog. I apologize to those of you who have written me asking if I can write shorter pieces. Didn’t mean for this to be so long. You might want to skip this one if you are looking for a quick fix.

Pablo Honey

I completely missed this one. Was not hip enough at the time. Was too troubled and self-involved. Or maybe Thom Yorke’s voice just put me off. Maybe I just did not get it. No that is not what it was. It was that song “Creep.” It was so popular and all over the radio and MTV that I was initially turned off. I thought Radiohead was just another passing pop rock sensation. I don’t think I have ever been more wrong about anything.

The Bends

1995? 1996? Can’t recall. I had several roommates at the time this album came out. I was living on the ledge of the ghetto in Oakland, California. Since I had grown up wealthy this was a difficult transition for me to make. I felt abandoned by my parents whom I felt lived steeped in riches and because they worked hard for everything they had, they demanded I do the same. I had no idea what I would do. I was angry. Anxious. Worried. I was traumatized by the gun shots and bullets that seemed as if they just missed my window. I was always cold because of the heater that refused to work. There was poverty all around and black people that disdained white, artsy gentrifiers. But I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to be nothing like my business man dad. I knew this is what it was going to take. Most artists began poor.

One of my roommates was obsessed with Radiohead. I could not understand it. She lost credit in my eyes for this obsession but she was cute, hip, cultured, in art school and she was a very good kisser. So I decided to give Radiohead one last try. One evening, at Tower Records in Berkeley, I noticed that Radiohead’s new album was on the new music listening station. I put on the headphones and pushed play. That was the beginning of a deep relationship that has lasted to this day. It was like meeting someone who reflects what you feel and is able to articulate so many things that are stuck deep down inside yourself.

OK Computer

I don’t know if I got this album the first day that it came out or the first week. Doesn’t really matter. I was now living on the second floor of the building that I was living in with the cute, artist girl who kissed well and was obsessed with Radiohead. I was moving up. Now the bullets would have a harder time finding me. I still heard them but felt more confident that they would not come inside. This is one luxury afforded by being higher up. I grew up high up but forgot about all the luxuries it provides. I lived in a large house that was at the end of a very long and steep driveway. The driveway was so steep that certain cars I owned over the years would not make it all the way up. I never appreciated living high up at that time. My most persistent fear was split between my fear of my father’s anger and my fear of getting hit in the head by a stray golf ball while playing outside.

Anyways, I was higher up again. Not that much higher, but higher enough to feel slightly better about myself. After all, isn’t all human success judged by how high up a person can get? (I wonder if Thom Yorke lives high up now?) It is always the people who live lower down that suffer the highest degree of economic duress, illness and mortality rates.

I don’t remember what year it was. I was maybe 27 or 28 or 29. I was working as a bartender at a pub in Oakland and no longer had roommates. I was living with my highly intellectual and artistic girlfriend who wore black and refused to show me her belly button. We were able to afford our own place (as long as that place was in or near the ghetto) and when the place above me came up for rent, we snatched it up.

I was now more accustomed to life on the other side of the affluent world that I grew up in. I was broke but I was a committed artist. Being broke was how it was supposed to go. This is what I told myself anyways. When I first heard OK Computer I knew that becoming an important and relevant artist was going to be a lot harder than I thought. Radiohead raised the creative standard a hundred thousand feet. I like to imagine that most up and coming painters, writers, sculptors, musicians, performance artists (am I forgetting anyone?) had to put so much of their creative output into question the moment they heard Ok Computer.

I bought the cd at a record store (Rasputin Records) and played it in my car on the way back to my apartment. “What the fuck is this?!” I thought this over and over and over. I rushed into my house with the cd in hand and ran into my girlfriend’s room (we had separate rooms) and she immediately pulled her shirt down so that I could not see her belly button as I yelled, “You have got to hear this!” I probably came off as being a bit unstable in that moment but Radiohead would serve the purpose of stabilizing me from that day on.

My girlfriend was into less popular and more experimental music at the time but I forced her to sit on her bed with me and listen to Ok Computer. (Her opinion of Radiohead was where my opinion was years ago before I met the cute, good kisser who was obsessed with Radiohead). Side by side, we lay on our backs, staring up at the ceiling, smoking cigarettes and listening to the album all the way through. She liked it. Thought it was really good. I was blown away. I had never heard anything this good ever before and I sat down at my desk and wrote Radiohead a letter letting them know this.

I was depressed about my life circumstances at the time. I still thought that depression was something that should go away rather than something that a person just needs to learn to live with. I was dealing with terrible panic attacks. Once a month I would end up in the emergency room. My parents filled me with worry and contempt. They seemed perpetually disappointed by the choices I was making. “Go back to grad school,” they would often say. When I heard Ok Computer for the first time I had this sense that, much to my parents consternation, I was on the right path. There were other people out there doing what I wanted to do. Ok Computer became a compass, pointing me in the direction that I wanted to go. I just had no idea how steep of a climb going in this direction was going to be.

Kid A

I wasn’t even aware that it had come out.

I had broken up with my girlfriend, partially because of the stress caused by her inability to show me her belly button. I just couldn’t understand and she couldn’t explain why. It felt like an important aspect of our intimacy was destroyed by a reclusive belly button, which refused to come out.

I had just quit a traumatizing job at a mortuary where it was my responsibility to pick up people who had recently died. I was subletting an apartment from a friend in Oakland when I decided to leave it all behind and go live with my sister in Washington DC. Why not? I was young, unmarried and without too many shackles around my ankles. If I was going to do something like this, now was the time because as we grow older we grow into shackles in the same way we grow into our graying hair.

I was too afraid to fly and did not have enough money for a train ticket. I stole a Gold American Express card that had my name on it. I found it in my mothers desk drawer. For many years it had been mine. My parents let me use it for various expenses. But since I had moved to the ghetto and decided to become an artist- they took it away. My parents view of the world and their moral ideas about how life should be lived had cost me a lot of my own personal freedom to become the person I wanted to be. It seemed only fair that I charged the cost of a train ticket that I thought would set me free. When a young man wants to run from something that is holding him down, there is very little in this world that can hold him back. Even moralistic beliefs about right and wrong are not strong enough. At least I put the card back in the desk drawer after I had finished charging the transaction.

My sister had a temporary spare bedroom in her apartment. I took up residence there for a bit. I brought with me a bag filled with clothes and a heavy suitcase filled with books. My sister got me a job waiting tables at a restaurant that went against my more punk rock values. I smoked a pack a day, drank too much and smoked a lot of weed. I was depressed and anxious. I knew no other way to be. But I had broken free from parents and California. For the first time in my life I was living out of state. I was also living deep, deep inside my head, which made creating any kind of independent life for myself nearly impossible.

Obviously, once the romance with a new place wore away, I was back in bed with depression, anxiety and despair. I hated being a waiter. What was I going to do with my life? Maybe I should call it a day? I felt defeated and desperate. I hid in books. I was angry at my parents who were not helping me at all. I hated society because of all the anger I had towards myself. I was drinking in the afternoon and sleeping in the evenings. Then it happened. On a freezing cold walk around some neighborhood in DC, there it was in the window. Kid A, OUT NOW. What? I didn’t even know it was coming out. Immediately I forgot about my depression and despair. I felt a kind of clarity and focus I had not felt in months. I went into the record store and bought the cd. I put the cd in my cd player and continued walking.

I got on the Metro (DC’s subway system) that was filled with people who looked liked they had been tricked into playing some government game that could never lead them to a place of genuine human happiness. I stayed on the Metro as all these people in suits, military uniforms and government uniforms got off. I missed my exit. I missed my exit again. I did not want to move. I was having a religious experience in a sterile Washington, DC subway car. My brain was oscillating inside my skull. I could feel new neural pathways forming. I had never heard anything like this before (or since). I was slightly worried that I could have a stroke.

How I listen to music. What I look for in music. How I look at art. What I need from art. The kind of books that I read. What I expect from literature. The kind of art that I make. How I write. How I perceive the world around me. Everything was changed for me that day that I first listened to Kid A.

I even decided then that it was time to return home.

Amnesiac

Back in the ghetto again. The thing about living in a ghetto that most white people do not understand is that once you breathe in that ghetto air it is very difficult to get it out of your lungs. The ghetto is like a colorful infection that refuses to go away. I was committed to being artist and assumed that the ghetto was where I would live for the rest of my life. Other artists also lived around me so this helped give me a sense of a half-baked community (literally).

I was without a job, not writing or making art as much as I thought about writing and making art, drinking too much and living in my ex-girlfriend’s extremely small closet. I guess you could accurately say that I was fucked. I managed to fit a small futon and desk into the closet and every night I feel asleep beneath her hanging dresses, pants and shirts. I was living in a closet, in the ghetto. I was 30. My parents gave me continual grief even though I am sure they thought of it as the kick in the ass I needed. What the hell was I going to do with my life?, was the question that was never out of my mind. It became an obsession without an answer. How could I be an artist in the world? I grew up at the end of a long driveway in an exclusive country club and was now calling a small closet my home. I had reached an end.

I bought Amnesiac the day it came out. I bought it at Amoeba records in Berkeley. I had been looking forward to this day for weeks. My soul was hungry. I needed help and was hoping to find some semblance of what Kid A had given me in Amnesiac. The transformation of my despair into something beautiful and creative. This is what Radiohead was able to do for me. With Amnesiac, I did not get those new neural pathways carved out in my head but I did get the cathartic release that I believe ended up keeping me alive. In my small closet, as the rain kept coming down outside, I danced, I cried, I sat with my head in my lap and I paced back and forth as I listened to Amnesiac on repeat for weeks.

Hail To The Thief

Something that I never expected to happen, happened. My grandfather died and left me with enough money to move out of the closet. Suddenly I loved a man who I didn’t like much for most of my life. Strange how money can make even the most hurtful people seem good.

He left me enough money so that I was able to move miles away from the ghetto but not far enough away that my surroundings turned plastic. I moved into a one bedroom apartment in a nicer part of Oakland (Rockridge) and felt so lucky that I could not stop having parties at my place every night. I was still desperate to figure out what I was going to do with my life, but having my own apartment provided me with enough human dignity to get rid of so much sulking.

Even though a lot of my sulking (bemoaning the unfairness of my life) vanished, most of my bad habits did not. It is a testament to Radiohead that every time they put out a new album they are able to completely align themselves to where a person that they do not even know exists, is at in their own life. It was not my favorite album but man- it was a soundtrack for where I was at. Drunk in bars. Hanging by a thread. Falling in and out of love. Sex obsessed. Wearing depression like a cape. Enough self hatred to keep a small electrical plant generating electricity 24 hours a day. Strangely enough I was also a thief. A petty thief, but still a thief nonetheless. How had Radiohead known? I was a full-fledged kleptomaniac. This is what I did for fun. Hail to the thief.

I was an excellent thief. Radiohead helped me feel less guilty about my thieving. I stole paint supplies, plants, notebooks, incense, pens, shampoo, conditioner, shoes, jackets, shirts, vitamins, herbs and on and on. Whenever I stole I would wear my nicest clothes. Who would suspect a well dressed white guy? Once, while wearing a tie, I walked out of a Walmart with a really large house plant in my arms. I presumed that everyone thought I had already bought it.

When Hail To The Thief came out, I felt like I was finally being recognized for all the hard and under appreciated work I had done. Being a thief was a lonely life but Radiohead felt like brothers in arms. Fortunately not to long after the release of that album I decided to give thieving up. I suppose I had received the recognition I needed. Hail To The Thief! I also realized that being a thief would not end well. Despite thinking that I was undermining evil corporations by stealing from them, I owe Radiohead for helping me realize what a creep I was being.

In Rainbows

Everything that I did before the age of 35 was a complete failure.

I was apprehensive to get back into Radiohead at first. It had been awhile since I had listened to them. Radiohead’s music reminded me of darker periods in my life. I was hesitant to get back in. I was married now, living in a nicer place (but still in the Oakland ghetto) and felt a bit more financially secure. I was teaching at an inner city high school, where placing a gun on the desk was a common occurrence. But I was good at my job and given a lot of responsibility as a result. I taught courses on non-violence and mindfulness to full-fledged thugs who would punch most people for talking about the stuff I talked about. But they listened and asked questions. The school had never seen anything like this before. The school district asked me to start a program. I did. But I was not making art or writing much and this kept me down. I still was not where I wanted to be in my life. (Is one ever?)

But it was Radiohead. Missing the new album was the equivalent to missing a favorite holiday. And besides, they released the album (at first) on-line. You could pay what you want so I paid a buck (I figured they were rich enough). Here is what I wrote in my journal on that October day in 2007:

Feeling really good today.
Going to meet family for dinner
in Walnut Creek. Not too much
anxiety today. Listened to Radiohead’s
new album In Rainbows. I was
hesitant at first. Dark past.
I really like it. Surprised. Its a
mature work that has elements of
experimental music along the
lines of Brian Eno. Good stuff.

It might sound like I was not that enthusiastic but I was. This album took a bit to settle in. It was a more mature album. Between teaching and starting a new school program I did not have the space and time that is needed to let a work of art settle in. But on breaks and weekends I made time. I was figuring stuff out and so was Radiohead. It seemed we were all growing older and maybe even a bit more refined. The me that first listened to Ok Computer and Kid A would not have been able to appreciate this album, but youth was ending and something else had taken its place. Maybe it was because of entropy or because of In Rainbows (maybe both), but for the first time in my mostly backward moving life, it felt like I was moving forward.

But it was King Of Limbs that would push me over the edge.

King Of Limbs

I was living in a decent home in the suburban/farming/bohemian/college town of Davis. I had not had sex in years. My wife was getting a graduate degree in Art at UC Davis. I had quit my teaching job and was trying to figure out what to do with my life. Several months were spent just drifting around. Reading and writing. Meditating. Walking. Thinking. I wanted to be an artist and writer but had no idea how. I wrote a lot. I made a lot of art but none of it was going anywhere. I was spending a lot of time around “real” artists who were in a prestigious graduate art program. Who was I to think I could make it as an artist? Look at these guys. They work all the time! “You need to get real,” was what my wife often said.

I had a choice to make. Continue to teach, continue to work low-level jobs while working on art and writing or go to graduate school and establish a serious vocation. I was 37 and time felt like it was running out. Through a long process of intensive psychotherapy, I decided to take the safe route traveled by many. I went into debt, I went back to graduate school and decided to become a psychotherapist. I was giving in, selling out but at least I knew I could be good at this. I knew all about suffering and was a specialist at finding a way out. (At no time during this brief autobiographical account have I mentioned the numerous self-help books I’ve read, the silent meditation retreats I went on, the certification in mindfulness that I received and the intensive amount of individual work I did with various meditation teachers along with the thousands of dollars spent on classes and workshops. All in an effort to rise above all the turmoil that was constantly present in my life.)

While in graduate school I met my current wife. Very unexpectedly I fell in love. Wallah! It happened just like that. I had sex again. I felt things that I never imagined that I would feel again. I knew that I had met my life’s partner and I am happy to report that I was right. I just wish that someone else did not have to get so badly hurt in the process. My first marriage was a sinking boat. It was not good for her or I to be aboard that boat. We had to jump, despite all the fear. I would have to go first.

As I dangled at the edge, too afraid to jump, Radiohead released King Of Limbs. The day the album came out, the woman who would become my wife and myself both downloaded the album onto our iPhones. We planned to go for a walk and listen to the album simultaneously. She lived in LA and I in Northern California at the time. I texted her, “Ready?” She texted back, “Yes.” “Ok, push play now,” I texted and began walking.

I walked out to a wide open field. There were storm clouds out. Kind Of Limbs opened me right up. I cried. I laughed. How was this happening again? How did they know? It was as if they knew that this album was just what I needed hear. But of course they did not. They were out there living their own lives without any idea of mine. However, like minded souls go through similar developmental processes and I was fortunate that once again their process was aligning with mine.

“What did you think?” I texted her when the album ended.
“Wow,” she replied.
“I know, wow is right. Fucking genius,” I wrote.
“I know, that was incredible.”
We were both deeply moved.

It was then that I knew that I needed to jump off the edge. I jumped and eventually my wife and I played songs from King Of Limbs all throughout our wedding.

Radiohead’s New Album

I am out of the closet now (although often still worry about going back).

I own a house that belongs both to my wife and I. It is a nice, humble home with everything that I need in it. I have a large backyard with a beautiful garden that my wife and I created, a studio to write and make art in, 3 dogs, a giant library, a record collection, comfortable chairs to sit in and a soft bed to sleep in. I actually have my own home now. No one saw this coming. It is on the edge of a ghetto, but that is ok- some things I realize never change. Like I said before, once you breathe in that ghetto air it is very difficult to get it out of your lungs. Besides, I appreciate things this way. I live in just the right mix of conservative, middle class suburb with a seedy ghetto spice.

Tomorrow Radiohead is releasing a new album. It is their first album release in years. I’ve heard a few songs from it already but am suspending all judgement until I hear the entire thing. I’m 44 years old, almost 45 and I am still trying to figure out what I am going to do with my life. I am happily married and have a job that I find meaningful but that itch to be an artist, writer and completely independent creative person has not gone away. Does it ever? I have yet to completely figure it out. Maybe I never will.

As I type this, in the salt water fish tank beside me, one of my beloved, punk rock fish is dying (I bought him because he has a mohawk). He is just about lifeless, with his head pointed down at the sand. I’ve been watching him off and on while writing this piece. The other fish in the tank does not leave the dying fish’s side. It just hovers there above the fish, trying to push it along, trying to lift its head out of the sand. It is all he seems to be able to do to keep his mate from dying.

It might seem ridiculous to you, but in a sense this is what Radiohead has always done for me. Even though we have never met in person, their music has always been there, just hovering around me and nudging me along in whatever direction I need to go. Somehow they manage to keep me from completely burying my head in the sand and giving up. Ultimately we all are facing the same fate as my dying fish. No one has found a way out from this. Maybe the best that any of us can do for any one else is to just nudge each other along, just hang out by each other’s side so we can keep each other from putting our heads in the sand. And if this is not the point of any good art form or relationship, I have no idea what is.

A new Radiohead album is always a significant event in my life. Now I am old enough to be able to look back over the many years and see just how true this is. I am curious where the next nudge will take me. Because if there is one thing I know for certain, it is that all these nudges from Radiohead have saved my life.

Caught Up In His Own Head (Post #407)

unnamed“Possibly he is the kind of person who can get caught up in his own head,” I heard a well dressed black man say into his cell phone as he walked past me. I was sitting on a park bench, enjoying an afternoon with nothing to do. The man was dressed so nicely and walked so quickly that I presumed he was a person of some kind of importance. A man on a mission (probably having something to do with money).

And there I sat on a park bench (with legs crossed) in sweat pants, a t-shirt, High Top Converse All-Stars and I am not even sure if I brushed my hair that day. As I watched the man quickly fade away into the tree and grass filled distance, this is what I was thinking:

Really? Is that such a bad thing? Because if it is maybe I am under qualified for most things. I don’t know who he was talking about. I wonder if he was talking about me? It is possible but come on- not everything relates back to you. Who else out there gets caught up in their head as much as I do? Are there others? I wonder if that man was judging someone for a potential job and deemed them unworthy because of their tendency to get caught up in their head? Is it really such a bad quality? Enough to get you judged by those who claim to be more together? I don’t mind getting caught up in my head from time to time. It actually happens a lot more than that. My head is a good place to be. Sometimes not but generally I like being in my head. Getting caught up in the head can be a pleasant way to have a good conversation. Imaginative. Maybe that was a man who does not value imagination. Who knows. I wonder if he was talking about me?

And then I noticed an attractive lady walk by. She was walking her small dog and I watched her and the dog as they walked. She smiled at me and I at her. There are few things that can get me out of my head like an attractive lady can. It’s momentary, but it works every time.