Nothing Man

Every once in a while I learn something new about myself. Sometimes these learning flashes will come to me while I am sitting at a bar having a drink or while on a mid-afternoon walk. My most recent learning flash came to me while sitting on a park bench underneath an old oak tree. The mid-afternoon sun wallowed in the sky and the heat was so intense that I was reluctant to ever leave the shade of the grand oak. So I sat there. I did not read, I did not listen to music. I just sat there with my eyes and ears open, thinking about my life. And then the flash came to me.

For most of my adult life I have yearned to be an author and a painter- a successful artist of some sort. The past ten years I have painted many paintings, written various things, and produced hundreds of drawings. But I have done nothing more than this. I have had no gallery shows, I have gotten nothing published in print and have done very little to advance my career as an artist. As much as I have wanted to be a working artist I have lacked the ambition needed to be successful in anything in this world (although if reading was a career I could have made a fortune by now). Making money from my art has never been the reason why I paint or write so having to market my work has always been difficult for me. And then on that park bench it came to me- what I really really enjoy doing is nothing at all.

What I mean by this is I enjoy the freedom to be. The freedom to wonder in the mid-afternoon sun. The freedom to sit on a park bench for as many hours as I need without having somewhere to go. I enjoy going for walks and not knowing where I will end up. I enjoy having nothing to do, doing nothing. Some may refer to this passion of mine as “bumming around,” and I would have to say that this is not an unfair judgment. In our current society being a bum has a negative connotation because it opposes the world of work that we have become so addicted to. Capitalism would fall apart if too many people were content doing nothing (sitting on a park bench) so the bum has been demonized as a failure, a lazy and shiftless person who seeks to live solely on the support of others. But a large part of me is a bum who does not want to have my feeling of freedom suffocated by work or a job (even sitting at my desk and writing can feel suffocating at times). The bum part of me just wants to loiter around, grow my hair long, be in a perpetual state of awe, read my books, feel the mid afternoon sun bake my flesh and enjoy the pleasures of being, doing nothing and going nowhere. Yes, this is what I enjoy most in life.

When I had this learning flash I had a realization that I had not had before. I am a nothing man. I did not feel any guilt for being a nothing man. Instead for the first time in my life I felt good about this- I wanted to own it with pride. I accepted this nothing man as a part of who I am and then I thought of ways that I could integrate this into my day-to-day reality. I realize that if a person wants to be successful at anything in life there is a certain amount of “sitting behind a desk and working that one has to do.” But maybe I can find the art in doing nothing (which is really doing something, but just not with the intention to work and generate profit). Maybe I can carry around a camera and a tape recorder and document the things I see, hear, smell and think while doing nothing. Maybe this is a way of making something out of doing nothing? Or maybe I could just let go of my ego and be content with just being, with not being ambitious and simply enjoy my life without the nagging desire to be anything? All of these thoughts and many more rushed into my head as I sat on the park bench, staring out into a large wide open grassy field with dried flowers lingering all around. I sat there for a few more minutes and then got up and continued on doing nothing with my day.

Breasts, Wars, and Cocktails

I work at a busy bar in the heart of Sacramento. I do not want to say much about the restaurant because I do not really know how I feel about it but what I can say with certainty is that never before have I seen so many white yuppies, who all look relatively the same, congregate in one space. The thing about this kind of normality is that when something slightly unusual occurs, it really stands out in my mind. Like last night when an attractive youngish woman came to my bar and asked if she could get a free drink if she showed me her breasts. At first I was surprised. I was unprepared for this and as my face turned red I tried to assert my masculine confidence. She smiled and waited for an answer as I tried to figure out what to say.

Of course a part of me wanted to see her boobs. It has been a long time since I have seen bare breasts live and in person, other than my wife’s breasts. I thought for a moment how and where she would show me her breast but before the more perverted side of my brain had a chance to come up with a plan my right-minded brain stepped in and said, “No thank you, but if you can tell me one way to create world peace, I will give you a free drink.” For a moment she looked let down and sad. I do not know if it was her or her breasts that felt rejected. But as soon as she looked let down she immediately perked up and said, “oh, I know how to create world peace- have women walk around topless!!!” I smiled and thought about her answer for a moment. I thought about all the wars that men have started because of their desire for breasts. If women walked around topless I think men would become much more aggressive and craving. More wars would be fought, world peace would never be attained. But I appreciated the sweet innocence of her reply. After all she was young woman wanting to share her physical beauty with me, for a free drink. I appreciated this and asked her what she wanted to drink, on me of course.

Walking Backwards

I have been spending a good amount of my time walking backwards. It began a few weeks ago when I was watching a program on television about habits. The show talked about humans as creatures of habit. We are carved from habits that have been conditioned into us since a very young age. These habits are what allow governments, corporations, parents, bosses and various other institutional constructs to control us, manipulate us and influence us. This idea sent chills down my spine. I had to open a bottle of wine to calm my nerves. So this is what is going on, I thought to myself. I learned that there are huge organizations created to study human habits and how to create and control these habits. Immediately I stood up, turned off my television and put it into the closet. I took a deep breath. Was I having an Orwellian nightmare or was I awake? I went outside and took some more deep breaths. I turned off my iphone. I sat down on my front door step and stared into the nights sky. All I could do was sit there.

Over the course of the next few days I thought about starting a revolution. But who would it be against? I wanted my autonomy back but I have never been much of a revolutionary. I am not the kind of guy who throws stones for political reasons. I want to be but political causes just do not interest me that much. So what could I do to combat the forces that have created my habits and now manipulate and control me? I could drink, have fun, be silly and act out in ways that are not considered normal. I do this already and it only gets me so far. I could spend my days in silent meditation but I can barley concentrate long enough to sit in meditation for fifteen minutes straight. I thought and thought about what I could do to oppose the forces of habit and then it happened. One day on a walk I just started to walk backwards.

It was not a preconceived idea. I was walking forwards and as quickly as wind changes directions- I started to walk backwards. Immediately I felt a shower of relief pour over me. For the first ten minutes of walking backwards I tripped and felt the muscles in the back of my legs tightened up. I had no experience in walking backwards and the only way that I could learn to do it was to continue moving backwards despite how many times I almost fell. After the first ten minutes of walking backwards- it felt more natural. I was less clumsy, tripped less and the muscles in the back of my legs calmed down. I was simply able to enjoy the pleasure of creating a new habit. An abnormal habit. A habit that no one else would be able to control but me.

When we reverse habits we re-wire the mechanisms in our brain. It is like charting out new neural pathways that have not been traversed before. We actually end up rewriting the brain, expanding it beyond the daily, conditioned pathways that we are so used to walking down. I assumed that the more I walked backwards the more I would create new pathways in my brain that had not be preconceived or designed by parents, schools, corporations, governments. Maybe, I thought, the more I walked backwards- the more autonomy I would get back. So for the past two weeks I have been walking backwards as much as I can. I walk backwards almost everywhere I go. At the market, the gas station, restaurants, bars and even at work (when I can). People stare at me and call me a freak, which is only natural since I am stepping out of the conditioned societal way of doing things. My boss has become frustrated by my need to walk backwards, my wife has trouble being in public with me (although we are starting to walk backwards more and more together) and it is difficult to drink my daily bottle of red wine and then walk backwards without falling- but these are minor bumps in the road. What I believe I will obtain as a result of my walking backwards far out weighs what I will lose.

I have learned to enjoy seeing things as I walk away from them rather than always walking towards things. Walking backwards gives one a new psychological framework through which to perceive reality. I value the things that I have more now whereas I used to think more about things that I needed to get, places I needed to go. Walking forwards keeps one stuck in the future, always moving along with the forces of entropy. Walking backwards opposes the forces of entropy, slows time down and allows me to focus more on enjoying the things I have without needing to go forwards and get more. I would not be exaggerating if I said that when I walk backwards I feel liberated.

My boss has threatened to fire me if I keep walking backwards at work. I do not have much money in my savings and I do not know what I would do if I lost my job- but I am not going to stop walking backwards. It is more important to me that I live my life and discover my own autonomy. I need to feel like I have distinguished myself from the self that has been programmed and conditioned by an apparatus that is beyond my control. Advertisers, politicians, teachers, bosses, bureaucrats, police officers are all apart of a societal nexus that has been set in place to keep us in our habitual ways of being and thinking. They keep us preprogrammed and detached from who we really are. If it means that I have to walk backwards for the rest of my life to find out who it is I really am- then I am willing to do this, one step at a time.

From Teacher To Bartender.

I received an email from an x student of mine. He was one of my better students despite the fact that he often showed up to class high and rarely did his homework. He often said that when he was in class he gathered knowledge through a process of osmosis. When he was not in class he was no longer interested in school- he just wanted to live out his youth free from institutional expectations. I respected this. This is the email I received from him today: “Hey dude, how’s life? I hope everything is cool cause the word around town/school is that you are now working as a bartender? WTF! That is cool and all but how did you go from the best English Teacher ever to a bartender? Is everything cool? Just curious. Shoot me back when you have a chance. Peace.”

I thought about the email for a bit. How would I respond? I was not at all bothered that the school community in which I taught all now know that I am a bartender. Bartending is a noble and age-old job that has it’s value just as teaching does. What concerns me is that my school community might assume that I took a step down, that I was visited by difficult circumstances and forced to take a job as a bartender. Education in California is in an almost apocalyptic state and many parents and students may assume that I am victim of this apocalypse. What I am trying to say is that I do not want others to worry about me. I made the choice to no longer work as a teacher. I made the choice to return to my bartending ways.

So I wrote my students back this email: “Hey man, all is well. Thank you for checking in. I am bartending because I want to have my days free to write, paint, live. Teaching is a full-time job and when I did it I had very little free time. Bartending allows me to have most of my days free. It also allows for me to sleep in. As a teacher I was serving youth knowledge. Now as a bartender I am serving adults booze. Such is life.”

Hopefully he will believe me and pass along the message to those who care.

The Fuck Up Specialist

I was just sitting in my fly infested backyard trying to soak up some of the morning sun. I had a book in my hands but the words were not really penetrating my tired mind. My knee ached, my elbows pulsated and I found that the sun was irritating my eyes. I got to thinking: “How have I gotten to this place? Childless, 11:31 am, Wednesday morning, 39 years old, hung over, still half asleep, tired and bruised in my fly infested backyard?” There was a big world outside and many people were in an act of productive and ambitious motion, while I sat still not wanting to get up. The night before I worked for seven or eight hours at my job as a bartender, which has left me feeling like I have been run over by a heard of elephants. My body was sore and in my backyard I was barley able to handle the thoughts spiraling around in my forlorn head. But I was able to answer the question that I asked myself.

I am an artist. I have hundreds of un sold paintings collecting cobwebs in my garage and two novels that will most likely never be finished. Neither my paintings nor my writings are my great art works. They are more like self-absorbed average relics that I have created along the path that I often call “my life.” My greatest art is the art of fucking up. I can even be so brave to say that I have perfected the art of fucking up more so than most people. I have been fucking up longer than I have been writing or painting. I have spent more energy fucking up than I have doing anything else. It is fair to say that the reason why I was sitting still, unfocused, bruised, achy, tired and agitated in my backyard this morning is because I am a specialist in fucking up.

I still remember my first fuck up.  I was seven years old. Everyday I took the school bus to and from school and one day when the student filled school bus let me off in front of my house I had the overwhelming urge to pull my pants down and expose my naked butt to those students who were still on the bus. It was my own way of publicly saying “fuck you” to a school community that I could not stand. But I fucked up. There were more productive ways that I could of exercised my grievances but I was too young to know how. It was as if a part of me knew that all of these students were destined for a life of success and I was destined for the opposite. My public display of naked aggression got me kicked out of the private Jewish school that I was attending and thus began my work as a fuck up specialist.

I fucked up in school hundreds of times. I did not listen to teachers. I cheated and I only thought about girls and blowjobs. I was kicked out of several schools before the age of 15 and I even ran away from home for a week (to stay with a 19 year old sex crazed blonde in Malibu) at the age of 16 (this was a catastrophe that I will not go into here). Even though I was attending beautiful private schools that had excellent academic programs and various opportunities for students who cared- I could care less about any of this. I wanted to drink beer, get naked, listen to music and make life difficult for all authority figures. I wanted to fuck up.

When I think back now to all the opportunities that I had in high school and college I often get chills. I think of some of my fellow classmates who went on to have very successful careers. Enrique Iglesias, the prince of Saudi Arabia, David Sassoon, Robert Mondavi, Eric Weiss (the current president of Capri Sun) and many others all seemed to have found a way to have enjoyed the debaucheries of college but then get their shit together enough to go on to have successful careers. Even though I smoked weed with all of these people, several times, I seemed to be the only one who was destined to become a specialist of fucking up.

For more than a decade and a half after college I continued to fuck up. I fucked up good relationships with women, I fucked up in graduate school (I dropped out of a Masters graduate program a few months before finishing) and I fucked up my own health by the amount of booze, marijuana and negative energy that I ingested. At the age of twenty-nine I was committed to the art of fucking up. I was convinced that there was virtue to be found in fucking up- but I was not sure yet where to find it. I spent years and years in and out of odd jobs, I read thousands of books about existentialism and romanticism, I smoked two packs of cigarettes a day and tried to erase every memory I had of a childhood that was filled with so many opportunities for success. I was a fuck up specialist and I was convinced that my fame would be based upon my ability to fuck up. But fame never found me. Only fuck ups did.

My friends were as fucked up as I was. Starving artists from rich families. Depressives. Grown men who wore all black and stared at the ground. Yoga practitioners who were addicted to coffee and weed and were obsessed with pubic hair, orgies and stretching. Men with anger issues and alcohol issues. Men looking for companionship and love but unable to find it with anyone other than prostitutes. A community of drunken fuck ups flocked to me in the same way that a fly may be attracted to a teard. And I opened my arms to all of them. But one fuck up I will never forget. I will not use his name here but he made forty six million dollars by the age of 34. He was a Princeton graduate who made his money by writing the program for what became a website called Ticket Master. His father won an academy ward for doing the sound effects for the first Exorcist film and my friend seemed to have inherited his father’s genius. He also inherited his addictive behavior. At one point in my early thirties when I was homeless and needed a place to stay I moved in with my millionaire friend and thus began a yearlong graduate course in fucking up. To make a long story short my friend fucked up so bad that now he is no longer a millionaire. He has disappeared- no one knowing where he moved off to. His addiction to prostitutes, cocaine and real-estate turned most of his assets into dust and made him into a much better fuck up artist than I.

Now that I am almost 40 years of age and working as a bartender I think I have found the virtue in fucking up that I was looking for over a decade ago. It is through fucking up that we are forced to examine the way we live. Every time I fucked up, whether I liked it or not, I had to think about myself in relation to my fuck ups. “Why did I do it?” was often the question I asked myself and even though most of the time I ignored the answer and continued fucking up- I was collecting a kind of wisdom from my fuck ups that I have not really been aware of until now. I believe it was Socrates who said that an unexamined life is not worth living. Fucking up as much as I have has caused me to spend much of my current existence examining my life. I look deeply. I write. I paint. I keep a journal and I am a student of psychology. I do all of this not in attempt to find answers to how and why I became such a great fuck up specialist. Instead I do all of this because I enjoy exploring the questions. I realize that I am an imperfect human being and it through the examination of my imperfections that I learn the most about myself. It is through examining my fuck ups that I am able to get more clarity, better insights into questions like: “How have I gotten to this place? Childless, 11:31 am, Wednesday morning, 39 years old, hung over, still half asleep, tired and bruised in my fly infested backyard?” For now- this is the best I can do, and for once in my life this does not feel like fucking up.

My New Wave Mid-Life Crisis

My wife told me yesterday that I have been wearing too much black. “But it is my favorite color,” I replied. “It is not a color,” she said. “It is. And for me it is a color that is symbolic of something very personal,” I said. My wife has not been able to understand the alteration that I have gone through in the past few months. I have gone from a rather ordinary looking 38-year-old to a full-fledged new waver. I have been sticking my dyed black hair straight up with aqua net and a hair dryer. I have been painting my finger nails with black nail polish everyday and I wear black eye liner. As I already mentioned I only wear all black clothes and I have a silver crucifix that hangs down to the center of my chest. What I am describing to you is a radical transformation for me. It is a look that I once had in my youth but I never imagined that it would return twenty-five years later. “You’re an adult now, and this look just does not work anymore,” my wife explains, but I do not agree with her. I think I look just fine the way I am.

My new wave transition started after I went through a brief obsessive stage listening to the music of Tears For Fears, Jesus And Mary Chain, The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs and others. The music re-connected me with a certain feeling that I had not felt since I was young. My world has become enclosed with the expectations and responsibilities that adult life seems to entail. These expectations and responsibilities create a kind of worried mood that is never satisfied with what is. The new wave music that I began listening to again, a few months back, re-connected me with a feeling the I possessed in my youth- a happiness with the way things are and a desire to never change. Ofcourse change is inevitable and the desire to not change is a naive luxury that youth can afford, but since I have gone back to my new wave ways I have felt this desire to stay the same, to be myself in a way that I have not had a chance to be in a long time.

My wife and my boss do not understand this explanation. They think that I am going through a mid-life crisis. My boss is threatening to fire me if I do not stop coming to work with black eye liner and crucifix on. I try to explain why I look the way that I do and how the way I look is a natural expression of an inner connection with who I really am. I am happier in all black and having my hair hairsprayed straight up gives me s sense of purpose/meaning because I do not look like everybody else. My boss does not understand. He finds all of my “antics” completely unacceptable. “I need you to come to work looking professional and being prepared to work. I am not employing you to be some kind of self absorbed aging new wave flashback. I have hired you because I believe that you are a good employee and you get the job done, but the way you have been looking and acting the past month is unacceptable,” he says with a very cold and corporate demeanor. I try to talk about my feelings, about how I am being true to my inner core but his position is impossible to change.

My wife called my therapist to talk with her about what is going on. My wife is concerned that I am going to lose my job. I try to tell her that if my boss can not accept me for who I am then I do not want to work for him anyways. After all the world of work was and is not really for me. I am more of a dreamer, a free spirit. I should have been a musician or successful artist but instead I have spent most of my life with my head in the clouds and gotten very little work done. “You need to change, you can change,” my wife said. I replied by saying, “hey those are the lyrics from a great Tears For Fears song!” I was hopeful that maybe she was starting to speak my language, to see things my way, but I was wrong. “Look I really need you to stop this nonsense. You have to work because you have no other options. You are not a famous musician like Robert Smith. You do not have the luxury to dress in whatever crazed way you want to. You need to keep a job, to do what your boss says or else you will not be able to afford anything!! You can still listen to new wave music but you need to change the way you look!! A grown man does not wear black eye liner to work!!!”

When I was young I took for granted the way I looked. I thought I would look the way I looked then, forever. I took for granted the wide open future as a space in time in which things would remain the same. I never imagined that my lifestyle, my friends and my passions would grow old, rust and become so out of fashion. I still have many of the hurts, pains and sorrows that I had when I was a young new waver but now as an older man the one thing I no longer have is the freedom to express these hurts, pains and sorrows the way I once did. I am not yet ready to grow old, to grow up and let go of my youth filled dreams. I am not yet ready to become a professional man with a worn out face who lives a certain life because it is the only reasonable option that is open for him. I still want to be new wave, to wear all black and embody the spirit that I was when young.  So I will keep my black headphones around my neck, the black nail polish on my finger nails and try to continue to be me in this mad world where people run around in circles. I find it all kinda of funny and kind of sad………..but now I need to get ready for work.

Paul Squires, Poet Laureate Of The Universe.

http://gingatao.com

Dear Mr Paul Squires,

Even though I am slightly ill (so please forgive my spelling errors) I feel the need to write to you now that you are in heaven or in some other transgressive realm. I went to bed with you on my mind and awoke with the taste of your words in my mouth. I found out last night, upon arriving home from work, that you have passed away. I was told that you decided to “fall” your way out from this universe. Last night while I was lying in bed I was pre-occupied with the way in which you handled the fall. Did you have a smile upon your face as you let go of your physical body? Were you terrified and filled with fear or did your much adored alcohol take the edge off as you made your way down? I see you turning yourself into a worm like ball, sticking your hands over your head and yelling out “wee!” as you go. But I wish this was all that I could see because there is another picture of you that I have in my head as you take your final fall. I see you terrified and trying to hang on to something that will keep you in this life. I see you not yet ready to go and pissed that you were not aware of your final step. There is blood and a lot of unpleasant, un-poetic sounds. In my image of your fatal fall I see the words that you are yet to write into life trying to stop your terrible tumble. There are tears in yours eyes and pain in your skull because you know that not even the words that you dedicated your life to could save you when you needed them most.

This is an image that I am trying to erase from my head. Instead I have watched countless videos of you (okay only one video, but I have watched it again and agin) reciting your heart grown poems. I find myself being more interested in the way you move your hands and hold your body then I am with the actual poem. I know that you believed that the posture that a poet assumes when reciting a poem is as important as the poem itself- but the way you move your figure with the grace of a cat or fish makes me wonder if the beauty of your movements does not overpower your words. For me Paul, you were a physical presence. Even though I never met you in the flesh, you were my literary beloved. I feel your presence when I write and the knowledge that soon after I post an entry on my ridiculous blog, you will be using your eyes to digest my words, is what kept me going. The fact that now I know that you are not on the other side of my computer, that we are not connected by a digital umbilical cord any longer- seriously diminished my will to write.

But I do not want to talk about me. I want to talk about what it is you mean to me dear Paul. As far I was concerned you were my poet laureate. You were my greatest critic and a big chunk of my inspiration. You gave me the courage to believe that maybe what I was writing was not crap. Praise from you was like having one of my short stories published in the New Yorker Magazine. Because of your praise I gained faith in my writing and actually learned to see my self as a writer in the feedback that you gave to me. I threw out literary references at you and my intention was to hit you in the face or stomach. But each reference I threw out, even the most obscure ones, you caught, understood and returned to me with such grace that I was humbled by your intellect, understanding and skill. You did your homework Paul Squires. You read the books, toiled over and mastered the poetry and in my eyes you were without a doubt the real thing. A modern-day Yeats, one of the greatest Australian poets that has ever lived.

But I want to talk more about your fall because for now I am more hung up on your death that I am on your life. I am in a state of awe mixed with shock. This morning I woke up dizzy and sad. Two hours later I am still dizzy and sad. Personally I think a fall is a brilliant way for a poet such as yourself to exit from the stage of life. I can not help but wonder if you purposefully chose your exit knowing full well that it was the perfect literary death. I mean falling to ones death has been done by other literary giants. Primo Levi fell down a flight of stairs. Dylan Thomas fell out a window. Bohumil Hrabal fell out a window. I know that you must have been aware of these all too literary final exits and I can not help but wonder if one evening you got drunk and decided to follow their way down. I suppose this I will never know- and I am not so sure I want to know. I enjoy having the freedom to imagine you writing your final poem about” tumbling” and “the unexpected” and then stepping outside your door, smiling, taking a deep breath and then exiting stage left. Yes this is the kind of death I want to imagine you had. A literary death- the kind of death you deserved.

Paul’s final poem:

Gene Kelly Tattoo

that which you can see
coming
you already have

it is the unexpected
stumblings over (airborne joy with tumble roll)
which constitute the treasure

into outstretched
sunsets
merriment and dance

I love you Paul Squires and I love what you meant to so many others. For as long as I am alive I will archive your words and your being in my mind and if one day I ever manage to have a child of my own I will read them poems from your “Puzzle Box” before they fall to sleep. I still can not believe that you are no longer in this world since for me you were so full of life and love. The time that you spent giving so much support and feedback to others was a quality in you that I always admired. I will miss never again reading another comment from you on my blog. I will miss our emails. I will miss looking forward to our future meeting. But you lived for 46 years and like so many of us mortals love to forget, death is inevitable. In the face of death you lived, you wrote, you read and you inspired. What more is there to a life well lived? So you have gone first and as long as I am here I will continue to live filled with the language that you sang into me. I will also continue to take you final piece of advice to me and “step outside, take a deep breath and just enjoy the slightest vibrations that are in the fresh air. Even though you can close your eyes, never close your ears. Listen to the lullabies.” Goodbye for now my friend. With tears in my eyes I hope the hardest part of your fall has now come to a peaceful end. Now you are apart of the voice of God.