We are so complex, yet so tiny.
Sometimes I worry about my generation. Not in the sense that I fear for us, or think we are doomed somehow, more in the sense that a base runner might worry about his teammate who is up at bat toward the end of a hard fought, close game. He is on the same team, but there is not much I can do to help him as I take a lead off second base. I can only watch intently, ready to react. Our fates tied together, I have to worry a little, even if he is the strongest hitter on the team. (Not my best analogy, let me get back to the point) I read the news, I read the blogs, I check my facebook feed. I try to draw a bead on our millennial generation. What is our contribution? As our brief window of influence on the world begins to draw to a close, what can we look back upon? We hit our growth spurt at just about the same time that the internet hit its own. We came of age in the age of information, and we didn’t always act appropriately. Adolescents seldom do. The ego has always struggled to define itself. But for generations before us, the struggle was largely internal, or at least limited to our immediate geographic surroundings. Ours was the first generation forced to define itself with a global digital presence. “What’s your screen name?”, I remember being asked in third grade. Um, what? “Don’t you have AOL?” I felt that nervous feeling kids feel when they don’t have something they are expected to have. I immediately began lobbying my parents to sign up for AOL, and several years later, I felt like I was the last one to the party, but at least I had finally arrived. We built up our buddy lists, chatted endlessly about nothing, and compulsively edited our profiles. Fast forward several more years and blogs started to rise exponentially in popularity. The perfect platform to advertise our coolness to our peers. Where previous generations had only six hours a day five days a week to campaign for themselves to the general population, we moved the campaign online. In their infancy, the blogs still maintained a certain purity. There were no hashtags yet, no pressure to be trending. There was still a premium on originality, which brings me to my main point: the decline of the unique. Somewhere along the line, in the rise of myspace and facebook and twitter, the focus shifted from content to mere presence. Want to send a message to your friend? Sure, you could email them, or message them. Or, you could write on their wall and get your name out there. Make people ask themselves, ‘who is that?’. Build up your brand. You write on their wall, people see you. Then they see you again on another wall, you’re everywhere, you must be important, right? In return, people will reciprocate and write back on your wall. Now look at how active your wall is, so popular! And then, the juggernaut arrived. The one that would deliver the critical hit, and take us past the point of no return. Twitter. One hundred and forty characters to broadcast to the world that you are somebody. All of a sudden we became little kids in a big room, just screaming for attention. But in this context it becomes impossible to say anything of substance. Everyone is just shouting at the same time and no one is really listening to what anyone else has to say except to the extent that it allows them to say something in return. This mentality has carried over now to instagram, and even back to facebook. I find myself longing for the days of xanga and livejournal. Back when we were first experimenting with online self-publishing, and we still valued originality. There was pressure to be interesting, witty. Back then content mattered, now everyone is striving for Klout Score. Klout, with a K for god’s sake! Let us not lose our respect for language. It has done a lot for us and it deserves our continued respect. My big problem is that this emphasis on clout has blinded us to what used to make us interesting. Originality. Uniqueness. Everybody has traits; experiences, that make them unique. This is what I want to read about. The picture of your dinner may look delicious, but I have had steak before, hundreds of times. The grainy picture of a storm drain, for example, used to tell a story. When one had to take the picture, develop the film, look at the photograph and then make the proper adjustments to the camera before going back to take the picture again to get it just right. Good artwork requires just that: work. Instagram is great as a medium through which to share art, but make no mistake, it does not create it. When I was eighteen I was arrested in Albany, New York. This was not a unique or interesting experience. But when I performed my court ordered community service at a local food bank I met some interesting characters, all of whom were there for different reasons and had unique stories that I enjoyed listening to. Sadly, these people are probably not writing about their unique experiences today. They are probably tweeting at celebrities, hoping for a retweet to get their handle some publicity. They are probably uploading self portraits to instagram, after carefully choosing the most flattering filter to apply. That is not the social media content I am interested in consuming. I may be in the minority, but I long for the day when we recognize how the rat race for followers has actually cheapened our clout in the long run. One of the more interesting people I knew during college was a Chicano kid from LA. When he arrived in Santa Barbara, that was the northernmost place he had ever travelled to. He was extremely reserved, and barely opened up to me even after we had lived together for a year. Over the three years that I hung out with him, I had the privilege of learning about his life, and how different it was from mine. Looking back, it was not only what I learned from him, but the effort required in getting him to share the information that made it so satisfying. Needless to say, D is not on twitter. He never even signed up for facebook. The takeaway here is that the basic laws of economics apply even to social media content. When you flood the market with supply, it cheapens the value overall and everybody ends up losing. Here’s what I ask to anyone that may have read this entire post: Please think twice about what you choose to broadcast to the internet. You have something that nobody else has, consider sharing that instead of something that is more likely to end up trending. Don’t worry about Klout, it’s a made up value and you can’t spend it on anything worthwhile.
One day I am going to grow wings
If you distill “Let Down” to emotion, pure emotion, it is numbness that threatens to crack, then does and somehow the loss becomes ecstasy. The guitar and drums churn and rotate like wheels. The sound of travel, the soulless commute, the gray faces of your fellow riders. The language of drudgery leading to a chorus of sweetly murmured disappointment. It builds. A quiet shimmering build. You hear two voices double tracked, you come to expect them, that padding, so when the song quiets down and then slowly builds up again, you don’t expect the single voice. It broke away, you see, and it repeats itself: you know, you know where you are, where, you know where you are, where, floor collapsing floating, bouncing back and one daaaaay… And this is where the song becomes sublime, that single voice keeps going, going up, up, up you know where you are you know where you are and the second voice returns, emphatically proclaiming from the ground but looking upwards at its shadow self. That sonic rise lifts the listener too. Your breath, which had been held for so long, can finally release and you float along with those voices, the chiming guitars. Arms outstretched and free, a release of balloons, an all together heart bursting thing.
First of all, let me just point out that this blog, One Week/One Band, uses a great format for music blogging/journalism, and is worthy of a follow. I chose to reblog this post in particular because it is about my all time favorite song from Radiohead, my all time favorite band. I’ll just briefly describe my intimate experience with this song (“Let Down”). In 2005, I was a freshman in college in Albany, NY. I was not thrilled about where I was, I felt like I didn’t fit in with all the kids around me. I had no idea what to do, I just knew that something had to change. One night I was up late writing a paper due the following morning. I had put off starting the paper until the last night, and even once I sat down to begin writing, continued to procrastinate by listening to music and reading lyrics. This was during the peak of my Radiohead enlightening. Admittedly, I was late to catch onto this once-in-a-generation band. It was well after midnight, and my roommate had been asleep for a while. I sat at my desk in the dark room, headphones over my ears, staring at the glowing computer screen. The clean guitar intro started and the lyrics loaded in the browser window. Listening to the song actively like this, I went for a ride. Not like a roller coaster, more like a plane taking off. The buildup of anticipation as the plane taxies onto the runway, the engines get louder, the plane begins to shake and then you are pressed into the back of your seat. Your heart beats a little faster, and you prepare for liftoff. As soon as the ground starts moving away, you are already too high, if anything happens now, you’re fucked. But you surrender in that moment, because there is nothing you can do to save yourself anyway. And then the moment is over and you are in the air, en route to your destination. But that feeling of buildup and nerves and surrender was very similar to what I felt that night listening and reading the lyrics. “Shell smashed, juices flowing / Wings twitch, legs are going / Don’t get sentimental, it always ends up drivel.” My arm hairs stood straight up, my heart was trying to break out of my chest. Pure raw emotion, and it was all from this song, that last verse. “You know where you are!” I wanted to sing it out and cry at the same time. I didn’t know why, but I knew that I was feeling something so real. Not like listening to “Thinking about you” after a break up. It struck something more abstract than that. That feeling of uncertainty and longing that lies deep in the subjective human experience. It didn’t give you the answer, but it gave you a moment of hope that at least there was an answer out there somewhere. And that feeling, that night, in that dorm room, was invaluable to me. As my eyes strained from looking for too long at the bright Dell computer monitor, I felt so fucking alive it was almost unbearable.
Did you hear your favorite song, one last time? #gaslightanthem killed it nights one and two. @annamal_s @nutt_s (at Terminal 5)
Went for the gaslight hat trick at terminal 5 this week. This was night two (the best one, in my humble opinion).
Black contractor bags: Three tied shut in the basement, one open in the bedroom. wrinkled shirts spill out with hangers still in the necks. Queen size sheets climb up and over the corners of the full size mattress. At the foot of the bed, a pile of clean laundry lies in purgatory. Instructions: Toss once daily before getting dressed. Do not fold. Guitar rests gently on top for easy access. Laptop wire practices Jiu-Jitsu with iPhone wire underneath the wheels of the chair. Spoiler alert: it ends in a draw. To whom does this stuff belong? GMAT book is next to Catcher in the Rye on the bookshelf. On the next shelf, an I Can Read Book! What year is this? A stack of cards: 45 RPM club membership card, LB city beach pass, learner’s permit with altered birth date, mom’s funeral card. God grant me the serenity to accept etc, and so on and so forth. Serenity? Please. My couch is in the dining room between the table for miscellaneous papers and the table for miscellaneous papers/quiet meals. Artwork is stacked in the corner with the baseball bat. A piece of loose leaf paper holds a handful of addresses. 1br basement garden city 1000/mo. East Meadow studio near LIRR 1050/mo. Don’t open the garbage bags in the basement, that will only complicate the process of picking them up and moving them to the next spot. That’s heavy air sealed in there. Tuesday afternoon air, after Monday night when the water came. Slow at first, but then fast. Oh man, so fucking fast. Like a lost river. To the curb, to the grass, to the first step, and so on and so forth. Can’t settle in this room. The ground is not stable, it wasn’t then either. Voices permeate the walls, out of sync. Where are my headphones? The corners of the window light up red and blue and my heart sinks. Where is my skateboard? Away message on. Auto-response from (screen name): I am away from my computer right now. This is an auto-response.
Reluctantly approve FB friend request, quickly scan profile…
Likes: Mitt Romney
New York Times
As a general rule, I usually disregard emails in response to a “room for rent” ad if they include “lol” right there in the first correspondence.
1) That voter ID law that just passed in Pennsylvania is just terrible, and we should all be humiliated as a nation that we allow this kind of assault on democracy to take place. I’m embarrassed.
2) People who are close friends will almost always inevitably become more distant. We go through periods when there are people who are always there for us and we take for granted that they are just there and we can bounce ideas off of them and just accept as fact that when we look over, they will be there. I can look back at people who have been like that throughout my life. The really hard thing is when you actually recognize them while they are still there, and have to accept that that level of closeness is unsustainable and they will eventually fall in with the rest of your previously intimately close friends.
3) It’s Friday night. If at all possible, think about what you want right now and go get it. Or at least take a step towards getting after it.
Listen to this album, then buy it on July 24. This is an important release from one of the better bands making music today.
Progress is not the practice of those in the business of sweeping success. Progress overawes—but its work is slow and grim. Progress waits on people to die, and more enlightened people to take their place. Progress works even as the unenlightened abound, but find their ranks thinned and their positions exposed.
Specifically, democratic progress is not revolution and can never be the gospel of people who measures success by complete victories achieved in singular life-times. Instead it is reserved for those who are unrelenting in struggle, patient beyond their mortal coil, and willing to wage wars across generations.
Author’s note: This one got away from me a little, so it’s a bit disorganized.
When work is slow, like it is today, I will waste time browsing people’s profiles on facebook. Old friends who I never see or talk to anymore, and quite honestly don’t care about. It blows my mind, but some people actually go out of their way to share their personal experiences on facebook via pictures, check-ins, tagged posts, etc. From the most mundane, to the borderline interesting stuff. This kid went to Europe, sweet. She is drinking a margarita, and there’s a picture! Enthralling! Salty! This girl got knocked up, TUBULAR!! (pun intended) Anyway, as I peruse the digital lives of these people, I notice a pattern in my reactions. It is a difficult reaction to explain, but I will try. An example: An old childhood friend of mine, very nice kid, I used to spend a lot of time at this kid’s house. His mom always made cookies, his parents never fought, pays attention in class, plays well with others, yada yada. I gather that in the last couple of years, this kid got together with a girl from our high school, couple years younger than us, she seems like a nice girl, I know nothing about her really. She was quiet, didn’t make waves in school, and probably came from a similarly healthy household. Wonderful. So these two people found each other, and now they seem very happy together. She is in all of his profile pictures. ADORABLE! If you had one guess what my reaction was to viewing all of this, what would it be? Did you say jealousy? That’s a good guess. That was actually my guess too, and it is certainly correct on some level. But a better answer would have been pity. Why pity? I don’t know really. The whole thing is all so Wonder White Bread to me. Where is the excitement? The conflict, the not-as-much-fun side of the emotional spectrum? I suppose it could be there, under the surface, people are usually good about keeping their dirty laundry off of facebook. But, my instinct tells me there is not much there. Dude graduates college, meets a nice girl from his hometown, they get together and live photogenically ever after. I wouldn’t watch that movie. I wouldn’t relate to a song about their ski vacation. Can you believe the size of this fireplace?!?! I need some speed bumps, some pot holes, maybe even a three car pile up, provided everyone is ok of course. A little fire never made things less interesting. Throw in some strife, some drugs, a lot of booze, now were cooking something. There is something to be said for high highs, and lower lows. Some heartbreak. Anger, resentment, jealousy… pain. Rejection. Failure. Picking up the pieces. Don’t put them back together right away, just throw them all in this bag and put it over here so people stop stepping on them. We’ll put it all back together later, let’s go get fucked up right now. Loud music, bars, dancing, sex. Drink more, take ecstasy. You have blow? I shouldn’t. Is that bag of pieces where I left it? Open it up and take a look inside, just to make sure it’s all still there to put back together. Not now though, later. Hey what’s this piece? This one looks like it’s been broken longer than the rest of them. Close the bag. This song is fucking amazing! So now I got up my nerve / and I found me a stone / with a flick of the wrist and a turn of the key you’ll just fall in my arms. Ahh my heart is the size and weight of a fucking SUV when I hear that shit. That is real. That is some real human experience right there, and that’s what it’s all about. That’s life. Life is a lot of pain, and if you’re lucky, more than a few intermittent moments of kick-ass, ear-to-ear grinning, laugh so hard you can’t breathe, come in your pants joy. It’s a roller coaster. It’s a sine wave, some of us just have a greater amplitude. Don’t look for me at the X-axis, because more than likely I won’t be too close to it. That couple that takes all their pictures together, that’s their neighborhood. I’ll pass through but I’ll be screaming by on my way to a trough or a crest. Probably drunk, and dancing. Alive. Living.
From this New York Times article:
New York Medical College was planning to change its affiliation to Jewish from Catholic when an employee approached Rabbi Moshe D. Krupka in the cafeteria, voice raised and finger wagging, and demanded, “When you take over, will I be able to eat my ham sandwich here?”
A nervous hush fell over the room on that day two years ago. Some students and workers had protested the impending takeover by Touro College, while others were just nervous, unsure what to expect. The college officials giving Rabbi Krupka his first tour were mortified by the confrontation, but curious about his answer.
The rabbi, a senior vice president at Touro, cut the tension with a most rabbinic reply: “It depends.”
“On what?” the man asked.
“On whether you like ham,” the rabbi answered.
Take away from that whatever you’d like.
Golden Gate Park Disc Golf Course, San Francisco, California
But I don’t know from where. It’s strange, it’s been coming in random spurts lately, like over the last few weeks. In the car, on the way home from work, especially on that stretch of the Wantagh Parkway after you pass Merrick Road, the road curves left a little, and then right, and then there’s a straightaway and the road just opens up. The green sign tells you the ocean is 4 miles away and all of the trees disappear and you can see miles in every direction. The Bay, the patterns of marshland surrounding the road, the winter sun sitting low on the horizon in the right corner of my eye. In the summertime the sun shoots straight up into the top of the sky like a rocket ship and hangs there weightless for a few hours before it crashes down somewhere behind the city. Not in the winter, though. In the winter it gently lifts off in the east, probably from Westhampton airport, and takes a nice leisurely flight across the southern sky. It gets up there, but it never really reaches cruising altitude. Then around the time in the afternoon when I mentally check out of work, it begins its descent. Nice and slow, at such a gentle angle that it won’t disturb any peacefully sleeping passengers. I like when I am about a mile out from the ocean, and the road curves to the right and the sun is right there in my eyes. Sometimes I’ll pull the visor down, but lately I’ve just been letting the rays hit my sunglasses and focusing on the road and not looking directly into the sun. There is almost never anyone else on the road at this time of year so you can just keep the wheel straight and look in front of you. I don’t know what happens in that moment but as I sing out whatever song is playing on the cd player, I can’t help but start laughing. I keep singing but I really can’t because I’m just laughing to myself. Everything is ok, and it feels so good that I am just overcome with joy. I need to quit my job and do something else, anything else. Blonde girl from the giants bar hasn’t called me back. I’m worried about my little sister. But when I’m driving south on the Wantagh and the sun is shining in my eyes none of that matters. I just feel alive. And everything is going to be ok.