After my Freshman year at SFA, I for some reason decided to stay in Nacogdoches for the Summer. Looking back, I have no idea what lead me to make that choice. I had very few friends at the time, all of which were leaving town for the break. Given my lack of planning and foresight, I wasn't able to secure any on-campus housing, and only at the last minute found a bedroom in what would turn out to be the most ridiculous living arrangement I have ever stumbled into.
Most of my belongings fit into a few extra large garbage bags, and it only took one trip in the trusty Intrepid (I do sometimes miss that land yacht) to get all my worldly possessions the .3 miles from Hall 16 all the way to the other side of University. My room consisted of an air mattress in the exact center of the floor, one lamp, clothes in the closet, underwear and socks on the closet floor, and one computer chair with no desk. Both of my roommates had already graduated. I was 19 years old with a place to sleep, a limited knowledge of the tiny town I lived in, and my parents' credit card to my name. Oh, and the Intrepid.
It was terrible.
Other than my 2 o'clock class I spent that entire summer in my empty room staring at the ceiling fan wondering what the rest of my life had in store for me.
The next year was the best of my college experience, but every now and then I find myself right back on that air mattress, staring at the ceiling feeling like a directionless teenager who has nothing in store but acne and bad first dates.
But now I long for that bedroom. The empty floor. The bare walls. The good enough bed. The unnecessary chair. The ability to collect everything I own and be on the highway in 45 minutes flat.
I used to resist that feeling, the one everyone likes to call running away. I suppose it more or less is. But I think the basic assumption that you are running away from your responsibilities, which is a cowardly thing to do, is wrong. The things we struggle with aren't always a millstone around the neck, that's crazy American talk.
If your responsibilities are a big, scary, werewolf-ish type monster that stalks you in your sleep and will only grow until it kills you... running away doesn't seem so cowardly does it?? The shame you would experience from walking away is only equal to how much of your self-worth you put into your own baggage.
I'm just ready to do something that doesn't just feel like only what I'm supposed to be doing. Because that is easy, and it pays the bills, but it's no fun.
It's just a slowly turning ceiling fan reminding me how small my room is.
Saturday, August 11
Posted by Paul at 15:46
Thursday, June 14
The growing sound of thunder shook the many rows of empty beer bottles turned upside down and left to dry beside the kitchen sink, the bright sound of the clattering glass harmonizing with the angry shuddering outside. Flies wander aimlessly in and out of the open doorframe, enticed by the warm lanterns and the dubious aroma of three-day-old Thai food. The breeze that precedes the coming storm turns silent oak leaves into roaring breakers collapsing against the worn siding of the dingy two-story apartment complex. Inside, a record player skips rhythmically, repeating the same two-note and click loop, somewhat reminiscent of the way the old Land Cruiser would rock back and forth on the long drives home from the Carolinas. Eventually, the air grew still and so did the sounds of the world.
Though his vision was partially blocked by the concrete eyesore that is the Taylor Street bridge, sitting on the bench outside he watched the lights in the tall towers downtown turn on and then off again as the nocturnal city workers made their way through their respective jurisdictions. He imagined the types of scenarios unfolding within all of the thousands of tiny glowing boxes. The working men and women that stayed late on weeknights hunched over mahogany desks, driven to work long hours so as to provide for the family that they never spend any time with anyway. Extra marital activities in the corner office. Drone like sanitation workers methodically pacing the halls in jumpsuits and headphones. The almost partner that is forced to sleep in the break room due to the impending foreclosure on his subprime mortgage. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a misty memory of a million fireflies in a mountain valley briefly came to life, only to dissipate into the menacing sneer of the tall towers.
Large raindrops began to detonate on the narrow patio around him, so he laid down on his side, out of range of the splashing, and closed his eyes, willing his existence to merge into the chaos of the storm. Vivid flashes of the past filled his head as the lightning strikes illuminated the inside of his eyelids, making projections out of his memories. She spun and fell down the gravel road in her bare feet, laughing and singing amidst a backdrop of loblolly pines and daring anyone or anything from this existence to rob her of her joy. Later, the exterior of the church he couldn’t bring himself to enter, brick and mortar and the clamoring masses within. In the darkness of the storm and of his memory, the images arose to his consciousness for fractions of seconds, the feelings they carried lasting for lifetimes. Every memory of every thunderstorm he had witnessed, and probably many he had only dreamed, was suddenly distilled into one overwhelming, breathtaking vision that caused a lump to well up in his throat so intensely that he struggled to breathe. Gasping, he became aware that he possessed the desire to cry, but though he had the will, he could not remember how.
The feeling passed as quickly as it arrived. A young couple took shelter from the rain under the nearby bridge, standing quietly, waiting for the storm to pass. Orange clouds reflected the light of the city back down upon the earth, the stars never more veiled. Reluctantly, he clamored back inside to get ready for bed and, ultimately, another dreaded day at work. For the first time in his short life, he felt the Earth tremble beneath his feet, though he was not as alarmed at this fragility as he guessed he would have been. His apartment was a foreign place, a stranger’s dwelling, whose belongings bore no interest to him, nor to anyone currently living, save the stupid house cat. The things here actually annoyed him, as though a childhood friend had worn out his welcome. Maliciously, they taunted and teased him, somehow knowing exactly what to say to hurt him the most. Tomorrow he would deal with them, each in their own way, but now he struggles to be quiet.
In the darkness he failed to see the mess in the kitchen that toppled over due to the thunder’s vibration. The broken bottle, the overturned kettle, and the cracked mug. The one given to him so long ago, the one that he used most often, the green one (his favorite color), the best one, HIS mug was cracked straight through from the rim to the bottom… never to be used again. But then, in a way, everything was cracked at that point. Chipped. Snapped. Dinged. Scratched. The world was now without mystery and yet held him captive, and so he slept, or rather, stared at the blinking, twinkling lights of his alarm clock, contemplating the inner workings of the device. Eventually he would realize it was all the same, all the same stuff, the blinking downtown skyline, the twinkling alarm clock, and his own rapidly beating heart.
The next morning he will wake up and discover the mug, and he will smile.
Posted by Paul at 14:45
Friday, September 3
Though we may not talk about it, I believe we all secretly long for an antagonist.
We pine for a force directed against us. A foe. An enemy. A nemesis. Possible of the arch variety. I had an arch-nemesis once... or at least I convinced myself I did...
We feel this way because, simply, if there is someone (or something) violently pitted against our own nature or our own values, our own person, then we can set a clear and tangible goal for ourselves: Overcome. Triumph. In short, our struggles give us the purpose we so desperately desire. So we set out from our doorsteps in the morning unconsciously yearning to be waylaid by some terrible conflict that will give meaning to our day. The morning commute is a battle, a race. Then, at work we fight the good fight. We probe our coworker's comments for hints of offense that can be blown out of proportion, or better yet, used against them at a later time to prove our point. We scavenge for opportunities to steer conversations towards our own opinions and enlighten minds. Eventually at 5 o’clock we declare 'Victory!' and head home, already pondering the best strategy to get an advantage over dinner. And at night, we go to sleep dreaming of the things in our lives we wish were different, fantasizing about getting ripped, tax refunds, and private islands. Then we start fresh the next day, another war against the world.
Sometimes I am aware of it, and sometimes I am not, but I realize that this is how I live.
What if I (we)(you) woke up in the morning and couldn’t wait for that hot cup of coffee (in an appreciative manner, not so much escapist). What if we hopped in the car (or on the bike!) giddy at the thought of listening to some good music and the cool morning air rushing in the windows. We can’t wait to vehemently agree with our coworkers opinion on the cuteness of that dog. We are constantly on alert to seize on opportunities to encourage our neighbor in whatever it is that they are doing. We can’t wait to get home and hear about how everyone else’s day went. And we go to bed grateful for the opportunity to do it all again tomorrow.
Now, granted, that all may sound like rainbows and unicorn farts to most, but the core issue is the point. Do you wake up ready to be afflicted? Do you feel boring if you don’t have any big news to share when someone calls to check in on you. I mean, what are you supposed to talk about other than how shitty your boss has been lately? Life? Pshaw! Engage with those around us? May it never be!
Why? Because it’s hard. It sucks not being angry. It’s not as instantly rewarding as sarcasm. If I can’t be passive aggressive... then my incredible wit will atrophy from lack of use. And then people will forget how awesome I am, and, maybe, I will have to stop focusing on myself all of the time... that sounds unpleasant for me.
Honestly, I need to feel like someone out there is dumber than I am. I need to find new music so I can uphold my snobbish reputation which I value so much. I need vices to make myself feel cool. I need rest cuz' I work so damn hard. I need to cuss so that I seem rebellious. I need to keep in touch with old friends, so that they don’t forget about me. I need to be liked, so desperately want to be loved. I need some strife so I can justify my anxiety. If I don’t get these things that I need, I’ll be pissed. And I will take that out on everyone around me, because it’s mostly their fault anyways. I need to be the center of my own story, and my story needs conflict in order to be interesting.
You know, like that Navy recruiting commercial from so many years ago... In that one black guys voice that isn't Morgan Freeman... “If someone wrote a book about your life, would anyone want to read it?” To which my immediate reaction is always “Oh no! That’s embarrassing!!! How much do they know? I better get my act together and be better than most people.”
But... what if I don’t care? How awesome would that be right?
Then again, I think all of my not caring might just be an attempt to care in a subversive way.
Posted by Paul at 19:42
Wednesday, August 18
I am putting off errands that desperately need to be erranded, as usual. I never seem to have non-pressing issues. Maybe it is because I don't really take anything seriously until it is almost too late... or just too late. I would say it's my tragic flaw: general apathy. That and my fear/love of technology that leaves me in a constant state of anxiety. I love my iPhone but I know that one day it will try to kill me. That's life I guess.
But there is still some coffee in the pot, so that is my excuse for now. Community group is meeting here tonight, and I really do need to clean... and to go get the food for CG, but again, Coffee. In. The pot.
There have been a lot of almost storms here as of late. They blow in with lots of wind and thunder but no rain. All bark and no bite. And how hard is it to get a hurricane on the Gulf Coast?? I mean I've been here since 2008 and I can't even get a measly tropical depression? I'm not sure if I'd be happier somewhere with majestic mountains or frequent thunderstorms. Like the Kentucky mountains kind of storm. That sounds really nice right now.
I feel like I may have wasted my vacation. The break from work did it's job, and I am having a great time... but I failed to leave Southeast Texas. My new goal is to get a promotion and save enough money to spend an entire week somewhere. I'm thinking... Oregon? Montana? Yes?
Posted by Paul at 13:06
Wednesday, July 28
August. The downward slope of summer. Last night it became clear that the industrial A/C unit here is... unreliable, but still very survivable. The first thing I do on my days off is open all the blinds in my room, head downstairs, open more blinds and throw back the giant sheeny red monstrosity called a curtain in the living room. Next stop is the coffee machine, just recently up and running after the transition and the moving and all. Then I'll throw some yogurt, fresh fruit, and a little granola with a touch of honey into a cup and relocate to the couch to listen to some quiet music.
I scan the music blogs and the church blogs and my friends blogs, check for hurricanes, then tech blogs and art blogs and blog blogs, and drink coffee. I'll take the coffee outside and sit on the porch for a while. Then I'll come back inside and grab the laptop because its just better outside than in. Then, maybe, I'll update my own blog, because I feel like a slacker.
Outside, there is a lone mosquito tormenting me, but she is elusive. Have you ever noticed that they, the really bad ones at least, always know how to land somewhere where you can't see them until it's too late? She's a crafty one. (P.S. Did you know only the females suck blood? And only the males make noise when they fly. Huh!)
I have a patch of clear sky on this patio, which is abnormal for this part of town.
The space is shared by dozens of little brown and green lizards that tend to stare rudely at me, a few mockingbirds, one obese squirrel with balance issues, and our neighbor Colin, who is a bit confrontational... and English.
For being about 80 feet off of Westheimer, it is extremely quiet. Quieter than anywhere I have lived in the city so far. Which is sad, because speaking relatively to the porch in Nac, the noise is deafening.
I want a tomato plant.
But back to August. I am anxiously awaiting that first slight chill in the air a few months from now, when the sky turns grey and the air is filled with the smell of smoke from the Texans that feel a fire is necessary when the temperature drops below 70. There is college football on Saturdays, and I can hang around the house in my Tennessee sweater and read and write and drink more coffee than usual.
Right now there is a storm brewing outside. The breeze is cool and the sky is ominous. It smells like rain, musty and thick.
It is strange that, in all my ambitions, (or lack thereof) and all of my plans, I never feel quite as content and successful as I do sitting on a porch in a thunderstorm, just sitting, alone or in good company.
I guess that it is because in those times I forget about my budget and my social status, and the worries of work, the stress of having no direction, and I can just be for a while. Which I think is the important part. I think.
Posted by Paul at 10:28
Wednesday, May 12
So... how did I get here? It's 12:46am and I'm having trouble remembering what I did today. I remember going to bed last night and thinking about all the things I needed to do, but I have no idea what they might have been. I mean, I needed to go to the bank, but that can wait until another day when my accounts are a bit more depressing.
I do know that I took a typing speed test about 8 times and the best I could manage was 43 words per minute, which was not as good as I was expecting. The clicking when I type sounds so much more impressive than 43 words per minute. It's kind of hypnotizing actually, the sound of the clicking.
I'm just going to type on for a bit and listen to the clicking. I don't really have much to say but I'm not going to stop typing. Mostly because of the clicking, the clicking that sounds so much faster than 43 words per minute... some of you might realize that I am just stalling because I can't think of anything else to say, and you would be right... Honestly I haven't really had anything to say in a while. Or ever really. I just really want to have something to say sometimes.
Last week, I worked on my fake novel and I wrote up some fake editorials to see if any newspapers would actually run them. I wrote a fake investigative report about a blockbuster employee that I could prove was actually a Russian spy. I did these little exercises where I would just imagine a story and pick up the thread of it somewhere in the middle, like the sequel to a book that was never written.
And I was having a great time. I felt accomplished. I felt smart. I felt like I might be good at something. But right now I can't think of a single thing in the world, either real or imagined, to write about, other than the sound that my fingers striking the keys makes as I type as quickly as I can... Probably inducing early stage carpal tunnel.
I really feel like this is faster than 43 words per minute though, I think the test is skewed because I have to read and type at the same time, but when I am just typing I don't have to worry about all that pesky multi-tasking.
I know about multi-tasking from work... and let me tell you, it really isn't all that great. Once people think that you can do more than one thing at once, they will expect you to do more than one thing at once all of the time, and then they will start to add more things to your more than one thing, and all of the sudden you are really, really multi-tasking, if only for a second, until your brain suddenly realizes that it is doing too many things and shuts off completely. It's like blowing a fuse. Happens to me four times a day, at least. Too much input, not enough processing space, so I'm going to shut down for a few seconds and then reboot, and all work not saved prior to this point will be lost. What did you just say to me?
It's funny how much like computers our brains are. Or vice versa. Every thing goes a bit slow when you first get started, but after a while everything works fine. Unless you go too long without turning it off, then things start to happen. You know what I mean? It doesn't crash or anything but little things are just... off.
I am enjoying the clicking clicking clicking, because I feel like I am writing, like creativity is flowing out of me in some extraordinary way, even though I am simply rambling about nothing, ignoring the squiggly red lines for now because I desperately want to correct the spelling, but I can't afford to stop typing! If I stop I might not start again and then what would I do? Sleep? Not likely. I must press on, towards the goal!
Because if I stop then I will have to deal. I will have to deal with all of the things that need dealing with. If I am not writing as quickly as my brain can process things than I will be processing other things that I desperately don't want to process. I just want to make my own way right now, my own reality of text and backlit LED screens. And the clicking clicking clicking comforts me. Don't look around the room, don't stop because of the growing pain in your wrist, don't stop to pee, just don't stop the clicking!!! If you stop the clicking you will have to
Posted by Paul at 00:49
Wednesday, March 31
Today was laundry day. It's an occasion that I dread; putting it off for as long as possible. But as most of you know, there comes a certain point... past re-wearing jeans and electing sandals over shoes (for lack of socks...), that the chore can not be pushed back any further. I woke up early to brew some coffee, and I sorted the daunting piles to some new Beach House albums I picked up from eMusic. After a quick run to the border for lunch, I swallowed my pride and carried my multi-tiered laundry basket the two hundred yards to the beige capsule that is the community laundromat.
As I rounded the corner, I saw a mid-eighties Hyundai leaving the vicinity, and some unfamiliar faces eyed me cautiously as we crossed paths. This is never a good sign, folks. I maneuvered the basket around onto my hip to get the access card out of my back pocket, and I stumbled through the door. Sure enough, 6 of the 8 washers were in use, and, just as always, the right half of the room was submerged in an inch of spring-day smelling water. I slogged over to the remaining two machines I was constrained to with what I estimated to be 7 plus loads of milk-stained uniforms and the few clothes I manage to wear when I’m not working. I like to call them my ‘streets’. Two loads in and I hopped up on the sorting table to hunker down for the long haul.
I brought along my headphones and The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland, a needed break from Dostoevsky. The facilities here aren’t exactly what one would refer to as “top of the line”. I couldn’t decipher the writing on the sticky notes adorning the dryers, but I knew well enough that they warned any would be users of the tribulations awaiting them should they attempt to use that machine. From the looks of it they weren’t in English anyway, which is also normal. With the music playing over the low droll of the straining machines and the monochromatic oppression of so, so much beige, it is a strange kind of relaxation that takes hold. Somewhat like being in a hospital bed, knowing full well you don't want to be there. I tried my best to focus on the text and let my brain filter out the white noise. As well as the beige noise.
I guesstimated that the Hyundai owners had started their machines at roughly 1:00PM. I know that one wash cycle lasts approximately 20 minutes, and one drying cycle lasts from 30-90 minutes depending on the size of the load and how lucky you are feeling on that particular day. I did some quick math in my head and figured out I would be there for most of forever. I checked my phone periodically for e-mails or texts, and I was periodically disappointed. The Gum Thief was annoyingly direct. I was more in the mood for some clever jokes and casual observations about the mundane, sprinkled with blunt truths, which is what I expect from Coupland, but this book was lecturing me about the futility of life and minimum wage jobs without wasting any time at all. I felt myself growing angry at his pretentiously self-aware narrative and the immensely small characters. Eventually, my machines clicked off, but no one else had ventured inside since my arrival, so I transferred my unmentionables to the only two dependable dryers in the room. I know them not by their location, as that varies from week to week, but by their manufacturer’s ID numbers; good old WMZ-872 and GHF-020 have yet to let me down. Being observant has its advantages, after all. In go the jeans and the aprons.
I took a break from my sentry duties and walked through a few courtyards in search of a vending machine. The complex was eerily silent on a workday. The towering office building next to the apartments looked as still and immovable as ever, yet, I knew there were thousands of employees inside hustling about, making comments about hump day around the proverbial water cooler. The skyscraper’s windows reflect these little boxes of light on the pavement. If you stand in just the right spot, you are lit from both sides. You can almost imagine what life would be like on a planet with an extra sun, standing there with your headphones in, listening to Wilco and sipping an off brand Dr. Pepper. Back in the isolation chamber, still no sign of any other washees, so I resumed my post. Back into the book, I finally break after falling for a more than one of Coupland’s intricate psychological traps and agree that, yes, sometimes I would like a life do-over. Now I’ve identified with the characters that I previously thought of as small, and I realize that this is what he wanted. He has defeated me. Easily. Now I must continue reading to discover how I can redeem myself from my small life. I continue to be disappointed in my phone.
The weather outside is gorgeous. Did you know you need at least 15 minutes of sun a day? It’s true, I googled it. The temperature in increasing inside the laundry room, making the most uncomfortable place in the world that much more uncomfortable. Around 3:30, one half of the faces from the Hyundai stumbled in. But it wasn’t the brief stumble and recovery that accompanies most entrants, this was a stumble followed by further stumbling. I watched her gather her bearings, register another presence in the room, become embarrassed, and then play it off like she knew I was there the whole time. She wobbled through the shallow lake and began to check her machines. Then she checked my machines. Now she was putting her hands in my machines. I remained hunched over my book, but I cleared my throat loudly, leering at her in what I hoped was an intimidating manner. She smells like body odor and tequila. After a brief pause for reflection, she went over to check the dryers. I tried to focus on reading, but she was now moving around the room like a moth trapped in a garage, moving aimlessly from machine to machine... not really doing anything... just floating around. Again I tried to read, but now I was irritated by the intoxicated moth woman and I had lost all focus. Reluctantly I remove one of my ear buds. But just one.
“Hi, can I help you with something?”
She spun around so quickly she lost her balance and began listing to one side. I knew the physics of the situation didn’t stand a chance of working out, but I still jumped down and made an effort to catch her. She mustered up the entirety of the will a drunk person is capable of mustering in times of distress, and caught herself on the edge of the sorting table. Luckily, I stopped before awkwardly grabbing her, but now we were standing very much in each others personal space. I have never smelled such an evil odor as that before. I’m telling you there was a definite malice in the stink.
“Are you OK?”
A blank stare. An uncomfortable silence. Far, far too much eye contact. I backed away Scooby-Doo style just in case this Hyundai moth woman was some sort of early stage zombie. I recalled the empty courtyards and my lack of phone correspondence, and decided that zombie apocalypse was now a feasible scenario, and I was not about to go down here, in this purgatory of neutral colors and ancient commercial resale laundry machines. She continued standing there... just staring at me. I was no longer annoyed, I was slightly afraid.
“What’s wrong?!” I was navigating around the island of washers towards the exit. “How It Ends” by DeVotchKa came on the shuffle, which somehow solidified my concerns, and I made a break for the door, not quite running, but definitely not walking. Once outside I headed for my apartment at a brisk pace, still somewhat aware of my surroundings. I saw a guy taking out his trash and there were cars coming in the gate, punching in the code before entering. There was an ominous lack of blood curdling screams and mobs of the undead. Crap.
I headed back to the laundry. The woman was now gone. She left her clothes in the machines, untouched. My clothes still needed to be washed... so I just, kind of hopped back on the sorting table and started reading again. I made it maybe three words before stopping. I thought about calling someone to tell them what just happened, but I just checked my phone, which was being rather consistent today.
I was disappointed. Because, for just a moment, less than a minute, I thought that something was actually happening, something stupid, something different. But it was just a drunk woman, and it was still laundry day, and my phone was still quiet, and the room was still so very, very beige.
Posted by Paul at 20:58