Thoughts Long Gone?

I’ve been thinking about some of the short stories I’ve read in the past lately and I find myself lamenting how some of the best, most obscure ones I’ve read are nowhere to be found nowadays.

When I moved to Boston in 2004, I was re-discovering my love for books and good writing that I had lost my first few years in college. During my first few years, I spent a ton of time hanging out with friends, drinking and leading a generally idle and wasteful existence. When I decided to move to Boston, I had a few people who pointed me in the direction of literary journals, writing workshops and influential people that I should know.

During this time, I got pretty obsessed with literary journals. The Paris Review was the first literary journal that I fell in love with. I still have the first copy of The Paris Review that I ever bought. Inside was stories about states in the former Soviet Union and gave me an unprecedented view into the gorgeous literary landscape that existed outside of American culture.

I recall the first time I was ever moved to tears by a short story. The story was about the Chernobyl nuclear accident that happened in Belarus in the 1980’s. This particular story was told from the perspective of a young couple who were woken up in the middle of the night by sirens from the Chernobyl power planet. The husband was a firefighter and was called to the scene to try and contain the disaster as it unfolded. This man and his wife knew that this was a potentially lethal job that needed to be done for the town and even the country, yet the man ventured to the scene and went inside with his fellow firefighters and battled to put out the fire with water cannons. As the fire subsided, the firemen took turns heading to where the plutonium was burning hot to separate the rods from one another to help stop the fusion that was causing radioactive steam from billowing into the atmosphere. The man, along with many of his comrades did eventually contain the fire until national and international help arrived, but this particular firefighter got very ill and eventually passed away from the radiation.

I was moved to sadness by this short story more than I had been up to that point by any novel that my teachers had assigned. Luckily, I still have that copy of The Paris Review and intend to hold onto it.

I also stumbled upon literary reviews put out by Tin House, Black Clock and the now defunct Zembla. I’ve read stories about Tom Waits interviewing the ghost of Miles Davis and even a fictional tale of Miles David and Jimi Hendrix hearing the same silent “scream” that enabled them to transcend music up until that point. They did everything they could to try and articulate the “scream” into a tangible for via their craft, but never quite were able to and it drove them mad. I even read a really humorous fictional story about Frank Zappa helping Bob Dylan get over a particularly bad case of writers block in the 1980’s by locking Dylan in the basement of his home and being pushy, bordering on abusive until he was able to bring enough high profile musicians by to force Dylan into making another album.

I talk about these stories a lot. Some of them I read up to 6 years ago and they haven’t left me. Why don’t I own most of these literary journals anymore? Well, it’s because I was so passionate about them that I needed to share them with people and let them borrow the physical copies. Of course I never got a lot of them back, which I kick myself in the ass about still. I also go online once in a while and conduct savage searches trying to find copies of what I can remember based off the titles and authors. I’ve been less than successful at that.

I wish literary journals archived these short stories a little better and made them at least partially accessible to consumers. Instead, you’d need to sign up with a paid subscription to these journals, which I’ve done, and even still I can’t find anything leading me to copies of what I’ve read.

Sometimes this feeling reminds me of the lost connections that I’ve had. I’ve shared a powerful moment with a stranger, something so powerful that I remember to this day, but because of my hangups or distractions, I didn’t get something from them, like an email or phone number, to cement these moments into my word.

It’s beautiful and sad at the same time.

Do you have anything in your life that has moved you so much, but is still just a fleeting moment in your memory, seemingly impossible to recover?

There Are Some Things I Wish I Could Un-Learn

As I’m packing for my return flight back to Madison, my mom was watching ABC News. This program came on about a family in Westford, MA  who was practicing “unschooling” their children by letting them learn as they wanted, when they wanted without courses, text books or set hours. Granted, this family looks like the typical liberal wealth that you find in Westford, I was slightly intrigued by this methodology and how the kids reacted to it.

http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Parenting/parents-defend-radical-unschooling-instilling-proper-values/story?id=10422823

This really is a ballsy approach to teaching kids these days. With an endless supply of seedy, harmful and perverted information just waiting to be accessed through all streams of media, one must wonder how much supervision these parents must need to provide for these kids to learn properly.

However, it goes on to show that these kids have very little guidance and through their interviews, seem to have a curiosity for things in life that teenagers their age might not either understand nor care to learn about. Japanimation, nerdy sword fighting, cross-cultural learning… yeah, all stuff I was into as a dorkalicious young man.

These parents must have highly flexible and progressive work schedules in order to accommodate the natural needs of these kids though. I look at my departure from young adulthood into adulthood and I recall all along, a steady distaste for structure, authority (still, these parents have authority, just a different kind) and regular business or schooling hours.I thought I was just a lazy punkass who was smart and would have to rely on being sneaky around my teachers and bosses for the rest of my life to put up the appearance of being who they wanted me to be, while relaxing as much as I wanted, all the while getting my work done and then some.

This style of teaching takes all of that pressure off the kids to be something they’re not. They can be whomever they want to be. While traditionally trained teachers will attempt to instill children with a cookie cutter version of cross cultured tolerance, whether they like it or not, these kids seem to have an objective view of life that their parents also seem to have.

I can only imagine the conservative, institutionalist parents gnashing their teeth at the idea of this. So many highly trained teachers with technology and the passion to teach at their fingertips. But, maybe we don’t need that? Maybe our culture is so saturated with self-defeating principals that by perpetuating these ideals via line after line of ineffective teachers, we’re damning our youth to compounding effects of mass-idiocy?

I had a pretty traditional education steeped in the Catholic tradition that I have come to hate. I learned a lot about being judgmental of others based on a text that was thousands of years old, how hypocrisy was an earned right and many other things I hope to contextualize and stomp out before they can become part of my future child’s ideas down the road. However I also learne about morals, public service and despite shunning the mythical tenets of Christianity, have considered myself to be a fairly decent person because of what I was able to separate from lies and common sense.

I don’t know if I would have done better or even been able to compete under this “unschooling” principal, but I see basic good things in it that could possibly help future generations of children to break free from the social-economic shackles that seem to restrict a great number of minds, year after year. Or maybe this is just another couple of rich, whacky, liberal parents fucking up their kids with half-baked parenting ideas they may have come up with while stoned back in college. Who knows?

What do you think of unschooling? Do you think it’s something that appeals to you? Would you ever consider it as an option for teaching your children down the line?

Un-Rushed

Last month I took a bus to Milwaukee from Madison and took a one way ticket to New York City. I haven’t seen my apartment in Madison since. Parts of this trip were planned and other parts were not. I knew I’d be somewhere on the East Coast for at least a couple weeks for sure. By the time I get back to Madison, I will have been gone for almost a month, taking trains, buses, cars and walking wherever I thought a friendly face or comfortable place to sleep might await.

Although I saw lots of sights (I’m taking a lot more pictures now than I have in a while), landmarks and people, this trip was more of a James Ryan Moreau inspired itinerary than anything I’ve ever done. Each place I went to, I met up with and was hosted by some great people, barring an interesting night spent in a New York City hostel. Having a completely open ended schedule allowed me to not feel rushed, which is how I’ve felt pretty much non-stop for the last 4 years straight. The result was my ability to easily talk with each person I hung out with about life, not just about my pressing professional and personal matters. Talk about the sun, the sky, music, marksmanship or just life’s awesomeness in general.

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Why is this important to me? Well, I see the opportunity to frame life’s choices in relation to your obligations to other people’s desires, your own “needs” that haven’t been really questioned and society’s general expectations as always present. Usually while you work, establish financial security, take a lover and obsess over stability, the decisions that life seems to keep cramming down your throat always need to be made with “reality” in mind.

I’m not really living with reality in mind right now. I’ve seen places, met people and done things that I am really interested in pursuing to various degrees and as far as I’m concerned, all options are officially on the table. Why not? Unless there’s some concept of shame that I’m more than likely missing out on from holding a full-time job, then I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do, just under different circumstances than I had predicted.

Everywhere I’ve went and everywhere I’m going, I want to feel like I’m moving towards something, not running away from or trying desperately to hold onto something. This trip gave me plenty of time to think on what’s out there, how I can get to it and realize why living in the moment un-rushed is just as important as figuring out what memories I’ll be creating next.

Where The **** Have I Been?

Some random pictures of my last few weeks traveling:

So it was just another quiet Friday in good ol’ ‘Scnonsin. I was enjoying the local fare…

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I figured, nothing all that exciting happening this weekend. What’s going on on the East Coast? Some type of pagan holiday they call “Easter” was coming up, so I figured I’d head East to see family. But before I did, I stopped in NYC to see friends and this handsome fellow:

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After a few days bed hopping in New York hostel’s and strange couches (thx Dana), I took a train back to the good ol’ Worcester. My grandfather needed to get dropped off at the DMV to get his Harley registered (scary thought that this man still drives a Harley). So, I stopped for my favorite hot dogs from Coney Island… chilli, mustard and EXTRA onions!

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They were muy deliciouso… but then I got a strange feeling in my stomach… it was the fact that I was back in Worcester… but no matter, my friends all made great effort to meet up with me and catch up on the old times.

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Per usual, once home in Worcester, my focus was sleeping, eating and staying out of trouble, so I’ll share that part. First up, my favorite dish my family makes… baked asparagus!

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Then I stopped by the Armsby Abbey for some amazing craft beers, delicious wine and their weekly special, braised RABBIT pizza!

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And then I met up with another flat faced pal named Ninja Vo. He farted a lot.

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Today, I am in Maine. My grandparents are letting me stay with them for the week as I unwind and think hard on the coming months and what my best options might be. I wanted to get some pictures off my phone and bang out a blog post before I hit the hot tub and hit start-mode.

It’s been a damn good time traveling with nothing to do and no plans needing to be made. I suggest you try it next time you’re out on your ass.

(some more pics…)

The first place we stopped in Portland for fish

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The “green” room

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The “green” room view (yes, that’s the ocean)

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Lateral, Exponential and Co-Symmetrical Personal Growth

There’s a certain skill set associated with selling and I definitely don’t have it. My family tells me I’d be a good salesman because I’m so good at conning them into letting me do dangerous or risky things. I’ve been good at that my whole life. However, selling them on the idea of me risking my own well-being and selling them on doing it themselves is two different things… or maybe not? I’ll explore this concept later.

What I’m horrible at selling is myself. I realize this roots down to a few variables that I’ve been grappling with most of my adult and adolescent life, but it’s also something I feel like I’m getting better at all the time. I’ve gotten progressively better jobs over the years simply because I’ve learned to market my skills and services better than my competition. I’ve dated some beautiful and amazing women,  developed friendships with talented and important people and won people over who hated my guts. Few of these things occur because I’m a cocky son of a bitch who feels entitled to anything but his own happiness. Instead, I feel more privileged to be myself and to have developed as much and as fast as I have.

But, I’m still not one to sing my own praises, or even be able to list off my own good qualities off the cuff without some assistance. This is a real pain in the ass. I always falter horribly in arguments where the retort is “well name me 3 things that you’ve done that…” and I’m like “shit, I can’t list one. You win.” This has a lot to do with the fact that I don’t keep score; not officially anyways. I take heed in the overarching satisfaction of knocking things off my to-do list and then I don’t dwell on those things too specifically after I accomplish them.

I’m much more cognizant of other people’s accomplishments than my own actually. I tend to visualize people’s potential through their history as I know it. Without them even telling me the things they’re proud of (which are equally if not more important than what I think is important), I’m always listening eagerly for folks to tell me about their dreams and challenges to see where I can interject one of the millions of connections I see in the world. I love to do this, especially with people who are open to it.

I am open to that sort of connection making for myself, but I feel like it’s done with a lot less frequency than I’d like. Sometimes I wonder if it’s asking too much of people to think of me like I think of them. It’s not like I’m down with unrequited love (that stuff sucks!) but more so, unrequited interest and investment. Sometimes I question my standards and expectations of others  when these ideas cross my mind. I wonder if I pour too much into situations with little return. Other times I wonder if people pour too much into me without them getting adequate time or attention in return.

The balance is so delicate. I wonder if my self worth keeps growing, will my expectations of the people I keep around me keep growing? Is that fair? It doesn’t seem so, but I often contemplate the relation to the two factors. When I see people leading unhappy lives, a lot of the times it’s because of the quality of people they keep around them. I’ve been happy for a long time for a lot of different reasons, so the reasons I have been happy might change, but I doubt the sources of that happiness change.

Being able to show people how to care about you and how you’re growing also enables them to share in the joy and new experiences that come your way as you grow. I think this is an important perspective for me to have and nurture as I get older, rather than feeling like I’ve eventually grow out of friendships or loves, rather than grow with them.

I’m wondering about this because lately I’ve had people tell me incredible things about myself that I sort of knew, but had no idea other people recognized. I was left speechless on several occasions, but in a good way. It made me think of how certain times, people I’ve know and settled into content relationships with suddenly blew me out of the water with observations about my nature or potential. For a while I had settled into the expectations that me noticing the little quirks, tics and eccentricities that I adore about people was something only I did… oh silly James, exclusive introspective perception is for kids.

I don’t see this exchange in acute sensitivity happening with everyone I meet, but I’m surprised that I may have gotten lethargic in pushing it at times. Connections are what I live for. I need to connect to the outside world as much as I do within.

If I continue to develop and explore connections within myself and with others, as the opportunities present themselves, then I’ll be more aware of my strengths and the quality of potential connections with others.

Maybe it’s not about selling anyone on anything, but more about identifying and cultivating opportunities for an even exchange and be willing to give regardless of return, for the sake of making someone else feel good.

Something to think about…