Saturday, August 10, 2013

Grad School Ruined My Life: Part One

In the spirit of "tweeting longer,"which was the informal pledge I made when I asked to re-join our little community, I am going to continue the thoughts I started expressing on lex's post here. (And, if I may pat myself on the back for small steps toward much-needed progress, I did so without waiting to be prompted/encouraged by one of you. For that matter, I should note that I volunteered to come back to the blog without pulling any passive aggressive insecure bullshit moves like sitting around hoping one of you would ask me to first. Is it sad that I consider these things growth in any sense of the word? Yes. Yes it is. But hey, that's where I'm at right now, y'know?)

As I started saying in that comment, I have not felt that I truly fit in anywhere nor felt any real sense of community since I left Eugene and finished grad school. I should note, for the record, that I am not even remotely a nostalgic person--at least not in the sense of looking back at any point in my life and wishing to relive the "good old days." I've never wanted to get stuck in one place/one moment in time and stay there, unchanged, forever. So it's not that I want to go back to that time and place; I just want elements of what made it so satisfying to be part of my life again.

Those of you who know me are painfully aware of how invested I seem to be in self-defining as a Failed Academic and how much time I spend bitching and moaning over the (bad in hindsight) professional choices I have made. There's a lot to unpack in that endless stream of whining. But one part of it is directly related to what I am talking about--my belief, possibly (probably?) hopelessly flawed, that if I had stayed "on track" with my academic ambitions I would still have the community I miss so much, at least in some form. (I know that's not exactly true because I felt lonely and isolated during the three years I was TT faculty, too. But less so, definitely. Nevertheless, it is unquestionably the case that I have felt like an outsider since I left academia. Could be coincidence. In the end, does it really matter?)

With my colleagues (insert snarky solidcitizen comment here) or neighbors or various random folks who now fill the parts of my life that other grad students from my department or from the union used to fill, I always have this acute sense of being...wrong. Weird. Different in a bad way. Like I just can't seem to find anything other than surface level circumstantial similarity in common with anyone. I can't ever progress beyond small talk or shop talk, and even that seems to require pretending to care about things that don't really interest me like sports or shopping or crap American teevee or whatever scandal passes for "news" on whatever shitty news outlet people watch/read or omigodmyhusbandissuchajerkdontchaknow. No, actually I don't know. I don't know what the fuck any of you are thinking or feeling or care about. I seriously have no. fucking. idea. how to actually integrate myself into your world. So I spend a lot of time in my own head. And it's lonely in here. Also, frankly, rather boring.

That's why I am here, I guess. That's why I stay on Twitter, more or less carrying on a conversation with myself. I like to pretend that there is a community out there, some place I might actually belong, where someone who is not my partner might actually be interested in what I am thinking about.

So, shall we begin?

Cheap Joke About Billy Beer

I'm at a conference in Atlanta. As is my habit when visiting a hotel room, I like to peruse the city guidebooks that are often provided in the night stand or desk drawer. The Atlanta book has an article about the beer scene here in A-town, which I naturally read, being a beer guy myself. 

It seems that in the not too distant past, mentioning the beer scene in Atlanta would have drawn either blank stares or gawfaws from the afficianado of the suds. No longer, I am informed. These days Atlanta can be fairly compared to the great beer cities of America, - Portland, San Franciso, Denver, and Boston. The basis of this newfound respectabilty can, again I am only told as I have not yet had a great Atlanta beer, be found in the fact that Atlanta and "nearby" Athens [70 miles] have between them nine breweries. Nine! For the record Eugene and nearby Springfield have ten breweries.

My point, however, is not to mock Atlanta. My point is to question that list of great beer cities. Are those America's great beer cities? What do you think are the five great beer cities in America? Here's my list:

1. Portland
2. Bend, OR
3. Denver
4. Seattle
5. Milwaukee

I don't have the time to justify my choices. I invite you to tell me why I am wrong.

Friday, August 9, 2013


It's good to blog again.  Even just conjuring the ghost of the OG's once-estimable audience frees me up from the perils of whatever ruminative "insights" can get forged out of isolation. 

If you go to enough therapy for the right reasons, you become suspicious of insight and the false hopes attached.  Insight is for bedwetters and wayward spouses and people trying to quit smoking - folks for whom therapy is a mere pit stop.  Maybe I won't have to keep meeting Frannie in the motel room every other Wednesday if I just really sit with my grief over my father's apathy!

Therapists pay the bills and patients get better all the time from these medium-term exercises in knowing and grieving and accepting, etc.  But the process has nothing to do with my life and times.  While I am far too self-conscious not to bring my reflexivity with me everywhere I go - and far too pretentious not to confuse over-reading my environs with a necessary and beneficial form of personal alertness - I have nonetheless all but abandoned the formulaic contours of memory and narrative for what is I daresay a more materialist and data-driven set of behavioral tactics and strategies.  It is not enough for me to dwell upon an imperfect past, to grieve and/or "move on."  Perhaps it's not particularly helpful to take up that work at all. 

But then, I want to write again!  And what does it mean to write in a post-insight mode? Well, I suppose I could just take up the old polemics (i.e., Trotskyism is dumb/awesome, Laclau is awesome, man-sandals are dumb, Facebook is dumb).  God knows snark needn't be insightful.   And surely there will be time for telling you more about why I don't like things that I don't like.  But I hope there will be more than that. 

Writing for this blog brings me closer to Oregon.  Some years ago I made two bold decisions, getting married and leaving Oregon abruptly for a state where I had no prospects and very few friends.  One of those decisions turned out better than the other, and it pains me to recall the anguished looks from so many friends who politely watched me leave town without the degree I had chased semi-fervently until that point.  (Similarly it pains me to have to ponder leaving Michigan, where I have worked hard to make a rock band and good new friends. But I wish I still lived in Oregon, notwithstanding all the ghosts therein. I can still taste the beer and smell the hippies and I miss being the guitar player in the fucking Squids.)

One makes decisions and comes to regret some of them, but if I have survived this long for any reason it is to rise above the false friend of retrospective insight that chases after fully- and semi-momentous events.  That I might have made a mistake and could have known better is not as real as the laps I will be swimming later today, nor as real as an effort, like this OG revival, to unleash my personal history upon the present tense and make of memories something more than nostalgic quicksand.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Meeting of the Minds

My apartment is where my OCD can run free a bit. Before I leave in the morning:

Shower curtain closed.
Shower mat straightened.
Toothpaste squeezed from the bottom of the tube.
Dirty laundry in basket.
Ironing board put away (which means ironing before showering, so the iron has time to cool).
Coffee table parallel to couch. Couch and chair at right angle.
Calendar turned over.
Dishes done.
Stove top cleaned.
If leaving for more than three days, garbage and recycling empty, floor swept and wiped. Coffee grounds on garbage can lid means a cleaning. Can left out to remind me to put a new bag in when I get back. Doors closed, windows shut and locked, curtains lowered.

My apartment is where my apprehension about my body can run free a bit. My bathroom has two mirrors at right angles to each other, which means post-shower I get me spread over two mirrors. I think of my wife. I remind myself I owe her an apology. I pledge to do better. I fail.

All right here in my little apartment.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Orange Flyer on the Door

I recently moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Portland, OR. It is my first time living by myself. It feels weird. Not so much the living by myself, but living in an apartment complex with people who, judging by the spare glances in the parking lot and laundry room, are all in their late 20s. I did not live in an apartment complex when I was in my late 20s. I was married with a kid, in grad school. Me, not the kid. She's a senior in high school this year. We bought a house when I was 28 or 29. I know we lived there in late 2001 because I put a flag up on 9-11. I don't know who these people are. What are their lives like? What do they dream of? I know so little about them, my fellow Barbur Heights denizens. I'm sure they work. They all own mid-level cars. Some of them bike. My neighbor upstairs showers every morning at 5:30 am, which makes a very effective alarm clock. I could make my guesses. I cold speculate on how you end up in a semi-suburban Portland apartment complex at 27. I don't. I just wish them the best.

It has occurred to me, of course, that if anyone bothered to think about the 41 year-old, apparently single, overweight guy driving a new car who moved in with absolutely no furniture and a picture of his wife and daughter, well it wouldn't take much of an imagination to guess that I am newly divorced. Life in a spiral. On the way down. I'm not, but that would be the logical guess. I take some consolation from the fact that no one actually thinks of me. I live in my box from six to six and am free to be what I will. The apartment complex is no smoking. Absolutely no smoking. The parking lot is not distance enough, but the sidewalk is ok. I returned from a road trip to find a note about this policy taped to my door.
There is absolutely **NO SMOKING** permitted on the property. That includes on your back patio, and that includes your guests. If you need to smoke, please step out to the curb.
I've no idea if the apartment manager, T, put this on every door, or if I was the only one to get one. I don't smoke, nor do my guests. It's been three days and I still worry. Does she think I was smoking? Were there butts on my patio from a previous tenant? They're doing work on the siding and I know people have been on the patio. Am in trouble? I feel like I should call. Clarify. Explain. I have this need to have this woman who I have only met the once not thinking ill of me. Not thinking of me at all is fine. Thinking that I am breaking the rules, that I am somehow bad is not.

Maybe I need to tell her that I am not a lonely divorced guy who smokes Winston's. I have wife, a house, a good marriage. I don't smoke. I have a job. A good paying one. I am not the guy you think I am. I am not the guy my father was. Cause there's a guy I can judge. There's someone who I know about. There's the guy you're looking for. I am not him and won't be. My life can't turn on that dime. I won't wake up one day and have everything be different. My employer is not going to up and announce a massive wage cut. My wife isn't going to leave me. My kid won't mock and pity me. Those things are double plus unpossible for me. Because I am a good guy. I'm doing everything right. I try. That's all it takes, right?

For now, I am letting it go and telling myself everyone got the flyer and no one is thinking that I have done anything wrong here. For now. I may send an email tomorrow, just so she knows.

Being Realistic, Then and Now

'Was a time it was nearly impossible to lose your phone because people didn't try to wear or otherwise harness their phones.  (That was back when telephones were asked to act like furniture and not like our personal lifestyle squires.) 

Similarly there was a time when people were too deluded or polite or empirical (sic) to make explicit the presumption that their role in a conversation was to distinguish between what's real and what's false. Not anymore.

Nowadays there is a saying or tic that's nearly as popular conversationally as coughing and otherwise punctuating speech: people introducing their opinions by saying "The Reality Is.."

'The reality is'?!?

Nowadays people are casual about their communications cutting straight to the sacred point that separates falsehood and facticity.
I'm as big a fan of horse racing as anybody is, Mort, but the reality is that we don't make enough receipts at the stable to fund the community center. 

People say I'm a jack of all trades, Hans, but the reality is I just turn out to be brilliant at everything I try. 
 I "credit" Rudy Giuliani with being my first sighting/hearing of "The reality is...," but like all great syntactic-semantic outbreaks the phrase is bigger than any of its originators.  Indeed, the phrase defines its speaker moreso than distinguishing whatever phrase it sets up.  (Too true: when you evoke reality for the sake of emphasis you emphasize some wayward reality principle over your personal take-home point.)

What's worst is that the prevalence of "reality talk" in personal and popular media affirms the stodgy marxian assumption that the victory of one kind of postmodern constructivism brings with it fuck-all worth celebrating in the culture (living wages would help.)  So, the felling of earlier notions of objectivity and T-ruth has resulted only in the littering of human conversations with fantasy league exercises in enunciating what's "real"?  Everyday linguistic positioning is now playfully imbued with a dead modernity's certitude?  I'll stop short of getting into how ironic that is or isn't but I'll probably end up dry-heaving tonight anyway. 

Is Anybody Out There?

Do people still do blogs? I am thinking about making a project of reviving my fucking blogging if you can believe that. Lemme know if you think it's a workable idea.