Three Steps to Turn Everyday Get-Together(s) into Transformative Gatherings:A Ted Talk by Priya Parker
The following are excerpts that I wrote between 2013 and 2015, some of which were included in my novel, Between Transitions.
I skated through my twenties on the precipice of a series of "very nearly": I very nearly kept good jobs, and I very nearly nurtured good relationships, and I very nearly became the person that—somewhere inside me inching its way to the rise, and very nearly surfacing for air—I knew I was capable of being. There are glimpses of that person, they are probably too few and too subtle for anyone other than myself to have noticed, nevertheless I know he’s there, because I’ve seen him, and sometimes he and I meet at the purview of the precipice that never comes to be. I was thirty when I moved back home. Everything about it felt familiar. The two old houses nestled artfully surrounded by a nursed backwoods just out of sight of the dead end road. The small, German town secluded in obscurity, still lush with a small-town kindred, and the rolling river near the town center. It was exactly as I remembered it, everything, that is, save me.
I have had a guard up now for over a year, and I’m not sure how to get around it. Living with this kind of a demur is not something that I have acclimated to yet, and honestly I’m not sure that I ever will, so obviously I am having trouble getting around it; and, respectively, I open up only when queried, and even then it’s not really all that meaningful. I tried to work through it, literally, by throwing myself into my work:
Until recently I read and reviewed independently published books for a journal based in California, a job that I loved but couldn’t maintain with my growing list of projects, since my move back to Texas. I also write short stories with the intent of their publication in literary journals. I fell into the work many years ago while living in a small town in Idaho. I worked, for a short time, in a potato processing plant, maintaining a packaging machine from 8:00PM to 8:00AM, every day, and all week. The plant closed one weekend for Easter, and I drove the fifty miles to the nearest, largest town and spent the day, and ultimately the weekend in a coffeehouse near the Snake river. I wrote about it; a travelogue, if you will, and left it for the café owners. When they saw me again they asked me to publish it in the local monthly magazine - which I did, and I have been writing professionally ever since. I tried to write a novel shortly after I started writing for Idaho Falls Magazine, although it was considerably more challenging than I expected, and I ultimately chopped it up and rewrote the chapters to sell as short stories, hence my transition into short fiction. I haven’t even considered working on another novel until recently, when I moved back to Texas. And I’ve been writing it now for a month, or so. It’s surprising how much more straightforward the process has been this time around. I guess working as both a writer and a reader for a number of years makes a substantial difference.
I have learned that I write better when I’m surrounded by people, in public places, when I can feel the different energies of people that wander in and out of the café throughout the day. I’ll often engage in conversation with people, which can be counterproductive, considering it takes away from my writing time, but when I set aside, hide in the corner of the coffeehouse, and allow my thoughts to spill onto the page like an overflow of expression pouring out and onto the surface, I can feel both the complement of the people surrounding me and the recognition of myself, in the moment. As I reflect on the story later—and perhaps even years later, as an old man—I’ll remember always the feeling, the only thing routinely lost in retrospect.
I buried myself again in my writing, this time immersing myself into it entirely. Overthinking the situation I was more concerned that switching off that conversation, and reengaging with someone else would be overtly insulting, so, instead, I focused entirely upon my own expression of thought. Although, it felt, suddenly, as if an ominous wind had swept over me, a wind that had not affected anyone else in the café, except for me.
Instantly I became overwhelmed with a desire to know and to do nothing. I continued to sit, still, in the coffeehouse, my body seemed unaffected, although a fog had enveloped my mind, infiltrating my limbic system and paralyzing my emotions. I felt nothing, and yet I was consumed by a hopelessness. Feeling the nothing transgressed both my soul and my intellect; prescribing feeling nothing to a prospect of a meditative nothingness—actively thinking nothing, as if nothing could be objectively contemplated. I stared only, ahead. Occasionally I would turn and attempt to create stories about the people surrounding me. This, however, would turn out to be an exercise in futility. I gave up only to give the impression that I was watching people, in order to give the impression of normalcy. I believe that our routines, our lives—are made possible, or just, and more discerningly—easier, knowing that we are connected to everything, and to everyone; many people ignore, or have forgotten that idea simply because it is commonplace, and when a new standard replaces an old the new one will, eventually, become so normal that the old will seem peculiar. Depression occurs when our connection is severed. Depressives have a unique, albeit unfortunate, relationship with the network that our consciousness is hardwired to, because only depressives are capable of recognizing both the affiliation to, and the separation of that connection. Antidepressants increase the biological component, the serotonin, which bridges the corporeal with the ethereal.
I was sitting on my couch last night listening to the rain, and reading; something that I read distracted me from what I had been reading, although I did continue for several paragraphs before I realized that I hadn’t actually retained a word of anything that I read after losing myself in thought. I started thinking about my life, and more specifically how I live my life and the day-to-day routines or anti-routines that are the makeup of my waking hours. A great deal of my time is spent working on communiteabooks.com, on my website. If you’re wondering what that actually looks like it is: ordering books to build my inventory, uploading books to the website, looking for new ways and new platforms to market, as well as maintaining, and building on my current marketing and social media marketing strategies, coming up with new creative design ideas for the website and implementing them, reading and studying up on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) practices, learning to write code--not very well, or at all really--in order to create the best possible website that I can—I am currently working on figuring out a way to alphabetize my inventory by author instead of the first letter of the product title, because that is a bit of an issue for browsing, and overall customer experience on the website, I’m kind of losing my mind trying to figure it out—writing blogs, and taking, packaging, and shipping orders (I may have overlooked a few things).
I’ve been feeling anxious lately because...well I thought it has been because I have not yet seen the same return for the work that I have done on the website, as well as a growing anxiety that includes, but is not limited to the idea that I am not meeting certain expectations that some people might have of me, or that I have of myself—in my family and social life. I have kind of thrown myself into this project, well, this career head first, and entirely. The only consistent social experiences I follow through with during any given week are my workout schedule—which in, and of itself is a solo activity, I just happen to be surrounded by people while working out—and our Monday night Trivia game at Cibolo Creek Brewing Co., and I haven’t been enjoying that as much as I once did. It’s not the game, or Cibolo, or the people really it’s just that the intrigue is fading a bit. Also, for the last few years I’ve been thinking about the things that interest me, and I may have covered this briefly in a previous blog, but I’m having a difficult time thinking of anything that I actually enjoy doing, like given the scenario: “what would you like to spend one evening every week doing?” I think about bouldering, camping, hiking, biking, reading, making music, painting, photography, writing, I can think of a dozen or more things that I have enjoyed at different points throughout my life but I’m not currently doing any of them, for example: I have a nice cycling bike, when I lived in New York and Santa Fe I would commute by bike (and train), but it was a significant part of my life, my bike currently has two flat tires, and changing the tires on one of these bikes is not exactly as straightforward as changing a tire on a Huffy, still I could do it—I just don’t.
“This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
So, last night I realized that I have been sabotaging my own happiness. Not to an extreme or anything—partly because I don’t really do anything to either extreme of any spectrum—but, sabotaging it nonetheless. Here’s another example: I spend a lot of time uploading books to the website. When I first built the site I spent three months (at least) eight to ten hours a day doing nothing but uploading book after book after book after book. When I upload books I type in the title, the author, a synopsis, add a picture, write some SEO, figure out an accurate representation of the condition of the book, decide whether it’s new, used, remainder, rare or collectible, and the genre, and determine a fair (or better than fair) market value price and I save the finished product to the site. I do this for every book. At the time I also watched all of The Office, Parks & Rec, Numb3rs, and something else, I can’t remember. I took a break from uploading books to the website and started developing Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Buzzfeed sites, and working on technical stuff and marketing for the website. I recently came back to uploading books, and I’m only doing maybe twenty a day, unless it’s Tuesday because I’m uploading my own books as well as the New Releases of the week (new books are released on Tuesday’s). Anyway, I realized that I actually really enjoy uploading books! I love going through each book, figuring out the condition, researching the price, discovering again if it’s signed, just everything about why I love books in general I get to do every day. I also love building the website! I love developing new design techniques, figuring out SEO, and all that crap—I’m not much for technology but the design aspect of it and coming up with new ways to direct people to my site, it’s so much fun. What I don’t actively like, granted, is that I do all of this on a computer, which I’m reminded of constantly when the damn thing doesn’t want to load something, or the internet randomly stops working, or if I move from one tab to another and when I return the first tab has to reload again often causing thirty seconds of anxiety riddled silent belligerence. Nevertheless, I am really enjoying the creativity and the experience. And, I never noticed how much I enjoy until now. Instead, I worried only about the tens of thousands of people that will one day visit Communitea books someday...
I related a number of things in my life currently to this sabotage of happiness, and it clearly affects me in a number of ways, all of which are easily recognizable but unconscious nonetheless: attitudes, behaviors, choices, thought processes, actions and more what I do and do not do. it's present in almost everything that I thought about, in some way. Do you know that feeling when you are putting so much thought and effort and intention into an idea or a dream or a goal and you’re applying yourself actively in the process in as many positive ways that you possibly can, but that goal always still is just out of reach?
I've begun to correlate the concept to developing an open-mind. You know? Like, how do you do that, really, how do you train your brain to be open-minded? A lot of people out there think they know, they just simply accept all progressive ideas and tendencies as truth in the extreme form, and unabashedly argue the merits until they’re blue in the face. However, I don’t believe that the unconscious demanding of compassion is actually acceptance or understanding, your just think that you might want it to be—"fake it till you make it". I was watching some stand-up special on Netflix the other day and the comedian was telling a story about something that I cannot repeat in a blog aimed to market for a small business, but it challenged the way I thought about something. A lifestyle that I didn’t have an issue with before, and I still don’t, and yet the way I consciously thought about the idea—that I have been a proponent of anyway for as long as I can remember—provided a new perspective, and a new understanding. Basically, I don’t think you can develop an open-mind until you really stretch an idea in favor or against as far as you’re able, you know, until you have reached the furthest point of your own level of acceptance that you are personally capable, and then to stretch your mind further until the idea itself is stripped of meaning entirely. It’s like actively thinking about the universe expanding, allowing your mind to stretch itself into a space that you were previously unaware of.
I have put so much intention into developing something for such a long time that I never really stopped to let it expand, or to see what it was capable of expanding into. I was just going through the motions, and so monotonously that I was no longer aware even that I was enjoying myself.
And then, of course, I started thinking about how long I’ve been doing this to myself, and the obvious answer is sense my last serious relationship ended while living in Santa Fe, and that’s true in the sense only regarding how intensely I have been sabotaging my own happiness but, in reality, I have been doing some form of this for years, and ultimately it goes as far back as when I decided to drop out of college. Coming to that realization was interesting because I do believe that our society has learned to ignore the efforts and creative developments of the individual in exchange for a system of machine-like functionality.
“It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, which prevent us from living freely and nobly.” ~ Bertrand Russell
I left university in response, largely, to the very concept. I didn’t want to be another cog in a machine, I didn’t want to think with narrow-minded un-intention, and therefore blindly falling into that possibility made me nervous. However, simultaneously I could not ignore the fact that I was, nevertheless, a part of this system. I couldn’t just will myself out of it. And I didn’t have enough guidance or understanding of that system to maneuver in or around it, at the time. Unfortunately I spent the next five years systematically destroying everything that would have allowed me to create exactly what I would eventually need to create. I essentially lived somewhere between the systems of man and of nature, like a little mouse scurrying about looking for food. I believe that I began to sacrifice my happiness, but I cannot be sure exactly what I was sacrificing it for. Somewhere through my short string of very memorably bad relationships I sacrificed sacrificing my happiness for the more adult like, and responsible action of sabotaging my happiness.
Are you familiar with Time Release Therapy? The idea is that you consciously, and unconsciously let go of certain behaviors or emotions, such as depression or anxiety, by going back to before when they took root in your psyche and you allow yourself to feel what you felt, and then to “come back to the present,” with those negative behaviors or emotions having never existed—that’s somewhat of an oversimplification but the idea is getting across. I had a conversation not too long ago with someone who referred to Confirmation Bias as pseudo intellectualism, I think he even went on to list several other negative adjectives, and I have not yet been able to get that out of my head. I have, of course, come across people with ideas like that before, especially living in Texas but for some reason this one conversation affected me a great deal. If he thinks Confirmation Bias is pseudo intellectualism he would have a field day with Time Release Therapy. What do people actively do then to work through their issues, you know? I mean we live in a society where we are taught--whether directly, or indirectly--that we have to actively do something in order to change or fix it, but we’re also taught what it means, and looks like to actively do something, and it correlates with disregarding what many would consider pseudo intellectualism. Affirmations, for example. The act of affirming is actively doing something, but I was thinking last night as I was reciting some affirmations, “what the f&$k am I doing?” And, thinking about where the belief that an affirmation would not work came from, like why did my doubt of affirmations even cross my mind? So I started affirming to affirm.
“Affirmations do make a difference.” ~ Me
…and then I started laughing, because I realized that “It’s OK for me to happy...
It feels as if I have written a number of these, but never quite like this—I suppose—at least not how I might intend for this to come across; losing someone to death is difficult for people to understand and to cope with, especially when someone so young leaves us, to the point at which our common response is to offer condolences for our loss. To me it just seems to be more, I don’t know, comprehensive than that, aside from the unusually acquisitive the typical response discerns, I don’t know I think I take more exception to the idea that someone might actually be lost. I’ll return to more about what I mean by that later.
A number of people that I went to high school with have passed away, and it seems like an unusually high number of people to lose from a single class. I knew all of them, however there were only a few I knew well. I remember very well when Ben Shrear, Marina Becker, and Mary-Beth Farmer passed away, and very distinctly, and the three of them—until last year—affected me the greatest; last year Heather Vogt passed away, and I knew her fairly well, in high school, though we didn’t speak much afterwards—I moved away and rarely spoke to anyone from home (an unconscious decision that I now regret). There is a Boerne High School Class of ’03 Facebook group, and one of my classmates maintains a collection of people that have passed away, and it seems as if we lose someone every year, and every year for the last five or six years. Last week I learned that another of our Boerne High School class of 03’ classmates passed away, Christina Welch. And her loss kind of hit me, again. Not as hard as Heather, but it was enough. The thing is-is that Christina did not like me—at all really, and I had never been too understanding of her either. Her memorial was today, and actually it continues presently, as I type this. I wanted to go, however I felt as if it might be inappropriate, and still I knew that if I didn’t at least make an attempt I would regret it. So, I drove to the Ye Kendall Inn, where Christina’s memorial is being held, and I stood in the doorway for a few moments, and I looked around the room—the memorial was beautiful, but still it felt too intimate for me; someone who, as far as anyone else there might be concerned, was there only for the recognition of having been there, and the free food—so I paid my own respects from the doorway, and I left.
I knew someone many years ago who remained close with Christina, and one of the first thoughts circling through my head when I learned that Christina had passed away was of Christina’s friend, this someone who I had once known, I wanted to reach out to her, and to express my own compassion—in some way other than “I’m sorry for your loss.”—really just do acknowledge what she, and everyone else would be going through. I could not do it. I thought about reaching out to her for days, and even came close a number of times, but in the end I couldn’t.
I think differently that many people do. I process life, and people, and ideas, and situations, and death very differently than is normal, and throughout my adult life I have made it a point to develop what I consider a talent out of the way that I process things, and as I develop it more and more, fewer and fewer people make sense to me, although the few people that do hold a more profound and essential place in my heart, and in my life. The same process has allowed me to recognize that regardless of how well I may have been able to understand Christina it was still important for me to acknowledge her, and her life, and those that will be continue to be afflicted by her loss.
Those of you who are reading this that know Christina or Heather or Mary-Beth or Marina or Ben and for those of you that did not, and yet have inevitably suffered loss I ask you to consider that they are not lost, but that they will continue to exist, and not just in our memory or our hearts, but quite literally within us. We knew them in one way only, a way that allowed us to see them, and to hold them, and to laugh with them, but now we have to learn how to know them differently: imagine how you felt when they were around, at the best times, or the worst, when one of us suffered and the other brought solace all you have to do is think about those moments and the feelings will resurface and with that you will feel them again, as well. Imagine if their feelings, in the way that they only were capable of feeling and understanding and relating to them was shared with your own every time you thought about them.
If that is difficult for you to do try considering the possibility that we made a mistake when accepting the idea that we were created in the physical image of God, and that instead we were created in the emotional image of God, and that we’re capable of relating to-, and experiencing those that we lost exactly as they were—in their emotional image. I am affected by death but I rarely feel loss and I rarely feel sadness, because were some people cannot learn to relate to someone that has passed away differently, and in that place where they once occupied they feel emptiness, I still feel them, and I know that we are all capable of finding people that we thought were lost if we are willing to relate to them a little differently. I take comfort in knowing that Christina is still here, and I hope that the idea might offer some comfort to those of you whom are having difficulty finding it.
I tend to over-complicate my job as an independent bookseller, especially one who is selling books online. There has been a huge influx of independent online sellers since eBay and Amazon established themselves as the world’s leading eCommerce businesses, which isn’t news to anyone, I know. People developing, and maintain their own “eBay Stores” has become a huge independent means of alternative income. The book industry is no different. There is one aspect of it, however, that very few people understand. Similar, in a way, to that guy who bought Walmart out of their discounted products and sold them online for a profit in the regions that they…you know, would be profitable, there is a large community of people, in the book industry, that visit discount book stores such as Half Price Books and various other used stores where they buy books for cheap and then resell them, usually online, to people in regions where that particular title or edition or author is sought after.
I live just outside of San Antonio, Texas in the Texas Hill Country. I’ll often drive into San Antonio and visit the many Half Price Books bookstores where I scan the shelves for books that are, for all intents and purposes, underpriced, and I’ll buy them. However, a number of the books that I find under such circumstances I don’t resell, I keep them, for my collection, which is a little problem that I have. I once found a signed First Edition/First Printing of Wallace Stegner’s, ‘Angle of Repose.’ Signed! On the shelf at Half Price Books for $12. So, of course I bought it, and I could have turned around and resold it for more than a thousand dollars, and yet it’s still just sitting on my shelf along with the rest of my collection. Of course, to be fair to me, how often are you going to find a signed copy of Wallace Stegner’s ‘Angle of Repose?’ and for only $12?!
Another aspect of this type of business model is to find books underpriced—and I should probably clarify that a collectible, regardless of what it is, are priced, generally, according to their market value in that particular region: so a book you find in San Antonio may not have the market value that it might have in, say, San Francisco, for example, even in this internet age. If you find a book that is underpriced in one particular area it can often be sold for two, sometimes three times (maybe more) the price you paid for it, in another area. These regions may even be broken down within a single city. So, a book you find on the northwest side for cheap might resell for a profit margin on the southeast. There are a lot of people that make a living learning about the demographics of their city, and beyond, in order to buy and resell in and around their neighborhoods. It requires collecting data and doing some research, but the entire process is both fun and, clearly, incredibly rewarding, if you dedicate the time to it.
The nearest Half Price Books to me is near Huebner Oaks, off of Huebner Road in San Antonio, in a tiny shopping center called ‘The Strand.’ There are a handful of really cool books sitting on their shelves that I tell myself that I’ll return to later, partly because I always spend a ridiculous amount of money when I visit, but also because there is this girl that works there that’s really cute: shoulder length black hair, fair skin, thoughtful. I go in there looking for new opportunities to talk to her. It’s not within my purview as a male adult to approach women while their working with the intent of “asking them out”—simply because they are working. See, because they have to be there, they’re just trying to make a living. The last thing I would want is for someone to come up to me, on the job, and create a possibly uncomfortable situation—so no way! The conversations we do have are very nice, and as infrequently as I go into San Antonio—we’re just simple country folk—sometimes it’s even a pleasant surprise when I see her. But, wait, hold on, I’m not really there to socialize, right, I mean, I’m trying to make a living people—get off my back.
I know how appealing this sounds. A number of you might read this and think, “Hell, I can do that!” and hightail it to your nearest used bookstore expecting to quickly make your first million. Well, it ain’t comin’ that easily. Let me outline how this is going to go: you’re going to pull into the parking lot, and you’ll probably find an incredible spot and attribute it to how seamlessly the next hour or so, and subsequently the rest of your life will lead, so you’ll pull in to the spot, and you’ll get out of the car, and you’ll walk up the front doors, you’ll open them, and you’ll step inside, an employee will acknowledge your existence, and then you’ll stop and hesitate as you scan the entire store from left to right. Because you have no idea what you’re looking for, or how to find it. I mean, you’re not going to pick every single book up off of the shelf, flip through it, and then put it in your basket, right? What are you even looking for inside the book? It cannot just be a clean hardcover that looks cool. You really have to know what you’re looking at. (Lucky for you I did write another blog about the specifics of determining whether a book was collectible, or valuable—it’s not always the same thing—but as you’ll see you when you read this other blog here, even that alone cannot help you on your half-assed journey towards wealth and underground book industry fame!)
You have to do your research. You have to allow for trail-and-error. The process takes a while, so you’ll want to learn how to enjoy it. I love being surrounded by books, of course I have a difficult time letting some of them go, which makes the process, for me, considerably more difficult, hence the reason why I make bookselling more complicated than it should be. But that’s just me. I find other superficial ways to enjoy my job, maybe perhaps I’ll discuss it with the lovely black haired, fair skinned woman sorting through book buys/ and trades behind the back counter, either way if you don’t get attached to rare finds and collectible books it is a great way to both learn, and find a few extra dollars in your pocket.
I miss reading while riding the train. I preferred to stand so I would, either, find a free space to lean against the side of the car or I’d wrap my arm around a pole, and I would read. When living in The Bronx I would get on the train at Parkchester and ride it, usually to 86th and Lex, but sometimes further. That is a twenty minute ride, at least. I had nearly an hour of reading time every day simply by riding the train. My problem now is the time, where do we find the time to read? Eh, actually, I have more than enough time, but how do we decide to allot our time to one thing over another?
Sometimes, on the train, something intriguing would redirect my attention. I have too many accounts for it not to be difficult to even come up with one. I do recall one late night when I was riding the train back from Brooklyn—from Brooklyn to The Bronx mind you, so it was a bit of a ride—and a young man, he may have been homeless, and/or just completely out of his mind, sits down next to this older African American woman. He faces her and begins talking to her, only he started in the middle of a sentence, as if an earlier conversation of his had abruptly ended and he arbitrarily decided on this moment to best represent the end of his story—assuming, of course, that there is a discernible ending. The woman wasn’t entirely too phased, her only reaction to this character was to hold her purse a little closer to her chest, although that might be habitual for her, who knows, while she read her book. She was reading. No, but that didn’t stop this guy from talking to her. And, no, what he had to say was not coherent, there were very few coherent ideas coming from his lips, nevertheless it was entertaining, and enough so even for me to put my finger between the pages, marking my place, while I blatantly stared at the happening. His eyes were glazed, I don’t remember him blinking, once. He just stared straight ahead into-, and through the train telling his incoherent story seemingly to this woman but, really, to nobody at all. When he stood to leave. I can’t imagine he actually knew where he was getting off, he must have made the trip so often that the entirety was as automatic as a dog finding his way home after being left somewhere far, far away. He left, and then I continued to read.
There is something happening to eye contact. The way people engage with one another. It’s all changing so rapidly, well maybe not even changing, it’s just disappearing, and I honestly don’t think it’s only the way that we interact in person, I, sometimes believe that it’s the undoing of all interactions. How we talk to people and why. I do not recognize this world as the same one I grew up in. And I grew up in the 90’s, I mean, this wasn’t that long ago. Before I moved to New York City I bought a pocket sized travel book called, NFT: Not For Tourists Guide to New York City, and at some point in the book is expressly states not to make eye contact with people on the train. A handful of the stigmas that book created took me a couple of years to unlearn. Eventually I was making eye contact with almost everybody on the train, because that is a human response to other humans. We make eye contact. If you look at people a certain way or are not conscious about what you’re feeling or thinking while your maintain eye contact you might discover some surprising, and unfriendly reactions, but that’s only because we emit what we feel and what we think by how we look at someone inasmuch the same way that we do when we communicate with them verbally, the vast majority of our interactions are nonverbal. So shutting yourself off to the people around you, in the train car, and in the world it isn’t going to create a safer or better place for you, it might sometimes feel safer, but, I mean does it really? This crack head that was sitting on the train telling us his incoherent story was completely out of his mind, but he was harmless because we allowed him to be human—regardless of how different his humanity is from our own.
I’m not sure how I got off on this tangent exactly. I know that every time I read a book a big part of the reason that I lose myself in the story is because I am not satisfied with the direction society has gone. We talk about creating a better world, and change, and then we argue about what that means, and we are always wrong. With every step that we take we think that we are headed in the right direction, and still we consistently manage to f$%k it up. Meanwhile I’m trying desperately to lead some semblance of a normal life, but, really, all that I want to do is go build a cabin in some remote woodland area—if I can find one—or to live on my long anticipated dream boat and return to ‘civilization,’ if only immensely dire: such as the imminently problematic, and unlikely event that my boat is sinking.
I actually haven’t read anything new in way too long—I’ll leave it up to your own imagination to invent how long is too long in this case, for me—but when you listen to too much news radio and spend even a fraction of the day on Facebook without losing yourself from time-to-time in a good book, or rather when I listen to too much news radio and spend even a fraction of the day on Facebook without losing myself in a good book, it doesn’t matter how green it is outside I know a long weekend of some Golden Milk and several happy pills while binge watching Roku’s background graphic is in store for me or I am going to lose my mind!
I suppose that is part of the reason why I miss riding the train, and reading so much. For nearly an hour every day I would both read and be surrounded by people just being people: I would occasionally hear conversations spark up between strangers, random people singing, the occasional argument, but nevertheless everyone on the train, whether aware of the people around them or not, they affected one another—if only for that hour, and my head could be buried in that book so deeply I’ve missed my stop, and the next one, and the next, nevertheless all the people sharing that car with me became a part of that story in ways that I cannot always know.
For a running number of years now I have wanted to pack a backpack with a few essentials, design and buy a sailboat out of Hamburg, Germany, then hop on a freighter from some undisclosed point on America’s east coast and disappear, at least from anything that I am familiar with.
I imagined that I would end up somewhere along the southwestern coast of France. In my novel, Between Transitions, Jonah, the protagonist, started his journey in Paris then headed north by train to Brussels, Belgium then east to Cologne, Germany followed then by Leipzig, Berlin, and, finally, Hamburg. Where he too had commissioned a sailboat. Between Transitions ends with Jonah sailing up the Elbe towards the North Sea, leaving in an open-ended journey towards whoknowswhere, as Jonah sails away.
I, however, would like to visit the shores or Bordeaux and backpack inland to Lyon, and wander upwards to Geneva, Switzerland before making my way to Paris. Or to find myself in San Sebastian, Spain and then to walk south to Pamplona, and then west to Santiago de Compostela completing the walk--The Way—Camino de Santiago, before heading to Bordeaux and then east towards Lyon.
I was driving earlier this morning, listening to music, and singing along, I don’t remember to what exactly, and this feeling swept over me: how badly I wanted to get out of the car and just walk away. In that moment I could picture my sailboat, and I could see me sitting on the deck, with nothing but the sea surrounding me, and, in the distance, there was a faint hint of land, but still I could be mistaken, it could very well be nothing, only a mirage. I might be reading, or writing, or fishing perhaps, there is a glass of wine on the deck next to me, a small crimson puddle gathers around the edges of the circular base of the glass stem; or maybe I’m doing nothing at all, I’m just staring off into the distance, until I’m distracted by the warmth of the sun on my arms, and the salt in my hair, and the smell of seawater, of the sea completely consuming me, “you would think I would be used to it by now,” a thought likely to have crossed my mind: the smell; while also being consciously grateful that I’m not yet used to it, and here’s to hoping that I would never be.
I could go anywhere at all the world is as big or as small as I allow it. I could eat cheese with wine at a café in Barcelona, after running with the bulls, and smoke hookah with old wise Turkish men on a patio near the port of Istanbul, and swim in the pale blue ocean off the coast of Santorini, Greece, and walk through the castles and the hills of Croatia, jog from coast-to-coast on the tiny island of Zanzibar, and after docking in Mumbai, hike through India towards Nepal: Tibet: China. And, this would be the beginning, only.
What keeps me, I wonder. Here. Projects, different dreams, love? All of which are consuming day-in, and day-out, and yet all of which are still just slightly out of reach in their entirety. So, again, what keeps me; here.
I had let go of my fear of the unknown, and of the familiar long ago. I packed up my 99’ green Honda Civic and drove west down I-10: Pocatello, Idaho; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Salt Lake City, Utah; New York City, New York; Santa Fe, New Mexico. All of which came and went as easy to me as picturing myself sailing up the Elbe, towards the North Sea.
When I was younger I had an unquenchable desire to experience life. In the mornings, as my eyes slowly opened, I thought only about what I had already missed that day, and what I would not allow myself to continue to miss if I didn’t get out of bed. And so, I was up, and I was out, waiting to experience whatever opportunity I was able.
I know when that changed. When my lust for life left my body like a cold soul being lifted towards the heavens prematurely. It was during those same series of moments when everything else left me, and I was numb. I was a shell of body that contained only the hope of revival. It’s funny how the subtle manipulation of someone who claims to have loved you will slowly rip pieces away from you, it’s not so funny when you look back at a younger version of yourself remembering that you once had a lust for life, but to not remember what it felt like. It’s gratifying slowly developing it again. And then again the promise of sailing away is postponed because of dreams of opening a bookstore, the determination to see it through, and the limbo of a love that’s an unspoken, mutual, idea…only.
Do you ever think about that kind of stuff, and then you look out the window, and you see the sun reflecting off of the innumerous shades of green—my favorite color—and feeling only the passion, again, to experience…everything? Perhaps I would not have found that lust again without the direction of a dream, and the fulfillment of unrequited love: like pieces being put together, but differently, a puzzle that slightly resembles you. “You don’t know this new me, I put back my pieces differently.”
It is so easy to let the mistakes of your past dictate the direction of your future. In very small, unsexy ways, it builds up: more, and more, until it is all you can do just to get through the day, and then the next day, and the next, and the next.
I was driving earlier this morning, listening to music, and singing along, I don’t remember to what exactly, and this feeling swept over me: how badly I wanted to get out of the car and just walk away. In that moment I could picture my sailboat, and I could see me sitting on the deck, with nothing but the sea surrounding me, and, in the distance, there was the faint hint of land, but still I could be mistaken, it could very well be nothing, only a mirage. I might be listening to music, or dancing, or cooking perhaps, there is a glass of wine on the deck next to me, a small crimson puddle gathers around the edges of the circular base of the glass stem; or maybe I’m running along the beach, I’m not even sure what country I’m in, the silhouette of my boat anchored just off shore, the course, uncomfortable feeling on the pads of my feet from running in the sand drifts in and out of my thoughts, “the sea is cold this morning,” a thought likely to have crossed my mind: the ocean; while also being consciously grateful that I’m not yet used to it, and here’s to hoping that I never will be.
Do you ever find yourself trying to relate your life to a book? I often find myself doing just that. Sometimes a short sentence will pop into my head, and suddenly I’ve escaped somewhere in story, and attempt to remind myself that I need to write that down. Don’t forget this James, until you get the opportunity to write that down. And, of course, I always end up forgetting it. When I do remember I remember only that I did not want to forget something, but, for the life of me I cannot remember what that something was. My favorite slam poet, Buddy Wakefield, has a great line in his poem Information Man: “There are times when you will lay your head to rest and have a moment of brilliance that will grow into a perfect order of words, but you will fall asleep instead of painting it down on paper. When you wake up, you will have forgotten the idea completely, and miss it like a front tooth. But, at least you know how to recognize moments of brilliance.”
I will be sitting on my couch, listening to music, and working—probably marketing, because geeze driving people to my site is insanely difficult—and I will look out the window, and escape once again. I am transported beyond the tree just outside my window, the leaves lightly fluttering in the wind, and then I am who knows where. Just gone. Inasmuch as I could be browsing Facebook, just lying in bed scrolling through the countless useless posts the nature of which inspire anxiety, and frustration, and sometimes inspiration.
A hermit surrounded with books lives out his ‘endless numbered days’ in hiding only from Facebook, his cats pawing at the windows and the door desperately seeking something more than the pacing, the reading, the writing, and the one record, bent and dusty, circling beneath the needle again, and again, and again.
Every story I escape to is a reflection of myself in a different time looking back on me today, and acknowledging the process, the conversations that I might have that help me to make sense of Trump, of Gun Regulation, of our Minimum Wage and Inflation, of Healthcare, and Education, and the staggering degree of Indifference, of how Desensitized we are, and how much Worse it’s getting, and how with the development each new iPhone we see only a Devolution in our ability, and our Willingness to Interact with one another, and how Differently each Generation of Humanity is being Affected, and therefore Conditioned to Behave, to React, and to Ignore. The Glass Figurine on my bookshelf and in my Television Screen, and how Complacently we do Nothing.
I could write that story, but we are already desensitized to it. The character development is trite, the conflict is familiar, and the end is only as ingredient to the means. We hear time and again to write what we know, or if we have something to say to figure out the best way to say it, and then to bellow it throughout the hills, “to sound [our] barbaric YAWP!”
And then, of course, there are some stories that I will escape to that have me immersed, and taken, and welcomed some stories that I will bleed to never return from. These stories our born off the same seeds and foundation as any other story I might pen. These stories are equal to my fears in every way except for the manner in which we express empathy, and offer acceptance. I am sitting in the same couch, looking through the same window, and beyond the same tree, and yet the world beyond that tree is one that I view through an open window, an unlocked door, while my cats are lounging on the front porch.
I do sometimes consider creating fantastic worlds with heroic ideals and acts of altruism, and I will even sit down and stare at my computer, and begin typing, I will have written pages upon pages, but then I look at the window, and I find myself instead writing a short blog that touches on the challenges of marketing, the experiences of creating, the dream of writing, and the indifference of politics while my cat, standing on a windowsill of books, stares out at the leaves of the tree fluttering in the wind just outside my window.
Any writer you might talk to in regards to the art of writing, and when asked “How do I know if I’m a writer?” Or a question along the lines of-, within their response, somewhere, and usually as upfront as possible, they’ll admit that, “If you cannot get through a day without writing, and if not does the act of writing linger above you like the alcoholics cloud of desperate clarity?—if you feel it, as a haze behind your eyes: when you lack concentration, and the appetite to live—if writing intrigues your senses to the point of definition, then you are a writer. And if this is not the case, don’t worry, you are not.” The fact is that writers have the unique recognition of their life’s calling, it’s unmistakable. And, in that way, a writer is fortunate to never be within the constant agonizing uncertainty of destiny, however a writer it equally as unfortunate to always be inquiring, and to never be completely contented. A writer remains apart from the search for understanding (destiny) and the fulfillment of fate.
At different points of my life I have written differently: where I would write, how I would write, the routine—which is important, for different reasons, depending—changed, a little. Once I realized I wouldn’t complete my first novel and that I would, essentially, be writing endlessly to no end, and that I would need to, instead, chop it up into pieces of itself, rewriting and recreating it, and eventually selling it as a series of short stories I could only write at night, after the sun had gone, and the world around me felt still. I was living in Salt Lake City then, and would look out over the valley where the city rest, and the world seemed peaceful.
A couple of years later, in New York City, I wrote on park benches, in parks: Washington Square Park, Central Park, Madison Square Park et al, and in a notebook: pen-on-paper. I could not write otherwise. The notebook would always be with me, in my back left jean pocket, the only item I would carry on my person, and not in my bag, just in case. I would put pieces of stories together later on my laptop, however my creativity was stirred only when I felt the pressure of the notebook pressing back against my pen. The notebook always felt so resolute, unyielding and as the ink bled on the paper I was in awe by the act of creation. As the notebook began to give life, a life that would flow through me, from elsewhere, and demand entrance into the perceivable while sitting on benches in the Deep Woods northwards in Central Park.
In Santa Fe I would always have to be around people, writing in café’s, and it was usually in one of the following: Iconik Coffee, Aztec café, or Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Café. I was never able to write anywhere else, I would try, of course, say at Station Café next to the train depot for example, and yet I would sit, only and stare at a table, or through the window as the Rail Runner slowly skated to a stop. I remember even still sitting outside of Station staring at a small pile of cement, chipped pieces scattered, and a small crater the pieces had once filled on the front patio. At Iconic I used to look forward to getting lost in the developing fantasy behind my eyes, I wouldn’t be looking over a notebook or my laptop, but instead into my imagination as if replaying a memory projected for me by will alone. Aztec itself was inspiration, the place stimulating my delusions like walking through your childhood home so much later in life that you were certain all recognition was lost, but realizing, almost instantly that a part of you is still there. At Annapurna’s I could see the snowcapped mountains in June as the world itself would envelop me like a children curious of a wayfarer. I would sit sometimes at Marble Brewery overlooking the plaza and I would write, but it wasn’t the same.
My first year back in Boerne, after opening Wardrobe Books, every morning after visiting the bookstore, I would go to Starbucks, order a drink, and sit in one of two chairs, if I wasn’t sitting in either chair I wasn’t able to focus. And that might be perhaps because I was too focused on whomever was in either chair standing up to leave, and me taking their place. I was there every day, and while there I tried to order something different to drink every day, often coming up with strange combinations of flavors, or whatever I could fathom. I would sit, and for hours I wrote. I both started and finished my first novel sitting at the Starbucks in Boerne, Texas. I remember finishing it. There was a girl sitting across the room from me, I knew her, she worked there, and on that particular day she was there studying or something, I don’t know, I just looked up and she was there. It’s been more than two years since that day but I can still picture her exactly as she was, her pale blue eyes were so piercing. I’ll never forget. The thought of her eyes lingered in my mind as I finished writing the last sentence, of the last paragraph of the first novel that I would write.
Since that day, after finishing my novel, Between Transitions, I have developed a more practical approach to writing, at least, for someone living an actual life, with friends and family and responsibilities and expectations: my laptop is open all day, and every day to a WORD document, whatever it is that I might be currently working on, and I sit down periodically to write. Every time I sit down, I have to write for at least five minutes. Of course, I find that every time I sit down I write for considerably longer than five minutes, and yet not allowing myself to get up before then has become a contract with myself that feels, to me, like I have graduated from a place of desperation, and fearful artistry. It’s the difference, to me, between a starving artist and a seasoned one. One thing that I have learned is that the circumstance for our creativity changes over time, and with experience and the only constant is that you are writing, whether you’re writing from a place of intention and emotion and feeling or you’re simply writing for the sake of writing. We write because we have to, not to feel accomplished or to accomplish, and not to be proven or to prove, we write because of what we are from a place deeper than most of us are willing to look.
Every week a few friends of mine and I play trivia. It started, for me, in Santa Fe when a handful of friends invited me to join their weekly trivia team at El Farol, Geeks who Drink was the group that organized that weekly trivia event, they’re known nationwide. I decided that it was definitely for me when the MC asked “What sport did David Foster Wallace’s protagonist Hal Incandenza play, in his masterpiece Infinite Jest?” Well I was all over that. “Tennis.” I whispered to a friend of mine that had been chosen to write our answers, and then to turn them in.
I had forgotten about those trivia nights, over time: relationships, business ventures, life. I moved back to Texas and was sitting at this new local taco spot—now recently closed—when I heard something about a weekly trivia night that they were beginning to develop, every Wednesday night I was told, and I immediately went to work putting together a team, in my head. This group was not Geeks who Drink, but a competitor of theirs (Jaocb, the MC, hates it when I mentioned Geeks who Drink), Trivia Live. Of course, I didn’t care, and every Wednesday night I started coming for the cheap alcohol, the inconsistently somewhat decent tacos, and trivia—slowly building my team; of the original four of us only two, including myself, are still involved. The team we since put together has been phenomenal. We have our science (SCIENCE!) guy, our TV, animal(s), food&drink, and geography (one of them is Russian—born and bred) girls, we’re all kind of movie buffs, we don’t really have a consistent sports person, but we’re not too concerned about that, and I’m the literature and history guy.
A couple weeks before the taco place closed down Trivia Live started hosting trivia night, on Monday’s, at our favorite Micro-Brewery: Cibolo Creek Brewing Co., and we couldn’t have been more excited—we were all growing pretty tired of the taco spot. So we started phasing out taco’s for farm-to-table burgers and Micro-Brewed beer (some of the best I have ever had, and I’ve had my good share of Micro-Brewed Beer). We used to recycle trivia team names, I would come up with a new witty, or funny, or annoying names every night just for kicks, and the Jacob came to know us really well so we were able to continuously change our name and keep are point values (it might not be in accordance with all the rules, but eh). Eventually we did agree on a name that we would adopt with: Isaac Asimov’s great quote: “People who think they know everything are an annoyance to those of us that actually do.” I like it, aside from the obvious reasons of it being perfect for trivia going, I liked it because of its length. A number of my names were long only because I enjoyed the fact that Jacob would have to say it over the loud speaker, and whether anyone else laughed or not I didn’t care, because I always did. One of my favorite names to date was, “Sometimes my mother calls me by my brothers’ name.”
I love it when literature questions come up, obviously. I know that I’m going to get it right. I’ve missed two literature questions over the course of the last year, or longer since we’ve been playing, and I can remember both of them. The first only because I’m ashamed at myself for missing it. It was regarding post-modernism political satire books, and the answer was, of course, 1984, but, for whatever reason I just could not think of it. It’s especially aggravating because I was born in 1984 AND aside from having read it multiple times, and enjoying it every time, I’m aware of the history behind almost all of it, and the details of publication, and the fact that thought the book was published in 1949 it was written in 1948, and the title is simple a reversal of the date (1948 – 84). Arrgh, it still bothers me that I missed that one, and that was months ago. The second is less vexing, however, it still gets to me. The question was asking, “What 19th century author whom created Detective C. Auguste Dupin, is considered to have written the first detective mystery novel?” I drew a blank. If I had a little more time (Each question is timed by a song, we have the length of any given song to offer an answer) I would have come up with, of course, Edgar Allan Poe.
At Cibolo Creek Brewing Co. we are 3 for 4, which is to say that of the four times that we’ve played there we’ve gotten first place three times. We have become the team to beat, and everyone there knows it. There has been the creation of at least one time that competes for the sole purpose of beating us. And, to be fair, the one time that we did not win, they were the team that were responsible.
By the end of the night, after a couple pitchers and extensive competition there’s at least one person on each team that becomes Andy Kaufman, during his controversial wrestling years, when putting on a show wasn’t always so apparent. It’s great! We all have fun with it. Throughout the week if something related to literature and trivia comes up I always make mental notes, but, in Boerne, I don’t know that there is a single person that can rival me when it comes to authors, book titles, plot, or general author knowledge, and the cross-over to Hollywood. I like that, it’s a good feeling knowing that you are the best at something. We’ve all seen how a sense of minor personal pride has shifted from a constructive character trait towards another thing to be ashamed of, or another thing to be judged for, but regardless having that to hold on to, even if it’s just a piece of something that I’ll occasionally pick up and acknowledge and the set right back down, it is nice to have on my shelf. And I’m grateful too for the people that I share that table with, and knowing that they too are able to feel a since of pride and acknowledgment. I know books, and I know people, and I enjoy the helloutta both of them, and having the opportunity to express that—other than here—is so much fun.
I hated to read when I was a kid, and actually, all the way up through high school I couldn’t stand it. Most of what I was reading was for school, and I wasn’t a fan of school. I wouldn’t realize for many, many years that my distaste stemmed from an inherent flaw built within the education system itself, but that’s a different story, and one that I could not possibly have explain in elementary school, even if I wanted to. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed the books that we were reading, the stories, I mean, and the writing but I never liked someone else telling me what to do, and what to read, and especially what to think of what I was reading. David Foster Wallace suggested that the point of a Liberal Arts degree is to teach people how to think, and as insulting as that sounds, he posits that the intent is more deeply-rooted, which is to say, that the point of a Liberal Art degree is to teach you that you have control of what, and how you think. I’ve always liked that position. Maybe because we’re not offered that through high school, there was always a right and wrong answer to everything, which, of course, indirectly teaches us that there are right and wrong answers to life. Hmm, well any well-adjusted adult would argue otherwise.
Anyway, because I was told what to read, and what to think about what I was reading I didn’t enjoy the act of reading. It was lost on me. It was lost on me until I picked up Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. I don’t remember where I found it, I don’t remember how I found it, all I know is that I couldn’t stop reading it. I loved it. And, in many ways, it changed my life. I discovered a love for reading. I, of course, read the follow-ups to Hatchet: The River, Brian’s Winter, Brian’s Return, and Brian’s Hunt. I started looking for books to read, on my own, and found a way to enjoy them. The school’s required reading lists never ceased to irk me, though I learned to find joy in story, especially if I was offered the opportunity the read the book on my time, such as our summer readings. That’s when I read Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country for the first time, which introduced me to a different type of author, and a different kind of story. It’s still mainstream, of course, which, you know, eh, but as an introduction to the fact that not everyone was afforded the same lifestyles that I had been privileged to—what argument would you really want to make in opposition?
If, at this point, I’ve lost you then I think you should consider looking into writings by African, Asian, and Middle Eastern authors, both fiction and non-fiction. Another good introduction writer, but to Middle Eastern writing is commercial and Noble Prize Winning author Orhan Pamuk—he’s Turkish. I bring them up only because they inspire an entirely different type of genre, an artistic writing style that is unlike anything you might be familiar with. The only thing that might come close here in the United States, that’s more mainstream at least, is the more obscure works by Beat Generation authors: Jack Kerouac, Allan Ginsberg, etc.
I’ve been thinking a lot about reading lately, and not necessarily what I’m reading, but more how I’m reading it, the act of reading in, and of itself, and how that translates in different places. As an example: close your eyes. Now picture yourself reading. What do you see, how does it look? Are you sitting on a chair, next to window, with a cuppa tea, as the rain settles just outside the window? Are you in bed, winding down, the day is done, and your attempting to settle your mind with a book? Or are you on a bus, or the subway, on your way to work, or anywhere with a book in your hand? I have found myself in each position, enjoying reading in any way that I can, however when I picture it, when I picture myself reading, I am almost always on the subway. For two years, in New York, I lived in Parkchester, in the Bronx. I would commute to Manhattan every day, not to my ‘day’ job, but to wander the streets looking for a new café, or to end up at my trusted MUD Coffee, either way the commute allowed me to read. A lot of people read during their commute on the subways and buses. That’s a major factor when understanding why people living in cities read more than those in rural areas, it’s largely due to public transportation. I loved it. I loved riding the subways, and I loved reading on the subway. Currently I’m living in Boerne, Texas. I small German town in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. The very mention of public transportation might actively upset people here. In part because they love their cars, but also Boerne is fairly affluent, and some people fear that public transportation means catering to low income families, which might mean that more of ‘them’ will show up. Despite that being unlikely, it’s also unfortunate that our politicians are refusing to address that fundamental problems that create low income, poverty stricken communities, and people—that’s probably another conversation though. Anyway, without public transportation the means to read while commuting diminishes, unless you’re like me, and you read while driving trusting that all the other idiots on the road will recognize how important I am, and drive around me, accordingly. Just kidding, I only sleep when I drive…reading would be stupid, haha ha ha.
I often sit at a coffeehouse and read, which I’ve learned recently created the problem appearance of being social. I am kind of a socialite in Boerne, a lot of people know me, from numerous circles floating about, and when sitting at a coffeehouse I’ll find myself in conversation after conversation and losing reading time. I have a difficult time reading at home, I don’t know why. Perhaps my house doesn’t exactly feel like a home, I don’t always feel comfortable in the house. There is a tree, at the river, in the center of the town, which has a large branch forking from the trunk that is established perfectly to rest on and to put your feet up. I used to lay there, for hours, and read. That park is always crowded with people now, and children running around, playing, feeding bread to ducks adjacent to signs that implore visitors not to feed bread to ducks, and that even offer a list of alternative food sources. It’s difficult for me to concentrate there. That’s most likely related to the fact that it would be hard for me to ignore the people there. I’m a people watcher.
The point is that I’m reading less than I otherwise would. I can feel the loss. I think that is part of why I want to open Communitea Books, my bookstore. I would love to create a place for people to read, for me to read. Surrounded by like-minded people, people whom explore the human experience in story, and whom might want to share that experience with others.
I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.