29 September 2008

the clue-by-four in beta: men's monday

I put my first post up on the new blog: "Men’s Monday #1: why do some guys “step up” when others don’t?"

Trip on over there if you can. It's still pretty raw, but I'd like to see if anything doesn't work out of the box: commenting, RSS, whatever.

28 September 2008

like a 2x4 of awesome upside the head

Dear Readers (and in particular those of you who have hung in through my long, boring novel word count and subsequent allergy to writing)... I have, as they say in the trade, an announcement.

I've been thinking for a while how to make this little online diary of mine into a much bloggier blog, one that might be of interest to more people. A random phrase dropped into conversation and a subsequent whois search led me to register the domain cluebyfour.com. And I'm pretty stoked about it!

I'll be rolling out the new blog in the days and weeks to come. Wrangling with registrars and hosts, working with a talented friend on the new design, and, of course, drumming up new business and finishing the novel... gotta keep all those balls in the air. But I hope to get going really soon. I miss blogging! And it's more fun, in a lot of ways, than whipping a big flabby old novel into shape...

The theme will be, basically, my own weird, irreverent, opinionated take on the issues of the day, the human condition, religion, sex, futurism and bicycles. I want to do regular weekly features like my cool blogger friends do, and, hopefully, actually provoke some debate in the comments.

If you guys have anything that you've seen in other blogs that you thought worked, or any other suggestions of what might be readable and worth bookmarking/subscribing to, please let me know.

C'mon back now, y'hear?

16 September 2008

50,022

Tonight I was delivered of a rough draft of a novel of speculative fiction, weighing in at 78 pages of single-spaced 12-point Helvetica. After 31 days of labor, I now have this sort of helpless squirming mass to deal with.

Soon, the editing will begin, but for now... I think I'm going to stop writing for a while, stop thinking about writing, and re-connect with the rest of my life.

Thanks to all of you that put up with my using this blog as a scoreboard, and still kept checking in. (I know your IP addresses, don't try to deny it!)

Thanks so much to all of you who sent me support and encouragement.

Holy shit.

15 September 2008

Day 30: coming in under the wire (48,043 words)

A totally scattered day. I'm coming to realize what a complete fucking creature of habit I am... I had to go on the run at 8 this morning because our landlord said we had to evacuate due to the fact that he decided he would be roachbombing the second floor. And yeah, that kind of is a sucky way to begin the day, but I shoud be able to roll with change better. I went to the gym and brought a change of clothes for my 11 o'clock job interview, except I forgot my headphones, deodorant... and underwear. So I went commando to a business appointment. I rock.

I was just kind of out of it all day. Rode up to City Sports after work to get a heart-rate monitor, and I almost got nailed by a car door some alert driver helpfully opened in front of me as I was tearing up Harvard Street. I know better than to let my attention wander when I'm cycling.

Anyway... meditation has totally fallen by the way in the last few months of my life, and that needs to change. The novel-writing experience has been good, but I'm a total absent-minded professor now, thinking about plot complications, and characterizations, and new and different ways to write "he said."

No more!

I am two thousand words shy of fifty K, and then I'm going to set the novel aside for at least a week before I start the edit.

Yow.

14 September 2008

Day 29: O Eris, o Discordia! (46,747 words)

Well, I finally know exactly how this novel ends, and I can definitely say that it is going to have to begin differently. But that's cool.

I wrote the novel to explore the question of "what would happen if what's going on in Iraq were going on in America?" Because what so few people seem to remember is that pre-war, pre-sanctions Iraq was a thoroughly modern, technologically advanced nation. When the existing order devolved into what I call "mere" anarchy (as opposed to social anarchy), the vacuum was filled by the most vicious and the heaviest armed. It's human.

I didn't have a story in mind, really, when I started... I just let it go in the direction it wanted to go in. I've been surprised many times by decisions characters seemed to make on their own that changed the direction of the plot. I am going to go back and exercise some editorial tyranny over some of their free choices, just for flow and pacing and so forth. But, the story that emerged holds together, and the outcome is not surprising, if disturbing.

When there is no order in society, when people are weakened and alone, those with the power to enforce their will through violence get their way. That's so obvious and uncontroversial that I can't imagine why anyone would think it couldn't happen here. Most likely, I think people just can't imagine that there could be that level of social disruption in nice, happy America.

I have been fascinated/worried by the prospect of social collapse in North America. On the one hand, this state has gotten way too out of control, and history shows that all empires fall. On the other hand, the elites generally do just fine in any collapse... it is the common people who suffer.

This is something that sticks in my mind as the financial news gets scarier and yet scarier.

How hard could this crash be? And what will things look like on the other side?

12 September 2008

Day 27: almost became roadkill! (41,884 words)

Woke up at a decent hour after a decent sleep, had a decent run and came home, consumed a decent breakfast. My plan was to go on up to the gym by Cleveland Circle, and I hopped on my trusty steel urban assault bicycle and headed out.

I looked both ways, crossed Huntington... and got my front rim jammed into the track of the Green Line streetcar embedded in the roadbed. The rear wheel continued on its trajectory, getting itself locked in the track... and angular momentum brought me down, hard. I skidded across the street into the oncoming traffic lane, which was mercifully empty - I could very easily have been burgered by a speeding commuter box heading up the hill into JP.

I got out of it with mild road rash and surprisingly little damage done to the Motobécane. Solid steel rims are amazingly rigid... I will probably need to get my front wheel trued, but I am pretty sure everything else is working fine. It started to rain and I was definitely not feeling like risking wet streets. So, I stayed home and wrote.

Getting close now, but I don't feel it yet...

11 September 2008

Day 26: 40,611 words

A scattered day. I got not such a great night's sleep, woke up with an inflamed tendon - and realized I had let myself run out of coffee. Much as I'd have liked to do a Peet's run, I decided to give my legs a rest. Instead I gave some business to the original J. P. Lick's on Centre Street, so I'll be starting the day with some fair-trade Ethiopian Harrar tomorrow.

Not quite halfway through the month of Virgo, and I'm OK with the progress I'm making... but I feel like it's time for a real push. Personal, not really bloggable stuff is going on, which is great but also a little distracting.

It'll also be nice to have enough energy to make a blog entry that someone else might actually find interesting.

08 September 2008

Day 23: 37,353 words

I got a shit-tay night's sleep last night, with a noisy roommate and my landlord busting in at 7am telling me they were towing cars on the street. Apparently on months where the first Monday is a holiday, they do street cleaning on the second Monday. I sleep-drove a block up the hill, figuring they'd do the second-Monday streets on the third Monday.

Wrong.

Towed, and ticketed.

Love being a car-owner in Boston.

Anyway, my race got rescheduled... they're using that date for a triathlon in Providence that got postponed due to the wannabe hurricane last weekend. So I have some more time to train, which is kind of cool.

Book's kind of writing itself now... though there is going to be an ugly-ass knot at the end tying everything together. Maybe I'll start over at the end and work backwards... hmmm.

07 September 2008

Day 22: 36,099 words

They should totally have tropical storms around here more often.

I slept incredibly deeply through the night, finally crawling my lazy ass out of bed after 9:30. I literally cannot remember the last time I did that without having been out drinking the night before. The sound of rain is an awesome sleeping pill... that, I guess, and burning a lot of calories training.

Today was a beautiful day under crystalline blue skies. The air was shockingly, eerily clean, and there was even a cool breeze. I wrote, rode, went to the gym, rode some more, ate, wrote. Jesus H. Buddha Quan Yin Mercurius Christ, I love these kinds of days.

I don't really know if I want a full-time job or not. (Checks bank account.) Oh right. Yeah. A job will be good. Mmkay then.

swallowed by an hypothesis

My favorite doomsday device comes on line this Wednesday:

"I do not expect to be swallowed up by," said Evans. "I think nobody in their right mind expects to be swallowed up by hypothetical black holes which are created in the LHC."

Just so. No particle physicist worth his salt wants to imagine spending eternity in the guts of a provisional idea whose merit requires evaluation. But the strangelets, daddy-o! what about the strangelets?

06 September 2008

Day 21: 33,339 words and Tropical Storm Hanna

I made the most of a gray Saturday and wrote, wrote, wrote. I had a crisis of inspiration, though, so I walked the two miles up to Brookline Booksmith for a recharge. I am so hungry for a book, but it just seemed like reading fiction right now would throw my style off. Especially since what I want more than anything is On the Road: The Original Scroll. I don't know what reading Kerouac now would do to me. I might stop using paragraphs or something.

So far, this hurricane is underwhelming.

05 September 2008

Day 20: 31,217 words and 16.1 miles

I did some good race training on the wildest course one can imagine: the City of Boston.

Downtown is, not to put too fine a point on it, a fucking vortex. The grid (such as it is, and it really isn't) does like a 45-degree shift as you enter the historical center of the city, and streets you had counted on as reliable eastish-westish axes turn back on themselves and parallel lines suddenly intersect. Skyscrapers block any possible fixed landmark. Eventually, the gyre spits you out and you find yourself in Eastie or headed over the river to Cambridge.

Anyway, riding street in this town is, as I've mentioned before, mortal combat. I pushed as hard as I could and upped my mileage count just chasing my tail downtown, then rode back out to JP against a vicious headwind to sign up for the mechanic training course at Bikes Not Bombs... which was already full. I decided to go to the gym, figuring it'd be dead on Friday night. Wrong. Meat market. Undeterred, I put my headphones on and played a liveset I had downloaded before leaving home. Full of skips. Shit. Basically, I got denied all evening but still had a fucking great time. I worked out, took a long sauna and stretched. Came home, chatted with the roomie, wrote, and now I'm just gonna chill and get a good night's sleep so my body can recover. Friday, y'all.

You may ask how I afford my rock'n'roll lifestyle. It ain't easy being this crip.

Day 19: 29,799 words and some peace

My friend called his wife from the L station, incoherently drunk, and let her take him to the detox center. Hopefully, when he dries out, he'll have enough sense to check himself into the sober living place and spend some time getting his life back. I can still hope... because while he's still drawing breath, there's hope.

I drank caffeine at about 8 this evening (big risk) so I could catch up on my writing. I found a missing piece in my plot and what was held together with chewing gum and duct tape is now a smoothly pivoting little instrument. Tonight an ancient blind Chinese herbalist showed up in my story, pretty much out of nowhere. Kind of hilarious to see who parachutes in unexpectedly...

I really hope I didn't trade a night's sleep for twenty-seven hundred words, though.

04 September 2008

The Emperor's New Election and the gutless reaction to Sarah P

go ahead, make a stupid blowjob joke you fucking sexist punk-ass

As previously noted on this blog, I don't have a favored candidate in this election. In all the issues that are important to me, Obama and McCain adhere to the same program: a wildly assertive American imperialism, destruction of the natural environment, and government of big business, by big business and for big business.

I know that I'd be leaving myself open to a charge of gross Naderism even though I live in a state that's breaking 49% - 37% for Barry O. I'm fine with that, really. Every significant mass movement for change in this country has come to an end when it allowed itself to get subsumed into an electoral strategy. "Vote for So-and-So because he'll be more likely to support your cause." History shows, though, when So-and-So gets your vote, he'll take it and tack to the right to curry favor with the power elite. So, whatever. The Dem's are 2% less evil, so run out and vote. Have a ball.

The main problem I have with voting is that people are taught that this is the only - or at least the pre-eminent - way for them to express their political will. In Massachusetts, we're told on numerous signs that "it is our civic duty to vote." In a healthy democracy, sure: periodic voting for a representative could be one way for an organized people to send a trustworthy representative to the halls of power. As it is, though - with the process soaked in and controlled by money from start to finish - it's worse than a fruitless exercise: it is quite literally harmful to democracy. Voting is, in the 21st century, the opiate of the masses.

All that works, all that has ever worked, is organized people taking action in a consistent, direct way to influence (and scare the living shit out of) those in power, who then grudgingly, dragging their feet every inch of the way, enact some small change in the direction of the people's demands. You grab the inch and take a mile. It is, literally, the only thing that is worth a breath of energy.

One thing elections are really good up is stirring up the lowest impulses of the people. We always see the scary Other trotted out at some point during the quadrennial reality show. There was a lot of (IMO appropriate) outrage at the portrayal of mainstream lawyer and U.S. Senator Barack Hussein Khadafi Khomeini Abu-Jamal Osama Obama as some sort of wild-eyed radical, because he's a man of color with a funny name who did a bit of street work and once maybe read a book by Alinsky.

The response to the persistent, pervasive and vile misogyny directed at consummate Establishment insider Hillary Clinton, though, was remarkably muted in the so-called left blogsphere... when they weren't actively bitch-baiting her. After that, I know I shouldn't be surprised to read what I'm seeing, not in the mainstream media, but on the Koses and the Hullaballoos about Sarah "Caribou Barbie" Palin. I guess, since she's a Republican, she must be fair game, as it seems all tolerance of Vagina-Americans is premised on good behavior.

It's remarkable how little the left blogosphere seems to want to talk about her governing style, her outright lying, and her clear, unambiguously medieval stances on things like global climate change and a woman's right to choose. The chatter about her looks and the whole pregnancy scandal seems to have drowned out any semblance of debate, surprise surprise. It's hard to find a clearer example of people becoming what they hate... I am trying not to hate them, because I really don't want to be a punk-ass.

I'm a non-voter for a lot of very good reasons... some of them are outlined above, and some of them have to do with being sick of having it rammed down my throat my whole life that voting is my one and only chance to have my voice heard.

If you want to vote - go. I can't see the point in trying to talk anyone out of it that hasn't already talked themselves out of it.

Just remember we got to the place we are today - by voting. And maybe, when you have some space in your mind, think about whether or not there might be a better way of getting what we want...

03 September 2008

powerless

My best friend on Earth was kicked out by his wife... close to a year of depression and alcoholism, violence and more stints in rehab than I can count (literally) had just finally wore her down. He's walking the streets, with no credit cards (she took his plastic) and I don't know how much cash. Slept outside last night.

I tried to get him to go to a hotel, offered to pay... but he got belligerent with the staff. He stopped taking my calls. I really don't know where he is now. He's been saying a lot of crazy stuff, and the streets of Chicago are no place for a drunk in crisis.

Not getting a lot done today, just blowing up his cell and stressing. I'm up to 27 thousand something. Whatever.

02 September 2008

what and how I write

Instead of writing this morning, I decided to write about writing, inspired by a meme my friend Michelle passed along. I have to say, I've never really thought about how I write as much as just doing it - so it's kind of interesting to see how many different styles and attitudes people have about the craft.

1.  Do you write fiction or non-fiction? Or both?


Both - I'm here a lot, obviously, and I'm also trying to break into technical writing while I'm working on my first novel.



2.  Do you keep a journal or a writing notebook?


I have a personal journal, which is where I write the things that are for my eyes - and God's - alone. Other than that, no, I don't have a notebook per se, but I'll sometimes jot things down on scraps of paper, my iPhone, emails to myself, etc. as inspiration strikes.

3.  If you write fiction, do you know your characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts before you start writing or is that something else you discover only after you start writing? Do you find books on plotting useful or harmful?


As a newbie novelist, I'm kind of feeling my way here. I have outlined half a dozen novels so far, where I knew pretty much all the people, what the plot was and how it's going to end. Obviously, none of those books got written. This one, I am pretty much letting write itself, mainly because I decided to write it two days before I started...

4.  Are you a procrastinator or does the itch to write keep at you until you sit down and work?


Let me get back to you on that.

5.  Do you write in short bursts of creative energy, or can you sit down and write for hours at a time?


I find I'm pretty much a sprinter as a writer. If I can't pound it out in an hour or two, it's time to go do something else.

6.  Are you a morning or afternoon writer?


Mornings and late evenings are my times. Mornings especially because that's when the coffee's available - if I consume caffeine after noon, I will not sleep.

7.  Do you write with music/the noise of children/in a cafe or other public setting, or do you need complete silence to concentrate?


I'm fine with random noise - I live in the city - but I haven't been real successful writing with music on. Maybe I'll try instrumental music, but anything with lyrics throws me off: I'm one who actually likes to listen to the words of songs, and I can't really do "background" music.

8.  Computer or longhand?


Longhand? What is that?

But seriously folks... I do all my creative writing on OpenOffice on my Mac, and my journaling in what I could charitably call "handwriting."

9.  Do you know the ending before you type Chapter One? Or do you let the story evolve as you write?
I have a general destination that I'm navigating to, but I'm actually as interested to find out how this story ends as any reader would be.

10.  Does what’s selling in the market influence how and what you write?
I have no earthly idea what is selling in the market, so I guess this is a "no."

11.  Editing/Revision - love it or hate it?


I have edited a lot of other people's work, mostly articles and papers, and am pretty good at it - so I suppose I would say I "love" it. Of course, I've never seriously edited my own stuff, so this will be a new adventure for me. And this book will need a lot of editing...

If you write, I hope you do this meme - and please let me know if you do. There are, apparently, as many ways to write as there are writers, and I'd like to learn about your way.

31 August 2008

Day 15: 22,665 words - Ramadan and Elul, St. Anthony and Gustav

In the Mideastern cultures that birthed the major Western religions, the calendar followed the Moon rather than the Sun. In Judaism, it is the first day of Elul - as I was mentioning yesterday, the Kabbalistic teaching is that this month is powerful for drawing closer to the divine. It's also the first day of Ramadan in the Islamic calendar - observant Muslims throughout the world are fasting this month, also to draw closer to Allah.

Something about this month (or "lunation" if we're going to get technical) caused the ancients to conclude it's a time for soul work. There's any number of theories you could throw out there - it's harvest time, maybe, or the moon in Virgo making people all perfectionist-y - but I'm not all that concerned with such stuff. The fact that so many people around the world are turning their thoughts inward seems to me to be like building critical mass.

I was already moving organically in that direction, anyway: I've been really focusing in an increasingly intense way lately on developing myself in the career/vocation, spiritual, and health aspects. So all of this is coming together very nicely.

It's been very powerful being all alone. I have lived with others most of my life: with my family, my friends in Kerista, my wife, and my last girlfriend. I've spent maybe a grand total of three of my forty-two years alone. And now that I am working from home, it's an almost monastic kind of alone.

There have been moments of loneliness, but mainly it's just been a fantastic opportunity to go deep inside. I've been finding parts of me that have needed attention for a long time and bringing light to them... and that's been invaluable.

This weekend also saw the Feast of St. Anthony here in Boston, for no reason I can determine (his saint's day is in June). Anthony of Padua is, as the fish-eaters out there know, the parton patron saint of finding stuff you have misplaced. My favorite miracle of his was the time when he started preaching and then realized he still had to sing in the choir - so he made himself appear in two places at once. Awesome guy.

I've also been in no small amount of anguish about the storm bearing down on the city I fell in love with this summer. The last reporting I saw made it seem like the city will be spared the worst of it - but I am very worried regardless. NOLA is still so fragile that another body blow could be truly devastating.

If you're Catholic, I hope you will consider praying to Our Lady of Prompt Succor, Patroness of the State of Louisiana. Heathen pagans like me: please visualize a spiral of protecting energy around the city... and keep your fingers crossed.

Here's hoping Elul 5768, Ramadan 1429, and September of 2008 are powerful months for everyone.

30 August 2008

Day 14: new moon in Virgo, 21,534 words

Didn't make up all the lost ground I wanted to, but I took a bite. I also went for an awesome ride, got (mostly) unpacked and my kitchen set up, and recovered from the tragic loss of my coffee grinder. Fortunately I live in el barrio so it's now Café Bustelo all the way, papi.

Going to a Kabbalah seminar tonight, because I'm gangsta like that. It's a new moon tonight (actually 4 this afternoon), in Virgo... a good time to reinforce new healthy habits. Definitely feeling better in my new home, not least because I can finally sleep at night. Doing lots of important soul work too... this period of solitude is immensely powerful for me.

All my writing energy is going into my journal and to my novel. I know it's been thin around here and I can tell I've lost most of my new readers that came over from Michelle's. I definitely appreciated having all those guys around - but looks like I'm back to my old boring unread blog. No biggie. We'll see where I am after I finish the first draft... and, um, the first revision.

Enjoy your New Moon, my regulars! (the few, the proud...)

29 August 2008

Day 13: 19.033 words and a night out

I wrote a bunch this morning - still not caught up but I made some good headway after some Jolt Silver (still can't find my grinder!) and a fun run up and around Parker Hill. This is an awesome running neighborhood, lots of steep-ass climbs and killer views of downtown Boston and the Plain.

Long work meeting today, and I busted out as soon as I could, tried out a new pub and checked out an art opening in the South End:

the High Priest

Came back on the T blasting Weezer on my iPhone:

Im'a do the things that I wanna do
I ain't got a thing to prove to you
I'll eat my candy with the pork and beans
Excuse my manners if i make a scene
I ain't gonna wear the clothes that you like
I'm fine and dandy with the me inside
One look in the mirror and I'm tickled pink
I don't give a hoot about what you think

(I'm just feeling bratty like that.)

Tomorrow I can get caught up and then go play. Long weekend w00t!

28 August 2008

Day 12: 17,072 words meh

Moving-in day. I worked and ran around and built a sleeper bed and found where everything is in my neighborhood. I am exhausted and don't have much in the way of creativity... I'm about three thousand words behind but I know I can catch up in a couple of good sessions.

Meh.

27 August 2008

Day 11: 16,707 words - moving day

Lots going on. Part of my joy in moving to my own place is being able to not have to deal with these fucking sublet kids - the latest of which told me that I had to be out of here by tomorrow. I mean, fortunately I'm still in nomad-mode, so I half-filled the GTI today and moved most of my stuff to JP. But Jesus H. Tap-Dancing Christ! How goddamfucking hard is it to communicate?

Yeah. So anyway, lot of moving, buying of a bed, copying of keys, setting up of broadband... not a lot of writing. Tomorrow I'll be in my little writer's garret. Thank Lord Buddha.

26 August 2008

Day 10: 16,028 words

My characters continue to come to life. It's really hilarious and kind of wonderful. Even people I didn't particularly like are showing a warm, human side. I guess I am a big softy at heart. Ah well.

I start moving into the place in Jamaica Plain tomorrow: third floor of a three-decker, on the back side away from the street. Peace and quiet at long last. It's a real writer's garret... which is another way of saying "tiny-ass room." But it's mine. Mine all mine. Finally, at long last, I can stop. I've been living out of a bag since the first of June. It's enough already.

September's coming.

25 August 2008

Day 9: 14,543 words HAH!

My protagonist surprised me tonight. He's a bit of a pathetic character, though I suspected he had it in him to step up when the going got tough. I put him in a one-on-one confrontation with a scary dude, though... and it's like he figured out a way to come out on top that I hadn't thought of beforehand: it literally came out as I was typing the dialogue! So the story is rushing along to the first big conflict and I am liking my lead guy. It's been kind of a problem that he's been getting on my nerves a little...

In other news, I learned that the little shit who screwed me over was in fucking Aruba for the past week, which is why he didn't return my phone calls. He's so sorry, of course, that the room he had promised me got rented to somebody else... but I'm not. I found a nicer place in JP for $175 less a month. New hardwood floors, pretty good neighborhood, street parking. So fucking there.

Also, started running intervals today. I usually improve really quickly once I get into interval training... which is good, because let's just say I have plenty of room for growth. My endurance is not too bad, but I lost a lot of speed sitting on my ass for months.

And the adventure continues! I love going to bed excited about what the next day will bring...

24 August 2008

Day 8: 12,277 words and screwed again

For the second time in two months, some goddamn kid has screwed me out of a sublet at the last minute. I'm not going to go on a "kids today" rant: I've been fucked over by GenXers, hippies and folks of my parents' nameless generation more times than I can count. But I am kind of floored at how easy it seems to be for some people to say one thing on one day, know someone's actual living situation depends on it, and change your mind anyway.

Whatever. I'm checking a place out in JP tomorrow morning that might be an even better situation. Actually, so far, everything that has seemed like a reversal has ended up being a move in the right direction. So we shall see.

However, my heart's not really in the novel tonight....

23 August 2008

Day 7: 11,646 words

I was gonna run six miles and write three thousand words today. I ran nine, and wrote 3,011.

Set high goals, then exceed 'em. Fuck yeah.

Party time.

22 August 2008

Day 6: 8,654 words

Ahem. Yeah, yesterday and today: not such good days. I had a really shitty interaction yesterday with a guy at my company who is a salesperson, and an asshole... but I repeat myself. Anyway my boss and the other systems engineer totally had my back - which is great cause this guy brings in millions of dollars of revenue and I... don't. It's rare for a company to value intangibles like support. I'm lucky, and not just because I get to work hungover and unshaven.

In any regard, I'm still a thousand words behind, but I went to Peet's Coffee in Brookline tonight and got a pound of Major Dickason's, so I should be able to get up tomorrow and go on a tear. I worked through a pretty bad plot crisis today by judicious application of the old McGuffin, and I'm sailing along pretty well. It's absolute garbage, but I'm OK with that - as Papa said, "the first draft of anything is shit," and I am actually a pretty damned good editor.

Almost through week one... hells yeah.

21 August 2008

Day 5: 7,136 words

I got roughed up at work today... some black velvets were required. Mmmmm... time to just chill.

20 August 2008

Day 4: 6,038 words

Slacked off a bit today. I had a great run, an awesome workout, made a delicious salad and went for a couple long walks... but fell a few hundred words short of my goal. F*** it, it was pretty outside!

All work and no play makes Paul a dull boy! All work and no play makes Paul a dull boy.

I just came back from a free Kabbalah lecture in Brookline. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit, the speaker was pretty engaging. God, how I've missed back-East Jewish style and humor! I don't think I enjoyed it $248 worth, which is what the full course costs, but I think I got enough out of the talk to do some more study on my own. They gave me a free book!

Basically, the speaker led the group through an argument that the things that people look for in life are all intangibles - that the material goods many people say they want are actually just means to an end, which is always intangible in nature: the desire for security, for love, for power, etc. The relevance to Kabbalah is that it is, in the speaker's presentation, a set of rules governing how energy is received into our lives.

Anyway, it was just a taste. I can see how there is a whole philosophy that underlies his thoughts, and I'm sure it's very valuable. I'm just not really motivated to spend that kind of money right now on spiritual stuff. Housing, food, car expenses and dating are pretty much tapping me out right now...

So, back to writing tomorrow. I need to start sleeping regularly... it kind of sucks to think about, but it might be time to bust out the Ambien. Sigh.

19 August 2008

Day 3: 5,015 words

Goddamn, sorry my blog is so boring. Whoop de shit, more numbers. Sorry folks...

J was distracting me badly (but in a really, really good way) all morning, so I didn't really get to writing seriously until I started doing my laundry after 8 tonight. It's really interesting how the plot is just sort of emerging as I try to keep my fingers moving across the keyboard. For the most part, I've been writing at typing speed - not quite automatic writing, but something in between that and improv.

I've already decided to kill of one of my minor characters - he's just "the wiry man" in my draft. Neither the protagonist nor his offstage girlfriend has a name yet, just initials. I'll figure out what their names are once I get to know them, I expect...

Anyway, enough. Everything in my life continues to go better than I feel like I have a right to expect. I made a donation to the American Diabetes Association (that I can ill afford, given my income) because I feel an enormous amount of gratitude to be here, with the freedom to do what I'm doing and with so many wonderful things that seem like they're waiting on the horizon.

To bed, to bed!

18 August 2008

Day 2: 3,329 words

Just kept pace today. I had a really shitty night's sleep last night, despite the fact that I took a sleeping pill - apparently a meteor crashed into the trainyard across Beacon, or else Godzilla threw a T car at the CVS Pharmacy. I was too wasted to know what the incredibly loud noise was right outside my window at about 3am. I woke up both hungover and short on sleep.

Tomorrow is another day!

17 August 2008

Day 1: 2,340 words

It was absolutely beautiful here today. I ran four laps around the reservoir - which I now know is 10 kilometers - and then stayed inside writing for as long as I could with the sun shining. I had to get out and play! Walked all the way to the Common until my feet were worn down to nubs. Thank the Universe for the T.

Didn't sleep too much last night. Even blogging is taking a lot of mental effort. Time to read my new junk-food novel, scribble something in my journal, and pass out.

16 August 2008

I am going to write a 50,000 word novel in 31 days

Yeah, you read that right.

Things are getting entirely too calm and routine around here. I'm settled in, I have my little room, with my desk set up and my work routine, and the days are just sailing by. I've been looking for a new challenge to get me fired up again - I've been running and biking a bunch lately and checking out duathlons - and, as always, casting around for what I am meant to do next.

I just saw a reference to National Novel Writing Month and it hit me like a ton of bricks: I'm a writer who doesn't write. That's why I feel so much like a fish out of water. Everything I have done has been something I sort of fell into, and because I'm quick enough to learn on the job, have managed to get paid to do. But nothing that I've done has truly felt like me using my natural gifts and skills. Writing has always been a hobby (witness this blog as an example), but it's one thing that I'm confident I do better than most, and actually enjoy doing for its own sake.

To be clear, the purpose of NaNoWriMo is not to write a finished novel in a month - that would be ridiculous, and the results would, almost certainly, be horrible by and large - but to finish a first draft in that amount of time. It takes place in November of this year, but I don't feel like waiting, so I'm starting tomorrow. 50,000 words seems like a nice round number for a novel, and totally achievable: that's just over 1,600 words a day for 31 days. Not easy, but not unrealistic, either.

Writing is a craft that requires a fair amount of discipline. My main problem as a writer has always been not sticking with a project and not writing every day. This exercise seems to be a golden opportunity to overcome that.

Also, by posting this on my blog for all to see, I'll have the added negative incentive of public ridicule if I slack off. So I'll post a word count each day for the next 31, and you all can come by and cheer me on - or, as the case may be, mock me mercilessly - as the days go by.

Oh, and I'm still considering doing that race.

15 August 2008

QotFD

Quote of the F*cking Day:
What began as farce now evolves into tragedy. A North American power currently occupying two Asian nations (and with both current presidential candidates pledging escalation in Afghanistan) gives Russia pompous moral lectures and demands it reverse course and repent. We are the world's pedophile priest.
-- IOZ speaketh.

It should not surprise me that these people (and by "these people" I mean the leaders of both parties) are able to say such things without their heads exploding from acute hypocrisy and dopeyness, but occasionally it does.

Let's be clear. Either you "take the moral high ground," or you "act according to your interests and damn the consequences." Trying to do both at the same time just makes you look silly.

12 August 2008

Where I'm from

From a George Ella Lyon poem, brought to my fuller attention by a very dear friend.

where I'm from

I am from silicon and vacuum tubes, from the dawn of the electronics age. I am from twenty-five minutes after midnight... the moment I was born, my father was installing the very first IBM System 360 at Bell Telephone.

I am from the City of Brotherly Love, from the only city ever to have actually bombed itself.

I am from the oak and maple, from the pine and rolled sod. I am from farms turned into winding streets of sameness, and I am from construction sites and the service corridors of dead shopping malls where I played as a boy.

I am from the moving-away, the leaving-behind of family when estrangement is better than conflict. I am from Donatangelo Acciavatti of Abruzzo, from Erminio Acciavatti of Philadelphia... who was called Dan when World War II broke out.

I am from cousins I had to meet on Facebook because our families don't talk. I am from emails filled with pictures of ancestors I never knew.

From "you could have gotten an A if you tried harder" and "everything that happens, happens for a reason, and it serves you."

I am from Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Holy Family. Also, the curse: "Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" I am from Ceridwen, and Aphrodite, from Mercury, from White Buffalo Calf Woman, and Erzulie. I am from Shakyamuni Buddha and nothing at all.

I’m from the valley of the Delaware River. I'm from gravy that simmers on the stove all day Sunday, from shells on Monday and spaghetti and meatballs on Wednesday. I'm from scrapple Saturday morning.

From the anarchist that escaped Italy before Mussolini came to power, and from the aunt who gave her children up for adoption when her new boyfriend didn't like them so much. And I'm from the woman who lost the love of her life at 31, and sucked it up to raise her son single-handedly, without a whimper of complaint or a moment of self-pity.

I am from a precious cache of photos, dog tags, yellowed newspaper clippings and keepsakes in the next room, one of the few things I brought from San Diego, which was one of the few things I had brought from Hawai'i, which was one of the few things I had brought from San Francisco, and one of the few things I had brought from Philadelphia.

I am from all these things, and the letting go of all these things.

11 August 2008

This... is summer?



It has been raining in Boston for... oh, the past 500 years, straight.

I think tomorrow marks one month exactly since I first arrived in the Hub of the Universe. Wednesday, probably, would be a month since I got to Boston proper: the day of the Swan Boats with J in Boston Public Garden. I remember that brilliant summer day... possibly because it was one of only a handful of sunny days I have spent in this fair metropolis. It was sunny out in Leverett, too, as I recall. I joke with J about how the sun always comes out when we're together. It's not that cute any more... not now that it's the only time I ever see the sun.

Tonight is the Perseid meteor shower, and I was going to go out into the country, away from city lights to try and see a shooting star. Unfortunately, I think I'd have to drive to, like, Montréal to see the sky.

Other than being stuck inside, what strikes me most about rain in the city is mud. That and unreliable umbrellas... I mean, how cutting-edge does a fucking umbrella have to be? It stops the rain. It opens up and closes down. Not a major challenge for the race that invented fast breeder reactors and Splenda™, one would think.

I went out adventuring after work, just because I couldn't handle being cooped up any more. I came back soaked to the bone.

Imagine when this shit is freezing.

Yes, this is a whining post. Back when I was married to a Jewish woman, I got introduced to the psychic enema known as the kvetch. Coming from more of a glass-half-full upbringing, it was jarring to say the least. We really didn't do a lot of complaining in my house growing up. (In retrospect, maybe that explains all the Scotch.) It took some doing, but now I can kvetch with the best of them... it gets things out, rather than letting them stay bottled up inside and grow toxic.

I like a charmed life, I know. I have freedom, a decent living, novelty, a cool bike, nice friends and all my own hair and teeth. I'm not bemoaning my lot in life.

I'd just like to see the goddamn Sun again!

06 August 2008

Street ridin' man

I got a bike.

bike. I haz it.

Not sure about the vintage, but it has the same running gear and looks a lot like a 1981 Motobécane Mirage... a solid old-school ten-speed, which is just what I wanted. If I start to really get into racing, I will probably have to consider a more serious investment, but for now this is a good bike for the city: tough enough to take the potholes and not a real enticing target for thieves.

Riding on city streets is something I have not done in a while, unless San Diego counts and it doesn't. Boston is a compact, chaotic city, with narrow streets and edgy drivers. There is literally unexpected shit going on every moment, in every quadrant, and I have to ride in a state of constant hyper-awareness and hair-trigger reactivity.

I love it.

Being on two wheels in the city means taking on a kind of outsider status. You are a nuisance, like dog shit on someone's shoe... that is, when you're not totally invisible. When you are in the saddle, jamming at twenty-five miles an hour down a busy street and scanning your environment like a coked-out paranoid, it's amazing how unconscious everyone else is. I am stunned at the number of pedestrians I rode around just yesterday who were completely unaware of the hurtling mass of a thirty-pound bike and 175-pound rider flying past. I can sense the hostility from drivers, even when they're not actively swearing at me. I even caught shit from another bicyclist, who hurled Lycra-wrapped imprecations at me for riding counter-flow on the Beacon Street bike lane, which is only on the outbound side of the street. Excuse me for wanting to survive the trip, Richard Simmons!

Anyway, I spent so much time on my bike yesterday that I totally forgot to move my car back into Brighton overnight, and picked up another Brookline ticket. Fuck. Sorry, GTI. I haven't forgotten about you... but you have to share my affections with another wheeled conveyance now.

A shout out to Bikes Not Bombs in the heart of Jamaica Plain, for good advice on the care and feeding of my weirdo French antique.

Start seeing bicycles. Please.

04 August 2008

"All set" in Boston

"You're all set." I keep hearing that expression around Boston. "You guys all set?" "Yeah, we're all set, thanks." I mean, it's something I've heard before, obviously... just not so often over such a short period of time. Maybe it's a common Bostonism, or maybe it's just primacy - the dynamic that happens when something's at the forefront of your mind, you see it everywhere. I am, indeed, all set.

sublet sweet sublet

The Brighton sublet is totally OK. It's a little run down, as student apartments tend to be, but it's cleanable and roomy. Best of all, though, it's steps from the Cleveland Circle T stop, and that means I can do without my car - which is an absolute liability in Boston. Parking here is a ridiculous ordeal, and the combination of twisty streets and random one-ways make driving in the city like navigating a maze. It's a relief to get on one of the clean, shiny Green Line T cars and ride along Beacon Street towards downtown.

Urban life in Boston is rich and the city truly shines in summer. I have walked and T'd all over downtown, finally gotten the North End out of my system (too overpriced and touristy despite the thrill of hearing Italian in the street) and gotten caught in a torrential downpour... which I "had" to ride out in a bar. I'm enjoying snakebites with the local Harpoon cider entirely too much.

A friend just competed in a triathlon and really loved it. I've been thinking for a while of getting back into competitive distance running, though I'm not much of a swimmer, and my gym doesn't have a pool. So I'm starting to think duathlon now. Staying in training through the winter is going to be a challenge, and I think it will help to have a goal to keep me motivated - I hate treadmills.

So, with my beloved car mostly idle, and all my stuff stored in my sublet bedroom (which is almost as big as my whole apartment was in San Diego), I'm well and truly on to the next phase. I'm still working my old job but pursuing a gig at an NGO that I'm pretty excited about.

I've always found that when I'm in the place I'm meant to be in, things tend to fall into place. I can tell already that I made the right choice in coming to Boston... but of course, the journey's not over.

However, this is a nice place to stay for a while.

31 July 2008

I'm Shippin' Up to Boston!!!



I found a place in Brighton, but I need to jump on it now. So I'm getting up at the crack of ass, and will hopefully get there by midday - since I have to be ready to deal with stuff by the start of business on the West Coast, at the latest.

But I'm going back! My last trip up the Satan's Beanstalk that is the I-95 corridor... at least for a while.

27 July 2008

Stuck Inside of Baltimore With the Boston Blues Again

With apologies to Mister Robert Zimmerman...

I had a sublet all lined up in Waltham for Sunday, but at the last minute, the kid (a Brandeis University student, the little snot) remembered that she had finals this week. Somebody get this brat a fucking day planner! So I spent Saturday running around looking for sublets, but no dice.

My friend Liv's mom is having company in from Spain on Sunday, and I've already imposed enough there. All my stuff, other than a suitcase and some personal items, is in my friend M's basement in Baltimore. I had been planning the cannonball to end all cannonballs - a twenty-hour boomerang down and back to get my stuff up to Mass. So instead of that round-trip from hell, I came down to Bawlmer for the work week, and plan to go back next weekend.

The drive is truly horrible: from Hartford to New York and from Philly to Baltimore it is pretty much all city traffic. The Mass Pike and Jersey Turnpike were my only chances to go at true freeway speed. Add some rain to that and I was well and truly shot by the time I dragged in to M's place.

It's kind of nice to be "whole" again, in the sense of being able to go pull whatever I want out of my crates. And I'm enjoying Baltimore now, with the lower humidity and without the pressure of trying to figure out how/whether I could live here. But I am looking forward to an end to the peregrinations. I'm burning up Craigslist and have a few opportunities for when I go back up. I'm ready to roost, at least for a while.

26 July 2008

Soaring

When it's a beautiful day in the midst of an extended period of New England summer thunderstorms and tornadoes, and you only have a little time to have a lot of fun with someone... there's nowhere to go but up.

up up and...

I went out to the Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts yesterday to meet up with my friend J. She grew up out there and returned home to go back to school and raise her kid. It's about two hours (if, um, you don't get lost as I did repeatedly) from where I am on the coast, so it was kind of a special trip. But she dragged herself and her daughter across the state to see me when I got here, and I did really want to see her and get a chance to check out the countryside, so I took a day off from work and headed out.

I picked the perfect day:

nailed it!

It's really been pouring here, lately. I told friends I really wanted to see thunderstorms after years of mild California weather. I'm over it now. Fortunately, the day cleared up pretty much perfectly.

sun at last!

Leverett, Mass. is the site of one of the Peace Pagodas built all over the world by monks of the Nipponzan Myohoji order, founded in Japan after World War II to work for world peace through prayer and pilgrimage. It seems kind of random to have it in what J repeatedly refers to as "the middle of nowhere," (what is the HTML tag for dripping scorn?) but there are actually quite a few Buddhist communities in the hills and valleys of north and west Massachusetts. It's peaceful country.

stupa


I had told J I had a surprise for her, which was mildly insane of me as I had no idea where the place was we were to go to meet the hot-air balloon. Luckily, her mom had a map and got me pointed in the right direction. I was hoping against hope that she didn't have a terrible fear of heights, as we approached the little airport in Northampton and she told me about the time she puked in a small private plane she once went up in.

I managed to keep it a secret until the very last moment, as we approached a sign that said "Pioneer Valley Balloons," and she said "no way."

I said, "way."

We got to (kind of had to) help Vinny, the pilot, fill up the balloons, which actually enhanced the experience. It is about as simple as you can imagine (fill bag with air, heat air up, fly) and as complicated as sailing without a rudder (you change directions by finding an air current at a given altitude in the direction you want to go in - otherwise you drift).

It was about as perfect an evening as you could ask for.



We found a place to land that looked really good from the air, but turned out to be a boggy mess after weeks of rain. The van coming to get us and the balloon got stuck.

Twice.

My flying partner was a hell of a good sport, though, and we got out of that field at maybe 9:30, having donated about a half-pint of blood to the local mosquitoes. I managed to get myself back to Boston by about midnight. Even if I didn't love driving, I'd burn more than a tank of gas for a day like that, any time.

Clear skies, gentle winds, and soft landings to everyone.

19 July 2008

The passionate journey


In a free bin in Baltimore I found a copy of The Passionate Journey, an out-of-print novel by Irving Stone. The novel - which I thought was fiction up until a few minutes ago - is the biography of the American artist John "Wichita Bill" Noble. Noble was born in Wichita, Kan. in 1874 and was raised on the Osage Reservation in Oklahoma. He made paintings of the Texas plains driving cattle with his father, and later went to France to live the life of an artist. He died of alcoholism at New York's Bellevue Hospital in 1934.

I was drawn, obviously, to the title "Passionate Journey," and it's clear that Stone uses the word passion in the sense of "the passion of Christ:" an intense life filled with ecstasy and also great pain. Noble struggled with depression throughout his life, and so provides us yet another example of great art coming from great suffering.

The central theme is the artist's struggle to find meaning in his life. A recurring image is of a white buffalo, which Noble pursues in his dreams and works into his paintings. The white buffalo is a sacred symbol in many Native American traditions - as my paleface ass vaguely understands it, the white buffalo represents communication with the Creator. Noble also carries a pendant, given to him by his mother, which represents the North Star. In Noble's childhood, when his friends play a cruel prank on him, his mother points his bed towards the North Star, telling him
"...it's always there. No matter what happens to us, or to the world, that star is steadfast. It will never change, fail you. As long as you can find the North Star you'll know that you're secure."
At different times in his life, Noble finds the White Buffalo in death, in his work, in the love of his life, in himself, and ultimately in his experience of God, which he feels as the animating force in his art.

Humans are meaning-making animals. I've tried, especially in recent years, to resist the urge to create some whole conceptual overlay to my life. In a very real sense my life is my art, and the existence I have created for myself, through hard work, inspiration and lots of luck and serendipity, is my masterpiece. So I guess I could say that my White Buffalo is experience -good and bad - and the North Star that has always guided me has been freedom. (Having written that, it sounds awfully glib, but I'm sitting here reflecting on it and I can't find a reason to change it - so if it's glib it will have to remain so.)

Here's a chance for me to go a little interactive on my blog for a change: what is your White Buffalo, and what's your North Star?

16 July 2008

Hey Jack Kerouac

I was driving around Lowell, Mass. today, looking at short-term rentals. The area tends toward "run-down" as opposed to "quaint," which is not that big a deal to me. There's rather an overabundance of quaintness here in Greater Baaaston, which is nice... but a little cloying.

In any regard, driving through Lowell and seeing the working-class neighborhoods triggered a deep memory, and I had to wait until I got back to Wikipedia to confirm: Jack Kerouac was born in Lowell. I had worried it was just random neuron corruption in the twenty-five years since I wrote my senior honors English paper about On The Road.

I was kind of a wannabe beatnik in high school, as much as I was anything. I didn't really understand it, but I was drawn to Ferlinghetti and Kerouac's bebop writing styles as a kind of rebellion from the homogenized corporate blandness of the middle 80s... Ronald Reagan's "morning in America" was my teenage angst-y dark night of the soul.

At a core level, of course, I referred back to the journey of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty in planning my own trip, though not in the sense of a wild odyssey living by my wits and having random drug-fueled adventures. Joseph Campbell talked about the monomyth, the heroic journey common to so many Eastern and Western mythic tales. Campbell broke the fundamental structure of this ur-myth down into stages, including:
  1. A call to adventure,

  2. A road of trials,

  3. Achieving the goal or "boon",

  4. A return to the ordinary world,

  5. Applying the boon

Campbell described the monomyth thus:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Anyway, I don't know if I faced any real "trials" in my own journey, though I did see a fair share of "supernatural wonder." So I'm still pondering what "boons" the "fabulous forces" may have bestowed or will yet bestow on me, though I certainly gained some real clarity about my life, if for no other reason than for the simplification of my life into the very immediate experience of a series of moments.

I feel like I experienced something somewhat akin to the apotheosis discussed by Campbell in my time alone in the Grand Canyon, with the culmination in the blowout conversation with D on the way to New Orleans. I definitely felt a fundamental shift after that experience, and I'm now kind of struggling to integrate it. Campbell also talks about the hero's reluctance to return to the ordinary world - and I'm certainly feeling that when I contemplate going back to the world of work.

I felt I wanted to keep the insight I received in the Grand Canyon to myself at the time and still kind of feel protective of it. The substance of the insight is really hard to communicate in words; though I did get a very clear flash that I "heard" in my mind as if it were coming from somewhere beyond me: "that which you seek, you have within yourself - what you have to do, you must do with others." I'm not going to try and speculate on whether this was God talking to me, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the hash browns I had for breakfast. It was what it was, and I've been carrying it along with me as well as the nonverbal part of the insight I received.

It's been very clear to me for a while that my quest was for a meaningful life, as I expressed in my Pursuit of Happiness post before I took off. I've often thought I would find this meaning in activism, as I see all the wounds of our world and society around me. The question of how I can make a dent in the many problems we face as a country, as a race, and as a biosphere, however, is murky at best.

The journey still continues inside me, and this may be the trickiest part. How I negotiate the twists and turns of my return to "the world" will certainly determine how I live the next phase of my life.

Meanwhile... at the end of August, Penguin Classics will be releasing the original draft of On The Road that Kerouac typed on the long scroll of tracing paper back in 1951, before Viking made him change everybody's names and edit out the sex and drugs. So, I'm going to wait to reread the book until then.

And who knows. Maybe old "Ti Jean" has something to teach me yet...

14 July 2008

Mile it-totally-doesn't-matter-anymore: Baaaaaaaaston!

It's gotten past the point where counting the miles makes any sense anymore, as I'm more kind of meandering at this point. With all the side trips, I figure I covered 4,500 miles getting from the Pacific to the Atlantic in two weeks. The GTI has performed like a champ, and I didn't get a single dent or ticket despite all that high speed hands-free driving (h/t Michelle at Bleeding Espresso Christina at The (Mis)Adventures of a Single City Chick.).Baltimore was fun, but I still was feeling the road call to me. Boston had always been intended as the furthest point of my journey, and from this point I'll either stay where I am or backtrack. I'm not feeling called to Maine, or the Maritime Provinces, and I'm really close to the coast here.

I took a side trip up to Philadelphia area to visit my friend M's sister and take in the old homeland. Philadelphia has changed in so many ways since I left for good in 1989... and, of course, at the same time hasn't changed at all. I had some forgettable fettucine at Marra's on Passyunk (note to self: recommendation from suburban Jewish moms may not be the gold standard for Italian food), and stopped in on a whim at the menswear shop a couple doors down. There I met the tailor Pasquale Sciolto, half-Italian and half-hobbit. It seemed like the guy was three feet tall. It turned out that he was from southern Abruzzo, near Molise, so we jibber-jabbered in mixed standard and dialect for a while as M goggled. I don't know if I got paesanu rate or not, but I did OK for a single-thread men's shirt, I guess.

Saturday morning early I hit the road. What amazed me is how much tolls cost on I-95 up from Baltimore. I spent $10 just on the 100 or so miles to Philly. With the Jersey Turnpike, the George Washington Bridge, and the New York Thruway, I figure I dropped about $25 on tolls alone before I even reached Connecticut. Add to that the most expensive gas of the whole journey ($4.81/gal in Southport, Conn.) and the trip to Boston was a spendy one. Also, sweaty: half of New England was trying to get to the beach towns, and 95 inexplicably runs right along the coast. I definitely won't go that way again: it was a crawl in humid heat. It took me about ten hours to reach my friend Liv's place in Ipswich.

The North Shore Boston suburbs are really great. We're in those thick Eastern woods that sort of make everything dim and cool, even though there's a fair amount of development. Also, really old homes (like, 17th century old) are not at all uncommon: Liv's boyfriend lives on the top floor of one. And there's all this nautical atmosphere around. These communities made their livelihoods from the sea for generation upon generation, and some - like Gloucester - still do. We had a few drinks at the Crow's Nest, the bar depicted in the movie A Perfect Storm (though it was not set in the real bar). These people have probably all lost someone at sea... like a wild extrusion of the eighteenth century into the twenty-first. Oh, and the drinks are cheap... and strong.

I met J, who I was friends with in San Diego, on a flawless summer Sunday in Boston's Public Garden yesterday.

The Boston Public Garden

We both remarked on how much it felt like a San Diego day... and how much nicer it was to experience that kind of day in Boston. In San Diego, it's just another day, but in Boston, it's something extraordinary. J grew up out in western Mass. but never got into Boston much; being a short distance from five colleges, she never really needed to go far for entertainment. She came back to raise her kid out here, and is, like me, checking out Boston as a place to live. On the recommendation of both her mom and one of my oldest friends, we rode a Swan Boat through the garden's lagoon with her three-year-old daughter.

a Swan Boat

We walked through the Garden and the Common, splashed in the Frog Pond, and got her daughter a totally weird balloon hat from the tweakiest street performer I've ever met:



We feel the child will make a complete recovery... given enough time and therapy.

I'm finally starting to feel a sense of having arrived - there's plenty more to see and to do (that is to say I need to figure out what to do with the rest of my life!) but for now I'm kind of settling down. I'm not sure how long I'll be here, but I'm putting out tendrils and feelers, and we'll see what emerges.

I dedicated this trip to all the people who can't - or think they can't - just pick up and take off like I did. This has without a question of doubt been the best thing I've done for myself since going back to university, and maybe the best thing ever. Please, if you have even the slightest opportunity to do something random, unplanned, and adventurous - do it. The benefits far outweigh the downside risks, in my opinion.

And I speak from experience.


the trip

07 July 2008

Mile 3,758: it's Bawlmer, hon

I decided to go for the Last Cannonball, waking up early and wardriving Nashville's quiet streets for a hotspot at 6:30 on a Sunday morning. From the parking lot of a Comfort Suites near the airport, I posted a half-asleep road diary, checked my work email and hit the road. 12 hours to Baltimore!

First, last, and foremost: Appalachia is among the most beautiful places Gaia Creatrix chose to adorn her planet with. Green, green hills and wide rivers, sky and sun, rain and clouds. I drove along just loving the view out my window. I have to hike that there Appalachian Trail now.

I had this interesting experience coming up I-81, as traffic dropped from its congenial cruising speed of 80 to an uncomfortable 0 as I came around a bend:

I saw the white smoke up ahead and assumed it was a forest fire. It had been rainy for the whole trip up, but I figured maybe lightning had started a fire. In actuality... it was fog. Or mist or something, in one little valley, that was actually thick enough to stop traffic. We drove through it... no hickory-smoke odor, just rapidly attenuating Stephen King mist. Weird.

As Cannonballs go, this was an enjoyable one. Almost the whole trip was through hills and mountains, with just the last little Washington-Baltimore part being trafficky. I had completely forgotten the fact that it was the Sunday after July 4, and probably should have expected much heavier traffic on the roads. But it was an easy shot.

Baltimore is a place I am thinking about settling. It's a small city with a pretty good cultural scene, I have a job possibility here, there's a minuscule but good-enough-for-me light rail line, and one of my closest friends from high school is here and is offering me her spare room. So I'm checking it out, and there's pluses and minuses: it's pretty familiar, being culturally similar to Philadelphia where I grew up. On the minus side... it's culturally similar to Philadelphia where I grew up. But it's a very cute place - they call it, with sort of double-negative irony/civic pride, "Charm City."

There is a sort of downtown/main street area near here on 36th Street in the Hampden neighborhood that they call the Avenue - or as a street sign says, the "Aveune." Lots of cafes, bookstores, little shops, and the one who started it all (according to some accounts): Cafè Hon. A brief description of the "Hon" phenomenon, from the Cafè's website:
Hon: Pronounced "Hun" 1. can be used as a term of endearment, like sweetie, babe, honey, etc. In Bawlmer, Hon can be heard anywhere, but some neighborhoods more than others. It almost always follows any sentence, like "we're going down the ooshun... Hon." 2. A Hon is a person that takes on a certain look and/or persona, i.e. Beehive hairdo with cat's eyes glasses, leopard print, feather boas, gold taffeta, etc.
The cafè itself is a classic old diner, and the service and ambience is pretty diner-authentic, even if it's a little self-consciously kitsched up. I ordered the Meatloaf Sandwich, which was advertised as "even better than your Mom's."

It was.

Meatloaf Sandwich

Cafè Hon and the Hon Bar are at 1002 W. 36th Street, Baltimore, Md. (410) 243-1230.

I'm staying with my friend this week and then heading up to Boston for a week on Saturday, to see if I find myself drawn to that place as well. But for now... I am a temporary "Baltimoron."

VW in Bawlmer

the trip so far

06 July 2008

Mile 3,044: a night in Nashville

I was feeling the urge to get back on the road after I regained consciousness at my new friends' house in Faubourg Marigny. As much as I didn't want to leave New Orleans - and I didn't - the idea of having to work the following Monday motivated me to start the last leg of my trip.

The question on my mind as I got back on I-10 was which way? The shortest route led through Atlanta and would take me through the heart of the Old South. However, I had relationship ghosts in that direction, and had also always been thinking about seeing Nashville. A moment's thought was enough to resolve that question, and I headed North.

This was another one of those no-iPod meditative drives. I was feeling a lot of power at my back after the New Orleans visit, and I was enjoying speed again after a bunch of days going no faster than my feet could carry me. I talked to M, my good friend from Baltimore, who at that moment happened to be with a friend of her sister's who was from Nashville. Of course, I made her ask him where to go for food. He pointed me in the direction of Swett's soul food cafè, and that was all that needed to be decided. Nashville by dinner!

Of course, by the time I got into my last motel and showered enough to be presentable for dinner, Swett's was closed. At 9pm on a Saturday night! I was gobsmacked... but decided I may as well just head for the tourist area and see what caught my eye. Broadway in Nashville is filled with neon and music, ordinarily right up my alley. However, I was only after food at this point - I was eating like a Stone Age hunter and I needed to bring something down - quick.

One block off Broadway, I saw this sign:

Past Perfect

Good enough.

I parked (illegally, it turned out) and went in for the kill. A half-pound bison burger looked just right. It came, reasonably quickly, and I did my best Girlie-imitation, thus:

1/2 lb bison burger

(The flash washed everything out, but you get the idea.)

The burger was a bit dry, but that was probably my own fault for ordering a half-pound of bison meat medium-well. The twice-baked potatoes were surprisingly good, with big chunks of real bacon and nice garlic-chive spicing... however, the "pasta salad" was a bit of a letdown. True, macaroni elbows are, technically, pasta - but it struck me as sort of typical of the bistro-ification of bar food that seems to be going on more and more. I mean, why not just call a mac salad a mac salad?

All in all, though the food was pretty good, especially when washed down with a Yuengling Lager - I was close enough to Pennsylvania, apparently, to enjoy this regional specialty. I had gotten a bit spoiled due to the quality of the mostly pre-screened restaurants I had patronized since Austin. Totally worth a visit when you're done - what do they call it? - honky-tonkin', I believe. Past Perfect, 122 3rd Avenue South, Nashville, Tenn. - (615) 736-7727.

Google said I was 12 hours from Baltimore. Time for another Cannonball? I had to sleep on it, as a night on a recliner in New Orleans had done nothing for my mental abilities...

the trip so far

05 July 2008

Mile 2,518: taking it Big Easy

It's kind of hard to believe that I have an actual crush on a whole city. But, I mean, come on: New Orleans has great music, great food, great architecture, and oh did I mention the music. Ev. Ry. Where. Even the bad stuff was pretty good. I ended up spending two days and nights in the city, and if I didn't have time constraints I may well have spent a week or more. Or, quite possibly, just never left. It's happened to others.

I did a straight run from Austin through Houston on I-10, fighting a couple of thunderstorms and Baton Rouge rush hour. It's interesting how different states really do have their own highway cultures. New Mexico's is just fast. Texans are surprisingly disciplined about using the passing lane for passing. And in Louisiana, the official road sport appears to be tailgating. At 80+. Bon temps roulez.

I hadn't eaten anything since my Smitty's feast for lunch the previous day. I really was still digesting, but also I wanted to save myself for the boudin at Poche's, which came highly recommended by my coon-ass friend Angela as well as by Girlie and Mr. Whateverthefuck. I got to Breaux Bridge in a downpour and wandered around bayou back roads for a while before figuring out I had gotten off at the wrong exit. I got back on I-10... and was halfway through the Atchafalaya Swamp before figuring out it was in the other direction.

In the throes of a major blood sugar crash, I pulled into Poche's, where most of the lunch stuff was already gone. The nice girl (or extremely tiny woman) behind the counter offered me crawfish etoufèe, fried crawfish or fried catfish.

I said "yes, please:"

heaven in styrofoam

Poche's is at 3015 Main Hwy, Breaux Bridge, La. - 1 (800) 3-POCHES. You want to take exit 109 off I-10 and follow the signs.

I had no idea (since I am, you know, white, technically) that it was the weekend of the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. As a result, most of the city's hotels downtown were packed full. Fortunately, they squeezed me in at the Quality Inn just a couple blocks off Canal Street, which was a great location though I hardly spent any time there. I spent the next two days out exploring and basically just developing a really serious infatuation with the Crescent City. I may begin stalking, or writing "Paul New Orleans" on my notebook. Smitten.

Girlie had mentioned the vieux carrè cocktail and I kept going from bar to bar trying to find someone who could make it. Finally, Girlie actually emailed me a link to a recipe, and I brought my BlackBerry into Jean Lafitte's and said "this, please." It's another rye-bitters cocktail, but over ice. So it's kind of a summer-night sazerac.

I love the Quarter but can't really see myself living there. If I were to make my home in the city it would probably be in the Marigny neighborhood just to the north: a lot of the same awesome architecture, great people, and music music music. I saw Ellis Marsalis's jazz quartet at the Snug Harbor in the Marigny and got myself a cup as a souvenir:

Hey, I wanted the cup.

They were nice enough to fill the cup with ice and like seven different kinds of alcohol.

The Quarter is filled with all these fake-ass little voodoo shops and tacky occult parlors for the tourists. However, a little hole in the wall on a side street really pulled me in. I mean, take this as you will, but once I saw the place, I knew I was walking right in. I asked for a charm or amulet for my journey, and, of course, winded up wound up telling the Basic Abridged Version of my story. Mimi, who runs the shop, is a funny, tough-ass little witch who rides a Kawasaki ZR750, and we talked (well, really, she talked and I listened) animatedly for a while as I sipped my Big Gulp of liquor. She pulled out a bunch of talismans and I looked them over as she helped a gay couple pick out a charm for a friend. The way I feel about magic is like the way I feel about fate in general: I don't even try to believe in it, I just allow it to work on my more primitive levels. The wisecracking witch totally connected with my inner mystic, and I just went with the feeling that I was where I needed to be, with who I needed to be with, getting done what needed to be done.. The talisman that really spoke to me was the Second Pentacle of Venus, "for obtaining grace and honor, and to accomplish all matters of the heart."
Second pentacle of Venus
So I got that going for me, which is nice. Esoterica is at 541 Rue Dumaine, New Orleans, La. - (504) 581-7711.

I went to the riverbank and watched fireworks with a brass band playing and everything. Americana. I ended up striking up a conversation with a schoolteacher who came to New Orleans after the storm to help at one of the new charter schools. She had a friend from Atlanta with her, so invited me along on their bar crawl as they waited for her boyfriend to finish work. They invited me back to their cute-ass little Marigny house, where I spent the night instead of my Quality Inn. I'd have walked back but they thought I'd get mugged or wake up without a kidney or something, and I deferred to the locals' judgment in the matter.

I got dropped back at my hotel, packed quickly (since I never really unpacked), and took off. Nashville!

the trip so far

02 July 2008

Intermezzo: the ATX

The original plan was to be in Austin over the July 4 holiday, but my friends here had other plans. That, among many other similar missed connections, led me to the conclusion that there was to be no plan... that I'd pretty much make the thing up as I went along (with concessions, of course, to unavoidable realities like the laws of physics and the need to continue earning a living to pay for all the expensive gasoline I'm burning up).

I had been loosely thinking in terms of just spending a day here. However, I took the inspiration that led to my reckless driving of June 30 and ended up spending two days having a real vacation: eating, drinking, sleeping late and enjoying the company of cool people.

I am still kind of on Pacific time - is there such a thing as car lag? - and so it's difficult for me to get to sleep at night. Add to that thirteen hours of driving at high speeds with windows down and/or music blasting and there was a distinct ringing in my ears on Monday night. I tried to settle down to sleep in yet another unfamiliar place, but kept being disturbed by these weird semidreams. I had one where I imagined I had written a whole screenplay about a music teacher at a school for autistic children who has a stroke and has to relearn how to play... but the only people who can teach him are - yes! - autistic children. If I could wave a wand and create all the things I imagine, well, I'd be rich. Or, you know, insane.

Anyway, I spent a big chunk of the first morning laying around, drinking espresso, catching up on blogging and drinking more espresso. When my friend Angela came home, I was able to catch her up on my life in the four or five years since I saw her last. Each friend brings a particular side of you out more strongly than others do, and I realized how much I missed Angie and Ray Ray and the Paul that I am with them.

Angela asked me what I wanted to eat, and I said "Tex-Mex," thinking that this was the traditional regional cuisine of the strange land I now inhabited. Fortunately, she took me out for real Mex and margaritas at a place called Polvo's. What they call "interior" Mexican here seems a little less intensely cheesetacular than the Mexican I'm used to in San Diego - Girlie says it's more jalisqueño as opposed to the oaxaqueño and Baja food we had in Southern California.

We had a great time that night with some folks I had only known online before coming to Austin.* They took us to a great little wine bar called Vino Vino in the Hyde Park (um, I think) neighborhood. Girlie and the Mr. are people who enjoy exploring new restaurants in Austin and who have sufficiently developed palates (the Mr. attended a cooking school in Firenze) to appreciate what's worth appreciating... and mercilessly, but humorously, slam what needs slamming. So I was unashamed about asking them for a recommendation.

We shared every small plate on the menu. Each of them was quite good, and the gravlax and pates were particularly rocking my world. The wines served were each excellent in their own way, though one was unforgettable for both its complexity and for the backstory: it's made by Cistercian (I think!) nuns from Lazio, central Italy, under the supervision of the Umbrian vintner Paolo Bea. The wine is made from four grapes: Trebbiano, Verdicchio, Gracchetto and something else that I can't remember but hopefully she or he can Malvasia. The wine is called Coenobium, and I am going to pursue it as Ahab pursued the white whale. Lucky Austonians can try it at Vino Vino, 4119 Guadalupe St. Austin, TX - (512) 465-9282

I asked about some authentic Texas barbecue, and today they delivered in spades: Smitty's in Lockhart, a not-inconsiderable drive out of town, where they were so kind as to take me for lunch. This place is so authentic that they don't use plates, just pieces of butcher paper to catch (some percentage of) the grease.

The meat was tender, and the flavor was of the smoked meat itself - no sweet sauce to bury the taste here. If you want vegetables... go somewhere else. However, if you are in the mood for something that looks like this:

still life with grease

...then Smitty's is your place. 208 S. Commerce, Lockhart TX - (512) 398-9344.

I have been writing a while, and the one or two of you that have actually made it to this point have been reading a while. These posts are meant as road diaries, and I've gone heavy on the photographs for folks that didn't want a writing assignment when they came to this blog.

This is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime trip for me. I wanted to catch as many of the memories as I could as soon as I could. I start my solitary wayfaring again tomorrow morning, with a run to New Orleans where I am thinking of spending the Fourth of July. I understand that's coming up soon.

Austin was a wonderful break from the road. I have - obviously - been having fun on this trip, but the opportunity to enjoy a convivial pause with friends old and new has reminded me why I'm making this trip in the first place: to generate the inspiration to make a new start and build the life that I want, in all its particulars. And certainly, that will involve good friends, good conversation and good, good food.

Abbondanza.

* meeting them was oddly similar to meeting, like, celebrities that you've only seen in pictures. I'm going to follow blog etiquette and refer to them only by their online names, which kind of sucks as they go by "Mr. and Mrs. Pants (otherwise known as Girlie and Husbear)" on their blog. I mean, "Girlie" is kind of sassy, but having met him on a guy to guy level, I'm having a real hard time referring to her spouse as either "Husbear" or "Mr. Pants..." which is why I'm going with "the Mr."

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