Pet deaths

Last night, I carried the lifeless body of one my new cats upstairs from the basement, where he had gone to die. I'm not sure what happened to Cow, a big white cat I've had since late August when I agreed to look after him and a little black kitten for a short time. That short time turned into permanent companionship, although that's now turned out to be short, too.

The kitten is now almost full-grown, and she's not sure what's going on. She's been extra clingy with me, and I'm pondering converting her to an indoor cat so as not to tempt fate.

Two days ago, both of them sat with me as I wrote here in this place I've carved out as my office within my home. I'm right next to their food. 

Well, her food now, I guess.

This is the second of my pets that has died this year. My dog Billy died in September after a quick illness ravaged his body, which was at least 12 years old. I miss him terribly, and Cow's death is making me feel the freshness of that wound all over again.

Karen, the black cat, is currently sitting in Cow's old perch near the stove. That's the only place in my house where the mice visit. It's winter, and they're searching for food and shelter. She knows this, and is watching for them.

A friend of mine comforted me today by saying that cats are mysterious creatures. Outdoor cats especially. They go out into the world and try to make it their own. In that way, this death is different from that of Billy, who died of old age. He had that old age because he was protected from the outdoors. He was only supposed to go out under my supervision, though he routinely escaped the house and had his adventures. Billy must have gone on a hundred quests out there in the past five years. He had that way about him, and he always came back.

Cow did, too, and Cow came back to die yesterday. My downstairs tenant came upstairs around 8:30 last night to say that he didn't think the cat was doing well. I went downstairs a few minutes later, and carried him upstairs. I didn't know it yet, but he was dead. I'll now never forget the sensation of picking up a creature I cared about feeling so light and lifeless. I laid him on the couch upstairs, and thought he was still alive. The thought of his death was so foreign to me, because I just got him.

I won't be writing any eulogies about his long life, but I can say that he was here for me during this past week, a week that was a journey through sadness and anxiety. His presence, as well as Karen's, kept me feeling needed at a time when I felt so alone. I thank him for that and wish his afterlife is a happy one. 

Karen is now staring at the clock, as if she's waiting for him to come home. She sniffed his body last night, but I don't know if his passing registered with her. She's staring at the clock, and then staring at me, as if I have an answer. 

I do.

Despite the possibility of loss and mourning, I am thinking of getting a companion to be with her. At this point I don't know when or how this will occur, but I do know that I have room in my heart for them. I am not so jaded and shut-down that I can't accept love from these small animals who become so much of our lives.

I never wanted pets as an adult, but these three found me. 

And now Karen sits solemn on top of my kitchen sink, staring up at a clock she can not read. It just occurred to me that she sees the movement of the seconds hand. I don't know what's going through her mind, but I know curiosity when I see it.

I don't want it to kill her, and I want to try to protect her as best I can. She bonded with me more than Cow did, and her passing would devastate me. I live on a busy road, and there are so many predators out there looking for a chance to take her down. People will advise me to keep her indoors, but I also know her nature and I may be willing to continue taking the risk of letting her out. 

After all, I secretly condoned Billy's adventures, knowing that's what he wanted to do. I went looking for him every time he snuck out, and he always came back. 

Cow and Billy aren't coming back, but so many people in our lives don't come back. Either they die or they fade away from our consciousness. What's important is to remember them, all of them, and remember the role every creature plays in our lives. 


A week from the day, two weeks from the night

It's a week until the day that more or less everyone celebrates, even if they don't literally believe that the son of the creator of the universe was born on that day. Something about the story of good will to all has more people thinking positive thoughts.

Careful readers might have detected that I've been ambivalent as this particular holiday season approaches, knowing that my children would not be here with me.

I've just put them to bed on the last night I will see them until New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, depending on how scheduling is going to work out.

"I want you both to know that I am not sad you will not be here. I am happy for you because you will be with family and that is important to me."

And that was not a lie. I am happy all of my children appear to have a rich life, participating in extended families. I am humbled by this, able to step back and see that people who I helped create have already moved on into a world that I do not take part in.

Isn't that so much of the world? I am struck by how few people I know despite having been around the sun forty times now.

For much of this year, I have been closed off to the idea that I could meet new people. I have regressed this year, and have spent most of this solar rotation keeping to myself. I fell in love with someone, despite having been warned early on by  her that there would be no reciprocation. I had been hopeful in some way to begin to feel like I could be part of a family again, but my hopes were not harbingers of happy days.

But I'm putting that behind me now, and I'm able to put into the same perspective in which I've put everything else. It always returns to me wanting to try to live a good life where negativity doesn't take hold and I'm able to make new connections.

It has been five years since the relationship that created these children ended, beginning a new chapter of my life that has been completely rewarding while harrowing at times. I feel that I am ready for something new to begin, even if that just means a new realization that it's okay to be alone, and it's okay to enjoy solitude.

But, of course, I will take some of the time off I have coming to me to try to meet new people. It's been a long time since I've done that, mostly because the kudzu of responsibility has engulfed me and I've not been able to craft an effective maintenance schedule.

So, coming soon. A fresh start, a new look, a better attitude and a renewed drive towards a positive life. In some cases, that's the most absurd choice of all. And the one worth taking.

We should all celebrate good will. All of the time. But even more or so in this week that coincides with time off for many people, but not for all.

Happy everything, everyone! 


New Holiday: First Winter Storm

Now listen carefully.

There was some frozen precipitation on the ground earlier. For the past few days, many people have told us we were in for a terrible onslaught of electricity loss, bread loss at grocery stores, and wintry unpleasantness.

And, I bet you that many of us, in the back of our minds, welcomed this and decided we were going to take a little break from the normal today. I know I did. I jumped at the chance to have a sudden holiday from the normal routine.

So, why don't we find a way to enshrine this phenomenon as a holiday? I think floating holidays around the threat of inclement weather should be much more acceptable. People's fears of traveling are their own business, no matter where that fear came from.

I propose that we create in Virginia a special holiday on the occasion of the first storm where we all just decide it's okay to be relaxed about everything. We realize that the universe will occasionally throw up obstacles, and that many of these obstacles will be entirely in our own collective minds.

There doesn't even have to be actual precipitation for this holiday to work. It just needs to be expected, and then we all get a free pass if it doesn't materialize.

We're Southern. I need to crowd-source this and get feedback because I think we're all on to something here. Because, first winter storms cause us all to rethink ourselves out of the routine. Is that a bad thing? I think not. 

I want to know what you think! 


Daydream Nation

My recent purchase from eBay showed up today. A four-LP deluxe edition of Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation. I originally bought this album on CD in 1990 having only heard Silver Rocket and Teenage Riot. The sound took me to new places in my imagination, and now these records will sit amongst all of the vinyl I've accumulated through my childhood and my Freecycle binges.

This one's special, though, because now I own a formative album on the first medium I was ever aware. There is something about vinyl that connects me to me childhood and my core self, and I'm so glad I finally have a record player again to experience this on a daily basis.

What I am listening to right now is not digitial. The sonic waves hitting my ear drums right now are the result of a physical connection between plastic and metal. To  me, this gives what I'm hearing more authenticity than an mp3 file or a YouTube video. I'm currently listening to Sonic Youth's cover of Neil Young's Computer Age, a track off of his Trans album. Sonic Youth's version that pays homage to a great song and steps it up a notch.

Before this was a cover of the Beatles "Within You Without You" as well as a cover of Mudhoney's "Touch Me I'm Sick" which Kim Gordon sold completely. They made these songs at the same time they made their own masterpiece. Daydream Nation will always be my favorite Sonic Youth album, because it feels like an aesthetic coming alive. Sonic Youth doesn't sound like anyone else, but they were influenced by everything that came before. This side of the fourth album is reminding me that they were well aware of who their influences were.

Fifteen feet behind me, a turntable is moving at a pace of 33 and a third revolutions per minute while a needle soaks up grooves and turns it into music that blasts out speakers I got through Freecyle.

Then, a demo version of Eric's Trip comes on, and I've never heard it before. It's so raw. Just him, an electric guitar, and the crackle of vinyl. A song I thought was effortless is stripped bare. The record skips, and it's real. This got pressed on vinyl as a document of what this song was to become. It sounds amateurish, but it's not because of course he intended it as a first pass. 

And now an alternative version of Kissability comes on, possibly a live one. I've not read the liner notes yet. But then a live version of Eric's Trip comes on, and you can hear all the pieces come together in a most perfect way, creating one of the best songs of my adolescence. The album version trumps it, of course, but it's fascinating to have a study playing through a system that I usually associate with cheesy albums and the classic rock albums I inherited through my body.

Listening to live tracks from Daydream Nation through a record player connected to my stereo, over 20 years later, is fueling me with something. I'm hearing Candle in a whole new light. Lyrics jump out at me different. The musical structure fills me with happiness.

When I was younger, I never thought I would get caught  up in nostalgia. I seem to have been wrong about many things. 


Thanksgiving thoughts (possibly controversial)

Sometime tomorrow, stores that have a lot of fluorescent lighting overhead will open. The people who work there will have to be there so that people who are better shoppers than me can pay their bosses money. Somehow, both parties aren't bothered that this is happening.

The rest of us are a bit puzzled. 

I'm not angry that this is happening. I don't have any outrage that stores are looking to outdo their competition any way they can. Somehow it's all about advantage. 

I know I will be less likely to shop in any of those stores in the future. That's a personal decision, and not one I have to think about very hard. I don't often shop in any of those kind of stores anyway. 

"What do you think about all those people wanting to shop on Thanksgiving day?" said the clerk at the convenience store near my house. I've been going there for years for beer and chicken. 

"Well, I know I'm not going to shop at any of them," I said to him.

He and I don't know each other's names. We've never seen each other outside of the GoCo. We barely talk about anything, but he's always friendly and he sees me quite frequently. I know that he grew up on the south of of Carter's Mountain somewhere in the area where Donald Trump wants to build a gold course to go with his winery. 

"I mean, can you imagine a place like that even being open on Thanksgiving?" I asked. "They definitely don't treat their employees with respect."

"Well, we're open Thursday?"

"You are?"

"Yeah. Until 6." 

I felt sheepish. I just assumed they'd be closed. 

I've only worked one out of 40 of my Thanksgivings (including the one I spent in Canada, which was technically six weeks earlier). At the time I was 21 and living in Blacksburg. This was the first Thanksgiving I spent without my family, and I decided to work at Backstreets, the first restaurant I ever worked in. 

It wasn't that bad. The owner decided to stay open. There was potentially money to be made. I didn't think twice about it.

I ended up having a lovely day, and the owner fed me and let me drink after work. I did him a favor, but I also didn't have anything better to do. I profited off of the desire for some people to go out to eat on Thanksgiving rather than cook at home. Most of the parties were couples. Very few families. They all went home happy. 

The clerk at the store will work tomorrow but he will be off at six. People still need to buy things. 

Without thinking, I assume that Thanksgiving should be one of these perfect holidays where all economic activity stops. After all, I want to be able to concentrate on myself and not my role in a consumer-based economy. 

But, I also know that many of my friends will be working at bars tomorrow night, happy to take money from people who just want to enjoy the holiday. Movie theaters are open, as are gas stations, nursing homes, hospitals, radio stations, newspapers. Many people are working today. 

So, why are we so upset that big box retailers want to try to take some advantage of a day when people are off of work and primed to spend for the next big holiday? 

Good question. 

I don't have an opinion. I don't need to have one. It's very comforting, in a way. I neither work at those stores nor plan to ever shop at one. That is the entire extent of the effect my opinion has on the world with regards to this topic. I just like raising questions. 

Then again, I don't really spend a lot of money on Christmas, except on my parents and my children and a few friends. I don't feel pressure to do so. 

I'm also not much of a consumer. My house is largely furnished through hand-me-downs and items I found on FreeCycle. My daughter thinks I am cheap because I have old-fashioned media players such as a 19" bulky television. Little does she know that she'll more or less be playing PlayStation 2 games for the rest of her childhood because they're affordable. 

I am thankful that I am not that good of a shopper, and not that concerned about this issue. There are so many things to be concerned about. I won't list those, and I won't list my own. 

None of us are anyone else but ourselves. Everything we get from other people and from media influences our lives. But, we get the chance to form our own opinions. Sometimes these opinions are forged by media, sometimes by our friends.

In the month to come, I plan on writing a lot about how I feel about journalism and writing and affecting the world as one person out of 7.5 billion. I don't know how much of it will be public. I am just struck that so much of how I feel about the world comes through experience not filtered directly by me. I am also paid to sift through information and write articles based on what I research. I want to write stories that anyone can pick up and say that they understand the basic government process I'm trying to explain. 

After I realized that the GoCo clerk was going to have to work on Thanksgiving, I went in a second from being outraged that certain stores are opening tomorrow to take advantage of consumer demand to realizing that I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I am not supplying any of that demand. I suppose I could advocate against people spending money there, but I'm not much of an advocate for anything. 

I'm an explainer, not a persuader. 

The clerk will work tomorrow, and hopefully he'll get compensated for it some other way. I do not envy the people who have to work tomorrow, but what's so special about a holiday anyway? That's a direct question not laden with anything else. What makes a holiday a holiday? 

For me, I love the fantasy that we're all off work but in reality that's not possible. There are 7.5 billion people in the world. 310 million in my country. 8 million in my state. 150,000 in my metropolitan statistical area. That's a lot of people who are just like me. 

I give thanks that I still have hope that we can figure out better ways of communicating, and educating, and building a better economy, and basically improving how our species does things. 


Running in the dark

The 5:00 fall of darkness is hitting me harder than I think it ever has. Perhaps this has something to do with the deaths that have happened in my life in late summer and early fall. Perhaps I'm getting old. In any case, I will not fall into despair.

At least not for long.

Today I went straight to the gym after work and got on a treadmill and ran. I wanted to run from the moment I woke up today because I ended up sleeping in late and my kids ended up being half an hour late for school. Thankfully I put their clothes out for the morning last night and I am able to whip breakfast together quite quickly. The car started and we made it there, but I decided to go straight to work.

And then, I left work before my section of the earth turned away from the sun because I needed to run an errand, and I didn't take a coat due to the speed at which we escaped my house's gravitational pull. Upon getting home, I had a cup of tea and then suited up a three mile run at the gym.

This is the fourth time in six days I've managed to make it there. Of late I have been so saddened by the coming of autumn that I've not much enjoyed being outside. I was taken aback by how quickly the lush landscape evolved into a bleak tableau that reflects too much of what I've been thinking lately.

This is depression's way of feeding itself. And my solution has been to separate my disconnect with the outside from my body's need to feel alive through exercise. 

A friend of mine tries to get me to run with her at 6:30 once a week. We managed to go three weeks in a row, and her company made the struggle of getting up in the dark worth it. But, I've not been able to get out of bed to do it. The idea of running outside in the cold throws up many mental blocks.

But, I am short-circuiting myself by going to the gym, which is easy, comfortable, and I don't have to think about anything except running. I can distract myself with the television. I can power myself listening to music on bulky headphones as opposed to earbuds that pop right out. 

I also actually use the $37 I pay each month to go to the gym. 

I had a lousy day for reasons that aren't worth mentioning. And it doesn't matter anyway, because I no longer feel lousy. Whatever part of brain is responsible for prioritizing how I spend time is remembering that running makes so much of the rest of my time easier to deal with. 

I create a light within me when I run, when I overcome the doubt and depression and power through. There are no excuses. There is just me and the activity. 

I've figured this out before, but I keep forgetting. There's a part of me that wants to fail, that sabotages my happiness by coming up with reasons not to do the thing that I know works. 

Yet, I outpaced the darkness tonight. I only ran three miles, three miles in which I lost part of my innocence by watching a portion of Desperate Housewives of Beverly Hills. But, I took in songs that fueled me, studying their structure while I ran and pondered what I was watching. 

I have my sights set on a goal of beating my best time in the Charlottesville Ten Miler. That's four or five months away. That event will take place at the beginning of spring, and between now and then I have to make this happen. 

So, I am not going to worry about potential peer pressure that I am not being a true runner because I'm not outside. I'm not going to find any excuses. They don't matter. What matters is that I run, that I build healthier habits once more, and I realize that I've won this battle before. 


The thoughts I have about things

At the library today, I picked up a book called Timetables of History. It was a simple listing of historical events dating from Sumerian times to 1990. I tried to interest my daughter in this, but her interest lasted about thirty seconds before she went to look at a DK book that shows all of the locations in Star Wars.

Initially I was bothered that she wasn't interested in real life but instead wanted to learn more about a fictional universe. But, I quickly realized I was also more interested in the book, which was colorful, detailed, animated, and was of more interest to her than what someone did back in 903. 

And here we are in 2013, and I increasingly feel like pulling back from the moments of the day in order to concentrate on the moments of my self. I spend so much time thinking about what happens in the now, writing about public policy in my community. I'm aware of the importance and the non-importance of it, all at the same time. 

The totality of myself is formed both by the genetic make-up that was determined at my conception, as well as everything else that every other human has ever done. How many people have been on this planet by now? How many billions of people have walked this earth? 

And who am I? I've spent a good chunk of my life writing about the decisions that get made, but I am not satisfied with the work that I have done. I am privy to watching people talk straight up about their community, but there are so many gaps in the discussion and I can't do anything about that.

I'm also not allowed to give my own opinion about things. I have to relate everyone else's arguments, but my own are kept from public view.

There are now well over seven billion people on this planet, a fact that everyone should think about carefully. We face a century of severe change as our climate continues to become more erratic. Despite our large population, so many of us feel so tragically alone, myself included.

I think this is because we have a listening deficit at the moment. Maybe we have always had that, but more than ever, every single person with access to the Internet feels they have the right to express themselves, and they have the right to be right.
I don't know. I'm not any of you. I'm me, the second son of Joseph and Phyllis Tubbs, born in August 1973, a date that will eventually make no difference to the universe at all. It's all us, it's all what we do, and none of us seem to realize how fleeting all of this is. 

So we fixate on the small shit, we fixate on what we hope to control. 

I am leaning more and more to disconnecting to what I used to think what important - public policy. It's both important and not-important. That duality is confusing, because most people can't hold two competing thoughts in their heads for very long. 

Me? I'm plagued with the madness that happens when you have to keep everyone's view in mind in order to synthesize a narrative that captures moments in time. 

But, I'm not satisfied I'm doing enough to show up in a future edition of the Timetables of History. That's not necessarily my goal, but I wish I could reduce my fear of being disliked enough to get into the fray of human conflict more. Maybe that's why I'm so unhappy of late. I don't get to make a mark. I'm just a guy who writes the stories about things that may or may not matter. 

Important and not-important.

Cognitive dissonance writ large. 

I conclude this post with an improv recording from July 19, 2013 that feels passionate and fulfilling to me and me alone. 

At 40, I realize that the frustrating thing about my life is that it is absolutely impossible for me to communicate how happy I am being human to other people. I try, so hard, but it's not working. People regard me as strange, odd, somehow not normal. I wish I could express myself to people in a way that was clear enough to sell out the Paramount Theater, but that's just not how I am ever going to be. 

My plan for the rest of my life is to just be me, to try to carve out space to make my own artwork that captures what it means to be a human living on a world that orbits a sun 93 million miles away, living in a system that tends to forget that everything we do is malleable.

I demand happiness. But who do I make that demand of? Who is responsible for that?


So, there I go.

This is not how I thought life would turn out for me, but I'm still alive and capable of making some noise. And if people don't like it? That most certainly is not my problem. I have just got to try to meet more of my 7 billion fellow humans in the time I have left. 


Today was forever

One of my children is reading to the other, but I'll likely have to go in and finish the job. 

We've had a great two days together, the three of us. Mostly they've played together while I've watched, supervised, shepherded, kept away from sharp objects. Since having brunch with some friends the other day, I've not had a sustained conversation with another adult. 

And that's okay. Being a single dad for me means that I am living these years of my life with two of the three most important people in my life. It can be absolutely exhausting, especially when they begin to go to war with each other. Some times it can be so emotionally draining to be in the middle of their spats, and I try to stay out of the fray.

Thankfully today there was little need to do that. Today was about as perfect as you can get, given that we only left the house once and that my living room was transformed into an ocean fortress, complete with inflatable dolphin. They played for at least five or six hours together, and it was an honor to eavesdrop on their play time.

It was also an honor to provide the music. All day I played record after record while I sorted out my growing collection. I'm not the most organized person in the world, so all of the records have just been stacking up in front of the stereo. Today I tackled as much as I could, and began to put away the ones I'm not likely listen to.

The music ranged from the Tom Tom Club to Aerosmith, by way of an old K-Tel novelty record and some Matthew and the Mandarins. For a while, we watched the Eagles destroy Washington's football team, but sports didn't dominate the day at all.

Imaginative play was the name of the day, and I felt happy to be providing a space where my two American children could spend some of their childhood with me. Watching them reminded me of how happy my own was, despite not being close to my brother or sister. I was too young, and now I fear we're too old to really ever be close. 

I'm fairly certain today was the first time my son had heard Led Zeppelin's The Immigrant Song, and within a minute or so, he was singing along to it. While we were listening to a portion of the Mikado, he heard a similar melody that corresponds to a different song and he began singing that instead. 

My daughter did not retreat into a book today, and instead sought out opportunities to read to her brother. She read the Jedi Academy book I bought at the Sock Hop the other night. At bedtime, she read him three books, and now she's reading to herself because he's going to sleep. In a few minutes, I'll return to parenting and will turn off her light.

In the morning, I'll say goodbye to them for a few days. Sure, there will be the usual racing to get them out the door and that won't exactly be stress-free. I have figured out that my children have an obligation to make sure that my life has unexpected surprises that must be solved. They are the random element in my life, constantly providing me with little challenges and puzzles. 

The goal is to have weekends like this, where we all can nest and grow and prepare for other days. They are growing up so fast. My daughter decided her skirt should be a shirt today, and she pulled off the look somehow. She played with my son all weekend, and they built silly memories I'm sure they will remember well into their life.

And the best part of the weekend?

A rare phone call from my English son who told me he's getting an iPod Touch and will be able to FaceTime me whenever he wants. 

These days of resting and playing are so valuable. They don't happen all the time, but are so much more common when the leaves fall. I'm storing up these memories for me, for those times they won't be here. Isn't that human experience is about, be it raw experience or distilled narrative? 


In a crowd

Tonight I went to a dance at my children's elementary school. I attended along with their mother and her fantastic partner. I am so happy that our relationship is at such a good point where we all communicate about what's happening in their lives. Together the three of us are parenting two people that will inherit this world.

The auditorium was packed with people, all of us parents and all of us children. There was dancing, there were prizes, and there were my children playing with their friends, interacting with the three parents.

I had to give up my shift at Court Square Tavern to go, and it is likely I won't be able to fully return there like I had hoped. Maybe that is for the best.

There are not often crowds there, not the crowds I need to be in now that I feel like I'm fully helping to raise my children.

I was at first uncomfortable at the dance because of my anxiety and because their school is not in my neighborhood. I don't know the other parents as much as I want to, but I am sure I will get to know them as all of our children grow up, and as we mourn the one child whose life was recently cut short. That memorial service was two weeks ago tomorrow.

This time last week I was in a crowd at Skybar, and when I went to move my car I turned on the radio and heard details of the people who died in the Philippines when that huge storm hit. I teared up a little at the loss I knew people like me were suffering on the other side of the globe. I went back to the crowd and I was sober and sad, and remembered that sadness is always just around the corner.

But if that's true, then happiness is also a moment away at every single second.

Tonight, the parents of Charlotte were there. They are not retreating from the world. They are remembering their daughter by remaining in the crowd, serving as a shining example for their older daughter. At one point, the mother came over and sat down next to my son and told him that she was going to be returning to the class to read books, just like she did before the accident.

As I type this, I don't believe that anything wrong has ever happened in my life. I can imagine a reset button that allows me to cut off old resentments, allows me to rethink what I believe I know about a particular situation. This attribute serves me well in my line of work and I have finally learned how to apply it to my own life. I can embrace that there is always light, even on the darkest day. That light can grow, can build in warmth, and eventually it can be enough of a guiding force.

Tragedy is always a moment away. But, we're human, and we're at our best when we can come together in crowds to celebrate life. Tonight was a school dance and I felt so blessed to see so many teachers who are so passionate about educating their students. Two weeks ago it was a memorial for a little girl who inspired so many people in her short life.

I will try my best to overcome the feeling I so often have to be a hermit, to withdraw, to protect myself from future pain by avoiding contact with other people who are just like me. I will help raise my children to not be afraid of others, to be certain of themselves, and to know how to go forward in the face of adversity and defeat. I want them to not feel as alone as I often do. I don't need to burden anyone, especially my public readers, with the depths of despair I often feel as a result of a time in my life that I used to perceive as tragic.

I will always try to remember that I'm always in a crowd. I live in a growing city. There are probably 50 people within a 500 foot radius of my house. I don't know many of them, but I want to. I want the same kind of neighborhood spirit that animates Belmont to be in all of my city's neighborhoods. I want all of us to be there for each other when tragedy happens.

I want all of us to celebrate what we could all create if we agreed that we all want the same things.


Doctor Who's importance to me, again

I stumbled out of bed this morning and there was immediately a message from my cousin James telling me I had to watch the new Doctor Who mini-episode right away. 

I was skeptical, but I went to look for it. 

Before I even saw it, I knew today was going to be a good day.

The show has lasted 50 years because it has a universe where the main character has lived a series of lives in different bodies. He regenerates into a new form every time he is killed. 

There has been a gap in the show's continuity. The show was canceled by the BBC in 1989, but brought back in a clumsy television movie co-produced by FOX. The actor who played him regenerates from the Seventh Doctor (as played by Sylvester McCoy, who was in the recent Hobbit film) into the Eighth Doctor (as played by Paul McGann).

But, the film was not a success, and the on-screen revival of the Doctor would not happen until 2005. And when the show came back, the mythology had changed so that the Doctor was the last of his kind, the last Time Lord following the conclusion of the time war. 

And now the show is about to turn 50 at a time when it is probably more part of world culture than it ever has been. We're about to go through another major change in the future, but for now, everyone is excited about the fact that we were treated to a surprise today and it was completely magical. While I was spoiled by the description on the BBC's website, I was not disappointed in what transpired.

This post is written to readers who don't know the show. You might in the future, perhaps. For now, I would love it if your first experience was watching this clip. What if your first Doctor is one who kicks off the 50th anniversary celebration in style?



Another night in an auditorium, listening to a matter of public discussion in one ear while my mind seeks out mindless trivia while waiting for some form of resolution. I've been in meetings all day, and I'll be in them all day tomorrow, too. I'm thirsty, so in a few minutes I'm going to leave. 

The developer of a project is mad at the Board of Supervisors because they are spending a lot of time on a drainage issue. There's part of me that is aware of the broad overview of what's going on here, but there is no need to get too involved in the details. In the grand scheme of things, there is no room for trivial.

Somewhere in these two paragraphs is an inconsistency. I am filled with them, but unaware of them as they pass through my mind. I'm not sure who I am, and not sure why I'm in this room. I don't feel fully here while I'm here. 


Offsetting ennui

I'm sitting in a room I sit in far too often, but at least I'm paid to be there. People are looking at plans for a new building. They won't make a decision tonight, and they don't actually make the decision anyway. That will fall to the elected officials who aren't here at the moment.

My chair is against the back wall. The room is a small auditorium, and many decisions have been made in here over the past few decades. I've written about many of these, either as a contemporary reporter or as an amateur archivist. 

I'm tense because I want this meeting to be over, and I'd like to relax and joke and play and talk to people. I'd like to write about the people who are in this room, as opposed to the decisions that will be made. The two relate, of course, but in public I cannot write about the people in here, or the people I would like to meet.

I feel stuck in time, despite the growing awareness that I am living a life constrained by decisions I made in the past. I will be in this room many more times to come in the future, listening to more and more discussions about the future of my community.

I feel invisible, same as I have for a while now. I don't want this, but it's happened. I'm constrained but there's not much I can say about it. 

So, how do I offset the growing ennui?

I'm not sure. It's enough to become aware of it, and to try to change behavior to try to peel back the restraints. 


Upon unfathomable tragedy

Tomorrow I will take my children to a memorial service for a little girl who was killed in a terrible accident on Monday. Charlotte's life was cut short so quickly, but a community has come together to provide comfort, solace, and love to her sister, mother and father. 

And I will go tomorrow and sit next to my children and their mother, and their mother's partner, and we will all mourn something so terrible - the death of a young child. 

I personally did not know Charlotte that well, but knew of her importance to my son. He called her his "future wife" after her got over his sister teasing him about his being his girlfriend. I remember being that age and having crushes on girls, but I can't fathom being told that he'll no longer be able to play with her because she's gone. 

He's in denial, and is somewhat angry about what's happened. 

"I don't care that she's dead," he said to me shortly before bed. I told him I didn't believe him, but I understood how he felt. One way to stop the pain from getting to you is to pretend you are apathetic to it. 

"She liked red, so I'll wear the shirt I wore tonight," he said to me soon after. He knows that this is an important day in his life, a day he will say goodbye to a friend. 

I don't have much experience with death. My grandparents lived in another country and when they died, I did not attend their funerals. When my uncle died in 2000, I also did not go to say goodbye. 

I have only attended two funerals in my life. One was for my friend Brian Mercado, who died in a motorcycle accident back in 1997. I had been estranged from him for years, but he had been so important in my life that I had to say goodbye. I also went to the funeral for Joe Cudlin, the father of my best friend growing up. I think that was in 2006, when Josephine was only a few months old.

Tomorrow I shall write more. 


I love holidays

There's a certain beauty to watching other people revel in enjoyment today, the silliest of all days. Everyone dresses up, everyone seems merry, and a good time is had by all. People are smiling, people are happy, and there's energy of greatness all over. I'm happy to see children walking up and down the bricks of the mall. 

It's no matter that I'm still working, and that I miss my children so much right now. I wish I was out there with them, and I'm happy knowing that I have at least a 50/50 shot of being with them next Halloween. 

I won't see them for ten days over Christmas. While that fact makes me sad, I will have to do some work to make sure that it does not cast a shadow over my activities now. I may not see them at Christmas, but I will see them at Thanksgiving, and I will get to have some fun activity with them.

Being a single parent who only sees his children a third of the month can be painful, but it makes me appreciate my little ones when I have them.

I am positive. I am resilient. I can make this all work out, despite the fact that I suffer from depression, an illness I will live with until I die. 

There's a sadness in all of our lives, and I'm not going to shy away from it. I may have had a bad day today, but I know why, and I will try  to remember that as a human being I am capable of a full range of emotions, and they don't all have to be sadness even though my body chemistry defaults that way. 

Happy Halloween, everyone! And I look forward to celebrating the rest of the 2013 holidays with some of you! 

I hate holidays

I'm single, have been for years, and I work a ridiculously stressful job. Two or three of them, actually. So, I never have any energy to put into holidays like Halloween. I never have a costume, never have plans, and basically feel inadequate beyond belief. I'm working in my office as people walk off to enjoy their merriment and fun. I feel more and more like an alien every single day. And that's not a costume. 

Now begins the long march to Christmas. This Christmas is going to be the hardest one I've had to date and the sadness I am going to feel for ten days is already casting a shadow backwards through time.

I'm trying to be positive. I'm trying to think of good things. I'm trying not to fall apart.

But, I just hate holidays. They remind me of personal failures, remind of current shortcomings, and remind me I feel just a shadow of my former self. 

I honestly hope I don't always feel like this.  And I so look forward to January 2. 


And these were the slow nights...

I remember this feeling.

I remember waiting people to come into a place that I think is one of the most awesome places on earth. Or at least, in Charlottesville. If I could get out of town more often, I likely wouldn't go on harping about Court Square Tavern. 

I certainly wouldn't keep going back to work there if I didn't live here, and if I didn't feel like it was part of the reason I'm here. 

This was the first time in a long time that I went from one job to the other on a weekday. This may become more common as I try to make ends meet, try to get ahead by making a little more money for my children. But also, to try to reconnect to the reasons why I'm here.

Tonight was a slow night, but the interactions I had with customers were all very enjoyable. People came onto my stage and I served the role of background character. But, I also engaged with local politics, talked a bit about we're a neighborhood bar, caught up with old friends, tried to fix the stereo system, and made more money than I would have had I not been working.

But, slow going, but worth every second I was clocked in. 

Going back to work there is like time travel, like going right back to a time when I was at exactly the same point I am at now, but with another ring around my trunk. Can I harvest this time somehow? This investment in a dream of place, a third space that can draw upon so much history while also building the future. I want the tavern to be a place where people can meet new people and begin interesting experiences.

Even on these slow nights, I still feel that possibility. And that's why I'm back. 


A documenting of the return

Time travel is possible.

Credit: Jennings Hobson Inc.
I reentered a part of my timeline where I spend my hours serving people drinks and food, cracking jokes, trying to keep good cheer, augmenting reality in a small space that I can dance around with aplomb, wit flowing and feeling connected to the place. 

This may have ruined catering for me for a while. 

I worked for almost seven hours on Friday night, bartending and serving tables while Jeff cooked the food. I think he was glad to be off of the floor. I was glad to be making my acquaintance with people who will be among my new regulars, on whatever scale I manage to return to this place in which I feel so at home.

It felt so good to be there, at home , in a place where I feel so comfortable to be myself. Within seconds, I was right in the same place I had left 19 months ago, in early February 2012. I clocked in and went right to work, serving beer and standing behind the bar from which I watched most of my thirties. When I venture out behind the bar, I navigate a realm of people I enjoy, people who have chosen to come into a place I love so much. They are in a place I call home, even though I do not own it. I am welcoming people into a space that is so integral to my understanding of what it means to be a member of a community. 

But, will this be like the old days? Certainly there were flashes of that, as I danced around tables and slung drinks with vigor.

What will it be like?

I don't know. None of the future has happened yet. 


A return, again, to Court Square Tavern

Back in the day... 
In just under three hours, I'll clock in to the place I've worked at on and off for over nine years now. I'll go back into this little dungeon and I'll insert a card into a mechanism that will punch the time I arrived so I'll get paid. Instead of having a Friday night off to relax, I'll be serving people drinks and food and hopefully I'll make them happy in the process.

It has been over a year and a half since I left, and I don't think it's going to be an easy transition. I'm only going back at this time because there is only one employee who regularly works there, and he wants a week off. So I will be filling in for him, but training with him tonight to see what might have changed. I'm going in with a positive attitude, a willingness to help, and hopefully to restore Court Square Tavern's role in greater Charlottesville society.

Over the years, I've spent so many interesting nights there, and I want to be up there fomenting debate once more. And, hopefully I'll get paid for it, because I need to make more money for my children. They're getting older. 

When I told them I was going back, they cheered! They know how important the place is to me, even if my previous efforts to gussy up the place were stymied.

What will happen this time? I don't know. I won't be back there as much, but I'll occasionally be behind the bar. And I feel like a new era is just getting started. 



I love records. 

There's something infinitely magical about round discs that spin around pole in the middle of a motorized circle, with a needle picking up vibrations placed there in the encoding process.

No... not encoding process. What word would you use?

Anyway, thanks to WNRN, I now have a record player and I'm able to finally listen to the hundreds of records I've accumulated over the years. Earlier I listened to a record called Echoes of Merseyside, a stream-of-consciousness-like assemblage of found recordings put together by the Liverpool Echo sometime in the 70's. 

And now I am listening to perhaps the most important album of my life - my first exposure to Monty Python - The Allbum of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I remember putting this on the record player when I was my a bit older than my daughter's age. 

As I listen back, more than 30 years later, I'm pleased I have a record player to connect back to that time.

My daughter got out of bed a while ago. We had a few minutes chat about the record player. Pointing to my cathode-ray television, she noted that much of my technology is old.

"Is it because you're cheap?"

I laughed. I told her that the old technologies are just as good, and that the important thing is the content, the recording of human experience.

The first album I played on the new record player was a 1958 recording of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the American premiere of a Russian violinist who was 33 at the time. The back of the record cover was a description of the event, and something about the needle translating old vibrations into new vibrations made me feel connected to everything. 

What did my daughter think so soon after I bored her with a Led Zeppelin album that my brother must have bought in 1981? 


Bringing forth the musical waverings

This May I began a new season of musical journal entries. I'm drawn to picking up the guitar and recording myself making up words as I move my hand up and down the neck of my guitar, strumming out moments of where I was at various times.

I am not capable of writing songs. I tried to do this summer, but that's now how I'm built musically. I have to trick myself in order to let myself go, and the only way I can do that is to have an open microphone and a recording device. Something happens in those moments, and I transform into something a little less retiring.

I do hope I can find collaborators to help me harness this, so I'm going to post this noise. This is slightly edited from a recording I did in my kitchen when my children were at my house. Themes include the usual questions I have about this life I seem to be living.


A better tomorrow

In March 1999, I went with some friends to a house on the Chesapeake Bay, or the northern neck of the Potomac, or some other house in a place I did not yet realize would be significant later in life. We were there to play music, and we recorded two and a half hours of improvised punk rock. 

One of the songs was this one, called Better Tomorrow. Looking back now, this track is very much a journal about where I was at that point of my life and what I wanted, how I wanted to create  a life for myself that was mine despite all of the influences on me. I wanted a different life. 

And here I am, 14 years later and I certainly have one of those. There are many who have had similar lives, and I am learning to listen to their stories. Some of them find their way into the songs I make now. I have the ability to capture whatever it is I want to say when I'm ready to brave the uncertainty of an open microphone.

I'm glad I have this skill, and this hobby of documenting my life through sound. I want to write actual songs, but I don't think I'm ready for that yet. Something isn't quite right, and I seem to need to have my journals serve as audio accompaniments to my life now with all of its twists and turns.

I hope to share more of that in this space over the next while because I have the ability to do so. We live in age where it is possible for me to get this out there, if only to serve as another way for me to access it remotely. And, who knows? Maybe someone will see the value in it over the ages.

I'm past the point where I want to explain why I do what I do. I'm a singer, and that means I need to apply my ability to write to my passion to belt out words in an artful manner. I've come a long way since these recordings. I've had a lot of experience in life, and that informs the cryptic lyrics that come out of me when I'm in the middle of becoming the part of me that needs to express myself artistically.

I'm not perfect or good and I don't want to win anyone over. What I want to do is keep improving, keep getting better at getting in touch with myself. After all, when I make music, that is when I feel the most free. The second most free is when I believe in what I am doing, and know that I am working to improve.

But I'm doing so at my own speed. I have a busy life, and I can only devote a small fraction of active time to this. That is why I favor my method of recording improvisational sessions. Inside of these sessions, I work on songs and I am definitely progressing towards a set of songs. I need a new production method to make them happen, I suspect, and I am working on that.

I'm raw. But this is me, and this is how I experience my life. I'm glad I am living in a better tomorrow where this is all possible.


This bewildering insanity

Today I connected an older computer and dragged over some old songs that had been stuck there. My ultimate goal is to have all of the hundreds of hours of my material available at my finger tips, and maybe to have it available if somehow lightning strikes and any of this can become relevant to any of my fellow citizens.  I have a lot of work to do.

But, for now, just a reminder that http://yield-alpha-tuggler.tumblr.com/">my public archive
contains a lot of stuff that I got the courage to post in the past.


Another reset, another mindset

The solstice solstices and our planet heads back now into the dark. In six months we'll begin going the other way yet again. Between now and then we'll sleep, work, eat, breathe, and have emotions. We'll aspire to great things, and try to not publicize the bad ones.

So, I take this day to note that I have once again reset the name to reflect where I may fit on a hypothetical list of all the people in the world in terms of birth order. When I began this blog in 2006, I was somewhere in the 3.5 billion range, but now I'm assuming I'm the 2.5 billionth (or so) oldest person. I'll keep counting down until I can figure out a way to change my birthday.

Yet, my birthday is a fixed point in time, as is every moment once we move past it. We can't go back to stop ourselves from  breaking the things we shattered, but hopefully we can learn to be more mindful in each  moment so as to reduce the number of shards we're responsible for.

As I go forward and approach my 40th year, I am going to try to continue down the path of positive scheming and dreaming. It is also my hope that I can overcome the various fears that keep me from reaching out to others to make music.

One day towards that will be to post some of my tracks here. Now, please keep in mind these are raw. I've not yet learned how to write songs, but that's going to happen in the next year. I'm scared to be awful, or to have what I do revealed to be awful. But, every single second I've recorded has some worth, because each represents a moment in which I was capable of making choices. This doesn't make for music that will be remembered through the ages, no. But, I'll just be happy to keep trying to turn my original energy into something that a wider audience can appreciate.

The goal, though, is to find the collaborators I know are out there who are on the same page as me. Maybe they can help harness the feelings I have to create pulses and beats and harmonies and choruses and melodies. I don't want to do this alone. But, I have to do it, one way or the other. I'm too old to not believe in myself.

Today's download: The Camera Captures (June 14, 2013): Very quick thing that launched  a 45 minute practice session. I don't usually go into these with an idea, so the lyrics often end up being a meditation on the process. I always seem to be capturing myself with a camera, either through the written word of these sonic soliloquys. To what end?

Until the end, my friend. Until the end. If I'm not creating, I may as well give up now.


Father's Day thoughts

I had hoped to cross the finish line of the Charlottesville Men's Four-Miler at about 8:20 this morning, but instead I was sluggishly trying to turn the television on for my children. This is what I do every other Sunday when my American offspring are with me.

For weeks, I had trained and planned and tried my best to speed up so I could run a good race. I had hoped to try to run those four miles through the University of Virginia and its immediate suburbs of academic denizens. I had somehow thought that I would find someone who could look after my children at the finish line.

However, as a single father who hasn't been in a relationship for several years, it's very hard to even imagine asking someone to help out. It's me and they, the three of us forming a family unit that is unlike what I had thought I would be in when I was growing up.

Yet, I type these words without any sadness or regret. I didn't run the race, but I adjusted and have ended up having a great day with my children thus far here at our house. We're not doing much of anything but relaxing. I've moved them into their own room now that I no longer have housemates, and they're happily playing with their toys, completely content to be children in this place that I go to work to pay for, to keep a roof over their heads for about 12 days a month.

This place is so empty the other 18 days of the month, and I spend most of my time looking forward to them being back here. Everything in my life these days has something to do with this role I have in their two lives. I want to help make this world a better place, for them, even if that just means writing a few things about transparency and how I think local government is supposed to work. I'm hoping that at some point I can do something more meaningful.

For now, I just preside over a portion of their childhood. Right now they have invented a game in which they race marbles in the lid of a frying pan. The marbles are race cars and they are naming each one, and my daughter is narrating the whole thing as if she is a sportscaster. They are using their imagination, relaxing, and generally having the kind of childhood I think they deserve.

Meanwhile, I'm having an adulthood that I didn't expect, but that I am adjusting to. As I approach 40, I see myself in a time of life that will remain solitary. After work there's not much room for anything else, and I'm not very good at relationships anyway. I'm pretty good at being a dad, I guess, constantly monitoring to make sure that they play well together.

So, another Father's Day that's remarkably like every other Sunday I have with them. I would have liked to have taken them somewhere on an adventure, but they're perfectly happy to play and be kids. And I'm perfectly happy to be their father listening to their imagination blossom.


Five years...

I moved into my house five years ago today. I didn't know it at the time but my marriage was unraveling. I didn't know how bad the hard times we're going to be, and didn't know that my journey would challenge and transform me in ways that I still don't quite understand.

I didn't want to buy the house I now own. I wanted a townhouse, but my wife at the time really wanted the one she found with the realtor she was working with.

But, I own it now. And, I can choose to focus on the positive moment rather than the traumatic ones that I fixated on.

First and foremost, it's my stage. It's a place for me to be alone so I can sing and play guitar to my heart's content. I can let myself go and explore whatever strange alchemy allows me to let my mind go and do two things at once in an effort to craft whatever style I'm crafting. One day I will be brave enough to work with others, but for now, I am safe in my house.

If I look into my heart and mind, I don't have a shred of bitterness or sadness related to the end of my marriage. My children are part of my life, and I'm a happy co-parent again, working with my their mother and her partner.

Second, I live in a great location. I can walk to the park. I can walk to my gym. I'm close to a school that my children will go to when they are older. I am on a bus line (for now).

Third, I believe that good things will continue to occur there in the future. I've had four sets of tenants living in my second bedroom upstairs, and that time is about to end. The fifth set of tenants will be my children, who will finally have their own spot in my house.

Fourth is that being underwater means lower taxes. That coupled with a recent refinance means that I am playing a much lower mortgage payment.

So, in general, it's okay. It's all okay. I have a place I call home, and I have earned that.


These lines

These lines around us can be turned around if we can attain new perspectives. There is much that is urgently vibrating around, and the power of these waves must be harnessed and no longer ignored.

To what do I refer? I'm not sure yet. I have grown cryptic of late, and this is perhaps part of the need for increased perspective.

The main part is that I write for myself in that ten percent of my life when I'm not doing the things that I have to do in order to keep the structure of my life together. I don't take time to make this into my craft.

That may be changing. It may have to change. After all, what are we without a strong sense of narrative?

I am the person I say I am, or so I say.

That's what these lines say. That's the meaning that surrounds and binds every word into a sentence.


The slowest Ten Miler

The sky was dark when I pulled up to WTJU to park and the rain came down slowly. Generally I don't run in the rain, using it as an excuse to get on the treadmill where I can watch television and not have to think about where I'm going.

I didn't decide to run the ten-miler until this week, when my friend Morgan told me he was still going to run it despite not having trained. He had run it five times in a row, and didn't want to break the streak.

I wasn't planning on running it, because I had set a pretty lofty goal. I had wanted to break my times for the last three years. I ran it in 77:38 in 2010. Then 80:00 in 2011. 82:00 in 2012.

I've been slipping. And I wanted to do better.

But, I didn't train the way I needed in order to do that. I've been running at least three times a week, but not at any kind of distance. I just haven't had the time.

So, I had thought about skipping it, saving the money, and sleeping in.

But when Morgan said he was going to stick it out, despite his lack of training, I knew I had to do it.

I may not have put the miles in, but I was able to draw upon my training. I came up with a race plan to run the first two miles as slow as possible, and then to see if I could pick it up after that.

After parking, I walked across Emmett Street and made my way to the start line. People were waiting inside the John Paul Jones arena, and there weren't too many people on the street yet. I didn't know what time it was. Slowly, people filled in around me as the sky grew slightly lighter. I didn't see anyone I knew, but I smiled at all of the different things people were saying. Taking in everyone else's energy prevented me from worrying about my own race. I didn't have any doubt at all that I could run the entire way.

We were packed in, waiting. One flaw of the race is that they don't have a big enough public address system, so if you're in the middle of the pack, you can't hear what's going on. You just slowly see waves of people begin to move, and you wait for it to hit you.

And then, the wave hit, and suddenly we were all in it together, strangers no more as our legs picked up and we were all different points on a line, breathing in and converting oxygen to energy, moving through this space of ours, this town. I ran slowly, took in all the sites, and didn't think about much of anything. I just moved through the world as best I could, trying not to collide with anyone.

I ran the first mile slow, second mile slightly faster, and then poured on the gas at mile 3. Unfortunately, the 8 minute mile I ran took a little out of my tank, and so I ran the next one slower. There weren't as many bands on the road because of the rain, which ended right around mile 2.

There's that moment on Alderman where the road is split, and I got to see the front-runner speed past, just behind the motorcade. There's that moment where you realize just how any people are running with you.

There's that moment where your shoe comes untied, and you stop and you're relaxed because you don't care if you win. You're just out there with a couple thousand of your friends.

I love running this race. It's become a rite of passage for me. I'm glad my streak is intact, and I can't wait to talk to Morgan to find out how he did.

*have to run now - didn't really get to finish - but that's okay - I ran ten miles*


A day to be alive

Now that I'm waking up an hour earlier without really wanting to, I'm struck by how much birdsong can stir my soul. Imagine: Those creatures we take for granted arise each day with the sun, heated by the early morning light. They sing tunes that reach our ears when we are in the upper atmosphere of slumber.

We forget the things that make us joyful. That seems to be one of the undercurrents of modern society. That which lifts us up is deemed to be not as important.

Perhaps that's why things often seem so broken.

Someone I know died last week and is being buried today. I'm going to miss it because I have to work. I have to take notes on what happens in a public meeting. This is what I do. I listen to the birdsong of bureaucracy in hopes of writing a tune about how things work.

The person I know drank himself to death. I heard details last night about his passing that truly horrified me. His body fell apart under the onslaught of alcohol. I can fully understand how people want to give in and go that route.

I don't want to go that route. I want to grow towards the light. I want to wake up earlier. I want to embrace the things that make me joyful. I want to learn how to heal and create.

I want to memorialize this person by being better, by encouraging myself to be stronger and by continuing to embrace whatever philosophy seems to have lifted me out of a dark, dark hole.


Marching orders

There are notes that must be sharpened.

There are nails that must be straightened.

There are shelves that must be leveled.



People talk about something and I'm supposed to pay attention. Yet I'm typing these words in this box while they debate the item I'm supposed to be writing about. My brain is looking for the things to write down, I am concerned that I did not exercise today. I had the chance but I did not seize the opportunity.

Life has taken a turn for the numb of late. Head down.