Derek & Cam's Post-College Blog of Confusion, Joy, Geekery, and Man Stuff
I read about 300 pages of a B-level fantasy series today. I had big plans to go to a Burmese Water Festival, and to go into work, and to go for a run, and to maybe go to a brewery. Instead, I read the type of book I loved to read growing up: good ‘ole junk sci-fi/fantasy.
I spent hours riding through Arad Doman, skirmishing with the Seachan army on the shores of Toman Head, summoning the heroes of Artur Hawkwing, and battling the Dark Lord himself while floating above the city of Falme.
I wonder if most people look at fantasy novels the same way I look at Romance books and Rom-Coms. After all, they are both fantasies, indulgences, and escapism… even if one has more cosmic impact, while the other is focused on the pursuit of love.
Though, I guess finding love can have a pretty cosmic impact as well.
“Is this seat taken?”
Her brown eyes blinked
and she removed her earbuds
hair pushed by hands
pulled by gravity
“Oh. No. It’s all yours.”
She smiled warmly.
We sat quietly
the rapid clacking
of furtive fingertips
to future selves
and distant friends
without ever saying a word
to one another
despite sitting two feet
from each other.
She closed her keyboard
put on her jacket
but said nothing
and was gone.
She passed by the window
right in front of me
by a reality
that with a sentence
could have been
would never be.
A silent moment
as our destinies
then separated indefinitely.
There’s a scene in the book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close where Oscar’s grandfather is writing a letter to his wife, and, after a beautiful woman asks him the time of day, he says, “My bones creak with the lives I’m not living.”
I used to feel that creaking a lot. Every time a pretty woman passed me, I would think, “Maybe she’s The One.” Usually, the stars didn’t align, but sometimes I’d get a poem out of a brief infatuation. (see above, from February of 2013).
What is it about our brains that crave companionship, desire love, or at the very least, to be held at night?
"Are you OK, mom?"
For some reason, silence on the phone feels so much more oppressive than in person. When you’re with someone, and they go quiet, you can at least see their face, see if they’re thinking, or smiling, or choking, or abducted by aliens, or crying.
She was on the porch. She threw out her back recently, and she says the biggest frustration was that she was stuck in bed for a week when it was so beautiful outside. I think she’s making up for the lost porch-time.
I miss that porch. The summer after I turned 12 was the first I was allowed to spend summer break home by myself. When I wasn’t over friend’s houses, or Instant Messaging friends about how bored I was, and whether I could I come over, I would sit on the porch and read. That was how I spent three summers— 12, 13, 14, and half of 15 before I got my first job. Reading on the porch, alone, surrounded by trees, with the only company being the sounds of birds and animals, and of course, my books. Now, I would kill for that environment, for the luxury of spending hours upon hours, days upon days, reading outside. Back then, though, it was unbearably boring, and intensely lonely, and my books were the only escape in those pre-driving days.
My mom doesn’t like to read.
"I’m just bored," she said. I could almost hear the birds chirping in the background, the only other company she has other than our cat. "I think I’m going to go for a drive."
I don’t need to ask my mom if her bones are creaking, and even if I did, I’m sure she would think I was asking about her back. Like books, driving is one of the only ways to escape a house in the woods that’s too big, and too isolated, for one person to be in alone for too long.
It breaks my heart knowing its not just the house my mom can’t escape, but the lives she should have lived, haunting her, weighing down her bones, creaking so loudly I can hear them through the phone.
I don’t get love.
I don’t get how it makes me feel better than a long run, or drunker than four-shots of Jameson, or giddier than reunions with old friends, or lighter than being in an elevated state at a Rubblebucket show.
I also don’t get how it makes me feel jealous over laughs from other people’s jokes, or angry at a two-word texts, or unappreciated, less because of their actions, but because of any number of my own neuroses.
I don’t get how I can still be disappointed when the pretty girl playing guitar at the coffee shop says, “This song is for my fiance,” and I don’t get how being in a relationship gives me more confidence around beautiful women than I’ve ever had in my life.
I don’t get how some days I’ll think about her for hours straight, and other days I’ll go hours without thinking of her at all, but always, getting a text from her makes me smile, and hearing her voice sets off a reaction in my brain sharper than if someone had drilled a spike of happiness through my head.
I don’t get how some days I feel like I have Midas’ touch, and everything around me is gold, and other days, like I have Midas’ loneliness, unable to sustain the joy that comes from unexpected emotional wealth, helping cope with the times when you feel like a 13-year old, or a 52-year old, trapped in a house in the woods, looking for an escape from stifling solitude, but really just craving absent love.
The three best friends I have had in Buffalo are moving next month, all within one week of each other.
Lizzy shared an article with me recently about how friendship, in a lot of ways, is more beautiful than romantic love, and a lot more emotionally difficult to lose. The crux of the argument was that strong romantic relationships come from giving up a little bit of yourself to grow with someone else, whereas strong friendships come from two individuals not only respecting the others’ complete individuality, but encouraging it, and helping it flourish. The ability to maintain a great friendship, while simultaneously encouraging them to be completely separate, made it far more powerful, and beautiful, to the author of the article.
At first, I thought it was a crock of shit, but once I realized that my ideal “romantic relationship” also included many of those elements from the ideal friendship, I bought into it a little. Though, mostly just the “more beautiful” part, and less the “harder to lose” part.
Now, with my three best friends here leaving, I’m not so sure. With a romantic love, you’re allowed to replace those positive feelings with something awful— it’s acceptable to be bitter, and angry, and sad, and allow yourself to succumb to those feelings to help you drown out the memory of love in your limbs.
With friends, however, you have to be supportive, and indeed, part of you feels incredibly happy that they’re leaving, and following their dreams, and becoming better versions of themselves.
It just means you don’t have the luxury of all-consuming negative feelings to drown out the creaking of your bones as you imagine life without them.
In this junk sci-fi/fantasy novel, they have this concept of “Ta’veren”, or individuals whose cosmic importance pull not only themselves closer to other ta’veren, but once they interact with you, you’re swept up into their mission, into their web, and are now part of the cosmic importance yourself.
"The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills."
This mantra is the books version of “shit happens,” but with a pre-determination slant. No matter what unfolds in your life, it’s all part of a plan, and if you’re ta’veren, it doesn’t matter if you try to get away from it, the Wheel of Time will pull you back in, weave you back into the flow of the universe, wherever it’s going.
As my friends prepare to leave, I suppose I should take comfort knowing that the Wheel has woven our lives together, and that, as a result, it’ll be easier to stitch them back in once they’ve completed their own narrative weaves for a while.
For some reason though, part of me feels like I did as a 13-year old, looking out at the woods and wondering where my adventure was, feeling trapped, without anything but books to help alleviate the weight on my bones.
I wonder if my mom knows her bones are creaking, and if I will ever get as used to it as she has, or if even after all these years, she’s just as haunted by the noise as I am.
I woke up with this song playing in my head. 25 seconds into the song, it jumps into a few runs of this four-note string that I find absolutely mesmerizing.
When I woke up this morning, it was that four-note section, with the ting-ting-ing of that one piano key, ringing through my head.
I never learned how to play any instruments when I was growing up, so for the most part, listening to music is the equivalent to watching someone fix a car: I understand that this is something you can learn, but mostly it’s just magic to me.
My roommates have a lot of instruments, and when no one is home, I’ll pick one up and play around with it. I tend to find a two-or-three note combo I like, and play it until my brain melts. It’s not music, per se, because it’s kind of like having an iPhone, which has more computing power than NASA had when they first went to the moon, and only using it to play Bejeweled. Even though it’s practically abuse to use so little of the instrument’s potential, I really enjoy making my little three-note combos. It’s meditative. Calming.
This song is nothing special. It’s essentially an entire composition of three-note combos. Literally, aside from one solo, the only job the piano has is to play the same note over and over and over and over.
And it’s amazing. There’s something hypnotic about it.
Maybe not to everyone. Probably most people hear those simple three-note combos and see something lazy and boring.
For me, I have the same feeling with this song as I do when I sit and tap three or four keys on the piano, or quietly pluck guitar strings on the couch when I’m home alone. It’s consuming, but in a comfortable way. Like having your brain osmosis-ified by a pillow.
So yeah, I get that feeling a lot, but I love it. It’s comforting. Compared to other things my brain releases in 2-second intervals, I actually enjoy these little song-snippets.
Haven’t stayed up til 2:00 to finish a book in ages. I need to read more. Or, more pertinently, I need to remember how much I love to read more often. Horns by Joe Hill. Highly recommended. It’s my first night in a bit trying to go to sleep without Benadryl, so we knew this was going to be a late night no matter what - and I can’t think of a better book to have done it with.
It’s 11:00 on a Tuesday, and I’m working on the wedding playlist for a wedding I’m no longer attending. Agreeing to handle the music at Steph’s wedding seemed like a no-brainer a month ago. None of the other bridesmaids wanted the job, so Heather volunteered me, and I was pretty pumped. I mean, wedding music! Perfect mix of cheesy and fun! You have to make people go aww then try and get both the grandmothers and awkward teens on to the dance floor - it’s the ultimate challenge!
And now I’m here, four days post-breakup, finalizing a list of love songs and songs imploring me to put my hands up and shout… and no matter how I frame it, this is pretty damn brutal. Oh and I’m letting people take my computer for the weekend to actually play this mess. Which, fucking somehow, is the best solution I can come up with.
But, let it be known: tonight is the low point! I’m not going to let it get any more Bridget Jones-y than this. We still see each other at work every day, at some point I’m going to return to the team I’m theoretically running (where I’m going to have to see both her and him - shudder), and I still have to pack up all her clothes and do all that stuff, but sitting here tonight designing the setlist for her best friend’s wedding is the worst I’m going to let myself feel. One last nice burst of self pity/general disappointment/frustration here now, but from this point out we’re going to enter recovery mode, alright?
He is, but it’s not going well.
I mean, it’s going alright. It’s just that he spends all day writing about factories and old school buildings, and carefully crafting e-mails to sensitive clients and pushy bureaucrats and at the end of the day he’s more inclined to drink a beer and make up funny lyrics while his roommate strums guitar, or go explore Buffalo with his girlfriend, or dive into that shitty tier-two fantasy novel he’s been reading, or go and film a music video downtown.
It’s tough to motivate yourself to write something meaningful that you really enjoy when you spend all day writing banalities that are somehow valuable. I’m sure it’s the same with people who like carving wood but spend every day making toothpicks at a factory. …Except that actually requires a skill, and my only skill is that my fingers tippity tap their way across a keyboard to the tune of my self-absorption.
Derek’s been doing a lot more talking recently (speaking of self-absorption: check out that 2nd-person narrative). It’s summer, so it’s easier to sit outside a cafe, or a bar, or on your porch, and let the same ideas you’d craft on paper rush out of your mouth unrefined and raw. Over the last year, he’s had more luck organizing his thoughts, so he doesn’t need the time and reflection writing affords. His brain has been calmer, more relaxed, easier to understand, which makes it easier to convey ideas in a less-than-manic conversation.
I was told yesterday that my National Register nominations are sloppy. At first, I was really upset, since I had worked my butt off on them, and it was infuriating (and humiliating) to have my work thrown back in my face. After a while, I got a little angry, since at their most basic level, they were simply bureaucratic documentation devices that no one ever reads anyways, so did it really matter if I spent too long describing the individual rooms, or over-explained the fenestration?
Tomorrow I’m going to respond to the reviewer’s invitation to do a tutorial in Albany with the head of the National Register department. It’s no good butting heads with the people who I rely on to make a living, and I genuinely do want to improve my work.
But part of me was actually kind of happy that I’m not good at writing bureaucratic documentation devices. Part of me was relieved that I’m still learning how to write something that is succinct and devoid of flourish, something that is cogent to the point of lifelessness.
So, yeah, Derek is still writing, but he’s just not doing a good job of it. Just like he’s not doing a good job of calling friends, or responding to anonymous messages (legit, do you just go on messaging sprees every now and then, or is this a “message a day” type thing?).
He misses it though. Just like he misses his friends. It’s just easy to forget how much some things (and some people) mean to you when you get swept up in all that life throws at you.
I’m with Cam—- expect some writing this weekend.
Cam wrote the last post, you anonymous goon. But thanks for the push, we both need it.
Writing is a weird thing. Neither of us are professional writers; it’s just something we do to stay in touch with people, exorcise thoughts, and try to make each other laugh or think. And it IS healthy to do all that, I reckon. But it’s also hard, you know? Commute from work, maybe there was a game in Cambridge or something afterwards, come home, shower, eat, chat with housemates and read about the days World Cup games - suddenly it’s 10:00, and we’re old, and as the clock hands get vertical we get tired, and it would be a lot easier to reread a couple chapters of that book or rewatch an episode of that show. Because for me, writing halfway decently is tough! It takes some work! It’s like going to a mental gym of sorts; you don’t want to go, but after your friend pushes you and you get in a good sweat and then you feel way better.
So this weekend I’ll write something. Deal?
There aren’t enough cultural reference points for being a good boyfriend. I’ve read hundreds of books, watched many movies, seen innumerable episodes of television, and I’m left with pretty much everything a romantic partner can do wrong, but rather fewer instances of what to do right. It’s not just the opposite, you know; straight dual choices like that exist primarily in choose-your-own adventure books. And yes, I know, Ross occasionally does something right, but those are mostly in Big Moments. Do be supportive at the funeral, do provide care when she’s sick, do get her a good birthday present, but the summation of much smaller bits is what a relationship is really built out of, and a field guide to those seems elusive. Maybe that’s why people get into astrology.
Virgo: You’ve been distant the past few days, you should give her a call after work just to chat, then plan out a nice evening for later in the week.
I think you’re just supposed to “get it.” Having to seek answers outside of one’s own chest in this kind of department seems pretty damning in of itself. Like, if you can’t make another human feel loved and liked and respected and taken care of without a damn manual, maybe you don’t really belong in the business?
Scorpio: Ask her where she wants to eat, but be prepared that she wants you to decide, except be warned she actually wants you to pick Thai. Thai’s her favorite, remember, but she knows you don’t really like it so she’d never suggest it herself. Duh, man.
I write nonfiction essays, mostly. Well, in this space I write self-indulging mumbles, but when I’m trying to impress someone with words, it’s going to be light years away from any emotion. A nice, safe essay. Some clever paragraph breaks, twisty en medias res opening, a memorable phrasing or two, strong conclusion - I can do that! Fairly well! But what is it Faulkner said? “The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.” Easier said than done, William. Heart writing requires something to be at once personal and universal, honest but compassionate. It can’t just be me rambling about how I feel, but if I throw in too many parenthetical apologies and asides, the piece just crawls up its own butt in a terrible self-referential morass of overthinking (sorry about the phrasing there).
Pisces: You saw an old friend post a really cool hiking album on Facebook, and you’re now feeling your urban life is inadequate. Don’t take out those feelings on your current relationship, instead put that emotion to work by planning a nice mountainy stroll with her!
There are some people my age who keep plants on their porch. Nice potted plants. Lovely in the spring and summer. And those people have bought pots, acquired flowers, watered these plants, and probably done other plant stuff that I don’t even know about. At some point, that isn’t just some faux-adult display; if you can maintain a nice porch garden, you legitimately have your crap together. To provide some nice contrast, I literally can’t keep a kitchen cactus alive. As it was put to me years ago, “if you can’t handle a cactus, you’re literally less nurturing than a desert.” Hard to argue with.
The upshot is, if someone comes up with a movie (and/or astrology column) about a 20something with some handsome potted plants and a quietly successful relationship, I’d be first in line, with a notebook in hand.
Over the last few days, I think I’ve gotten in at least five arguments about the Bills.
In case you didn’t know, the Bills are looking for a new owner, and probably a new stadium to go along with it.
Sorry. That kind of implies that there’s a stadium just waiting around the corner for them, and it’ll hop into their arms like a lost puppy.
They’re looking for a new owner, and then whoever they find will wring Western New York, and the State in general, for every penny they can get.
And they’ll get a lot of pennies.
This despite the fact that even the lowest attended MLB team last year had twice as many fans attend their games as the highest attended NFL franchise. That even though the attendance numbers are comparable to NBA and NHL, those teams often share their stadiums with other events, and even each other, whereas there aren’t even concerts large enough to sell out a 60,000+ football stadium anymore. This despite the fact that over and over again, studies have shown that public financing of sports stadiums provide no return, and often, severe losses for the cities. This despite the fact that whoever can fork up a billion-plus to buy a professional sports team has no right asking for handouts.
But, it’ll happen. They will get public financing for most of that stadium. Because it’s the Bills.
“You don’t understand. How could you? You’re not from here.”
When it comes to this discussion, that’s actually one of the more polite ways I’ve been told to fuck off.
I get it: I’m not a Bills fan, so how could I possibly know how this feels like? I grew up in New England, where, sure, not only did we keep all of our pro-teams (Sorry Hartford), but they’ve had remarkable success.
But this isn’t about the team itself; it’s certainly not about football, since even Bills fans will attest to the shoddy play of the 53 men they shuffled onto the field each year. Whenever a fan has used, “the Bills keep us relevant on a national stage,” I wonder if they even believe it themselves—the Bills keep us a joke on a national stage.
No, it’s not about football, and it’s certainly not about rational economics.
It’s about love. And I may not be a Bills fan, but I understand that.
I know what it’s like to love something so much that you look past all its flaws. I know what it’s like to dedicate yourself to someone, and pump passion into a relationship with them week after week. I know what it’s like to experience those highs when they reward your love, and I know the pain when it feels like you’re wasting your time, wondering what’s the point of loving someone, or something, who doesn’t feel the same.
The Bills leaving isn’t about losing a football team. It’s about having another love walk out on you. Not just any love— The Love. A love that tested you at every corner, that begged you to give up on it, that repeatedly beat you down, over and over again, yet would always be there next year. That continuously built up your expectations with new promises of better experiences, and fun times, only to let you down time and time again. That did its best through tailgating and greasy food to make true the adage, “find what you love and let it kill you,” and you loved every minute of it, so much so, that you hardly remember the fourth quarter (and let’s be honest, usually that was for the best).
The Bills are a bad lover, but they’re loved nonetheless, and it’s never easy to lose a love, as this city knows all too well. Buffalo may be called the Queen City, but it should be called the City of Broken Hearts.
With the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, Buffalo experienced an expedited decline on par with, and exceeding, most other cities in the country. The first love to break Buffalo’s heart were the people. In the mid-1950s, Buffalo was blessed with vibrant, unique neighborhoods that still have a lasting impression on the city today, with amazing architecture and pervasive culture (ie: drinking). But by 1959, many residents were already moving to the suburbs, and after the Seaway opened, they fled even faster. The brain and wealth drain, coupled with the destruction of the urban core, the vivisection of neighborhoods with highways, and the abandonment of communities, turned the city into a shell of its former self.
The second heartbreak was the loss of jobs. Though most people had moved to the suburbs, many still commuted into the city for work. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, factories all over America began shuttering up and shipping manufacturing across the country, to Mexico, and over seas, and Buffalo, always a blue-collar town, felt the sting of that loss deeply.
The scars that this abandonment can still be seen on our collective consciousness. Last year, the Mayor of Lackawanna destroyed one of his city’s architectural treasures just to be rid of one of the last vestiges of that abandonment. The demolition of the Bethlehem Steel administration building was akin to finding a book behind your desk that given to you by a former lover… and ripping it to shreds in a kathartic outburst. It would only have been more perfect if he ended up getting drunk and calling up the defunct voicemail of the company and begging for an explanation, once again, why they left.
Those scars are clearly shown whenever a company holds us hostage for a handout, like Delaware North, whose owner is a Buffalo native and the richest man in the region, yet still used the threat of leaving to leverage millions of dollars in incentives and tax breaks out of us. We are so terrified that another company will leave, taking jobs and the people that fill them.
So, when the Bills come asking for money, they’ll get it. Not because it’s a good business decision (for anyone except the future owner, that is), or because they’re even contenders who put good products together year after year, or even that it’s tied to our city’s history.
No, they’ll get the money because this city has had its heart broken too many times, and it can’t let another lover leave it.
When I was twenty, I had my first real breakup.
Like most first breakups, it was awful.
I’ll spare you the details of the relationship itself, but it’s so horrendously comical how it ended that I can’t help but share. Everything from driving three hours to her college in a snowstorm, to getting a flat, to sitting in the car while she cried, and then even after we were broken up, needing to borrow her car to drive to my cousin’s house… and then back to her dorm to beg her, sobbing, not to end it. Now it seems ridiculous, but at the time, when my four year relationship ended, I pretty much landed in a pit of suckiness, and transformed into a huge baby. And cried. A lot.
Most of that can be attributed to being twenty, which sucks in its own right, but a lot of it was from having that first moment when love stabs in you the kidney and twists the knife. It was devastating. At first I thought it was so painful because I assumed I loved her more than she loved me, but instead, I realized that in the course of that four-year relationship, I had loved her more than I loved myself. As a result, I turned into an overweight, pasty, sniveling, balding adolescent mess. No wonder we broke up; I would have broken up with me too.
It was really shitty to realize, but my friends helped me get over it. They reminded me that I had a lot going for me, of qualities I’d forgotten, and of who I was before the relationship. So, I hit the gym, I lost a lot of weight, I shaved my head, I studied more. Eventually I remembered who I was, and forgot the suckiness that comes with having someone stomp on your heart.
Buffalo. You’re better than this.
I’ve been here. I’ve been in that place, worried about someone leaving you, about ripping out your soul like so many have done before, despite you putting in so much love and passion. I’ve been in that place where I’ve wondered who I am without someone else to help define me, looking around at how many problems I need to fix, how many flaws I have, and needing that relationship as a crutch to help me hide from myself.
Stop. You’re better than this.
Yeah, our roads suck. We can fix them. Yeah, our schools are failing. We can fix them. Yeah, our city hall is dysfunctional and slow. We can fix it. Yeah, our politicians are either corrupt or inept, but likely both. We can fix that too. Yeah, we have highways in our parks and through our neighborhoods, and screwing up our street grid downtown. Let’s fix tall that.
When I came to Buffalo, I fell in love with this city without giving one single damn about its sports teams. I fell in love with the neighborhoods, with the tree-lined streets and the rows upon rows of Victorian houses. I fell in love with the waterfront, which looks more like the shoreline of an ocean, and not a lake. I fell in love with the people, who were Mid-West nice, but Northeast practical, and all of whom liked to drink and could not give a damn what you thought as they ate something that was deep fried and greasy. I fell in love with the buildings, which outshone anything I’d seen in my home state of New Hampshire, and the countryside, which, while flatter than my former home, was every bit as spacious and peaceful.
So, when I hear people who grew up here become apocalyptic at the prospect of the Bills leaving, I wonder whether they see those things. I wonder if they are so blinded by their love for a sports team that has given them nothing, and has asked for everything (including $130 million in renovations of the current stadium), that they forget to love the city itself.
Maybe I don’t understand. Maybe it’s because I shared four teams with five other states, so we never had this fear. Maybe it’s because the owner of my favorite football team paid for his stadium entirely himself. Maybe it’s because New Hampshire doesn’t have any taxes, and since the little money the state had was focused on quality of life issues, I feel that should be the priority.
But maybe it’s because I can see Buffalo for everything that’s great about it, and not for all the things that used to be great about it. Maybe it’s because I don’t have decades of abandonment issues, meaning I’m less concerned by what we might lose and more interested in what we might become.
Buffalo, I hope you don’t get your heart broken, I truly don’t. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, not even the guys at Goodbar who have replaced Tom Brady’s first name with “Fuck.” I just don’t want to be taken advantage of by people preying on our collective insecurities anymore. We have too much going for us to be pushed around by bullies, whether we love them or not.
Buffalo, don’t pay for a new stadium. Make this team earn your love for once. Make it a two-way relationship, rather than suffering more abuse by people who have repeatedly taken advantage of you. And for what? Year after year of heartbreak? If they stay and pay for their stadium, then they really are worth your time and energy (and season ticket holding).
And if the Bills leave, well, fuck them; you’re better than this.