Derek & Cam's Post-College Blog of Confusion, Joy, Geekery, and Man Stuff

 

Anonymous asked
Have you ever had part of a song stuck in your head, but you're not really sure what song it's from? You might not even be sure it's from a song at all, you might have just made it up, or it was part of a commercial or something. That's happening to me. It's a two second loop that pops up several times a day, and I can't place it. It is rather annoying.

[Derek]

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. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9recs__84s

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.

The Hubble Ultra-Deep Field was taken over 11 days by the Hubble Space Telescope, zoomed in to look at an area equal to roughly one thirteen-millionth of the total area of the sky. Very small area. But the image nevertheless contains over 10,000 objects, most of which are galaxies. Most of those galaxies in turn harbor thousands of millions of stars of their own, and many of those stars have planets. All of that in a tiny, apparently blank corner of sky. 
Even our own solar system is just crazy, staggeringly large: spending 30 seconds on this site drives that home real well.
Faced with that sort of cosmic insignificance, most stuff fades away. Not much left other than tiny people all striving. And not much to do about it other than be happy and be kind. 

The Hubble Ultra-Deep Field was taken over 11 days by the Hubble Space Telescope, zoomed in to look at an area equal to roughly one thirteen-millionth of the total area of the sky. Very small area. But the image nevertheless contains over 10,000 objects, most of which are galaxies. Most of those galaxies in turn harbor thousands of millions of stars of their own, and many of those stars have planets. All of that in a tiny, apparently blank corner of sky. 

Even our own solar system is just crazy, staggeringly large: spending 30 seconds on this site drives that home real well.

Faced with that sort of cosmic insignificance, most stuff fades away. Not much left other than tiny people all striving. And not much to do about it other than be happy and be kind. 

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? 

Anonymous asked
is derek writing anymore?

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. 

Anonymous asked
is cam writing anymore?

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. 

The Bills and Broken Hearts

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.

[CKL]

Here I am, a man with a plan. If you had told me a year ago that I would be reasonably confident I know what I want to do with my life in just 12 months, I’d have probably exhibited some strange combination of relief and dubiousness. But here we are. I want to be a teacher, I think I’ll be good at it eventually, and now I just need to make it happen.

That last bit is the catch, obviously. Being an elementary school substitute is a nice start, but hardly more than that. I have to take classes and get certified and decide what age group/subject I want to teach and think about a Masters and so on. And for some reason I find that thoroughly paralyzing.

I’m not sure where it comes from. Some weird combination of fear and a deeply unsexy dislike of hard work, I expect. I came bearing this attitude of ‘I’m 24, and all I really want out of any job is enough money to fund adventures and not too big a drain on my day-to-day happiness.’ It felt way more important to have fun and listen to music and throw frisbees and jump in the ocean with friends. But now I’ve got an opportunity to follow a potential calling, and it’s a good calling, one where I make an actual difference for kids. And it means working hard at getting better at something I’m not brilliant at, making some plans for years in advance…getting my crap together, in short. 

I tried to explain it the other night. If you’re walking through the woods to Grandmother’s house, it makes sense you might run a bit late, because there are hills and wolves and such. But if there’s a highway between your house and Grandma’s, and you still elect to go traipsing through those woods, any excuses you have for being late evaporate. You should have just zoomed over there on the road! So basically I want to frolic in the metaphorical woods but still not be too late to Grandmother’s, which is a hard enough balance to strike that I’m finding leaving the front door a bit tricky. 

It’s a pretty good problem to have in general, don’t get me wrong. At the elementary school I’m never bored, never watching the clock, constantly challenged, and surrounded by children who are adorable if a bit smelly (the fifth graders seem not to have discovered deodorant yet). I’ve got a good apartment situation, many friends nearby, and a healthy relationship, all in a city I adore. AND winter is actually gone. So the life stress meter should really only be at a 2 or 3, and I need to keep reminding myself of that.