Thanksgiving Ruminations from Texarkana

(written on Thursday, 11/24/2005 23:58:55. Thanksgiving day.)

So of course the high that I’ve been experiencing the whole week would end like a car crash this morning. I got the sleep I’ve been missing, but due to the cold, the uncomfortable “bed”, and my nieces, nephew, and sister, the sleep I got wasn’t worth much, so I slept for ten, maybe eleven hours. The moment I open my eyes, glance at the blinds, and look up to the ceiling, I started seeing spots. Thanks to a casual glance while waking up, I got a migraine, first thing in my morning. On thanksgiving. So I took some acetaminophen and hoped for the best. The kids were no help, but I hung on long enough to take a shower after they left. By then, the spots were gone and the migraine was a dull throb. Picked up my mother and we headed off to my aunt Janet’s sister’s house for dinner.

Dinner was good, of course. Ate a plateful, had some dessert. Played quiet, didn’t have much to say because the migraine recovery. Some time later we all left, and I dropped my mother off back at her home and I drove on. Went to Liz and Laura’s house, hung out with them for a while. The girls went to deliver a plate to their spry 92-year-old great aunt, so I chatted with Doug, Liz’s husband, for a good hour or so. Longest chat I’ve had with him. Had a good time shooting the shit. The girls came back, Jon woke up from his nap, and we had a few laughs on the back porch. Came back inside, chatted some more, and then the television got turned on and we somehow stopped talking. Funny when that happens.

After some hour or so of my second helping of the “That 70’s Show” marathon today, I decided to head on. Went driving around, decided to plug up my laptop, get some GPS data, do a little bit of wardriving, and now I’m here again, IHOP, tapping away on my laptop again. The cashier/hostess remembered me from last night and recommended the waiter to seat me somewhere near a power outlet, just like I requested last night. Yeah, she remembered. Someone should give her a raise.

The problem I have with my time is knowing how to spend it. When I’m home for long stretches of days, my time is spent sleeping short hours, watching television, doing a whole bunch of nothing, making no plans, seeing the few friends I have, and leaving their houses so late that I really don’t want to drive around to check things out. The problem is filling my time in a memorable, quality fashion. I think, now that the holiday and my day at OBU are out of the way, that I should follow up on some plans I made, y’know, some ideas. I would like to track down my friends Eddie and Michelle. It’s been over 5 years since I last saw them, and I hear they keep asking about me. It will be really good to see them again. Also, if things get too slow, I’ll grab some of my friends and go to an empty parking lot somewhere to do the burning mushrooms floating newspaper thing I saw my Austin friends doing behind Mojo’s some years ago. There’s things to do, y’know? Hell, I could show pictures to my family. I think I’ll do that tomorrow.

Ah, yeah. Texarkana life. Some drunk dude just came up to me, asked me if I was lookin’ at Playboy on this thing. You could smell it on his breath. Heh. And…I just saw some other dude walking around with a UT Longhorns ball camp on. I just can’t escape that, not even for one weekend. And, AND, just to show how connected this town is to the pulse of the fashion nation (MTV), last night I saw some real emo kids, the kind that look EXACTLY LIKE some emo kids I saw back at Spiderhouse. It…was…creepy. Seriously, same look.

Liek omg this is so going in my eljay.

The Trip Home, Trip to Ouachita

(written on Wednesday, 11/23/2005 10:33:39 PM)

Whirlwind. Past 24 hours. Past week. It’s Thanksgiving holiday, my first trip home since Easter, and I’ve been going and going. Since my convalescence this past weekend, I’ve been running on some kind of edge. I’ve noticed it. Alertness. Awakeness, even in the lack of sleep. It’s all the preparations for the trip. The getting the car ready, the packing, the attention to making things happen. In the course of 2 days I hacked up a script to log what it reads from a borrowed GPS receiver. The logs from my drives are beautiful. Pages of useful data of just me…driving to Texarkana last night and, today, Ouachita.

Yeah, I went. Since I was in the neighborhood, loosely speaking, I took the hour-long trip up to Arkadelphia to see my alma mater. This December will mark my ten years since I was a student there; December 14, 1995 was my last day of enrollment. And though I’ve been back to OBU two or three times since in 1996 and 1999, this time around had an extra impact, a certain amount of poignance. It’s weird. It’s good to see the places I still sometimes happily, sometimes ashamedly, sometimes frightfully dream about and remember. And it’s creepy to see the changes, to see which buildings are torn down, which are brand new, and which are still around in all their mid-90’s glory. I’ve been away from OBU for long enough that the act of looking at the campus inspired few heavy emotional responses, and the memories that arrived on first trigger were cold, matter-of-fact memories; place names, hidden areas, geographic layout, things no longer there. But the fallout, the memories that return to me after I saw those places, those memories are at once both warm like fire and cold like an Arkadelphia winter, and they’ve sparked tonight’s firestorm of emotions.

It’s a mouthful, and I’m still trying to ruminate and digest today’s trip.

I shot around 2 1/2 rolls of film, just buildings, spaces, surroundings. No people. The fact that the campus was quiet, that school was out the day before the holiday (I had thought they’d be open), made things empty and solitary, but after my 4 summers spent on campus, the experience of the silent emptiness there wasn’t so alien to me. I did drive up there hoping to visit with old staff and faculty still there and to do some business with my school records, which didn’t happen, but just the experience of being back was enough to justify everything.

In some sense it was the Ouachita that I remembered, and in another sense it was like I was a floating intruder surveying a foreign place, an interloper in a forbidden zone checking up on its changed, hidden secrets. If there had been students there today, if there had been faculty and staff, it would have felt like being a welcomed stranger, like how I feel when I’m walking around Renfest on a late Sunday afternoon near sunset: everything is quieting down, everyone is folding up, the parking lot is decompressing, and I’m walking around between the booths where my few Rennie friends do their business. Yeah, just like that.

But today everything was just empty. The only human noise was from the construction crews, the few stragglers walking around campus, the campus security truck tooling around, and the ever-present Arkadelphia autumn breeze knocking around the leaves. I took the occasion to walk down the hillside beneath the student center to the Ouachita River, to the river bottoms where I spent so much of my time. They’d done some work there, made a walking trail, built steps and platforms down the hillside, thinned out a lot of the trees to open up the space to the campus uphill. The pavillion is still there, and so is the picnic table where my first girlfriend and I ground into each other in the heat of early summer. The odor, the smell down there on the river bottoms, the damp soil, the volumes of still water, the smell of river rot…that smell became my friend, my elixir, my aphrodisiac. I smell it and I am at peace. And today I took it in by the lungfulls. It’s still in my soul. THAT is the Ouachita that I miss.

The people I knew there were good people; not to gloss over everything with a rose-colored sheen, but they were my friends. They were the fire that kept me warm, the spark that burned new experiences into my memories. They were there with me…ten years ago. Not today. I think that was part of what is so surreal about today’s visit, and so saddening and angering. We’ve moved on, they’ve moved on; there were no familiar faces there today to share in today’s experience. I think that’s the hardest part.

It’s heavy, these floods, these torrents of memories and emotions that’re filling my head right now. Just looking around and seeing everything has brought them forward after so many years of not being triggered. There are the big picture memories that’ve always been there, but today brought back the tiny memories, the things that’ve been taken for granted, the decorations on someone’s house on the edge of campus, the fact that the ground near the theater is covered not with grass but with clover, the angled plaques mounted on a courtyard…those memories have come back.

The side trip to Lake DeGray, where I loved going, didn’t help much with the flooding. Went to the Highway 7 beach because it was the closest of the places I used to haunt, and it had the expected late-November empty beach hauntedness. The breeze was a wind over the lake, chopping up little waves in my direction as I stood on the point looking over the lake at the waning sunset. The parking lot was empty. The water was low. And everything had a heavy, heavy poetic air. This is the sunset. I cannot go back. No more dawns. The music playing on my laptop’s jukebox affirmed it, hammered it home:

“The paths that I once tred
Have all but gone
Only embers now smoulder
Where bridges once burned
I feel alive and yet I fear
What may happen now
I know,
I can’t return

Can I start again?
Erase this pain
By casting doubts into the waters
Asking judgment of the sea
Though Fortune may guide the fools
I have no wish to be free
Until I am gone.”

-VNV Nation “Distant (Rubicon II)”

In the past week I’ve been ill, I’ve been hyper, I’ve been clicking through the to-do list, I’ve been awake. I even finally and officially met this girl I’ve been exchanging glances with at Mojo’s for the past 3 months. And I’ve been driving, enjoyably and alertly driving. Sightseeing. And now I’m feeling, feeling things I can’t explain without metaphors; I know the words, but I can’t put them together, can’t craft what is necessary to communicate these things. That is my state. I’m still digesting.

It’s Too Hot

Hello again. Time for your bi-monthly dose of new site news.

Things are moving slowly as far as stuff for the site. Nothing new there. I have the usual Big Ideas that I’ve had since the inception of Phaysis that haven’t been brought to fruition. But some of those ideas I’m getting new ideas about. Since I am now prone to imbibe a daily intake of coffee, ideas are popping and I’m making little touches to some code here, drawing some designs there.

I’ve set up a portable test server on my laptop and am experimenting with different content management systems, trying to find one that will fit my needs best. Some months ago I took a hard look at my history of glacial progress and decided that if I’m to have any luck with my site that I should stick to learning and using a prebuilt CMS instead of rolling my own. Well, I tried that track and found a few that fit what I needed…kinda. But the knowledge, code snippets, and concepts I’ve gained from examining them, hacking them to work on the limited setup I currently have Phaysis on, I’ve gotten new notions about writing my own CMS. We’ll see how it all fares.

On a negative note, I’ve been getting more spam than ever, and I have a feeling it’s from unsubscribing from a mailing list provided by a local radio station. Where I was once getting 12-ish messages a day I’m now getting 30+, and that was since unsubscribing. So the moral to be learned here today is that you can’t even trust the ones you can trust; they may be in a “business partnership” with other companies who aren’t bound by the first company’s privacy policy. Keep that in mind.

For shame, KROX-FM/101X. For shame.

I Asked For a Change

Some weeks ago I was asking for some kind of sea change in my outlook, looking for some kind of change in my life, something to make life less stale, more inspired.

I got what I was asking.

Last week I got curious and spent a few evenings looking through the boxes of photographs I’ve taken, all of them from 1993 to the present. This encompasses several eras of my life, from the latter half of my time at OBU to my first post-college residence in Texarkana, to my time in Greensboro, to my time back in Texarkana, and then the 5 years here in Austin, so reviewing these pictures was a flood of memories. The exercise gave me a more level perspective on my current life and I drew renewed ideas as I looked at those pictures. The people, the places, the memories. The ex girlfriends.

I found the pictures of a girl whom I consider the best girlfriend I’ve ever had, the girl from North Carolina. Our relationship in ’97 was incredibly brief and bright, interrupted by my sudden but necessary move back home. Things were starting to warm up between us and then *foop* it was cut short. We kept in touch in the early part of ’98, and she spent her spring break in Texarkana visiting me for a wonderful week before she returned to North Carolina. Some bad stuff went down in her life shortly thereafter and during the following summer we lost touch.

A few months after I moved here in 2000, I was in my bedroom cleaning out my wallet of all the crap that had accumulated. Pulled cards out, slips of paper, receipts. I found her old number and froze. All I had to do was call, but the uncertainty and trepidation took over and I put the number to the side. I drummed up the courage some weeks later and called only to find that the number was dead. So I made the determination to find her; but each time I searched online and found fresh leads, I felt creepy about digging for an old flame and put the information to the side, to never act on it. And I’ve been doing that dance for 5 years.

Well, the pictures I found of her Wednesday night enboldened me. Enough. Enough of the waffling, of the creepiness, of the uncertainty. If she is with someone else, then I will know. If she is still alive, then I will know. If she still thinks of me, then I will know. So I did a new search for her, combined it with the old searches and followed those leads. I sent out emails to people who had websites that referenced her asking if they knew her and could do the contact info forwarding thing. Done. That was easy enough.

Friday morning I awoke to an email from her in my inbox. Elated, I wrote her back before I left for work and after work called the number she provided me. We talked for an hour and it was good. Gave truncated, annotated histories; tried to compress 7 years of the past into a phonecall. She’s had a rough rollercoaster ride since ’98, the troughs and peaks fiercely overshadowing my own thrillride. But there’s still so much more to catch up on, much more to explore. We’re back in touch, and it is good that we’re talking again.

So. These new developments have me rethinking my own lifestyle, about my future, about my state in life. Without going into much detail, I’m looking for a renewal in my income, in my goals, in my motivations. I’m at a heavy time and I have heavy concerns now. It’s time to put the unnecessary parts of trepidation aside and take some responsibility instead of floating along on hopes and comfort zones. I’m taking the little steps to examine the way I think, the thought processes, the emotions, trying to understand them and, finally, to control them for my own betterment, like a watered-down method of zen buddhist meditation. If I can help myself in any way to take things into my own hands, I won’t find myself irrelevant at 40 and hungry at 58.

And so there it is. There is my sea change. These are heavy, pregnant times.

Things Get Stale

Well, an ol’ friend of mine, Colin, has moved off to North Carolina. He’s excited about the prospects of starting fresh in a new town with a house of his own after living here for 19 years. I’ll miss him, and I wish him the best in his new life in beautiful Asheville.

I’ve been thinking of my life, of the way it was when I lived in North Carolina. My talks with Colin, sharing my experiences, memories, joys, and caveats about that state have brought a lot of my life there back to me, and I feel so weird about it. Times there were tough; I make no bones about it, they were tough. Hard scrabble. But every place I went was still fresh. Not much in that mid-20’s time in my life had a chance to go boring.

Well, to think of it, that’s a lie; there were excruciatingly boring times; stale. Very stale. As stale as the air in my closed bedroom; the smell of cigarette residue, dust, chemicals from my work clothes, and sleep. For the eleven months that I worked my night shift job at PBM Graphics, I was nocturnal. I tried what I could to make something of my daylight hours. Gave it the old college try. I would catch the bus and hang out on a city lawn somewhere or do some shopping or just go walking around. But until I was fired from that job, I spent my days and my off nights mostly alone. Wrote a lot of poetry and journal entries. Got emo before “emo” was a word. Worked on my website. Life was dull, and I tried everything I could to make it exciting.

And then, as I mentioned, I got fired. That’s when my whole world changed. I was a daywalker again. But with no income it was a hard life. Paul and I were no longer roomates; he found an apartment in a triplex house north of the UNCG campus, I lived in a locking bedroom in a boarding house just south of campus. Rentwise I was on my own and I did what I could to make rent. Even went so far as to rake the thick blanket of leaves from the boarding house property in a deal to work off my rent.

Outside of looking for work and doing odd jobs here and there, I supported myself by “telemarketing”, meaning I would call my mother and ask her to bank transfer some money, which she did because, for once, she could. And I lived that way for over two months until I wrecked my car in the first snow of the winter and made the decision to move back home.

Well, it was during those hard times that I met the greatest people who ended up being the greatest friends someone could have. Kind people. Smart people. Not your typical coffee shop people. People who would listen to your problems and offer useful advice. People who would have you over for dinner and drinks, no charge. People who would drive you around when your car is stranded and in need of parts from the auto store. I don’t know if Greensboro is just loaded with people like that, or if it was all happenstance that I crossed paths with them and their charity, or if it was just the state my life was in that demanded my reaching out to others to survive, but those were good people. They made my life rich. Their general lack of negative comments and attitudes helped me stay upbeat, kept things fresh. Gave me good perspective.

So, I’m here in Austin, on the eve of my 5-year anniversary as a resident of this good city. Colin has gone away, and I know of others who are making the same moves to other places, and sometimes I have to stop and wonder what it is that’s urging me to keep my life in Austin. I get shaken about it sometimes, because right now my life is really, really stale. It feels that way more often than not. It’s good to be established, I guess. It’s good to have longevity when it comes to jobs, residences, habits, friendships, being a regular patron somewhere, yeah…but it’s stale. It’s boring.

I’m not considering moving back to North Carolina. At least not seriously. I know in my heart and mind that if I did it would not be the world I knew. Those 15 months there were unique and cannot be duplicated. They were at a time in my own lifespan where the neurology of feeling “fresh” about life was more prevalent, where feeling haggard and tired didn’t happen. I’ve aged, and these eyes of mine have seen a lot since then, so the innocence, newness, virginity of living there won’t exist, at least not to the same scale. Just as anywhere else. I’m sure if I would’ve lived in Greensboro for five years I’d most likely be feeling some semblance of what I’m feeling now.

I feel like I need a change. A different view on life. A different set of motivations. I’m not asking for sudden termination at my job. I’m not asking for eviction from my apartment. I’m not even asking for a different roomate. What I’m asking for is a sea change in my mindset; the ability to see things with new eyes, to find things that are still fresh, that are allowed to be fresh in the eyes of my friends. I don’t want the pass-or-fail edge that my final 2 months in Greensboro had, but I want the attention it inspired in me, the connections it inspired me to make. The last time I felt that was almost 5 years ago, and it’s time for an end to the stale.