Monday, August 10, 2015

Let Your Arrow Fly

Late one night during my vacation in Nashville, I saw an article in my Facebook newsfeed from Vanity Fair with the headline, "Tinder and the Dawn of the 'Dating Apocalypse.'" I read through it and thought, Is this really what I encounter these days as a single guy, hoping to date someone again? Since I'm not on Tinder, the answer was no.

I found the article to ring true about a few people I know who are a little younger than me. I have yet to see in my dating life where hook-up culture clashed with my hopes of meaningful conversations and monogamy. But the article did make me do a mental inventory of where I'm at now.

Since my previous relationship ended last summer, I have been on exactly one date. I don't wear that as a badge of honor or an albatross. Simply, it's the reality that has happened. I've needed time to grieve over a lot of matters that happened last year. My hope has been to work on myself, trying to clean my side of the street to the best of my ability. That way, someone new can walk down it without fear stepping into garbage, vomit, and/or poop.

Still, there are blockades to getting down to a thorough cleaning. I'm not one of those people that can immediately bounce back into another relationship when one ends. I know many people who can do that, but I accept I'm not like them. I'm not better or worse; I take things at a different pace.

What hampers my ability to open up to new people comes from obsessive thinking and awkwardness when I am around people I don't know. I'm always thinking too much about this or that, usually some bad experience that I use as an excuse to not try something again. Previous failures have erroneously made me think I should never try something like them ever again. The whole, "What can I do to make sure this never happens again?" served as apt excuse for so many years, unfortunately.

My twenties were filled with a lot of parties and concerts, meeting many people I still keep in touch with. I didn't really date anyone, but the topic of dating somebody was on my mind all the time. I don't long for those days to come back, as I am much happier in my mid-30s with the occasional party and even more concerts than before. The thing is, I appear to be a social person when I'm with people I know, but when I'm unaccompanied, I'm detached and awkward. If I'm at a show, I'm very focused on watching the bands, rather than getting drinks and trying to make new connections.

Miraculously, I have been in a couple of extremely meaningful relationships in the past five years. One relationship came out of suggestion by a mutual friend. The other came from being on OKCupid for a few months. Neither relationship was a wasted experience as I learned a lot about relationships in general. Some were great lessons; others were painful lessons.

I had resisted online dating for years, as people can easily fall in love with the idea of a person rather than the realities of that person. Somehow, through the clutter of the New to Town, Lived Here All My Life, Single Mom Looking for a Strong Christian Man, World Traveler With No Plans to Settle Down, and other stereotypes, I found success with someone. But after many months of being on the site again, I have to admit I strongly agree with the flaws of online dating in this article on Now, it's like I maintain my profile as if it's a beacon signal, hoping I could find someone special -- and that person finds me special, too.

A very helpful way of dealing with the person I really am came from reading an article on the type of people I go for, based on my Myers-Brigg personality type. As an ENFJ (extraversion, intuition, feeling, judgment), writer April Lee seemed to know me all too well. In regards to the personality type I'm usually attracted to: "The one who gives you half as much as you give them," she wrote. "The one who you really really really like, but doesn’t necessarily like you as much back. You believe in hard work when it comes to relationships, and you’re determined to prove that you’re faithful and trustworthy."

As for the person I should aim for, I agree with what Lee suggested: "The one who tries. Someone who acknowledges that passion is important, but understands that effort is what truly keeps people together. Someone who initiates as often as you do, and is willing to share every part of their life with you."

Now that I've laid all of this stuff out, I think about ways I can improve my situation. I know I don't want to be single for the rest of my life, but I don't want to be with someone who makes me miserable, either. No one person is without weaknesses or flaws, and not everyone is sane for every hour of every day of the year. As my parents have told me time and time again, it's about finding somebody that you can balance your life with, and vice-versa.

It's been very easy to stick to this idea for many months: don't turn down an opportunity to meet new people. I've been extremely fortunate to get involved with a variety of circles thanks to my continued involvement in the local music scene, as well as people who love the radio station, The Ticket. Facebook and Twitter have done wonders on that front.

Still, it hasn't been easy to find someone I could be romantically compatible with. There have been some near-misses, as well as a few potentials that ended in disaster. Those don't make me want to throw in the towel. But I won't lie, sometimes I start to believe bullshit like, "Women only care about how much money you make" and "You'll die alone and miserable unless you step out of your comfort zone." Those don't help me pave new trails, but there are times when I give those ideas a lot of time in my mind.

Whenever I hear a creative type dedicate his or hers work to a longtime companion or spouse, I freely admit I'd love to express that about somebody someday. Whenever I hear a creative person add he or she would be nothing without that special someone, I'd like to tell what my experience has been. As in the reality of being "nothing" in that person's eyes.

I don't consider myself a failure on this aspect of life. Some things take time, longer than most people I know. Everyone I'm close to is either married, in a relationship, or getting over someone. I'm surrounded by good people, some who are in kinds of relationships I'd like to be. Others, well, represent kinds of relationships I hope to never be in. The hook-up culture has not destroyed their hopes of a lasting marriage or commitment. They've let life take its course and have not been afraid to stay with the right people.

So, that's where I'm at on this topic. It's an ongoing thing, as I still maintain this attitude: we all want to love and be loved. The harder one fights off that notion, the harder life is. It's vital to accept a two-way street relationship, and to never stop wanting to be in one.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

We're Allowed to Be Alive

Eleven hours to get there, ten to get back, and one car battery later, I'm back from Nashville. My summer vacation came and went in a flash, but I came back home with a greater sense of clarity. Much more than I thought I would, actually.

Instead of a day-by-day/hour-by-hour account, let me run down the highlights between Thursday night to Saturday night: ordered tacos and got a sandwich and hot wings instead, saw Michael Ian Black do standup and kill, watched Filmage again, went to four record stores, bought Jawbox's first album on vinyl, ate a couple of large plates of Indian vegetarian food, hit up a Guitar Center, got a new car battery, helped with setting up (and tearing down) a drum set, helped do merch inventory, visited Sun Studio again and went to Ardent Studio for the first time, and got home safely.

The main attraction of seeing Braid and Beach Slang was the pinnacle of my whirlwind visit. Both bands put on excellent sets, mixing old and new material well. I spent a lot of time with the Braid guys, hanging out and volunteering to help in any way that I could. They are good people that I have known for over ten years, and I look forward to seeing them again, whenever that is. Getting to know the Beach Slang guys was a major plus. I freely admitted to them about how much I like their sound, and I hope to see them again on tour later this year.

 Driving almost endlessly down I-40 on the way home, I didn't dread coming back to my regular routine. I realized this "vacation" was a way for me to take a break from mental doldrums swirling around in my head. Spending almost 24 hours of helping a band get from place to place and setting up and tearing down gave me the chance to not think too much about topics that have been on my mind lately. I now understand that I am an obsessive thinker, and have been for many years. Recognizing this as a problem can help me work on solutions for what I can do in the foreseeable future. 

Quite often, I hear people say their vacations are never long enough and they can't wait to go on another one. I'm not thinking that way, as I enjoy doing what I do in my regular routine, for the most part. I needed this trip, as perverse as it might sound to drive a long way for a show. But it wasn't just a show for me. Most shows aren't.


Monday, August 03, 2015

This Road I'm Travelling

As summer draws to a close, I have my eyes set on another long roadtrip. Last year, I drove all the way to St. Louis, a town I had never visited before. This year, it's another town I've never visited: Nashville. I'd been close to Nashville before (Memphis, to be specific), but I've never been there.

There are multiple reasons why I chose Nashville. My friends in Braid will kick off a short tour there when I'm in town. They aren't coming to Texas anytime soon, and I haven't seen them in a couple of years. I always enjoy spending time with them, and it makes a much more involved experience. It beats standing in a dark bar for a couple of hours, surrounded by people staring down at their shoes or their smartphones. (Full disclosure, I usually am one of those people at shows, too.)

The drive to Nashville is not short, but it's not insanely long, either. Ten hours on the road is enough for me, and that's how long it will take for me to get there. I look forward to seeing a part of Tennessee that I have never seen before, and that's a major plus about traveling to parts of the country I've never seen before.

Like my trip last year, I have a limited amount of time to make the most of my trip. I get more out of a trip this way, as I don't have much time to fart around. I plan on hitting up a few record stores and eating at some restaurants my friends have recommended to me. The morning after the show, I'll be back on the road and heading home, hopefully stopping in Memphis for a couple of sight-seeing matters (Sun Studio and Ardent Studio, mainly).

I'm at a point in my life where I force myself to take some kind of vacation every year. I'm thankful to work for a company that encourages its employees to take time off, and one that doesn't shame you for wanting some time off in the first place. I don't think of the years I spent with my former employer as wasted years. The times I was able to vacation in Chicago, Little Rock, Memphis, and Destin really stick out from all the days I spent working, partying, walking the dog, writing articles and books, playing shows, and seeing shows.

I continue to choose a responsible attitude with leaving town for a few days. I have a plan to get to my destination and return. I don't have many responsibilities in my life, aside from work, paying rent, and taking care of two adorable dogs, but they are important responsibilities. As much as I look forward to spending a few days away from them, I look forward to coming back to them.

And yes, this year's trip is another part of the process in grieving the people (and relationship) I lost last year. Life has been, overall, significantly better in 2015, but there are still a lot of questions about where the hell my life is going next. I recently talked about grief in a feature I wrote for the Observer. Talking to Brandon Curtis, a former Dallas resident about his current projects, we openly talked about grief as he continues life, thinking all the time about his younger brother Benjamin, who passed away in 2013. Talking to Brandon was incredibly therapeutic, and I appreciated his openness with me. It was a conversation I had to have.

No other long roadtrips are on deck for me this year. Aside from a family reunion in Round Rock over the Labor Day weekend and family visits during the holidays, the rest of my year will be going to a lot of shows (especially this month and next month) and doing as much as I can to live with what I have now.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ghost Hunting

The past couple of months have been very productive. Probably more than ever before, which has been good for some peace of mind. Between the regular work hours at my full-time job and the freelance writing for the Observer, there hasn't been much time to sit around and think. It's just been go, go, go and go to sleep at some point late at night.

Some of the most recent articles that I most proud of had been in the works for a while. The story I did on the Cool Devices studio had been kicking around as an idea for almost two years. Writing about the owners of Red Pegasus Games and Comics was a spur-of-the-moment idea after the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage, but I knew one of its owners through job networking over a year ago. And writing about Rahim Quazi was a fun exercise in piecing together a story that gave me nightmares.

After my piece on Rahim ran, I interviewed him for my podcast. Something he brought up in our hour-long conversation has frequently come back in my mind. On the topic of promoting his new record, Ghost Hunting, with shows and possible interviews, he talked about an anticipation of rejection often leads to not trying at all. If he wanted to put together a dream line-up, sell out a local theater, and do press interviews, he wouldn't have been able to accomplish such without looking beyond possible rejections. Instead of "Why bother?", it was "Why not?"

A big reason why this idea keeps coming to my attention is that I'm currently faced with something that could lead to a rejection letter. I've decided to propose a short book idea to a publisher that focuses on many of the greatest albums ever made. The deadline is in two weeks and I'm working on my proposal almost every day, including weekends.

The call for submissions is for anyone who thinks he or she is qualified to write a couple hundred pages on a single album. I know a handful of writers who would like to submit a proposal, but for various reasons, they won't. Whether it's scheduling or just not having enough free time to commit to such, I find myself in a predicament that's a little too easy to chicken out on. I have the time and drive to do such a thing, and I know I might not always have the time or drive down the road.

I could imagine hundreds of better proposals from writers who are more qualified than me. I could imagine how a rejection letter will read and what it could look like. I could imagine people laughing at me for even trying. With a lot of other things in my life, it would be easier to take a safer route of letting things come to me rather than me coming to them. Let the good things fall into my lap and not think of trying something that's a little out of my comfort zone.

I've never been friends with rejection. Rejection says I suck, my ideas stink, and I should find the darkest corner in my home and not bother anyone. As much as I should try to come to accept rejection as part of the journey in getting what you want in life, it's easier to run in the opposite direction. The anger and sadness I usually feel with rejection doesn't encourage. It discourages.

But there are times when the fear of future rejection is overshadowed by the fear of regret in not trying. It can be easier to get over a rejection (especially if something better happens not too long after it), but the regret of not at least putting yourself out there can be almost impossible to forgive yourself in the long run. That's what I try to tell myself everyday working on this proposal. The odds are not in my favor, but they're not in anyone's favor.

What helps me stay focused is thinking about what else I could do if I get a rejection letter. If my idea gets turned down, I'm not going to stop writing. Hell no. There's the long-gestating third book I would like to write about pop culture critics. But if my proposal is accepted, then I will get to that book (still titled Forever Got Shorter) after I finish.

Sometimes the biggest hurdles in life are staring right at us everyday. Like a ghost that follows you around, it's easier to acknowledge than fathom a life free of it. But a great question to ask yourself, would I be happier and better if I didn't have to constantly talk myself out of good ideas? That's something I struggle with, and sometimes the struggle puts me into motion, potential rejection letters or not.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Clockwork Angels

Leading up to last week's Rush show at the American Airlines Center, there was a bittersweet taste in my mouth. I had a sense I'd enjoy the show as a longtime fan of the band, and I hoped to review and photograph it for the Observer. (I was lucky enough to do that and had a great time.) Why it was bittersweet was how prior to the show, I couldn't stop thinking about my friend Evan, a longtime Rush fan who passed away unexpectedly last October.

I think about the guy a lot (not many days pass without thinking of him), and I wasn't sure how I could handle seeing one of his favorites without physically being with him. Obviously this was not appropriate to talk about in my review, as the average reader wants my review of the performance, setlist, crowd, and sound rather than a personal reflection. I was fine with supplying that for the Observer reader, but I wanted to share about the cathartic effect the show had on me.

As I waited for the show to begin, I was in front of the barrier along with photographers way more experienced than me with much more expensive equipment. I had the jitters and frequently paced around in a small circle. Still not quite in the acceptance stage of Evan's death, I wished that the guy was with me in the enormous arena. Strangely, after I thought that, I felt a calming feeling as I looked out into the crowd. Akin to the final scene in 24 Hour Party People, where Tony Wilson sees the spirit of his departed friend Ian Curtis, I could see Evan's enthusiasm for Rush reflected in the many intensely-focused members of the crowd. I told myself, "He would want you to be here and to have fun."

Maybe it was a voice from the afterlife or just a desire to hear a reassuring thought, but I was able to give the three-hour show a fair shake without having a tremendous shadow of grief hang over me. I was able to wrap my head around the vast catalog Rush has and take in what might be their final Dallas show. (Various factors are pointing towards this as the last large-scale tour for the Canadian trio.)
I came home and wrote my review and uploaded the best pics I took. Receiving positive feedback from friends and fans as well as my guest (Joel's father, who has been going to Rush shows since the mid-'70s), I was proud to represent what it's like to be a Rush fan in 2015. Knowing longtime fans helped shape me into being the fan I am now, and I'd be pretty clueless without them.

Fast-forward to today and I decided to set aside my evening to a Q&A/signing with the founding member and primary lyricist of Anthrax, Scott Ian. I wasn't so sure I wanted to go, thinking there would be a massive crowd and an interminable wait to get something signed. But a friend of mine that works for the bookstore hosting the event assured me that the wait would not be long, given how they do things with event passes.

During the lively Q&A, Scott answered questions about his role as a zombie in The Walking Dead to how he wrote his autobiography. I decided to raise my hand and ask a somewhat inside-baseball question about "Black Lodge," a song about a place in the Twin Peaks world. I asked what it was like to work with the show's musical composer, Angelo Badalamenti, on the song. And also, if he had any interest in the upcoming third season of the show. His answer was very enthusiastic as he had a great time working on "Black Lodge" with Badalamenti and he looks forward to the third season.

Thing was, after he answered my question, I thought about my high school friend Jeff, whom I dedicated When We Were the Kids to. Jeff was a gifted guitarist who could figure out almost any song by ear. The memory that came into my mind was when he showed me the opening riff to "Black Lodge" in my bedroom. I thought it was so cool that he figured out the riff, as well as the pedal/amp effect used in the song. 

That memory is one of the handful of memories I have of him before a drug overdose took him away from us. I don't think about him much these days, but I will never forget him and what he meant to me, even though we weren't super-close friends. The guy loved music and he inspired me, as well as many others.

Once again, the bittersweetness came into me as I got to take a picture with Scott, got my book signed, and even won tickets to Anthrax's show. But like clockwork, the thought of "Go, have fun and live your life, damnit" appeared and I made the most of the experience.
You don't meet people and think you'll only know them for a brief time. You want to have many great experiences with them, because you connect with them the most, compared to everyone else you know. As life can sometimes be cruel and unfair, there should not be a reason to deny yourself happiness again. We cherish the memories we have with one another, and we should not be afraid to create new ones with the new people that come into our lives.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

It's Not Over

For most bands, no matter how much I love them, one night of seeing them live every few months (or years) is enough. I don't want too much of a good thing, but when it comes to face to face, seeing them three nights in a row is an exception.

I was fortunate to attend all three nights of their Triple Crown shows, where they played Don't Turn Away on the first night, Big Choice on the second, and the self-titled record on the third. Even though I heard "Disconnected," "Not for Free," "I Used to Think," "Don't Turn Away," and "Dissension" three times, I did not mind. The amount of songs that were not repeated was greater than the ones that were.

I previewed the series of shows for the Observer and I let my fandom/appreciation be fully on display. I acknowledged the elephant in the room, given the recent writings on the impact of nostalgia on a lot of shows coming through Dallas these days. And while I did recall certain memories of my past with face to face's music (ie, getting Big Choice on the same day as Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and learning various face to face songs on guitar), I came away from these shows with many positive, new memories.

When you meet a face to face fan, you're meeting someone who *gets* them. Meaning, he or she might be into a lot of other pop-punk bands, but doesn't adopt the attitude of acting like a pompous asshole or smarty-pants to make a statement. He or she is in touch with deep, inner-feelings, from happiness to sadness. No matter what age or what's currently happening in life, face to face's music and lyrics resonates. 

Time and time again, I've been able to listen to Trever Keith's lyrics about life's struggles, relationships falling apart, and fighting through rampant negativity with fresh ears. I cannot say the same about most of the NOFX, Screeching Weasel, and blink-182 records I listened to in college. Songs like "Resignation," "Overcome," and "1,000 X" spoke to me as a teenager, a college student and as someone now in his mid-thirties. This is a band I can keep coming back to and appreciate them for who they are, not necessarily as a band I liked when I was younger.

Talking with Trever and Scott here and there over the years, they've remained friendly and approachable people. They were no different on these nights.

As luck would have it, former drummer Pete Parada made a guest appearance on the second night. He was in town with his current band, the Offspring, and he played two songs during the encore. Whipping out "Overcome" and "Bill of Goods," I was pretty over the moon about this. Ignorance is Bliss was a favorite of mine when it came out, and I knew the change of style would turn off fans, but I have been vocal about its many merits for years. (I was recently at a show in Denton and it was playing on the PA between bands. I thanked the soundman for playing it.)

A story I like to tell about Pete is that when people were whining about the band's temporary change in direction, people singled Pete's drumming out on the band's message board. I argued his playing was exactly what the material needed and he could play the older songs just as well, if not better, than original drummer Rob Kurth. He seemed to appreciate my comments, because when I met him outside of Liberty Lunch in Austin, he was happy to meet me. Seeing him again on Friday night, he remembered me and gladly to snapped a pic with me.

Over the course of these three nights, I met a lot of great people and saw some people I hadn't seen in a while. The whole experience was like a reunion and a convention. Thing was, nobody dressed up like it was church and nobody didn't want to be there. The new people I met, I hope to see again, maybe at a future face to face show, or anywhere else in life. (Facebook brings us all together.)

As a way of reminding myself of how special this was, I have the following poster, signed by the whole band, framed above my home office's computer.
I might be falling into a nostalgia trap by placing this in a spot I look at every single day, but I want to keep a positive experience fresh and alive in my head every time I sit down to write. These shows signify the seventh, eighth, and ninth time for me to see face to face (now the national touring band I have seen the most times), but they will not be my last times I see this great band.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

The Nostalgia Trap

As a follow-up on my thoughts on the Bomb Factory reopening, I wrote a lot of words about the dangers of investing too much time to nostalgia. Basically, the past was great, but it wasn't all great. So let's look forward to what's next. And I quoted Billy Joel.