Tag Archives: personal

A Roof Over Your Head

The value of a roof – the literal structure above your head – is something I constantly feel. I grew up in a world where every day I saw countless people without this one basic necessity and it made me appreciate how much a home meant to a family.

A little over a year ago, my partner and I finally made our move and became homeowners for the first time, leaving behind the apartment life. With it has come the stark realization that everything to do with the home falls on our shoulders – the garbage? No, the porter won’t separate and drag it out for you any longer. The furnace sounds funny? You’d better call a heating company because you certainly don’t have any idea what to do with that block of gurgling, churning, fiery metal. The carbon-monoxodie alarm went off and we called 911? That was a fun evening.

Still, it has been a good year, all things considered. The house was well-kept and we’ve managed to keep it going with barely any work, along with a little bit of help from relatives. My nephew has been particularly helpful, building and installing railings, putting up our many wall-hangings, fixing the plumbing, and so forth. Of course, I have paid forward with the only currency I have to exchange – money.

The thing is, I’d love to take value and pleasure in home improvement work, particularly the relatively simple stuff – fixing everyday things here and there, but I don’t enjoy it at all. Everything feels like a chore. But the thing about owning a house – it comes with a sense of pride, and man that pride can push past a lot of things to make you do things.

When you see a gutter askew, you want to climb up two stories and hang from the rafters, an electric drill in one hand, correcting the angle. Walking up to bed at 1am after a night of code and there are a  couple of left-over dishes in the sink? Well, it’ll just take a minute to clean them up, won’t it? The cat spilled a bit of his food over the kitchen floor while eating? Let’s just sweep it up before we head out.

But the big stuff? I have no idea how to deal with it.

And lately, we’ve had the weight of the house on our heads. Quite literally. When we bought the house, we knew we had to fix the roof – it was accounted for in the price of the house and we were prepared, but expected to have some time before it became necessary. What we didn’t anticipate was the amazing winter we’ve had, with weeks of ice and snow packing in layers on the roof, water freezing between shingles, and the constant worry of snapping beams and collapsing wood crashing through the floors to impale my little son while he slept.

So, when the weather paused for a week in New York, we contracted and sneaked in an entire roof repair in a single day. It was quite a thing to watch, a small army of people scrambling up and down ladders, pieces of roof falling all around the house along curtains that veiled the building like a shy bride. It also made me appreciate the physical work these guys did, since it wasn’t exactly a balmy day – barely above the freezing mark, and a low but constant wind that chilled what the sun tried to warm.

At last, the work finished, the cleanup made it seem like nothing had happened, only the different colored tiles above the house hinted at any change at all.

Well, that and the hole in the living room by the skylight, but let’s ignore that for now.

The warranty says thirty years.

Thirty years.

When I got married, I knew it was a long-term commitment. My son was born and that felt pretty damned permanent. After signing up for life-insurance, the weight of years and the consequence of very long-term planning settled on my shoulders like a heavy cloak. But it wasn’t until I got a 30 year warranty for my roof that I really got a sense of what owning a house means, how it feels in one’s bones.

Because until now, everything felt transient, like it could change, I knew it would be hard, but we could still move if really necessary. We were putting down roots for over a year, but it didn’t feel like it. The house still felt like a large apartment, still as easy to move out of as a co-op, but now?

Now, I can feel the grip of stones under my feet, the moisture feeding the branches, the sun on my shoulders, the security of a sound roof for my family. And my roots are clutching back at the bedrock and digging in. Maybe it took a major construction but goddamn if it doesn’t feel like this is my own little plot of the world. It’s our home.

Time to roll up the sleeves.

Sunday Interrupted

A few minute ago, two handsome young men in well-tailored suits knocked on my door, clutching beautiful leather-bound books in manicured fingers. Under the guise of doing volunteer work they asked if I thought religion had any role to play in our world. I shook my head and began closing the door, “I don’t think so. Thank you.”

“Why not?” The young man asked.

An old instinct kept my hand. Politeness – an instinct that compels one to invite a guest in, offer tea, and ask after their family. I paused. “I grew up very religious and didn’t find any value that it brought to my life. Now, I’m quite busy, thank you.” I reached behind me for the doorknob again.

“What turned you off?”

Rehearsed questions. I could picture them in a room somewhere, role-playing these encounters. Talking past the objections with specific questions inspired to keep the person talking long enough that they can get a pitch in, or even a step into the door. It wouldn’t really matter what I might say in reply to the questions, but some ideas came to mind.

I might have mentioned my absolute hatred for the institution of prayer – that cornerstone of the faithful – and my disgust with the belief of any sort of interventionist divinity. On a more material note, I might have gone into the corruption of religious orders, the manipulation of texts to fit trending political ideologies, the institutional racism, sexism, and the hatred of sexuality; not to mention the role religion has played over and over in global conflict. To put a cap on the shit-mountain, I might have mentioned the offensive act of evangelism itself.

For a second, I even considered inviting this person in to actually fight it out, but nothing depresses me more than atheists and theists talk past each other for hours accomplishing nothing, and I didn’t want to include myself among that doomed population. I’ve managed so far in life to be content with my own lack of belief seeking to inspire no-one else and I think that might be the best way to live.

So, I laughed, shook my head at the arrogance of this man who assumed I might discuss such intimate topics with a stranger and told him that I didn’t need to talk about this right now, bid them both a good night, and finally, shut the door.

And then I winced, because I didn’t offer them a cup of tea. If only they had wanted to discuss relief work in Africa, environmental preservation, increase government oversight of corporations, removing outsider funding of political campaigns, or, hell, game theory, the current console war, the slew of Oscar nominated films, the new M83 album, Game of Thrones theories, True Detective, Batman, anything but my personal belief about God, I wouldn’t have hesitated in inviting them in.

Rock Bands

Despite my love of fairly obscure, fringe genres of music, and the fact that I always feel most at home at concerts of a couple of hundred people in small, dingy bars or basement clubs where the volume is far too loud, and the pit far from safe, I also harbor an enormous affection for popular music.

Especially popular rock bands that communicate across genre and language. I’m thinking of Led Zeppelin, Queen, Guns and Roses, Stone Roses, Waterboys… but there hasn’t been a band like that since the early 90s. Blur, Oasis, Pearl Jam, Queens of the Stone Age, Killers, and some of the post-grunge bands have tried hard to pick up the mantle, they never quite hit that 50,000 people screaming their name in a stadium level. Even today, I can’t think of a rock band that can hold an entire stadium in the palm of their hand with epic, soaring guitars and vocals.

However, in the 90s, there was exactly such a band in Japan, playing to sold-out stadiums and living as gods among men. I discovered X-Japan through anime during college, and they remain one of my favorite bands despite the fact that they broke up in the late 90s.

They’re very similar to a Guns and Roses sound, ranging from double guitar attack and soaring solos to rock-piano ballads and all the excess of the genre. Every cliche of late 80s hard-rock band can be found here, right down to guitarist Hide’s huge bright-pink hair. It certainly helped that the band was made up of downright gorgeous boys who were all accomplished musicians. They ooze rock-star charisma and saunter with the confidence of young men who know exactly who they are.

Of course, they broke up in 97 and have had a number of ill-advised reunions since then, but since Hide death after the break-up, it’s never really been the same band.

The ultimate experience of the band, I think, is their last concert, a 3.5 hour long feast for the senses called “The Last Live”. The full experience can be found on YouTube and is well worth a listen. From the explosive opening set to the melancholy ballads in the middle, and the hyperbolic melodrama of the weeping band-mates at the end as they play farewell songs – it’s a signature performance.

What makes it especially poignant I think is that the  band isn’t winking at any point. They mean it, with every drop of energy and emotion, they aren’t cynical and this isn’t a show, it’s really an earnest effort, and that shines through the language barrier

If this band wrote English songs, I think they might have taken over the world, at a time when western music lacked any focus or direction. No, nu-metal, rap-metal and boy-bands were not a direction despite what the charts might tell you about the late 90s.

Rather than regret the lack of good music or muse over what might have been, just have a listen to what was, because it was pretty damned good. And we’re lucky to have a record.

Writing the Wrong Thing

What you want to write isn’t always under your control.

At least, that’s how it works for me. When the urge to write comes, it brings with it a certain mood and texture, a certain light and sound and smell that can produce only the unique product of its parts. To write anything else feels difficult and it becomes a struggle to wrestle the urge to write into a usable form. The words slip away, the feeling falls down, and the sky opens up into a void.

The cursor keeps blinking on a blank screen.

What to do, then, when the urge to write is for things that seem of little consequence? Right now, I want to write extensively about the game I’m playing, about the internal dialog of my character and the story of his own struggle with things. I wrote about him before, here, but he’s becoming more and more prominent in my head, talking to me, demanding attention.

He’s poking me with his scimitar and asking why I’m ignoring him when he’s right there, waiting to go on adventures across green ocean and Caribbean blue sky. And I have to keep pushing him off, say no, go away, I have other writing to do, serious writing, things I can send out to magazines but he doesn’t understand. It’s hard to put aside one’s own existence for the sake of the maker’s interest.

And that right there, is a telling and terrifying thought – perhaps a story to be found in exploring that sentiment. Hmm.

Another Week, Another book

About a year ago, my wife (who’s rather well established as a writer these last two years) wanted to put out an anthology to fund a local New York City charity, and sent out a call for stories. She was kind enough to ask me to contribute something, and I did. The anthology, Urban Harvest, was released last weekend, and here it is.

Urban HarvestIt’s odd to go for such a long dry-spell without exposing any writing, and then to suddenly have two stories in the ether is rather jarring. It feels like a splash of cold water in the face, or being dunked into freezing ice after a hot and sweaty day. Jarring, and exhilarating at once. If you’d be so kind as to pick up a copy, you’ll find in it, a few wonderfully warm (and a couple of particularly chilling) stories and you’ll be benefiting a charity – City Harvest – that feeds the homeless at a difficult time of year.

So much work left to do – with Slipstream City Volume 1 already out and about, we need to being work on Volume 2.  We have a theme, we have an idea, and soon, we’ll put out a call for stories to collect with a rather brief reading period, I imagine. And of course, there is my own writing to get to.

There, that’s about all the promotion I can muster for my own material right now.

The autumn is barely begun, and already the season is full of projects eating away at time. Something about the smell of October that makes me want to paint the grayscale world in bloody shades of red. Best get to writing before the fleeting season escapes with all the muses riding on its patchwork cloak of leaves.

Tick-tock!

Another Beginning

I don’t know if I want to call this a manifesto, because that’s too severe. But it’s more than a personal statement. If anything, it’s an introduction. To what, I don’t know, and everyone knows not to start at the beginning, but that’s where I am so that’s what I can write about – beginnings.

But it isn’t really the beginning, is it? The beginning came years ago, the middle, and the end, too, and then it just started all over again. I’ve lost track of the beginnings, the middles and the ends, so here we are again, despite our broken hearts and disappointments, willing to believe one more time and have a go at it.

And maybe what makes it different this time is that with age, with an intimate knowledge of what failure feels like, we no longer have expectations. Perhaps it would be better to say that our expectations are properly adjusted, we are able to deleverage the ambition and come to this beginning with steady hands.

What the hell am I talking about?

This beginning rejects the traditional business model of publication. When a kid wrote a song and put it to an eight-track mumbling and strumming chords with stumbling nervousness, when another kid took his camera and gathered up his friends, running that reel at twenty-four frames a second and tried to capture a story, they did not wait for the gate-keepers to give them leave to became what they already were. A musician. A film-maker.

I think it’s time for writers to do the same.

Does this mean we no longer need drafts? Do we fire from the hip and overrun the audience with the ruinous result? Far from it. When we shoulder full responsibility then we take on the onerous task of ensure every step of the process – the proofs, the edits, the drafts, the layouts, the production. Let’s make books and be responsible for them, from the beginning to the end.

This will not be easy.

So, here we are at the beginning, starting not with a declaration nor a manifesto, we are far too experienced for such grand gestures, nor are we young enough to still harbor the raw fire to go the distance to make this a revolution.

This is just another beginning, and I hope you will come along and see how this journey plays out.