I also haven’t been going to any shows lately.
Elevating myself and my living standards beyond “the roommate situation”, which means finding a better paying job in order to keep up with the California Joneses who have invaded the Austin area in droves (leading to a spike in property prices) has left me with little extra time or expendable income to put toward going out.
My intake of drugs and alcohol has recently taken a nosedive as well.
That funky little Muse of the Hangover hasn’t come to visit me in quite some time. That depressive invisible fairy who used to drop in and convince me that I have something to say but am fresh out of fucks to care how people feel about what gets said? Neither hide nor hair of her in many moons.
So I’ve been directing my time and energy into other pursuits.
A little over a year ago, I started training in Judo – a martial art my family practiced when I was a child – and within the past year, I made up my mind to enroll in Austin Community College and pursue higher education.
Midlife Crisis? Pssshh… Yeah right!
Or so I like to tell myself.
So yesterday I took part in my first Judo tournament in over 20 years, and subsequently broke a rib. Hahaha! Oof…
Luckily for me, I have three more days off from work, Tramadol and a valid excuse not to exert myself for a while.
In short.. I’m back, baby.
I don’t want you to think that I ever forgot about my literary baby here. But with little-to-no recent musical venturing to draw from, I came to realize that a reappraisal of the situation was in order.
And it was the retelling of a story from my early teenage years that gave me the key to this judgment.
I have made the decision to reach back through my foggy days gone by and endeavor to recount the tales of The Concerts of Christmas Past. Stories that I’ve told so many times that honestly, I’ve gotten tired of conveying the details over the years.
They will contain elements which may be considered embarrassing, hilarious, somewhat antiquated and, more often than not, illegal.
So come along with me as I give you the straight dope from the horse’s mouth – at least as well as can remember, and in the process, hopefully put these old tales into a comfy bed of typeface once and for all.
Hello, World! I’m Dave, and I hate my job. I hate any job after a while, really. It sucks having one equally as much as it sucks not having one, and it’s the bothersome nature of this historically western disease which has led me here. I’m here because fuck work.
Although, I am a genuinely blue-collared individual, so why am I here, toying with the possibility of becoming a soft-handed typist?
Well, I’m not as manly as Hemingway or as daring as Thompson, but I’m also not suicidal, so I guess I win that round.
I’m here to write. Other people have told me they like the way I write, so hey, I figure, why not write about something I feel passionate about?
Worst case scenario: it’s a complete waste of time. Best case scenario: it becomes another job, which I will eventually hate, and then maybe I will get suicidal. Because life is funny. A funny goddamned nightmare.
But enough with pleasantries. I suppose I should get to some sort of point.
I’ve been in Austin for five years now. Not a long amount of time for anybody over the age of 18, but a lot has happened in those years, and I’ve tried on a few hats, so to speak.
I’ve seen this town change from a population of reasonably friendly and trusting miscreants to a cagey horde of weary tribalists who would just as soon skin you alive and send your flayed corpse back to your family in California than give you directions to the nearest yoga studio… or maybe that’s just me.
I feel like the main character in Almost Famous, when he’s talking on the phone to Lester Bangs. In an almost apologetic tone, Bangs informs the young lad that he’s arrived just in time for the death knell of rock and roll.
That’s sometimes how I feel about Austin.
I see the death knell in the locals. I mean the real locals. The ones who got here before Frost Tower.
But pining about the past isn’t really my bag anymore, particularly a past I wasn’t even here for. Don’t let my current dour mood and sardonic prose fool you; I am actually very nice. My favorite movies are comedies.
So let’s suppose that there’s an experiment going on, and on one side there’s the image of the once great and mighty Austin music scene, now bleeding and lying on it’s side, begging for a helping hand or a dignified death – whichever, it’s beyond the point of caring anymore – and on the other side there’s just a guy that’s not even from around here who hasn’t gotten out in too long, being way too harsh about a place where cool things still go on and hope exists for talented underdogs.
It really could go either way. So like I said, this could all be a complete waste of time. Either way, the only way to find out is to get out of the house and go see some fuckin’ shows.
Who’s with me?
I got out of bed, had some juice and some coffee, saw my girlfriend off to work, fed my dogs and took them for a walk, but for some reason I found myself in an unshakable mental funk. I tried practicing walking meditation. I tried calming my breath. I tried smiling. But my patience was becoming non-existent; my energy was failing at 9:30 in the morning, and the cold winds of depression were starting to seep under my doors of perception.
What happened? How could a morning which started with smiles, kisses, sunshine and fair weather turn into what I could only see as the beginning of a despondency of indeterminate length?
By the end of my walk, I had my answer.
The seemingly endless echo chamber of opinions that is social media had subconsciously changed my perspective on the world around me: Nothing was cool. Nobody was happy. No longer was there any hope for a bright future for me or anybody else. Divisiveness and bickering now ruled. The huddled masses were now left to our own devices, only to fight with each other over who was right about subjects that very few people truly understand. And while I’m stoked that everybody found their political, environmental and social science degrees, the proliferation of biased rhetoric had become an overwhelming bummer.
In short, I had scrolled through my Facebook news feed whilst shitting.
Ever since the election, and even more so since the inauguration of Donald Trump, my news feed has been nothing if not bombarded by treatises on how fucked we all are now.
And while I hold my own opinions on the situation, I’ve grown very tired of the futility of voicing them via electronic public forum. I don’t even like seeing posts that I agree with anymore, because in my mind, it’s all put in front of me to keep me logged in, hour after hour. In the meantime, I have pants that haven’t been through the wash since New Year’s, and all it feels like is defeat.
Kind of like the feeling you get when trade this…
and ultimately end up with this…
I understand how the algorithms behind the 7-headed monstrosity of Facebook takes a seemingly objective, non-nuanced human being and helps them create an online profile which can ease the activity of long-distance communication. The age of the rotary telephone and long-distance charges are gone. Onward to a brave, new future and all that.
But after that, you’re asked about your interests. Your tastes in music, clothes, entertainment, fashion and art. Your political and social leanings. The next thing you know, you have, in your hand!, a wellspring of validation: article after article and updates galore telling you that you’re right! You are not alone in your opinions. In fact, it seems as though the WHOLE WORLD agrees with you, except for that one person you went to high school with, who you never really hung out with, but they were nice enough, and they were kinda funny in Geometry II, so you went ahead and accepted their friend request. That’s alright because your cousin sure shut them up! And onward down your feed you go…
Until, lo and behold, it’s your weird Aunt who you only ever really saw at a few Thanksgivings as a child, but your parents insisted that you add her to your friends list. Now she’s on the same bandwagon as that dude from high school! Weirdos, man! Why doesn’t somebody put these people in their place? That’s okay…
They never really go away, though.
Dissent against what you hold to be true and sacrosanct still manages to find a way through the cracks. You might find yourself thinking, “Where do these people come from? Isn’t it scary that we share a country with…? How could somebody in their right mind believe…? Why don’t they just stay in their hole in the ground? Why don’t they just leave? Maybe I should leave? If there are people out there who really think that way, then this place is falling apart, and it’s really not safe out there…”
I’m not at all flattered to admit that these are thoughts that I’ve found myself thinking. I will readily admit that Solipsism is something that I have toyed with and will still indulge in from time to time, but only playfully. Because when I stopped looking at the world from one side of one fence, I started to realize that there’s another side of the fence, and holy shit!, another fence beyond that, and what’s this?, another fence behind me, and yards and points of view and understandings that I can’t even see from here!, crossroads and intersections of personal philosophies, all built from lifetimes of different experiences and upbringings. And the more I delved into that understanding, the more my empathy and compassion for other people grew.
I also started to see the flip side of my logic. Lock somebody in a room where there’s nothing but people who are on their same team, and show them pictures of a stranger who isn’t wearing the same color, so to speak. Show them the picture intermittently for an undetermined amount of time, and it will be a matter of course that the people in that room won’t like that person in the different shirt.
By utilizing a platform that was supposed to help people stay in touch and communicate with each other, we have created another situation where it’s more “us against us”. And it wouldn’t take much looking to find information on how quickly and drastically “us against us” in modernized countries can turn into deadly confrontation. Ukraine 3 years ago, for example.
So in line with my long-standing tradition of running to my big sister for help, I came back from walking my dogs this morning, went to my computer and sought out my eldest sibling, #1 expat, and VCR VIP, Shannon Duvall for her insight on what I felt was troubling me this time around. About a month ago she herself had decided to take an indefinite sabbatical from looking at her Facebook news feed, only using messenger for staying in touch and looking up information for events on Facebook pages, but other than that, no scrolling. Having a strong desire to completely disconnect from the world of social media (which would make things terribly bothersome as far as promoting a band is concerned – therefor not an option), I asked her how exactly she managed to pull it off.
The answer was simple: ignore it.
Don’t ignore your problems and those of the world around you, but instead, if it is something you feel that strongly about, find some way to affect change. If the issue is something that is real to you and you feel the inherent need to get involved, you will make the time. But recognize that banding up with your buddies on Facebook to criticize policy and other people is at best masturbatory, at worse divisive, and ultimately achieves NOTHING.
And, SPOILER ALERT, if for some reason you decide, after ex-ing out of this, to distance yourself from your favorite means of digital affirmation, if you find yourself on that platform at a later date, perhaps to look up information on something that only exists there, you might find an update from this seemingly inanimate creation, telling you how much it misses you and how much it cares about you. As though it has become sentient and now has feelings. To paraphrase one of my favorite comedians, Bill Burr, “That is some creepy, New World Order shit.”
But any joking aside, I’m not telling you what to do. I’m just telling you what I’m doing.
I’m a product of an ignored generation, somewhere in-between Gen X and Millennials. I came of working age right when the Great Recession hit. And my method of retaining income (my family-owned carpentry business) was taken down along with the housing market collapse. Even before that, we had been undercut by cheaper labor supplied by immigrants. I know first hand what it’s like to lose income in that manner. I’m not proud to admit that there was talk of sabotaging work crews that had taken contracts which had previously been promised to us. Remember what I said about “us against us” and how a narrow perspective can lead to terrible actions? Luckily, a collective sense of karma, or perhaps just a fear of potential litigation prevented any action on the notion. After all, what would we have succeeded in, aside from hurting other hard-working people who struggle more than us? People just looking for a way to succeed? People taking advantage of a situation?
Eventually, as you may well know, I found different means of survival in the world. I moved away from home and dove head first into an unknown place, made a lot of friends in the process and saw the world through eyes that would have been impossible to imagine had I stayed in one place.
So my point is, how many of you can understand where I’m coming from? One side of the fence being from that of a “disenfranchised working man” to that of “empathetic peacenik who gets excited about leveling up his Duolingo Spanish score”? As Fat Mike once said, “Walk some in my shoes, then tell me to fuck off.”
All I know is that numbly thumbing on that hypnotic, glowing screen isn’t helping me, and I know the symptoms of addiction when I see them. I can draw lines as to the social implications on my own time.
My girlfriend and I have noticed that her sons have a problem disconnecting from their phones. Time slips by, assignments get ignored and grades slip. Where does the time go? I’ve mocked and criticized and belittled the situation, but yet, I find ways to legitimize my own mindless use: “I have a job. I have a band. I cleaned up. I’m just relaxing.” I’m also well aware of my own sense of hypocrisy.
I mean, I started this fuckin’ blog to write about music, and my most recent posts (when I actually put time toward it) have been little more than me complaining about the fucked current state of affairs on the American political landscape! When and how did I become so distracted?
I don’t have the answer to that, but I do know a change is in order.
I have books to read, and there’s a world outside.
“Every nation gets the government it deserves.” – Joseph de Maistre
I came home from work last night to a placid, “Trump is winning.”, from my girlfriend. Her face was a mask of nervous incredulity that she normally only brings out on special occasions – when something is too wrong to process in real time.
Me, being the accidental Buddhist that I have become (evidently due to a lifelong detachment to material objects, and a premature hallucinogen-induced acceptance of mortality) did my best to make sense of the situation and quell any of her pervading fears.
In my own paranoid mind’s eye that I still harbor from spending formulative years in an America under a cloak-and-dagger regime that left us all with a lot of unanswered questions, insurmountable debt, and a crippled reputation, I was under the impression that the election was scripted as a means to plant Hillary Clinton in the White House. After all, who in their right mind could vote for somebody so outwardly misogynistic? So over-the-top? So buffoonish? There was no way for him to be considered a legitimate candidate. There was no way for him to be taken seriously as front runner. There was supposed to be no way for him to win.
And that’s what I thought. I honestly believed that the “shadowy overlords” and “the powers that be” wrote this election out in a way that was to make everyone squirm to the very end, until, lo and behold, the final count brought out Mrs. Clinton as the new leader of the Free World, sabotaging her most-contested Democratic rival in the process. And if that is the case, what does it say about those tactics? The DNC downplayed and possibly bought off the one person in the Democratic Party who had an easy chance of beating Donald Trump and in the process, sabotaged their own party. And look where it’s landed us. The worm has turned and jumped the shark. Many a good men are rolling over in their graves.
I woke up this morning one minute before my alarm to the news that things didn’t turn out as I had predicted. Life is not a movie. Things happen when people take action. And I find comfort and purpose in that.
There really isn’t a whole lot for me to accept. I voted with what I felt and thought were the right choices. I didn’t vote for any of the presidential front runners. Not because I don’t understand what it means to vote against somebody (my more politically involved friends have been telling me for months that the ball is already rolling in the direction of a more Social Democracy, and a Clinton White House would only cater to the sway of the popular tide). But when I stopped to think about her involvement in Libya, and her desire to further interfere in Syria, the idea of having to explain to a small child in Aleppo, who just had his home blown up and family taken away from him due to collateral damage, that I put my name down somewhere saying that I thought the person responsible was the right person for the job? It was enough to make me feel like John Proctor, refusing to sign his dignity away on an admission of baseless guilt and instead embracing his own demise. I may have tossed the misconception that this is a free country, but I will slam dance in as much wiggle room as I can find. I scrolled down to the “Write In” option. I turned the wheel until I wrote the only name I felt comfortable putting my own name behind, double-checked my spelling, and hit the Enter button. And there it was, printed in black in white: Bernard Sanders.
Some may say that I threw my vote away. And you have every right to. That’s how Democracy works.
And I have to admit, I’m not really all that surprised. The more you know about the history of this country, the more you’ll understand that racism, exclusion, xenophobia, greed, and misogyny have more often been the rule than the exception. And you have to remember that the majority of people in this country don’t live in big cities. Most people in this country don’t leave their hometowns, or they don’t venture far from them. They stay in areas that are familiar to them, with people they’ve known their entire lives. The idea of interfacing daily with people from different walks of life, with different orientations, beliefs, values and views doesn’t play into their modus operandi.
What does appeal to them is maintenance and tradition: “Don’t take my job, don’t take my stuff, and don’t tell me how to be.” And in that, we might see that we are more alike than those from who we have been convinced of our difference. When you spend your entire life in relative peace and seclusion, secure in your idea of “God and Country”, but suddenly there’s a bombastic man, who is your very idea of success, telling you that strange people are coming from a dirty place to take what is yours, and suddenly there’s “girls-who-think-they-are-boys” and “boys-who-think-they-are-girls”, and they want to sit on the same public toilet as you? Meanwhile there are Bolsheviks bayoneting infants straight out of their mother’s drug-addled wombs. It’s the same as saying that when I went grocery shopping this morning, I should have expected to see Neo-Nazis curb-stomping mixed race children, firing anti-aircraft weapons in the parking lot, whilst Toby Keith blared from a frighteningly large diesel pickup truck with a live whooping crane chained to the exhaust. But there wasn’t any of that. Just the usual mixed bag of humanity that I’m used to encountering in the aisles of the Allandale H.E.B.
It’s just more of the same “Us Against Us” rhetoric that I have been warned about my entire life. And now it’s led us to a place we would have thought of as unthinkable 24 years ago. Like it or not, we share this country with people who do not share the same values. And the more we belittle and ostracize one another, the longer we will remain in a state of schizophrenic divisiveness.
We have now become the weird, unpopular kid in our middle school, who puts on a crazy outfit or styles their hair into some wacky, abstract thing as a means to garner attention. At first, some of the kids in the cafeteria look over and say, “What did you do?!” And we allow ourselves to sit back and bask in some long-sought validation.
That never comes. At least, not to the degree that you were hoping.
Sure, some of the other kids might stop and compliment you, and more kids will just look at you like what you are: desperate and confused, grasping for meaning and acceptance.
The rest will do what they’ve always done: ignore you. A couple of cursory glances due to the change in scenery, but other than that, they don’t have time for you. They have shit to do.
And until we get cracking and start sorting out our own affairs like the rest of those kids, our collective identity crisis is not going to end anytime soon.
Be nice to each other, hold on tight and keep your eyes peeled.
It’s amazing how your day can go from 60 to zero in a nanosecond. When it all seems to be going okay, even in a place where you don’t feel like being. You’re open, happy, cracking jokes and feeling good. You start thinking that things might not be so bad, and even though you’re looking at making it out of there, at least when you do leave, you can go on a high note. Hell, you might even miss the place! And then a seemingly insignificant action can send you spiraling back into your own head, where you physically feel your wavelength drop to a level that makes you bristle with contempt. Your spine stiffens, your jaw clenches, you feel the tension immediately develop behind your shoulder blades, and it’s all you can do to finish your job as quickly as possible so you can get the fuck out of there, hours be damned…
I guess I hadn’t explained to anybody that I work with that I’m a musician, and part of my personality as a musician is that when I’m listening to my music, I feel good. I don’t feel cool; it just makes me feel good in my brain. It’s a big part of who I am. And it’s not like the music you get to hear is particularly abrasive. Trust me. You’re hearing the tame shit. Because I take the other people around me into account before I start filling the air with noises. I’m not trying to subject anybody to anything that’s going to make them uncomfortable.
So when I heard “Tangled Up In Plaid ” come do an abrupt, premature ending, I thought, “Surely, no one here would be rude enough to simply come over, grab something that doesn’t belong to them and manipulate it without asking! The Wifi must be acting up.” But lo and behold, somebody did in fact feel the compulsion to do just that! So, I did what came naturally. I picked up the spray head at the dish station, pointed it in the offending direction and squeezed the handle. After all, I may not be your mom, but somebody should teach you some fuckin’ manners.
And throwing out jokes like, “What was that? Nickleback?”, to me only speaks to your laziness. “Oh, shit! Gotta think up something that doesn’t make me look like an asshole! Uhhhh… What’s that band that has guitars and people hate? No difference to these ears! All the same to me! Uhhh… Oh yeah! Those guys! Hahahaha! Get it?! Because everyone hates that band?! It’s funny. I’m funny. I’ll be over here if anybody needs more poignant and clever observations”
And that’s when I was taken out of this happy place where I felt like things weren’t so bad,
and I was immediately sucked into a head space that conjured visions of a sterile dystopia where people no longer listen to music, but tones – just basic tones – designed to numb the frontal lobe and lull the listener into a state of delusion and passive acceptance. No melodies. No arrangements. Just a basic 4/4 beat, some garbled lyrics floating around, and the constant “BUMMMMMMMM… BUMMMMMMMM… BUM-BUMMMMMMM…”, hypnotically drilling and merging into your subconscious. It’s enough to make The Velvet Underground sound like Scale The Summit.
Pop Rap is boring music for under-active imaginations. That’s all it is. It’s only place is an ill-fitting world where the youth are medicated to the point of solipsism, continually distracted by fantasies of money, drugs and promiscuity (none of which are particularly harmful in small doses, mind you). But like that is something that is true to them!
Like listening to a song by 2 Chainz is suddenly going to make you share in his success, but then you look around when the song is over, and you’re still standing around at your shit-ass dead end job, with your softening, aging body, in your corrupt, Capitalist environment. Better keep those songs coming before you have to stare reality in the face for too long.
I take back everything I said about the current state of heavy metal, because at least the people on those recordings are players. You know, like people who play instruments? Physically? With their bodies? And it’s not even a “music with guitars vs. music without guitars” situation I’m talking about here. Tupac Shakur was killed twenty years ago today, something I remember seeing in the newspaper, but nothing I could really identify with at the time because I was still a child, and in those days, I didn’t like hip hop. I was too busy learning how to play bass and keeping my eyes peeled for new music by Alice in Chains and Stone Temple Pilots. But I do like hip hop now, and something that can be said about Tupac’s music, and hip hop in general, is that it’s honest. There’s a communication in it. You listen to “Dear Mama” and tell me that there’s not at least one part of that song that speaks some sort of truth to you.
Whatever is happening with the current state of popular rap music is fucking embarrassing. If I was Suge Knight, I’d have one of these false, pretentious mother fuckers dangling out of a window, just on principal. But I suppose it never really was about the music for that guy.
So whatever it is that creates a mentality where it’s okay to fuck with other people’s belongings and cut off something that they were enjoying, I can’t help but believe that it is somehow tangentially connected to the dumbed-down state of mind that can convince you to believe that Lil’ Wayne writes good songs. If you had only asked to change the music, it would have been okay. I probably would have said yes! At least that would have given me an opportunity to get mentally prepared for what was coming next. But instead, I had to jam earplugs into my head as deep as they would go, keep my head down and blast out any last duty that could have kept me in that place any longer, just so I could come home and air my grievances on a public forum. I’ve quit jobs for less, but I’m trying to be an adult now, and I’m in a pretty tough spot financially, so believe me when I say that it’s best that I didn’t tell you how I felt about it at the time. I don’t like getting fired, either.
Afterthought: I couldn’t help but notice that once my vibrations had reached a low point, certain people in my place of work suddenly found me somehow approachable. Is that it? Do I just need to feel stupid, angry and bitter to get along with you people? Maybe. I don’t care. Fuck you. Fuck every single one of you.
O, Mother of all Whores! Bag of shit mode in full effect! Stayed up too late and got up too early, but who am I to complain? Sometimes, you just have to brush yourself off and go suck the day’s dick, as they say. And do not… I repeat, do not, neglect the balls.
After all, it’s not everyday that I get to take my girlfriend to work, make breakfast, walk my dogs, drive to South Austin and back, develop very hard opinions about the current state of heavy metal, drop the car off, and ride back home against the wind on my new KHS Tempe… All before noon. With a palsy-like hangover. Come on! Somebody pat my back!
And I still have an hour to kill before I go in to be the shining face of my current employ, (which is currently making it very difficult for me to afford my very modest standard of living, not particularly due do to any nefarious ill will on behalf of the owners or managers… really just a symptom of a capitalist society in general, but more on that later!) I should be sleeping, but I have opinions! Hoo boy, do I ever!
What follows is a disjointed amalgam of random thoughts which have floated through my brain this morning. Shout out to Lone Star Beer and Espolon Silver.
There are few scents that bring me back to my childhood more than the smell of freshly-cut wood and gasoline. And in realizing that, I recognize that I am quickly becoming the product of a bygone age. I’ve lived a few lives. I grew up in the woods, moved to suburbia, and grew up some more before moving to “the big city”. I fight with myself all the time. I don’t empathize with overly-sensitive people because, well… fuck you. And at the same time I have to take heed to the notion that everybody you encounter has an entire lifetime of experiences under their belt before you cross paths with them, so you have to respect that. I don’t know. All I can say is, don’t get too soft, kids. Life isn’t about to get any easier.
Picking up dog shit also irks me. Nobody did that shit in the ’90s.
Speaking of which, what is happening with heavy music?! What the fuck?! Are people just running out of ideas or was that actually Judas Priest I heard on The Devil’s Dozen? No? It wasn’t? Oh, right, that band had blast beats! That’s how you tell them apart! Seriously, though. There are bands out here doing very interesting things. Pay attention! I understand what it is to draw from different influences, but you don’t have to be a parrot of those influences.
Wait. What’s this? The new Dillinger Escape Plan single? Time to be objective.
Although they did play the show that convinced me to get off my ass and officially end my band‘s hiatus, and I feel like I owe them a lot, I must MUST! listen to it from as close to the middle of the road as I can. Even if the idea of them breaking up sometime next year feels like somebody I know just got shot.
Gotta be professional.
But I totally get it. You don’t want to become self-referential to the point of hob-knobbery, and you want to do it right and have your body of work be a complete circle.
Can’t let those feelings cloud my judgment.
Completely understand, though. You’re not trying to be Woody Allen in this mother fucker. Or maybe even…
Metallica??!! – with the current #1 song in heavy metal? I mean, it’s not bad for a bunch of 50+ L.A. dudes. I see that you got Lars to practice his gallop beats and found your kick drum sample from …And Justice For All, but was that a Nomeansno rip-off I heard in the chorus? Seriously guys. A for effort, kings of the castle and all, but seriously… Seriously. What year is it?
I hope James Hetfield never finds this. It would be super embarrassing if we ever meet.
Nice job on the new tune, Dillinger. I dig it.
Well, that’s about all, friends! I’ve been meaning to dust my vernacular off for a little while, but I’ve been busy turning 30 and stuff. I neglected rest, don’t have time to shower, and now I’m gonna go stand behind a register for 8 hours! Wish me luck.
I feel like a jackass half of the time, you know that, right?
I left the United States permanently in 2006, after a few years of tentative expeditions into the arms of the great abroad unknown, and I wish I could say with a hair flip and a sip of the whiskey that I ‘never looked back’. But that would be bullshit. I looked back. Oh, and how.
I went through the first few complete years as an Irish resident in some kind of haphazard, question mark-shaped existence, one foot perpetually out the door, convinced of an imminent move to somewhere I perceived as better. Because I had come from a place that tells you, every day of your life, in no uncertain terms, that it’s the best place on earth. America had freedom and blue skies and curly fries. It had rabid individualism apparently evidenced by endless aisles of flavour-varied snacks.
‘I’m more of a dill pickle ruffle chip kind of person, how about you?’
So it seemed that the expectation was that if I was going to leave, it had better be for a place far more impressive than the US. Ireland, with its grey skies and low self-esteem, wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. But it had a record store, and I had a job there, and that was better than my hometown, and for the time it would do.
I lived more or less aloof to my surroundings, the places I went and the company I kept. I worked on and off and lost myself in city life and all of its vices. I drank too much to buff the edges of constant minuscule invasions of unwelcome culture shock. It was the Bush era, and I quickly learned, in those humiliating times, that to be anything other than an apologist for the state of my home country was to be dismissed as just another out of touch, self-important, egregious American. I didn’t defend it long, if ever. It became reflex to think critically – often scathingly – of America and its policies, and before long it was all I could do.
I was abroad, so I wanted to explore. I was born with traveling shoes and an intense curiosity. I started visiting other countries every chance I had. Ireland was in the middle of an economic boom, and cash was easy to come by. Facilitated by the EU employment standard of several weeks’ paid holidays per year, it was easier and cheaper to hop on a plane for a weekend in Spain or Germany than it had ever been to take a road trip to a couple states away in America. It seemed like a no-brainer. Everyone else was doing it, too, so it didn’t seem strange.
The more traveling became important to me the more I started to notice how difficult it was for you guys back home to take off and do the same. Each time I visited a new place, your faces would appear in my mind; little things would make me think of you and how much you’d enjoy what I was seeing and doing. But no amount of encouragement could change the circumstances under which people live in America, and it slowly started to dawn on me that it didn’t matter how hard you tried; getting a first hand look at the world was so expensive and logistically troublesome as to be discouraging, or at best, relegated to a down the road, once-in-a-lifetime retirement goal. Moving back started to look like a trap I wasn’t willing to walk into. There was too much to learn, and too many different versions of reality that I wanted to test out.
I suppose it’s important to mention here that my family are awesome. There isn’t a member of you that I don’t feel close to, love recklessly, or find myself inspired by. No matter how long I’ve been away from you guys, I still find myself wishing I could just call you up to come over for dinner, or meet in the park when the weather is nice, or yeah, hop that plane with for a weekend in Spain. For a long time it was hard even to stay in touch by phone, as before Skype it was prohibitively expensive to even have a 10 minute chat. Things are better now, but I still feel like I miss out on so much. My family are my best friends – my remote squad. I hoped, like you, that one or more of you would follow me out here, and we could have all those moments other siblings take for granted. But you were busy building lives, and, despite my relentless escapism, it seemed, so was I.
It got easier to be an American abroad. We elected a likable, intelligent president. The heat was off for a blissful eight years. In southeast Asia three years ago, when asked where I was from I felt okay saying America. ‘Aah! Obama!,’ the locals would smile and say, a marked difference from the responses I’d hear the other (relatively few) Americans getting when answering that same question in India eight years ago. I, of course, knew better then, and simply said Ireland (the country’s societal humility has a great reputation worldwide, and the Irish are welcomed with genuine enthusiasm and warmth. Ireland, of course, never committed any humanitarian atrocities.).
But although the surface of US international relations has changed, the meat and viscera of life at home has not. It hasn’t become easier for you to come and see me, or to go anywhere else for that matter. Your opportunities haven’t multiplied; the toxic over-individualism hasn’t eased into something more unified. Your food is still poisonous. Police presence in the average citizen’s life remains absurdly high. Inequality trudges on, rife with rot. Children are still being shot in school, and the news is still hyperbolic to the point of despair. I know that no place is perfect, but I believe that if it wasn’t so difficult for the average US citizen to choose another place to live, many would. That makes me suspicious.
There’s so much I miss and love about America. The land, the founding tenets, the diversity of lifestyle and geography. The people, when left to live their best lives unfucked-with are the best people I’ve met anywhere in the world. But the constant manipulation and disregard for the wellbeing of the citizenry under which almost all of you live is appalling. I’m one of hundreds of millions who thinks so.
You work too much without protections, you’re lied to and intimidated and told that this is normal, noble. You’re punished for progressive thinking and intrepid approaches to living life. You’re treated ruthlessly for behaviors which in other countries are considered minor violations. You’re medicated like it’s your job to be, on severe and detrimental doses of who-knows-what; it’s fashionable to have a condition, don’t you know. Your police forces train with the Israeli army. Your morals are weird. Democratic, peaceful protests are systematically infiltrated so that messages of genuine concern and dissent are discredited and demonized with the first rock thrown by someone lurking secretly on the inside. New parents are given next to nothing in terms of pay or time off to bond with their infants. Tipping culture is, as a matter of policy, abhorrent and disrespectful. Did I mention that your police forces train with the Israeli army? I could go on.
Simply put, your government does a very bad job of looking after you compared with many other places in the world. To your government, you’re not a citizen valuable in your own right with an equal say in the democracy; you’re a bank account that, when finally drained, will be rendered useless and worthy of ridicule until you either fill back up or they incarcerate or kill you. All of it stinks of mental illness and psychopathy and dangerous social engineering.
It’s not about this place being better. It’s not. It’s filled to the top ‘o the mornin’ with bullshit, too. In fact, no place is better, per se. Everywhere has problems. But you know me. I’m a defiant little shit. It’s meaningful to me to choose for myself which problems I’m willing to put up with and which ones I’m just…not. And since I do have a choice in the matter, I find it very hard to justify submitting to America’s system willfully until it does better. A lot better.
What’s up, sis? I know I don’t normally communicate via public forum as I am doing now, but I trust that in just a little while, you’ll understand my meaning for doing so.
You see, the thing is, I’ve reached a point of crisis. And while it has been my practice in the past to wait until you’re awake on the other side of the pond (should be about another two or three hours or so, by my counting) to dump my random-time-allotted heap of emotional baggage on the altar of Skype for us to both sort through, I’ve opted instead to bare my grievances to the general public in a means that feels natural to me. That’s right, friends and family, this supposedly-grown man still runs to his big sister when he has a problem.
But unlike the usual existential scrapes with work, love and family that I usually need help fine-tooth-combing, I find myself in an oddly familiar state of dissatisfaction. I am, yet again, embarrassed by my country. And seeing as how you left the nest long ago, I’m sure that there’s a way for you to empathize, just as I am now realizing again my understanding for why you have yet to return permanently.
I shall now endeavor to summarize my metaphysical quandary. I feel the non-ceasing state of willful ignorance and the lack of respect with which we treat one another in this country to be oppressive to the point of personal turmoil. I feel like the one frog in the pot with the presence of mind to look around at the other frogs and say, “Isn’t it getting hot in here?”. The pressure at times is enough to make me feel like crying, but I’m American… and a male… and not gay… and stereotypes exist because, well… sometimes, we ask for them, much to the disadvantage of our own psychological health.
So what to do? See a psychiatrist? Get some tax-allocated stress relief on that great social health care system that’s supposedly on it’s way? I don’t work enough hours to get covered, and I don’t make enough money to pay for my own plan. So what then?
Get involved in politics? Maybe organize some public demonstrations that seem to be going so swimmingly these days in the States? You mean on top of looking for new work to afford health coverage, trying afford to live in the supposed “Live Music Capital of the World”and also have time and money left over to put into my band (1 of 3 which can’t seem to go longer than a year without wanting to implode), fix my car (whose registration expired in January), take care of my pets (I actually stay on top of that pretty well. They can’t feed themselves, after all), and keep a healthy and happy relationship with my loving girlfriend… Yeah, sure… How’s next Tuesday sound?
Or I could do what I usually do: Drink.
Nothing screams “America!” much more than passively accepting defeat after defeat handed down by a faceless conglomerate of power and wealth in a haze of social media, unhealthy food and doing everything except pay for Cirrhosis’ cab fare to your front door.
As usual, sis, I’m not coming to you expecting immediate, concrete answers. But for a long time I have actually considered myself to be a proud American. A true patriot, I guess you could say: someone who doesn’t shut out the outside world, but looks for opportunities in it to grow not at the expense of others; someone who accepts sacrifice and compromise without being a door mat; someone who is graceful in victory and defeat… i.e., just a decent human being.
I look around our circle of friends and I see that all the time. And then I look around at the shit that’s being perpetrated by my government and economic system and I see social cannibalism. It turns out that America’s reputation for being “The Land of Opportunity” is still alive and well in the context of hyena, vultures and other scavengers.
And yet I know that there’s places where people are treated humanely… by law, no less! Places where the population treat each other (generally speaking) with a modicum of respect and dignity. And suddenly, I don’t want to be an American anymore. I’m tired the of obligatory feelings of guilt and stupidity that gets stapled to the “privilege” of being born in the most powerful country in the world.
So I guess to wrap it all up, Shannon… I get it now. After all my asking and constant assurances that you would love it here in Austin, I get it. And as much as it might pain me to say this, I feel like I have to tell you: Don’t move back to the U.S. I miss you like crazy, but aside from our loved ones, there’s really not much left to make it feel like home anymore.
For those of you who don’t know, my sister Shannon lives in Dublin, Ireland where she works as a subeditor and copywriter at BigOmedia, edits digital content for the Youbloom website and thrashes drums in a band called Native (couldn’t find a link, sorry!)