Memoir writing


On the first day of summer I took my morning walk beneath a marine layer of clouds. The cool onshore flow was back, making the trees swish. The blackberry vines were starting to bud out with their green, knobby fists and in a couple of months they’d be hanging low, ready to eat. It reminded me of the time I did a section of the Pacific Crest Trail with Brad, in the deep forest of the North Cascades when we split up and I was on my own, and happened upon a bear near a blueberry patch and tried to scare it off, but it didn’t leave as quickly as I hoped, it just vanished in the brush and stopped and I couldn’t see it, I knew it was still there, waiting for me to pass. And then in the middle of the night I got spooked by the sound of something and broke down my camp and fled, running a good four or five miles through the valley in the dark, feeling like the forest had turned ominous with the look of the moon, like it had become inherently evil even though I knew it couldn’t, the only evil was in man, and I was the only one around for miles…suppose I just had the evil in me to deal with.

On my drive to work I slipped into a stupor at the wheel. I’d come to a lull with my project winding down and no others yet assigned. In my first two months on the new job, I’d written a couple speeches and a technical eBook about machine learning. I’d gone through my own metaphorical forest of fear with both projects, and come out OK. And there was more darkness and bears up ahead, but I tried to keep the fear at bay.

Lily and I went out to dinner and sitting across from her, I thought she looked different. She was changing every day, and many days you don’t notice. My eyes were burning from fatigue and when I got in the car and looked at myself they were puffy and swollen, receded in my face.

I took Charlotte to meet my hair stylist Donnie and afterwards, we went to the bakery and the record store, just like last time. I bought a Snoop Dogg CD and one by A Tribe Called Quest, and chatted again with the effeminate clerk about Brian Eno. And then we drove to the Hard Rock café to watch Lily perform with her School of Rock band: and while she was on stage singing, I realized I’d seen at least four of the bands they were covering, all in about a mile radius of where I was now watching her sing, before she was born.

And then, because I now have a Mercedes-Benz, I played the Snoop Dogg CD loud with the windows rolled down looking disaffected and cool, and got aggressive and ‘east coast’ doing an illegal maneuver to get on the I-5 onramp, using the bus lane to cut in front of another driver—and then like any good, middle-aged white boy I drove home to the suburbs thinking about what I’d cook for dinner and if I had time for a nap after I picked up the dry cleaning—

And I started taking the bus to work, the first time in years, and sat looking out the window at the developments, the fake names on the monument signs like Heritage Hills or Summer Ridge, and so on…the bus zooming past all the stops (no one rides the bus in the suburbs), wondering if it made me feel younger or older riding the bus again, disaffected, wet from the rain.

Mom says she has the high-functioning anxiety too which makes sense, and why her brother (my uncle) has a hard time sitting down and just keeps polishing things, it seems. Like there’s something beyond the dirt or disarray that needs to get fixed but just can’t be. And she’s got a tic that’s started with her mouth and me, my right eye: and I imagine with the tic and my one arm longer than the other one in the morning with my coffee walking to the lake and shuffling, with my shirt on backwards and my eyes rolled back, I must look like the undead.



humor musings

How to look like an indie rocker without trying too hard

Tyrolean Schnapps topper on carrot in B-flat

It’s 62° F in my mom’s kitchen and I’m 45, wearing a scarf and an apron, browning onions. I never wanted to look like an indie rocker which is why I’m so good at it — people stop me on the streets every day in this small, medieval village thinking I look like someone and I probably do.

The look, like all the best looks, is a look that doesn’t look like it’s trying to be a look but rather, like I’ve been caught in the middle of something urgent that won’t come out but probably should.

It’s hard to express, hard to put words to, but worth spending money on.

It’s this feeling I’m out of time, having the folk sensitivity of the 60s, the angst of the 70s, the self-indulgence of the 80s, the need to understand what really happened in the 90s.

“Indie rock”: it’s hard to put words to, hard to say what it is, but like other movements, it’s easier to say what it isn’t, easier to define it as a non-something: non-commercial, non-success, non-corporate. It’s non-corporate but if you wait long enough, corporate will do it better and you’ll need to start something new, a new place to pout in your latte art and your poetry and shiver in the shadows looking cool.

No, the indie rocker is an educated white male who wears snowboarder beanies with ear flaps that probably look nerdy on most and still look nerdy on him. The indie rocker has to work hard to unlearn his privilege and access the pain that hides inside himself and his IPA, the rot-gut pain that comes from the blues, from killing someone and then singing about it and regretting it, from reading just enough Kierkegaard to know something’s happening but you don’t know what it is, from watching the best minds of his generation destroyed by YouTube, from feeling he’s going nowhere but guaranteed to be late.

The indie rocker white male sings beards without borders, rents a room with no irons, a bathroom with many mirrors, has a hardened look like a river rock that could be a jewel to a child or a polished piece of glass, has the knobby texture of a farm root you wouldn’t put in the mouth of a dog, lets his hair go unwashed and waxy like a crayon, spends a lot of time so he can look like he’s spent none.

The indie rocker, like the hippy and the punk is best defined by what he’s trying to avoid.

Our dog wobbles as she squats on a patch of earth and looks like a rocket trying to launch herself, leaves her remains on the ground to blend in over time. We conform to the shape of our scene and after a while become indistinguishable from it — and that’s the goal of independence, to free ourselves of something, anything, so we can understand at last where we belong, on our own.