What Are We Holding On To, Sam?

Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam. 
Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something. 
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam? 
Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.

The above is one of the quotations that I somehow keep coming back to. It’s not very complex, but it is earnest. Maybe overly earnest, but I can’t seem to bring myself to find it cheesy.

This might be because I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself what I’m holding on to. At different times that has meant different things to me; sometimes the implications have been more dire than at others. Then again, maybe it is because of how much I admire Sam, and his willingness to sacrifice of himself for the happiness of others, in a similar vein to the way I admire Sydney Carton, or Rick Blaine, or several parts of the Bible that didn’t weird me out during Sunday School. Maybe it’s because I like remembering this quote’s power to make people smile. Maybe it is because of the number of times I have had to have people remind me of what I’m holding on to, or what they are holding on to, or that there is something to be holding on to; because of the times I was so disconnected that the only thing that brought me back from feeling nothing was seeing how much hurt I was causing other people. But I think a lot of it is simply that it is comforting to be reminded that at least someone out there believes in tomorrow.

Lately, I’ve been getting less excited about waking up for todays. I don’t have a super-specific reason for it; the internship I’m working at has been interesting and challenging, and my co-workers have generally been very friendly and helpful; I’m living in a city that isn’t too noisy or overwhelming; I have a comfortable room. But everything feels very temporary, and maybe that’s made me try and hold on to things that have been very permanent for me. I’ve been talking to my parents on the phone a lot more often than I usually do. I usually talk to them every day on my way home from work. I talk to my grandparents at least once a week, and often more. I have been very bad at trying to talk to friends, or even trying to try to talk to friends. I don’t go on facebook very often because I find it overwhelming, most of my social media activity seems to involve simply consuming information about what other people are up to, rather than discussing what I’ve been up to. Then again, I don’t feel I’ve done much worth discussing.

I don’t want this post to be depressing or worrying, but writing was one of the many actions I hadn’t engaged in for quite a while, and I wanted to get back to it. I am going to stop now, because it seems I wound up writing something different than I intended, but I will try to pen a different, more cohesive post soon. Until then…the road goes ever on and on…


On Superpowers

When people ask me what superpower I would want, if I could have one, it’s a question I try to take seriously. Flying or invisibility or super strength don’t really intrigue me, but then again heights, being ignored, and lifting were never all that high I my list of things I enjoyed.

For a while, I had mostly decided that I would want the power to make people happy; if that seems like too broad, I would like to be able to know exactly what would make a person happy. Of course, I now think this power would end up being pretty problematic, and there’s a big gap between the two versions.

In the stronger instance, how would my power deal with contradictory happiness conditions? Would there be a set level of happiness that I was able to help people achieve, or could I make some happier than others? Would I be able to set things in motion, or do I have to continually focus to keep the happiness going — i.e. is there going to be a bottleneck on happiness-creation based on my mental stamina? How could I possibly decide who deserved my time and attention? Would it be fairest to go by lottery? By acquaintance? I feel like I would need a really complex system for determining need.

And in the second case, where all I can do is tell what would make a person happy, I now feel like I’d end up forever angry at myself for not being able to do more to make such happiness come about. I feel like I would so much more fully realize just how many people out there weren’t happy, and that this would always be weighing at me, even as I tried to do little things to stem the tide.

But maybe I’m thinking too hard about such powers. Maybe there are people out there who could use them better than I could. Honestly, I’m pretty sure I know a few people who already have pretty similar powers.

Then for a while I thought it would be cool to be able to lend things out, to take a bit of my strength, or my hope, or my very small reserve of courage, and let someone else have it for a little while, when they needed it more than I did. It wouldn’t be a very grand super power, but I think I like that. I don’t think I’m really meant for the big cape or the underwear over the pants (sorry, Quailman). Maybe it’s too low a thing to shoot for when you can have any super power though. I’m not sure.

So I still kind of like that idea, that concept. Maybe I’d still answer with it, if someone asked me. But the more I think about it, I’m not sure I’d really want a power per se. I don’t think the “super” part of “super hero” really grabs me. I think, if I have a chance to look back before the end of things, I’d be satisfied with something more quotidian, more simple. To look back and know that there were people to whom I had been a staunch ally, a listening ear, a good friend.

Even if it is more a small, fleeting thing…somehow, it seems it would suffice.

And so, until the end…I try.

Why The Sun Goes Out

When I was 12 I asked my teacher why the sun goes out at night, and he told me
      “The sun doesn’t go out, it stays in place still burning at the center of the solar system. It just looks like it sets because the Earth rotates around its axis while orbiting the sun. The sun will only go out billions of years from now, and then we won’t be able to live on Earth anymore.”

When I was 8 I asked my father why the sun goes out at night, and he told me
       “It gets dark because the sun stops looking at us when it goes to shine on other people.”

When I was 4 I asked my toy stuffed elephant why the sun goes out at night, and he/she/it told me
      “Because otherwise we’d forget how beautiful it was when it shone down on a gentle summer afternoon. Because it’s hard work, being the light of the world. Because there needs to a time for mystery, for the monsters under our bed, for scary shadows and sore shins. Because we need nights to dream in. Because after its beautiful aria, there needs to be some time for the stars to sparkle and sing. Because otherwise wolves couldn’t howl at the moon, and fireflies couldn’t make the world look like it was smoldering, and roosters couldn’t crow in jubilation at the first rays of morning.
      “The sun goes out so that we can hug each other good night.”

It’s Summertime…

…and I can understand if youu…still…feel…saaad. Or at least, the Flaming Lips can. But yea, the school year is over; the year is over, and the next year hasn’t yet begun. It’s time for that vague, flowing in-betweeness that would be murky if the sun didn’t shine so brightly. It has been a little sad, entering that in-betweeness, as it always is: you are sort of done saying goodbye, but you have to wait before you can say hello. I already miss the seniors, and the gone-away friends, and especially Shakes, but I’m also excited. I have a nice, bright, shiny eight weeks laying out ahead of me, and I hope it will be as rewarding as the last 10 were. (That would be hard).

It’s off to a pretty good start though. After all, I wheeled two couches across campus yesterday, and only got honked at by one angry driver. I figured out that my roommate is not good at distributing weight among his boxes. I ate chinese food outside in the dark on top of a suitcase and a mini-fridge. I had a one dollar Jamba Juice today. I’m feeling more relaxed, less uptight, and equally redundant.

So, yea. Hey, Summer. Wassup? Watcha want to do?

This I Believe: An Old New Post

A while ago, I wrote a response to an old NPR prompt asking about what you believe; I made the essay into a graphic essay, which I can’t find right now (if I do, I’ll post it later). But I came across the text of the essay, and I felt like posting it here. Hopefully it’s at least interesting. It got published in the end of the year paper under the headline “Mortified by Mortality,” which pissed me off. But oh well. It’s not like I ever gave it a title.


I do not often remember dreams, and when I do they are often too jumbled to make sense of them. But I remember one dream quite clearly. It was about my grandfather, and it began with me standing in front of his hospital bed. It was not a memory – I was not a six year old who didn’t understand my grandfather was dying of stomach cancer, I was a teenager, running to the bed to speak to him before he was again lost to me forever. Before I got there, the dream shifted, and it was me in the bed, staring out at a horrifyingly clean hospital room, feeling someone hold my hand and hearing people whisper as my vision faded into darkness, and with it the sound and the feeling until there was absolutely nothing. I ceased to exist.
I have never been more afraid than when I woke up from that dream. The universe had crawled into my skull and whispered “You are going to die!” and it was not a request. I could not say no.
This is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
When I ran to the shower and had its warm waters rushing over my face as I tried to forget that horrible sensation of not being, my thoughts were drawn, unwillingly, to a line from Blade Runner: “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.” No matter how much I may have wished it, I would never be eternal. My body is mortal, and so is the mind it houses. But those moments do not have to be lost. They will be lost to me of course, when I end, but they do not have to be contained to me. Experiences can be shared, ideas disseminated.
I believe the greatest good I can do before I go into the dark is to share, to reach out and touch the lives of others. This does not mean I seek no time for myself. Even if it will be lost, to memory or to time, the moment where I sit on the steps, contemplating the cars whizzing by, the pedestrians strolling past, the wind teaching the trees to dance, has a merit all its own. But to reach out to other lives, and help them over an obstacle, prod them toward a goal, or simply share that bond of mutual existence, and to be pulled, prodded, and acknowledged in turn is wondrous to me. Perhaps this is why I love to write, as it creates half of a connection that will last long after I shuffle off this mortal coil.
When I close my eyes, I can remember that dream about my grandfather. I can remember his intense eyes, and how he taught me to look people in the eye, and to color inside the lines. And I hope that one day, someone will remember me.

We’re On The Road to Nowhere….

A while ago, when I was in group therapy, we were asked to draw a picture representing the road to recovery. I came across that picture today and felt like putting it up here.

Right now I’m supposedly pretty far along this road to recovery: my medication is stable, and I’ll be heading back to school for Spring Quarter. So that’s good. Right now my life is mostly about waiting. Maybe I’m too satisfied with just waiting too often. But for now, that’s the plan.

See you all soon!

Wild Things

I just finished watching Where the Wild Things Are, which is easily one of the best movies that I have seen over the past year.

It is not a perfect film, but it has moments that capture an exuberant, kinetic and pure joy of a kind I’ve very rarely experienced since childhood. There are moments in the film that reach inside to your own wild thing, that make you want to move along to the wild rumpus on screen. Moments that capture an essence of youth on film both boisterously and delicately, leaving it intact so that energy can leap back out into the audience. I spent most of the film with Max where the wild things were, and the tiniest bits of it with old friends during recess at the Crow Island Woods. Even as I write this, I am remembering in first grade when we tunneled under the fence to escape the playground, how we managed to keep the project secret for what seemed like years but was really days (I would have said that it seemed like millennia, but we barely had conception of months).

But Wild Things is not content with that vivacity. It also explores the casual but harsh cruelty of childhood, the breed of fractiousness and fear that comprise an all too real aspect of early life. It’s easy to build a great fort, but it’s hard to get everyone to be inside it together; as the wild rumpus starts the sun is dying and the world is slowly grinding from rock to sand to dust. Smiles and tears are both integral to the movie, but neither overpowers the other. Wild Things is neither schmaltzy nor sad. It is beautiful, a movie about childhood that was, in the end, not really made for real children, but for inner ones.

Here is the trailer:

You’ve gotta [listen to] your own kind of music

Some songs and artists that I’ve been enjoying lately.

Junebug – Robert Francis
This song has a lot of energy and life in it, and can really pick me up on a slow day.

Lua – Conor Oberst and Gillian Welch version
Hauntingly beautiful. Love what Gillian’s vocals add to the song. The line about dying from medication after killing the all the pain sticks with me.

Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
I adore Fleet Foxes’ sound. So full and rich it reminds me of a tapestry, full of archaic heroes and long-forgotten monsters.

The Way Things Were / The Measure of Happiness

Memories are funny things. It’s one thing to remember something. I remember that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States, or that my girlfriend’s birthday is in October. But memory, where just thinking of an event or moment can transport you back to it…that’s just a wondrous thing.

But what really intrigues me are the truly vivid memories of non-momentous moments. It’s one thing to have a vivid memory of your first kiss, or of meeting someone who would be your best friend for many years. I enjoy thinking about those moments that get burned into your mind even though they weren’t a milestone, a meltdown, or a miracle.

I have a memory of the time my first-grade friend cheated me out of a win the first time I played Life, getting me to go to Countryside Acres while he scooped up the Life tiles at Millionaire Estates. I have a memory of sitting on the kitchen floor in my old house, banging on old, unusable pots and pans when my Grandmother came in and yelled at little four year old me. I have a memory of being very young and giving an ungrateful non-thank-you at my birthday party when I received a book that I already owned. I still feel terrible every time that I see myself rip away the wrapping paper and declare “Oh, I already have this one. Well, at least I’ll have an extra.” I don’t think I’m as ashamed of any other moment in my life, but I know that no one else has a memory of that moment. I have a memory of getting in a fight with two girls in second grade, teasing back and forth until I got mad and pushed Abby into the mud (actually, that’s the only part I don’t remember, the push, but I have clear memories of how I didn’t even remember it at the time), and how I walked by her about five times later in the day, each time only to whisper, “Sorry.” I have a memory of when I was nine, playing Backyard Baseball in my basement, and yelled “FUCK!” when I gave up a run, yelled it so loud that my mom heard it upstairs. I have a memory of how after that, I walked by the boiler room where the repair man was working, and awkwardly said, “Sorry.” I have a memory of seeing my best friend cry when he thought we had left him behind, and my guilt at realizing we essentially had.

I have a memory of standing on the side of my bathtub, looking at the loop I’d wound around over the shower curtain rod. Well, yea, maybe that one was a bigger moment.

But I guess one thing that stands out to me now is that none of these memories are of times when I was happy. They are all composed of pain, or guilt, or shame. That seems to be what sticks with me. I remember times when I was happy, periods when I was happy, but in that vague way where the memory isn’t immersive, or when it is a blending of different events or moments. But then again, maybe the memories are solely related to intensity, and maybe, unless it is one of those milestone moments, I have not had the intensity of happiness to really make those memories. A few times, perhaps, the memories that come close to being truly vivid. And maybe more so recently, but I won’t know until enough time has passed for those memories to either fade or show their strength.

But I think that’s hard to do, to measure the relative intensity of happiness verses sadness. I feel like despair, shame, pain…it starts on a higher level, gets an edge. It makes the jump quickly from discomfort, whereas happiness seems to like to linger in the area we think of as contentment. Maybe I’m being tired and silly. Or maybe it’s just me.

Or maybe it’s a silly question, and you don’t need to measure happiness, because you feel it. Maybe that’s enough.

I’m going to try and remember that.

The Best Songs Ever (Of Today)

Here are a few songs that I have enjoyed recently. I’m putting them out there so that, hopefully you will get a chance to enjoy them as well.

The Twist – Frightened Rabbit

The video isn’t much, but the song has a kind of yearning intensity that really caught me. And the line “lift your dress enough to show me those shins, let your hair stick to your forehead” … it just seemed very sweet to me.

Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks

This song has a sort of haunting beauty to it. When I listen to it, sometimes it just sounds… delicate.

Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers

I think this sort of speaks for itself. Even more than “The Twist,” this makes me think of a certain someone.

Murder In The City – The Avett Brothers

Come back to this recently. Even though this song touches on a rather dark subject, I find it very tender and relaxing.

Role Play Tournament – Baby Cakes

I got linked this as a joke, but the song, I think, is genuinely catchy. It will get stuck in your head. Although it is irreverent and funny, I think that it also ends up being a bit touching.

Also if you have the time, I recommend going to the website of I Come To Shanghai, an independent, start-up band from California. You can get there initial release for free, or pay if you want (they kind of have a Radiohead set up going on). I stole the title of this post from Robert Ashley, one of the band’s two members. I’ve included a link to the rather strange/trippy video of one of their songs, ‘Your Lazy Eye,” below.

I Come To Shanghai: Your Lazy eye from Adventureface TV on Vimeo.

Hopefully you enjoyed all, or at least some, of these songs. Let me know what you thought in the comments!

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