Monday, March 28, 2011

A Collection of Beginnings to Posts I Never Finished

I have received two e-mail invitations to separate South Dakota social events in the past two days that contain the sentence, "This is not a joke," which suggests that SoDak party hosts are either (a) wildly creative to the point of defying expectations of what typical social gatherings can entail, or (b) wildly obsessive about being taken very, very seriously by their peers.  Perhaps a little of both.  Teachers expend so much mental energy embellishing the requisite content of their lessons with engaging presentations and compelling exercises that it's hardly surprising this flair for the quirky/creative begins to leak into the social sphere.  You can't just haphazardly attend a teacher-hosted gathering.  You must first acquaint yourself with the proper procedures, taking pains to plan for appropriate attire and consider potentially advantageous strategies in the case of competitive events (of which there are often several).  You see, these parties, like the classrooms of the hosts responsible for them, leave room for high achievement.  And skating by with a C average isn't cool.

Kudos to those responsible for the "Rubix Cube Party" and the "1st Annual Scat Shoot."  Wish I could shoot the shit with you guys in person.
---
 A bit of wisdom courtesy of Annie Lamott from her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, recommended by Dennis Robillard:
E. L. Doctorow once said that "writing a novel is like driving a car at night.  You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."  You don't have to see where you're going, you don't have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way.  You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.  This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.
How I love stumbling across writing that basically validates my life philosophy: that most big-picture things work out fairly well without over-planning.

A strange thing has happened since the months I declared myself free of my obligation to Teach For America and migrated south to Austin.  With nothing but free time and potential to do the very thing I set out to do -- tell my reservation story -- I've become increasingly preoccupied with abstract notions of professionalism and success, and proportionately disgruntled and dissatisfied with myself as a result.  I see friends and acquaintances applying to medical schools, working towards business degrees, climbing career ladders, and I do myself the terrible disservice of wondering why I don't fit a similar mold.  A Kaplan LSAT study guide adorns my bedroom desk and months old GRE scores wait nearby to be filed away, empty steps towards futures I've bullied myself into entertaining out of a very tangible fear of falling behind some imaginary achievement curve.

Working for a purveyor of high-end electronics has only exacerbated this condition.  I am exposed daily to all manner of traditionally successful individuals who don't break a sweat at dropping an easy two-thou on a round of iPads for their five year-old children who will almost certainly break them within weeks.  I see precocious runny-nosed babies barking product orders like damned drill sergeants while their sleepy-looking parents obediently flap and snap open fine leather wallets and purses.  First word: Dada.  Second word: Amex.  It all adds up to a terribly materialistic vibe that subtly encourages the notion that one must be wealthy to be successful - that what one does is what one is.

Alain de Botton presents a kinder, gentler philosophy of success:




---
Four weeks ago I decided to give up coffee cold turkey.  I had developed a costly and jitter-inducing four-cups-a-day habit that I had to break if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I could.  The ensuing headaches had me stumbling around work like a zombie for a full week.  At one point during a regular check-in, a manager asked me if there was anything in my personal life that might be distracting me from my work.  He seemed genuinely concerned, so I was candid.  "I've given up coffee," I explained.  "I was drinking four cups a day and I'd had enough."  He drooped his brow and gave me a very Kubrick-ian stare, fighting hard to deliver his response in a neutral tone.  "You couldn't drink just one a day?"

And because that sounded like such a perfectly reasonable solution, I had to scoff.  "No, no.  I'm quitting cold turkey.  It's just something I have to do."

Two weeks later, I encountered a coffee enthusiast raving about a rare, criminally underappreciated blend sold at, of all places, a specialty electronics boutique in North Austin.  His wife and children sighed and rolled their eyes as he extolled the virtues of this magical, hyper-caffeinated bean.  "Have you ever thought about quitting?" I asked in response.

He disappeared down the well of a dark mental recess and the lighthearted glimmer momentarily vanished from his eyes.  Seconds later, he emerged with a slight shiver.  "Yeah.  I gave it up once.  Felt horrible for weeks.  Then finally I thought, 'Life's so much better with coffee, what's the point?'"

I started drinking it again the very next day.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Keep Austin Warm

Reactions to the icing and minor snowfall Austin received on a Thursday evening two weeks ago can be divided into two categories roughly consistent with the geographic origin of the reactor.  Native Texans tended to overreact in a charming and not entirely unexpected fashion.  Tales of treacherous road conditions were exchanged with twangy enthusiasm in the break room at work.  The local news station somberly announced that the school board would be holding an emergency meeting to weigh the possibility of a cancellation.  Meanwhile, public works employees blanketed side streets with layers of ice-busting salt thicker than the inch of precipitation they were meant to combat.

And for every enthusiastic southerner stricken with snow frenzy, there was a cynical out-of-stater ready to testify to the utter triviality of it all, to relay sardonically what real winters are like in states like Minnesota, Ohio, and New York.  They would say things like, "I can't believe how worked up everyone's getting about this snow," or, "What are you talking about?  It feels great outside!" as if the severity of 18 degree wind chills is somehow lessened by familiarity.

I have come to discover that most temperatures below freezing feel quite cold, and that travel by motorcycle at anything below roughly 40 degrees is decidedly uncomfortable.  Therefore, I took a small amount of pride in abstaining from arguments about the in/significance of our one true winter day.  For the record, it felt very cold to me.

But with the forecast predicting variations on a 70-degree theme for the foreseeable future, the snow and ice of yesterweek is a mute point.  Winter, like the economic depression and the real estate crisis, seems just another in a long string of minor inconveniences to have left Austin mostly untouched.  Onward to more pressing matters.  Like Valentine's Day.

The homeroom teacher of the high school class I tutor on Mondays and Wednesdays informed me in hushed tones this morning that Valentine's Day is traditionally one of the most well-attended school days of the year.  "The kids want to come and give each other candy," she explained matter-of-factly.  And sure enough, roughly half of the dozen or so students in attendance touted helium-inflated, cream-filled, plastic-wrapped tokens of courtship.  Indeed the most difficult task of the morning was assisting said homeroom teacher in fitting a giant fruit bouquet from her husband in the mini-fridge behind her desk.  No one is immune to the pleasures of being publicly appreciated, least of all under-appreciated homeroom teachers.

As for my personal observance of the holiday, I attended a 90s-themed Anti-Valentine's Day party over the weekend that was far more concerned with nostalgia than romance.  Several of the younger employees from work were in attendance and were particularly vocal about their appreciation of 90s pop culture in the way that folks my age are over-zealous about the 80s in an effort to compensate for the fact that we're too young to really remember the 80s.  Though these 90s-crazed youngsters failed to recognize Marc Summers, Boyz II Men, and Earvin "Magic" Johnson, I'm in no position to criticize.  Most things I know about the decade of my birth I learned from VH1.  In the 90s.

In honor of the toasty spring weather, I went for an extended walk this afternoon, along the sun-dappled pathways of Pease Park and through downtown's "warehouse district," where I failed to identify a single warehouse.  Across Drake bridge, an independent film shoot rushed to complete a driving shot before evening, and a pair of hippie troubadours serenaded passersby on Lamar.  I was reminded of a project I've been working on with the 8th graders I tutor in North Austin -- a video penpal short intended to portray life in Austin for my former South Dakota students.  When asked what three words come to mind when thinking of Austin, an overwhelming percentage of 8th graders responded with "hippie" and some synonym for "warm" (other popular choices: "crazy," "wild," "eco," "green," and "weird").  As demonstrated by my afternoon stroll, the warm definitely brings out the weird, which in most cases is shorthand for "happy and expressive" -- a cyclist singing Lady Gaga at the top of his lungs; a family of three tattooed from head to toe (and showing most of it); a very tall, very pale twenty-five year-old in a bright orange trucker hat -- all enjoying the anachronistic warmth of early February.  The only thing we have to dread is running into a Southwesterner eager to express how comparatively mild and unimpressive our current climate really is.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Only Real Insight is Hindsight

As I walk in the door, I pass a man hovering intently over a giant paperback titled The Nature of the Soul.  Damn.  Must be at the right coffee shop.

These suspicions of serendipity are confirmed by two simultaneous occurrences, each pleasant in its own right, but diverting my attention in a nonetheless agitating fashion.  One: I spot a peanut butter cookie enjoying a moment in the spotlight in the lower-right corner of the pastry display.  Mmm.  Two: the gentleman in front of me (tall, mid-50s, twitchy and overly gesticulative) commences unprovoked small talk about an incoming cold front.  I turn reluctantly from my targeted confection and focus on the conversation.  Austin might get its first snow of the very short, very mild winter season this week.  But that's nothing compared to the subzero temperatures of Montana, where my quirky interlocutor once nearly purchased a pair of all-hemp Adidas slip-ons at the central market in Billings.  Awesome.  I counter with a South Dakota story (living there has given me a lifelong trump card in weather conversations) and then it's my turn to claim that cookie.
(From left to right) Caesar, Ellie, and David "Dad" Faris (who was kind enough to hold my coffee while I took this photo and was promptly tackled by the dog in the lower left corner).
Dear Sir or Madam:
Thank you for submission to Outside.  We apologize for the delay in responding.  We recognize the effort you've put into your work; however, after reviewing your material carefully, we regret that it does not meet our current editorial needs.
Please consider Outside for future submissions.
The Editors
So I got a letter from Outside magazine.  From the editors.  With a handwritten mailing address and everything!  I feel like the kid who got a pile of horse crap for his birthday and turned to his parents with an eager grin and said, "With all this crap there's bound to be a pony around here somewhere!"

Seriously, though my half-baked Continental Divide escapade seems to have failed on all fronts for the time being, from this rejection letter from Outside to the reluctant withdrawal of my hiking partner (owing to a prohibitive financial situation), it still feels awesome to have taken solid steps towards an epic idea, and to have been halted by factors beyond my control rather than the alternative laziness that is very much within my control (though it sometimes feels otherwise).  Consider this idea shelved for now, but still entirely viable.
Robin "Mom" Davis prepares to hit the streets of the sprawling metropolis of Bridgeport, WV.
This weekend I took leave of my responsibilities in Austin to celebrate Christmas with Mom and Dad in Bridgeport, which was an entirely pleasant experience.  For one, I haven't seen snow on the ground in months, and northern West Virginia has it in abundance right now.  Despite taking advantage of the mostly-warm January weather here in Texas, I refuse to be lulled into a sense of warm weather complacency, which is what I'm convinced has gripped my friends and coworkers who cringe at the mention of snow and ice.  These are the same folks who frown glumly when it rains and grumble sullenly about the nagging wind, as if what we need is the same still, vanilla sunshine all day everyday.  Gag.  I want extremities.

My visit was also made special by the sheer absence of Christmas commotion, which can make holiday visits into taxing face time marathons of rushing from meal to meal, gathering to gathering.  Though I regret not covering all bases when it comes to those outside of the nuclear unit (apologies to aunts, uncles, and grandparents -- I'll be back soon, and with improved communication), I have discovered that four days is the perfect amount of time to split between parents who are themselves split and eager to revel in long preserved holiday joy with their eldest son.

And doesn't visiting your childhood hometown always fill you with such motivation?  Regardless of where you return, you always step off the plane and think, "No matter what's gone down thus far, I've gotten myself from there to here, and that feels like a long, long way.  So let's keep going."

Now to find that pony...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Doppelganger

In news of the variety I wish appeared more frequently on this blog, my thesis film, "Setting Pace," has been chosen to premiere at the Appalachian Film Festival in Huntington, West Virginia.  The screening is to take place on Thursday, February 24th at 7:00 PM as part of a block of shorts playing in the Marshall University Memorial Student Union Basement (BE5).  Unfortunately, I'll be in South Dakota during the event prepping for the Nemo 500 Outhouse Race & Chili Cook-Off.  Let me know if you're able to attend so I can experience this vicariously through your account.

It's been a strange few weeks in Austin, a time-warp period in which days tick by like the second hand on a very fast clock.  At some point during this haze of tutoring, writing, and fulfilling retail responsibilities, I said something to my roommate which I never thought I'd say, which is, "We should really start driving to the HEB on Far West.  Their selection of nutritional bars and exotic coffees is far superior to our current grocery haunt."  When you stumble upon things like this in which you didn't even realize you place importance, it's like walking in on yourself naked.  You feel embarrassed.  Self-conscious.  You blame the other person for not locking the door, or giving a warning cry.  "You're becoming a grocery store elitist!" I should've shouted to myself.

And here are some additional things I've done in January:
  • Wake at 4:00 AM like clockwork every night with a vampiric thirst for citrus, stumble into the kitchen, and chug orange juice straight from the container.
  • Sample each of the lowest-priced items on the Healthy Choice microwaveable dinner lineup (Pineapple Chicken never ceases to be delicious and the name "Turkey Medallions" is really just a fancy way of saying tiny little turkey circlets). 
  • Field the question, "When is the next iPad coming out?" a hundred times a day with the automatic responses, "I'm not really at liberty to speculate,""Unfortunately, I don't have access to that information," and finally, "Sir/Ma'am - I honestly don't know.  Why would I lie to you?"
  • Start a new blog co-authored by my mom that chronicles our thoughts on the book Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, which we're reading simultaneously.

This last item may be of interest to those of you familiar with the book.  You can find that blog by clicking on the following image:


As expected, we're moving at a snail's pace (due largely to my own lethargy), so please feel free to come late to this rollicking, spirited party.  The punch is spiked and there's a cheese pizza in the oven.

And lastly, my heart goes out to my brother-in-spirit, David Scott Farris, who was kind enough to distinguish himself with an extra R... and an extra misdemeanor.
Courtesy: http://wvjails.info/?BookingID=999008384
Why does the wvjails website include the option to leave comments under the mugshots?  Does that strike anyone else as unnecessary and darkly comedic?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Tucker Max and Tom Cruise

On Sunday morning at my place of employment (which shall go unnamed in this post), I found myself unexpectedly engaged in conversation with the most D-variety Austin celebrity, one Tucker Max, author of NYTimes bestseller I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and the recently released Assholes Finish First.  This is a man who makes his living publishing details of his sordid debauchery on the web and in his aforementioned books, whose staying power as bestsellers just... shakes my faith in humanity to the core.  The description beneath Max's mischievous website visage reads:
My name is Tucker Max, and I am an asshole.  I get excessively drunk at inappropriate times, disregard social norms, indulge every whim, ignore the consequences of my actions, mock idiots and posers, sleep with more women than is safe or reasonable, and just generally act like a raging dickhead.  But, I do contribute to humanity in one very important way.  I share my adventures with the world.
I'm reminded of the 1999 film Magnolia, and consequently of Tom Cruise, whose performance as aggressive male chauvinist Frank T.J. Mackey is most striking in its eerie similarity to the real persona I've imagined for Cruise.  Post Oprah-couch-freakout, it's one of the only Cruise movies I can watch that seems to accomodate the knowledge that this guy is likely deeply disturbed, highly unstable, and overcompensating for God knows what sorts of suppressed insecurities.  In the film's climactic finale, Mackey kneels at his dying father's bed and confesses in his own curious way the sticky mess of conflicting paternal resentment and need for love that has driven his lifelong quest to "respect the cock" and "tame the c***."  In short, he reveals the daddy issues which have motivated him to disregard social norms, sleep with more women than is safe or reasonable, and just generally act like a raging dickhead.

Through the lens of this character, I am able to pretend to understand Tucker Max, to imagine the motives behind his desperate brand of entertainment.  Probably his father was a big jerk.  Probably his home life wasn't as nurturing as we all might have hoped.  Maybe that's not it at all, but I don't think I'll bother to find out for sure, because I doubt I'd find anything that justifies this guy's destructive ideology.  In Max's case, I'm quite comfortable assuming the simplest explanation is the most likely.

To be fair, our interaction was fairly prosaic.  Ol' Tucker needed some assistance connecting a recently purchased computing device to the internet, and I was only too happy to assist.  I did the bulk of the talking and Max interjected occasionally with an "oh yeah, duh" or "yeah, sure, yeah," as if my explanations were obvious and unnecessary (which, actually, is entirely possible... the process is pretty intuitive).  My lasting impression of the man is his scent: he exudes a potent musky body odor that is either the secret to his overwhelming success with women or the natural and unfortunately odorous consequence of becoming an asshole.  I can only guess at the underlying issues of the attractive brunette in his company.  She spoke only once, and only after being spoken to, like an obedient child.  I guess if that's a first place finish, I'm content to bring up the rear.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Year of the Car

During the week leading up to Christmas, Austin had experienced a rash of surreal warm weather those unfamiliar with Texas attribute to the place year-round.  Early December temperatures had dipped to the low 50s, making ubiquitous the sight of heavy winter jackets, North Face fleeces, and tasseled designer beanies.  Children dashed around trailing the sorts of tethered mittens I've learned to associate with gross accumulations of snow and the building of snowmen, like excerpts from an L.L. Bean winter catalog oddly devoid of that essential powdery precipitation.  Then, with a week remaining in the official Christmas season, a streak of sun-drenched 70-degree spring anachronism pried the heavy woolen layers off the most cold-blooded Texans.  With days remaining for any hope of even a close approximation of Christmas as I knew it, Austin had become disgustingly warm.

I was initially overjoyed, then, when I discovered that central Texas temperatures would dive to pseudo-normal lows for the Christmas holiday itself, and when I awoke on the morning of the 25th (on my first full day as a 25 year-old), I was comforted by the necessity of the softly purring heat safeguarding my home from the winter-like cold outside.  Then I remembered my dilemma.

Having failed to forge sufficiently intimate friendships in Austin as necessary to impose on Christmas plans, I faced the choice of traveling 200 miles north to Fort Worth to spend the day with friends of the family, or hanging out alone in my apartment.  Though this was to be my first Christmas away from family, I was not keen on adding the additional emotional burden of complete isolation.  I pictured myself curled up on the couch with a bottle of pine-smelling Czech liqueur in the glow of a holiday movie marathon, whistling holiday tunes and gorging myself on wheat thins and special edition M&M's.  No, that wouldn't do.  I had to get to Fort Worth at all costs.

At 9:30 am, I donned my Columbia ski jacket for the first time in months and checked the forecast one last time.  It was expected to remain in the mid-30s for the entirety of the day, and though it had been my personal experience that motorcycle travel at temperatures below 45 is, to say the least, excruciatingly uncomfortable, I was compelled by my need for human contact to block from my mind the specific level of pain the next few hours would surely entail.  I squeezed my fists in my riding gloves, comforted by the familiar crack of the leather, and pressed the starter button on my bike.  The engine coughed to life with reluctant protest and forced me to rev the throttle obnoxiously to avoid stalling.  The fear of disturbing tranquil Christmas-morning festivities washed over me briefly before I noticed that my motorcycle was very nearly alone in the apartment complex parking-lot.  Best to get going then.

The first twenty miles on Interstate-35 brought reality crashing through the self-imposed barriers of denial.  A penetrating chill quickly settled beneath the layers of my clothing, and my leather riding gloves proved pathetically insufficient against the whipping wind.  I steered my motorcycle off an exit north of Georgetown and chattered to a stop at a seemingly deserted Shell station.  Inside, I feigned interest in a meager selection of protein bars as I desperately willed some warmth back into my body and considered my next steps.  The sad phone call it would require to cancel my visit played in my mind, the at once disappointed and condoling "But I understands" that would surely be spoken.  Amidst my deliberations, a grizzly old man approached the register to purchase a package of AA batteries.  "Gotta git my family visits outta tha way before I git ta drinkin'," he barked at the utterly indifferent cashier.  The transaction finished and the eager drunk skipped out the door with a "Murry Christmas."

That was that.  This sad bastard's galvanizing declaration cemented my decision, and I clutched at some cotton work gloves that looked big enough to slide over my current leather ones.  Roughly 180 miles of Texas interstate lay between my current location and the solace of pleasant company in Fort Worth.  If I could travel at 20-30 mile intervals, stopping intermittently to warm myself at gas stations, I could feasibly make the trip in around 4 hours.  This was to be my Christmas trial, a measure of my holiday resolve, and I refused to balk at its scope.

After the first hour, I settled into a sort of mindless fugue in which my frozen fingers signaled through sharp pangs the limits of my exposure.  The pain, though extreme, was distant and objective, like a mechanical indicator, an innocuous red LED made to identify critically cold states of the body.  As such, I responded to it mechanically, stopping when necessary, and relying on warm-air hand dryers to reset the feeling in my digits.  In this way, I found myself rolling into the driveway of my destination shortly before 2:00 pm on Christmas afternoon, shivering involuntarily but nonetheless relieved to have completed the trip.

The shivering subsided after half an hour of fireside warmth and I relaxed into a dreamy ecstasy of friendly conversation, chocolate morsels, and endless effortless heat against a background of hypnotic NBA coverage.  My mother, thoughtful beyond measure, had mailed a Christmas gift so that I'd have something to unwrap, and my unspeakably generous hosts, The Salsberrys, had secured a red-velvet cake to celebrate my recent birthday. I replayed with a shiver of closely-avoided regret the scenario of my hypothetically canceled visit, imagined the specially-ordered birthday cake going to begrudged waste and the Christmas gift left packaged beneath the Salberrys' tree.  I had made the right call in coming.  The end had justified the means, even if the means weren't yet paid in full.

The pleasurable portion of the evening ended with a beef tenderloin dinner and an abundance of saccharine-heavy deserts.  As the clock ticked closer to 9 pm, I became less and less able to suppress the ugly knowledge of my having to return to Austin in time for a morning shift at the Apple store.  Over the previous seven hours, I'd willfully dismissed this unpleasant truth as the sun sank below the horizon and the temperature dropped to an ungodly 28 degrees.  Now, as the Salsberry's sleepy yawns signaled my timely departure, this realization confronted me like a very icy slap to the face.

Thanks to some resourceful neighbors, I was able to procure several packages of hand warmers for the return trip.  With a warmer in each glove and boot, I bid the smiling Salberrys farewell and rode off betwixt the pylons of their snug gated community and out into the unrelenting cold of a brutal Texan Christmas.

A lingering warmth, some vestige of the merriness of the Salsberry's company, shielded me from the chill until the lights of Fort Worth were scarcely visible in my side mirrors.  But as the sight of this haven disappeared, so did the warmth of its memories, and I soon found myself huddled at a rest stop some 10 miles south of the city limits, breathing life into my pinkish fingers and stomping the cold out of my legs. Riding the interstate at night evokes a sensation of traversing the bottom of a vast ocean, and the piercing cold only heightens this sensation of smallness.  Had the pavement swept away beneath me, I'd have readily believed I was careening through the depths of space, suffering a slow freezing death in a great black void.  The black tar and perforated road markings did not, however, sweep away, but rather rushed by at a steady and constant 70 miles per hour, each minute an eternity, each mile a victory.

With gas stations as oases of warmth, I forged ahead, activating my entire reserve of hand warmers and dividing them equally between each glove so that my hands bulged with tumorous lumps.  On the road, I perfected a method of wrapping my scarf around and within the gaps at the base of my helmet so that I could create a mostly wind-proof seal if I tipped my head forward.  My hands seemed to grow accustomed to the repetitive chill and thaw of my various stops, and I discovered that consuming a cup of coffee quickly brought my violent shivering under control, though the gradual accumulation of caffeine made me light-headed and fidgety in a terribly uncomfortable manner.

At the halfway point of Waco, nerves in my feet began firing sporadically, sending icy jolts up my legs and into my frozen knees.  My fingers had ceased to feel cold and now transmitted only a vague burning sensation that summoned visions of tongues on frozen poles and the crystallization of soft flesh.  I began to shout obscenities to no one in particular, and this seemed to help pass the time, which was moving at a much slower rate than the morning's travels.  The discomfort of 28 degrees had no patience for fugues as had the mild unpleasantness of the mid-30s.

Ten miles north of Austin, I pulled into an Exxon station, the kind of dilapidated station reserved for scenes in slasher films, and limped off my bike with a grimace.  The attendant inside was far more chipper than anyone working at 1:00 am on December 26th has the right to be.  He possessed a brand of manic cheer that seems at once inviting and socially abnormal, such as belongs to sociopaths and the mentally challenged.  I poured myself a large house coffee and tried to remain inconspicuous at a table near the restrooms.  My involuntary shivering shook the entire table, rattled the metal napkin dispenser, and caused me to spill my coffee several times.  Eventually, the attendant poked his head from behind the register to ask if I was alright.  I assured him that I was and felt relieved to hear that my voice was unaffected by my body's violent shaking.  "Where you headed?" he asked.  My voice, smooth and solid despite its quaking origin, replied, "Austin."  "Well, you're almost there," he chirped.

Due perhaps to the crippling nearness of my goal or to an accumulation of thermal debt, it took me nearly 40 minutes to quell my shivering.  I sipped coffee and watched the occasional buyer of a pack of cigarettes until I had gathered enough strength for what I knew would be the final leg.  As I rode away from the station and picked up speed, I failed to register the wind buffeting my chest and head.  My focus was singular and numbing.  Tollway 45 lifted me soaring into the air and onto the Mopac expressway.  I began to pass familiar landmarks: the Target at Round Rock, the Apple Store at The Domain, Murchison Middle on Far West Boulevard.  I was a mere minutes from my Longview apartment.

And then there was a corpse in the road ahead.  What was it -- a cat?  Some kind of raccoon?  No, a dog with a striped tail.  All I knew was that I had about two seconds before I'd collide with the dead thing and it just so happened to be hogging the one lane of four that I'd chosen and I'd better straighten my bike and brace myself and, oh God here it comes -- and I was over it with two thumps in quick succession, having leapt the obstacle at speeds in excess of 70 mph.

Minutes later I was pulling into the familiar cracked concrete of my parking spot, hobbling up to my second-floor apartment, stripping my clothing like dead flesh, and curling in the fetal position under the vitally hot spray of my shower head.  I rocked on my haunches in my bathtub like an insane person until the hot water tank emptied itself, then I toweled off and dressed in layers befitting a polar explorer.  I ratcheted up the heat in the apartment and burrowed into my bed covers, feeling an icy radiance in my bones.  As my shallow and rapid breaths slowed and deepened, I began to reflect on the night's travels.  It had taken me in excess of 5 hours to make the return trip and had cost me as much body heat as I believe I've sacrificed in any one event ever.  I kept returning to a story my dad's dad tells about his experience in the foxholes of WWII-era France, imagining the winter-chill he describes, the snow falling on boots in stagnant gray puddles, the vapor breathes dissipating into bleach white sky.  I decided in those final waning moments of consciousness that 2011 will be at long last the year of the car.  Happy New Year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Pipeline

Ever since being hired by Apple retail, my weeks have adopted a sort of inverted quality.  I work tirelessly during the weekends and enjoy the majority of my free time during days when the rest of the country returns begrudgingly to their offices, desks, and classrooms.  It is by way of this inversion that I find myself conversing with friend and fellow Austin filmmaker Greg K. over a cup of Bennu coffee at 8:00 AM on a Monday morning in December.  Temperature check: West Virginia, mid 20s; New York, high 20s; South Dakota, high 20s; Austin, 63 and rising.  My heavy ski jacket remains neglected amongst the other refuse of my winter wear.

Greg explains an analogy he's concocted for ensuring he remains pleasantly productive in a business that is based on anything but routine.  It's called the pipeline.  "At any given moment, I want to make sure I've got several things in the pipeline," says Greg.  "As you know, the input is much wider than the output, so you might have several pending projects in the pipeline, only one of which generates an opportunity."

The pipeline is Greg's way of visualizing a business strategy based on cultivating a multitude of goals simultaneously in an effort to maximize potential opportunities for growth.  To mix metaphors, it's planting a bunch of seeds to see which one bears fruit.  It's diversifying your portfolio to guarantee a profit.  It's throwing your noodles against the wall to see if they stick.  No, wait.  That last one's for cooking spaghetti.  But I think you get the idea.

Greg assures me that the pipeline is not an original idea, but he's the first to share it with me, so I'm willing to give him credit.  He elaborates: "When I come across an idea that I think has some potential, that I'm genuinely interested in, I'm eager to engage in that dialogue.  I send it down the pipeline.  Sure, there are times when several opportunities present themselves all at once, but it's better to have to choose than to want for opportunities."

This pipeline idea is one that appeals to me, primarily because it fits neatly with my own ideas about the necessary approach to happiness and fulfillment.  What brings Greg's incarnation to vivid life are the little nuggets of wisdom he uses to contextualize it.  "It's important not to confuse decision making with problem solving," stresses Greg.  "It's important to avoid diffusing your energies across too many different projects at the same time.  It's crucial to build a network of supportive relationships, individuals who are invested in your story."  It is this last point that has driven me to blogdom.

Greg and I discuss how the advent of massively popular social networking can be at least partially attributed to a universal desire to become invested in others' stories, to share and become a contributing factor in the narrative of another's life.  The team of investors that we collect naturally throughout life validates, empowers, and motivates us to take initiative, to not only send it down the pipeline, but to ensure that we capitalize on what comes out on the other end.  I believe this is what is missing (or what I have missed) in David Foster Wallace's Kenyon College commencement address that I blogged about several weeks ago.  Yes, we decide subjectively what is capital T truth, but our social investors can help us achieve a momentum that is difficult (I dare not say impossible) to attain individually, a momentum that allows us to act on our truths.

And so I return to the purpose of this post, which is twofold.  One, that I might detail the current contents of my own pipeline in the hopes that the family and close friends who frequent this blog might become critically invested in those opportunities, and thereby help me achieve the momentum necessary to see them through.  Two, that those same frequenters might have an outlet for their own unvoiced pipeline projects - an opportunity to speak them into existence so that they can begin to gain the kind of social support that fuels ambition to success.  I do not often specifically request comments on a post, but I'd be really excited to see what some of you have been "sending down the pipeline" recently.

This is what my current pipeline holds:

I've been hard at work on a screenplay detailing the two years of my life spent teaching elementary school on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  This being a passion project, I've mentioned it excitedly to certain friends and family without revealing too many details.  I recently completed a first draft (which I am tentatively calling "Winter Count") that comes in it around 135 pages, which is a little long-winded for a screenplay.  Following some necessary revision, I anticipate having something to share by the first of the new year.  Please hold me accountable to this promise.

I've sent proposition letters to several prominent outdoor magazines pitching a series of written articles that would focus on hiking the Continental Divide Trail.  This represents a plan hatched in conjunction with the energies of an NYU classmate who currently resides in Chinatown, Manhattan.  The series would focus on two twenty-something city-slickers' harsh acclamation to the wild over the six-month period required to hike the entirety of the 3,100-mile trail.  In truth, I'm from West Virginia and Max hails from rural upstate New York, so we're hardly deserving of the "city-slicker" label.  But every story needs an angle, and that's what we've chosen.

Unnamed applications/submissions that are too obscure to mention.  I've also applied for some jobs and submitted some films to some festivals.  Ambiguous, but only because specific details would likely be of little interest.  Should any of these shots-in-the-dark connect, I'd be happy to provide details.

Alright.  Your turn.  The first step to turning that dream into reality is to will it to life with words.  So let's hear about it.  Please don't let Mom and Dad be the only responses.  In addition to being a wasted opportunity for you, that would be really embarrassing for me (with no offense intended to the 'rents).

*Actually, on second thought, I think my parents responses would actually be most interesting, as a way of assuring me that this whole pipeline thing doesn't dry up as you move into the later phases of life.