6.22.2020

On Failure... Again

For the better part of my life, I've been a closeted competitor. I've tried to keep the monster in the basement and walk around saying shit like "good game" and "it's fun to compete" when my heart is on fire and I'm flipping tables in my mind. A casual amount of care has never been my strong suit. But as I've subjected myself to competitions over the last few years, I've learned some strange things about myself.

It's not that I want to win. It's that I don't want you to beat me. I don't care about winning. It's an ephemeral joy that slips away like a one-night stand at 4AM. The sun's glory turns to shadow the moment you step off the podium. Was it a fluke? Did you deserve it? How much of it was luck? These questions ought to haunt every victor. Those who are defined by their former success are destined to live in their own shadow. Trophies are gauche statues to the competitor you used to be. I'm not motivated by the desire to earn glory, notoriety, or prizes. I'm driven relentlessly, frustratingly, and compulsively by a fundamental hatred for losing.

Failure is inevitable. Failure is the rule. Of course it is. Reasonable people have no basis to expect victory. Competitions are frequent and against formidable opponents. In a field of 100 there will be 99 failures. Failure isn't just likely; it is a statistical inevitability. Yet no matter how much I rattle off these facts, I remain unconvinced. Rather making me think about them adds another rung on my ladder of hating losing. I am not a reasonable man.

When I lose, I relinquish a permanent trophy of pride to you. It can never be recovered. It's yours for all time. Yet, curiously, when I win, I trash the trophy. I feel only relief that I didn't have to give you mine. The idea of your smirk is enough to shake my foundations. I despise it. Wins are temporary. Losses are forever. I don't remember the dozen times I've beaten you. Only the one game I didn't -- with stunning clarity, photo-realistic detail, and unimaginable accuracy. I don't want you to have it. I can forget my wins. I can't forget my losses. I played Walking Dead in a pinball tournament five years ago that was broadcast on the Internet. My score was less than you'd earn from shooting only skill shots. I dedicated the next year to devastating the game. 

Presently, this is a phenomenological probe into what is rather than what ought to be. I'm indifferent as to whether or not this is a healthy approach to competition. Whiplash is one of my favorite movies, though I don't view it as a cautionary tale about obsession and manipulation. I see it as a greatness how-to guide. And this feels intrinsically like a failing of character on my part. It's a twisted romance where tenacity wins the day. You can throw a cymbal at my head; I'm not quitting. 

It's failure that propels me. It soaks in to my skin like tattoo ink, refusing to wash out. And the stomach-churning, chest-hollowing resentment I feel toward myself is a desperate plea with my future self to never feel this way again. It begs me to focus, learn, adapt, and overcome. Nothing in this world motivates me harder than a monstrous, embarrassing, and preventable failure. 

You can't win 'em all. Better luck next time. Win some. Lose some. You did your best. Everything happens for a reason. At least we had fun. 

Fuck. That. Shit. 

I placed third in a tournament today. Won a trophy and money.

Never again.

5.30.2020

See The Wind

I ride a bike. Not a spandex pants and special shoes kind of bike. Not an aerodynamic helmet with wrap-around sunglasses kind of bike. I don't identify with bike culture or talk to anyone about my bike. It's a mode of transportation I'm perpetually thankful hasn't been stolen in totality. I've replaced the rear fender a half dozen times, purchased five or six pairs of LED lights, and lost the rear wheel a time or two. It's a real urban ship of Theseus. I use it because owning a car in the city is a punitive and punishing exercise. I despise traffic and parking tickets. So I bike. And over the years, my commutes have been varying degrees of horrible. Weather, traffic, ceaseless construction, and my own laziness have all impeded my efforts. And on one particularly exhausting and painful commute, I got a fractional amount of clarity on the nature of privilege.

It was a criminally humid day and my swamp-ass was redlining. The stickiest, grossest, and ugliest version of myself arrived at work. An uncommonly brutal headwind molested my travel. As I was locking up my bike, my coworker rolled up from the opposite direction, dry-assed and all smiles. He locked his bike, gave the coworker nod of acknowledgment, and waltzed into the office. His bike was a functionally identical copy of mine: single-speed fixed gear, steel frame, handsome. I stood there feeling beads of sweat pooling at the top of my ass and wondered what the fuck was going on.

In the perilous and absurd journey of human existence, not all roads are created equal. And while I subscribe to the notion of radical freedom posited by existentialists, I'm forced to reconcile with systemic and cultural practices which run to the very foundation of a social existence. Philosophically, I've been wrestling with concept of privilege. I am not an expert and, as a cis-gendered male, should likely let the marginalized speak on the issue. It will certainly do damage to the idea and the hubris of attempting to codify privilege is not lost on me. The following investigation is not meant to be exhaustive, but to highlight an essential component of the concept, particularly the curious denial of its very existence.

My coworker biked the same distance to work on a virtually identical bike. Why was I wrecked? Then it dawned on me: he had the wind at his back. An invisible hand, to purposely misappropriate Smith's notion, aided his journey. Those with the wind at their backs rarely recognize it. They attribute their swiftness to personal strengths: their fitness, determination, and resolve. And why wouldn't they? Pedal for a moment and be rewarded with momentum. Coasting allows you to save your strength. The next hill is easily taken with fresh legs. Suddenly you've gone farther than others. Others marvel at your endurance and fortitude.

And your journey ought to be celebrated. You worked as hard as was necessary to achieve your goal. You did it. You struggled on the big hill but persevered. They were your legs that carried you to where you wanted to go. Congratulations.

But those who bike into the wind live a vastly different existence. Onlookers see nothing out of the ordinary, no obstacles. How could we expect them to understand unless they, too, have limped up a nonintimidating hill accosted by an invisible wall? A molasses blanket dangles between your endeavor and goal. Legs taxed by the most mundane hills have nothing in the tank for what would otherwise be a manageable incline.

The most intrepid riders, despite all odds, succeed. And those with the wind at their backs are quick to point out that some people can make the journey despite the wind. The few who make it are shown to be examples that the journey isn't impossible and that anyone who fails is either lazy or unfit.

Our American meritocracy depends on the notion that our successes and our failures are ours and ours alone. To acknowledge privilege is to undermine one of the deepest held American values. This is perhaps why we are so reticent to recognize it. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, assuming you were born in a family that could afford to buy boots? It doesn't have the same ring to it.

Even if we were to assume this was the extent of privilege, it would still demand our attention. Even if we leave aside the idea that a black biker is more likely to be stopped by police, those situations are more likely to result in heartbreaking escalations where lives are lost. Even if we leave aside issues where women are knocked off their bikes and assaulted, if they did make it to work, they would be paid less than men. Even if we leave aside hate crimes committed based on who you fuck when you get off your bike, many refuse the very notion that privilege exists.

Until we are ready to acknowledge that not all journeys are equal, and that many struggles are invisible, we can never begin to approach a solution. Until we can admit our country isn't a pure meritocracy, we will forever be doomed to overvalue our successes and downplay the plight of others.

Admitting privilege is not a solution. It is a bare minimum for understanding our relationship to the world. And to those with the wind at your backs, try to imagine why your friends and coworkers are sweaty and exhausted by something so effortless for you. Your calves aren't that majestic.

5.07.2020

If It's Worth Doing

I don't consider myself a perfectionist, though anyone who's watched me make coffee, hang a painting, or play a record might strenuously object. I'm a devoted fan of the detail, but it's insulting to perfectionism to assume what I do approximates it. People love to casually toss around the OCD diagnosis, but like all their half-assery, it lacks nuance. I'm not at your dinner table adjusting an errant fork. That's not my poison. I get high on a job well-done. That's my heroin.

It's a subtle distinction, but my affinity for order isn't rooted in being perturbed. I have a remarkable ability to ignore things. I don't care about your lazily hung art. I didn't invest the time, energy, or cognitive real-estate. Did I notice the placement wasn't symmetrical and that the viewing height aren't consistent between rooms? Of-fucking-course. But I clocked it and moved on. Dwelling on the negative isn't my deal. I'm not going to get twitchy sitting in your living room because you haven't calibrated your television to THX standard with cinema quality blacks. I will, however, turn off motion smoothing while you're in the bathroom because no human should have to endure that soap opera trash.

The gap between prints 2-3 is the same as 1-2.
It's the camera angle.
My attempt to dangerously approach perfection is born of bizarre pleasure. I recently framed and hung some silkscreened show posters in my home. After an embarrassingly long deliberation process, appropriately selected locations, uniform viewing heights, balanced color scheme, and matching frames were achieved. Typically I like to keep my obsessive projects to myself, but on this one I brought in the expert eyes of someone with unimpeachable aesthetic taste. I couldn't be trusted to handle this on my own.

My buddy Jawsh considers framing old show posters a hallmark of the aging punk's existence. Guilty as charged. Punk records on a turntable that costs a month's rent is my brand. Classy trash; high low-brow.

After measuring, re-measuring, and obsessing every detail, they were hung. And hung they were. Magnificently. Majestically. Gloriously. And here, dear reader, is where we reap what we've sown. The elusive and orgasmic payoff is at hand. Gazing up at my walls, I get a hit of dopamine, a chemical pat on the back from my brain.

Whether it's measuring my cocktails down to the tenth of a milliliter, or building internal braces into my Ikea Kallax to ensure every record is perfectly flush with the face, I am painfully aware I expose my streak-free glass house to your rocks of criticism. I get it. But to the good enough breed among you, I ask, How do you get high on fine? How do you not yearn  to experience the unadulterated joy of true level?

Or do you not build your sense of self on arbitrary, empty achievements?

Pinball. Cough. High scores. Cough.

Do you get your feeling of efficacy from the love of your children or the unyielding care and affection of your spouse? Is it from your work? Your art? Tell me. Where do you get your supply? I want to know.

My drug is excellence. It pays dividends in my heart. Perfection is my porn; I sniffed it once and now I'm chasing that dragon to the grave. I still giggle when I see how perfectly calibrated my TV is when I'm watching a dark film. No grainy purple shit blacks up in here. My mouth waters at a 17.42 to 1 water-to-coffee ratio, measured on a scale which Bluetooths to my phone and graphs my brewprint. I dare you to listen to a dust-free record, playing on an inch thick acrylic platter, with a perfectly balanced 1.8g tracking-force cartridge from the optimal equilateral triangle listening position and tell me you haven't felt the touch of God.

Or enjoy your good enough.

5.05.2020

What We Repeatedly Do

I was vegetarian for seven years. That's not precise. I was an invertebratarian. While in grad school I was at a philosophy of biology faculty dinner and asked the lecturer if she thought invertebrates could feel pain. Her position was that an animal lacking a central nervous system was also likely lacking the evolutionary machinery necessary to process pain. A cornerstone of my vegetarianism, along with youthful rebellion, was the avoidance of causing unnecessary pain. So I invented my own diet. Mollusks. Crabs. Shrimp. If you were the kind of food that doesn't have the courage of your convictions, your spineless ass got ate. And it carried on that way until I moved to Chicago.

It needs to be said and triple underlined, that I love meat. I'd take a steak over being loved. My Dad and I would grill steaks on Thanksgiving because fuck turkey in its dry, dry ass. Side bar, I miss watching Rocky movies and eating steak with my pops. Giving up meat was not easy for me, but I had my reasons. But over the years, the ghost of meat stopped haunting mealtime. My love died and I accepted my new reality.

Menus shrank. My eyes only processed meatless dishes. I had created a fortress of belief which governed my behavior. I never broke. Never gave an inch. Never took a weekend off. But one night, in a shitty Wrigleyville bar, with friends, I ate a chicken wing.

I couldn't remember the Nick that took a principled stance against animal harm. He was a yearbook photo. He and I were connected only by technicality, a dim awareness of truth which created no meaningful bond outside of habit.

The Nick who tore chicken from the bone that night had been separated from his philosophical belief for years. That Nick stopped caring about animal cruelty long ago, his behavior propelled by the ferocious and invisible hand of habit. But Habit, oh Habit, You quiet monster. Your torrid relationship with time is toxic. Habit glosses over your sense of agency. It obscures your immutable freedom, outlining a well-trodden path when every direction is sensible.

Quarantine has been a reset button for my habits. Everything is up for grabs. I deleted Pokemon Go which I had launched fifty times a day, everyday, for three years. After losing my sense of smell, I found alcohol aversive and didn't drink for a month. I have since found joy in having the occasional drink, particularly the Gold Rush which is a phenomenally refreshing little ditty. I've started making food at home instead of defaulting to delivery, but also started staying up until 4AM because time is a flat circle. In a few short weeks, my wiring has been fundamentally altered. It's shocking how quickly what is can feel like what always was.

So I've been putting my habits under the microscope. Some serve me phenomenally well, like making coffee as the first thing after waking up. Others, like my desire for beer, are quelled by putting a lazily flavored carbonated beverage next to it. It turns out I choose La Croix every time.

I'm not interested in prescribing habits to you. I don't have any idea whether my decision to start eating meat again was beneficial, but habits aren't occasional jaunts; they are the foundation of our behavior, creating the framework of our everyday. They should be vetted, scrutinized, considered and then reconsidered. I've operated under the ghost of an older operating system for years at a time. And what we do over and over, with near robotic automation, should be carefully considered. We should choose our habits precisely because we are slaves to them. I'd rather crash a plane than land safely on autopilot.

Do you hear me, Habits?

This is your Captain speaking.

4.30.2020

I'll be alternating between writing here and at Now Playing LP where I'm writing my biography in records. Don't worry if you've never heard of any of the stupidly obscure records I'm writing about. You don't have to know anything about them. Music is a time machine. Each post is a love letter to the place and time it transports me to.

Nick And His Opinions

I've written this blog since I moved to Chicago. I've sprinted and written multiple times a day, and let it languish on the highest shelves of the Internet for year-long stretches.

But it's dusting time.


I barely recognize the kid who started this blog nearly ten years ago. The kid who thought professional improvisor was a career possibility. Freshly rejected from PhD programs the world over, I took my amateur-hour armchair philosophy to the unregulated streets of the Internet. I was late to the blogging game in 2010, and now it feels almost comical to continue. I made my therapist a laptop, and played racquetball against a mirror.

During the years I've neglected this blog, my mental health has suffered. Gone were the days of bravely digging into my intentions and motivations. I got distracted by playing games on my phone, pinball, and fell into the tempting tranquilization of inauthentic existence. Hey look, there's still some Heidegger in here somewhere.

And, dear reader, before I lure you into a false sense of hope, I've not solved anything.

That's not entirely true, but we'll get to that. It's an absolutely bonkers time, but I'm not interested in talking about COVID-19, which incidentally I tested positive for and have lived with for the month of April. I'm interested in what it did to me. Not physically. Psychologically. This pandemic is a kind of low-grade zombie apocalypse. And the strength of exaggerated situations is that they cause who we are to emerge. We are the sum of our choices under pressure.

I've never seen a therapist, despite the tireless urging of nearly everyone who cares about me. For me, staving off despair was manageable with a solid friend group, fulfilling creative projects, and healthy eating/workout habits. One by one, I've let them all slip out the door at 4AM so they didn't have to sleep over.

Lately, it's become a running joke that I refer to my past self as "Nick and His Opinions." Up his own ass, idealistic, opinionated Nick. He can be intolerable, but it turns out I really miss that kid. Because I'm intolerable now, but just in a cynical, lazy way. And if you have to die on a hill, you might as well choose the idealistic one. It's prettier there.

I'm not going to list all the stupid shit I'm doing to try and improve myself. Ain't nobody needs your IG stories about how you're eating healthy and crushing your quarantine body. But, privately, between you and me, we are making some changes under the hood over here.


Despair creeps up on you. It isn't a jump scare from a movie. It's a gentle haze that slowly obscures your vision. Soon you don't recognize who you used to be. And what's worse is you don't miss them. You turn them into a joke. That's the criminal part. We rationalize away the self we used to admire. Because it's easier than admitting we're a worse version of ourselves.

Nobody blogs. No one gives a shit about philosophy. My armchair investigations amount to nothing. And yet, here we are.

Nick and His Opinions -- welcome back. I've missed you. Even if it's just for a bit, I'm happy you're here. The place wasn't the same without you.

12.19.2017

On Failure

"No victor believes in chance." - Nietzsche

I have been losing lately. In competition, in discipline, in creativity. This will be the first and likely only post for 2017. I don't think I read a single book this year. I weigh more than I ever have. I've written nothing. Instead, I funneled nearly all my free time into a mind-numbing game. Spent the better part of the year with my head buried in my phone, compulsively checking and rechecking, and checking again out of pure habit.  2017 is the 365 night stand we wish we could forget. The tumultuous political climate, a slew of mass shootings, and an outpouring of sexual assault victims have cast a specter of despair over this year. The guilt of impotence burrows deep. And while it is tempting to unload my failures on these tragedies, I would have failed without them. This post isn't about shitting on 2017, or damning technology for mainlining dopamine. Its about me and how I blew it this year. 

Only losers are interested in the lessons of failure. Winners learn no lessons. And why should they? Their best was enough. Their mistakes amount to nothing. Chance played no role in their success. cause winning. One remembers none of their wins, but is haunted by thousands of almosts and if onlys. And while winning isn't edifying, it's vasty preferable to losing. And as this year ticks to an end, I'm forced to reckon with a year of lessons. 

I am tempted to delete Pokemon Go off my phone, deactivate social media, and swear off porn and booze forever. But it's not their fault I don't write. It's not their fault I don't read. Or go to the gym. Or have a career I'm proud of. It is a poor addict who blames his vices.

Despair isn't a punch to the face. It isn't obvious. It's a bed bug infestation. Coming for you while you sleep, tearing at you with tiny fangs, and leaving you scratching their fantom assault the next day. You may well wonder if you every truly got them all. It is an itch that never ceases.

Armchair psychology cures nothing, but I dimly remember that giving the finger to aging feels better than donuts. Writing is one of the only ways I begin to understand myself and I've taken the year off from self-scrutiny. Admitting to myself for the first time I've gone too far with my formidable distractions, I'm reminded of the life I could lead without them. Yet Pokemon Go stares longingly at me from my smartphone. My gym remains the longest five minute walk in the known universe. And somewhere in a drawer is a Kindle desperately in need of a charge. 

This post ends with no grand promises of new fury in 2018, no tempered optimism about overcoming addictions. I've solved nothing. Learned nothing new. I've merely looked failure in the eyes, something I've spent the last year avoiding. It waits for my next move.

1.04.2016

Insert Coin

There is no winning in pinball. Only prolonged losing. Every pinball game ever played has ended with the same unceremonious GAME OVER. No one pulls that sword from the stone. But for some inexplicable reason, we feel compelled to insert our quarters, crack our knuckles, and see if we've got what it takes to be king of a tiny castle.

A pinball victory is as nebulous as it is satisfying. Whether you're chasing a personal best, the high of knocking off a Grand Champion, or trying to edge out a Player 2, the pinball machine is indifferent. The flashing lights and chaotic art call to us like an amusement lighthouse. Press start, it begs. But make no mistake, you do not matter to pinball. The cynical among you might suggest pinball is rigged like a self-contained carnival, but there is no anthropomorphism here. Every ball plunged is met with solenoid indifference. This maddening intersection of human desire and the indifference of the world is what Camus famously coined "the absurd." 

In the distance, someone is shouting "Replay! The point of pinball is replays." On the face, the score-based award of a free game makes sense, but as we dig deeper into the psychology of pinball enthusiasts, a thesis couched in replays disappears faster than a ball save. Survival, as Nietzsche famously noted, is not the goal of life, but rather a side effect. Suggesting the goal of pinball is to play more pinball sounds poetic, but misses something essential about the experience.

The game could easily make an additional credit available to the player once play has ended, but that's not the point of a replay. A replay is an audible, some would say ostentatious, declaration of achievement. It's not an accident. Hell, it's an entire mechanical apparatus built to hammer the side of the cabinet. This same mechanism is engaged when a player places on the leaderboard. The "knocker" sound is a Darwinian flare aurally fired from the machine to signal everyone in within a hundred feet that the player standing in the corner is a champion to be anointed with oils and bathed in adoration. Sadly, however, most bar patrons seem to have largely missed this memo.

Still, the replay is crucial to the pinball experience. I detest free play machines, like playing poker with Monopoly money. Life demands stakes. A fiscally insignificant investment of twenty-five cents represents a substantial emotional gamble. With this quarter, I pledge to pit my timing, patience, and savvy against gravity, chaos, and my inevitable demise. No one leaves this poker room with chips. The replay, however, invites us to play another hand. As with any good con, there's a catch. The replay award becomes exponentially harder to achieve. The score needed for a replay nearly doubles each time it is awarded  making it theoretically possible to achieve, but quickly becomes unwieldy, a cruel inversion of Zeno's paradox of motion (see: Achilles and the Tortoise).    

Still, the game cannot be beat. Sir Isaac Newton curses his own name every time he gets half-ramped. What goes up must come down. The two inch canyon separating your flipper feels like a mother's desperate hands trying to catch an infant that slipped off the kitchen counter. Every outlane is a coin flip. No appeal can be made to the dispassionate, severe, and final rule of the tilt bob. 

So why do we play a game we know to be unwinnable? Why are there golden tokens in every room of my house? Why are there more pictures of pinball DMDs on my Instagram account than people? Because pinball is a microcosm for existence. You find yourself at a table. It could be an immaculately maintained, lovingly tuned gem, or it could be laundromat trash beaten within an inch of its life by kids lamenting its monochrome screen. You can play like a hero on the garbage machine or you can choke on the pristine one. There is always wiggle room. And everything good in life lives in this wiggle room. Amidst the chaos and the myriad of uncontrollable variables, your choices matter. You have agency. Every flip counts. And when you're staring at a flashing question mark mansion room in Adam's Family with your ball cradled, you discover what you're made of.

And while nothing lasts forever, our twenty-five cents buys us a temporary reprieve from this certainty. For the briefest of moments we forget about the inevitability of defeat. When our live catches are effortless, our nudges second nature, and every lit shot our destiny, pinball implores us to believe that, for these three balls, absurdity can be conquered. Our quarter buys the fleeting fantasy of immortal life and the chance to spit in the face of gravity. 

Not a bad deal at all.      

1.03.2016

A Poem About Weeds

We are obsessed with flowers, bleeding inkwells dry grasping for the perfect female metaphor. Molesting canvas with amateur hotel art, rummaging through gas station Mother's Day bouquets, and think nothing of the February rose genocide. We can't get enough. While the Camus-lover in me admires the irony of taking something beautiful, killing it, and admiring its fleeting, ephemeral beauty, I can't help but think our values are misplaced.

What is a flower? What makes us imbue it with value? It's delicate, soft, and aesthetically pleasing.  Surely these are laudable traits. But consider for a moment, their corollary: the pesky weed. The scourge of weekend chores, the blight of gardens, and the Rosemary of the Kennedy dynasty. Their namesake is rejection. They are to be discarded and weeded out. Yet the weed persists. Without encouragement, love, or support, the weed thrives. It grows taller and stronger than it has any right to. It refuses to be stifled by concrete or human desires, exploiting the tiniest cracks and carving out space for itself. It grows during droughts, sneers at pesticide, and is too resourceful to yield. In an inhospitable world, the weed declares itself worthy of existence.

Yet this unlikely survivor has no place in our hearts. Why? Because it is not beautiful. No date dreams of having one plucked and presented on a doorstep. No mother wants it on the dinner table. Consider, for a moment, what the flower represents. It is youth and beauty. Every woman who's been compared to a rose by a hack with a ponytail and an acoustic guitar is subtly accosted by the notion her value is commensurate with the flower. A fragile, beautiful object to throw away when her leaves turn.

What if we reimagined our values?  What if, instead of giving your partner a rose, you yanked a weed from the parking lot? What if you stood for something other than beauty? Declared that growing from abject, brutal conditions was worthy of your poetry and the basis for your sonnets? Proclaimed that defiance, unruliness, and grit are sexy?

It is a mistake to declare all things beautiful. If everything is beautiful, nothing is beautiful. The real crime is boiling down all value to beauty. Leave beauty for the motel art and the Hallmark cards. The weed has no use for it. Its ragged leaves bear the fruit of persistence, its gnarled stem is steady, and when the big storm comes, it howls at the wind to bring it on.

These values make it righteous and help it earn its place squarely at the center of our dining tables, and pinned to our breast, reminds us of the other values we ought to strive for. Beauty is but one of many magnificent values.

6.22.2015

Whys and Hows

"He who has his why can endure any how." - Nietzsche

Part I - Why

I am a heavy sleeper. No, that's not quite right. You don't fully understand my meaning. I don't wake up. You could flick a match onto a bulldozer loaded with fireworks and I'd barely turn over. It's not just that I sleep heavy. I wake up heavy. My body likes eight straight. It's a burden for all parties involved. Anyone who's tried to wake me up is owed my deepest apologies and sympathy.

I've tried everything: Putting the alarm on the other side of the room. Setting one alarm. Setting multiple alarms. Trusting my body to wake up on its own. It's all a mess.

The snooze bar is my proof against god. If God gave us free will, he'd release me from my eternal struggle. The goddamn, tempting, beautiful, heartbreaking snooze bar. Only divorcees have these kinds of ambivalent relationships. I pound that little fucker like it owes me lunch money. Five times a morning. Until my morning is a disaster. Until I'm blowing through stale yellow lights and sprinting to the time clock. That button is my nightmare.

For most of my life, I've promised myself to just wake up when my alarm goes off. It's not hard. Rationally, I know it's the only option. I don't take seriously the notion that I might actually retreat to my bed for the better part of the day. I'm too much of a coward to call in sick for work. So in reality, I'm just telling Nick-from-an-hour-from-now to fuck off. But despite my numerous attempts, I'm still a slave to those nine minute increments of bliss.

In my more existential moments, I've urged myself to convert more second order desires into primary ones. Convincing myself I, by sheer force of will, can change myself. Seemed simple and banal enough. Hear an alarm. Get up.

But for nearly thirty years, I remained slave to silence. Nothing made me happier than the nine minute chunks of sleep I'd steal back from my alarm. Consequences are a bitch. I was perpetually rushing during my needlessly chaotic mornings. Every day was an emergency. 

I was defeated. The champion of free will had conceded. It can't be done. Or at least not by me. The wisdom of my logic was shouted down by Egyptian cotton and feather pillows.

Part II - How

When I moved to Chicago, I didn't know a single person for a thousand miles. I liked to read outside because I sincerely believed the kind of woman I wanted to meet would see I was reading X and be so impressed that I absorbed X, she would have to go on a date with me. This has happened a grand total of zero times.

Two things happened as a result: i) I read a shit ton of books and ii) to justify taking up space on their patio, I starting buying a coffee as payment for the seat. I may have neglected to mention that until such time, I had consumed a grand total of zero coffee drinks.  Most days I'd bike to my neighborhood coffee shop, some little outfit called Intelligentsia or some such and buy a coffee beverage. By the end of the summer, I found myself at a Starbucks before an audition paying rent for my seat. I ordered a latte and began reading.

I nearly spit the coffee out.

I tactfully informed the barista there was some sort of error with my drink. It tasted off. To their credit, they politely and promptly remade my drink. The damnedest thing happened: it tasted exactly the same. There wasn't an error.   This is what their coffee tasted like. What had I been drinking?!

It turns out I had been drinking some of the best coffee in Chicago, putting it high in the running for best coffee in the world. Unwittingly, I had become a coffee snob. As winter approached, my patio visits became more infrequent. I invested in a personal coffee pot, a Bunn Velocity Brew. It keeps the water at temp at all times, like a fire fighter poised on my counter ready to jump at a moment's notice. Over the next few months, I found myself popping out of bed earlier and earlier, sometimes without the aid of an alarm.

Soon, most mornings were spent with a mug in my hand. Now it is a rare goddamn occasion I leave my house without it. Coffee is a morning cliche, but this was different. I didn't care about the caffeine. My work has free coffee. I could give a shit about that Keurig volcanic ash cum. I woke up early because the experience of drinking good coffee and reading news was better than sleep.

I realized you can't change. Humans don't change. At least not on a whim. You can't just decide to eat healthy, work out, get up early, or focus on your art. The reason why we don't is because we don't value it, or we value it less than cheeseburgers, Netflix, sleeping in and jerking off to Internet porn. We may feel a social pressure to appreciate the world in this way, but the true hierarchy of our values is revealed in our actions. We are what we do. These tertiary and secondary value judgments suggest we might think we ought to wake up early and stop hitting the snooze, but until a value trumps the marginal joy of stealing nine minutes of your morning back from work, your ass ain't getting out of bed.

school < sleep
work < sleep
bullshit personal existentialist pissing contest with self < sleep

coffee and noodling sleep 

In the end, it is very simple. Wanton freedom of choice doesn't exist. Only a competing value can compel us to action. For me, it was drinking that freshly brewed serious gourmet shit. It's gnarly and aggressive. It's bold, black, and consumed unadulterated. Coffee is what happens when you have rough sex with tea. It's what my heroes called Black Blood. And I love it enough to stop hitting the snooze bar, get my ass out of bed, and start my motherfucking day.




Visit @muglife4life on IG and Mug Life if you want to see me get nerdy.

4.06.2015

Minor Pursuits

I nearly doubled this score today.
Hobby is an odd word. My ears are disgusted by it. The word itself is ugly. The sound. The construction. The very aesthetic of the written word is revolting. It stinks of frivolity, like it ought to be relegated to the infirm and decrepit. Rarely does a single word castrate an activity so thoroughly. Hobbies are for nine or ninety year olds. But behind this atrocious mask lies perhaps a series of tiny personal treasures. Such an ugly word to describe something immeasurably beautiful.

Simply put, a hobby is a minor pursuit sought for its own sake. It contains no extrinsic value, social currency, or demonstrable value. Yet, each of us, when we settle into our little homes for the evening reach for any number of beautifully insignificant activities. These loves bathe in the noblest intentions, hovering angelically above the base engagements of ordinary life. 

Perhaps my purest hobby is pinball. I've been actively playing since I was fifteen, though my Dad taught me to play years before. I remember thinking he was a god because he could catch and manipulate the ball at will. It blew my little fucking mind. I would end up spending incalculable hours trying to tame the little silver devil. 

My first job was as a midway (i.e. carnival) operator at Circus Circus in Reno, Nevada. I swindled good people for $5 an hour for over a year. Every father or boyfriend sure the love of their child or girlfriend could be bartered for an oversized stuffed animal. Breaks were much needed spent dipping into the arcade to pop a pair of quarters into a table. My Dad's techniques began paying dividends almost immediately. I could control the seemingly random, chaotic game. I was hooked. 

During the summer, I'd spend my days in an arcade. My mom worked in a casino, and would send me to the game room with a handful of quarters and say, "Make it last." Pinball, theoretically, is infinite. But I prefer to think of it as a microcosm of life. Every game ends. What matters is how you played. Did you stave off the inevitable beautifully using deft skills and harmonious play? Or did you rail against the machine for handing you a few shitty center drains? Of course I didn't wax philosophical about it when I was 15, I just liked it. 

I wasn't an asshole back then. 

Maybe I was. 

Yeah, I was probably an asshole. But not about this.

Fast forward 15 years and I'm still playing. Maybe more than ever. And I've gotten pretty good. Considering I've easily put in the Gladwellian 10,000 hours, I fucking ought to be. I could have become a doctor with the time I spent playing pinball. But I didn't. I spent nights with my back to thousands of potential friends and dates, staring at a little silver ball for no other reason than pure joy. As though we needed to justify anything beyond unadulterated joy

We're tempted to disparage people's hobbies, dismiss them as superfluous and wasteful. But when someone becomes enamored with a minor pursuit, even temporarily, we ought to stand back and smile. They've found something that satisfies them for no earthly reason. Out of the chaos and absurdity of existence, they've found something shiny to play with. We ought to hold them on our shoulders until our backs give out. I have dozens of minor pursuits: iPhone tinkering, home brewing coffee, collecting records, disc golf, playing guitar, writing this blog, writing four other blogs. They oscillate and jockey for my attention, but rarely are they left behind. If I loved it once, I will love it again. I'm in the spring of my pinball renaissance, and I feel some sonnets coming on. If you're in Chicago, keep your eyes out for my initials or those of my pinball team: Extra Ballsy (EXB). If you come across them, know that where you stand, I sipped a Diet Coke and wished to be nowhere else in the world at that moment.   

-NED

* You can check out recent scores on IG/Twitter: @extraballsy (EXB)

3.12.2015

Part of the Time

I used to think everyone who worked full-time, was married, and had kids gave up on their dreams. Believed firmly that the borders of fun were defended by an invisible fence that kept the pesky dog of adulthood at bay. Was sure I'd never trade my free time for financial stability. But now the nebulous shadows of my dreams loom long over my bleeding savings account.

It wasn't that long ago I was certain I'd be playing my bass and staying up until 3AM every night with my childhood friends. Now they all live on opposite sides of the country. As the years drone on, like Christmas ornaments in January, they're packed and won't be seen again until next year. Our endless summers and ocean of days off dwindle to a thin puddle.

Suddenly you're eating lunch alone at Chipotle, lamenting not having anyone to split your guac with. For the first time, there are too many hours in the day. What once was a schedule overflowing with possibility, is now barren.

Adulthood poaches the rare and priceless animals from your life. It buries your equilibrium. I believe in free time. And spending massive amounts of it with the people I love, doing the things I love. But that isn't enough. You need two to play tennis. And while I am infinitely grateful for the time I've spent with my friends, my father warned me this day would come. Thanks to him I drank long and hard from the keg of friendship, danced with lady revelry, and prolonged the inevitable for longer than most. But I can feel my foothold starting to give. Doubt. It may well be time to secure a future and build something of my own. At least it will keep my hands busy. 


10.21.2014

Letters Home Tour Blog #1

At the moment I'm in Iola, KS. We did our first show this morning at the Bowlus Event center for a group of youths.


Let me back up. 

For the next month or so, I'll be acting in a touring production of The Griffin Theatre Company's Letters Home, a play about the human experience of soldiers in the wars of Iraq and Afganistan. We had our first show this morning.

I'll be writing via my phone so please excuse the brevity and careless mistakes. The cast is wonderful and really brought this show to life. The emotional weight of the real stories of the men and women of the armed forces affected me much more than I thought it would. 

I am reading the letters of Leonard Cowherd. The family of this serviceman had seen the previous iterations of the show and gifted Leonard's uniform to the company. The director, Bill Massolia, brought out the uniform before our performance. Touching that uniform was an immensely emotional moment. It was humbling. 

We have some off time before our second show of the day. We explored the town square and I, as I am wont to do, found the nearest coffee place. They do pour overs. I was happy.

Afterwards, we visited the second-hand stores. I found a vintage Old Spice shaving mug that I'm sure will get its own MugLife.com write-up soon. 
After peaking into the exercise room (using the broadest possible interpretation of the word), me and some of the guys did some recon and found a nearby gym that sold us day passes. Today I learned that Pete is stronger than I am and that people in Iola don't lock up their belongings. They just leave them on the counter. It blew our paranoid minds. They said nothing had ever been stolen. Having had the watch my father gave me after getting my Master's degree stolen at a gym, I was skeptical. I kept my phone and wallet in my shorts.

My Dad served in the military. He was in stationed in Korea (not the war) and I only now have started to ask about his experiences. Makes me wish I would have done so earlier. I wonder how much of his interesting life I have missed because I was too dumb to ask and he was too classy to it bring up on his own.

I am grateful and excited and haven't fucked up the show yet. This month I will pay my bills acting. And that is something that will make my Dad proud. He always said, "Do what you love and figure out how to get paid for it later." 

Dad, I did.

8.30.2014

Heavy Keys

For a long time I was living a lonely Eskimo life in a tiny studio apartment, pounding my keyboard like the gavel of a tribunal on life itself. Solitude suited me well. I didn't need much space. I never ate at home. I made coffee, had my records, and made love to my Netflix wife every night. And in many ways it suited me. Most ways.

I liked never coming home or having to call, staying up to 3AM drinking milkshakes and playing Halo at my buddy's house. But it wasn't just my rogue cowboy lifestyle, I loved little things like the austerity of my keychain: bike, car, home. That's it.

My life was simple. Routine. If you asked what I was doing you got one of the following texts: coffee, gym, reading, writing, or masturbating. Different orders depending on the day.

Then I went and met a girl. Less Netflix. Less writing. Less reading. Less gym. Less masturbation. More or less same coffee. Suddenly my tiny fortress of solitude had company. Someone looked for place to put their dinner, overlooking the obvious queen bed/table. Sometimes she'd stay over. Sometimes I'd stay over. Suddenly my Chrome bag became an overnight bag. Clean underwear took the place of The Iliad.

Eventually, we did the key thing. She gave me hers well before I gave her mine, which I'm sure says something negative about me. And all of the sudden my carefully crafted ecosystem was thrown into chaos. Her key looked like mine; mine looked like hers. My carabiner really wasn't set up to accommodate other keys. I could feel the bulk accruing in my back pocket. It threw off my post-midnight key maneuvers causing me to resemble a common drunkard. It slightly altered how I sat and jangled annoyingly.

Suddenly I hated my keys, a distain I was altogether unprepared for.  They had an unbecoming girth. They hung ugly. Heavy. Inelegant. What's next? A goddamn grocery club card? A spectre loomed. It portended the end of Spartan simplicity. The dawn of not simply choosing, but of owning curtains on the horizon. I became restless, like a dog realizing the car ride wasn't to the park.

But that's how it went for a while. I'd stay at her house; she'd stay at mine. Slowly the ratio tipped more and more to her house. What woman wouldn't want to stay in an apartment with three coffee makers and only two spices: pepper and cayenne pepper (in case you were curious)? After a while I began to think of my apartment as an exorbitantly priced, air-conditioned storage unit. I visited to pick up clothes and to seek refuge during fights. That was about it.

It is at this point, many months later, I did something rather out of character: I moved in with her. Let my lease lapse and moved in. I gave away most of what wasn't already at her house and waved goodbye to my two-spice life. And I was goddamn apprehensive. For most of my life, I have spewed the mantra, "If I break up with my girlfriend, I don't want to move." And seventeen year old me wasn't wrong. But he wasn't happy either.

Then it happened. Walking out of my overpriced storage shed, I left my key on the kitchen counter leaving behind my glorified hotel room. As I hooked my keys to my jeans for the first time as a domestic partner. A familiar feeling graced my Levi's: bike, car, home. Closing the door behind me for the last time, a smile crept across my face.

An elegant and fulfilling life takes many forms, but never without commitment. Making choices is more important than their outcome. The point is to choose, to chase a life. With one foot out the door, we dog paddle in the middle of an ocean. It occupies our time and little else. Satisfaction is found at the poles: alone or partnered. Yes or no. Despair and cumbersome keys lie in between.    

3.27.2014

Brick #518



I have written over five hundred posts for this blog which I started the month I moved from Reno to Chicago. Alone in a half-dozen tiny apartments, I have toiled many late nights. Including this one. It's just past 2AM and everyone I care about is asleep. Alone with my keyboard. This blog kept me company when I was single and had no friends, was neglected during my relationships, and has been one of the only constants in my life over the last half decade. When I started it, I didn't have a goal in mind. I couldn't tell you why I made it. But it has become oddly important to me and only now am I starting to understand its purpose for me.

I moved here to study at iO, an improvisation theatre. Surrounded by fresh-faced hopefuls begging for stage time, we all mis-took classes for auditions, played it safe, hid in the face of fear, and did shitty improv. It's been five years since my first class. I've become more interested in film, theatre, and writing (read: wasn't very good at improv) but many of my friends still chase the beautiful spontaneous dragon. They're grinding away at small clubs and theaters across the city, auditioning for the Second City Conservatory, and still flooding my Facebook events tab. Most of us weren't any good. It is a sad thing that adults need classes in how to play with each other, but maybe even sadder that most people don't take them. We did crappy improv for a while and most everyone moved on.

Then something strange happened.

The ones who stuck around got good. Like shockingly good. Now I watch their shows in awe. They command the stage, play strong, and genuinely make me laugh. It's easy to suggest they were the gifted ones, and the cream naturally rose to the top over time. This is bullshit. I was there watching them from day 1. They weren't good then. They are good now.

In Outliers, Malcom Gladwell posits on a theory of greatness: it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. For perspective, that's five years at a full-time job. How many things, in earnest, can you say you've put that much time into? And while it always seemed right to me, I never grasped it fully. It's easy to agree intellectually, but to believe it in your gut is something different altogether. I believe it now. And it is pretty fucking beautiful.

It occurs to me I've been approaching my projects wrong. I've been banging my head against my keyboard to make them great, hating myself when they aren't. When my blogs fall flat, my sketches don't land, or my play feels like it is an armchair philosophy pamphlet, I'm tempted to quit. Maybe their job isn't to be good. Maybe they're bricks, and every project is practice. Nothing more. An hour here. A couple hours there. If you obsess about every brick, you might never build the house. And isn't the house the whole fucking point?

Sadly, greatness isn't a chisel. It doesn't eliminate your imperfections in sweeping chunks to reveal the beautiful statue underneath. It is the slow, laborious erosion of your flaws. You are a shitty little rock on a beach. If you want smooth edges you're going to have to let the waves of time crash down on your head. Day and night. Over and over. For a very long time. Progress is imperceptible. It is a nearly unbearable process.

But the next time you're on a beach, I dare you to look for a rock that isn't smooth. You won't find one. Time wins every time. When you're done, let's build a beach house together.