I am at the library, finishing a paper on my laptop when a routine Windows Update pops onto my screen. I am hungry, so I decided to load the update, let it install and reboot while I grab something to eat. I get lunch and when I return the screen is blue–known by many as the “blue screen of death.” Everything was gone: my photos, my paper, my music.
The most devastating thing lost was my creative writing. There was some pretty hot shit on that hard-drive: short stories, personal essays and poems that were very well received on the university workshop circuit. I would submit them one day. Maybe a literary journal would publish them. Collectors would find these early works and see them as the harbingers of literary genius that they were.
But they were never submitted. They were never read outside a classroom. They died a quiet death that day, only the embers of my professors’ praise to indicate their existence.
Some things survived the crash. I had published some stuff for the school’s literary journal and some freelancing jobs. These were the lone records that I had ever written anything. All of my someday-fantasies of being published in the Paris Review were contrasted with the reality of articles published in Exhibit City News, a rag for the trade show industry that my mom had set me up with. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was something.
I learned several lessons out of this incident:
Back up. Duh.
There is no right time or opportunity to put yourself out there. Many of the things I wanted to submit were waiting for me to revise or make them just right. They were ready. I was just scared that no one outside the workshop table would like them. I regret not sharing. Also, while Exhibit City News an the Columbia Observer aren’t the New Yorker, they were something. They were what was available at the time and they were fine. If I had taken more such opportunities, perhaps my writing would have developed faster and been read more widely. Sometimes we forsake many small opportunities laid at our feet for big ones that never comes.
If something is precious, we must give it away. The only things I wrote that survived were the things that were published. The only surviving photos were the ones I gave to others. Giving things away extends their lives. Holding onto things results in atrophy and decay.
Fortunate for my readers, I have finished watching the PBS documentary about the Mormons, but not without a comet’s tail of inspiration from these hardworking, family-oriented, non-drinking, upright Utahans.
Many know that the two most important figures in Mormon’s founding were Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Smith was the guy who found the gold plates, wrote the Book of Mormon, wedded quite a few damsels and was killed in Carthage, Illinois by an angry mob (apparently a not-too-uncommon way to go back then). He was the proverbial charismatic leader: surefooted, sweet-tongued and good looking. Like Jim Morrison or Tupac Shakur, his glamorous legacy was embalmed by an early death.
Young was the stalwart—more of a Randy Newman or Tom Petty figure. Stolid, long-lived, awkward and not-so-easy on the eyes (see pic above). After Smith’s murder, it was the corpulent Young who led the Mormon’s slog across the plains and over the mountains to Salt Lake City. If Smith was the hare, Young was the tortoise.
Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis, 1905
Last night I ran into an acquaintance at a holiday party. I will call him Peter. Peter is tall, muscular and handsome for his age (I’d clock him at 45). He’s an artist. He’s a mountaineer with several major expeditions to the world’s highest peaks under his belt. He’s into MMA (mixed martial arts for you sissies). He’s lived in New York City for most of his life, but has traveled throughout the globe. Peter is also a complete bore.
For a guy who has so many interests, he talks about nothing. All of his monotonic ramblings were about the accessories of his lifestyles—the real estate deal for his new artist’s studio, his pickup truck, the gear for his expeditions. He divulged almost no information about himself, about that which was being accessorized.
Peter also did something called “qualifying.” This is basically when someone gives reasons why you should find him or her interesting. The reason I know about his rarefied art, his heroic expeditions, his down-home pickup truck and his manly mixed martial artistry is because he talked about them. But he didn’t talk about them in an organic way. They didn’t just come up as if they were extensions who he was. They came up as if each interest was a part needed to construct a specific impression. Continue reading “Are You a Bore?”
My first and last bike race started with a clatter and ended with a whimper. I was fourteen and had entered the Illinois state road championships months before. This would be my first outing on my coveted and crinkled US Cycling Federation category-four license.
The race would mark my ascent to cycling greatness. Soon I would be among cycling legends: Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, American Greg Lemond, who had just won his second Tour de France by eight seconds that day.
In preparation for the euro racing circuit, I dressed like top pros for my premiere race, wearing my PDM jersey (then the most powerful cycling team in the world) and a “hairnet,” a leather and soft-foam head covering that offers about as much protection as its food-service namesake.
My older brother, who also had an interest in cycling, drove me to the event in his beat up 83’ Toyota Celica. My race started at 8:30 in Bloomington, a Podunk town two and a half hour drive from our place in the south suburbs of Chicago. We arrived around 8:25. Continue reading “Killing My Inner Child”