Hey there! Well, I'm back at work on CLAYTONOLOGY here, now that my life has finally stabilised. It's nice to get typing on stuff that I dig; so much good stuff out there.
I've been really enjoying the Old Time Radio page, with lots of new and rare shows with downloads. We live in a fantastic age of access! If you like radio dramas, please check it out HERE.
The art page has been really fun to do. It started out as a mission to share artists that I dig, but it's become a fantastic learning experience! There are some amazing creators in the world. Feel free to check it out HERE.
Also, a while ago I started a page about Lutes, Ouds, and (thus far mostly) the love of my life, the BANJO! I want to talk about artists that I dig, etc., and I'm having an amazing time. Great fun. Right now, Classic style Banjo is on the hotplate...check it out HERE. It's amazing stuff...
That's it, just a general statement of excitement about the website...my little
pied-à-terre here on the internet...really quite fun!
"Less talk...more doing!"
The above are the words of a friend, Harry van Lunenburg, written as a Facebook comment; I had earlier today written the Claytonology post below this one, and I shared it on the 'book. Now, many (most) people, on reading a comment like that, about an article in which they had expressed a deep level of joy and life satisfaction, would probably have become angry to some degree. I'm not like that. I assume my friends are on my side, so I took it as an opportunity to get me thinking...
"what would 'more doing' look like for me?"
Well, I realise that this is technically "more talk", but it is also a form of doing; strategising, contemplating, etc. and so forth. It's actually quite something to decide what to do in one's life, especially after a lengthy period of struggle. I had actually lost all of my external momentum, that kind of forward motion that one has from birth, with images of the future, desires and dreams (and so forth)...those internal ocean winds that drive us, with those psychological points on the distant horizon by which we steer our lives. For me, those were all gone.
For the better part of fifteen years I lived day-to-day. "Could this be the day that I die?" was the sentence that served as the umbrella for my every daily activity. It stalked me as I walked up a flight of stairs, played music, prepared to close my eyes for sleep, and it even loomed overhead when I went to the bathroom (the image of a mafioso on an episode of THE SOPRANOS dying of a heart attack on the toilet haunted me during that time). As this miserable life period lasted so long, I let go of a future. Everything I did was now. THIS Turkish Gypsy band practice could be my last, THIS dish of Pakistani Biryani could be my final, etc. It's no surprise to me now that I was diagnosed by a psychologist as suffering from post-traumatic stress.
It was a type of two-sided coin, emotionally.
On one hand, all of the great experiences that I had during that time were extra delicious. When I was in my little ghetto apartment underneath the Ethiopian/Pakistani grocery and played the Oud on my "porch", to see Africans peeking around the corner, smiling, dancing to my playing, made my life struggle seem extra-worthwhile. I had experienced something worth living for. I had lots of those amazing moments. On the other hand, in the aforementioned Turkish band, I was the bandleader from hell. "Why don't you know the f*cking song?!? It's been two f*cking weeks!", and suchlike things were common from me. For the guys, it was just a casual thing (typical Seattle style), but for me, it was possibly the last time that I could ever do that thing, and I didn't have time to wait for, and to be tolerant of, lazy, careless people. I never have, honestly, but it was extra-difficult then, and on top of that I didn't have the freedom to look for more suitable bandmates, as I would otherwise have done.
It didn't help that I told nobody that I had gone through treatments, I suppose. Not even my best friends knew what was happening with me. I couldn't manage non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, chemo, heart issues, work, trying to enjoy what life that I had, AND go through the formidable effort of dealing with and navigating other people's emotions. A poor choice, perhaps, but I'm alive, and my dignity is intact, so it is, as the kiddos would say, what it is.
Long story less long, I had come to a full stop, life-wise.
Now, as you may have read on my blog, things are different. Health, a future (or at least the illusion of such), a life, a job...normalcy. What now? Life has been on hold for so long, I'd forgotten any plans or dreams. I've only done what I could do in the now: Play music, practice music, be with friends, study language, watch movies, read, write on this blog, and various other things that I enjoy. No school, no relationships, nothing that involves a long term commitment. Things are really quite different these days. Harry was right, there is an opportunity here to do more in the coming years. I'm quite well satisfied by having got a job, having the money, the reconnection with my mom and all those things, but I do see an unwritten future in the distance.
What does one do, starting over at age 46? What, specifically, do I, Clayton, do?
It is something that I'm thinking about, when I'm not busy living. It's a good thing to spend time with, and yes, to talk about. I guess that's what I'm "doing", hahaha...I'm thinking and talking about the future, which is something new and exciting...if a bit terrifying sometimes.
To read the article that started me on this ramble, read below; it actually does have some doing! :)
My "life is good" smile.
It's a common thing for people with great lives to talk about nothing but how great their lives are; I recognise that. But screw it...after my 15 year run of bad luck, the way I'm living now requires me to say it: MY LIFE KICKS ASS! My first hausgemacht German dinner
After the destitution, cancer, $90K debt, heart attacks, etc., living in my beautiful town, with a fun job (100 feet from my front door), money in pocket/savings/bank, internet, cable (TCM & Encore Westerns channel), a good Banjo, a well-stocked larder, my mom in town, a great (and cheap) apartment, health, friends, a tiny library, my chess club, plus a small and fun community, I feel it's my duty to consider everything quite kick-ass.
One new thing that I'm enjoying is hanging out with my mom. She, as you may know if you read my blog, is the reason I was able to escape the shallow and morbid grip of the Hell-hole that people call Seattle. I stop by a few times a week, and we go into the big city once a month or so (Jamestown, ND...not big as compared to Seattle, but MASSIVE compared to Streeter). She's helped me out a bunch, but what I like is just hanging out with my mom. It's good. I see why I'm a bit of a grump and a solitary, yet social person, as mom is just like that. We get along really well; she's my friend.
Speaking of friends, I brought a Banjo with me out here, which I've been playing (my apartment is soundproof), and things have been going pretty darn well with it. My arthritis has been staying mostly out of my way, and it has allowed for space to learn new things. Lots of good tunes to learn. I recently hammered out a version of "Mississippi Sawyer" in standard G tuning, and I'm trying to pick out "Molly's Tune" by Owen "Snake" Chapman, which is being challenging. My Egyptian brother George Sadak, knowing I don't have a drum right now, sent me the kind gift of a Darbuka, and I've been feverishly practicing the two most difficult Turkish techniques that I've yet tried. When I master them, I'll be quite satisfied with where I am...they're amazing skills.
I've been cooking German/Russian foods local to the area, as well. The folks around here originally came from Russia (now Ukraine), but are ethnic Germans. They speak lower German, and they cook really rustic German and Germanised Russian food. They make Knoephla soup and fried Knoephla (knoeplas are little dough dumpling/ball noodles), Kartoffelsalat (German Potato salad), Kuchen (a pizza-like fruit & custard dessert), Fleischkoekle (like a Russian Tatar çiberek, which originally comes from Turkey...hahaha, I manage to find Turk-ish food here in ND), as well as various sausages and Sauerkraut.
It's been fun to make this stuff! I made a pretty good Kartoffelsalat (which I served with sausage and sauerkraut), and I've been having fried Spaetzles (small knoephlas) with Sauerkraut and Spiegeleier (fried eggs). I'm going to try Knoephla soup this week, which should be fun; I play Polka music recordings while I cook for the right atmosphere! Next I'll try fleischkoekle, which, after having made filet de bœuf en croûte, should be simple enough, hahaha. I'm going to try to seize this opportunity to learn correctly how the old German-Russian ladies here make things, while they and I am still around.
I found out, actually, that I've been eating Sauerkraut wrong. I do like most Americans, which is right out of the jar, and right onto the plate. I've not cared much for Sauerkraut; too salty, and too sour. Here, I've enjoyed the stuff that the locals have given me with dishes, and when I asked why theirs is so different, well the old ladies asked, "do you rinse it?". It hadn't occurred to me. I tried it, and it's just right! It adds a nice edge to most meals, a bit like Indian/Pakistani 'pickle', served on the side, a tad to be eaten with each bite of the main dish. It pays to be around 'real' folk!
Yes, life is good. I got up one morning recently and realised, after a leisurely wake-up, an email check, and a nice breakfast with music in my ears and sunshine coming in my window, that life felt...normal (for lack of a better word). For the first time in fifteen long years. It will be nice when it no longer feels like a temporary novelty.
Yes, life is good, I'm enjoying it, and I'm grateful for it.
Well, I had the cancer...survived. I had the $90,000 medical debt...paid off.
Then...I lost my job, then my apartment, slept in what was basically a horse trailer for seven months of winter (raining every night, wet, moldy, and freezing), and though I was grateful for it, it was still an ordeal...down, down, down, no matter how hard I tried. Barring a few generous souls, I was disrespected by close friends...forced to beg for even scraps of advice, and any even small bit of effort on their part gave them the idea that they owned a part of my dignity. Not for sale, folks.
Then mom said, "Come on out to North Dakota; there's no work here in Streeter, but come and be safe". So, she got me a train ticket, and I did.
For four months I hung out with the folks here, with no work; I washed the dishes, mowed the lawns, got the mail, jibber-jabbered with mom, and started to remember what real life felt like. I started my chess club (which is plugging along nicely), played the banjo, visited with people, and learned about the local German-Russian culture. Mom's been awesome, overly-generous and supportive, getting me everything that she felt I needed to be successful and happy...without a gripe. My Stepdad, Eric, has been way cool. I've started to feel normal for the first time since the day the doc told me that I was going to "start chemo on Monday".
A week ago I got a job. It's awesome, and I work with fun people. I got my first paycheck today, and a bank account, and I'm working on getting one of the inexpensive apartments here in town, fifty feet from my job...no travel expenses, and an easy jaunt to work in the harsh Dakota winters.
Life is good here.
I live in a micro-town, surrounded by hundreds of miles of prairie and lakes. The people here are not complicated; what you see is literally what you get. Nobody is trying to be what they aren't. There's bullshit and drama like everywhere, but with the small number of regular interactions, the negative percentage goes mostly unnoticed. They love their kids, work as hard as any humans alive, and the family connections are prolific and amazingly strong...when the fire alarm rings, half the town rushes to the fire, whenever and wherever it happens to be, and everyone calls everyone else to see if more help is needed.
I was so sick of Seattle; the self-important posers and yuppies, stuck on their delusions and grand social engineering plots that seldom required any change from them, but much from everyone else. It's peaceful out here. No gangstas (or the related culture) being loud, calling old women 'bitches', or not giving up their seats on the nonexistent bus, and no talentless art-fucks pretending that their derivative, lazy bullshit is important....wine tastings and poorly played atonal "masterpieces" are not to be found here in abundance.
I like it. It's almost my 46th birthday, fifteen years since I was diagnosed, and there's a two day Polka festival coming up.
I'm back to life, and it feels good.
Since starting the Chess club out here in rural North Dakota, in order to learn how to play well, I haven't won...until now.
Said my first "checkmate" this week. Feels great!
"Franklin at the Court of King Louis XVI of France" by Elmer Boyd Smith (1860-1943) 1916
I'd like to start off by declaring that Chess sucks, and I hate it. Profoundly. If it were a person, I'd kill it. A book, I'd burn it. It drills into my guts, it causes me stress, I don't know what I'm doing most of the time, and as I get defeated 100 out of 100 times, I'm forced to admit that it does terrible things to my ego. I mean, isn't Chess supposed to be a prime indicator for intelligence? That's what people say, and in spite of the number of grandmasters and PHDs that say otherwise (they routinely get beaten by homeless people in Central Park and by children who can't tie their shoes properly), that's what I feel. I feel like I should be good at the damned game. Heck, people who know me assume that I'm an awesome Chess player, which, as much of a compliment to me as that is, makes it even more humiliating when I always lose...and I always do lose. Always.
Why play Chess then, you ask? A very good question, my friend. Well, basically, it's because It's fun! It's amazing, in spite of how much it sucks to get killed! Also, and mostly, I'm obsessed with history. Chess is a couple millennia old, played by the Moghuls, the Romans, the European kings and knights, cavaliers, monks, Sultans, viziers, soldiers, saints, hajis, etc.. It spread across the world, and the modern game is played by people of all social strata in every country on the planet. One can find a street game in Chicago, or in a park in Baku, Azerbaycan. To me, to be tied to all of these humans in all of these places and eras is a profound thing. To know that I've been backed into exactly the same intellectual corners as people like Charles I, or Benjamin Franklin, making the same moves and choices, really ties me into the overall human experience just a bit more. I almost feel a responsibility to learn and play the game.
Although I am improving a bit, pushing back assaults, taking good pieces, lasting longer on the board, and even occasionally putting a king in check, I feel that Chess is showing a flaw in the structure of my personality. I'm not one to withhold my thoughts or feelings, I'm pretty linear and on/off in my approach to problem solving, and when I make an attack in any form, it's always direct and aggressive. I say exactly what I think about something, and generally without any other purpose than to relate clearly how I perceive things. I assume that if one is conversing about a subject, one is free to discuss all aspects of a subject equally, and without assumptions of positivity/negativity.
Chess and life are not like that.
Chess requires you to obscure your plans and ideas. One assumes, that when one does something, that it is not in the best interest of the opposition. If one moves a pawn, it is always assumed that it's a part of an overall scheme to place one's self in a superior position, and that that move is always negative. People tend to treat life the same way. They observe others from a distance, always locked in a web of positive/negative approaches. They generally obscure their real feelings/ and ideas, either to avoid conflict or intimacy, often creating a list of responses designed to give the illusion of a uniform life approach...which doesn't reflect the actuality of their true feeling. As I said in my last blog post; we can never see the truth of each other, as that truth is obscured by the game.
I don't deal with those things well, and I'm good with that. For better or worse, I prefer to say what I think and feel. to do things because I think I'm doing something good, whether people perceive it as such. If I like something, I'm beatifically excited about it, and I'll go on about it with enthusiasm, and if I don't like something, I enjoy thinking and talking about the why. It helps me understand the inner workings of my perceptions, as well as those of my friends. I grow that way. I learn like that.
I do end up losing in life sometimes, too. I'm not easy to interface with, especially if you're used to people that blow sunshine up your backside, or if you mistake the occasional unflattering response as an attack. If one asks me what I think of their guitar playing on a particular song, I might say, "I really dig that chorus, but your picking on the second part is pretty sloppy". To me, that's exactly what I think. Some people (most people) take that as an insult. I've been unfriended on Facebook (hahaha...which is always amusing), rejected by friends and family (my sister got offended because I expressed a disdain for Golf in rural North Dakota, a game which she doesn't play).
I don't do well in large groups, as the assumptions of such (film buffs or Banjo Hangouts, for example) are generally self-serving and have very little to do with the original subject...I'll argue with a Steampunk person for days why what they do has nothing to do with H.G. Wells, and why Wells is absolutely not Steampunk, and that Marilyn Monroe, though famous, was a crappy actress. Such things are considered blasphemy in the geek-o-verses, but if that's how one feels, what can one do but say it?
It's frustrating sometimes. Both games are so goal oriented, and almost always in opposition...cool for Chess, not so cool in life. It gets tiring to manipulate people all the time with smiley backside pats, thumbs ups, "like"s, and bombastic exclamations of "awesome!", or whatever. In the end I don't care. the freedom of making the moves that are natural to me have fortified my inner self to an amazing degree, and my conscience is clear (and not just because I'm a diagnosed sociopath). I learn new moves along the way, and I have my successes. I keep at it, and I get better at it as I go, learning how to make certain vital moves without compromising who I am as a person. I may still lose quite a bit, but when I make a solid move, whether I win or lose, I feel that ever-so-satisfying burst of growth energy. Fun!
That's why, though Chess sucks, I still play...the same goes for life.
Addendum: A bit ago(after i wrote the above post) I was able to say "checkmate" a few times, and to force a submission on the board...Chess still sucks, but not as badly as before!
I generally I don't give a toss about politics, but this Zimmerman thing has me on edge. The fact that Zimmerman, who is not by any means white, has been labelled thus by the race card junkies...basically "accused" of being white, thus benefiting from that nifty white privilege that one reads about in the newspapers all the time. I wonder where I could sign up for that? I could use some, after several years without a much-sought job.
For them who are knee-jerk race folk, look at the above pic of Zimmerman, chosen at random, next to the President, also chosen at random. Both are "Half white", and neither of them look in any way white. Obama's mom is white, Zimmerman's dad is. How is it that Obama gets to be our first Black president, but Zimmerman is a "standard bearer for white supremacy"? Supposedly Zimmerman is an example of a "white man victimising a black youth"? He's not white!
It makes no sense. I hate American politics. That's all.
I've noticed an interesting trend in social interaction as well. Those that are on social media, get patted on the butt all the time by their online "friends", with such generic platitudes as "awesome!", "that's great, man!", "You're the man!", "Shared!!!", and "You're one of a kind!, etc. These folk, I have found, unlike their offline counterparts, seem to be less open to less enthusiastic or even honestly critical viewpoints.
I do understand, I suppose. It's easier to hear some generically bombastic shoulder-rub of a comment than someone's honest feelings. Hearing open honesty requires work on the part of all involved; the speaker takes a mild risk in expressing their impression, and the receiver needs to assess the intent and value of what is being said. It's tough being open. People want the platitudes. they want to have their image of themselves and their ideas reflected back at them. On Facebook, etc., that leads to people friending only people who feel exactly as they do, or at least them who are too afraid of social punishment to say what they honestly mean.
To me it creates an artificial happiness bubble, and robs people of their individuality and character. I WANT to hear if you didn't like a movie, and why. I want to hear if you thought what I wrote was out of hand, and why. I want people around me who don't play the positive/negative game; those who don't spend their time running away from 50% (or more) of human experience and expression.
Sometimes I feel like we're allowed only a short, pre-prepared list of overtly positive responses. It's stifling.
This is separate from the troll phenomenon, of course, which are negative comments said to strangers to start fights. The sad part is that online people have lost the ability to distinguish between the two things. George W.'s philosophy of "you're either with us, or you're against us" is in full effect, and the humanity of online social interaction is suffering for it.
The worst part is that it's bleeding into the real world, and outlets for honest debate and conversation are dwindling into that narrow space between the positivity Nazis and the trolls. Even close friends are beginning to require these things, and that's the saddest thing of all; for, if one can't say what one thinks to a friend, then where can one?
The last thing I feel compelled to write about is gratitude. Or, perhaps, the lack of it. I've noticed that, no matter what one does for a person, no matter how much they give, advise, listen...whatever, ingratitude generally is the most common response these days. Let me give an example:
I'll tell a story of a guy that we'll call "T.Wright", who, if this were his actual name (as opposed to the name of a hideous fictionalised homunculus), would be some sort of nerdy, nebbishy sort of creature, with messed up hair and an inability to perform everyday tasks up to the standards of the average person.
Yes, I'll tell this story.
So this guy considers starting a blog, and, being his friend, I rose to the task. I offered to build it to his specs, I designed the banners and the overall look of the thing, and he expressed satisfaction. It was immensely gratifying. I handed it over to him, and let him go to work. T. Wright was having masses of easily-solved problems, and had lots of questions, so I gave him a hand, and even helped him to edit posts. It was fun for me. I enjoy helping my friends to express themselves. It seemed to be going well (in spite of his inability to understand even the simplest function of the site after many explanations). He seemed happy with it. It was nice.
One day I got an email to the effect of "Well, congratulations, you got me in trouble with Weebly and my blog is gone. Oh, well, I'll go do something else, in spite of what you did, etc.". I was blown over. the fact that the first time there was a problem I got the blame, after, FOR FREE, having designed the entire thing, was mind-boggling.
I did a little investigating. the email that was used to create the thing had apparently been hacked, and through the "auto log-in", the hacker dude apparently had deleted the blog, then deleted the actual email. Gmail does get hacked, and if you don't watch out, things like this do happen. So anyway, I reported back to T.Wright, and apparently it didn't matter. I'd done something wrong, and I was to blame, no matter what. He made a charmingly inept attempt at personal attacks through email for a day or two, then went off to feel sorry for himself.
So much for that.
Honestly, if it were just this situation, it wouldn't be an issue. People are jerks...we all know that. I'm a jerk sometimes, you're a jerk sometimes...It just seems to be a repeating, ever-incresing cycle. The impulse to back off and not do things for people is pretty strong...but one doesn't help people to get butt kisses, wot? the helping is itself the goal, and fictionalised homunculi can bugger off. :)
Ahhh...got that off my chest. Now to play some banjo.
Well, if you read this thing from time to time, you know that, in short, two years ago I left my job, couldn't find another, 1 ½ years in I lost my apartment, and had spent seven months essentially homeless...living in basically a horse trailer with no facilities whatsoever.
It's been a drag.
Well, the time to leave the horse trailer came, that time graciously offered by my friend Chris, and I had no clue about what to do. I really didn't want to have to be forced to navigate the shelters. Trying to look for work while living in one of those is obviously possible, but it seems like every notch that I click downward on the social scale requires an incrementally more massive expenditure of energy, even as those reserves of spirit and physical fortitude are being assaulted by the situation. I needed some plan. Couldn't come up with one.
Well, my mother threw out a life preserver. She lives in North Dakota, in a tiny (and I do mean tiny) town called Streeter, in the south-central part of the state. She said to just come out, get my bearings, and have a safe and stable place to be in order to pursue my plans, without the hammering fist of uncertainty obscuring my efforts. It was a godsend, actually.
She had offered it in very much the same spirit when I lost my apartment, but when I was offered the trailer and six more months to stay in Seattle and look for work, I took that shot. I was certain that I could find a job with that extension of time (I did not), so I turned down mom's offer. I mean, wouldn't it be nicer to visit as a choice, rather than being forced to?
Well, I took it, and with all the appropriate energy and gratitude.
(Click to enlarge)
Glad I did. Streeter is a tiny town, a microscopic oasis on the massive empty spaces of the open prairie. When I say empty, I mean exactly that. Flatness in every direction, broken only by the occasional farm. So massive. So peaceful. Barring the 2,000 mile-an-hour winds, that is. The closest Streeter-type town, with the amazing name Gackle (named after the bird), is nearly twenty miles of straight road away, and the nearest actual city is Jamestown, which is fifty miles. After fifteen years of the hyper-liberal, the car-infested hipster abomination that is Seattle, Streeter is just what the doc ordered.
I've been recuperating here. It's nice to have some of the pressure off, for sure. I was having stress-induced acid reflux waking me up every night, and it has completely stopped. Very nice. I've mostly been spending time with mom, getting to know the town, and working on various projects. One of those is a Facebook page that I made for the town, which I started because there was no Streeter presence on the web, and also to acquaint myself with the local population...and them with me. It's been really nice. I've also started the Streeter?Gackle chess club, which is slowly (like most things in the country) getting somewhere.
In any case, life is rolling forward.
(click to enlarge)
UPDATE: My brother Jeff's little boy Kenji, although he has a very typical infant heart issue (to soon be corrected by surgery), is healthy and strong, and Jeff is turning out to be the great and doting dad that I knew he would be.
There's a proud uncle writing this!
My brother Jeff just had his first son with his beautiful wife, Nori!
click to enlarge
Well, if you've read this blog at all, you know that I left my job 1 1/2 years ago, and haven't been able to find another; proof, in my eyes, that the economy sucks, bigtime. In any case, I'm not one to whine. I've made it, without govt. assistance, for that time, paying the rent, and eating food, through various efforts and the friendship of a few folks that I hold dear.
Well, the roommate got talked to "mean" by a girl at work and walked off his job, so has run off to California to sleep on daddy's couch. The way it works with the deposit, etc., me and the other roomie gotta get out. That means that I have three more weeks left of comfort, before I hang with dad for another month, then off into uncertain future. I'll have to admit that it isn't a welcome idea right now. I was hoping to have found a job before this thing happened, and to easily transition to another fine situation. Such is life, wot?
In a few weeks it will be just me, a pack, and my Peerless banjo, with my brand-new Gov't food assistance card in hand, and a chunk of safety dough in my pocket. Whatever happens, it will still be better than the thirteen cancer years. :)
Claytonology will be sparsely written for a while, though I'll still be receiving my contacts. Feel free to write...! :)