In Which the Adult Life is the Busy Life

One of the things I like about Tumblr as opposed to other blog sites I’ve used (WordPress, Blogger, etc.) is that even though I might not write an actual text post in a long time, I still feel like I’m taking in information, connecting with friends, and can contribute something if I want to. It’s not the kind of situation where my blog sits idle when I’m not writing on it; however, I can still write a longer entry when I want to or when I feel like it’s been too long since I’ve done this and I just need to write.

The last couple months have been kind of crazy in the best way possible. During the first few months of this year I’d been working temp jobs while I tried to find architecture work. Most of my temp work was being  substitute teaching, but I’d also pick up random hotel conferences or data entry jobs here and there. I was making enough to get by but wasn’t able to save anything, and honestly, most of the time I felt like at my age and with my degree I shouldn’t have been reduced to temp work. I was happy to have the work, and some of it was fun, but I wanted an actual job, something I could start building a life with. About six weeks ago I applied for a job at a small architecture firm based out of Los Angeles but opening an office here in Charlotte. I got an email about the job within a few days, did a phone interview on a Friday, and started the job Monday morning. So far it’s been the perfect job; I’m working on restaurants and since it’s such a small operation (just my boss and me working out of his house for now), I’m able to do everything from fixing red lines to designing furniture, to putting together construction documents and design development sets. It’s really great experience, and even though the pay is low I feel blessed and fortunate to have it because it’s a good place to work and it’s going to set me up well for this career in the future.

A few months ago I decided I was tired of being single and felt like I wanted to start moving toward a married life. I have a sparse dating history, but I felt like I wanted to be done with that, and I started thinking seriously about dating someone. There was a girl I was interested in, and after probably taking too long to figure out whether she might be interested in me too I asked her out. That was two and a half months ago. Right now I’m happier than I’ve ever been, and things are moving quickly toward that married life, I think.

A job, a serious relationship, and my friendships here in Charlotte are growing deeper all the time. This is where my life is right now, it’s good, and I am content.

In Which Everything Is Memory

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation…while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” —Job 38: 4,7

“…a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces. Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother’s face; from the prison of her flesh we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth. Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father’s heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone? O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When? O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.” —Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

One of these quotes opens Terrence Malick’s new film, The Tree of Life, while the other is from a work of more recent literature and could just as easily have been the film’s epigraph. Malick’s new film, possibly in progress for nearly three decades, speaks to those themes of memory, loss, time, the universe, and God in much the way that Wolfe did in his 1929 novel about growing up in Asheville, North Carolina, but expands on them greatly.

A quick word before talking about the visuals and themes of this film: While Sean Penn may not have much to do in his role as the architect whose memory is the film’s impetus (continuing, by the way, the tradition of every architect in television or film being stylish and very successful), the performances by Jessica Chastain, Brad Pitt, and Hunter McCracken as Penn’s younger self are worthy of every accolade being given to them. Pitt shows a restraint and depth not often found in his acting, Chastain is pitch-perfect in her character’s thoughts and emotions, and McCracken especially, who has the central role of the film, deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance. The actors who play McCracken’s two brothers are also standouts, and the three of them are sometimes heartwrenching in their portrayal of 1950s boys growing up under a harsh father.

However, while these actors and the plot of this film are important, they are not what this film is really about or what is most important about it. This film is about memory, time, and all of existence through the millennia. There are directors who grapple with these deep questions, but Malick may be the only living director who could pull off an accomplishment like this. He has shown himself to be a master of nonlinear, complicated films, and this one is no exception. Taking in the whole scope of existence from the beginning of the universe to present day, Malick focuses nearly a third of his two-and-a-half-hour-long film on what seems like beautiful imagery for the sake of beautiful imagery until the credits are rolling and you see where the film has just taken you. This is not a film to be seen on a television screen; this is a film you absolutely must see in the theater to experience the full effects of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull’s visual genius here. Seen on a small screen, it may not even be a pleasurable film to watch.

Malick’s most recent work may be hard to follow and sit through for some; it is challenging, strange, wonderful, and complicated. But as much as it is those things, it is so much more. It is a prayer, a deep sigh of a film, a meditation on love, loss, faith, questions, and existence itself. It is a film to make the viewer feel connected to the universe from its beginning and wonder about these kinds of deep questions about God and humanity. 

The Tree of Life is a masterpiece, make no mistake. It is stunningly beautiful in a way that outshines the spectacular effects at the end of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and all-encompassing in a way that discusses the entirety of the universe’s existence. It is the kind of thing that you might see in a film twice in your life if you’re lucky. It is a brilliant statement from a visionary director who poured his soul into this film.

It is also, I think, the most important film I’ve ever seen in theaters, and in my opinion the greatest work of film art I have ever seen.

In Which I Don’t Really Like Grey’s Anatomy (She Makes Out With a Ghost!)

I can remember it being dark as I left the small house where I was sleeping, taking my pipe and a little tobacco in a bag and going to walk around the grounds a little, and maybe sit down somewhere and smoke while I thought about the past couple days. Spending most of every day in silence, as the monks at this monastery do, had given me time to think, pray, read, and create, and I needed to take some time after evening prayers to reflect. When I decided to stay for a weekend at this holy place I didn’t know what to expect; my only hope was that it would be a kind of reset after a tough semester at school.

The daily prayers were optional but I tried to make it to as many as I could. The short before-dawn services were at an hour I was tired of seeing after being in school for a few months, so I missed every one of those, but I made it to breakfast a couple times, and was glad for lunch and dinner, vegetarian feasts made by the monks themselves and eaten in silence. Between meals I was able to take walks, one in particular a long walk into the woods and possibly off the monastery grounds, as I passed a few tree stands and corncob piles left from the recent hunting season. I also visited the library, sat by the river and watched boats go by, and read a couple of my own books. Regularly scheduled prayers brought a welcome rhythm to the days.

A monastic life is a simple and humble one, spent mostly in silence and contemplation. This was a kind of opposite from my life during the past semester, and when presented with each opportunity to pray, or chant, or eat, or read, or walk, or meditate, I took my fill of it, glad for the quiet peace in my questions, answers, and practices.

Another night, more recently, I sat outside as the rain came crashing down a few feet away. It had been raining before we noticed it, but who passes up a chance to sit outside watching a rainstorm when given the chance? We sat under a carport roof and talked, playing at being futurists, as the storm raged around us, and when I think about it now it reminds me of the time spent at a small monastery a few years ago in an attempt to clear my mind. Like during that weekend spent in the company of holy men, as we sat outside letting the storm throw its fury at us I was glad for the quiet peace of questions, answers, and practices. I am taking my fill this time too, and as far as I’m concerned I hope I am never fully satisfied, always happy for more, a willing gluttony.

In Which I Can’t Play the Piano

We, interrupted
by the rain
began to ask questions of ourselves
of the world
of the future

What if this was a porch?
(would the rain blow in as far?)
What if this was a house?
(where would the bookshelves go?)
What if this was a life?
(city vs. country?)

And the rain
the rain
the rain

And the thunder
the thunder
the thunder

And the light
the light
the light

The questions of porchhouselife
answered by the peaceful patterflashcrash.

In Which I Can Miss the Forest For the Trees

For better or worse, I’m someone who likes to debate things. I hate arguing with anyone about anything, actually, but I love debating. The problem is that sometimes it can seem like I’m wanting to argue when I’m not.

People need to feel loved. No matter the person or the situation, feelings of love, protection, and advocacy are necessary for a healthy life and worthwhile human relationships. I think I’m generally decent at making the people I interact with feel loved, or at least feel accepted and cared about. But there are times when I get it wrong and do a really terrible job of realizing that someone needs to just be loved for a minute.

I think the fact that I like debating makes it seem like sometimes I don’t think someone’s opinion is valid, or that my opinion is better than theirs, or that I am not on their side in life. This is not true. I think opinions different than mine are more valuable than my own, I don’t think my opinion is better than anyone’s, and I am on the side of people I care about no matter what. While it might take me a little while to open up to a new friend, once I do I am fiercely loyal and would advocate for that friend to anyone no matter the situation. I might disagree with someone, but I am absolutely still on their side.

It’s funny, the other day I was telling someone that I feel like I’ve reached the point in my writing where I can pretty much get my words out in exactly the way I’m thinking them. This blog post proves that to not be unequivocally true. These paragraphs are jumbled and confused, I know, and for some reason tonight I’m not able to express the depth of my feelings the way I want to. But I needed to write for my own catharsis and to excise my demons of seeming to not care and missing the larger point that sometimes a person just needs to have someone on their side. I am working through my thoughts, I am working through my faith, I am working through my life, and I am working through my mistakes.

In Which I’m Comfortable

These last few months have been full of new relationships of different kinds, as as I start these new relationships, whether they’re an acquaintance, a friendship, or something more, I’m always a little surprised when I handle things well and am comfortable in these new things from the start. 

I’ve written before how I felt like my 27th year was the one where I became a fully-realized person, someone who had finally figured out who he was and the kind of person he could and couldn’t be in certain situations. I feel like that age was when I finally learned how to relate to the world around me in an honest way. Luckily, I’ve met an entirely new group of people after that time of realization, so I’ve been able to watch myself and see how this mature me interacted with new people, the kind of thing that would have made the immature me cripplingly nervous. 

In the last week or so I’ve really been able to see that in my life. Whether it’s being at a picnic with people I know pretty well, or having conversations with people I don’t know that well yet, or sitting close on the couch with someone in the kind of relationship I like even though it’s too early to know what’s ultimately going to happen, I’ve found myself feeling wholly comfortable and peaceful.

The key, I think, is that I’m finally old enough to be a decent human being.

In Which Life Goes On

It’s been a couple weeks now since I didn’t get that architecture job I interviewed for. Since then, a lot of people have told me it’s better I didn’t get the job, and I think that’s probably right. That’s how I’m trying to look at it anyway, as something I am better off not having. But it’s tough to think that way when my huge school loan bills are going into repayment in a month or two, and there aren’t any open architecture jobs in Charlotte.

I also miss creating things like I did in school or like I would be doing at a job. I’m still subbing, and that’s fine, it pays my bills, but it’s not the kind of thing I look forward to doing when I wake up in the morning, unless it’s a new grade or subject I haven’t subbed for yet. I thrive on new things, I have a short attention span that way, and during school I was making new things every day, even if it was just building on something I’d done the day before. Now the only new thing I think about in the mornings is whether or not the class I’m in will behave for me. You’re probably saying to yourself “Well, just start making things, then.” There are competitions I could probably enter, and a few friends of mine are doing creative work even without steady jobs, so why am I not doing the same thing? 

My honest answer is I don’t really know. Maybe I’m just unmotivated. Maybe I get too distracted. Maybe I’m just lazy. But I do know myself really well, and know how my mind works and how I go about things, and I know that this kind of rut is something I just need to work through and let run its course.

I still love being in Charlotte and still know this is where I’m supposed to be. I still definitely wish I actually lived in Charlotte instead of Rock Hill, but at least I have the money for gas to go see my friends, to go to a bar or watch a movie or lose really badly at Scrabble to a girl who teaches little kids so of course she knows all the short words that score really high. Life is kind of strange right now, I don’t know whether to be depressed because my job or happy because everything else, and I still don’t know whether 28 is still young or already too old to do anything. I go back and forth. I am a vacillator, a perfect sine wave.

Last night

alisonagosti:

At the 3:40 am, so I suppose it was this morning, I was standing in line to pay for my battery acid coffee and wondering why I always wait until the last moment to do everything, when a couple walked in a cut in front of me.

There’s this white hot feeling that comes over me when I’ve been wronged, even if it’s slight. Knowing instantly that this was not a battle worth fighting, I stood there and let the injustice wash over me and returned to considering the possibility of Chex Mix.

The woman looks back at me; she’s in a short black dress and her mascara is smudged (but only a little) and she’s got long black hair that probably looked very nice at the beginning of the night. She is very pretty in spite of herself. Her male companion, on the other hand, looks like Luis Guzmán in a fedora.

“Oh my gosh!” She exclaims and stumbles towards me. “Were you in line?” she touches my arm with a level of sincerity that I am uncomfortable with inside of a convenience store. I nod stiffly and she apologizes profusely. I’m staring at my feet.

They get behind me, but are standing very close, and we wait as a huddled mass as the taxi driver at the counter picks out the best hot dog. The couple starts to talk, or at least the woman does, and they’re so close I feel like it would have been perfectly acceptable for me to chime in. Each of her sentences could have easily been followed by me saying, “Yes, you are.”

“I don’t usually do this, I’m not this kind of girl,” her slur was only slight; completely forgivable on the weekend, but a bit much for Tuesday morning. “I’m not the kind of girl who just takes a guy home.”

I’m going to pause there, because I want to make it clear that I don’t think there is anything wrong with this behavior. I’m not passing judgment on her for taking home Some Guy or being a little sloppy, we’ve all been there. I think my problem is more with the declarative statements that she’s making that directly conflict with her current situation. You are that type of girl, right here, right now in this 7-11 on Sunset. Fucking own it.

“I don’t- I don’t think you’re that type either. I could tell in the club. we had a connection, right?”

Ugh. I open Luis Guzmán’s IMDB page, that guy has been in everything, including a short entitled, “I Kicked Luis Guzman in the Face.”

The taxi driver pays for his hot dog and he has this euphoric look on his face that I was almost jealous of. I walk up to the counter and set down my coffee, the clerk and I look at each other with out bothering to do anything polite with our faces. I take pride in being quick in line and I’ve paid before the woman behind me has finished the sentence, “I think this could really be the start of something.”

I walk out the door and am greeted by the cabbie sitting on the hood of his car, joyfully devouring his one true love. Melancholy overtook me, and I couldn’t help but think how much better off we’d all be if we’d just go home and go to sleep.

Damn, this is good. Makes me think of Los Angeles two years ago, and how even now I go back and forth between usually feeling the way this writer does but sometimes just wanting to be taken home by a girl I just met.

In Which I Don’t Know What’s Going To Happen

Last week I had an interview for a job at an architecture firm here in Charlotte. Without getting into details, I wanted the job because it would have given me some good work experience and I liked the idea of working in Charlotte. I ended up not getting the job because of a misunderstanding that was really important to the head of the firm.

So now I’m back to waiting; as far as I know there are no other architecture jobs in Charlotte. A simple solution would be for me to apply for jobs in other places. While I am doing that on a somewhat limited basis, I’ve recently felt really strongly that Charlotte is the place I’m supposed to be right now. As unexpected as it is, I’ve fallen totally in love with this city and this group of friends I’ve undeservedly become a part of.

Part of it is the South exerting its pull on me yet again. I was born in Maryland and spent twelve years in Cincinnati, true, but my father’s family is from the Asheville hills since centuries past, and from the Charlotte area before that. If half of my DNA grew from my father’s DNA, and half of his from his father’s, and half of his from his, all the way back to Adam, and sometime shortly after the first Shope came to America my great-great-great-something-or-other grandfather lived in this area and took the soil and air into his lungs, into his DNA even, then for me it’s not a large leap to say that this place is in my blood, in my lungs, in my very being. The South is a part of me and I am a part of it, for better or worse, and I cannot escape its pull on me. If I move to Los Angeles or New York or some other big or small city, the South will always be my ancestral home. It’s not a long drive for me to see gravestones more than two hundred years old with my last name on them.

Does that mean I’ll never move away from here? No, it doesn’t. I have a deep desire to travel coupled with a strong sense of home, and I’m comfortable with that part of me. I need to see the world and live in different places, if only for a short time.

But here, now, this is where I’m supposed to be. I feel that in the deepest part of myself. I feel that more clearly than almost anything else about myself. I also know that I am supposed to be doing architecture and other creative things.

But there are no architecture jobs in Charlotte. So I’m waiting. I need to be doing something.

In Which My Grandfather Is the Only One Left

Tomorrow my grandpa turns 90 years old. He’s the last grandparent my sister, my cousins, and I have left on either side of the family, and this weekend most of us were able to get together and spend time with him and each other as we celebrated his life. He was born in Iowa in 1921, got together with my grandma because he got to the bus stop before another guy to pick her up when she was deciding between the two of them, went off to work for the FBI, married my grandma and had their first daughter before he went off to serve in the Navy in World War 2, was a signalman way up on the top of the USS Marathon when it was hit by a Japanese suicide torpedo in Buckner Bay, and to this day doesn’t like pineapple juice very much because he had to drink so much of it when the ship was under repair.

After he came home from the Pacific he and my grandmother had two more daughters, the youngest being my mom. He worked his way up in the FBI until he became a special agent working on financial cases because he had a college degree in accounting. He later became an instructor for incoming agent classes. His FBI scrapbook is full of amazing stuff, and he had his 25-year service pin presented to him personally by J. Edgar Hoover. By this time he was living just outside of Washington, D.C. and was retired from the FBI and two other jobs when I was born there in 1983.

My family moved to Cincinnati before my sister was born in 1984, so we were only able to see my grandparents during the summer and at Christmas. I loved his house, and in particular I remember him watching birds from a window in his living room, him taking me for rides on his lawnmower with me in his lap, and his woodshop in the basement. To this day I love the smell of a woodshop.

When we moved to South Carolina he and my grandma moved soon after to be near to us and, I’m sure, to be further south where the weather was nice. He and my grandma had a house built, and they’d go by it every day to watch the builders put it up. All through high school they’d come to my stuff at school, and then I moved away to go to college. While I was there both grandparents on my dad’s side died, and it’s one of the great regrets of my life that I wasn’t able to spend much time with them as an adult.

By the time I moved back home in 2006 my grandma had gone through a couple strokes and had started her slow decline. She lived for almost three more years after I moved back, and I watched my grandpa visit her every day in the nursing home. Taking care of her became his whole life, and I think he might have loved her more and better in those three years than in their whole life together. His life with her before she died is the greatest example of love I’ve ever seen.

Since I moved back I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my grandpa as a little more of a peer (if a late-20s grandson and a late-80s grandfather can be peers at all) and I consider the time I’ve been able to spend with him to be some of the most valuable times I’ve ever spent doing anything. I’ve learned more about his life when he was young, become more familiar with his outstanding wit and truly funny sense of humor, and gotten to where I think I understand him pretty well as a person. And he’s one of my favorite people in the world. I’m sure that if I’d been able to spend as much time with my dad’s dad before he died I would feel the same way about him, but the unfortunate truth is that I wasn’t. But I have been able to spend time with this grandpa, and I hope my dad doesn’t feel left out when I say that as I watched my grandpa this weekend with most of the family that he had created, this family of 3 daughters, 9 grandchildren, and 17 (I think?) great-grandchildren that he’s the patriarch of, and as I thought about the life he’s had and the person I’ve learned he is, I realized he’s the greatest man I’ve ever met.