Archive for January, 2017

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 23, 2017 by sethdellinger

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It is possible to grow up and still let the juice run down your chin.

Posted in Memoir, real life with tags , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2017 by sethdellinger

Our culture is full of tales that suggest there is a prime way to live life; movies, music and books that implore you to chase your dreams, to leave the safe confines of your daily routine, to reach out and grab life by the whatevers, because, you know, you only live once.  It’s a moving, inspiring narrative.  The thing is, you see, in our society, typically when someone does that sort of thing, we all look at them like they’re crazy.  I can’t believe she just up and moved to New York—to be an actress!  She had a pretty good job here, too.  She’s nuts!

And so on.

This is not going to be a piece of writing where I tell you how you should be living.  For the most part, how you are living is between you and, possibly, those closest to you.  It’s got nothing to do with me.  They make so many movies etc suggesting you grab life by the armpits because those kinds of things make money.  People love to be told how they are pissing away their existence.  Why?  Because almost everyone is, in some way, convinced they actually are pissing away their existence.

It’s hard to know how to live your life, right?  By the time you get one thing figured out, one part of you fully colored in, you’ve changed in other ways, and now you’re chasing other ghosts, ironing out new parts of you, nursing new interests.  The songs tell you to chase your dream but very few of us have just one enormous dream.  Most of us are a collection of dozens of itsy bitsy dreams.  I don’t suggest driving your car off a cliff over an itsy bitsy dream.

All I’m personally concerned with is being passionate, living with vigor.  I keep changing, evolving; it’s like I’m in the center of an orchard that is spinning around me and I’m leaping at fruit as they fly past.  Even as I near my fortieth year, I find my changes accelerating: I would be unrecognizable even to my thirty-year-old self.  With so much swirling into and out of my crosshairs, it’s impossible to laser-focus on something.  What I need is passion for everything.  The racing heart, smelling the book, walking outside in the cold to take the photograph, the peach juice running down your chin, holding Her as tight as I can.  I don’t need to move to New York to be an actress to squeeze the juice out—but maybe you do, so maybe you should.

And maybe you’re OK with rote routine, eating your food and drinking your water just to stay alive as long as possible.  That’s fine, too.  Like I said, this isn’t a piece of writing to tell you how to live your life.  That’s got nothing to do with me, because nobody’s paying me to write this.

But me, I need passion.

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For a few years in my early twenties I was passionate about Alcoholics Anonymous.  I mean that’s who I was for a little while.  I thought it was the life for me.  After being tentative and gradually going into that world, I fully immersed myself once comfortable.  I would get phone calls late at night and go talk to a drunk in need.  I gave a talk to troubled teens attending an early intervention class at a local church.  Almost all of my friends were members of AA.  We went to meetings together, then went out for coffee afterward, then sometimes even back to an apartment or house for a movie night after the coffee.  We took road trips together to meetings and seminars.  At the time, I was still considered a “young person in sobriety” (I was 25-26) and my closest AA buddies and I went to the Pennsylvania Convention of Young People in Alcoholics Anonymous (known as “Pennsypaa”).  We took over a hotel in downtown Baltimore (that’s right, it was in Baltimore–they like to make it a nice trip for everyone no matter where you live in the state) for three whole days.  That’s how passionate I was about Alcoholics Anonymous.  In addition to tons of panels and activities, there was also a room where they had round-the-clock meetings, one an hour, for the whole three days.  I made it my mission to do a stretch of 24 hours straight, but I think I only got 7 or 8 before I had to go sleep.  I had my favorite AA jokes (“They asked me to go to that meeting and give a talk on humility, but I said I’d only do it if enough people showed up”), I had my favorite chapters in the Big Book (“Us Agnostics”), and on and on.  It was my life and I thought it would always be.  It isn’t my life anymore, though.  It hasn’t been for a very long time.  Those guys I went to Baltimore with–there is only one of them I am still in touch with.  But that’s how it is supposed to be, back before social media changed our expectations; people, like passions, are allowed to come and go.  You can let them go.

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Like most of my blog entries lately, I’m just kind of thinking out loud here.  Don’t look too hard for an overarching theme or thesis.  As my birthday approaches I’m doing a little taking stock.  Certainly my life right now is the most amazing it’s ever been–it is not putting on a front to say that.  People think that if you say your life is amazing on the internet that you must be lying, but they think that because their lives are not amazing.  I assure you mine is.

No, I am not taking stock of my life in some way that implies it needs improved, but rather, to discern just how I have changed so much.  This is one of the more massive themes of all the blog entries I’ve ever written: how the old me becomes the new me becomes the old me becomes the new me and on and on and on.  And why do I think you’d want to read about this?  Why, because I assume the same thing is happening to you.

I suppose it’s possible this is not happening to you.  It’s possible the old you became the new you and then you stayed right there, and now you’re just you.  But again, that’s none of my business.

What I want to get at is, how much of those old me’s are still part of me?  Are there fundamental bits of Seth mixed up inside me, that have always been there and shall always remain?  Or do we change, piece by piece, insidiously, until the person we see in the mirror bears no relation to the people we were 10, 20 years ago?

Is there even a way to know the answer?

Sometimes I think the only thing in this world that cuts to any part of the truth of existence is music–music without words–and the only thing I can really create is words, but no music.  So there you have it.  Questions stacked on questions like mirrors looking into mirrors.

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I’ve seen Pearl Jam live 21 times.  Approximately.  It might be 17.  I know it is more than 15.  At some point in my life I knew that number very concretely.  That is how much has changed within me since I gave up the ghost on Pearl Jam.  For a very long stretch, the band was my life.  I bought everything you can possibly imagine–spending thousands of dollars on the band’s merchandise.  When they would tour, I would take vacations from work and follow them up and down the east coast, staying in hotels by myself in places as diverse as Jersey City to Virginia Beach.  I attended about 75% of those Pearl Jam shows all alone, and did not mind one bit.  I used to tell people I had to go to as many shows as possible because Pearl Jam concerts were “my church”.  Especially the long instrumental parts they would play in “Even Flow” and “rearviewmirror”; I would close my eyes during these times and replay my life up to that point, flipping through memory images, whatever came to mind and seemed significant, and then giving immense thanks that I had come through everything to be in a position to be standing there, right then, as this band was creating this music, and I had enough money to buy the poster and a t-shirt and my own hotel room.  When the band cycled back around to the climax of the song, I’d open my eyes, always tear-filled, and they’d pour down my cheeks, and I’d jump like a maniac as the music built to a catharsis, and I’d scream and pump my fists and let out my barbaric yawp.  It was my church.  I did that for a long time.  Seven or eight years.  But I don’t do that anymore.  I didn’t even look at the setlists for Pearl Jam’s last two tours.  I’m more of a Miles Davis kind of man now.

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People talk very poorly of “routine”.  They are afraid of falling into routine.  They think routine will just sap the authenticity directly out of your life.

Here is what they mean: they are afraid of getting old and having responsibilities.

Lord knows I was afraid of those things for a very long time.  I lived by myself for a decade and railed against the breakfast-nook-having, 401k-caring-about, child-rearing snoozevilles.  But guess what?  While I was living alone, bitching about all that, I still had a routine.  I may have been able to take road trips more often, stay out late, what-have-you, but ultimately, if what you fear is routine, then you are fucked, mister, because whoever you are and whatever you do, you are already in a routine.

I have a family now.  I am now living much closer to what some people would call a “normal adult life”, and yes, we have a routine.  Having a routine is how you make sure you get out the door in the morning (if that’s what you have to do), get food in your belly, pay the power company on time.  Having a routine and being in the flow of “normal” adult life doesn’t mean your passion has to be siphoned off.

But you gotta work at it.

The last thing I want, as I near forty and the changes inside me keep accelerating, is to live joylessly, simply existing, from one day to the next, sun up, sun down, alarm beeping, alarm beeping.  Luckily my partner is also a person with no interest in living an ordinary life, even if we do want to have breakfast nooks someday and pay attention to our 401ks.  Intense existence and successful adulthood, I think, are not mutually exclusive.

I want our family to be safe from harm but I don’t want to “be safe”.  I want desperately to reach further and further out of my comfort zones.  I want to do new stuff until the day I die.  I don’t want to only listen to the music I loved in high school.  The world is so damn huge.  We’re only here for a blink.

I have learned that it is possible to grow up and still let the juice run down your chin.

It’s Time to Start Thinking About It

Posted in real life with tags , on January 4, 2017 by sethdellinger

When I was a teenager, I’d often sit in my car in the driveway of our house out in the country and listen to The Beatles, usually Abbey Road.  And usually at night.  I’d smoke cigarettes and pop No Doz and analyze every sound in “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”.  I thought maybe there was some deep stuff hidden in there, especially in regards to the abrupt ending.  In the summer I rolled the windows down and flicked my ashes on the asphalt my father made me help him seal every summer, underneath the basketball hoop I was never any good at using.  Sometimes I put in Sgt. Pepper and tried to suss out the meaning from “A Day in the Life”.  I knew much younger than my friends what Albert Hall was, and where Lancashire was.

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Of course, some teenagers in this world of ours have to worry every day about finding clean drinking water, or whether they’ll be shot by a bullet from an AK-47, or be stolen and raped by Boko Haram.  All told, it’s probably pretty rare to be able to sit by yourself in the front of your Dodge Daytona, smoking Newport Lights and pondering why George didn’t sing more.  Such is life, I suppose.  Not that I’m brushing off the discrepancy; in fact I loathe it.  But what can be done, I wonder?

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Despite living in a very prosperous nation, and being born of the least harassed skin color and gender, many people like myself have still experienced extreme depths of sorrow and deprivation.   I have experienced such a thing.  Between the ages of twenty and twenty-five I developed acute alcoholism, which culminated in “hitting bottom” during a weeklong stay at a true fleabag hotel, in the most deplorable conditions I could have imagined. But listen to this: some of my most distinct memories of that week are watching “Rugrats” on the cable television and listening to a Barenaked Ladies CD on repeat on the boombox I had brought along. The lowest point in my life still involved what others might consider creature comforts.  Naturally, this does not diminish the pain or seriousness of the event for me, but it’s worth pondering.  What does “hitting bottom” look like to a Sudanese refugee?  Perhaps I am simply mistaken about what “hitting bottom” means. Maybe, but probably not.  Probably it’s complicated.

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I have an avid interest in the American Revolution.  I don’t think I could be called a “buff” of this period; despite having read extensively about it and visited many of the main  sites associated with it, I simply cannot remember many of the essential details.  I forget things, which I think automatically discredits me from being a buff.  But I find the Revolution fascinating without end.  I quite often find myself breathlessly declaring, What tremendous courage these men had!!  How could they have committed to this? Would I have had this within me, to risk all for this freedom?

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The Civil War and the World Wars were, no doubt and to varying degrees, important wars that fought for (again, to varying degrees) important freedoms.  But we have fought for nothing approaching the towering consequence of history since our Revolution–and certainly not in the modern era.  No doubt the men and women that go to fight for us now are brave, hardy folks, whom I respect–but they fight for nothing important, and certainly not freedom.  They have courage–but to what end?  To whose end?

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In high school, I worried about fitting in.  Cliche, sure, but there it is.  I wasn’t angst-ridding over it; I began high school somewhat timid and scared–perhaps somewhat worried about what troubles my short height might find for me–but I quickly developed a confidence I’d retain through most of my life, and have gone through most of the rest of my life forgetting I am short.  But still, I was concerned about fitting in, would I be popular?  Would there be girls?  Would I be made fun of?  Gosh, can you imagine–with all the pressing weight of human history behind us, and such shocking decisions ahead of us, we spend our most visceral years worrying about nonsense?  I spent hours trying to roll my pants legs properly.  I never got good at it.

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See, listen here:  what’s happening now isn’t normal.  This is not just a “my party lost” situation where I’m bitter at the incoming president.  I think we all feel it.  There has been a shifting.  There has been a change.  The Rubicon has been crossed.  Now, there’s no way to know, quite yet, what path the future will take.  It’s still possible that everything could be fine.  But with each passing day, that looks less and less likely.  It is painfully easy to see a future where very few American boys sit in their sports cars in their parents’ driveways dissecting Beatles tunes.  It is becoming much easier to imagine other, darker futures.

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I just now, at the age of 38, got myself a family.  I had given up on that notion for awhile, but now I have one.  I have lately begun imagining what we will do if the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan.  There is nothing more important than them.  How will we stay safe?  At what point in the news cycle do we decide we need a plan?  I don’t want to be an alarmist, but I also don’t want to be the last one to have a bunker to go to.

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I have spent many years marveling at the courage of John and Samuel Adams, George Washington, Thaddeus Kosciusko, John Trumbull, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson.  They saw what they had to do.  They risked their very lives to steer all of human history.  I have wondered what I would do in their position, never imagining a similar moment could happen in my lifetime.  I am by no means suggesting that moment is here.  But I can imagine it now.  Can you?

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