What is success?

“What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.”

— Bob Dylan
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What I’m listening to right now:

* “The First Days of Spring” — Noah and the Whale
* “No One’s First and You’re Next” — Modest Mouse
* “To Willie” — Phosphorescent
* “69 Love Songs” — The Magnetic Fields
* “Leaves in the Gutter” — Superchunk

Manliness. Reconsidered. Redefined. Recaptured.

I’ve been reading a lot of stuff lately about what it means to be a man.  Maybe it has something to do with getting closer and closer to 30. Maybe it’s the Paul Newman movies I’ve been watching, the jazz I’ve been listening to and reading about, or the pictures of old sports cars I’ve lusting after. Like this:

And this:

Either way, it’s been on my mind a lot. I’ve never considered myself very manly. I am a man, yes. But there are so many other signifiers I don’t meet. Of course, maybe I should quickly point out that these are signifiers that are most likely rural and Mid-Ohio Valley centric. For instance, I’ve never been hunting and don’t plan to — ever. I don’t  like football. It’s OK, but  in small doses mostly. If I watch it, I’m with friends or family.

Also, there’s this: I don’t really, like, ever, grunt. If you watched a certain sitcom in the ’90s during your formative years you were inclined to believe all men did this.

I have, however, recaptured something my dad did when I was younger that in recent years never fails to rev my manliness engine. And that is cooking. No, wait. I mean cooking pancakes and/or waffles.

In my eyes, there’s nothing manlier than cooking your son gridded batter on a glorified hot plate:

… in a manly apron while drinking a hot beverage in a cup you got for your first Father’s Day:

… and also burning your fingers on said glorified hot plate. All in the name of love.

a time to get: What Happens If I Push That One?

I felt of a rush of joy like I was 10 years-old and flying for the first time again when I saw these pictures of airplane cockpits.

We were flying to Arizona, I remember, for a conference for my mom’s work. I was a little too old to be completely mesmerized, but not quite too-cool-for school. I loved watching the planes land and take-off, and when we finally boarded I remember the nerves and the way my stomach felt and how that first glimpse to the left, into the cockpit, relaxed me. So many buttons! So many levers! Surely these guys know what they’re doing!

Prior to my first ride in an airplane, I remember my mom would always bring me back lapel wings every time she flew, and I remember feeling as if she must be someone really important to have attained such treasured artifacts.

I remember taking Kyan on his first flight. He was three, almost four. The way he stared at the planes from the terminal with wide-eyed wonder quickly rubbed off on me and the rest of my family as we did that awful airport wait. Time passed so quickly looking through his eyes.

When we boarded, he wasn’t afforded the same luxury of stepping into the cockpit for a look-around and he wasn’t as interested in the lapel wings as I was. But even still, every time a plane passes over head he points it out, especially if it’s leaving behind a plume of smoke and a roar of engine as it shoots through the stratosphere and disappears.

In some ways this feels true

“Some say time is like water that flows around us (like a stone in the river) and some say we flow with time (like a twig floating on the surface of the water). My sense of the world tells me otherwise. I believe that time is like a train, with men hanging out in front of the engine and off the back of the caboose; the man in front is laying down new tracks the moment before the train touches them and the man in the caboose is tearing up the rails the moment they are past. There is no linear continuation: The past disappears, the future is unimagined, and the present is ephemeral.”

— Chuck Klosterman

It hurts less with each day, but there are days when it still hurts — that twinge of nostalgia that’s more like the leftover pain from a wound I still purposefully poke.

I do it to myself consciously, dragging through these memories of the past decade, finding the ones that are fresher than I thought and rolling them around in my fingers like a marble. In the last 10 years, I’ve gotten married, divorced, graduated from college, began a career, had a son, sent my son off to school for the first time, bought a house, bought my first car, ran a half marathon, jumped out of a plane, made new friends, lost old ones, had my heart broken, my world shattered, my life built back up again, found G*d and lost him again.

I know it’s absurd to suggest I’ve grown more in the last 10 years than during any other decade of my life. But in some ways this feels true.

And through it all, I try to catalog these memories, to write them down and remember them. For if I don’t, as I’ve said many times here already, these memories and feelings will be lost forever.

And then there are days when my words get logjammed in my throat and I can’t find a way to break the dam and understand what’s happening to me.

There are days when it feels like my blank pages remain blank, and the world turns and the sun rises and the sun falls and people wake up and people shower and people work and people eat and I continue on in this hum of existence like a blur. During these days my life feels like a photo distorted by a shutter speed that was too slow to keep up with the action. Nothing of substance may occur, but I still fail to feel and experience much of what does happen.

Then there are days like nearly every day the past two months, when almost every day is bursting with a new and jubilant memory.

Sometimes these moments are small, like coloring pictures in bed on a Sunday morning.

Or bowling at a birthday party.

And sometimes these small moments are part of a bigger moment.

Like moving my girlfriend from Columbus to Marietta and making an impromptu fort with Ky from the empty boxes.

Or grabbing a lunch of hummus and lentils with Jess at the North Market.

Or coming home to my girlfriend practicing her ukulele.


And in these moments I could get lost forever. In these moments, if I could, I would suspend time. I would stop that train from barreling onward and take just another minute to cherish the scenery, to breathe in the air and smile. For if I don’t, these moments will become just another memory, and thus, in some small way, less real.

If only I could stop that train …

JOHNNY CASH | RIDIN’ THE RAILS

The Selvedge Yard is my new favorite Web site. It’s simply a WordPress blog that finds old magazine articles and pictures and repurposes them into something new.

Take this excellent post on Johnny Cash, filled with wonderfully iconic images of the Man in Black posing next to some railroad yards.

via JOHNNY CASH | RIDIN’ THE RAILS.

Handles.

Get a grip. I say that a lot now to my son when he’s outside of himself, caught up in a storm of emotion, as happens with five-year-olds. When he gets like this, I look him in the eye and remind him to breathe and it centers him and the winds stop blowing. Sometimes though I like to let him cry, to let go of the handles and fly, to get tossed and turned. Does that sound cruel? I don’t think so. I think it only sounds right.

I remember the first time I heard that expression. Get a grip.

I was six, maybe seven. BMX track, riding with friends. They’re all older than me. They’re performing tricks, showing off. They tell me to get a grip, a good strong grip on the handlebars, and pedal fast like I’m being chased. Then when I reach the top of the hill, they tell me, lift up with my whole body and I’ll soar for a brief moment.

I’m nervous, maybe a little scared.

My fingers clasp firmly around the handles, holding on for dear life as my legs churn in a revolution, carrying me up and over each dirt hill. I gather momentum. A bike and a grip. I hold on to the handlebars. I pedal. I wince with the pain in my legs, the burn of the turning. I want to fly. I am flying.

I jump a hill, turn my handlebars to the side, just like the BMX rider on the poster in my bedroom. I lift up. I feel like I’m floating — timeless and suspended. Just as quickly — too quickly — I’m down. The front wheel lands perpendicular to the bike’s frame, hard and violent. There was no time to turn the wheel back. I feel the force in my elbows and knees, which go slack like a kite without any wind to carry it. My feet leave the pedals and my hands leave the handles. I let go. My body is hurdled. I’m flying through the air, light as a balloon. My head’s cocked. Up in the sky I see a black bird high above me. I watch it soar and coast on the hot air pockets. I watch the bird fly for what feels like forever. Then I’m down. My chin skids across the dirt, my elbows and knees thump thump thump into the ground. I’m down. I’m bleeding. My friends rush over. I’m alright, I say, and I get up and brush the dirt off my pants and touch my chin. I feel the dark, sticky residue on my fingers. My chin stings a little, but I try to conceal it. My friends pat me on the back and disperse back to their bikes and we ride some more.

I remember two days later it was time for school pictures. My mom was mad. In the picture I’m wearing a chinstrap of dry blood and courage from the time I let go of the handlebars and tried to fly.

You ruined your pictures, I remember her saying.

I wonder if I still have the picture. I’m sure I do somewhere.

I think I’d like to show my boy the time his dad let go of the handles. I think he’d be proud. He’d probably ask me to do it again. But I think I’d rather learn to watch him let go and come back down again on his own, cuts and all.