What I Learned From A Year Alone


Portland is cold. I always knew my Los Angeles idea of cold was a joke; it merely graces your skin with little brushes of wind. You can erase it by rubbing your arms. I didn't realize that real cold, Northwest cold, cuts deep. It burrows to your spine and plays your shivers like a puppet. I couldn't stop the jitters.

I was trying to warm up with Stumptown Coffee. It was my first time in the city — I’ve driven through a few times on my way to Seattle or Vancouver, but I never had a reason to stop and experience it. I flew to Portland just days earlier to meet a girl I just started talking to online. It was my third day in the city I was alone again.

Flying to Portland was an impulse decision. I was originally going to drive up to Oakland with my room mate to celebrate the New Year. End 2014 with a party, begin 2015 with new scenery. It would be like old college adventures: long expanses of the highway, big gulps of beer and new inside jokes. He bailed on the trip just a day before.

I decided to take the trip alone. It wasn’t an appealing idea. I had never done such a long drive by myself. It would be a long time to be stuck in my head, but then again, I spent much of 2014 in there. It would be immersive, sometimes like drowning, but this had been a year I learned how to beat it.

Still, I wanted to at least try to find a replacement travel buddy. A few calls didn't turn up anything. I wanted to use this time, the end of a big year, to do something that loomed large.

At the time, I was exchanging messages with a girl I met on a dating website. She lived in Seattle and messaged me first. Eventually we exchanged numbers. That night I told her about my plans for the trip — the solitary drive, the days in the bay. She suggested, in that teasing, jestful way girls do to say something true but absurd, that I keep going to Oregon so that I'd be close enough to visit. I laughed it off but caught myself; why shouldn't I consider it?

There’s the mess of logistics, the risk of meeting any new person, the unpredictable chemistry and the money that would go into it, sure. Yet none of those seemed to be deal breakers. They didn't plant a foothold in my mind.

I had done enough things alone this year. That was the theme of 2014. I could begin the new year with something that flew radically in the face of that.

We settled on Portland, a city neither of us knew. She would drive down from Seattle to pick me up from the airport, and then we would see what would happen, for 2 straight days.

I’m not a spontaneous person. Every inner voice told me that it was risky and a hassle, but I’ve learned to be skeptical of my resistance. The blaring sirens are a sign of something worth considering. I knew through experience that my life was almost always richer when I took social risks and, in the waning years of my 20s, it was time to remember that.

A year ago I wouldn't even humor the idea. But throughout 2014, I learned a lot about being alone; how to sit with it, how to listen to it closely, how to resist the dread it stokes inside of me. A solo trip alone could be like my last great tribute to it, and my Portland adventure could be its fiery cremation. I liked the idea. I worried about the reality.


I used to never go to concerts alone, which is hard when you have a taste for very specific indie bands. I used to maintain a roster of possible concert buddies; people I could pitch if a band I liked was in town. In 2014, it seemed I had tapped that well dry. I wasn't about to stop going altogether, so I experimented with going alone.

The thing about being alone in 2014 is that most people don’t understand what that actually entails. They think waiting in line for coffee or sitting in traffic is isolation. But with our phones in our hands, most of us have a close friend with a direct line into our thoughts. Or, we have a news feed that can simulate a 24 hour conversation. Endless friends telling you about their day.

Being alone in the modern world is about doing none of that and having the discomfort expand and split at the seams. That creeping anxiety is loneliness, and your inner mind panics and alerts you to do something, to get another voice in there. Letting it pass is the goal.

This was especially true for my first solo concert. It was a perfect, anxious situation: the basement of a church that was converted, in great hipster fashion, into a punk & indie venue. The band was the stirring and exciting Bleeding Rainbow, but there were only about 20 of us in attendance. We all stood 5 feet apart , folded our arms, and tried not to acknowledge each other.

There would be no mosh pit or dancing to blend into and lose myself. The band stared at us and we stared back. The way anxiety grows on me is like water droplets running down an icicle. It leaks, crawls along and solidifies until I feel it heavy and hanging. I wanted to bolt for the door every minute. All that kept me there was knowing that if I went into hiding now, all the dread I’d experienced until that point would be pointless.

That was the worst of it. I’m sure to some I looked awkward, never quite comfortable and fiercely insecure. I’m also sure they’ve forgotten me. Since then, it's been easier. I attended most of my 2014 concerts — No Age, Wye Oak, Panama, Alvvays — by myself. I’d never had so much fun alone.


In early January I began going on dates with a girl who had a mind like a roman candle, sparkling and popping with light that you thought would burn you. I had never had an in-depth conversation with someone so engaging. It’s not merely that she was bright, but that she was fast too. She had read all the same articles, wondered about all the same concepts and plugged into all the same thought clouds faster than I did. When we talked, I never explained a thing. I stayed on my toes and tried to keep up.

Her hair was steely red, like a sports car. On the nights I was lucky enough to stay with her, I buried my nose into the tuft of hair at the back of her neck. I wasn’t sure how long this might last, but whatever time there was would have value.

Like everything with her, it was quick and sudden. After about 3 months of feeling this out, I got a text message. “I think we’re at different points in our lives and it would be best if we went our separate ways,” she wrote, and that was all it took. I replied, though it didn’t matter: “It’s been fun.” Even in breaking up, she did it well. What could I be mad about? What about that could make me insecure? I was alone again, and although I didn’t know it right away, that was fine. I was fine.


When she picked me up at the Portland airport, she stopped being the girl from the internet. Pictures from your phone or online are weird ghosts of who you really are. Lenses distort contours, angles bend light and you never get a sense of how they fill space. There wasn’t much of her to fill; she came up short to my neck, and her long, black-ink hair further emphasized her petite stature. She came out of the car, leaving the car running, to greet me. When she smiled at me, I was taken.

We both didn’t totally understand why we trusted each other to meet like this. I got the sense that we were both primed for something radical because we were working through things; some of it hopelessly romantic, some of it just hopeless. But over the next day and night we lived a long first date. We dined at Italian restaurants lit by blue string lights, we created inside jokes at rapid speed and we walked through mist-soaked neighborhoods with fingers intertwined. If we got into the fast lane, it was because the road would only be a few miles long.

I didn’t mind that it was doomed. It’s concentrate, not a diluted cocktail, just a pure shot. The hardest stuff you’ve ever had.


Living alone is a strange experience because your apartment becomes an extension of your inner mind. This is even more true if you live in a tiny studio like I did for most of 2014. At 192 square feet, it was like having a medium sized bedroom for everything — your kitchen, your living room, your entire miserable life.

When I got home from work, my habits and actions were physical manifestations of that inner monologue. I thought aloud, I indulged in my worst habits and I barely scraped a functional life out of the shitty utilities available. I also developed a taste for red wine.

At first it was strange to come home to stale air and four walls. You want home to be a sanctuary, but it was like retreating to this secret, isolated place of shame. Less like Batman’s cave and more like Quasimodo’s bell tower.

It's difficult to pinpoint when it started to be a relief. That’s the thing with learning how to be by yourself — there’s blood-rushing panic, but that’s not sustainable. Dread comes in waves, but in time, the waves come less frequently. Each longer gap gives you time to breathe. At some point living alone became a numb ache that I didn’t even bother to pontificate about. Loneliness stopped being an event and started becoming a condition.


Driving up to Oakland was the longest drive I’d ever done by myself. My previous record was the 4 hour drive to Vegas, but at least I had people with me. They were asleep, sure, but their presence was worth something.

When I started my car in the morning to begin, I set my Spotify playlist to shuffle and the first song that came on was, of course, “This Year” by The Mountain Goats. As if the algorithm caught onto theme, it launched next into Conor Oberst’s “Moab” — “there’s nothing that the road cannot heal,” it goes — so I was off to a good start.

The drive is easy for the first hour or two. Your mind has not yet been tested. For someone like me, who used to get into car-related trouble ever 6 months, it was a high stakes dare.

Still, California along the 5 is beautiful. A week of rain had cut into our desperate drought, and so our hills and deserts were blessed with greenery. I’d seen that area before, but not like that. On a normal December day it would be arid and colored exclusively by shades of yellow and brown, but on this morning it was another world. The year was dying, and I was there to observe its funeral, but god, there was a lot of life out there.


Picking a "best friend" is a tough exercise, but it's easy to pinpoint which friends are valuable to me. I have one friend in particular whom I spoke to, in some form, every day, for years. That does something to you. When someone has a direct line to your constant thoughts, and you to theirs, suddenly you aren’t even thinking for yourself. Suddenly, your inner monologue is framed as a dialogue.

It also makes two people very testy. My friend and I had been getting into tiffs with frightening regularity and, in 2014, we took a long break. We didn’t know when it would end, only that some day it would.

When you turn off all sources of noise to meditate, that’s when you start to hear the wind. When I turned off all outside contact, all reason to be outside of myself, I heard another buried frequency. My breathing and heart beat, yes, but most of all an inner voice. It was always there, but stunted and waiting in the wings to take the stage. We always think to ourselves — “boy I’m hungry,” or “where do I turn?” But thats not a voice. A voice has character to it, one that you don’t always dictate. It reveals personality. Your emotions are performed by your inner voice, instead of just something you feel, like the temperature. There is something alive inside you, and you don’t always get to notice that.


Stumptown Coffee was the last stop. I’d stay behind and work a little bit before my flight and she would move on and drive back to Seattle. Portland was always only a side road. In the new day of 2015, we had entire lives to get back to.

I ordered a drink and took a seat at a table. She sat next to me.

“I’ll see you again,” I said in the silence. “I don’t know how or when, but I’m sure of it. Eventually.” I didn’t say it as a romantic promise or one of those shipped-off-to-war farewells. That wasn’t the tone I used. I said it because of foresight; It just didn’t seem logical or realistic that she would walk out of my life. I didn't live that way anymore.

We said goodbye in the street. A kiss, a back turned, a peace sign over the shoulder. I watched her leave until it became true.

In 2015 I was alone, again, but I saw the way through. I sat with my drink and laptop for a few hours and allowed myself to feel it. It was dense and solid and rested in my chest in the familiar groove it had cut out for itself. If the right song comes on, it dissipates into the rest of my body. Even then, it is sentimental. I treat its imprint like a souvenir of something meaningful.


I went to my third funeral last week. It was a co-worker -- 62 years old, never went to the doctor, never knew he developed hypertension, was taken by surprise by a stroke. He was getting better, the youngest guy in the ward, but these things aren't fixed on rails. He passed on a Friday and his funeral was the next Tuesday.

I attended with my co-workers. Co-worker relationships are always strange things. You don't have to bond or even have any sort of common ground, so in some cases tehse can be relationships of totally pleasant and uneventful politeness. I didn't know Tom that well. I had heard a few stories of his family, I knew where he lived, I knew his work ethic and his intelligence, but I didn't know much else about him. I didn't know his passions -- he seemed to have a general expertise on everything. I didn't know his favorite art, or the big events in his life. He was a co-worker, and one far, far above me in the hierarchy at that.

Still, he was a daily presence, and his absence was felt. What's more strange is that I was a daily presence in his. As I sat in a middle pew at his funeral, I was surrounded by people to whom he meant the world, but hadn't seen him that often. These people were pillars of his life, and it was strange that I had come in near the end -- a final season recurring character. 

But death is weird how it approaches in uneven and unfair circumstances. Because I had only known Tom for a little less than a year, most of my emotional reaction was one of pity and empathy. "Poor fucking guy," I said to myself, several times in the days after I found out. He was a stubborn dude, that I knew, and he would've hated to go out that way. He would've hated being bedridden, how out of the blue it was, how unprepared he must've been. He seemed like he would've been angry if he knew it would end like that. Poor fucking guy.

I am generally unaware of what it's like to live with death. I have lost two grandparents and one distant high school friend in 27 years. Death has always been a dark shadow that creeps in from the edges. The black fade keeps edging closer and closer, and I'm frequently worried about the time it will finally hit my immediate circle. I don't know how I'll react. I don't know how I'll cope. Mostly I just hope I never find out.

This was the closest death my boss has ever had to deal with. She talked with Tom for hours every day. But she's never lost a grandparent or a close friend or anything like that. It's a big leap for her, and I don't know how people get over it once the illusion that everyone in your circle is going to be around forever. Maybe you just rebuild it.

When I saw the open casket, I could only stand in front of it with a furrowed brow. It didn't look like him, and for some reason that made me feel even more pity. In all the wakes I've been to, the deceased never looks like themselves; it's an artist's rendering of what they think they probably looked like in life. I'm not mad at them -- I know it's practically impossible and getting dead bodies to be peacefully presentable is tough. But in the few moments I had before the casket, I couldn't stop thinking about what a damn shame it was. An unexpected, unfair end and then you don't even get to look like yourself. Poor fucking guy.

Next to the casket they had one of those poster boards full of old pictures. I had never seen him in these contexts -- as a young man, at a family party, with his wife. But it made sense, it looked natural. I noticed he had always had big teeth, and in his young age it looked exactly as you would expect. It looked right. It looked better.

Strange Escapes

I went to Las Vegas over the weekend. I've lost count of how many times I've made that trip. For the millions in Los Angeles, Las Vegas is sort of like our collective vacation home. An extension of LA culture, like Big Bear or Catalina Island. A lot of tourists, from all corners, don't often envision Vegas as having its own identity or community or culture, we see it for its function: a playground for people to let loose until the 12 o'clock check out.

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Essay | Hallow

I don't have a lot of important Halloween memories. It's just never been a meaningful day to me, even when I was a child.  I assume that's because Halloween is the most social of holidays and, since I was a socially fragile child, I did not take to it as I did Christmas or any other consumerism-based event.

I did, however, dress up and go door to door for a few years with my small cousins, and on occasion I really enjoyed my costume. But it's the same thing that happens with birthdays when you get into your adolescence. All of  a sudden the things you used to do as a child become passe. You try extra hard not to be childish, because you want to be cool, and children aren't cool. So you no longer hire clowns and moon-jumps for your party, and you no longer go to Kmart for costumes in mid-October.

I will tell you all the costumes I remember:

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Might As Well

I remember less and less about my initial 9/11 experience every year. I had barely started High School, which is an odd thought to consider, since it seems like I should have been much older. World changing events screw with your perception of time. They never seem too long ago, until you try and match it up with your actual life.

My first class in the morning was French. My routine consisted of putting my head down and napping until the bell rang and class started. The teacher usually had some morning show on, but once class was in session, he would turn it off and we would learn more numbers. On this day, he didn't. I looked up, and he was just letting us watch TV and talk amongst ourselves. I saw the World Trade Center on fire. I was a bit of a naive cynic then, and in a vain attempt to feel intellectual, I wrote it off as another disaster that I could disconnect from on an emotional level.

We had to watch for a few minute to see a replay of the actual plane colliding with the skyscraper. Even then, I had grown accustomed to the monthly news cycle of disasters. Every couple of years, there would be a cycle about a plane that had gone down, usually in the ocean, and we would all wait for the black box verdict. That's exactly what I thought it was; just another accident.

It wasn't until the second plane hit that I really understood it as an attack, and not a highly unlikely freak accident. In truth, I wasn't even really aware of the World Trade Center as a building, let alone an important one. I didn't understand the scope, size, or symbolism of it. If you had asked me on the 10th I would have guessed it was just a place in New York. There was a lot I didn't understand, and the gravity escaped me for the first few hours.

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Essay | Antiquity

For many of us, the music we used to like is the key to perfect shame. It represents our earlier, more naive and impressionable selves. Sometimes I try and justify my old tastes in the echo chamber of my head: "It was a simpler time! It worked for me back then! I didn't know what else was out there!" Ideally, we would like to feel that we've had refined and discerning tastes since the 6th grade.

Unless, of course, you're one of those people who simply likes what they like, without shame or apology, and doesn't understand the meaning of "guilty pleasure." If you are that person? Congratulations. You are a golden paragon of peace and tolerance, the kind of All-God we seek to emulate. I wonder what it's like.

I came upon the idea to dig up my old CDs and give them a listen with fresh ears. I wanted the ones that meant something to me while I fell asleep with a Sony Discman under my pillow. Mostly, I wondered: How could I have loved this stuff? Which is the heart of it all. At one point, I did love this, but it decayed over time. The implications of this go beyond music: How long will we love anything?

Obviously this isn't the time to conflate minor thoughts into big life strife. As a dude who likes to type about music, it might be fun to listen to the old things with a more discerning mind.

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Radio Heroes

There is something intimate about a voice on a mic. I would be talking about radio, but in the changing times as traditional AM/FM dies out, I'm more and more talking about podcasting. These days, I get all my perception-piercing microphoned voices from podcasts; This American Life, The Moth and especially WTF with Marc Maron.

Undoubtedly, Marc Maron has been an influence on my life and mindset as of late. But when I first started listening to talk radio, I was deeply into the anger and rantings of Adam Carolla's run on Loveline. Today, they both produce highly popular podcasts, and something weird happened: They did guest spots on each other's shows. It was a crossroads of two influences on my life. To be dramatic: a conversation between who I used to be, and who I am now.

I got into Loveline in high school. As an impressionable, depressed adolescent with no friends, I took to listening to radio late at night on my CD player. I would make sure to be in bed by 10 PM to catch Loveline so I could lie in the dark with my headphones on, and listen to Adam Carolla & Dr. Drew try and solve everyone's problems. It was usually hilarious, and occasionally tragic. Ultimately, I would laugh myself to sleep.

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I worked in the rain this weekend. My unpaid internship starts to feel more and more unpaid as the days goes go by and, four months in, I really needed to stay afloat. So I started looking for jobs that could subsidize my thrice weekly LA trips, preferably on the weekends. With a little luck, I landed an usher job at a nearby outdoor stadium. Its got nothing to do with my hopes and dreams and I am surely overqualified. But these are the things we do to stay afloat.

Of course, I wasn't about to go hating myself and my job. I reserved that black part of my heart for retail. At the very least, in this position, I wasn't tricking anyone into buying things they didn't need. I wasn't pressured to hit certain sales numbers by any means necessary. And, all things considered, I was pretty lucky to have any meager amount of money. It is about time that I get out of the well of self-pity and join the rest of the world.

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Balikbayan, pt. 4: Epilogue

Three years is a long time by most standards. For life milestones and other significant events, it almost seems too soon. When I came to the Philippines for the first time as an adult in 2007, I found it to be a significant and confusing experience. It was awe inspiring at times, depressing at others, and generally lonely. I left motivated with new knowledge and life experience that would fuel my years to come. I did not expect to come back again so "soon."

On the last day of November, my grandfather passed away at the age of 92. My parents packed their things to be with the family in early December, and my Sister and I followed on our own a week later. His name was Nestor. I did not know this basic fact until I came here. Everyone referred to him by his second first name, Virgilio, but legally his real first name was Nestor. How do I go for 23 years without knowing that? I never got to know him on a personal level. I knew and admired him mostly by reputation.

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No Way Out But Through

In my last year of college, I got to use the ropes course. The ropes course was this walled-off section next to our gym with ziplines, wooden poles, a twisting rock wall, and various hanging ropes to swing from. Normally, you had to pay and make an appointment to use the course, because it required equipment and wavers and supervision. But I happened to walk by during a sort of "open house" for the course, so some friends and I jumped in on impulse.

I have always been afraid of heights. I look down from the second story of the mall, get sick, and step away. I think heights were the very first thing that I ever identified as a fear, which is important, because the things we are scared of are just as integral to our personalities as the hobbies we keep and the things we like.

Anything higher than a full flight of stairs induced vertigo, yet somehow, this ropes course was exciting. I didn't hesitate to get in a harness and sign whatever form that said if I broke my face it would be my own damn fault.

That's not my natural reaction to fear, but I keep trying to duplicate that anyway in other aspects of my life, wherever appropriate. This isn't some chest-puffing, bravery braggadocio - I am still very much afraid of everything. I still hate heights. But I still go up there, anyway, because as much as I hate heights, I hate being afraid more.

One of the obstacles there is essentially a wooden pole, about 35 feet tall, with a perch no bigger than a diving board at the very top. Maybe 7 more feet in front of that tiny platform is a small trapeze bar. You climb it, and all the while, a supervisor is holding the other end of a pulley contraption locked into your harness. The objective is simple: jump. From this precarious standing position, jump forward, reach out, grab the bar and hold on. Or fall, for a few terrifying moments, before the rope is drawn taut and you hang in shame.

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Essay | Days of Music

Shocking confession: My life isn't all too exciting right now. The best way I can describe it is a series of ellipses punctuated by an exclamation mark, and this pattern repeats until I start moving towards a career. All of that is to say in an unnecessarily abstract way: I do a lot of nothing, and then something, and then nothing.

I will spend three weeks applying for jobs with no bites. Then I will take a trip to Washington. I will spend three weeks staying indoors, forgetting what air smells like. Then I will work on a film set for 10 days. Then I will spend three weeks just to observe my mental and physical atrophy. Then I will attend three bad-ass concerts within 10 days of each other. HERE IS A BLOG ABOUT THAT LAST PART HOW ABOUT THAT SEGUE

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Essay | Childish Things

Before every book fair in elementary school, we were given a little four or five page pamphlet of what paperbacks we could expect to see. It was almost entirely scholastic books, dominated by the popular GOOSEBUMPS, with smatterings of old favorites like BABYSITTER'S CLUB. All of us, little kids with our parent's money in our pockets, flipped through pages, picking out the cool covers and sometimes even stopping to read the blurbs.

Book fairs are designed to socialize kids to do two things: read for fun, and grow into consumerism. I sit at this late hour, some decade and a half later, with an expensive degree in putting words together, as a successful outcome of that project. It worked for us because it was one of our first experiences, outside of juice boxes, to exercise our buying power. Your parents gave you ten dollars and you could buy anything you want - even this book with the scary werewolf on it.

When we were all hyped and ready to spend, we shuffled into the library in a single file line, and were amazed to find that the desks had been rearranged to form a big square, upon which books and book accessories were being sold. Our tiny, one-room library, a shitty public school thing, became a swap meet. It was as exciting as books got at our age.

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Interrobang: Understanding Comic-Con

When she saw me take out my camera, the pretty girl dressed as a Green Lantern held her ring out toward the direction of a giant, plastic model of a Green Lantern battery. I thanked her and took a picture, and turned around to see a small child waddle up dressed as a Lego robot. I had to capture that, too. I made my way down the hall, slowly taking in the overwhelming colorful spectacle, and was cut off by Pacman being chased by 3 ghosts. I almost bumped into Domo-kun.

"Sorry," I said to the giant brown-furred box with gnashing teeth. I don't know if the thing inside could even hear me. I continued on, through the Chun-Lis, through the Iron Men, through the Pikachus, and of course, through the Stormtroopers.

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Essay | The Profane and the Indecent


I was recently told that a co-worker of mine doesn't curse.  I didn't believe it at first.I could have sworn I had heard him use a variety of obscenities, everything from S to F. As I thought about it a little more, searching my mental rolodex for specific memories, I found that I had nothing. Just vague assumptions that he cursed, when, apparently, they were always modified to less offensive, non-sequitur substitutes like the ever popular stuff and fudge.

I use expletives a lot, casually, as often as I use napkins. I also have this handy subconscious mechanism that omits curse words when in the presence of authority, whether it be parents or bosses. I didn't used to dole out the profanities with such reckless abandon. It used to be a bigger deal to me, a top tier sin.

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Bleeding Ink


When I departed my last undergraduate creative writing class, I wrote, with purposeful hyperbole: BOATWITHOUTASAILBOATWITHOUTASAIL!!

Look, I get it. I will have more classes in my (hopeful) graduate career, people don't ever really stop learning anyway, and the last of any class is rarely a milestone. But there was something about the finality of not just the class, but my writing education, that pulled me towards a feeling of exaggerated panic. It was something like losing the training wheels and going off on your own. These days, when I'm not mocking an all-caps panic, I'm learning a lot about the kind of discipline it takes to direct yourself towards a writing career and what it is you need to do.

See, I'm at an age where artists began to be great. Michael Chabon published a book right out of UC Irvine not much older than I am right now. Joyce Carol Oates was 25 with her first book. Conan O'Brien moved to Los Angeles at this age to write for an HBO comedy. I'm already here, a place where people uproot to build their portfolio. Why am I withering into the grooves of my retail job from my parent's home?

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A Crash

It was just a few minutes past 10:00 PM on Tuesday, March 2, 2010. I was driving down the 91 west, back from a boring day at work. I was listening to the radio show, "This American Life," episode #81 entitled, "Guns." In it, a man was describing his near-death experience of being shot, several times, at point-blank range.

An ambient music interlude had just taken over the vocals and then, out of the darkness, a red car appeared, completely still and unmoving. I brake hard, but not hard enough, not fast enough, and I crush its trunk with a terrible clang of metal and glass. The glove compartment explodes outward at me as the airbag seems to form from nothing.

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Essay | Things That Were Cool

Oh, man, after you read this, you aren't going to be my friend anymore.

First, I think I need to explain a little bit about professional wrestling.

Back in the early 1990s, my cousins got me into watching WWF pro-wrestling. We had toys, we watched tapes, we talked, and, yes, threw each other around the room. As with most kids our age, pro-wrestling was one of the things. It was WWF and Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles and it was all a sparkling, shimmering spectacle to young eyes.

Now, those other things I listed still have a modicum of respect among fans as they get older. At some point, there's this weird retrospective part of the brain that starts to mythologize what we liked in our childhood. Transformers and GI Joe are prime examples - we liked them as children and then we liked them as adults. Nostalgia makes things that were uncool, cool again.

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Essay | Chrissmash

You wouldn't know it from my pretentious attempts at being a curmudgeon, but Christmas is actually one of my favorite times of the year. The grain & I go the same way when it comes to this. Fans of the holiday season are often predictable, sheep-like, and fans of kitschy sweaters. But the season has a universal appeal to it, and that's a basic truth.

The first virtue of Christmas is the mood. Despite the rampant consumerism and materialism, there lies at its heart the inclination to do nice things just because. People let you into traffic with a smile, lend you some coins to complete your change or hold the door for you just cause they believe in this one baby born a long time ago.

"But Justin!" you say. "These are basic acts of kindness that should fill our lives regardless of the mandated birth date of a special baby!"

And to that, I would agree. But it's not the way things are. The human mind is an ugly, greedy thing of darkness and we have to take what we can get. While it would be great if the Christmas spirit was the default, having a couple weeks of positive inclinations is good 'nuff for the creatures that invented the Chia pet shaped like Barack Obama's head.

"Good point!" you then say. "How could I have let my cynicism dismiss this season of selflessness?"

Well, don't worry about it. It happens to the best of us.

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Essay | On Journalism and Majors

Without fail:

"What are you studying?" they ask with sincerity.
"Creative writing," I answer.
"Oh," they say, with a piqued interest. "So are you thinking of doing journalism?"

Not really, no. Maybe back in those primitive, mesozoic freshman days. But in these modern times, I have moved to the less reliable and riskier field of straight-up fiction. And not profitable young adult fiction about teens-morphing-into-animals or thinly veiled projections of vampire romances. Since 11th grade AP English, I've been indoctrinated in the traditions of literary fiction. I've been pointed in the direction of the big theme, and when I'm lucky I even graze them.

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Essay | Godbloggin'

Everyone with a blog has, at one point, written about god, right? How did I go 4 years of blogging without dropping into this tangled web? I find myself today with writer's blog and an urge to type. With these two conflicting feelings, it seems now may be a good a time as any to try and figure out how I feel and have felt about faith.

To start from the beginning: Born Roman Catholic. Still Catholic, I suppose, culturally if not spiritually. It's complicated and perhaps even vague by design. I was as god-fearing as the church tells you to be all the way until the 8th grade, fear being the operative word. Around that time, after a few readings on the internet and a few sleepless nights, I was an athiest, or perhaps in reality, I was just a lonely and scared child.

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