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.

Los Angeles, Be Kind

I'm writing this from my new room, in my new apartment, in my new neighborhood. I've been here for about 2 weeks now. If I may toot my own horn a little bit: my room is huge and beautiful. It is highly likely this is the largest room I will ever live in. Gonig from to my tiny, absurdist 192 square foot studio to this apartment, feels like I am exhaling after one year of holding my breath.

That was a good year, though. Despite the constraints in parking and living space, it was my year out of Carson. My neighborhood was walkable, full of personality and history, and I enjoyed telling the 20+ friends I hosted on my couch about the district. My best days could be walking to the coffee shop alone, or walking to the El Rey to see a band I liked, or getting safely drunk at the little local bar. The weird stuff on La Brea that half the people just pass by and wonder about, I got to take a step inside. I still think I'll go back there, some day, when I move up in the world and can afford to live in a human-sized apartment.

As much as I liked it there, it always felt like a half measure. It was great and I was grateful, but it still didn't feel like I had attained the full, basic normalcy of adulthood that I wanted.

The constraints in parking meant I couldn't go out exactly when I wanted to without sacrificing a mile of walking. All reupping of groceries & supplies had to be done on weekend afternoons, and I scheduled my nights out to the ebb and flows of parking. I went into work late every Wednesday just so I could sneak a nearby spot after street sweeping. The constraints in living space meant I could never really cook without a stove or oven. My lack of counter space meant even making a salad took an hour, while the miniature fridge necessitated frequent trips to the market and inclined me to pre-cooked foods. I couldn't fry an egg without setting off the smoke alarm, much less initiate any kind of diet & exercise game plan. When I brought back a date, there was always the hesitance about how they'd view my stuffy, compacted living. Life was good, but it didn't feel like I had reached a new plateau.

Now, though, I think I'm there. I think the last 5 years have all led up to this moment, to a living situation like this, and I think I'm ready to begin.

When I graduated in 2009, I had vague plans of working for a year, saving up money, and then going to graduate school for writing. The economy threw a wrench into these plans. I spent 3 months unemployed, lowered my standards, and worked a minimum wage retail job for nearly a year. I applied to 3 graduate school programs and got into one, which was debilitatingly expensive. The more I looked at my prospects as a novelist (or whatever), the more I realized that this was like trying to win a lottery where the grand prize is an $7,000 advance.

So I looked for different routes. I did a few months at an unpaid magazine internship, which was a fun way to roleplay the type of life I wanted. I spent even more months floundering in another spell of unemployment and its accompanying depression as I tried to land any job that didn't sound like I was wasting my degree. I got close enough: data entry and administrative duties at an online retailer, which let me stack my savings account and build a safety net for my eventual move into the world. All the while, I was living at my parent's home, raring to get out and really, at long last, build my post-graduate life.

I know the flaw in this redemption story; I could have reached this point earlier if I had more determination and more willingness to take on risk. Others have ascended the ladder quickly simply because they seize the moment, doubts be damned. If I could forego my well-chronicled financial anxiety and my need for a safety net of savings, I probably could've been at this point in my mid-20s, instead of my late 20s. I know those are social years that I will probably never get back. I know, and I think about that a lot. I wish I didn't take this long.

But all that matters is that I'm here now and what I do with this opportunity. I've always put Los Angeles on a pedestal as my personal Big City Dream, the Center of the World. I was excited to work within its bones, and then I was ecstatic to live along its heart. It's only now that I feel like I'm really without unreasonable restraint, which is just a fancy way of saying no more excuses. There is no reason not to have the best years of my life.


Illustration by HarriorriharBonnaroo was like a great, big pause. It's a dip out of civilization, society, constant internet connection -- especially if you're with Sprint -- and just living for what's in front of you. I needed it. My mind was a carousel of repetative, worried thoughts; about my career momentum, my clients, my interpersonal relationships, my social life, my health and mortality. On that last one, I had been spending a lot of time diagnosing myself with everything from GERD to sleep apnea to Marfan's syndrome. That sounds ridiculous to read now that I've typed it out.

Those 5 days off were a break. In the same way you disconnect your wi-fi to really concentrate on your term paper, this was a disconnect from my dull, numbing anxieties. I missed out on all but a few quarters of the NBA Finals, and on Saturday I asked the crowd if anyone knew who won. "Are the Spurs champions? Are the Spurs champions right now and we don't even know it? Did Tim Duncan retire?" A day later I would joke that the world outside of this 700 acre farm could have ended and we wouldn't know about it. We could drive to the airport and find that civilization had broken down days ago. It was an insular world, a fever dream, a psychadelic trip. Having flown in in the morning I had a whole day to recover, and I took advantage of it with a 17 hour sleep. 

But now I'm back at work -- and how! Once back in the fold of work, I slid back in with more ease than I expected. After the initial fear of tackling a pile of unread e-mails, it was back to writing cases, filling out government forms, corresponding with clients and grinding out everything in-between.

There was a bit of dumb, unfortunate serendipity. Something like 5 clients got their stuff together at the same time and, consequently, all had the same urgent deadline. A bad time for a vacation. The result is that I'm working a lot -- 10 hour days, Saturdays from home, Sundays in the office. I stayed until 11 PM once just because the work necessitated it. There's no overtime incentive, there's just the necessity. It is physically impossible to get this many people through the system on a 40 hour work week.

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Weird Memory That Popped Into My Head

Some years ago I was at my magazine internship, I was working a 3 day party in Indio, just outside of the Coachella grounds. It was basically on someone's estate and we utilized their nice house and acres of land to throw a pool party. At night, running out of things to do, I wandered into the kitchen and found some kind of scientist cook, a young guy cooking with nitrogen. I offered to help, because there was nothing else to do.

"Great," he said. "What we're doing right now is putting this wild rice and sugar in a pan and caramelizing it." He showed me how to stir it and told me to make sure enough sugar was getting in there. Then he left the kitchen.

I took this picture when he was gone:

When he came back he said positive things and then we would begin to mash these caramelized, sticky bits of wild rice into small chunks. They were hot to touch, let alone press into tight squares.

"Let me see your hands," he said. I put my hands out, palms up, and he ran his thumbs over my fingers. He looked visibly disappointed.

"Well," he said, wondering how I could get through 24 years of life with unworn, child-like skin on my fingers. "You're not going to be a pussy about the heat, right?"

"Right," I said.

"Good," and he left again.

I tried to mash as many squares as I could, but they kept burning my fingers. If I couldn't press on them very hard for very long, they would just fall apart. I wanted to defend myself, saying, I used to play bass, give me a week with a bass and I'll have these gnarly calluses. That was the first time I was ever self conscious about having good skin.

Eventually we dipped the sticky, wild rice squares into a vat of nitrogen. When you took them out and bit into them, a cold cloud of smoke would erupt. It was pretty cool. There was a long line at the party to get some, and I brought some girls from the office to the front to try them. The cook was friendly and obliged.

Loose Leaves 07.23.13

Okay. I think I've calmed down a little.

Some day, I will be able to explain strong feelings in measured, well articulated tones. Until then, I have learned to be emotional and to aim at other people's emotional centers. I am not hoping to become more moderate. I hope that I will always be "an earnest," "as uncompromising as justice," and all that -- but I also know that the last entry was mostly steam. And steam isn't substantial enough, not if I want it to stick around.

I very recently just got off the road. I'll write about that trip some day, when it has gestated in my head for long enough. It was mostly a success, with some outstanding and unfortunate events that make it worth turning into something. But not right now.

Right now I'm listening to SILENCE YOURSELF by Savages because Sufjan went pedantic on their typography. My listening habits this season have split into two branches: stripped, guitar-centric, time displaced 90's alt-rock (Yuck, Hebronix, Wavves) and electronic indie pop (CHVRCHES, Geographer, even something pure pop like Charli XCX who has great production.) I don't think it's because I've outgrown all the folk-descendent music that I've always followed, but there isn't a lot happening in that scene right now. Waxahatchee was the last great one to break through earlier this year, and I'd be hard pressed to think of the break through before her.

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Beads on a String

Ryan Davis died last week. For people that aren't immersed in video game journalism culture, let's just say this: he wasn an entertainer. I'm someone who does more reading about games culture than actual game playing, and I have been pretty familiar with his work for the last 4 or so years. I primarily knew him as a really funny commentator, purposely abrasive, but completely charismatic. He died last week, 5 days after his wedding.

"Some day, someone will write the book on grieving in the age of social media," said his colleague Jeff Gerstmann the day after the news broke. He was aware of the weirdness of the situation, and how it was this strange confluence of celebrity, internet accessibility and the ease of emotional connectedness that the internet can develop when used correctly. Thousands of comments poured in, he got written up in Reuters, virtually every major games news site put up a tribute or fond anecdote. Complete strangers were reaching out to his widow and his father. You might expect this if it were James Gandolfini or some other mainstream media star, but to most people, in most circles, this was just a guy that worked at a website.

Whenever I think about the impact these subculture figureheads make, an impact that far exceeds what you would reasonably expect, my mind always recalls a line from Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie's PHONOGRAM: "They're never going to be Big big. But they're going to be big to some people."

I was a fan of Ryan Davis and his website Giant Bomb, but I wasn't a dedicated fan. I didn't listen in every week or watch every video or read every article. I tuned in when I was bored and got 10 to 20 minutes of entertainment before convincing myself to do something productive. For a fan like me, there's a wealth of undiscovered Davis material in the archives that I can explore. I did, and it was like nothing had ever happened. I was laughing at jokes and learning about whatever they were talking about.

Superfans that ate up everything he put out felt his passing more acutely. His absence was marked in a lack of new content, the media stream would no longer produce things with his name on it. But because I had only known him and his life in a specific context -- video, audio, articles -- i'm capable of achieving a temporary amnesia. This context that I know about him hasn't gone away.

In that way, the internet, when used by producers and all-media creatives, has achieved Kurt Vonnegut's vision of death in SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE:

The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.

When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in the particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘So it goes.’

It's different from an Elliott Smith or a Heath Ledger passing. Their death marks their work, so that even if you got into their work post-mortem, the tragedy suddenly rears its head in everything they've done. It colors and flavors it. It's not so with Davis, partially because he worked in comedy, and it's hard to be reflect on death when you're laughing. But also because Davis was locked into multiple intimate online mediums: weekly, lengthy podcasts that were played in-your-ear and in-your-head, hundreds of quick bursts of video where he talks directly to the camera, conversational writing with clarity. These were one-on-one experiences, distributed online, to hundreds of thousands of people. They don't lose that potency even when the guy is gone.

I'm not attempting to make a grand statement like Davis will live forever, or that online we are all immortal. Just that the wonderful thing about today and now is that if you produce, if you make things and they're personal and true, it's the closest we can get to a kind of spacetime vision. We see life as a single point, but if we take a step to the side we can see that it stretches into the distance -- an elongated line, made up of many points.

Los Angeles Veins


One of the trademarks of SNL's The Californians sketch is the constant, meaningless jibber jabber about traffic and freeways and alternate routes. It's one of those things that you don't realize you do until people start making fun of it. Ever since then, I've always felt stupid about every traffic-related tweet I've put out and continue to put out. I can't help it. Here in Southern California, traffic is a way of life. It's bigger than everything. We shape our lives around it, and any way we can circumvent its massive gravity is a victory that delays our final unmourned grave. It's that serious. It feels as if I've spent a third of my 20s in LA traffic.

In an effort to perhaps exorcise my person of all traffic-related thoughts and ideas, I've decided to indulge completely in the art of traffic ruminations. If New Yorkers can write endless poems, short stories and personal essays about sitting on the subway, why can't we do the same about inching half a mile in 30 minutes? Surely there's a way to do it that isn't as excruciating as the real experience. Someone out there must be able to romanticize it into something less Californian and obnoxious.

For me, personally, my traffic life as been shaped by 3 major freeways branching out from my ocean-adjacent home base: California State Route 91, Interstate 110 and the San Diego 405. Highways draw activity and life, the way trade routes and rivers once did, but they lack the character of their predecessors. The 110 has no special power or significance in its uniform concrete the way the Mississippi river does — unless you give it one, as defined by the function it serves in your life. My reasons have never been especially meaningful, but they've been significant to my life as a 20-something, marking different chapters the way moving out of your childhood home does.

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Sleep is a Disease

Sometimes, it feels like my entire life is just grappling with the demands and effects of my uneven sleep cycle. Sometimes, it feels like sleep is life's great central theme, not love, or innocence, or salvation. At my weirdest, I may believe that sleep is the most important thing in civilization.
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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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Some Encounters With Homeless People

I am terrible at not giving strangers money. Here's the problem: They ask. What am I supposed to do? Say no? Unless I can't because I have no change, I am a sucker for their buckets, paper cups, hats, and even their clipboards. I once encountered three separate people soliciting money in the span of two hours (two homeless guys and a dude collecting for a charity) and I gave to all three. This is not to say I am a good person; just weak. You'd better believe by the third guy I was thinking, I can't believe this shit is happening.

For some reason, I have a lot of weird memories involving various strangers asking for money. On more than one occasion, homeless folk have prefaced their money requests with this kind of oblivious, weird and unintentional racism. This is literally the exchange I have had at least three times:

"Hey," says a guy sitting on the floor wearing many layers of coats. "Do you speak English? English?"

I look at him and say yes.

"Do you have any money? I just need a couple dollars more, man."

So, inevitably, I give him a couple of dollars. Usually when I tell people this, they are appalled that I would even give the guy the time of day. "After he said that?!" they would say. My response is this: So what? What do you expect me to do? Not give him my spare change to teach him a lesson about cultural sensitivity?

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Escapist Doom

I just thought I should blog something.

The past week has been a struggle for productivity and discipline. One of my greatest personal failings, which I keep in my spiral tower of great personal failings, is my need for escapism. It comes in binges. I find comfort in being nothing but a vessel for an experience. Like other addictions, it is difficult to beat, results in long internal arguments and is a drain on my free time (and therefore the quality of my life.)

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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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My PA Days

Making good money in the creative arts is an intimidating Everest of a goal. It's designed to keep people who aren't serious about the work and discipline away. All of us like to say that we know this, and that we're going to be one of the few that stick it out until we get to the top. But every day, we start to see why everyone keeps jumping ship.

I'm not yet giving up on the dream, as I don't think I've encountered nearly enough difficulties to really break my back, but I have learned that saying is easier than doing. The foremost example in my life is the time I tried to be a production assistant. I got it in my head to be a writer for TV and film, because I lived in this area anyway, and the prize (while the odds of reaching it were slim) was more rewarding than my other career goal of novelist. But the path to writer is through writer's assistant, which is accessed via production assistant.

Production assistant is the term for entry level, all-purpose set hand. Here's how you know you're a competent PA: No one notices you. As a PA, you can only make things worse. On your best day, the show business machine continues on as it is supposed to. You facilitate its regular action, and the only difference you can make is when you screw up.

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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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Story About Rats

From 2006 to 2008, I lived in an apartment across the street from my college. It was my first real "independent" living experience, being out of a dormitory or my parent's home. I paid my bills, assembled my furniture, and solved my problems.

A few of these problems were worse than others. In fact, some of these problems were alive, red-eyed and terrifying just a shadowy presence. My roommate and I found out, in our last year there, that we had been living with a small rat army.

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I hate money.

I mean, I need and desire and gobble gobble chomp it up like a hungry hippo, but I hate it.

Since I was a small child, I've had weird hang-ups about money and spending, and as a result, I am pretty frugal and generally smart with how I save and spend. But it stresses me out from end to end. I go to sleep worried about money, I have bad dreams and great nightmares, and I wake up worried about money. It's not even that my family is dancing with poverty, or that my personal checking account is particularly empty. In college, I couldn't deal with having less than two hundred dollars. Today, I can't deal with having less than a thousand.

If you're part of the sane majority, that sounds like a luxurious amount of money to have stored away at this age, I know. I know I should be amazed that I manage to have that much after all this unemployment, which I can't seem to scrape off my failing person. But this mind can't be beat down with blunt logic. It is one of My Things. I stress and feel shitty and I wonder when will I be able to find some steady, reasonable income to be both independent and comfortable.

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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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