I haven’t been able to find Jack White’s new record anywhere in town. The bastard sold 40,000 in a week. 40,000 vinyl LPs. 2014. I’ll get it one day. Jack said he was inspired by the idea of being physically isolated and thereby being forced to finish his projects without distraction. I like that. I’ve given myself a self-imposed limitation by going to a coffee shop to write with a laptop with a dying battery.
I am gonna pretend that I realized, before typing, that I just reconnected with the battery theme from my last installment. Nope! I love that about writing. So often, themes just fall into place when I’m not paying attention. I’m not a genius; I just show up to work a lot.
Usually work that doesn’t pay. I can’t believe my credit card hasn’t dissolved into a pile of colorful dust as one of these baristas swipes it. I’ve been good about money on this trip, but I got myself tied up in a high-interest credit card and it’s making an intense time in my life even more frenetic. It’s kind of a helpless feeling. There is no safety net. However, maybe people as dense as me need to go out to the end of the cliff and walk a few feet out to realize we’re about to fall. Meep meep.
I’ve done so much already during my two weeks in North Carolina with Marcella’s family. It’s hard to know what to tell you, Doris. I promised I’d tell you about Nonna. Nonna is somewhere in her very, very late ‘40s. She speaks English as well as I speak sports. She’s slightly ornery in that great way that older people sometimes are, but she’s also very sweet. I like seeing people who have survived many decades with their joy in-tact. I got into a habit of connecting with her once or twice a day at the beach house. She didn’t understand me and I didn’t understand her, but we understood each other. And each time that happened, I felt a little twinge of joy - we communicated! She saw me recover my acoustic guitar from the living room and could sense that I was picking it up like a man who was reconnecting with his love. She was right. I have many loves.
I still haven’t finished reading “White Bicycles” and I haven’t taken my supplements today.
I’m dipping a chocolate macaroon into a nearly soup bowl-sized cup of coffee and all is right with the world. I’m 0.1 mile from Cat’s Cradle, a name that pops up a lot in my bootleg collection. I’m about as close to Surplus Sid. I want to visit him after this and I want to leave with a funny story.
It’s tempting to decide that each new place you visit is nicer than where you come from and will inevitably return to. That the people are nicer. And so on. I’m learning that people are basically the same everywhere. To a large extent, you find good if you’re looking for good and bad if you’re looking for bad. Down here, the atmosphere IS nicer. Better weather, less traffic, more nature, more history. The students seem optimistic about the future ahead of them, the adults seem largely content with their present. It is very comfortable. Makes me wonder if I should try to end up here. Of course, there’s something to be said for completely leaving your family, especially if you’re not making the kind of money that would allow you to fly back regularly. I have a small family but I love them. Then again, I need to build a career somewhere, at some point, and this place feels aligned with my sensibilities.
I am wearing a total of three articles of clothing. Marcella bought me Tom’s shoes last year and I love them and the way they are degrading. I don’t know if they’re supposed to - maybe I’m not supposed to be hiking in them. But I love it. I’m letting my record collection do that. I flirted with the idea of protecting them in plastic sleeves, but at some point, I decided to just let them age. Paul McCartney has the right to have jet black hair, but why bother? Don’t we earn our greys? Time marches on and I’m marching with my records. Even without their protective sleeves, those damn things will be able to play music longer than I will. Spin the black circle.
I’m a few yards away from Vinyl Perk. I went yesterday. It’s a narrow room packed with handpicked, reasonably priced vinyl records. Not only that, but the man behind the counter will make you delicious pourover coffee, ask about your trip, and tell you about the jazz record he’s playing on his turntable. I suspected that my anecdote about visiting Chet Atkins’ grave may have clarified my status as a Certified Music Nerd. I connected with one of my tribesmen. Spin the black circle.
Maybe some of you felt like you got to know me with that last note I wrote. I felt the same way, believe it or not. I’d gotten out of the habit of self-reflection. I’m not sure that it’s a good place to live, but it’s a good place to visit. I used to do this every few weeks in my mid-twenties. Sometimes, I’d find within these notes the seeds of new songs. I’d write you a letter and scrap it for parts.
I am afraid of the psychological effect of returning home. I don’t have much going on there. Well, I have my loves - some human, some cats, some dogs - a few music gigs, some work. And bills. I literally didn’t pay my three main bills this week. I’ve earned all the money and more, but the well-paying job of being a freelance Brand Ambassador has the terrible downside of paychecks with unknown arrival times. It’s a stress I brought with me on vacation, but writing out a game plan helped get it off my mind enough to arrive in the moment. To collapse into now, as Michael Stipe said. Besides, you can’t pay a bill - or do anything else of consequence - by simply worrying about it. You deserve to be happy. I deserve to be happy, too, Doris.
One thing that makes me happy about returning home is I will get to plug my recording equipment into my reverb unit and maybe record some of my songs. I like how my voice sounds with a big echo. When I look into Jim James’ eyes, I think, “I understand you and your silo, you goddamn echo freak.”
I worry about getting into a rut. Then again, I glanced at the past month of photos in my “travel” folder and I saw pictures from a man who does manage to keep life interesting. I wrote “I worry about getting into a rut,” but what I really mean is “I worry.” I worry but I’m often wise enough to see that I’ve begun to skip (the vinyl metaphors return) and need to reset my needle.
I like writing because it’s a challenge to connect. To really connect. To remain emotionally open and mentally focused. To connect with anxieties, dreams. All the things that are easy to gloss over in the typical conversation. Poking out from behind the brick wall.
“Are you even sure Buddy Holly’s a jew?” There are some odd statements echoing around this coffee shop. I think I’ll hit Record on my iPhone, just in case something funny or weird enough to go into my sound collage happens.
I was fifteen when I began doing visual art, starting with manipulations of clip art that I’d do in a class (this would be called “glitch art” now) and also recording both jam sessions with friends and abstract noise pieces. At some point in my late twenties, I tied all these existing recordings together into one gigantic sound collage. It is now 5.5 hours long. Just as I do with photography and other visual art, I find a lot of joy in being able to take little snippets of life and turn them into art when the light bulb of inspiration flickers on.
Embrace the et cetera, I say. You don’t have to wait for someone to tell you to be creative - you can just do it. So I do. This is the beauty of digital technology. I feel that our duty as creators in the digital age is to be our own curators - to know what to archive, know what to display, and just as importantly, what to discard. If I have 40 photos from the same event, I give myself the challenge of finding one photo that captures its essence. It might be the clearest, most technically perfect shot, but it also might be a weird, blurry thing. Either the picture speaks to me or the picture gets deleted. I imagine a young girl in the 1930s with a sepia-tinged photo of her family in a locket. She knows that one picture really well.
I love this pressure. Deadlines are good for me.
I’m back at The Robertsons’ again. With my power cable. I love my girl and all the people here, but I’m hoping I have another hour or two to be self-indulgent. I’m really enjoying writing on this trip.
I just received an email from a girl in Portugal. I follow her Tumblr blog and she connects me with gorgeous art. Very eclectic. Just like everything else in the digital age, these smartphones can give you shit with depth or just shit - it’s a matter of how you use it. I’ve found some brilliant art on Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram. I even started saving my favorites, so I can see them on my constantly-shuffling desktop background. Between found art, my own art, travel photos, and family photos, I have about 10,000 pictures. I’m happy to have all these bread crumbs leading back to the past, but even happier when I have a brand new batch to throw down.
I shared some good energy with the owner of Vinyl Perk. I popped back in so I could take a photo with him and document that part of my trip. I like being around people who have good creative ideas and execute them.
Surplus Sid and I discussed Megan Fox.
I’m thinking about inspiration and I’m thinking about balance. The drive that I have to do good work is so overwhelming. The thought that gets me out of bed is usually about something I might be able to accomplish creatively. I go from a groggy thirty-one-year-old with joint pain and morning breath to a hummingbird, my heart pounding with excitement.
I’m thinking about balance because I’ve been concerned that I’ve drank too much of The Robertsons’ whiskey and used too much of their wi-fi. I’m sure everything’s OK. I would like to send them a bottle if I ever catch up on my bills. I’m also thinking about balance because my girlfriend has felt guilty about not being out-on-the-town with me very often on this trip. What she might be forgetting is that she’s dating a guy who’s basically a loner; comfortable with people, but capable of filling up a week or two on his own and doing it with true happiness.
So I’m doing that. I’m spending a certain amount of time with her and I’m spending a certain amount of time with Carrboro/Chapel Hill. I gave myself the goal of going to a different coffee shop every day. Bean Juice Tour ‘14. It’s a great way to check out the area while only spending about $5 a stop. It’s been perfect. And cheap.
I’ve been trying to maintain that sort of balance since her diagnosis in February. Jenni and Aunt Donna both advised it, as did my own instincts. Love her, love me. I have to love both of us if I’m to have enough energy for either of us.