Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kissin' the Muse

Summer No 39
Was full and fine
Of women and wine
And water too

Of glass and smoke
And things that broke
That I can’t throw away
Maybe I don’t want to

--RCPM, “Summer No 39”

So going on vacation was a good thing.  I got to not be relentlessly focused on work and worries and how my life has changed for a few days.

Isn’t that what vacations are for, though?

Actually, it started before I headed down I-45 on Friday.  I had a fascinating conversation with one of the Dallas storytellers on Wednesday after the meeting.  I’d been wanting to write about that since, but wasn’t sure how to put it in to proper perspective.

The ten-cent tour, however, is this: I realized that I’ve spent my life focused far, far too much on labels.  I suppose it makes a certain amount of sense.  I mean, my primary concern growing up was, “Are you living the right kind of Christian life?”  It kind of makes labeling mandatory.  This is good, that is bad.  He’s the right kind of Christian.  He isn’t.

So when I left Christianity my main concern was with the question, “What am I now?”  Was I an agnostic, an atheist, a skeptic, a humanist, or what?

Oddly enough, that was what all of my posts on car purchasing were really about.  It wasn’t about how I viewed cars so much as how I could view myself through the prism of making a car purchase.

What I realized on Wednesday was this: the religious types of labels don’t matter.  I’m an agnostic one day, an atheist the next.  I’m generally skeptical and have pretty much always been a humanist, but in general I don’t think you need to choose a religion to be either one of those things.  When I look at religion it’s through the lens of trying to figure out what growing up religious did to me and how I’ve changed since then.  But my views on how the world works and how it should work have come from myriad sources that include religion, folktale, fiction, philosophy, and myth but also include the people in my life, my understanding of history, and my own sense of what is just and what is right.  I’m reasonably certain that I’d hold most of the same views I hold now no matter what label I placed on myself, since I’ve drawn from a spectrum of sources that cut across all cultural lines.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.  I don’t have to stop being a Local H fan to go to a Peacemakers show.  I don’t have to leave rock behind if I want to break out Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”  I don’t have to renounce all music to spend a quiet evening reading a book.  The world is big enough, I am big enough that I can contain within myself many labels.

And I’ve realized that I do have three favored labels to apply to myself:


That’s who I am.  That’s who I want to be.  They have nothing to do with my age, gender, race, day job, my religious opinions, or my political affiliations.  That’s all stuff that other people want to use to make sure I fit in the proper box on the census or demographics forms.  The thing is, having spent most of my life in a situation where I was hyper-aware of the labels, I couldn’t not think in them.

And it’s not like modern American society is much better, anyway.  We’re obsessed with demographics and knowing how Product A sells to men between the ages of 18 and 35 and TV Show B is viewed by women from 24 to 42.  Population modeling and market research is a science.  So the world cares about my gender, age, marital status, race, and yearly income.  The church used to care if I was an appropriately true Christian or an apostate of some sort.

It’s all the same question:  “Are you going to fit in this box or this other box?”

The problem is that nowhere is there a box for writer, historian, or storyteller.  So those things that I want to be, those things that I actually am, are de-valued by the people making the counts.  I am supposed to be my race, gender, job title, or income.  I’m supposed to be my religious affiliation.  I’m supposed to care about those things because those are the common categories that divide and demarcate us.

There’s only one choice to take in response to such things, then:  be what I want to be and check off those other little boxes when it comes time to be counted for other purposes.  But just because I know what categories I fit in to I don’t have to actually give a flying crap.

Going in to the day on Thursday, then, I realized something.  I’ve learned more in these three and a half months in Dallas than I would have if I’d stayed in Chicago.  It’s possible that I’ve learned more than I would have learned in three and a half years in Chicago, really.  So, in that, it’s been a good move.

Some things you can only learn by being forced to change, after all.  I kept doing the same things over and over again back in Chicago.  And the fact is that what I was doing was working well enough that I had little incentive to change.  So I stayed where I was.  And I talked about all of the things that I was going to do or wanted to do.  But I never did any of them.

I’ve realized over the last week or so just how much I miss writing and how many excuses I was coming up with to explain why I wasn’t.  This might seem like an odd thing to say on this blog, upon which I regularly splatter words.  But I largely write on this blog to find reasons not to write other things.

On Sunday night I found myself directly in front of Scott Lucas at Scout Bar in Houston right after someone pulled 12 Angry Months out of the cowboy hat.  Almost exactly two years ago I was directly in front of Scott Lucas when he first played 12 Angry Months.

On one level, I was disappointed.  I mean, been there, done that…

On another level, though, it was that concert that started some of my favorite Loco to Stay Sane posts.

Then I kind of lost track of what the Loco to Stay Sane posts were supposed to be about.  See, the entire point was to say, “I’ve gone through this, now I want to see what’s next.”  I just never quite got around to the “see what’s next” part of the conversation.

In truth, I think I was just trying to wallow as an excuse to avoid that moving on bit.  Moving on is potentially frightening and the more time you spend wallowing the easier it is to keep wallowing.  And if you’re -- like me -- prone to contentment with just good enough, there’s really little incentive to stop wallowing.  I can always think of a reason why change will backfire, after all.

Yet, when it gets right down to it, life is what happens while you’re waiting for stuff to happen.  So here I am, sitting in Dallas, trying to convince myself that I’ll make some stuff happen later, you know, when I’ve gotten good and fed up and left the state for places less…Texas-y.  But, really, what’s going to happen?  I wait another year, another two years?  Am I going to be listening to Scott Lucas play 12 Angry Months in April of 2012 asking myself what I did with the last two years of my life?

How is that better than making decisions that might actually force me to contemplate staying in Texas for a while?  More importantly, am I still going to be writing the same Loco to Stay Sane posts on the eve of my 31st birthday that I was on the eve of my 27th?

That’s pathetic.

What I’ve realized, though, is that what I’m really doing is cannibalizing the same shit I’ve gotten past in order to avoid that big thing, the 800 pound gorilla in the room.  I’ve been wanting to channel all this emotional creativity in to a book that I keep finding excuses not to write.  So since I’m not really making any important emotional advancements in my own life, as one doesn’t advance while maintaining the status quo

It’s fascinating, really, how some realizations snap things in to place.  I’d had an idea for a new story, but I couldn’t make it work.  On Wednesday when I realized I needed to stop labeling myself I also realized that I didn’t have to leave that problematic story so literally connected to its original inspiration.  I suddenly had the basic story to what I now call “The Wishing Door.”  It needs work, but it’s there.  Also, I came up with a second story, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was.  But that’s okay, it will come back.

The story was there.  It was just waiting for me to discover it.  So much of life works that same way.  The pieces are all there, they’re just waiting for us to push past what we want them to be and discover how they actually fit together.

Either way, I shan’t be abandoning Accidental Historian.  There’s a really good chance that it’s going to be less self-absorbed and whiny in the future.  I’ll probably be focused more on actual history or something.  Who knows?  Either way, there will probably be fewer overall posts, but the ones that arrive won’t be full of masturbatory suckage.  There'll be history.  And religion.  And puppies.  And maybe some baseball and random concert diaries.  I mean, there's Rogapallooza coming up in June, after all.

Also, I spent my last birthday at a Local H show at the Double Door.  It looks like I'll be spending my upcoming birthday seeing the Lost Immigrants at place called the Doublewide.  It's the small differences that I notice the most.  I don't know why I felt the need to include that tidbit.  But it's there for your perusal nonetheless...


fool for beautiful words said...

Off-topic question: is there a chance that there will be an update on The Repository?

jessa said...

The cognitive dissonance of trying to fit a label that you really don't fit: it sucks. If it is a label you have the option of rejecting, like rejecting the label "Evangelical Christian", rejecting it is very freeing. Then maybe you find a different label that actually fits, or maybe you find a label that fits well enough, or maybe you find a new label to smash yourself into, or maybe you change labels every other day, or maybe you don't fit any label, so you reject them altogether. Being label-free is hard, too, though, because the world relies so much on labels. Where do you find community? So many communities are built around one or more people-labels. And it seems, there are people who don't think about things enough to realize they don't fit a particular label, they never bothered to think about their own ideas on morality to notice that they didn't fit. Maybe they decided that, although they don't currently fit the label, they will stay with it because that label is their ideal.

Thinking aloud...

Geds said...


Um, let's just say that I keep thinking, "Y'know, I ought to go back and finish that story at The Repository and that other one at Right Behind," and leave it at that. I can make no other promises...


Hey, I'm not a (not) label Nazi. You'll notice that I do, in fact, label myself still. I've just realized that it helps to stop giving a crap about making sure I fit under labels that I don't care about.

I mean, I'm not exactly itching to go to local atheist meetups, so why worry about whether I can really call myself an atheist?

Janet said...

It's an interesting exercise, sifting through labels and discarding the meaningless or ill-fitting, discovering what is left.

Political, religious, and professional labels never did stick well. Labels relating to personality are a seasonal wardrobe. Most activity-based labels are as easily worn as doffed. And familial labels are too common and too cliche to be terribly meaningful.

Artistic labels somehow adhere better. I do believe on some level the human mind needs the kind of active awareness and instinctive interaction that characterizes any form of art, be it music or gardening or waging war. Some chosen mode of expression relentlessly colors our perceptions and responses. But perhaps I only feel that way because I am an artist. That may be the only label I'll ever truly own.

I have wondered what inspired you to label yourself an accidental historian. Contemplating the implications of such a label, I might have reason to call myself an accidental mathematician.

Some days I think myself an unwitting heretic, but who isn't? Once we discard all the useless labels, what is left to distinguish us from any other human? We are no two alike, and yet all the same.

fool for beautiful words said...

Hm, I tend to think that stories are to the storyteller what blood is to the human body, though it's more like soma or mead :) But untold stories clot together, and can either paralyze or even kill one in the end.

Then again I might see too much into my own passion.

Geds said...

Actually, I regard the untold or unfinished story as an occupational hazard, but that's even too negative.

No stories ever end. Some are never told. It happens, especially if you hang out with storytellers, since they're always building off of the last story.

Much of the time the story that gets told isn't the one that had been intended. But that story fits much better, so it's good in the end.

fool for beautiful words said...

But procrastinating telling them robs them of the chance of continuation. :)
And I can't read stories that aren't told :D

Geds said...


fool for beautiful words said...

Yeah, I know. :D "But I want it!" is the strongest argument. Ever.