What’s that? Westbye’s back?!? Well, not really, except to promote! First published article at Elephant right here. C’mon over!
I never meant for this page to be a “blog”, and I still cringe whenever anyone refers to it as such, well-intended though they may be in doing so.
The idea was to continue work I had started, first with a friend, then on my own, to have a page that served as a sort of resume, a body of work I could steer editors, agents, etc. to when the time came. I suppose I “blog” in other places, and I have no problem at all with the blog form, but I wanted something a little more “profound” here. A little more “professional.”
But then a funny thing happened. I started gaining a following of bloggers, and started to return serve. And a real sense of community evolved out of my work. This is not a bad thing, and I’m unspeakably grateful for it.
So why not? I guess I’ll call this a “blog” piece.
Being childless on Father’s Day, and reflecting on life in general lately, here’s a check-in.
I’m 40, pushing 41.
I’m mostly happily married, for ten years this coming Friday. I’m mostly gainfully employed, with a mostly secure life: a house, a paid-for car, two cats, insurance, blah-blah-blah.
I’ve been dealing with a low-level mid-life crisis for a while, I guess around turning 40. Turning 40 was easy. Being 40 has been a bit tougher. I wasn’t afraid of turning 40, except in the sense of wanting to hold on to my 30s a bit longer. My 30s were so great in comparison to my 20s, which were so awful. My 30s were like my chance to re-write my 20s and get it right, and I relished that chance. I guess turning 40, and eliding comfortably into middle age, was a bit of a tougher milestone than I realized, though I still feel younger than I ever have.
My wife and I just returned from nearly two weeks tripping around the U.K. and Paris. This was a trip I had been waiting my entire life for, and it was a game-changer for the good on so many levels. I stood in front of the Mona Lisa, ordered Steak Frites in French and had Crème Brule, mousse and cappuccino in a deserted bistro while a Parisian rain fell. I stuck a finger in Loch Ness. I rode trains everywhere and wrote like a possessed demon. I heard Big Ben strike the hour and spent time loitering in Hyde Park, Henry the VIII’s old hunting grounds. I stood on the graves of Dickens and Darwin and walked the Seine and the Thames and had fish & chips on a rocky beach on the English Channel. I saw thousands of sheep frolicking in pastoral fields along the North Sea and ate Cullen Skink in an Edinburgh gastropub that dated to the 1700s. I paid for drinks in pounds and Euros and I heard accents from every corner of the globe. I fucking LIVED on this trip, like I haven’t lived in years. I live for these chances to recontextualize my life, and this trip served to do so completely.
And I realized something mind-blowing. Back at home I’m existing nicely, but I’m not LIVING.
I’m not following my passions. I’m not living the song in my soul. I’m writing the words in my heart and soul, but I’m not publishing them for money. Full time. I’m not even approaching my potential in life.
I wake, shit/shave/shower, drive, work in a Cube, drive, watch COPS re-runs and a ballgame, try to write, read in bed for a bit and shut the lights out. Lather, rinse, repeat Monday through Friday. On weekends I mow the lawn, wash the cars, clean the house, run errands, try to write and go to bed. I don’t stay up all night burning with passion, I don’t see the sunrise, I don’t push myself to make it with the written word, although that’s the passion that is silently burning a hole in my heart.
I am also battling my demons.
I’ve lived with depression and anxiety my whole life. I’m drastically better than in my 20s, when the demons had such a stranglehold on me that I could hardly get out of bed and the thought of being around people was too much agony to bear.
I’ve spent years on the couch, indulged in my share of recreational self-medication and kept several major pharmaceutical corporations in business. I’ve conquered all this and come to a place of stability and some serenity.
But it’s getting bad again. The anxiety is winning.
I have the greatest friends and family in the world and all I ever want is to take care of them all and save the world, no matter that I can’t. I reach out to friends even if I don’t have to, and then I worry that I’ve reached out too much and am pushing said friends away. I crack a joke and then worry that it was taken the wrong way. I take a comment at face value and spiral into a worry cycle, fearing that everyone sees me in the negative light I suddenly see myself.
I’m drastically better at pulling myself back from these spirals, but it’s getting bad again. And that’s not living.
So I’m now taking a chance to take care of myself. I’m in the market for a new shrink (any recommendations?) and new drugs. I have a slight disorder with my mental wiring: nothing that treatment with therapy and drugs can’t (and haven’t) fixed before.
And I’m exploring new ways to follow my passion. I’m looking at ways to lessen my day-to-day demands and spend more time pursuing the written word and full-time self-sufficiency from it.
I’m going to travel more and write about it. I’m going to flush out that song and present it to the world and submit invoices. I’m going to burn with newly awoken passion. Because that’s all I know.
Life is short. Life is precious. Life is right fucking NOW, and it’s all we have and all we know. It’s time to maximize this life of mine.
I’ve had an amazing run on WordPress. I’ve virtually met some amazing new friends, and my life is richer for it. I’ve reached new peaks of creativity I never thought I could. I learned a hell of a lot about writing, and a hell of a lot about myself. Likesay, it’s been an amazing run.
But all runs come to an end. At some point the act ends, and you rip up the tent pegs and take the Dog & Pony show to the next town. And it feels like a good time to move on from WordPress.
I’ve got some ideas burning a hole in my pocket. I WILL be back, in some other form, and soon. And I’ll keep you all posted.
And I thank you all so much, for reading, for commenting and encouraging. And for allowing me into your worlds. We’ll continue together (and drop a line anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org), and it will be better than ever.
As my old singer Max once wrote, “Just wish me luck and say we’re just changing scenes.”
See you out there somewhere…
Image Source: Panoramio
Again. Again, again, AGAIN. Jesus, why?!?
Dwight Fisk stopped by the footbridge over the pond in the Boston Public Garden and stared back at the behemoth John Hancock tower, where, up until an hour ago, he worked. The winter night was sharp, the kind of cold that caused exposed ears and cheeks to burn and noses to run. Low clouds hung in gauzy puffs, catching and refracting streetlights and the lights of Back Bay. The sound of traffic was muted, the park peaceful and silent save for the excited shouts of the gainfully employed heading for Friday night dinners, drinks and merriment. Even 24 hours earlier, it would have been a beautiful night. But not now.
He played the words over and over in his head: “We don’t tell our ‘employment specialists’ when the last day of an assignment is, because we don’t want our clients to see a drop in productivity.” That’s what Kaitlyn, Dwight’s rep at Office Pros Staffing, had said when he went in after work to pick up his check. Translation: “Oh by the way your temp job is over, tough shit and our client thanks you for not screwing off today.”
She was probably 24, probably grew up in Concord or Lexington, probably straight out of the theater or broadcasting program at Emerson and definitely rising on her career arc. Dwight hated when Kaitlyn was in the office, hated being at least five years older and still temping, hated always feeling like a piss-ant seeing her Talbot’s wardrobe and pictures of her and her boyfriend on the Cape all over her desk. And now she, of all people, was telling him that his assignment was suddenly done and to check back in on Monday for another assignment. Thanks for the memories, and MAYbe we’ll have another crap temp job that may end unexpectedly for you next week.
Dwight was doing data entry for a chain of retirement homes for a stinking nine bucks an hour. His supervisor, Rocco De Nizo, was a total rock-head: pudgy, mostly bald in his late ‘30s with a permanent ring of Doritos and fruit punch Gatorade around his lips like an adolescent on steroids. And the son of a bitch knew all day that the assignment was ending.
Yet THESE two are going back to work on Monday. Why? What the hell do THEY have that I don’t?
And WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?!?
This had been Dwight’s third job this year, and who knew if he’d have anything for Christmas in three weeks. Who knew if he’d ever get anywhere? He climbed to the top of the footbridge, stared back at the towers, stared ahead to the illuminated spire of Park Street Church and the glimmer of the Financial District. He looked at all the footprints in the snow and thought of how they all separated and spread out away from him. Ahead of him. All ahead of him…
Kaitlyn was probably meeting her boyfriend and heading over to Legal Sea Foods or Skipjack’s for dinner. Rocco was probably heading for a good gorging at The Hilltop Steakhouse on Rt. 1. Two more footprints heading away from him, just like all the rest. Dwight continued on, the idea of dipping slightly into his final paycheck for a few books, CDs and Tex-Mex and many drinks at Quincy Market suddenly driving him on against the cold and bitter night. He found a pair of footprints on the path and followed them for
a bit, hoping they led somewhere good, away and ahead. Just in case…
Image Source: Boston Real Estate Observer
Late afternoon summer sun fights through the gray, the beams landing on the garbage bags that hold my possessions and clothes on the floor. Clouds of nicotine float across the room, desperate to waft out of the open screen and into the courtyard. The landlord is in her basement apartment, and she has no idea that I’m home: if she did, there would be trouble, since I bounced my last $300 rent check for the sublet.
I’m 24 and living in Apartment 3, 39 Rutland Square, Boston. My roommate is a Swede studying in Malmö for the summer, so the place is mine. Mine alone.
It’s a typical Saturday. I’ve called in “sick” at the call center (“food poisoning”: better be careful and stick to that story if I call in on Monday), and am in bed working on a 12-Pack of Rolling Rock and two packs of Marlboro Mediums. Depression is taking a major toll, on finances and general quality of life. But at age 24, I don’t know its depression, and I have no idea what kind of resources might exist, if any. All I can do is sit around and wonder what is wrong with me.
I stare blankly at a Sox game on the tube. The sun pours in and diminishes, and the Sox game gives way to COPS reruns. I fade out, nap for a bit. The twilight slides into dark. I wake up, recover my bearings, crack another beer, light another smoke.
I know that I’m looking at another all-nighter of coffee, cigarettes, writing and trying to get my life in order. This is my life. I’m 24, and I have no idea what is wrong with me or how to fix it.
All I can do is write in my journal and tell myself that it will get better…
Image Source: Fred Herzog
She never showed. Said she’d meet me at the White Lunch Cafeteria at 5:30, Arlene said, and she never showed. So I spent an hour and a half huddled under the marquee of the Capitol waiting for nothing in the pouring rain. And now I’m back in my room at the Empire working on a fifth of Crown.
Should’ve known…should’ve known. Girl like her would never give a guy like me a break. Don’t know what I was even thinking asking her out. I was so scared, thinking she might say no. I almost wish she had said no. At least that way I wouldn’t have gotten my hopes up.
Like said before, I just don’t understand this world, and I don’t get along so well with so many other people. I try, but I just seem to screw the deal every time. I think it’s easier to keep to myself. Keep the circle small, don’t let anyone in. Much less maintenance that way. Less hurt.
Cold night. Cold and wet. It’s nice to look out at it, now that I don’t have to worry about being stood up anymore. Now that I know it’s just me, in service of the Crown tonight. Now that I know that I’m alone again.
Maybe this is how it’s supposed to be. Maybe I’ll never see anyone else again…
Image Source: Elliott Erwitt
Oh yeah, I seen it happen. Poor bastard landed right there onna sidewalk, right in front of Tony’s. Jumped from his own goddamn apartment onna fifth floor. Top left window, right in-line with the C inna Coca Cola sign. BLAM, SPLAT! Ain’t that a bitch?
I heard they was jackin’ up the rent inna buildin’ over there. Guess that may have had somethin’ to do with it? An’ I know he worked at one’a them transistor stores on Cortlandt St., down on Radio Row, an’ there’s all kinds’a rumors about how they’re gonna level that whole neighborhood to build the World Trade Center the Rockefellers keep talkin’ about. Maybe he was scared’a losin’ his job? Who the hell knows?
Y’know, it’s a funny damn thing: I seen the guy onna street every day, an’ I seen him in his window, lookin’ out. Ev’ry mornin’ I see this guy lookin’ out his window. Only this mornin’ I seen him leanin’ out an’ jumpin’, an’ that’s the last I’m gonna see of him. You see a guy like that every day, even if you don’t know him, he kinda becomes part of your life.
Kinda goes to show, you don’t ever really know nobody. I seen the guy every day, likesay, but no way I’d be able to tell you why the poor bastard done it to himself. Seemed like a nice guy, looked like he had it all together, an’ then one day the guy is dead onna sidewalk.
I guess you just don’t ever know, do you?
Image Source: Houston Press
Pete Burdon was in the mood to get extremely fucked up and have a good time. It had been that kind of day/week/month, and sometimes a good drunk cured all. And if it didn’t, he would die trying.
He ordered a Schlitz and turned a five into quarters for the juke. He flipped through the selections until the record he was looking for, without realizing it, presented itself: Highway 61 Revisited. He dropped in his quarters and loaded the entire album.
“Like a Rolling Stone” segued into “Tombstone Blues”, and Pete sat in his booth rocking out to Mike Bloomfield’s guitar leads. He was early into the night and enjoying the feeling of liberation. Life was spiraling out of control: he had left Austin after Lila had left him, he didn’t know anybody in town and he wasn’t having much luck finding a job. Money was getting tight, and he was worried about making rent and eating.
But all those things would eventually work out, and he couldn’t do a damn thing about it right now. Tonight was all about blowing off steam and relaxing. Pete was aware of his habit for hanging on to his worst thoughts and letting them take over. But tonight he was just going to let it all go and have some fun.
After the up-tempo barrelhouse blues of “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” and “From a Buick 6”, the album slowed down and got surreal on “Ballad of a Thin Man”, with Dylan’s tin-pan piano and cryptic lyrics. Pete was working on a new Schlitz, and he felt the shift in mood.
He thought about Lila, wondering where she was and what he did to cause her to leave. He entertained those thoughts for a minute, then pushed them away. “Fuck her,” he thought to himself. “And fuck it all! Let it go and have some fun for a change!”
A fresh round arrived in time for “Queen Jane Approximately.” Pete was still feeling a bit wistful, in spite of his efforts, but he tried pushing it all away. “Pretty remarkable record,” he thought. “Not one, but two ‘I told you so’ fall from grace songs: ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and ‘Queen Jane Approximately.’” He sang along under his breath:
Now when all of the flower ladies want back what they have lent you
And the smell of their roses does not remain
And all of your children start to resent you
Won’t you come see me, Queen Jane?
“Kind of like Lila after walking out on me!” Pete thought. He pictured himself in the Dylan role, taking Lila back after her fall and reckoning. “Like a repo man!” he sang to the tune of “Like a Rolling Stone,” melding the two songs into his own mission of redemption.
“God DAMN I miss her,” he suddenly said out loud. But the only reply was the clink of a fresh round on the table.
By the time the album closed out with the Spanish-influenced guitars of “Desolation Row”, Pete Burdon had given up all pretense of not giving a shit. Lila was on his mind and he couldn’t get her out. She had just walked out: cleaned out their apartment and left, with no letter and certainly no forwarding address. “Pretty cold way to operate,” he thought, or maybe said softly. “Just like that, she leaves? And I get no say? And no answers…SHIT…”
Pete realized he was pretty wasted, but he wasn’t quite done yet. The record had ended, and the bar was momentarily quiet. He called for his check, paid and walked out as a regular loaded the juke with old cowboy songs from Hank Snow and Buck Owens.
He staggered a bit on the sidewalk, righted himself and stopped at the general store for a quart of Old Milwaukee. Schlitz was bad, and Old Milwaukee was piss in comparison. But this was not a night for high standards.
The train whistle blasted through the late-night small town calm like an explosion and an invitation card. Pete found himself shuffling toward the trestle. “Yeah, GREAT idea!” he thought. “Drink a cold one on the trestle, stare at the river in the moonlight for a bit. It would be beautiful!”
“As beautiful as that BITCH Lila!” Pete yelled at the stars. “Yeah, how does it FEEL?!? TO BE ON YOUR OWN!!!! With no diRECTON HOME TO ME!!!” He downed the quart and threw it against a tree, loving the sound and feel of the smash.
Pete got to the tracks and walked out on to the trestle. The moon was huge and shimmering on the river in oblong orange crescents. He thought he felt the bridge vibrate just a touch, but the thought didn’t register compared to thoughts of THAT BITCH who’s BOUND TO FALL Lila.
He had to piss desperately, so he unzipped, whipped it out and held on to the steel while letting go.
Half-way through he looked right and thought he saw a pair of fuzzy lights side-by-side way down the tracks. The light on the lower left soon enough melded into the light on the upper right, and suddenly it was one headlight, and the bridge was vibrating like crazy.
The other side of the trestle was not at all far off, but Pete couldn’t get himself to start running. The light was so hypnotizing, so calming while it was so terrifying. He kept staring at the light as it got closer and closer and the whistle blew, louder than anything he had ever heard in his life.
The blast of the whistle finally snapped Pete out of his dreamscape, and he started performing mental calculations. He only had another ten feet to run to cross the trestle. On the other hand, the trestle was only ten feet above the river, and it wasn’t very wide. Pete could barely swim, but he could swim just enough.
He thought, amazed at his ability to slow down time and fight off his drunken fog to do so, of that line
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
and he clenched the outer edge of the trestle wall and made the decision that would likely mean the rest of his life…
Rick Nillsen walked half-way across the Hennepin Avenue Bridge clutching a business-size envelope against the chill October breeze. He walked the bridge all the time, often stopping in the middle to take in the sweep of the Mississippi toward St. Anthony Falls. Even with the traffic hurtling by it was a peaceful spot, a place to gather his thoughts and find his balance. But today it was all different. Rick’s entire life was different thanks to the arrival of the envelope.
The hand-writing on the envelope was achingly familiar
2541 Nicollet Ave
Nothing more than that. Nothing more was needed. Rick opened the envelope and pulled out five Polaroids and a piece of lined notebook paper. In the same script was written
funny how every photograph is a LIE
Nothing more than that. Nothing more was needed. Rick looked at the photos: he and Dana leaning against the hood of the Dodge, he and Dana by the Spoonbridge and Cherry statue in the Sculpture Garden, he and Dana in front of the Christmas tree, Dana smiling on the stoop, Dana as Mary Tyler Moore tossing her beret on the Nicollet Avenue mall. He fingered the pictures, and read the note again. And again. And again.
And it was all so true.
They were so damn happy in those pictures. And it was a lie, like all photographs. Nothing but a snippet of life, with no context at all. Not that we intentionally lie when posing for the snap of the shutter, but the moment captured is nothing more than the surface view. There’s always much more going on below the surface.
He thought of his favorite picture of himself with his dad, taken just after tossing a football around in the snow, both of them beaming smiles and happiness. But dad probably already had the Hodgkin’s that would take his life when that photo was taken. And maybe he knew it as they were tossing the ball around.
He thought of the one with dad and mom, taken on New Year’s Eve, mom rosy and glowing and tipping her Martini glass. There was one drink in the picture, but Christ only knows how many she had that night.
He thought of those moments captured in the Polaroids in his hand. Dana was apparently never happy with him, so it was all a lie.
Nothing more than that.
And nothing left…
When a relationship ends, a life ends. Everything ends. Routine, pattern and repetition, comfort and security. Everything familiar and needed comes to a sudden, sickening end. And nothing will ever bring it back.
Dana is gone. My life is gone.
The wind howled on the bridge as the sun left the sky and the Grain Belt Beer sign lit up for the evening. Another Minneapolis winter was coming, one he could not stand to take alone. Nothing left…
Rick slowly, methodically ripped up the envelope and the note. He then ripped up all the Polaroids and, one by one, dropped the torn-apart pieces over the side, into the river. He leaned over the rail, watching the pieces scatter into oblivion, leaning over a little further, trying to find peace with what was to come…
I lost my job at the call center. Not much of a surprise: salesmen sell, and I couldn’t sell. It’s a relief, really. I felt like such a monster calling people in the middle of dinner to sell photo packages. Of course now I have no income and no idea what I’m going to do.
I had a date set up with Ellen. She said yes on Monday for Friday night. On Wednesday we talked on the telephone and she said she was going to have to make it a short dinner on Friday because her mom was in town. On Friday she called and said she had to cancel because her girlfriend was in town for a surprise visit, and it was also her grandmother’s funeral that night. I think she might have lied to me about some of this.
My toilet got fixed, and it worked for a while. Then it broke down again and the super is still dragging his feet getting it fixed. The piles of rotting garbage still block the sidewalks and the subways are still rank cesspools. The smell of this city and this apartment make me nauseous most days.
Here’s the thing that gets me about New York: I try to be a nice guy, but to live here you need to be an asshole. You need to be an asshole to make a living selling portrait packages, and you need to be a cold, calculated asshole with no sense of ethics to be good at it. You need to be an asshole to step over and around the winos on every sidewalk begging for change or a pop. You need to be an asshole to know where to cop dope. You need to be an asshole to get the super out to fix the toilet. And you need to be an asshole to set up a date and think she’ll want to keep it.
I don’t know if I can take it much longer. I’m trying, but it’s killing me. What am I doing in this shithole? I don’t belong here…