Dead space and dying stars

I started this blog as a lament of how badly I’m performing as a writer, but about a quarter of the way through the original draft, I got inspired and banged out a “Millennium Men” story.

So I guess I’ll post the first draft, as-yet untitled. Note that I haven’t read it over yet and won’t for probably another few days.

Meanwhile, I really have been failing as a writer. Just not failing as hard as I usually do.

For one, I’ve been totally uninspired by the “Wrath of the Damned” Twitter account. Something about where we ended up just doesn’t do it for me. I haven’t figured out what to do with it yet.

UPDATE: Actually, about a quarter of the way through this second draft of this blog, I started work on the “Wrath” twitter again. Laziness is preventing me from starting over for a third draft. So just deal with it.

Anyway. So I was feeling bad about creation lately. I still feel like I need to be doing more, and spending less time doing things like watching the new “Battlestar Galactica” blu-ray set. And even though I have gotten some new stuff going lately, it doesn’t make me feel any better about what I’m doing. The general feeling that something is wrong persists.

Basically, it’s been a painful couple of weeks in the creativity department.

My thoughts on friendship have been spiraling, which puts kinks in projects like “Millennium Men.” A group of 10 of us spent four days camping in West Virginia, along with white water rafting, and the experience was illuminating, hilarious, and troubling.

I was disappointed to learn new things about my friend Matt in particular. Matt when drunk can be an unpredictable person, but there were some serious falling-out moments that took place during the trip. He managed to alienate most everyone there.

Things are a bit strained because of these developments, but whatever. I haven’t spoken with anyone who was on the trip with me in about a week except for Nick. No one else has made much of an effort in my direction and I’m okay with taking a little space from them. But the whole situation harkens back to the idea that my friends and I are largely pulling in different directions. We might be outgrowing one another.

That kinks things up for me when I’m trying to write a novel about friendship and camaraderie when I don’t actually feel a lot of that. I guess partially that’s the point.

Anyway. The light of a few friendships might be dimming. What’s weirder is my lack of real problem with the development. A lot of it feels inevitable.

Some of it feels necessary.

The old complex I used to have about losing people is almost entirely gone. I feel like my life is streamlining down to a handful of people I really care about. Shedding skin, losing vestigial relationships, filling dead space with things that really matter.

I lost myself in another city five hours away. The guy that returned from Chicago isn’t the same one that started out there.

That’s for the better in all cases. Specifically, the maintenance of life I used to do no longer satisfies me, if it ever did. That applies to people too. Only the most important people in my life, I’m finding, deserve my time and effort.

That’ll do. Maybe next time I’ll post an outline.

Oh, that’s right. I’m writing an outline for “Millennium Men.” That’s significant because I never do that. Starting to get serious about the business of writing.

Destruction and creation

I can’t seem to shake this sneaking, nagging desire to sell off all my junk.

The more I think about it, the more the boxes of random stuff I moved back from Chicago six months ago just annoy me. What’s really in there? Let’s run it down:

1. Toys
2. DVDs
3. Books
4. More toys
5. Video games

These things include my extensive collection of Mighty Muggs, a few action figures, some bobbleheads, and other knicknacks and odds and ends that looked fun scattered around my apartment.

After packing them all up, I realize how little I need of that stuff anymore.

The reality of it is, that stuff was a crutch for my identity. Movie memorabilia and old action figures no longer define me. I don’t need them (all).

I am somewhat loathe to part with my fairly huge DVD collection. I might salvage some or all of that. But my 50-inch TV, my $600 surround sound system, my numerous video game systems collecting dust, my three-foot replica “Gears of War” Lancer rifle — I just don’t feel the same attachment to them that I once did.

For one, they’re a pain to move, and what I’m really feeling right now is a need to go. The trip to NYC reawakened in me the notion that I don’t belong here and have never belonged here. Plus living with my parents (and by circumstances, Caitlin) isn’t awful, it’s just not independent enough.

I’ve always felt a need to go elsewhere. It didn’t work out with Chicago, but there were mitigating factors involved there that made that situation ultimately fail on every level.

Really, I had no reason to be there. I didn’t know anyone there. I didn’t explore the city. I didn’t fulfill myself. I watched movies and did my job quietly in my living room. And while I was sitting around, unhappy and lost, large portions of the rest of my life were disintigrating. I wrote next to nothing in that city, and I realize now how soul-crushing that was.

In retrospect, I was unhappy a lot in Chicago, but I came through that fire much better off. Now I’m looking for a place where I can feel more at home. And I can’t be lugging needless material bullshit with me across this country.

The old life, the old me, is coming apart. I feel it every day. The things I wanted I don’t want anymore. The things that mattered don’t matter anymore. Whole new things matter now — most of all, forging ahead in the career that I really have always wanted. It’s not journalism, despite what I told myself as I trudged through my degree and various jobs out of college.

It’s time to declare total war on my life. I think the ceasefire will come when I relocate.

At the same time as I’m deciding that large portions of my life require destroying, creation is on my mind. I’ve spent more time blogging and writing in the last few months (mostly because Caitlin is an incredible inspiration) than in a long while. A lot of ideas are buzzing in my head.

The “Wrath of the Damned” project, for example, is going swimmingly. The @wrathofdamned Twitter account is a lot of fun, if not always the brainiest of literary exercises, but it’s like having a new prompt every day. I just finished what I’m thinking may be a final edit on “Defense of Self,” a new story for the “Wrath” blog, that I think is my current favorite of the pieces I’ve written.

“Millennium Men” is slow-going, but on my mind. When I finish the final edit of “Defense,” I’ll go back to work on the novel relentlessly. I have four or five stories just floating around in my head. And I keep thinking about buying notecards and poster board to create a moving, workable storyboard/outline that I can use to finally nail down exactly what I need to work on for the story.

Other writing projects include a pilot for a television show and a humorous time travel textbook I’m working on with Nick Hurwitch. We’re about to start a third draft of the script and this week, which includes a visit from Nick, will also include work on the time travel book to figure out how to pitch it to a publishing company, hopefully.

There’s more. My brain’s buzzing. I’ve finally discovered the software to run my webcam as a regular camera, and so now I’m bending my brainstorming muscle toward coming up with something to make out of all that technology.

On a more personal level, spending time with Caitlin constantly leaves me wanting to spend more time with her. We’ve talked about moving in together when her lease ends in the next six weeks or so. Really, the life I want to create, I think, is in Los Angeles. To work as a writer, and especially in film, that’s the place to go. Not to mention that the many projects I’m working on with Nick would be far easier to finish while in the same place.

But L.A. isn’t an option without Caitlin — what I want to create includes her, or doesn’t exist at all. We’ve talked about it and she’s willing to go. I haven’t worked out the logistics of the situation just yet, but that’s where I want to end up — provided she’ll go with me.

More than anything, of all the stuff that’s running through my mind, finding a way to make sure Caitlin is a part of my life is my biggest concern. Nothing else matters.

Out with the old, in with the new, I guess. I’ve never been this excited about the new.

Weird comments, evolving friendships, and remnants of the past

So up to last weekend, I hadn’t seen Jason Wong in almost a year.

He’s living in New York now, near Albany (I think) with his girlfriend, who he’s been with for (I think) three years, and whom I met for the first time Sunday night. Our contact for some time has been limited.

Jason and I have been friends for a long time. I became friends with his brother, Ivan, right around the time of the sixth or seventh grades. Jason came into the fold of our group a little later (he was, early on, an obstruction to Ivan being able to hang out with us, but tagged along a lot), but I consider him a good friend.

I’ll admit I’m not great at keeping in touch with people. I have sometimes let friendships slip away. I’ll maintain relationships via various Internet media and occasional phone calls, but I let other priorities (my girlfriend, my job, my parents) absorb my time more than I probably should.

Because of that, I haven’t spoken much with Jason (or Ivan) as of late. It also doesn’t help that I previously was living in Chicago and Jason is now in New York.

I was excited that Jason was in town this week and made an effort to hang out with him when I could. He and his brother came out to my parents’ Fourth of July party, and the fact that they were coming led me to invite more people.

Later in the evening, we were talking about another of our friends who has sort of fallen out of the group. Richard was never someone who went far out of his way to hang out with us, I felt. He went to Michigan Tech, which is faaar away, and he often will opt out of events merely because he doesn’t feel like coming out to see us. Or at least, that was the impression I always got.

Because of that, I stopped putting in the work necessary to hang out with Richard. Sitting around the fire with Clinton, Ivan, Jason, Caitlin and a few others, we got to talking about Richard and other friends who are not around anymore. I found myself pretty much fine with the situation and relating this idea: If a friend isn’t making an effort, I’m not going to make all the effort. Not on the long term, anyway.

We all do what we want to do, I said. People have their priorities.

And now to the point of this long diatribe: Jason’s following comment. “Do we hang out because we like each other, or because of tradition?”

I’m struck by that comment even now, a few days later. To be fair, Jason plays devil’s advocate. He makes comments that are hard to hear, and I’m never quite sure whether he believes in them or actually feels that way or not.

So I’m left wondering if jason thinks we all still hang out because of tradition. He certainly implied that that’s why he hangs out with us still — that or he doesn’t have a lot of other friends in the Novi area, I guess. And I can’t say that I’ve made a ton of additional friends in the time that I spent away from my hometown. I still have all the good friends that I’ve had all my life.

Or at least, I thought I had those people. Now I wonder if there are more among my group of eight or nine close friends who are in some kind of post-high school holding pattern.

Of course people drift apart. Friendships change. You come out of college a different person than when you went in.

Are we all just going through the motions of a friendship because it’s easier?

That certainly seems like a pain in the ass.

It’s interesting to me to see my friendships from that perspective. Caitlin said some things to me later about her experiences with my friends that colored my perspective as well. So I’m having a new crisis of self, wondering just what friendship means.

“Millennium Men,” my manifesto/memoir/novel that is helping me to deal with every aspect of my life that I feel weird about as I “come of age” at the end of the first decade of this millennium, deals extensively with the concept of friendships ending and beginning. But despite dealing with the topics, I hadn’t really thought about them in terms of my real life. Jason changed my mind about that.

I’ve felt a sort of tailspin maelstrom surrounding my life for the last two years as everything comes apart and reassembles itself in totally new ways. I’m redefining myself on an almost daily basis (for example, I’m planning another upcoming post to deal with the possible sale of all my accumulated, useless stuff).

But until now, my friends have been a support structure that I’ve taken for granted. I talk with Nick Hurwitch in L.A. on an almost-daily basis. Matt Shafer and Clinton and I work out together sometimes, or there’s basketball in Novi. Dan Thelen and Emily Rainko are regular fixtures at various events with us, like the Motor City Comicon two months ago. I see most or all of those guys at least a few times every couple weeks.

Despite what Jason said, I make the drive to Novi from wherever I am — lately Ann Arbor, a 30-minute trip, or from Plymouth, 15 minutes, or Holly, 45 minutes — to attend events with my friends because I still want those friends. I still feel our connection from years past. There’s tradition there, but that’s not WHY I often bust my ass to hang out with everyone.

People do what they want to do. We all have our priorities. My friends are a priority.

But as life spins apart and comes back together again, and I consider things like long-term employment, fiction writing as a career, and the possibility of moving out of state AGAIN, I wonder who I’ll come out the other side of this story with, if anyone.

I also wonder if having extensive experiences to write about in my novel are worth the casualties of my past. My friendships are disappearing, like my past, not with the bang of fallings out, but with the silence of apathy.

And the worst part is, I’m not sure how many are worth the effort it would take to save them in the next few months. I’ve always considered myself exceptionally loyal to my friends and willing to do more than most for them.

But like my worldly possessions, the work to maintain them and to move them into my fast-developing new life might be too much.

And in some cases (but certainly not all — I’m not that arrogant), I might be the only one doing all the heavy lifting. Which makes me wonder if another’s unwillingness to carry the load means that they’d actually rather leave it behind.

Back to that same old question, fast becoming the theme of this blog — who am I without these guys, whose allegiance has defined me for as long as I can remember — and what am I if they’re willing, or even looking, to leave me behind?

Even more — do I still care about what that identity is? Do I still need it?

As usual, I don’t have any real answers. I’m sure some of these friendships are stronger than that. They’ll become a part of this new thing developing inside the old. But sitting around the fire, none of our group had much of an answer for Jason at the time. I still don’t. But I wonder if any of them were shaken up by the question.

Or, which maybe a little frightening, if that idea didn’t bother any of them at all.

The empty space I found in New York

A week has passed since I left New York City after making what I once considered to be a pilgrimage to the site of the World Trade Center.

On the other side of my intial, more cynical reactions, I’ve come back to the experience with a much deeper sense of ambivalence and confusion.

Comments from best friend and fellow Midwesterner Nick Hurwitch had me questioning how I felt about the events and about my visit to the site. I’ve had to ask myself, what did I expect from it? People crying in the streets? After all, eight years has passed.

Even so, for something that has bothered me so deeply and for something that I’ve envisioned for at least a year, the trip was nothing like I expected. Regardless of the reactions of other people at the site (I guess I expected something just a little reverent), there was nothing about the WTC site that gave me the closure or answers that I had hoped to find.

I’m left wondering what I should feel about the whole situation. Part of the trip was to takee a city that was, for all intents and purposes, fictional, and make it real for me. That, in turn, was to make the entire 9/11 event become real for me.

My problem has always been one of distance, metaphorical and physical. From my vantage as a Michigan teenager going through high school, New York was a shining city that existed in film. Nothing like that place exists in our state, and I never even made it to Chicago until I was in college. Until recently, I’d never seen a place like New York outside of a screen or a photo of some kind.

So how was I to feel about a national tragedy? I’ve never even felt very connected to the United States as a nation. The U.S. you see on TV (and therefore, extrapolate as the experience of other Americans in the American places that matter) is not the one you experience in the Detroit suburbs.

The Midwestern U.S. is far more muted.

Reading about and seeing depictions of Americans lining up to fight for their country after Pearl Harbor had particular resonance. When there was an attack on our country, ALL Americans felt attacked.

I didn’t feel attacked on 9/11. I still feel an isolation in this state, which is ass-backwards in as many ways as possible. Our largest city is so corrupt, government officials are stealing from their own children. We’re losing people and jobs so fast there might not be much more than a sinkhole where Michigan is now in 10 years.

How am I supposed to feel about two planes being crashed into the World Trade Center?

It’s a question I’m only beginning to answer, and I didn’t find that answer at the site of the tragedy. What I’m feeling now is confusion because if that answer wasn’t there, where the hell is it?

I hurt for the people who died, but do I feel community with them? No.

More than anything, what I’ve experienced in regards to the national tragedy is seeing identification in others. A feeling of belonging. A feeling of camaraderie. A feeling of community. A feeling of needing to reach out to help those among them who have been hurt.

There’s identity in that.

What identity do I have?

The trip to the WTC site was a search for a mirror that I thought would help reflect back at me a greater understanding of what it means to be an American. But that mirror doesn’t exist.

I’m still wondering what my reflection looks like.