Trust in the Files

This is a race obsessed with documents. Ours is a generation consumed by them. So much of our first-world lives is indeed dictated by varieties of proof: proof that you are social, documented by the Internet; proof that you have paid your share; prove to us that you were born in our country. I can carry this natural herb that you’d be thrown in prison for, because I have a documented need to use it. If I were to irresponsibly be involved with a child, my address and I would be kept in a special database, so that when I move in you can move out — there will be documents showing the decline in your property value if I am around. I’m sorry, sir; I know we’re the only place that sells this brand, but I can’t help you without a receipt.

Nearly every action anyone takes is documented. I’m certain that the console in my computer could tell me indirectly how long it took me to write this very sentence just based on CPU usage. The text message I just received on my iPhone was an SMS, but since I’m using iMessage, I have no doubt that it is kept, somewhere, safe or not, making the tiniest little electron hold still, in a data base at Apple, concurrently at AT&T. All of these things are set in place as failsafes. If my computer were to stop working while I write this, the console would tell me what went wrong. If my SMS were never to be received by some glitch of a cell tower, it would resend itself as soon as my connection to the tower was renewed or replaced. Everything will be ok, because we can prove that everything happened.

It has the tendency to send me into a fit of anxiety. Maybe not instantly, but there will be times when I find myself much too concerned with the status of my documents. As a writer, documenting is what I do, but I document what I believe to be much more relevant to the greater human experience, and have no interest in knowing at which point in time a car passed in and out of the garage and to whom how much is owed therefore. I feel almost leprous by the weight of my receipts. I never ask for them, and when asked, I never want them. I know I will never again catalogue them — but I have.

I collected every single receipt for every transaction I performed for a whole year at one point, no holds barred. Cash, card, gift certificate, coupon, you name it. I did this because I was certain I needed to do this for tax purposes. I will probably go down in history as one of the most obsessive compulsive 16-year-olds to ever be churned out of the Pacific Northwest. At the end of this year, I sorted through the shoebox and discovered nothing. I discovered only that I had spent an hour pouring over the finances of a 16-year-old, only to occasionally be reminded that on this date I had indeed eaten this, that was the day I that, and those happened usually on the days I didn’t thus.

Why do we want to track these things? Keep your old love letters; throw away your old bank statements. What’s so hard about that? I don’t know for certain, but I know that I could certainly produce a bank statement within a few moments of being requested; ask me for the last card my grandmother gave me before she passed, and lunch is on me. Not only do I find myself overrun with documents, but I find myself overrun with the wrong kind. I am certain I could build an entire house out of the stacks of drawings I’ve thrown away because they “weren’t that good.” So why the shrine to the things that enslave us?

I have to believe that some of this comes from the desire to be validated. There has to be some connection to wanting a sense of security. Let’s keep papers and files, digital and printed, so that at some point, no matter how bored we may have been throughout our lives, we at least will have a biography written every step of the way. It will be a book written by cashiers, debt collectors, county clerks and human resources. The Story of You, as written by those who only saw you as a hand holding a charge card, a number in a spreadsheet, and a statistical dot relevant to your likelihood to pay your taxes and cling bitterly to your healthcare. This is the story that is written in our first-world lives, often with never so much as a single word ever quoted from your lips.

You can’t trust people these days; for the real truth, let us consult the Documents. They will know who has been good, who has been bad, and who has ceased to be economically relevant to the charts.

A society that thinks it was founded on the values of religion is completely tangled in the messy business of trying to verify any individual’s past actions. We can know you killed someone, but if we don’t have the proof, it never happened. So if we cling onto this religious background to define our logic and patterns, certainly it must be, well, in the Documents, right? Yes, the Bible! The Document of History. The ultimate proof that our documentation is worth the time invested. The single solid piece of proof that as time passes, our records will remain untouched, and none shall commit to memory what ought be stored in the infallible fortress of a database. Untouched as the Bible, unadulterated as the Holy Word of God, never out of selfish reasons altered, our truth shall live on in the Documents.

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Book update

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about life right now. I’ve had an amazing two months off, and even though it’s time to get back to the grind, I’ve gained a more complete appreciation of what I am and what my true strengths are. I don’t have to worry. Nobody needs to worry, really – I’ll be fine, and so will you, if you do what feels right.

I will continue to keep everyone updated here about the progress on my novel, as well. I hope you are as excited as I am.

First draft: [________|____________] 40% complete

How to Escape Salem

This is the short list Miguel & I compiled about how we’ve managed to leave and never really come back.

1. Visit Europe.
2. Never enroll at Chemeketa.
3. Build strong relationships with family nearby; it lessens the likelihood of anticipated regret.
4. Spend most of your free time somewhere you have never been.
5. Always dress up.
6. Never take someone’s advice unless they have done exactly what you want to do.

Something quick

It dawned on me, while looking at the pictures I’d taken, while looking back on the situations of the last few years, while learning the true meaning of following a dream, that I had indeed become that 22-year-old boy — the one I would have never thought I could, with his smarts, his oblivious nature, his good looks, his third car, and his surface-level fear for his life.

Things I’ve Learned Traveling

What do you do when it doesn’t work out like you planned? Try again. What do you do when it doesn’t work when you try? Try harder. It’s a lot easier to say this than it is to do it, and that’s probably my great big life lesson so far this year.

I’m writing this from my parents’ house in Oregon, only a month after having left the state, not planning to return for a while. I had everything lined up as best as I could – or at least, as best as I knew how. The job thing, the living thing, the budget thing, it was all completely put into place as carefully as I am capable. We know what they say about the best-laid plans. Job prospects got quickly thrown aside the closer I got to Los Angeles. My living situation, by no fault of my own, and thankfully with no real punitive monetary effect, completely fell apart. You just can’t assume everyone is honest, and I suppose that would be the only mistake I made in regard to where I had planned to live. There are, however, quite a few things I gained from my tumultuous month out and about.

First of all, I have now seen, with the exception of San Diego, every single city, beach, hotspot and destination on the west coast, including Phoenix and Las Vegas. The course of my adventure made me realize just how different a city can be from another, and I think I finally have come to recognize the value of local communities, regardless of how big or small a city is. If there is no sense of connectedness, the city will be tossed to the side once the next best thing comes around.

The next point: Las Vegas is not somewhere I would ever really care to go again, save for business or an excess of money that I somehow need to dispose of. The same goes for Los Angeles, and most of the surrounding area around it. The West LA / Santa Monica / Culver City / Hollywood area is wonderful. It is, by far, the most interesting part of the area, although my favorite beach town is still Newport. The catch is, everyone knows it, and none of the desirable areas are best-kept secrets anymore. Rent is sky high and competitive, the traffic is worst along the northern coast thanks to the 405 and the 101, and once again, there is no community. There probably is if you dig hard enough, but it’s not appealing to me to live somewhere that the whole city is making money off of people passing through and using it as a toy, then leaving their messes behind. It’s municipal prostitution.

Number three: I don’t really think the beach is compelling enough to live near. As someone who isn’t the type to go jump in the water (especially considering I saw a shark as soon as I arrived), I’d probably rather live near a rocky beach than a sandy one. The view is prettier and there aren’t nearly as many people clamoring to get there. Although, admittedly, it’s the sunshine I find myself chasing in general.

Number four: Phoenix is dreadfully underrated. Maybe it’s because people think John McCain will be their neighbor. Maybe it’s because they think it’s completely backward and right wing. It is a conservative state, this is true: but the conservative states are the easiest ones to live in. You’re less likely to find yourself swimming in taxes for programs you never wanted in the first place. California, for example, subsidizes the tuition of illegal immigrants, but not out-of-state students. Did you catch that properly? As a US citizen, I would pay more to go to school in California than someone who swam across the Rio Grande illegally. Doesn’t really sound like the kind of state I want to pay taxes to, if they plan to treat me worse than a criminal.

Number five: You need to be on your own at some point. Go drive down a desert highway sometime soon, I dare you. By yourself, music is optional, Red Bull is encouraged. I can’t express in words how helpful it was to drive from LA to Phoenix, then Phoenix to LV, all by myself, passing by all kinds of nothing in the ninety-degree heat. Escape the noise for a while and see what your mind does on its own. Listen to what you find yourself thinking when you are truly by yourself, and see how well it lines up with what you thought you knew.

Number six: until you actually leave, you will never realize how much your hometown is dragging you down. If you’re the type of person who has an excuse at the end of every sentence, if you’ve got a reason why not but never a reason why, you need to leave. I don’t care about your house and your marriage and your leases and pets and dying siblings and disabled granduncles and bills out your nose and your friends who will miss you. You will find just as much misery to feel awful about in any place you go, so why rob yourself of the opportunity to feel awful about a whole new set of excuses? Anyone who truly, genuinely wants the best for you will be waving goodbye with a big smile underneath any tears they may have as you drive away. You can always come back if things get rough, but don’t ever let someone else’s life stand in the way of you living your own. I mean it.

There’s many more things I’d like to share, but as much as they keep coming, I am slowly wasting precious hours of sunshine. My plan is to leave Oregon as soon as the sun goes away. That gives me about a week to find my next city. Wish me luck, and I hope to speed past some of you on our way out of town.