I can’t help thinking William Gibson was thinking of Twitter when he wrote these lines in his newest book, The Peripheral:
“Forgive me,” she said. “We haven’t been introduced. Someone my age is all feeds, Mr. Murphy. For my sins, I’ve continual access to most things, resulting in a terrible habit of behaving as if I already know everyone I meet.”
There are so many people I know only through Twitter, that if we ever met in person I wouldn’t feel like I was meeting them for the first time.
Growing up in Louisiana I never experienced real winter. Sure we had those few days in December when the temperatures dipped into the twenties, but mostly the old joke is true. In Louisiana there are only two seasons: Christmas and Hot.
Now, after five years in Minnesota, I’ve come to appreciate winter. Those first few cold days are head-clearing. As I settle down for my long winter nap, I appreciate the slow down from the mad-dash of summer. It’s a time to reflect, to create, to nurture ideas. It’s also a time to dip into the stockpile of warm summer days and cool fall evenings I stored away for when the cruelest months roll around.
So find a fire, find a good book or a good friend and enjoy this simpler, slower time of year.
I turned thirty-six today. I’ve made more changes in my thirty-fifth year than ever before. I know I’ll look back on last year as the point when I set out on a new path that brought more joy and less heartache than the years before.
I Stopped Drinking
In January I quit drinking. One evening in January instead of leaving work and picking up Sadie from her job and going home, I decided I would stop by a bar for a quick drink. This had become a common theme in my life by then. In the months prior I found myself seated at a bar more and more often. I drank at lunch. I left work early to squeeze in a drink or two. I wasn’t drinking daily, and I wasn’t always drinking a lot, but even then I knew something was wrong. I had the gall to say to myself, and even out loud to others, “Maybe I am an alcoholic, so what?”
That night one drink became three, possibly four, and I ended up driving drunk; so drunk I don’t even remember doing it. I had also been texting Sadie from the bar, letting her know that I would be working late. All of that bothers me: the drinking, the drunk-driving, but what bothers me most is the casual way I lied about where I was and what I was doing. I was carving out space and time to drink and lying about it.
The next morning was our 15th wedding anniversary (yeah), and the first day of my sobriety. I haven’t had a drink since.
I Went Back to School
In June I enrolled in the Network Administration program at a local community college. Over the last few years the jobs I’ve had rekindled my love of technology. Specifically, helping people find the right technology for their needs. It dawned on me that I could make a career out of this. I’ve been using computers since I was 14, and I’ve learned a lot on my own during that time. There are gaps in that knowledge though, so I went back to school to fill in those gaps.
I earned most of the required credits for a degree when I got my bachelor’s years ago, so in about a year and a half I should have all the credits needed for an Associate’s Degree in Network Administration, as well as a degree in Database Administration. Not exciting topics, but useful ones that will prepare me for one part of the next phase of my life.
I Quit My Job
I say one part of the next phase because at the end of June I quit my job to become an independent technology consultant as well as a student (And a few other things. More on that later). This was a job I’d had for a year after quitting another job that was making me unhappy. The short version is most of what I had thought I’d left at the old job was also present at the new one and in many ways worse. I had to quit or the stress and unhappiness was going to kill me. I wasn’t drinking only because my jobs were unsatisfying, but I was definitely drinking more as a result. So I quit.
The main goal of my consulting business is assisting nonprofits and other mission-based organizations with finding and using the right technology. Fortunately for me I’ve been able to partner with a local organization that shares that goal. Within a few weeks of quitting my job I had a contract for a consulting project.
I’m Writing Again
I’ve started writing more. Stuff like this post, for example, but I’m writing fiction again too, and plan to pitch more stories to magazines and web sites, as well as commercial copywriting. I’ve started a daily pages practice, three pages of free-writing every morning that help me sort and organize my thoughts while at the same time rehabbing the part of my brain that writes. If you ask me what I am or what I do I’ll answer that I’m a writer. I haven’t been much of one these past few years, but I’m changing that.
This is how I imagine my working life going forward. Small, project-based work that keeps me interested and doesn’t go stale. The truth about me is I’m a dabbler. I gain and lose interest in things as quick as a Minnesota fall. While I don’t see that as a problem, it does make it hard for me to want to stay at a job for more than a few years. This way, as my interests change, the scope of my consulting and writing work can change.
I Started Seeing a Therapist
These days I feel really good. Happier than I’ve felt in awhile (I keep saying that, but it’s true) and in order to keep feeling this way I’ve started seeing a therapist. We meet once a week and just talk through things. If you’re familiar with therapy you know that’s how it works, but if you’re not familiar you may not understand how powerful that is.
I’ve got substance-abuse issues. I’ve got anger issues. I’ve got loneliness issues. We talk about all of those things, and, as awful as that sounds, it’s great.
The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.
When I saw Kyle’s question the first thing that came to mind was Memento. It’s a movie I consider a part of my own personal canon, and a milestone in storytelling that has stuck with me for years. Also on that same list is Pulp Fiction. It only occured to me after I sat down to write this piece that both movies feature non-chronological timelines, and the kinds of stories I’ve been obsessed with for years.
Pulp Fiction doesn’t seem that groundbreaking anymore due to all of the movies that have since tried to capture its essence, but its influence cannot be overstated. When I saw Pulp Fiction for the first time in the theater (thanks, Mom!) I was blown away by the asynchronous storytelling. Those weren’t the words my 16-year-old self used to describe it, but the idea of hopping around the timeline to tell the best possible version of the story intrigued me.
There are chronological edits of Pulp Fiction out there, but I don’t think they work as well as the theatrical release. Consider that the first scene would have been Christopher Walken’s monologue about where he had hidden a watch from the Viet Cong, and that instead of miraculously re-appearing in the final scene, John Travolta’s Vincent Vega would have been shot and killed on the toilet before we ever got to know him. The watch story is now classic, but not something you want to open a movie with, and killing off a character the before the viewer has any stake in them is meaningless.
Christopher Nolan’s Memento also uses an atypical timeline to tell its story. The film centers around Leonard, a man who has lost the ability to create new memories, and who is searching for his wife’s killer. The opening credits show the last thing that happens chronologically in the story. From that point the scenes alternate between the present timeline and the past. The scenes from the present timeline are shown in reverse order, until the final few moments of the film when the two timelines converge. The point at which they converge is the beginning of the story. When the two timelines merge at the end of the movie, it’s one of the most gratifying and gut wrenching moments in modern movies.
Nolan uses the reverse timeline to help the viewer empathize with the way Lenny navigates the world. We, like Lenny, never know how we got to a particular point without first taking in some context. There’s a great scene that begins with Lenny running through a trailer park and asking himself “Okay, so what am I doing?” He spots another man running as well and Lenny assumes he his chasing the other man. Turns out he’s wrong, and is the one being chased instead.
Both movies prove that good storytelling doesn’t always mean starting at point A and heading towards B. They encouraged me to seek out the films that don’t play by the rules, and I’ve been rewarded for finding them ever since.