It is easy to hate Facebook nowadays. Or anything that requires some social element. Yet here we are, feeding the animals our livelihood in exchange for obscure self-worth. To think there was a time not too long ago where no one gave a shit about your vacation photos.
Two things happened on the eve of my 32nd birthday. I was sitting at home and stewing over something I had seen on Facebook and Twitter. I also watched Paterson.
The former: I couldn’t tell you what it was that bothered me. Not even the context of the conversation or the issue at hand. What I did know is that the thing I used to keep up with all of my friends and family became the thing that I also used to keep up on news and current events. The streams had crossed. There was no such thing as polite conversation anymore. Like assholes at the library, I was subject to loud conversations that I wanted nothing to do with while I was trying to get something done.
Then I saw Paterson. It’s the latest Jim Jarmusch flick released on Amazon. Adam Driver plays Paterson, who lives in modern day Paterson, New Jersey, makes a living driving a bus, and writes (by hand!) fabulous Then he does nothing with them. No social media, because he doesn’t even have a phone. While the movie does not go without conflict, Paterson seems like an all-around happy guy.
Credits rolled, I deleted everything social off my phone. It was time to clean the kitchen.
When he still lived in Denver, I frequented a yoga instructor named Kyle who would always allude to “keeping people out of your kitchen.” He’d say this while pointing to his head. Your kitchen – the handful of gray matter between your ears that dominates your entire world. When people fuck with it, the entire self goes tits-up and the bad day ensues.
Admittedly, it took me a while to realize that “up in your kitchen” is an idiom as old as baseball and trash-talk. The idea is still the same: if your kitchen isn’t clean, you can’t cook. If you can’t cook, you won’t nourish. Give this circumstance a long enough timeline and we’re all corpses.
Speaking of nourishment – for platforms built around this idea of an “endless feed” of content, why is it we are rarely left feeling nourish after an hour of scrolling?
“Everyone is wishing you a happy birthday on Facebook,” my wife tells me over lunch. This is the day after Paterson, after the deleting of apps from my phone. That morning I had participated in a lazy (well, I made sure it was lazy) yoga practice at Red Rocks. Now we were gearing up for an afternoon at a music festival in the middle of the city. I only knew of three genuine birthday wishes – two granted through text messages, another through Messenger. The rest were not as sincere emails from brands (Happy Birthday! Why not take 20% off whatever you order TODAY (and today only!)).
The rest of the day I snapped a few photos with my phone’s camera. Those pictures then stayed there, on the camera, rather than be immediately shared out to harvest likes and comments. Every performance was live-streamed/ Snapped/ Instagrammed out to some degree. If someone were to harvest all of that footage I’m sure the entire festival could be pieced back together in a chaos of resolutions and camera angles and those little stamp filter things that go on everything.
When I finally crashed that night, my phone battery was still at 77%. Usually, it is completely drained.
All of this is not the manifesto of a retroactive luddite. I am not going to shirk responsibilities to hole up in a cabin heated by wood fire surviving off venison (although, should the opportunity volunteer itself…).
No, this is an observation to the thing that most of us are bothered by, but can’t quite name: Ambient Conversations. Like a busy room where everyone chatters so much you can’t finish a thought. Or how I can’t write if I know the words to the song I’m listening to. All of the social media which serves as the center point to our lives today is built on the idea of conversation. People you know, or don’t know, shouting into the void. Other people shouting back. Comments sections. Reactionary emojis. Entire news segments built around the latest thing the president Tweeted. Stuff that ultimately doesn’t matter but is paraded before us anyway.
These conversations and the profile pictures and usernames tied to them, they tend to fuck up your kitchen.
I used to like saying “Everyone always seems to be mad at something.” I guess it was rather alarming to discover that people actually went seeking out things to be upset over.
The solutions ended up being pretty simple:
- Instagram went back on the phone. It is the only app I genuinely love to use. The only one that I genuinely missed during the blackout. The ambient conversations are minimal.
- I only pay attention to the things that people intentionally want to speak with ME (and only me!) about. I’ve turned email notifications back on for a lot of the social apps to alert me when I’m directly tagged in or am invited to something.
- Save for notifications from a select few individuals, my phone is silent and dark.
- 20 minutes of news in the morning. That’s it. There was a time when news was dished out in 22-minute segments with commercial breaks. That was it. Then The Simpsons came on. I want to live in that world again. I have refined the news sources I need down to a single RSS feed. I may not know as much about the world anymore or what my friends think of it, and I’d love someone to convince me that this is a bad thing.
Everything got a lot quieter. The kitchen is cleaner. Now I just need to learn to cook.
Everyone loves an epic. Everyone loves the idea of a long journey.
Easy Rider. Strayed. Any accounting of Everest. Into The Wild.
Long, meandering paths that bring someone from one uncertain point to another. Like a river. It might be why I love the idea of rivers so much.
An epic makes for a great story, but it also seems relatively unattainable to most of us. Those who have jobs and places to be, rents to pay, groceries that might go bad if we don’t eat in tonight. Most of us are lucky to get away for a weekend – and usually wherever we go we have to share it with all the others who are also lucky enough to get away.
The idea I’ve been working with: you might not need to walk 10,000 miles in order to experience some kind of monumental change. Just like how it takes a single sentence in a novel to change everything for the reader.
After all, it is a quote that gets the tattoo, not the entire scripture.
They key, as with most things, is intention. Walking a mile may not leave you blistered, bloody and sore. But the intention of that walk could be enough to give you the mindset of an epic. The discovery of that intention, the intense focus in that mile or two, that’s what gives you the story. Not everything needs to be a spiritual awakening.
Most of the time, we just need a quick realignment to remember why we do anything at all.
The itch started with the birds. Hearing them sing through the open bedroom window at dawn meant spring was right around the corner. That window had been opening a little more each night as the air started to feel cleaner, more alive, more drinkable. The mornings were still crisp and cold, but warmed up quick through the day. Everything was coming alive.
How do you put that into a picture?
I had met Vicky months before when the weather was flat-out cold. The skies were grey when we first got together to do a handful of head-shots for her marketing business. We swore we would work together again and had a million ideas for doing so. Then snow fell, months passed, hibernations ensued. Now, with the windows opened at dawn and a showcase on the horizon, it was time to get something to print.
Lair O’ The Bear is the right kind of place at daybreak. The parking lot is empty, save for those who had spent the night around here. The traffic on the nearby mountain road is still thin and all you can hear is the slow babble of the creek right through the trees. Vicky arrives and we head off down the trail with bags of camera gear and wardrobe changes. There is a spot I have in mind – where I know the grass would grow taller sometime around mid-July, where I head to when I’m looking to drop a fly in the water.
Today, that spot is a matting of brown playing host to the bright green sprouts of the virgin springtime shoots. This is what I’m here to try and catch – the thawing of brown into the gentle reminder of a changing season.
The morning chill and hints of frost melt away as the sun climbs. I’m not entirely sure how to explain what it is I want. The first fifty exposures may never see the light of any day – and that is usually on purpose. I’m at a loss for words and it takes a moment to open up a different kind of conversation – one built on movement and cuing physical positions. Before too long not much is said, just an observation of the organic growth, the dance, the expression of a body in an environment set to come alive.
Most of the time you know what you want. The rest of the time I try to be open to what is available.
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It’s become my usual coffee shop – The Metropolis Coffee on 11th. It is close enough to everything that I would need at an early hour, but still low key enough in the mornings where I can sit for a minute and think, jot down a handful of ideas, and embrace the sunlight rising through the huge, dirty windows. Though, in about an hour a line will as the day begins for most, as coffee is required, as people set up their before-work meetings to discuss the bigger ideas of things they’d rather be doing.
On a particular morning there are two backpacks leaning against an otherwise empty wall. Their names, Kelty and Marmot, stitched neatly on their top panels. Loosely stacked on top of them are their owner’s jackets shed with the warmth of the cafe. The packs are still bright, clean with luggage tags of opportunity attached to them – these packs have so many miles to see still. They haven’t been set down in the dirt or unpacked and repacked a dozen times a day as their frustrated porters search for that ONE thing they could have sworn they brought – the knife, the flashlight, the blister kit. No, things have yet to be lost in the depths of their pockets. The straps have yet to dig deep into the shoulders of their porters, the belts have yet to raise welts or rub hipbones raw. These are brand new packs crammed tight and full of potential.
I see their porter’s at the counter. A guy and a gal still in some stage of loving one another. They are as fresh as the packs left against the wall. Their skin still unmarred by the wind and the sun, their hair still damp from that morning’s shower. They are still talking to one another – a sure sign they are somewhere early on in their journey together. Next, they’ll pile everything onto a bus, onto a plane, onto their backs as they start off down this path. Sometime in a week or two they’ll agree it might be best to take “maybe just a day, or something” apart. Their is a lot of exploring to do, and with every exploration is a need or desire to miss something.
Today is nice. The air in the city is still cool and damp and ready to be written on . Tomorrow will be a mix of dusty trails and endless sun or foreign cities and hostel beds. There will be arguments over going left or right, and the unrested peace that comes with either being right or wrong.
Denver isn’t great with bags or those who carry their world on their backs. These two, they are clean. And that is enough of an advantage. Outside are shopping carts filled with items collected from the streets, there are tattered backpacks held by men and women who have spent night after night sleeping on the asphalt. Around here, there are those who have their worldly possessions gripped in a plastic bag, bright pink with the logo of the nearby hospital, wrist wrapped in identifying plastic. A night spent hooked to machines only to be released in the morning to try surviving again.
There was a summer I lived out of a car, mostly by choice, where I was frequently days form my last shower. Days when I walked into numerous coffee shops, breweries, restaurants and gas stations wearing heavy boots caked in mud. My face and clothes covered in campfire soot, my wild hair sticking out from the edges of my basball cap. I’d walk into these places and expect to be served, never once thinking about the other people there because I had, in my own mind, a sense of home in all of that.
The idea of home, then, is rather obtuse when it is stripped bare. A place we have keys to, full of stuff we’ve collected. The backpackers in my cafe this morning, I can only assume they have a home and they have chosen to forgo it for a short while. They have loaded up their packs tall with things pertinent to their existence and taken off.
To have that kind of freedom is the ultimate one to take for granted.