- JC Penney announced they are closing like 140 stores, which sounds like a lot, but they have over a thousand locations, and looking at the list, a bunch of these are rural locations, like where they have a few thousand feet of a store in a town of 800 people and it’s been there a hundred years. So, duh. They do, like every other retail store, have serious problems going down, though.
- The store at Hilltop mall in Richmond is closing. I went the other day to check it out, and the store itself is not in that bad of shape. The rest of that mall is utter desolation, though. And once JCP closes, I have no idea how they will keep going.
- That mall vaguely reminds me of Scottsdale mall, which used to be in South Bend, which I used to visit a lot in the year I went to school there. The interior looks a little more elaborate, in shape. But the entrances have the same heavy wood trim around them. It’s enough to launch me into a huge nostalgia k-hole for 1990-1991, which I do not want to do.
- The store in Pleasanton is not closing. And the ones at University Park and Concord malls back in Indiana are not closing, either.
- Concord’s construction hasn’t been happening yet – they have been focused on replacing the Martin’s grocery store with a new one (which has happened) and replacing the one outbuilding store with a new big box JoAnn fabric store. So the mall itself may exist for the 2017 holiday season (if you call the current state existing.)
- The parking lot of that Martin’s is where my Plymouth Turismo blew up in 1991. Random fact: both Rumored to Exist and Atmospheres end in that parking lot, in a fictionalized way.
- I feel bad for JC Penney in a strange way. When I worked at Ward’s, I used to hate Sears, although that was stupid Pepsi/Coke, Apple/Android sort of hate, which is useless. But I was oddly neutral to JCP, maybe because we were in the same mall, or because there was less overlap in what they sold. (I.e. they didn’t have a paint department.)
- It’s odd to think that department stores will most likely completely vanish within my lifetime. I never anticipated that when I was a kid. I would have taken a lot more photos.
- It’s also odd to think my nephews (who are five) will probably never know what a phone booth is.
- Also odd how much I used pay phones in college. Our dorms had some half-ass IU long distance plan that was like 1-900 prices, so it was way cheaper to get a Sprint card and call from a phone booth. It was more private, too. The dorms and places like the Student Union had sit-down phone booths. Ours were this ornate wood from the beginning of last century, and I remember many important/stupid phone calls that took place in them.
- I should probably sneak in another fitness update, but not much is going on. I’m about the same weight, although I dip up and down a pound or two. Still logging all food, still on a streak with daily walks.
- I drank a couple of cans of the Surge, and they taste about the same as I remember, although they are large cans (16oz) so it throws off the whole heft and weight thing in some stupid way. Yes, I could pour it into a glass, but that’s not the point.
- I drank a can of the stuff last week, and it gave me a very specific caffeine/sugar buzz that reminded me of when I was writing Rumored back in 1998. I don’t know why, because I already drink an inhuman amount of caffeine on a daily basis.
- In a few weeks, this journal (blog, site, whatever) will be twenty years old. Twenty. Fuck.
1) Project Blue Book Special Report 14
2) Corex codeine cough syrup
3) GG Allin
4) The movie Eraserhead
5) The JG Ballard pamphlet “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan”
6) The Mir Hardware Heritage manual, NASA RP 1357
7) A letter from the head of the Nevada Gaming Commission explaining how to make a low-calorie Thousand Island dressing from brake fluid.
8) Those flat sheets made out of cadavers sliced into pieces at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry
10) The deleted scene from Apocalypse Now where Marlon Brando eats five canned hams raw in the jungle
11) The band Sleep
12) The David Lee Roth book Crazy From the Heat
13) Mark Leyner
14) The NTSB Aviation Database Query Page
I guess I wrote about this years ago (see Surge, Vault) when they half-ass relaunched Surge as Vault about ten years ago.
I used to be extremely obsessed with different sodas. I also used to weigh 250 pounds and need thousands of dollars of dental work a year. Surge was like the apex of this addiction. Seattle was a test market for Surge back in the late 90s, and I got onboard in early 1997. Then I quit soda and caffeine entirely for most of that year, and stopped drinking it. But about a year later, I fell off the wagon, starting with the occasional soda during writing sessions.
In 1998, I was going hard on the Rumored to Exist manuscript, and trying to figure out exactly what rituals would put me in the right frame of mind to finish this insane book. Like I used to write starting exactly at 9 PM, and then stop at midnight and go to the 7-Eleven on the corner of 16th and Madison to get a Coke Slurpee. And I started chipping in on the Surge during writing sessions, and managed to get a decent (although disorganized) second draft of that book done before I left for New York.
There was no Surge in New York, and no 7-Elevens at that point in time, either. I would have occasional Surge sightings – one time I had rented a car for some reason, and drove on the Long Island Expressway way the hell out to Syosset or something, and stopped at a two-pump gas station with one cooler of sodas, and they had four cans, which I hoarded. And once when I was visiting my then-girlfriend at Cornell, I went to a Wendy’s that had it on tap. But by 2001 or so, it had entirely vanished from the region. And my writing dried up after I published Rumored in 2002, although one probably doesn’t have to do with the other, except in my head. Case in point: Vault came back in 2006, and I still didn’t get shit done.
So Surge is back now, although the distribution is still spotty and weird. I haven’t seen it in stores, but it popped up on Amazon Pantry while I was shopping for other stuff, so I bought a case. It was ridiculously expensive — $14 for a dozen 16-ounce cans — and I don’t know that I can even drink all of this. Back in the old days, I’d plow through it in a few nights. But now I’m logging every calorie I consume, and 230 empty calories is a pretty big hit. I also haven’t drank soda with sugar in it for almost ten years now, aside from a few odd occasions where nothing else was available. (Like I remember stopping at a beach cafe in rural Mexico a few years ago and buying a glass-bottled Pepsi, which was miraculous after spending a few hours off-roading on ATVs.) I haven’t drank any yet, and maybe I’ll only try a can or two.
The whole episode is a strange hit of nostalgia for me. It reminds me of Seattle, of the start of New York, and I’ve been thinking a lot about Rumored lately, how it was the perfect storm of weird writing and chaos. It also makes me think about the cyclical nature of these things, how Coca-Cola seems to be hitting these things every ten years on the dot, how they have these limited markets and test runs and special windows of time. There are times I’m heavily affected by how these things from recent history just vanish, how I can never go to Garcia’s Pizza again, or go to the University Park Mall Bally’s and play Smash TV. And then I’m thrown little bits of the stuff back, like a web page about a nostalgic item, an eBay auction for a Mattel Aquarius, a ROM so I can play a long-lost game on my Mac. They just rebooted New York Seltzer, which I thought for sure was long gone, and now I see the little squat glass bottles every time I go to my neighborhood diner.
I always wonder if we’re now in a hyper-accelerated version of a wayback machine, constant pings back to these limited-time-only items that are relaunched like a McRib as a cash grab. Or is this the same as when Fifties nostalgia hit hard in the Seventies? Will there be any satisfaction in a relaunch of an old product I missed, or will it be a pyrrhic victory, never bringing any real satisfaction? Maybe it even causes more distress, because I’ll get one little hint of a past that I think would make me happy (even though I know I wasn’t happy then) and it will give me a brief hit of dopamine and nothing else, making me want even more. We’ll see, I guess.
I made the decision to retire the print and ebook versions of my book The NecroKonicon, also known to many as “the glossary.” It was a bittersweet decision, but it’s not something I want available anymore. I unpublished the online version of the glossary about ten years ago, which was a tough decision back then. The book seems a bit redundant at this point.
I had a lot of fun creating the glossary when I started it about fifteen years ago. I became obsessed with it when I started it, constantly thinking of new articles to add, new links to make. I dug through old photos, researched old names and places, and every time I got a topic just about done, I’d think of five others to write. Once it went online, I started getting a lot of feedback, too. People searching on old names or places would stumble across my articles. This was right as Wikipedia was starting, and way before Facebook, so sometimes my pages were the first or only hit on google.
The problem with the glossary was that I wanted to write about my memories, and I got a lot of input that my entries were “wrong” and people would endlessly mansplain what really should have been there. I remember getting in a huge, stupid argument in the comments section with some #BlueLivesMatter-type idiot about my entry about the IU Police Department, and no matter how many corrections or additions I made, he demanded that I rewrite it or take it down.
And some of it was legitimate – I took a lot of swipes in some of the inside jokes, and there were entries about ex-girlfriends and people I was no longer in touch with, and those could be seen as violations or whatever. I think the attitude towards this has changed in the last decade; I think if Henry Miller or Charles Bukowski were writing in 2017, they would be spending most of their time in a courtroom, getting sued by the people in their books.
But, part of the fun of the thing was the personal side of it. I think if I only wrote about old restaurants and stores and food items, it would not have had the same intrigue. Or it would have just been WIkipedia. I keep thinking of putting a “scrubbed” version of it online, installing some wiki software and porting over the old entries, maybe writing a bunch of new ones, but not about people, just about the nostalgia, the places and things. But, that’s a lot of time. And I’d constantly be correcting things, adding more, dealing with complaints, etc.
A lot of me doesn’t want to deal with nostalgia anymore. I waste a lot of time trying to think about things from 1990 or whatever, and I’d rather be creating new stuff, not rehashing old stuff. So that’s a big reason for discontinuing this. And the book didn’t sell anyway.
That said, I wish I could create something that had the same collaborative and dynamic aspect that The NecroKonicon did. It was a glorious waste of time, and brought a lot of people in. I got a lot of emails and comments, and it was a lot of fun working on it (until it wasn’t.) I wish I could find some other project like this, like a podcast or comic or an online site of some sort, and maybe at some point I will.
Until then, I’m supposed to be writing the next book, so I need to figure out what that means exactly.
I found something recently that has been an entirely too hypnotic waste of time. Go here:
This site will find videos on YouTube that have no views, then drop into a random location and play about five seconds. It continues to do this in a never-ending stream, and the effect is bizarre.
First of all, all the videos shown tend to be people, or homemade. Actually, a majority of the videos are peoples’ kids, which is a testament to the futility of taking videos of your kids. But it reminds me of those found photos sites like Internet K-Hole, that have endless candid snapshots taken at malls or parties back in the mid-Eighties. There’s a certain personal aspect to it, and to just dump in the middle of a home movie is chaotic and bizarre and wonderful. It is like an experimental James Benning movie, but continues forever.
OK, just for fun — I’ve had this running in the background for a while, and I’ll rattle off a quick description of what’s showing:
- A shot of some mountains out of the window os a plane.
- A dog running in the snow in a back yard.
- A Chinese toddler beating a Fischer-Price cash register
- Eight grade school girls playing what sounds like a Jewish folk tune on violins.
- A guy from what looks like a former Soviet satellite country trying to pull a train car on a rope.
- A kid and grandfather with a remote control plane.
- Someone skiing down a slalom run.
- An guy talking in Arabic at a podium with four microphones.
- Someone explaining physics homework on a whiteboard in German.
- A girl doing horse dressage.
- A college stoner dude doing a video essay for a class.
- A golden retriever running back and forth in a yard.
- A girl in a class explaining what the ACL ligament is.
- Some people playing a TV trivia game.
- Two french toddlers rapping.
- An elementary school talent show with a girl dancing back and forth.
- Someone cooking Alfredo pasta.
- A fat guy on an Oculus Rift
- A walkthrough of a house under construction
- Four Vietnamese guys in a grass hut
- A guy talking in Spanish while shamooing a woman’s hair in a salon
- A Pop-Warner football game, shot from about 9000 feet away
- Someone installing an engine in a small general aviation plane
- The worst Led Zeppelin cover band imaginable
- Someone filming a baby stroller.
- An Indian video about gluten-free diets
- Someone in Spain playing NBA 2K
- Two white guys rapping at a beach that looks like Racine, Wisconsin
- A choir in an adventist church in what looks like Bali
…and so on.
This reminds me of one time when I had the bright idea of searching google for IMG_1954 and seeing what came up. But this is a thousand times better. Check it out.
I know none of you give a fuck about my fitness stuff, but I need some accountability. I also wouldn’t mind being able to go back in a few years and see this data. So, serious post, bear with me. All stupid replies to this will be deleted, so save your jokes for another post.
My one basic goal for 2016 was to use my Apple Watch and finish the “three rings” every day. That means standing once an hour for twelve hours, exercising for at least 30 minutes, and burning a specific set of calories. I got a late start on this because of stupid stuff in January of 2016, and started my streak in February.
So yesterday, I broke a one-year streak, or 365 continuous days of meeting all three goals. This usually involves a brisk walk of about an hour a day. In summer, this is great, because I get the sun and it helps my mood a lot. This time of year, it is a real challenge, because it is dark and rainy and shit out. But I persisted on this, and it was my one goal, and I made it. I am going to continue on this for the rest of the year, and now I really don’t want to miss a day, but it’s part of my routine, so I’ll try to get the next 11 months perfect, too.
My second goal of 2017 was to write down everything I ate. I still use a Fitbit One (don’t ask why I use this and the watch, it’s complicated.) and I use a Fitbit Aria scale and weigh myself every day. So I use the Fitbit app to log food. My goal wasn’t to be all judgmental about what I ate and stick to any kind of diet, but just to log everything. I find when I do that, I’m somewhat accountable about eating 178 granola bars in one sitting. And for January (and the start of February) I have done that.
The third thing is that I have been following Fitbit’s guidance of how many calories I should be taking in versus how many I burn, with a 250-calorie deficit. I have not been that rigid with it, just keeping an eye on it. I generally eat a few hundred calories lower than I should, but have one or two days a week when I eat more. And I realize that calorie counting isn’t the way to go, and despite all the “fat isn’t bad” hokum on mommyblogging sites, fat is bad for me. The Weight Watchers point system works better for me, but WW fucked this all up in one of their annual reboots, and I hate going to WW meetings, so I can’t do that.
I ended the year on 12/31 at 204.5 pounds, thanks to being in Wisconsin. As of today, I am at 196.0. My goal is like 170-175, and I realistically shouldn’t be losing more than five pounds a month. I am also expecting to fall off the wagon at some point and stop logging every day, because it is a huge pain in the ass. So, that’s why I need to make another post like this next month.
The port of Oakland is building (or has built) this new rail yard across from our building, and when I sit on the couch to write, I always look at the trains and it reminds me nostalgically of Indiana, which had what used to be the biggest rail yard in the midwest. It used to be the big Conrail yard where pretty much every east-west freight train was assembled or routed. That meant tons of rail traffic and getting stuck at the gates when a hundred-car train slowly clacked along. But it burned something in the back of my head, a strange reverence for rail equipment.
Conrail is long gone, Norfolk Southern built a much bigger yard in Ohio, and the Elkhart yard is one of many superfund sites in the city. Or was. I’m not sure what they’ll do in the future. The groundwater is still contaminated in places. The rail yard is still in use, I guess. Every time I go back to Elkhart, I get stuck at the gates again.
I just saw an Amtrak streak by, silver cars and high(er) speeds. One of the walks I take is up to the Emeryville station, across the tracks on the little pedestrian bridge, which involves going up four or five flights of stairs, then back down four or five flights of stairs. But in the middle of it, you walk across the narrow bridge and look down on this relatively new station built in 1993. It looks almost European, the modern concrete and side line with yellow paint on the crossings, where the sleep passenger trains arrive, and an automated announcer calls out the name of the station.
All of Emeryville surrounding the station is new condominiums and campuses of pharmaceutical research companies. I walk by one of these clusters of buildings, and found a plaque that said it was the location where scientists first sequenced the HIV-1 RNA. The campuses of Novartis and Bayer rose from what used to be chemical development facilities for Shell Petroleum, and production factories for Sherwin-Williams. Now the area is Pixar, Peet’s Coffee headquarters, and lots of little design firms and architect offices. It’s an eerie walk to do on a Sunday, when the offices are all closed. It’s especially nice in the summer, when it’s still cool out in the morning, and the air is just starting to heat up.
That rail yard across the street — the whole area around the port of Oakland used to be the Oakland army base. From WW2 to about 1999, it was the major shipping port for army materials sent to the Pacific, Korea, Vietnam. My uncle (who was career Navy) told me about being in Alameda, working on a carrier, and driving to Oakland Army Base to pick up parts. After it closed in 99, it sat empty for a dozen years, while the slow-moving Oakland political machine tried to figure out what to do with the toxic wasteland. There were nonstop rumors that it would become a movie studio, a casino, a baseball stadium. It ended up becoming more warehouses and rail facilities for the port.
There are still some remnants of the old base, the kind of two-story barracks-looking buildings the army built everywhere in the 1940s. Last year, I had to go to the TSA to get fingerprinted for a TSA Pre card, and they had a facility there. It was in an old Army building that was about to get torn down, a three-story structure that looked exactly like the same things you’d see on any military base anywhere. Yellowing ceiling tiles, large urns of burnt coffee, government posters of obscure acronyms. Most of the visitors were truckers needing some TSA paperwork. They closed the building a few months later. I haven’t walked over there recently, but the entire street has been under heavy construction for years, large swaths being bulldozed and regraded. Looking at the google maps images, it looks like they’re building pyramids there.
I was walking home the other day, past a new condo development. (Side note, I think they are insane, because they are cramming eight 1500-sqft units in a tiny lot, and they are all supposed to be “luxury” and cost over a million dollars each, and this is like a few thousand feet from a giant homeless encampment and open-air drug market.) Anyway, the construction crew was inside the recently-walled units, probably working on plumbing or electrical, and they were blasting music through the construction site, but it was like bop jazz, Thelonious Monk or something, which was surreal.
I need to go walk now, although I need to write first. It’s almost to the point where it is nice to walk again, after a lot of cold, rainy weather. The sun’s out, but it’s still in the 40s. I should probably go walk by the rail yard and see how the construction is going. I’m not one of those crazed rail fan types, but it’s nice to see them doing something out there.
Thank you David Atkinson for the ninja swords I got in the mail last night!
I am not 100% sure they are legal in California, but I’ll bring them to Panera tonight and see. Also, the blades were not sharpened, but I can probably use that thing on the back of our electric can opener for that.
Also thanks for everyone else who sent me stuff, including Frances (coloring books), Larry (Nyquil) and Jessica (Panera gift card). It was a wonderful birthday!
I realized the other day that the summer I fictionalized for my first book Summer Rain was twenty-five years ago. This should make me feel very old, except that it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago. I was twenty-one then, and in my mind, I’m the same person as I was then, but I realize I’m more than twice as old, and half a country away from Bloomington, and that’s depressing to me, that it’s an entire lifetime in the past for me.
When I’m not in the middle of writing something interesting, I often slip into this heavy, nostalgic, introspective thing, and burn a lot of cycles thinking about things that are long gone, like my time in Bloomington, the year I spent going to school in South Bend, even the time I was in Denver ten years ago, which seems like eons ago to me now. I try to remember the order things happened, the details of people and places I’d forgotten, and dwell entirely too much on things that happened, conversations I can’t fix, things I can’t take back. It’s unnerving that this stuff sticks with me, especially since I want to create things that aren’t my life, live in fictional worlds that don’t have to do with me. But the pull is so strong in old nostalgia, I can’t escape it.
There’s a certain draw to this near-era nostalgia that is completely addictive. Trying to find old images or articles or pictures of places I used to live or things I used to own is as compulsive as pornography, endlessly searching for the next thing to release some dopamine in the brain, give a tiny touch of satisfaction. I don’t know what I’ll find that will ever make things complete. And the draw of it is that so little of the early 90s, of my early 90s, is searchable or archived on the internet. Yes, I can go find a copy of that Nirvana album or the movie Singles or whatever, but try to find one picture of the IUSB lunch room where I spent every day of the 1990-1991 school year, and it’s impossible. I wrote some articles for that school’s newspapers that I will never find, unless I physically drive there and dig through their library. But I’ll still search, and maybe find a picture that reminds me of a computer lab where I used to work, a hint of what it used to look like, two renovations ago, when it still had PC-XTs and dot-matrix printers.
I keep thinking about writing something about this era again, another book. I thought about this a lot when I was in Indiana in 2015, in August. I’d never spent any time back in Indiana during the summer months, only returning for winter holidays, when everything was frozen over. And that feeling of summer, the hot days and air conditioning, then the cool nights and the sounds of crickets and clear sky and stars overhead made me think so much of the summer of my teenaged years, and made me think, “I have to write another book about this.”
I’ve struggled a lot with a book about the summer between high school and college, a fictionalized version of that summer in 1989. I think there’s a lot to write about: first love, first betrayal, leaving home, the big unknown of what happens next, and the beginning of a little bug in my head that would later develop into a crippling depression. There were also many things I didn’t know about at the time — I sat in northern Indiana in this pivotal time, the end of the Eighties, when the American Dream was quietly being led to slaughter. I only knew of life in that industrial bubble, the conservative bible-belt-meets-rust-belt pocket. Indiana never fully recovered from the early 70s recession when the early 80s one hit, and I graduated just as an expansion was about to burst. I didn’t know any of this at the time, but in retrospect, it sets an interesting stage for all of my personal garbage going on then.
I’ve written bits of this in stories over the years, and my completed 2008 NaNoWriMo project was an attempt at this book, which was finished but scrapped. I don’t feel like I was really able to nail it, to capture the feelings or set up a compelling structure to fit to this backdrop. It’s something I’ve wanted to revisit, but there are a bunch of things stopping me.
First, I don’t know how feasible this creative nonfiction stuff is in the era of Facebook and Google. I don’t think I could write Summer Rain now, because of the fear that a fictionalized person would find themselves and be angry that I was being unflattering, even if what I wrote was changed or masked or altered so it wasn’t true. I think just the fear of that would make me self-censor myself enough that I couldn’t operate. This is also entirely true of family members. I can’t write a first-person fictional book and get into it about the protagonist’s family, for fear that my own family would read this and think it was about them. I think Bukowski said he had to wait until his old man was dead until he started working on Ham on Rye.
But there’s also the conflicting fear that the longer I wait to write this stuff, the more it will fall out of my head. I find my memories fading of this era, and like I said, the physical relics of it are lacking. I took more pictures of my food this week than I took of anything in 1992. I archive all of my email now, although I get maybe five messages a week that aren’t garbage; I have almost no email saved from back then. There is a very real chance that if I wait until I retire or whatever and then decide to write this book, there will be none of it left in my head whatsoever.
And the biggest fear is that all of this is worthless to anyone but me. Summer Rain was not a big seller. Looking back, I can name half a hundred things wrong with the structure, content, characters, cover, blah blah blah, but there’s a horrible truth in that people like a book when they can identify with the main character, and if the main character is me and I’m ultimately an unlikeable person, people won’t like the book. I sometimes thing the current wave of nineties nostalgia could make a book set in that era appealing to people, but there’s a certain confidence thing there that I have to wrestle with, and it’s easier to put it off and go write about zombies or coprophagia or whatever.
During that 2015 trip, I started thinking about a sequel to Summer Rain, slightly informed by the John Knowles book Peace Breaks Out, which was the not-as-successful follow-up to A Separate Peace. The idea was that I had to return to Indiana twenty-five years later for some reason — dead parent, old friend, whatever — and I would see the contrast in all the changes (and non-changes) in the post-industrial wasteland. And I’d revisit all the characters, and what happened to them over time. One of the big themes in SR was the fork-in-the-road things, trying to decide on which way to go in life while in college. And in that book, every character subconsciously has a direction they were aimed, and one could predict the endings: this guy’s never going to leave town; this girl is going to burn through three husbands in ten years; this guy’s going to be a CEO before he’s thirty; this guy’s going to be found dead in five years. And one of the things I wanted to do was show how the unexpected happened with all of them, for better or for worse. And some people I know are still hopelessly stuck in this old era, never having moved past their high school or college self (much worse than I have it, even) and some people probably never think about the past at all. I don’t know where I’d go with a book like this, but it’s something stuck in my craw.
I probably won’t do any of this, and will probably come out with another book of twenty stories or a hundred fragments of flash fiction about UFOs and sodomy, and nobody will read it.
Anyway, twenty-five years. That is really screwing with my head.
I turn 46 today.
I was thinking about a very vivid birthday memory I’ve probably written about several times. I turned 23 in college, in 1994, on the tail end of a bad case of pneumonia that had me out for the month of January. I was pretty much better by the 20th, but I remember going to the mall to spend some birthday money, and the walk from one side to the other was exhausting, after spending weeks in bed. I bought a boxed set of the Star Wars video tapes, the original VHS set without all the CGI remastering garbage. I probably went to Denny’s, too.
The thing that stuck with me, though: I remember getting out my birth certificate, this pink piece of paper from North Dakota, to look up my time of birth. And I realized that both of my parents were 23 when I was born, and I was now 23. And it depressed me that I was 23, and single, and living in a shared apartment and struggling to get through college. And I didn’t want to be married or have kids or anything else. But I guess turning 18 or turning 21 didn’t really make me feel like an adult, and turning 23 made me realize I needed to start acting like one, figure out an exit strategy, get something started. And within about 18 months, I did graduate, get a job, move across the country, and finish writing a draft of my first book.
Today, I realized that this moment of clarity at age 23 happened exactly 23 years ago, half my life ago. And I am not the same age (more or less) as my parents were when I was in college.
* * *
I did not want to deal with any of the obvious today. I needed complete isolation, which is exactly what I did.
There is this place in Oakland called Oakland Floats, which has sensory deprivation tanks. You go in this pod-like thing and everything shuts off. It’s 100% dark and quiet. You have in earplugs. And you get into a large tank of water, which has been saturated with hundreds of pounds of epsom salts and heated to body temperature. Every one of your senses is blocked. You float in the water, not touching anything, completely weightless. It looks the same if your eyes are opened or closed. It feels like the temperature of your body, both in the water and the air; you can’t really tell where one begins or ends.
I’ve done this before a few times, but I did hour-long sessions. This time, I did a “superfloat” — I paid to get three and a half hours of tank time. I didn’t know if I’d be able to do this, or if I’d get bored or fall asleep or what. But I figured I needed to do this, so I signed up a few weeks ago and locked in the entire morning.
When I got there, it was somewhat miserable out: dark, rainy, cold. I arrived a bit before my time started, and got shown to my room. There was a bathroom-like space with a shower and a shelf of various supplies, and a plate heater running so it felt like a sauna inside. My chamber was named Ringo — it looked almost like a shower with a door, but the door was not transparent, and inside was a large tub, maybe four by eight feet, and a foot deep, filled with hot salt water, and a blue glowing light so i could get in. I took a shower with antibacterial soap. Then, right before the government changed and facebook was exploding, I shut off my phone, put in the earplugs, slipped into the womb-like chamber, and turned off the light.
The first thing you notice when you start a session is that the sensation of floating is really weird. You’re programmed from childhood to know what a bath feels like, how your body sinks in the water. But in the chamber, you can’t sink — your body hovers in the briny water. After you stop yourself from drifting and become still, the only think you hear is your own breathing. For me, I became entirely too self-conscious of my breathing, because it’s the only thing I could do. I could not see anything, and couldn’t hear anything outside my body. And of course any and all external stimuli were gone. I could not look at my watch, or pull out my phone, or check my email. I’m not going to go into the neo-luddide “technology is bad” thing, but not having that instinctual tic is really abnormal.
I cheated a bit on the superfloat, although I guess most people do — I broke it into three sessions, so I could get out, use the bathroom, and drink water. The bathroom part, I probably could have made it, but soaking in epsom salt is extremely dehydrating, and I drank about a quart of water total during the quick breaks.
So, three sessions. The first went about 90 minutes. I probably spent ten or fifteen minutes getting used to the tank, and trying to relax my neck and back muscles to stay in a neutral position. Then I tried some basic meditation techniques: mindfulness, scanning my body from top to bottom, slowing my breathing, etc. This was good, but it got boring. I focused on a piece of music I’d listened to in the car on the way over (the new Brian Eno album, Reflection) and got lost in that for a bit.
After maybe thirty minutes in, I stopped thinking and went into a pure theta state. This is the state you’re in when you start to fall asleep, but aren’t unconscious and into the delta stage of deep sleep. If you abuse the snooze alarm on your clock, you probably experience brief drips of theta state when you get back in bed and almost black out, but dance through the halfway land between consciousness and sleep. The difference here is that it was sustained, timeless, and I had no connection to my body. I was just drifting in this sea of thought, memories I hadn’t touched in years. And I was there for about an hour.
I came back, did a quick bio break, and checked the time. Then the second session started. I had a little more trouble getting back in, and spent about ten minutes trying to get my neck to pop or stretch or decompress. But then I fell into a weird… thing. I was looking into the darkness, and could see nothing, but then saw… I guess a pattern. It looked like a mandala, a geometric pattern, and I could only see a quarter of it, like it was four times bigger than my field of vision. It wasn’t a defined or religious symbol, like a Buddhist mandala, but just a vague, swirling of shape, like a zoetrope’s image, that was darker than the pitch-black darkness. And as I tried to focus on this, I felt like I could no longer tell I was laying down. It felt more like I was standing, looking down, like at the top of a place with no three-dimensional space, watching this swirling oil-like pattern below me, like the floor had melted and turned into this primordial stew. But it wasn’t a constant thing, like a strong vision or a hallucination. It was very intermittent, and would drift in and out. I know I was back into the theta state, and in that, nothing is real or connected. It’s like trying to explain a dream that has no start or finish or linear explanation, like describing a five-dimensional scene to a person in a three-dimensional world.
This slowly faded, and within a matter of moments, I realized it was time for a break. I got out, and about an hour had passed. After a quick fluid exchange, I got back in and finished the last hour. For whatever reason, I got hung up thinking about a conversation I had with someone in 1992, which either sounds pretty grudgy or stupid, but it was more like the essence of that moment I spent with the person was there. I didn’t go that deep in the last hour. My neck was starting to hurt, and I was starving. I drifted a bit, but then came back out. Coming back out of the tank was hard and weird. My internal thermostat was broken from soaking for so long in the heat. Also, my skin was covered in salt. And it felt weird to have a sense of feeling, and to hear again. Taking a shower again, the water was deafening to me.
I got dressed, and went to the front counter to settle up. It turned out while I was in the tank, there was a huge thunderstorm, tons of water dumping, high winds, black skies. I missed all of it. And I missed all of the other festivities of the day, which was excellent. I left, and walked to a nearby restaurant and butchery called Clove & Hoof, and ordered a fried chicken sandwich. The walk over seemed surreal to me. Everything outside, the light rain, the traffic on 40th Ave, the people waiting in line for lunch, it all seemed alien. I’d say there was a calm over me, but it was more than that. It’s like everything was shut off, or like I was watching a distant TV with the volume on 1.
Anyway. I’m back. The day’s almost over. I’ll have to go back and try this again.