Thursday, January 8, 2015

Nurse the Hate: New Year's Resolutions

I have been reading a James Salter memoir.  I love Salter’s writing.  His direct prose is humbling to me as I tap this out like an ape.  With just a phrase he can evoke a European café, the smell of coffee, the shade of pearl on the hexagonal tiles, and a wisp of dark hair across inquisitive eyes.  A couple of sentences are like a photograph that is instantly understood.  He has a rare gift.  His books really place me in a reflective state.  There is a certain tone to them that is very comfortable.  This particular book is a sketchbook of his life to this point.

Salter graduated West Point.  The following years he spent as a fighter pilot, seeing action in Korea, and being active in a time that allowed him to go from propeller planes to the first jets that shattered the sound barrier.  Asia.  Europe.  Northern Africa.  He saw some things.  To read about him spending days after his air force service befriended by the literary giants of his time, gathered in Paris cafes, New York taverns… That’s not a bad way to spend a decade.  To read a memoir like that can be downright depressing.  While I read about his having lunch with Redford discussing the screenplay he had written, I am thinking about how I was sloshing across a sloppy parking lot to walk into a drug store.  While Salter no doubt had to pick up sinus medication from time to time, I can't recall having a lunch set up with Ryan Gosling to discuss my story ideas for his next film on my current calendar.  It can be deflating reading that damn thing, especially this time of year.

The first of the year is all about setting goals.  Change.  Positive change.  The difficult part comes in being realistic.  For example, I think it might be a bit much to set a goal of "Writing Greatest American Novel and Live In Europe with Muse".  While I am 100% on board with the idea of sipping a tiny coffee while reading my glowing reviews in "the papers" as a bored female companion that is in my thrall looks on, this seems very unlikely.  First of all, no one reads anything in today's world.  I can't recall the last time anyone in the last six months recommended a book to me.  (Though I will admit, the last recommendation I received of a Murakami book was directly on target.)  Second of all, I'm way too abrasive to exist in the cafe culture, much less have anyone "in my thrall".  There is no way I could keep a single muse much less a cult of believers in my sway.  Maybe I could be like a sarcastic Hemingway without all the fist fighting.  I don't know.  I have to work that out.  As of now, that goal is on the shelf.

I like to try and set up a few attainable goals each year.  I did it last year, and it was a success.  For me the key is to go public with it.  The sheer fear of public failure to attain the goal is enough to keep me motivated.  I do not want to be laughed at.  Well, at least knowingly.  If I throw something out there, I will do everything in my power to do it.  I don't want to be one of those people that always talk about the amazing things they are going to do, but when push comes to shove, nothing actually happens.  What can be more sad than someone with something eminently achievable like "going to Mexico" that they just can't seem to do?  "Well, work was really busy..."  While often said, the following is still true.  No one ever wished on their deathbed they had gone to work more often...

I have recently embraced doing things that I find scary.  My reasoning on this is twofold.  First, I don't think there are enough experiences in my day to day life that qualify as "scary" with the exception of exposure to corporate speak like "maximizing our brand" and vague notions of the business "making a pivot".  It is very easy to slide into a comfortable rut where expected event slides into expected event.  When I nudged my legs out of the airplane to skydive last year, I couldn't recall too many episodes that compared in my recent past.  Staring down 18,000 feet to the ground with the cold air whipping your legs is attention getting.  It's a real wake up call.  Secondly, I like the idea of placing myself into a situation that makes me uncomfortable.  What is the furthest extreme I can take myself so I can see if I will follow through?  What are my limits?  Can I exceed them?

I really wanted to run with the bulls in Pamplona as this would give me an excuse to hang out at a party in Spain as well as do something crazy.  Unfortunately, my cranky achilles and stark realization of my lack of foot speed has made that unlikely.  The vision of me being gored and shown on CNN every 20 minutes for a week is not only a possibility, it is a probablilty.  I think having my spleen punctured would be bad, but the dodgy health care I would receive in the Pamplona hospital would be much worse.  I don't want to spend the next ten years "emptying out my bag" anytime I go to the bathroom.  I suppose I would get used to it after a couple of years, but I don't think I want to be known as "that guy with the bag" to strangers.  Unless I mend my achilles, Pamplona is out.

I thought about my interest in scuba diving and decided to push that further.  There are two goals that I have for myself in 2015 that I will accomplish.  I will dive on an honest to God shipwreck.  I am not going to paddle around some little boat that was purposely sunk in the ocean for tourists.  I want something that was a real functioning ship that went down in some sort of horrible circumstance.  I want to swim through cargo holds and cabins.  I want to place myself in some sketchy situation where I have to keep it together or freak out entirely.  I'd like there to be an eel involved.  An eel seems like a key to a good shipwreck.  The idea of being down 100 feet in a scary dark cargo hold is pretty exciting to me.  Maybe I'll even dive it at night with a weak flashlight.

I have discovered a group of people that dive with Great White Sharks.  Please note that I do not have a death wish as this diving does not take place outside of a shark cage.  I do not want to be eaten by a wild animal.  Great whites fully grown are 2500 pounds, about as big across as a VW Bug, and 18-25 feet long.  That is an immense beast.  Frankly, it's a sea monster.  The only place I will ever be able to see this fascinating sea monster is in the wild, as they do not survive in aquariums.  That means I will have to jump into the ocean with these sea monsters when they gather to feed on sea lions around a cluster of small bird shit covered islands in the Pacific.  I've been in the water with 6-8 foot sharks and it is intimidating.  I can't even imagine what this will be like.  However, I'm in.  I'm doing it.  My fear on this is more centered on getting seasick on the way out and having rugged dudes with Popeye arms adorned with enormous dive watches pointing at me and laughing.  I have no business being out there with these guys, but I would like to give the impression I do for at least the ride out to the dive site.

I have decided to further my wine expertise.  Though you wouldn't know by looking at me, I probably know more about wine than almost anyone you know, unless you hang out with Robert Parker.  Yet, I still know almost nothing.  Wine is one of the most magical things on our planet.  Simple grapes are smashed and with time this juice becomes a magical potion that tastes like a million things other than grape juice.  Understanding wine is really about paying attention.  A good wine is food for the mind and body.  A great wine tastes like nothing else but itself.  Wine allows you to taste a particular place and a particular time.   I have tasted a wine from 1787 that was owned by Napoleon.  Wrap your head around that.  I drank an agricultural product that was grown in a time when the fastest way to transport something was on a sailboat.  George Washington didn't start his first term until two years after that wine was made.  Wine allows the drinker to consume time and place.  It is a living thing.  It is for all intents and purposes, a miracle.

There is a flimsy sanctioning body in the world of wine that recognizes levels of knowlege through testing with ascending difficulties.  It seems to me to be somewhat less organized than the governing bodies of boxing, but like boxing I'm not sure who can assume the right to be in charge.  I zipped through two levels of this last year, and this year I will knock out the third level and make strides in level four.  If achieved, this would provide the illusion that I am a qualified professional in the world of wine, but well short of being an expert among experts.   

The end result of this will be that I can bore anyone at parties, restaurants, or wine shops by speaking ad naseum about things like Burgundy vineyard soil contents, Italian appellation system regulations, the unexpected ascension of New World malbec, and the lamentable loss of "true" Spanish Rioja.  No one will care about this but me.  No one.  It is not lost on me that this is a continuation of stereotypical male collecting behavior from matchbox cars to baseball cards to records to wine.  It could be worse.  I could be involved in Civil War recreations.  Does anyone really want to hear me complain about the lack of authenticity of the tents at a Gettysburg recreation?  (Though is it really that different than complaining about the levels of oak in top tier California chardonnay?)

I want to record a completely fucked up country record with the Whiskey Daredevils.  We have always played with the stereotypes of genre and attempted to mash together ideas and styles that are "not allowed" by the defenders of whatever subculture police are on duty.  I think we can take this to a further extreme by embracing the pillars of "real" country and pounding in our screwed up ideas of what sounds good.  I want to take traditional American themes to a place we have not done before.  I have to really come up with some good ideas for the songs, and I will cautiously admit to having a half dozen good new ones in motion now.  At this point I have absolutely no interest in catering to an audience outside of the good people that allow us to do what we do currently, and honestly I have no idea of what people want to hear anyway.  I don't think they know either.  We will just do our thing and hopefully someone else likes it too.  We do what we do.

I will come up with more ridiculous things to do as I go.  For now, these are my focus.  You may read this and think "what a tremendous waste of time".  That might be true, but at least I am doing something.   If I don't pull these off, please refer to me as "Mr. Shit Talk" and be as demeaning as you please.  However, be ready as I will come back at you and ask "What exactly are you doing?".


At January 10, 2015 at 11:44:00 AM EST , Blogger Bobdontgiveaf#ck said...

Good post, Skip. Ironically, my new year's resolution was to start referring to you as 'Mr. Shit Talk' even before I read this.

At January 10, 2015 at 12:06:00 PM EST , Blogger Greg Miller said...

Can I "like" that?


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