We go to California in April, but something feels off.
For one thing, we can't really afford to be there. Paradoxically, we spend way more money than usual. It's almost as if we're trying too hard to have a good time. We see Sigur Ros in concert. I eat grits for the first time, also biscuits and gravy. We go to a Warriors game in Oakland, where I see Steph Curry in the flesh, even if we're too far up in the stands to identify much more than his number, his floating three-point shot. We make an extensive tour of Motel 6 rooms. Laura and Tom are along with us, the four of us splitting two queen beds along gender lines. For five American dollars, I buy a large piece of upholstery from an art supply recycling store, planning to make a bed cover out of it. I take pictures of Laura. We drop off some more of Evan's IMAX film at Fotokem, and enjoy how glamorous it all is through Laura's eyes. We go to the beach. Driving through rural Oregon, we see a kind of poverty and despair I've never associated with "American life." On our way home, a blizzard traps us in the mountains for an extra night. It shouldn't be so stressful but it is. We're rushed and broke. The mountains loom black over us, the mountain town we stay in has a gothic, murderous energy.
Back home, it's difficult to regather ourselves. Part of it is that the things I'm working on are all long-term projects in their final, grinding stages. Part of it is that we seem, vaguely, to have misplaced our priorities. I don't organize Open Apartment. I drink more than I need to. I avoid looking at my credit card statement. I dread writing, dread showing the day's progress to Dylan. I wonder why pursuing creative work full-time (with two nights a week pouring beer at the Empress) feels so hollow and abstract, so disconnected from our real needs. There's no question that my work has taken me away from most other aspects of living this winter. I've barely even been cooking. And I've struggled to maintain a belief in the worthwhile nature of what I am doing, even as I've immersed myself in a world of patterns on a screen and imaginary money. Our culture does not take very good care of freelancers.
It isn't that I've decided writing and film are not important, or that my work, my projects (many of which will finally be completed and fully realized this summer) are a misuse of my time. But I have been using my work as a way to excuse myself from the realities and concerns of my life, and no wonder the result has been lethargy, confusion, aimlessness, pleasure-free excess.
Now the summer has broke on us, in all its heat during the day and storms in the evening. We have a new focus. I reread a book by Ben Hewitt that explores how misplaced the West's definition and pursuit of wealth has become. (I cannot recommend it highly enough.) We make a budget. Dylan cuts my hair, banishing the mullet once and for all. The society that I lease my office from announces that it has to give up its space at the end of June. Ashleigh asks me to play violin on some of her new songs. I remember that I'm good at making bread, that for all the money I've been spending, I've abandoned many of the pursuits that actually make me happy. I start planning a film about our summer.
We go out to Laura's family's property for the first time in over a year. We make plans to leave Edmonton for a while, to do other work and try other ways of living. Laura uses our apartment to shoot her first short film. One day we receive a box of fancy cheese from Canadian cheese makers, an obscurely-motivated but lucky-for-us Canada 150 promotion. Skye and Jenna are finally able to print Accomplice. We spend an evening working on a puzzle and watching I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, the Wilco doc, at Jord's place. I take my road test and fail it twice, and finally master the hill park and book another test for tomorrow morning.
"It is a largely unacknowledged truth that the contemporary American life is lived under a guillotine of fear. We fear disease, poverty, terrorism, loneliness, and death. We spend a lifetime seeking security because we are told the world is an insecure and dangerous place; that peril lurks around each corner. We spend so much of our time believing those fears and trying to abate them that we don't even stop to consider whether our anxieties might be misplaced. We don't even wonder if perhaps the things we fear are, at least in part, the tragic outgrowth of our misguided attempts to create an artifice of security. We have disease because we have allowed our food to be commoditized and thus subject to the profit-borne whims of corporatism; we have poverty because we have believed the lie that money buys security and because we have created a system that unjustly allows money to beget money; we have terrorism largely because we have meddled and assumed the righteous stance of American exceptionalism; we have loneliness because we no longer need one another; we have death because it is inevitable and we know this, yet because we have come to see ourselves as separate from nature and its laws, we believe that death is something to be vanquished."
- Ben Hewitt