Never Share Your Love; or The Dangers of a Mixtape

Cassette Tape

One of my favorite things in the world is creating a music mix. Call it a mixtape (I do), a mixed CD, a playlist, whatever, the name doesn’t matter, it’s the act that matters. The curation of a good mix is an art form, but it’s an act of love, too.

Now, I don’t mean an act of love in the sense that making a mixtape means you love the person you’re making it for (though that’s usually the case). I mean that taking the time to compile, organize and craft a mix is the act of loving music, perhaps even to a fanatical, obsessive level.

I’ve made mixes for girlfriends, crushes, friends, siblings, and even just mixes for myself when I’m in a particular mood and need a pick-me-up (the process of creating the mix can do the trick). The common thread in these mixes is my love of the music. Sometimes the songs I choose are meant to be representative of a period in my or the listener’s life. Sometimes it’s about creating a timeless mix. A good mix, besides flowing from one song to the next, can often tell a story, maybe even with a moral.

I love mixtapes, but boy are they dangerous.

When you share a song with someone, you share a part of yourself. No, you didn’t write it, but we all have a song (or movie, or book) that resonates with us so deeply that it feels like an organ inside us. To share it with someone is to open yourself up and say, “This is me.”

We all know the crushing disappointment of sharing that part of ourselves with someone and them saying, “Meh. It’s okay.” For many of us, the art we love is so much a part of our identity that any rejection (or indifference) feels personal. But, I tell you, there’s a far greater danger inherent in the mixtape.

When you enter into a relationship with someone, you share the things you love. There is intimacy in that, even when that just means having “your place” for slices of pizza or a favorite dive bar. A relationship is about intertwining oneself with another, a binding that ties your tastes together. Your girlfriend starts listening to electronica because you blast it on your happy days, or your boyfriend starts watching Paul Thomas Anderson films because you said he’s the greatest living director.

For a perfect moment in time, the things you love are loved by the person you love, and you achieve the Eros Singularity.

And then you break-up.

For the first month or two, everything reminds you of your ex, no matter what it is. The smell of bacon, the way the leaves crunch underfoot, the nattering sounds of co-workers discussing The Voice. Somehow, every road leads back to the one now gone.

With time, though, you heal, and those connections fall away until you can go back to living a normal life without the constant reminder of heartbreak.

The problem, though, is while the implicit connections are no longer there, the explicit ones still exist. You might be able to go downtown without thinking about him, but getting a slice of pepperoni pie at Luigi’s is out of the question. And it doesn’t matter if Mike the Bartender is loose with the pour, you can’t sit on that stool without her sitting next to you.

These connections are never deeper than with shared art. The two of you had a song, a favorite movie, a novel that you read together and had lengthy discussions about deep into the night.

Those stinging associations are the price of doing business. Losing them is yet another loss in the process of heartbreak, but you lived without them B.E. (Before Ex) and you’ll live without them now.

No, the true danger comes with sharing the art you loved before you met the future/former significant other. Those are the songs, movies and books that were a part of you when that other fell in love with you. It’s part of what they liked about you, because you had internalized that art as part of your personality. When you break-up, they get to take that with them, leaving behind a scar. It’s a raw wound, and unlike Luigi’s or the oeuvre of P.T. Anderson, you can’t avoid touching it because it’s still a part of you.

This is why you should never share everything that you love. Sure, this girl is the love of your life now, and you want her to know everything about you, but don’t be a fool. You’re 24 and you’re going to date other people. You got engaged? That’s great, but at one point so were 100% of the people who are now divorced (give or take Las Vegas).

The relationship ends, and suddenly everything that once defined you is ripped in half.

Never share all your love. I love the music of Ryan Adams and have had at least one song of his hold special meaning for every ex I’ve ever had. But not “Come Pick Me Up.” That’s my song, no one gets to touch it.* It’ll never be associated with just one woman (even if the lyrics makes me think of one or two), and I will never be unable to listen to it because of a painful connection.

The same goes for Radiohead’s entire catalog. I’ve never once dated a girl who loved Radiohead like I love Radiohead (which probably explains why none of my relationships have lasted). They might have been fans, or grown to like them because of me, but there isn’t a single song or album by the band that makes me think of an ex. I never have to worry about a startlingly wave of sad memories when I listen to my favorite band.

There’s so much art out there that I love, a lot of which I want to share with romantic partners, even when I acknowledge the realistic odds that things won’t work out. That is, as I said, the price of being in love.

But a person should hold onto something that is all theirs. Autonomy requires it. Love is a ‘many splendored thing’ and all that horseshit, but the love of art is the purest form that exists. Why taint that?

*Obviously it’s a lot of people’s song. But in relation to my personal love life, it’s mine.


In the era of constant connection, how do some remain invisible?


Like most writers, artists and non-hunks/babes of the world, I was largely anonymous in my teen years. I had my friends, my groups and my failed attempts at finding love that inevitably led to heartache, but while I was a bit higher profile than some (due to my role in my church’s youth group), I still felt invisible.

I can’t imagine anyone at my 10-year high school reunion stood around asking, “Where is Joseph?”

When I entered college and left behind my childhood faith, I wandered away from many friendships (not all) and into a new social realm. Despite this radical shift, though, I wasn’t any better known in college.

There is an underlying trait (perhaps flaw) to my personality that keeps me from being the center of attention. I am quiet. I do not demand attention by sheer force of will or charisma. I have no ‘flash.’ It can take me weeks if not months before I open up with new people (coworkers, drunks at the bar, etc.). With every move, I think, “This’ll be the year that I’m different, I won’t be shy, I’ll come out the gate being the person I am at the end of the year.”

And every year I start at zero.

I Don’t Have Asperger’s, But…

Maintaining eye contact is incredibly difficult for me, a feat of conscious control. Likewise, idle chatter is a burden. On my good days, I can bullshit with people for a few hours before I feel worn out. On my less-than-good days, I don’t even try to fake it. My responses to generic questions like “How are you doing?” are rote and practiced, intentionally closed off to discourage dialogue.

Well, I’m a writer. I’m not describing anything unique to my species. There are certainly boisterous, outgoing writers, but those types of people are rarer and (this is the snob in me) I often wonder how serious those types of writers are about their craft. I write because it’s the only way I feel comfortable communicating. If I was better at socializing, would I even need the form?

My kind of anxiety-ridden ‘artist’-type has always existed. I’m nothing new. But we live in a very unique age that allows us socially phobic types to be more expressive, less hidden. Less invisible.

The internet provides a multitude of venues for being heard. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, any of the other dozens (hundreds?) of forms for communicating that only the world wide web could have fostered. Though I’ve tended to be slow to adopt the evolving medium, once I am onboard I engage pretty obsessively. This is the nature of us quiet, pensive types. Given an outlet for our thoughts and emotions, we will not hold back. We’re fire hydrants bursting forth. (As if to substantiate the social anxiety we have carried all along, our oversharing often turns off large swaths of people.)

As one could imagine, this trait isn’t always the best. In fact, it’s kind of the worst. We become so accustomed to sharing our every thought that we struggle to turn it off. Most noticeably during two periods: Contentious events (for instance, a presidential election) and ‘dramatic’ personal events (like a break up).

Flashback to a month ago: The re-election of Barack Obama happened to coincide with the sudden and crushing termination of a relationship I foolishly pursued. No good could come of this.

Foreseeing a disgusting convergence of gloating posts alongside self-pitying emo lyrics, I didn’t like what I (the online ‘I’) was about to become. So I shut it down.

I went offline.



I didn’t erase my online presence, I merely decided not to participate. I went invisible again. I returned to the days when I didn’t (couldn’t) seek validation through how many red notifications I woke up to.

And let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. This bursting fire hydrant suddenly got the wrench.

My self-imposed rules: No Facebook. No posting, no commenting, no liking, no presence. I still logged on and read posts (I think social networking is for the most part a good thing), but unless someone sent me a personal message that required a response, I didn’t add anything to Facebook.

No Twitter, either. I’m not a big tweeter (or, whatever), but I tweet occasionally and I retweet what I enjoy. So, none of that.

No Foursquare, no ‘checking in’. No commenting on articles, either. No doing anything to impose an online presence. And as a voracious reader of online articles with comment boards, this was no easy act of self-control.

Most pertinent to this site: no blogging. 10 Cities / 10 Years went silent for a month. I still wrote posts, but I either saved them as drafts or published them privately (now public).

For one whole month I avoided contact with anyone outside of New Orleans, and frankly I haven’t been all that social here, either.

As my month away progressed, drops of friends and family trickled in. A few people texted, commented on my wall or called me. These people, to my surprise, noticed my absence. And they were concerned.



I have a mental illness. On this site, I haven’t shied away from discussing this fact because I believe the topic should not be ignored. I am not alone, of course. Mental illness is tragically common in the population. Unfortunately, we as a society generally ignore the topic until it’s forced to the forefront by some unthinkably horrific event.

The mentally ill are not created equal.

My mental illness does not mirror that of Adam Lanza or James Holmes. At worst, my harmful impulses are inward, never outward. I have never harmed another person (except in the way we all hurt each other), and I never would. There is no cure-all for mental illness just as there is no one symptom common to all people who suffer from it.

Mostly, I feel comfort in invisibility. Human contact is exceedingly difficult for me. I created this project in order to challenge myself in this regard and I have definitely grown because of it, but growth does not mean transformation. I am and will certainly always be someone for whom human interaction is a struggle. Having my trust abused and feeling betrayed by close relationships only makes it all that much harder. Regardless, every venture outside of myself will always require an effort of Herculean mental strength.

For most of my life, being invisible has both been my severest curse and my greatest relief. I write because the voice inside my head will not be silenced and I need it to be heard. But when I feel weak, ugly, tired, sick, poor, despised… translucence is a welcome trait.

I don’t know what it’s like to not be mentally ill. I don’t understand how those types of people see the world, no more than they understand me. Us.

The mentally ill deal with their pain and persistent, haunting ghosts in the shadows. They are the invisible. Until they are not. And then, usually, it’s too late.

I am still here. I will still be here for the foreseeable future. Some days are worse than others, but I’ve lived with this long enough to believe I will continue to muddle through. I fight this mostly on my own. But on rare occasions, someone steps through the ether to offer their presence.

In the wake of Sandy Hook, maybe we’ll do a better job as a society of addressing mental illness, in all its forms, to prevent the tragedies from continuing to pile up.

But I fear that more than likely we’ll return to ignoring the invisible sickness.


The End (of my year in Seattle) Is Nigh


365 days can sure fly.  I have less than two weeks until I move from Seattle to New Orleans, exactly a week until my last day of work and not enough hours in the day to do everything I wanted to do before I left this city.

I’m resigned to the fact that there are countless things I never got around to doing while I lived here, and frankly none of them bother me much.  I’d rather leave a city thinking about how much more there was to do than leave thinking, “Well, that city’s got nothing more to offer.”  Someday I’ll return to the Emerald City, I can do some of it then.

What I’m most concerned about is making time for friends before I leave.  A lunch here, a drink there, a conversation to bring the story full circle.  Some friends I met when I first arrived, or soon after at my first job.  Others I met only recently, in the last few months at my current job.  These people, the friends, the acquaintances, they define 10 Cities/10 Years more than any city landmark or tourist attraction.

And some of them I will never see again.  On a day-to-day basis, there are so many people that play an important role in your experiences, but someday they’ll stop being there and you won’t notice an appreciable difference in your life.  This is probably more common for those of us who regularly travel and move, but I imagine it’s pretty much a universal truth.  How many times have you been in a conversation with a friend and suddenly a name is mentioned and you realize you haven’t heard from or even thought of that person in years, and you didn’t even notice?

How many times have you been that name?

And then there are the friends…

This previous weekend, I was blessed with a visit from two of my closest friends from my year in Chicago.  The three of us worked together while I was there and it was with the two of them (and a few other close friends) that I experienced a great deal of the city.  Due to the dramatic upheaval taking place in my personal life that year, I consider my relationship with these two friends to have been paramount to my (barely) maintained sanity.

I have a mere handful of friends on this level, which may be more or less than your average person.  But I count myself lucky because these friends are spread throughout the country.  What an asset to have such support in the varied corners of the country.  It counts for so much.

I mentioned this to a friend the other day, but I’ve come to a place where I’m seeing a real balance in the good and bad of the way I’ve lived my life.  On the one hand, it can be exhausting moving every year, both a physical and mental toll (not to mention a financial poison), and each passing year makes me wonder if I’m drifting irretrievably out of reach of a ‘normal’ life with a career, a wife and a kid.  It’s a lot of potential loss.

And then, I have a weekend with friends like this past one I realize how much I’m also gaining.  I don’t know what awaits at the end of the 10 Cities Rainbow (though, I’m pretty certain it’s not a pot o’ gold), but if I can settle my feet and gaze about me to see the faces of my friends spread throughout the nation, then I think I’ll be pretty well off.

I live a strange life.  I live a hard life.  I live a life, at times, quite lonely.

I live a good life.

Obama Supports Same-Sex Marriage

There’s not much I’m going to add to this video right now.  I believe this to be a tipping point for the movement (the first standing President to support same-sex marriage) and very likely a re-awakening of enthusiasm for Obama’s base.

In the next few days, pundits will go back and forth debating what this means, what it’ll change (if anything) and arguing whether this is just Obama playing politics.  None of that matters.

Today is a momentous day for the fight for equal rights.  I’ll let Obama speak for himself:

An Open Letter to Zach Wahls

Dear Zach Wahls,

I, like the majority of America, first came to know of you when the video of you advocating on behalf of same-sex marriage before the Iowa House of Representatives went viral.

It was clear from watching that 3-minute speech that a young man so well-spoken, personable and handsome would have more than one brush with fame, and so it comes as no surprise that as a 20-year-old man you are once again in the news having written a book (with Bruce Littlefield) celebrating your two mothers, entitled, appropriately, My Two Moms.  You have undoubtedly made numerous media appearances in support of this book, but the one that landed before my eyes was your interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

I should say upfront, I have not read your book yet, though I plan to.

My reason for writing this letter is both to state my admiration while also voicing my concerns.  Your speech before the Iowa HofR was inspirational, engaging and, most importantly, right.  It is perhaps the greatest weakness in the so-called Sanctity of Marriage arsenal to claim that homosexual parents cannot hope to provide the same loving, supportive, neutering environment that heterosexual couples provide.  As more and more states legalize same-sex marriage, there will be an increasing number of examples, such as your family, to undermine such arguments.  Anyone espousing the view that gay couples cannot possibly raise healthy families will soon be left utterly adrift, hung out to dry by their own prejudices.

This is the good side of the publicity you are bringing to the debate.

Unfortunately, I foresee a dangerous trap in this line of argument.

For better or for worse, the strength of your message lies in your moral character.  Your strength of character was what gave your initial speech such force, and it is, as I have gathered from your interview, the underlying premise of your book.  I don’t know you personally, Mr. Wahls, nor do the vast majority of the millions who saw your video or will read your book.  Your integrity is a matter of faith, and for most of us, even those who oppose your view, we are willing to accept it on your word.

But there will be people who want to see you fall.  There are those who cannot wait for the opportunity to exploit weakness, mistakes and missteps.  Public figures are scrutinized all the time and for many, that incessant watchful eye is too much to bear.  Celebrities crack, leaders stumble and public personas are dismantled, leaving the very real human underneath exposed.  Most of the time, these people are famous for reasons that have nothing to do with their character, and yet we still collectively salivate when their failings are paraded before us.

It may be unfair, but you are now the unofficial case study for the moral character of all children raised by gay parents.  Oversimplifying this subject in such a way is plainly detrimental to a legitimate discussion of same-sex marriage, which is exactly why people will want to do it.  If they can make you the focal point of the topic and then find a way to unearth any character flaws or manufacture moments of weakness, they will have effectively stymied debate.

I do not mean to suggest that a conspiracy of enemies will rise up to bring you down.  Quite the contrary, while there will be those in opposition to you who would gleefully watch your character denigrated, you are just as likely to find allies shoveling the dirt on your head if the opportunity presents itself.  This has nothing to do with same-sex marriage.  It’s just the sad state of human nature.

A cheated girlfriend (or boyfriend), a picture of you smoking pot at a party, a DUI or a public breakdown.  Any of the normal mistakes that every person makes at least once in their 20s will serve as the overzealous cross for your crucifixion because you are now the poster child for Same-Sex Offspring.

It’s ridiculously unreasonable.  No one has ever made heterosexuals prove that they can raise morally upstanding children before they get married.  In fact, all of the absolute worst people throughout history have been the product of heterosexual pairings.  No one would ever make the argument that Hitler or Stalin are arguments against hetero marriage (though, maybe they should). 

Rightfully, you are not focusing on such hypocrisies and are making your arguments purely from positive examples of homosexual families.  That may be your undoing.

I do not wish to imply that you have done anything wrong by stepping forward and presenting yourself as an example of a successful product of lesbian upbringing.  There are people in this country who need to see such things before they will believe it.  As preposterous as it is to expect homosexuals to prove they can be fit parents, we live in an environment where just such a thing must be done.

So, no, I am not chastising you for your methods.  I wholeheartedly support you in your fight.  Unfortunately, you have thrust yourself into a battle that on some levels cannot be won.  Those people who insist homosexuals cannot form strong, healthy families are not arguing from a rational point of view, but rather they are appealing to bigotry, ignorance and fear.  A thousand happy, healthy families will never erase their prejudice.

The best you can do is exactly what you and your family have been doing:  Be happy, be healthy, love each other.  Those people who sit on the fence, neither bigots nor enemies but still uncertain on the merits of same-sex marriage will finally be helped off the fence by seeing families like yours.  Alternatively, those people arguing that same-sex couples cannot raise healthy children will likely never be convinced.  They will sit in wait, anticipating the day that you succumb to your humanity.

The LGBT Community and its allies, such as I, support you Zach Wahls and all your endeavors, not because you are the son of lesbians, or an unofficial spokesperson for same-sex marriage, but because equality for all is something all decent, moral people want to see. The kind of decent, moral people who are the product of good parenting,whether gay or straight.

Best of luck.



Currently Local

“How about you?  You a local?”

“Currently local.”

~Snippet of a conversation.

I make a lot of single-serving friends in my life, usually in bars.  When I first moved here, I stopped into a local bar, sat on a stool and after a couple drinks struck up a conversation with a woman sitting next to me.  A few of her friends joined her later, I met them, and then at some point I excused myself and walked home.  (I guess if I was a normal guy that would have been a one-night stand opportunity.)

The other night, I sat in a bar watching a KU basketball game and I met a few strangers, one a family of Jayhawk fans, another a group of fans rooting for our rivals, the Mizzou Tigers.  I had brief conversations with both groups at different points during the game, talked about what I did, asked them what they did and, for that brief period, enjoyed the companionship of total strangers who I will now, almost certainly, never see again.

We all have these moments, especially those of us who drink in bars.  Get a couple drinks in most anybody and they’ll suddenly become best friends with anyone around them.

But what struck me during one of my conversations the other night was one man asking me if I was local.  He asked because most of his companions were from out of town.  In comparison to them, I’m local because I actually live here in Seattle.  But I’m not a local, and I will only be here for seven more months.

So I answered, ‘Currently local.’

Despite my best efforts to ground myself in the city and make it a home, albeit temporarily, I am not from here.  I don’t feel like I’m from anywhere.  Yes, I grew up in Kansas for most of my life, but so much of who I am is a product of my life on the road, away from my hometown, that saying “I’m from Kansas” always feels like half the story, and not the important half.

Of course, the other side to being ‘Currently Local’ is that my life is always in a state of chaos, whereas most everyone else is gradually moving along a timeline.  It’s not that they aren’t changing, it’s that those changes are following a natural progression.  Friends are getting married, having kids.  Ex-girlfriends are dating new guys.  Family members are starting new careers or moving up in their current ones.  And I see it all (thanks in part to Facebook’s relentless timeline), sometimes to my dismay.

The most common refrain I hear from people about my project is, “Good for you, do it while you’re young.”

And yeah, I’m 28.  That’s still young.  I know that.  I’ll be done with this project shortly after I turn 32.  That’s not old, that’s not even kinda old (especially for a man, especially in the modern world).  And when I’m done with this project, I’ll have accomplished something unique and possibly career-defining.

But there are times when I feel like my permanent impermanence is holding me back.  Not so much financially or in terms of a career (though, obviously, yeah), but in terms of relationships and fundamental life choices.  I’m not sure I want to get married, have a family, do the whole domestic thing, but I certainly want the option.  And fatherhood, at least, appeals to me (I don’t want my idiot friends being the only people repopulating the earth).

28, 32, these aren’t exactly the last years of life.  I’ve got plenty of time.  Yet, it’s hard not to look around at a world of people who have set down roots and found their place without wondering if I’m too far adrift.  When I was 22 and watching my friends marry, I pitied them (still do).  But as I approach the end of the project and the number of unmarried friends without careers continues to dwindle, I’m starting to get the sense that I’m the one being pitied.

Maybe that explains why the urge to move is hitting me so early this year.  Usually, at around the 9 month mark, I start feeling that unmistakable antsy need to pack it all up and hit the trail.  But I’m only 5 months in and I can’t help but contemplate my next move, what I’ll do next.  It’s certainly not a strike against Seattle which has been a great city to live in.  I’m just finding it hard not to look ahead.

It’s difficult seeing the end of this project so close on the horizon (only 2 1/2 more years before I reach my ultimate destination, New York City, the 10th city) and not feel a kind of winding down.  There are still two more years before NYC (and two cities I definitely want to live in), and plenty of travails and adventures to have before then (I’m not even sure how I’m going to survive this year, frankly).  But I can’t help but anticipate the end, both as a way of having a resolution and as a way to feel settled.

That’s not to say I’ll stop traveling.  Not by any means.  I expect to be spend my life exploring the world at large, getting away from the States as much as possible.  However, I want to do it while having a residence in New York, a place to call home and return to when my trips are over.  My ideal career would involve traveling one to three months at a time, with prolonged periods back home to write and have some sort of ‘normal’ life, whatever that means.

In other words, I think a permanent address would be kind of nice.

And then, for the first time in 10 years, I will be more than just ‘currently’ local.