What can a white, heterosexual, cisgender male do? Listen.

This past week has been loud.

Our entrance into the Gilded Phage erupted in protests, violence, and hate speech, while Twitter fights, Facebook rants, and, most vital, thoughtful blog posts remain at pre-Election levels. Voices are still reaching the cheap seats as dire warnings of an encroaching wave of racism and bigotry are met with caustic dismissals demanding people “Wait and see” and “Stop whining.” It’s a wall of sound that would make Phil Spector tumescent.

This election proved one thing: there are a lot of white, heterosexual, cisgender males in this country, and despite assertions that they are the new oppressed minority, they remain both the most powerful and vocal force in American politics. As a member of that demographic, I have never felt so dismayed to be so visible.

For the last year, ever since I completed 10 Cities, I’ve been largely silent. Up until last week, this website had gone dark and I had minimized my Facebook presence (I’ve remained somewhat active on Twitter; my apologies). I’ve been practicing a skill that doesn’t come naturally to me: Listening.

Listening to voices that aren’t white, heterosexual, cisgender, and/or male is critical for the continued growth of our society and for our growth as individuals. We only need look at last Tuesday to know what’s at stake when we don’t.

One of the ways I’ve been reminding myself to be a better listener is intentionally seeking out voices that wouldn’t naturally enter my sphere of interests. As a white, heterosexual, cisgender male, I’m striving to engage with the points of view of those who aren’t. I’ve not intentionally avoided or ignored those voices in the past, but by nature of our societal structure, I’ve done it all the same.

So far, this endeavor has had the greatest impact in my consumption of art, particularly music and literature. I’ve read assault narratives and about rape culture (Alice Sebold and Kate Harding), read fiction from people of color (Colson Whitehead and Zadie Smith; Zadie pisses me off because her first novel is just so damn good) as well as non-American authors (Arturo Perez-Reverte). I’ve read many other authors (including plenty of white males) this last year, but I hope to find even more diverse voices next year. 

Additionally, and to a much greater extent, I’ve been listening to a more varied slate of musical artists. My musical taste has always been eclectic, but my go-tos have generally been white, straight dudes. It seems like a trivial thing because it’s an easy thing; I love music and I love finding new artists. And yet, as easy as it is to do, it still had to be a conscious choice. Ultimately, that minimum effort to expand my palate has been deeply enriching.

To that end, I’m concluding this post with a by-no-means-exhaustive list of artists who are not white, or not male, or not straight, or not cisgender. The list could expand indefinitely, but these just happen to be some that I’ve come to really appreciate over the last year and who, importantly, offer a broader perspective.

And, finally, to my fellow white, heterosexual, cisgender males: There’s no prize for listening, no pat on the back; there’s just the pleasant reality that so many voices deserve our attention and we are invariably enriched by the simple experience of hearing a new perspective.

I hope you enjoy the music and that you’ll keep listening.

Gallant – Episode

Against Me! – Black Me Out

Tegan and Sara – Boyfriend

Lydia Loveless – Midwestern Guys

Solange – Don’t Touch My Hair

I bought a new bookshelf…

I’m just over a week shy of 9 months here in Brooklyn. June 1st will be the 10th anniversary of the beginning of my project, with only 3 more months after that to officially finish it out, an occasion I’ll commemorate with my 18th tattoo. (Another fun fact: December 1st will mark the longest amount of time I’ve lived in one place since I left Kansas.)

So I bought a bookshelf.

Over the years, I’ve stored my books in a variety of ways. In Charlotte, there was the makeshift shelving of a recently graduated male:


In Philly, my tower grew vertically if not aesthetically (you’ll notice I’m still rocking a few VHS to go with my totally bitching VHS/DVD combo TV):

Entertainment Library

In later years, the shelving varied but I thankfully moved on from the milk crate stylings.

Book Shelf

Many of the books that began this journey with me are no longer in my possession, lost either to financial/practical needs or borrowed and never returned. As I progressed through my decade on the road, I grew reluctant to buy new books. Besides for the cost, they were simply more things to pack up and move each and every year. It seemed like such a waste when public libraries were just as convenient.

That is, until this year. Somehow, despite using the Brooklyn library for most of my reading needs, I’ve managed to add more than a dozen books to my collection, which for the past few years had been steady or shrinking. That is no longer the case.

My goal for the better part of my project was to get all of my earthly possessions down to 2 boxes and a suitcase. I never quite made it there as, at my leanest, I still required 3 boxes, 1 suitcase and 1 shoulder bag to accommodate my belongings. An admirable go of it, at least.

Living with less has always been more a product of necessity than some kind of spiritual mantra. Why bog down my existence with stuff if it was only going to make my already difficult life even harder?

In the process of trying to streamline my life, I’ve also gotten a little lazier about unpacking. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have at least one cardboard box full of shit serving double duty as a table or nightstand. It just made sense: One less piece of furniture to buy/find and one less box to pack when I moved again.

Which brings me to the present and my newest bookshelf.

It’s slowly been sinking in that I’m not moving this year. Barring unforeseen circumstances, I plan on re-upping my lease for the first time ever and sticking through a second year. Other than perhaps lugging it across the hall to a bigger bedroom, my stuff is staying put.

So I bought a bookshelf, put it together and placed it where my last unpacked box had been sitting.

I haven’t suddenly become a spendthrift. Everything I own still fits inside a bedroom that’s barely 9’x9′. I like the minimal life. But everything I own is also out of boxes, no longer staged for a quick move. I’m gradually acclimating to the idea that I will still be here for a second autumn, winter, spring, summer…

Unless, of course, I have a panic attack in the next 3 months and move to Moscow.

Nah, that probably won’t happen.

The next step: Get some art on my walls.

I’m here.
I’m settled.
I’m staying?

Peggy Olson Queen

I’m Almost There

You're Almost There

Four months is plenty of time.

A lot can and will happen between now and September 1st. In fact, as the weather improves, options open up. No one wants to just let two or three months slip away into oblivion, but the brutal cold does have a way of making me want to huddle up in a blanket and turn the lights off. I wasn’t exactly a hermit this winter, but on the grayest days I kept to myself. Now, though, my aim is not to waste the little time I have left here in Boston.

Because once I’m done with Boston, I’m done with the project, and that is a crazy thought.

Boston from Charles

That’s not entirely true, as the tenth year and tenth city, New York, must still be lived. But unlike every year before it, once I’m in NYC, there isn’t another destination ahead of me. That’s it, the end of the road. The end of a road.

The most frequent questions I used to get were about how I picked my cities or how I found an apartment or job, or if it were lonely doing what I do. Now, though, with only one city left, the question I get most is, “What’s next?”

I suppose that after devoting a decade of my life to such an expansive project, it’s only natural that people would assume there was something else grand on the horizon. 10 Countries / 10 Years, perhaps? Move to Africa? Hitchhike to the moon?

The truth is, I haven’t a clue. I’d like to be able to say, “For my next trick…” but I really don’t have a good goddamn idea what I’m going to do next. I’d love to travel the world, but I don’t want to be just another yuppie tourist collecting life ‘experiences’ like postcards. Traveling the way I want to travel would require substantial funds, something that I’ve never had.

There’s writing, of course. My first and only true love has always been the written word and this entire project arose out of a desire to turn my passion into a career. Honestly, though, I’m not sure I’m any closer to realizing that dream than I was when I first began traveling almost 9 years ago. Certainly, my writing has gained greater exposure and I’ve had my share of publishing credits, but none of that necessarily translates into long-term financial stability. Truth be told, the modern literary landscape suggests that my tastes and style are very much out of vogue, so long-term financial stability probably isn’t in the cards for me unless I decide to write a YA novel about a post-apocalyptic world.

That is, ultimately, the life I chose to live and there’s no regret in it.

I don’t know what’s next for me, and despite the many uncertain paths I’ve taken in life, this may be the first time I’ve ever been able to say that. There’s no college ahead of me, no ‘next’ city. Maybe nothing comes after New York. Maybe my next great project is waiting to be discovered.

That’s a little terrifying. A little exciting, too.

I’m almost there, but I’m here now.

Welcome to Allston

This May: Spread The Love

Art is nourished by criticism. An honest and educated appraisal of a work’s strengths and weaknesses helps us better appreciate art, both as creators and consumers. I say this up front so it is clear that what I am about to propose is not attacking art criticism or art critics. It is a worthy profession, an important one in the right hands, even a noble endeavor for a select few.

Criticism, though, is becoming angrier and duller. As the adage goes, everyone is a critic, and this has never been more true than in the Internet Age. This wondrous invention that allows us to experience the world from the comfort of our bedrooms is filling up with poison, and we’re all responsible for it.

We use Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, blogs, forums, and innumerable websites to spout off on all manner of experiences, and with inevitable frequency, we are voicing displeasure. We can’t simply click past, our disapproval must be known. We feel compelled to inform the creator that they have failed and then troll the fan base. The world cannot be allowed to spin another minute without it being known that this random thing that you, of your own volition, experienced did not live up to your satisfaction.

So here is my proposal:

For the month of May, let us refrain from negative criticisms.
Instead, let’s focus on the positive and ‘Spread the love’.

This will not be easy, I know.

For all of May, refrain from criticizing Youtube videos, skip the Facebook bashing, don’t tweet about a movie you loathed (or its stars) and let your disdain for a TV show subside. Don’t even hit the thumbs down button on Stumbleupon. Just move on. Criticism is not all bad, but maybe, just maybe, we’ve become so obsessed with what we hate that we’re losing sight of what we love. So, for 31 short days, why not refocus our energy on enjoying art?

Suggestions for things to do as an alternative to criticizing:

1. Share a favorite work of art with a friend or stranger.

2. Read positive reviews of art you’ve never experienced and consume it.

3. Write a positive review of something you loved.

4. Request art recommendations from friends.

5. Close your browser and go outside; see a live band or go to a movie theater, or get cozy in a chair at your local bookstore and read two to three chapters.

6. Watch porn.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter, just expend the energy some other way. Be cool.


I know it will be a struggle for most people, it will be for me, too. But I think we need a hiatus from our jobs as the world’s critics. It’s not like it pays well.

Before I’m accused of squashing Free Speech or I’m dismissed as a ‘Love Is All You Need’ hippie, let me reiterate that I’m not proposing the abolishment of all negativity. This is a finite challenge I’m proposing for all of us, like a New Years Resolution or Lent, except instead of trying to lose weight or fasting for spiritual purposes, we agree to refrain from spewing hatred for one month. And then, in June, we can return to our regularly scheduled vitriol.

I assure you, the world will not stop spinning if you delay telling Dave Matthews fans how much he sucks, nor will a new ice age befall us if the failings of the new Spider-man movie aren’t thoroughly documented on your blog. Terrible art exists and it deserves to be called out for its shortcomings, but for the month of May we can ignore it in order to celebrate the truly great art.

To address some other possible concerns:

1. This challenge is about art. Politics and science require constant scrutiny. Which is not to suggest that art is lesser than politics or science – not by any means – only that art’s impact on the world isn’t as immediate or dire.

2. If you make your living as an art critic, it might not be feasible for you to only write positive reviews. Then again, maybe your editor would be on board if you devoted May exclusively to spotlighting your favorite works. This should be easy for non-professional critics.

3. Even if you’re not someone who regularly discusses art, use this month to spread the word on what you like. You may just introduce someone to their new favorite band, book or show.

4. If you enjoy the idea, don’t feel like you have to limit yourself. Spread the love to other realms of your life.

5. If you think this is an insipid, meaningless gesture, maybe you’re right. But why not give it a try for a month anyway, what could it hurt?

Don’t think of it as giving up criticism. Think of it as a month’s vacation from things you don’t like. So this May, practice the fine art of saying something nice. You might even grow to like it.

Thumper Quote

If you like this idea and plan on participating, please share this post and use #SpreadTheLove to keep it trending. What could one month of positivity bring about?

Fiction is often the best Fact

“Fiction is often the best fact.” ~ William Faulkner (ostensibly)

I am, first, foremost, forever a fiction writer above all. Despite the poetry, despite the essays and articles, despite 10 Cities / 10 Years, the reason I write is because of fiction, and when all is said and done it’s the form I cherish most. I’ve read thousands of books, fiction and non-fiction, and while I’ve learned a tremendous amount from the latter and had my mind and worldview expanded because of it, no book has ever carved as deep an impression in me as the best works of fiction.

Faulkner’s assertion that “Fiction is often the best fact,” is a big part of that. We have two ways of learning about our world. The first, research and empirical evidence is best explored in works of non-fiction, whether that be science, history, math or even, to a lesser degree, philosophy.

The other way we learn about existence is through personal experience of our world. This is a far less accurate, reliable and repeatable means of learning about our world, yet for the majority of us it is this knowledge that we lean on most heavily. Our beliefs, prejudices, preferences and morality may be informed by factual evidence, but they are rooted in our experiences.

Which is why fiction matters. A non-fiction writer gathers information and presents a narrative with a more-or-less specific conclusion. A fiction writer, on the other hand, merges both experience and evidence, memories and education into a literary story with characters who, at worst, represent an amalgamation of people or, at best, become true to life living souls, as real as anyone you’ve ever met in life. The story that is told is not true in a technical sense, but the greatest works of literature hold more truth than any textbook.

I came to the above quote and newest tattoo while on a Wiki rabbit trail that led me to reading up on Gonzo Journalism, Hunter S. Thompson’s rousing writing style that mixed personal narrative with impersonal journalism. Thompson was an inimitable writer (as proof, read anyone who has tried), and his articles and books are among the most thrilling true-life stories you will ever read. In an introduction to one of his most famous works, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson wrote:

“More or less…and this qualifier is the essence of what, for no particular reason, I’ve decided to call Gonzo Journalism. It is a style of “reporting” based on William Faulkner’s idea that the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism—and the best journalists have always known this.”

In the process of reading about this idea, I came across the quote, “Fiction is often the best fact,” credited to William Faulkner, the brilliant southern novelist.

Here’s the thing about that quote, though: I can’t find any evidence that Faulkner ever said it. At least, not those exact words. Many quote websites list him as saying, “The best fiction is far more true than any journalism,” though there doesn’t seem to be a specific source for it. Apparently it was just something he said. Despite the Wikipedia page on Gonzo Journalism specifically attributing “Fiction is often the best fact” to Faulkner, I wasn’t able to track down where or when the author said or wrote it.

And isn’t that perfect? It’s not so important whether or not the words in this form ever actually emerged from Faulkner’s pen or mouth because we know that the sentiment was essentially his. Or maybe we don’t. Maybe Thompson made it all up. Thompson put a lot of emphasis on accuracy in his writing, and yet he also knew that absolute accuracy was never possible.

That is the beauty of fiction. Whereas the academic arts such as science and history (rightfully) make stringent demands for veracity, literature plays with facts, muddles them with lies and peppers in details plucked from the ether. And yet, if the writer has done her or his job right, when the final product comes out, it has the revelatory impact of an entire year of collegiate study.

As a writer, I may be forced to make my bread and butter on gimmicks like 10 Cities because literature is a dying breed (unless it boasts a vampire or teenage protagonist), but make no mistake: Fiction is where I live and die. Everything else is just passing the time.

Fiction is often the best Fact context

"There is no humor in heaven" tattoo in black ink

There Is No Humor In Heaven

“Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.”
~ Mark Twain, Following The Equator

Starting in college, I began getting tattoos that represented various facets of my personal philosophy. Considering the direction of my life, it seems rather prescient that my first tat was “the Road is Life” from Kerouac’s On The Road.

Now, 15 tattoos into my inkification, I have added one more literary icon to my chest plate: Mark Twain. I have always been a fan of the great American satirist, even taking a course in college devoted entirely to him (taught by the incomparable Susan K. Harris), but this was the first quote of his that struck me not as more than just a pithy insight, but also a universal truism.

In fact, I didn’t come across this quote through reading Twain. Instead, this phrase was brought to my attention while reading Touched With Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison, a masterful investigation of the link between bipolar disorder (or manic depression) and the artistic genius. I cannot recommend highly enough this scholarly exploration of mental illness and creation. So rarely does a book tickle both the right and left hemispheres of the brain like this work does.

So why did this quote stick out so much that it would earn valuable (and ever dwindling) skin on my chest?

Over the years of this blog, I have written about both my personal struggle with mental illness as well as my adoration for the art of stand-up comedy. If you have any familiarity with comedy, you’ll immediately know why those two are linked. Stand-up comedians are generally known as miserable people in real life, the type who will turn their personal misery into comedy gold for an audience. With the uptick of popularity for the form in the last couple decades, that is by no means a rule anymore, but the great comedians from George Carlin to Louis CK, from Don Rickles to Maria Bamford have always pulled their best material from personal darkness.

Humor doesn’t come from the perfect peace of heaven, it is formed in the stark despair of hell.

Twain’s quote could be limited to the art of humor and it would still be profound (especially considering that he remains the greatest American humorist of all time), but I believe that he meant to convey even more in those simple words. It’s not just humor that is forged out of hurt. The basic creative spark is birthed there, too. Are there musicians and writers who have created great works without suffering from mental illness or facing horrific life events? I’m sure. But they’re the minority.

Any study of artistic achievement and mental illness will reveal that the two are intrinsically linked.* A creative mind will create regardless of circumstances, but creativity spurred on by the dark nights of the soul will almost always produce works of grander, more universal elegance. As technology advances and our ability to predict the genetically preordained occurrence of depression grows stronger, our society will face the challenge of whether we should pre-select for healthier, non-inflicted offspring.

If I were to be a potential parent, I could understand the instinct to protect my child from the pain of mental illness, especially that of depression and its many variants. As someone wholly devoted to the creative longevity of the species, though, I find the idea that we could selectively eliminate mental illness quite terrifying. What great works of art would be lost if such possibilities had been available to us centuries ago? (A fair rebuttal to that concern is to ask, “What great works of art would we have had if the mentally ill had not succumbed to their disease before their time?”)

There is no simple answer.

The question of whether or not mental illness in general (and depression, specifically) has its benefits in human society and art is one that we will likely never satisfactorily resolve. But, as long as such ailments still exist, we can take solace from the truth that the erstwhile Samuel Clemens articulated so many years ago: There is no humor in heaven.

*This is also likely true of important scientists, but I haven’t studied that enough to make a definitive statement.