Year in Review

2009.

I did not see that shit coming.

I ended a relationship. I moved out of an apartment I’d lived in for almost 2 years and moved to the coolest zip code in town. I lost 20 pounds, gained back 10 in muscle, and then got skinny as a rail when I quit working out 4 times a week. I started learning Mandarin.

I made the 10 hour drive to Marfa, Texas for no particular reason, got there at 4am, and didn’t see the Marfa Lights. But I did see the sunrise. Then I came back. I drank too much and introduced my face to a parking space, breaking my glasses and a tooth in the process.

I got a promotion to management. Two months later, without a job offer or a whole lot in savings, I quit my job to find something better. I got media passes to a music festival and saw a bunch of my favorite bands for free. I got swine flu. I think. The Monday before Christmas, almost two months to the day after I quit my job, I was offered a better one.

Oh.

And I met a girl.

Carly. Carly, Carly, Carly.

There were moments this year where I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. There were moments I was afraid or uncertain. There were moments where I wasn’t sure I would make it to the inchoate better future I was trying to invent for myself. They were never more than moments because she believed in me, and knowing that someone so incredible believed in me gave me the strength to move mountains.

Her drive to create is inspiring. Her tireless work and seemingly constant success makes me jealous in that motivating way that only writers can be jealous of each other, but more than that it makes me proud. Her wanderlust has given her an endlessly fascinating mind, with perspectives and ways of understanding that I’m still joyfully unraveling every day. Girl’s got a wit like a switchblade.

I may as well be transluscent when she’s around, because she seems to see right into me without the slightest effort. I know it’s partially because she understands me deeply, but it’s also because–like so many of the greatest writers–she has an intuitive understanding of how people work.

And she gave me swine flu. But she helped me get better too. Her family has welcomed me, having me over for the Thanksgiving & Christmas holidays and giving me a place to blog for fun and–if this idea of a dub reggae band called “Lil Big Soundclash” takes off–a new reason to play the guitar.

In a year full of surprises and wild turns, she turned out to be the biggest surprise of my life.

vomiting dharma & what to do about it

bleuurrrgh so cute

bleuurrrgh so cute

I’ve always intended for this blog (and its previous incarnation) to have something to say about my ever-wavering practice as a Buddhist. The trouble, though, is that I’ve never really known what to say. I’ve finally started to figure out why.

Back when I began my dharma journey with the Soto Zen school, the whole idea of saying something about my practice would have been anathema. Transmission outside the scriptures makes it real hard to do much more than pair inspirational quotes with photos of lakes and shit. In the Soto school you sit down and shut up and try to let realization happen spontaneously. If I just stare at this wall long enough, if I just wash these dishes mindfully enough, if I just stop discursive thought once and for all I’ll finally throw that switch and get satori. There’s nothing to say. You just sit down and do it. Nothing to put on a blog except maybe occasional quotes from Dogen.

I got a little excited when I moved on (or scooted backwards, I guess) to the Theravada teachings that’ve gotten oddly popular lately. There was no stuff in Soto Zen. There was lots of stuff in Theravada. Crazy visions! Altered states of consciousness! Maps and charts and diagrams! Descriptions of states that look like this!

But what to blog about? I’ve tried doing the whole “man this commercial really makes me think about compassion, you know?” thing, and I can’t fake that tone very convincingly.  More than that, it feels kinda crass to write “hey I finally hit 3rd jhana today BIG UP” on a blog. I want a place where I can openly discuss this kind of stuff, but just farting it into the ether to be read by perhaps weirdly fascinated but otherwise disinterested parties doesn’t really do the trick. I need a place to put this stuff.

So: I’m trying to start a South Austin Vipassana Group. With all the free time I have.

Apparently there was an irregular group that used to meet a few years ago, but they’ve since disbanded and their organizer isn’t answering my e-mails. I’ve gotten in touch with a couple spaces on South Congress that might could maybe be willing to donate space for an hour a week. I’d love to do it like a reading group, maybe half an hour of sitting and half an hour of book discussion & chillaxing. Would young people show up? Would it be me and a bunch of old hippies?

We’ll see where it goes. Wish me luck. Or metta. Or whatever.

Smelting 2–”Ashes Against the Grain”

null

It’s all about “Limbs.” The 10 minute opener fades in with a pair of guitars kissing in rich feedback and dancing slowly in counterpoint. Then the chords roll in like a sudden spate of ice rain. The black metal band takes a few cues from post-rock (that’s “space music,” for those of you disinclined to enjoy the likes of Explosions in the Sky), deliberately unwinding memorable and sad melodies until the first vocals finally appear after almost 6 minutes. And what vocals.

Where most contemporary BM vocalists are content to disturb you with their best dying pterodactyl impression, John Haughm makes his rasp a part of the band’s foggy texture. Then we get an acoustic interlude that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome! Good God! Is that allowed? They unleash a whole other section of song on you in the last couple minutes, and maybe the most impressive feature of all is that “Limbs” never even considers getting boring. When it fades out and into followup “Falling Snow,” an equally impeccable elegiac rocker, you realize you’ve got something special on your hands.

Agalloch have gotten a lot more compositionally sophisticated since The Mantle, sure, but more importantly they’ve tapped an autumnal vein. With Ashes Against the Grain Agalloch managed to capture quicksilver loneliness in a bottle, and they did it so universally and archetypically that a music inspired by the desolate forests of the American Northwest can sound equally comforting on a cold city block. Maybe they know that a kindred cold spirit can be the best kind of solace.

Smelting #1–The Best Metal of the 00s

This is Smelting, a series I’ll probably bail on halfway through where I do capsules on my favorite metal records of the young century.

This has been a weird decade–Xasthur and other solipsistic bedroom black metal artists got embraced by hipsters looking for a new frontier of difficult outsider music after the mainstreaming of indie. There was a thrash revival, prog somehow became cool as long as you weren’t singing about epic viking victories, and post-hardcore–the 90s biggest candidate for Metal of the Future–mostly tread water. Plus I guess a bunch of longhairs listened to Mercury Rev & My Bloody Valentine a whole lot.

Let’s go.

Pig Destroyer – Phantom Limb

ew guys

ew guys wtf

Gross cover. Incredible album. Drummer Brian Harvey works sophisticated jazzy fills into his warp speed blastbeats, guitarist Scott Hull brings in elements of doomy sludge & thrash to expand the limits of the genre, and vocalist JR Hayes brings grisly wit to the standard gory madlibs of grindcore–to cap off a catalog of a dismembered woman’s remains he howls “your legs/look so sexy out of context.” They were inhumanly relentless at Deathfest this year, and this album cements their status as the most forward-thinking grindcore band of the new millennium.

Lucero — “When You Decided To Leave”

i ordered a lucero shirt today

this one
.

they’re pretty much one of my favorite bands working right now

the new album has horns and organ

the good parts are like the clash covering otis redding at the grand ole opry

the bad parts are like a ska band trying to rip off the hold steady

this song is not on that album, but i’ve listened to it about 30 times today.