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Monday, September 12, 2016

Spitting In The Face Of Change

You are about to head down something that is not so much a rabbit hole, but more of an ant farm - with twists, turns, dead end, and alcoves. The words are an attempt to find the queen, and with the proper mixture of metaphors, we might break even.

For the longest time, I loathed change. Growing up secluded (for the most part) on a farm, in a house filled with books, I had the perfect environment full of constants. If change came into my world, I would lock the doors. Friends moved away. Lust gave way to indifference. Love was ephemeral. Goldfish died. Fluidity and dynamic interaction were not friends. If anything, they were met with anxiety. These three elements would dance until they collided in a meltdown. I strove for non-variables.

And it sucked.

Flux could go take a flying leap.

(I wonder if they've found a link between those who are seasonally-affected and their personal resistance to change?)

Lately, I've found myself on the other side of things, and I enjoy change, evolution, development, whatever the hell you want to call it. Not chaos per se, but the ability to embrace information, thoughts, and emotions that may not have been there before, and watch them grow. No More than watch - to actively experience.  

We have the ability to be agents of change, without laughing maniacally or becoming comic book villains. We also have the ability to change our feelings or points of view in light of new data, rather than try to synthesize everything through our personal simulacra of what life, love, beauty, and success are supposed to be. My cat freaks out at change, due to impressions of the very abusive household she was in before she was rescued. My cat is also a bit of an asshole, for similar reasons. My mantra is to not be like my cat on at least two counts.

I live (for those who haven't encountered me when I've turned into a one-person tourism department) in New Orleans. The people here are an excellent reflection of the architecture of this city. There are run-down shacks. Grand mansions. Building that are centuries old, with two or three facades slowly crumbling, to the point where even the original structure doesn't know what it is anymore. And there are shiny new places, with the best heating, wiring, and plumbing - as were all of these places (probably) at the time they were built. (We'll circle back to this in a bit.)

The city also exists simultaneously in a realm of tradition and ritual while embracing change - even if that change is brought about by entropy. A building crumbles, and (eventually) a new one takes its place.

Recently, I walked into my local watering hole after being away for a month or so (possibly longer - work is a run on sentence, punctuated by sleep) to try and look at the place with fresh eyes and figure out why the hell I started going there in the first place. And there they were - all of the houses described above, lined up at the bar. The difference is that, with "dive bar culture," there is no change.

And that was it.

Nothing changes at any given bar. The archetypes are all there, but the depth of the personalities make any Billy Joel song on the matter seem like a cheap Whitman's Sampler that you'd pick up for someone you really didn't care about on their birthday, because happened to be passing the local pharmacy, and don't want to be a complete jerk.

The people at local bars are fantastic. The minds you will encounter, conversations you will have, and the stories you will hear are amazing - and you get to participate. They are the easiest relationships to maintain, because all you have to do is show up. The magic is always there.

Yet there's another side to this.

It's the part you don't see because you are participating in, well, whatever is happening at your regular bar - which, cosmically speaking, isn't a hell of a lot. The debates about "the best whatever" or the wistful reminiscing that happens when someone plays a song on the jukebox, or the spats that crop up between people - those were happening before you showed up, and they will continue long after you've gone.

But this isn't happening just in my bar. It's happening in every single one that has repeat customers. It's Bukowski's paradise. An eternity of 80 proof comfort. Your best support group. The ultimate cable package where there's always something on, and the channels change as people enter and leave. The dysfunctional family gathering you can walk away from without feeling an ounce of compulsory guilt.

And that was my revelation.

The conversations hadn't changed, regardless of the calendar. People still had the same problems. I guess in the long run, people either resign themselves or figure this is an existential war of attrition, where the victories are Pyrrhic, at best. After all, if people didn't have problems, the bars would be empty. The regular patrons of a bar don't enact change. If I leave, there will be another person to fill my spot. I've never been good at playing an archetype, anyway.

I met a wise man a few days ago. He's been a regular for over 25 years and counting. When we first met, many moons ago, he asked me why I was at the bar. It wasn't one of those, "You're not from around here are you?" questions. Simply put, he said this place was filled with wonderful people who are ultimately miserable. He pointed out that I have a lot of positive things in my life. I know how to dress myself. I know how to use words. I'm functional. So he posed the question again.

I tried to sum it up: I am a deeply flawed and broken individual.

He laughed. That was it. We are all freaks under the same tent. Whether it's the person who is too afraid their estranged relationship; the musician who can't quite establish himself as a ukulele virtuoso on the local circuit; the person who peaked in life while playing high school lacrosse; or the professor who doesn't quite grasp talking with the outside world. Like a commune of hermits. It's a very interesting biosphere. But again, the kings and queens of any bar, are the ones who have been there the longest. At some level, there is an awareness of being broken, and "gooble gobble" bring in more regulars - we'll all feel better that way.

Time to shift gears for a bit.

I've never "belonged" to anything. I tried the Boy Scouts for a few years, but left once I had knot tying down pat. (Most teenage boys in rural areas knew how to start fires, so a lot of what the manual taught was redundant.) Hell, even in my own group of writers and creative types, there is rarely structured collaboration. I just never had the need, nor felt the desire to belong. (I'm also fairly certain this is a mutual feeling modern society has toward  me, so it's not like it is a one-sided relationship.)

Once you transition from patron to "regular" at a bar, you belong. And that was a problem. One of the most successful television shows of the 1980s and early 90s was Cheers, and I do not recommend anyone with fond memories of the sitcom to go back and revisit it. It is not funny. It does not holdup. Odds are, your local bar is funnier, and possibly more dramatic. But it's still a bar. No one "hangs out" at McDonald's to have great experiences with the other clientele, stumbling in late at night and reeking of fries. No one goes to a hospital lobby to blow their money on the vending machines, hanging out with the malady flies. Only at a bar - where nothing changes but the faces.

This is why I've disengaged. The change is not fluid, but rather glacial at a place where "everybody knows your name. A bar is a great place to get a drink. A bar can be a great touchstone in a hectic and chaotic world. A bar is not a good place to make your home, because change can actually be fun and character-building (in a positive, non-dice rolling sort of way).

Now that I've managed to hijack my own blog post, I'm going to go outside and do something.




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