The Downside of Freedom

Well, I find myself unemployed for the second time this year. It’s giving me some time to figure out some things about my life – some of them deeply troubling and hard to do. I’m facing the fact that I’m in my late thirties and… well, I still don’t know who I am, what I want to do, or how to move forward. But – I have this blog, I have my words. I have my principles. More importantly, I have support from friends and family.

Now I need a job.

In the meantime, I’ll be looking for employment, writing here on this blog, and, most importantly, editing and submitting content for publication. If there’s one thing about being down and out, it gives you that hard bitten experience and life lessons that I need to put real world struggle into writing.

Here’s to a step up of my game. But, I’ll take any assists.

True Stories

I was twenty four. A group of good friends of mine had invted me to join them to go to Cape Henlopen State Park to enjoy some nice weather. We packed up beach chairs, towels, sunscreen (which I should have used more of), portable stereos, and a ton of snacks and drinks. We took a back road down to Sussex County. And when we arrived on the shores of Cape Henlopen, good times commenced.

Our directions varied. Many took to the ocean, some stayed on the sand. I took some time to read on the beach and start burning myself to a crisp before I eventually wandered over to the water.

I was, at that stage in my life, not adventurous. At all. I played things safe. I didn’t take risks. I still believed that the world had a structure, and that if you played by its rules, you would be rewarded. And, as such, while I loved the ocean, I respected it enough to go only shin deep. I would let the the water lick at my feet.

Then, my friend Erik came up. Erik was bolder by far. Erik was more… everything. He was the guy in the room who everyone eventually gathered around. He had height, charisma, panache, and sheer personality. He stands next to me and he looks out at where my gaze is. Several of our friends were way out in the water. They were swimming and splashing, and generally horsing around.

“What are you doing out here, man?” Erik says.

I let another wave come in, bury my feet in the sand it’s depositing. “Just watching.”

“Why not go out there?”

I looked warily at the ocean. I’m a good swimmer, but I’d never swam in an ocean. “Jellyfish?” I said weakly.

Erik laughed. “C’mon man. You gotta do better than that.”

I hemmed and hawed. “It’s not, you know, like a pool. There’s riptides and stuff.”

Erik scowled. Not a mean scowl. Or even a firmly planted one. It was as transitory as a cloud passing overhead. “Dude.” He said. Dude was his go to word.

And then he started out in the water.

“C’mon, dude.”

“I dunno, I think I’ll stay here,” I said.

He came back to me and he said, “Listen. I’m going out there. And you’re coming with me. You know why?”

I just stared. I was only twenty four. Staring was my thing at that point because honestly I was kind of a dweeb still, a nerd who’d only in his last years of being a teenager finally found enough courage to be who he wanted to be instead of what he was expected to be.

Erik points to our friends. “We’re going out there, because that’s where the girls are.”

So I followed him.

And to this day, I am an avid ocean swimmer as a result. You show me a beach on a summer day, and I will swim in it. I can’t not think of that day every time it happens. The sun in the sky, the salty sea around me, and the feeling of belonging – even with strangers in the surf.

Erik is gone – but his legacy remains in every ocean that I see.

Labors of Love – Welcome To Night Vale

So, it’s been a while, Internet. I’ve been…. kind of busy.

Not having a job is like having one but without any pay. I’ve been working on finding employment and I’m happy to say that I’ve finally succeeded. But, while I’ve been doing that, I’ve also dedicated myself to some pet projects – some literally.

But the project I’m talking about is the kind of thing that you only do if you’re crazy. The kind of thing that you’re doing just for you. The sort of project where you take something that you love, but you have to cut and paste it into something that works even better for you – and you do it without being paid to do it.

In my case, I am an unabashed lover of Welcome To Night Vale. If you’re not familiar with the podcast I highly suggest that you familiarize yourself with it. It’s not for everyone (if you can’t handle heaping doses of absurdity, maybe you shouldn’t visit Cecil in Night Vale) but it is most certainly for me. Each show shares a mostly similar format. There’s a bit in the beginning that shares recent news; then there’s what I call Part A, which is the front end of an episode; then a musical number they refer to as ‘The Weather'; then what I refer to as Part Z, the resolution of the episode and closing credits.

All of these parts are rolled into a single track that they release through different outlets for free. And that largely works – except when it doesn’t.

When the ‘cast started and was in obscurity, there was no news at the front end. You got to dive right into the episodes. As time went on and the ‘cast gained popularity, they started inserting the front matter to let fans know about all sorts of related news. It started as an interjection of no longer than thirty to forty-five seconds, and that was cool. But as they gained momentum, they had more to report. And soon, you found yourself listening to three minutes of infodump. And that was also cool – while they were relevant.

I listen to these podcasts repeatedly – I’m a super fan. I love the show enough to have every episode on my iPhone. But it sucks listening to news that is three years out of date and that I don’t care about any longer. I just want to listen to episodes without them.

Good thing I have some sound engineering training.

So… I’ve started making cuts so I can do without the news entirely and skip straight to Part A, and to wholly skip the Weather if I want to.

It took about six hours to make all of the edits to the freely available tracks on places like Podbay or Soundcloud, and now I have to take each edited segment and convert it into a loop. Then I take that loop and export it via GarageBand to iTunes.

This process… this takes a while. To run three tracks for an episode takes some time (getting the loops added, then creating a new file for each track). But I’m doing it because right now I have the time, and because I really want it. There are few passions I hold, few fandoms adhered to strongly enough, that I’d be willing to do this for. Especially since the ‘cast is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Each episode means I have another episode to process.

Fandom is crazy. But there are things we love enough to put out own personal time into them.

So I’d better get busy – I only have so much time before my new day job comes barreling into my schedule.

I have a lot of work ahead of me.

Where I Am

I know this looks bad, to quote Matt Fraction.

It’s 2:40 in the morning as I start this post. It’s Tuesday. I’m up in the middle of the goddamn night on a Tuesday. A work day. Two weeks ago, I’d have been beside myself. I woke up at six thirty on most days. Four and a half hours of sleep would not have carried the day.

That was when I had a job.

So, it’s okay I’m up at this hour, at least for now. This is, after all, a familiar feeling. I have found that through the years I’ve done good creative work at this hour when everything else is still. No distractions. No phone ringing. No obligations. No expectations. Back when I had supermarkets that were open all night regionally, before the rising gas prices and recessions put Acme’s doors in a locked position overnight, I enjoyed watching drunks and night owls wander the aisles (drunk grocery shopping was a kind of awesome activity that used to happen in wilder years). It’s great some of the things you see at this hour. Folks do things at the odd hours of night that you’d never see them do at any other time of day. There’s so many things we take for granted happening in our sleep. Garbage trucks, street sweepers, cops, construction – and yes, seedy things too that I have had good fortune to stay away from. There’s a lot to see. We usually spend that third of our life asleep during these times and we abandon this side of the world – or most of us do. I have a reputation of being the kind of person who loves the sun – and damn do I love long days in summer – but ask any of my college friends… I’ve always gotten a kind of kick out of the night when I’m allowed some time to run around in it without worrying about the consequences otherwise.

Which I suppose says something about me and a lot of other creatives. Maybe it’s the old ties to lunacy; the belief that when the moon waxes full and it hangs high in the night sky, wild and primal stuff comes out in people. Maybe it’s a strange cocktail of endorphins and serotonin in the blood that comes from interrupted sleep or restlessness. Maybe it’s just the knowledge that by being awake when everyone else is asleep that you’re bucking the rules, slapping your expectations in the face and deciding that you’re the one who gets to decide when to wake and when to sleep. I’ve always liked that perspective. Rise up, stand against what the rest of your peers say and do. Carve a highway through the darkest of nights and light the striped lines on the pavement with your high beams.

Living during the night is a strange kind of freedom, especially in the twenty-four hour a day realm of commerce we have whether we want it or not.


Blog, Fiction, Columns and Art of Maurice Hopkins