Issue 46 - 03/28/22
I Am Newsletter
But I Am Free
- Hey Whose Sword Is This
- Clap Along if You Feel Like Happiness Is the Truth
- How to Leave Town
- I Am Tinkerbell
- Should I Buy a Pair of Cowboy Boots?
- Stall Graffiti
- Quiz: The Beatles or The Beach Boys?
- Office Chart
Hey Whose Sword Is This
Chief Portent Correspondent Matt Spradling
As we prepare for our next Ren Fair, my thoughts are drawn to the muddied events and repercussions of yesteryear.
Is it cursed? I hope it's cursed. Life has been too good lately. If I'm going to get some karmic comeuppance, better at the hands of a mysterious cursed sword than something mundane.
What are the origins of this dubious dagger? This curious cutlass? This scintillating scimitar? This fucked foil? Well that's the whole question, isn't it? Try to pay attention.
A meditation: you're at the Texas Renaissance Festival outside of Houston. It's rained to fuck and so far you've gotten the authentic peasant experience of schlocking miles through the mud and paying $7 for a miller high life while shifty figures file behind you through the shadows. A wizard mocks you for being bad at math while buying a cute little hat from him. There are fried mushrooms involved in one way or another.
Through all of these trials and more, you retain your sense of power, self-respect and agency, confident in the knowledge that you are here for one singular goal, imperceptibly focusing on it like a hawk. You are going to leverage the fruits of your labor in order to rise above the mundane squalor of serfdom.
You are going to buy a sword.
And then you buy two swords. The time slipped away so slow and yet so fast, and, well, as they say, there is no magical "the one" out there for anyone, no matter how thoroughly you search, fraught with hope and fear. So you settled a little. It's okay. A pair of witchering swords is no minor trinket. A goal completed. A promise to an old friend kept (the friend being yourself from a week ago who wanted to buy a sword - one of the finest friends one can have).
And yet, the cloud formations shift with a new breeze, the hour grows late, the sun sinks low, and fate rears its obscure and enigmatic head. The shopkeeper, perhaps knowing he has overcharged a gentle and wretched creature who does not have it in his heart to haggle, leans in close after wrapping the second of your two swords in saran wrap as though you aren't about to take three steps out the door and whip out your new steel in the middle of a busy thoroughfare. He tells you that he might have a gift for you, and you instinctively listen for the roll of twenty-sided die. There is no twinkle in his eye, no signal that you are being let in on some unique and soul-affirming venture. Instead there is the simple, tired thoughtfulness of the blossom that on occasion may sprout through the pavement of commerce.
And yet in this mundanity there is borne perhaps more promise than in the spectacle, the perfunctory nature of the transaction embodying not the wonder of an erupting geyser nor the fortuitousness of a shooting star, but the low, understated current which drives the world ever forward.
So he hands you a third sword.
He's been unable to sell it for two seasons now, he tells you, and decided that if it failed to sell yet again, he would give it away on this the final day of the festival. Where the twin swords are elegant and light, this unforeseen third is hulking and ungainly, edges widening seemingly at random along its considerable length. The frayed and weathered hilt whispers inscrutable tales of its past, sporting holes and empty indentions where settings are meant to shine. Its weight makes the twins feel like toothpicks in comparison, and there is no sheath to be found, for what cut of cloth could be supple and stubborn enough to conceal the sheer power of the anime bullshit now resting in your dusty palms?
You step outside and hold it aloft to ask your friends if anyone wants it; they are startled and can only offer concerned shrugs. You step back into the merchant's tent and offer thanks for this woeful windfall. There is no hint of trickery or predation in his face, but can you really read a face? Your party shares its burden through the mud once more, garnering confused and curious looks along the way, and eventually returns home with the spoils of conquest.
It's probably cursed.
But, in the meantime, before it finally considers its chosen calf satisfactorily fattened and elects to have its dark way with me on some portentous and opportune night, I would like to learn something about it if I can. If anyone recognizes it from some ill-begotten, mid-2000's JRPG, or a milk carton, or the no-fly list, I'm all ears. My home is open for appointments if you want to come heft it like some spiritually adrift American King Arthur and see if it whispers sweet nothings into your ear, after waivers and tapas of course.
Clap Along if You Feel Like Happiness Is the Truth
Chief Loh Correspondent Loh Hunt
Wow. Back again. I previously thought it would be a good bit to write a single article full of grammatical errors and then peace out. I'd forever be remembered by A Newsletter readers as a one hit wonder. There are worse things in life like how Target has been consistently out of PB+Grape Jelly Uncrustables for the past 3 weeks. It's truly a flucking tragedy. Thank you for sending your condolences during this very difficult season of my life.
Side note: people who say "this is my single season" should be sent to jail immediately. It's not a season. I've been on this ride for 11 years. That's a box set.
I sent a joke to a friend about how having a conversation with me is never one singular story. I have to have at least 7 detours for it to be a real conversation. I think I have very bad, undiagnosed ADHD. I feel it is too late to do something about it now though. It keeps me spicy. So, you all get the pleasure of reading many different detours and a ton of rambling. I will say reading my thots is cooler than hearing them because you can skip around. Maybe 2 paragraphs down you'll get the continuation of the story I originally started telling. Razzle. Dazzle. Them.
Anyways, I am back again after bullying Matt into letting me type out of my stream of consciousness and call it a Newsletter worthy submission.
Today's topic is weird. I feel weird expressing feelings, but here goes nothing. The other day someone asked me if I was happy. It was unprompted during a catch up with a friend I hadn't sat down 1:1 with in a while. My immediate answer was "no." I should have won a medal for how quickly I answered. I guess that means that's my true answer? Maybe? Maybe it was a sad gorl bit? Maybe it was what my brain intended to say? Who knows?
I sat with this question for a while longer after our chat concluded. I think I was bothered by how quickly I answered "no." As a society, we're taught to always be happy. Toxic positivity is a real thing. When someone asks, "how are you?" you're not supposed to answer in an actual feelings dump of all of the emotions you've been holding onto for years. You either fake it or hope people pick up "I am doing terribly and this is not great and this bad memory from 8 years ago is still something I think about often" when you say "Doing well. How about you?"
So I got uncomfy with my feelings for a while. If you know me, you know my feelings really only come out when alcohol is involved. Tequila Loh has a great way of telling everyone how much they mean to her. Sober Loh, not so much. My first self-reflective question was: "well, what is happy?" The obvious answer is "Shrek." Shrek is happy. Shrek is great. If you have not seen this film or any of the films in that brilliant cinematic series, you should stop reading this article and go watch them right now. 1, 2, and 4 are on 'Flix. 3 is on Hulu. Pretend you are Daddy Bezos for a day and get both streaming service subscriptions.
But aside from Shrek, what is "happy?" I have a fantastic life. I have friends who make me a better human and I am surrounded by people who I see as the human form of sunshine. I have a great family. I have a steady job I like and a roof over my head. And yet, I replied "no." So why? Why would I not be happy? Is it because I am not Shrek? Probably.
I definitely cannot change not being Shrek. "Don't let your dreams be dreams" except when your dream is to live in a swamp with storybook characters. Maybe save that for an acid trip or become an influencer and host a "retreat" where you get people to pay you thousands so they can mess with ayahuasca for a week and call it a healing journey. Po-tay-toe. Po-tah-toe.
But I think I have settled on why I said "no" (outside of never being able to be Shrek). I'm mourning the life people told me I "should" have without even realizing it. That's not fair to do to myself. I am closing in on 30 quicker than I want. Gen Z refers to me as vintage and "oh god you're so old." The reality is I feel I am 22 watching my body get older but my mind stays in that "Holy shit. What is life?" mentality. I still have no idea what I want to do with my life career wise. I've switched a few times and I'm not sold on one just yet. I don't have a husband or dog or house or kids or whatever they sell you as the American Dream. So when I say "no, I'm not happy," it's because I somehow feel pressure to want what I don't have and what I am expected to have and also that I feel like I've been a disappointment to someone by not having these things.
I was on the phone with a friend this morning and she said "well, I've never gotten to celebrate you, so I will be thrilled when I get to throw you a baby shower." And that hurt. But it hurt because 1. I do not particularly see myself having children and 2. Why do I have to meet certain life criteria in order to be celebrated? So that was hard. It honestly sucked to hear that. I know they did not mean it in a negative way, but just because I don't want the traditional "American Dream" doesn't mean I shouldn't be celebrated.
The reality is I am in love with the life I have right now. I am independent. I pay my bills on time with my own money. And it's not with Monopoly money. I can be wildly selfish with my time and it doesn't affect another human. I can go to as many workout classes as I want and not have to worry about someone waiting on me or finding childcare. I can sleep when I want and for how long I want. I can spend a weekend painting canvases because I think it's fun. I can eat Uncrustables at 7pm and not have to worry about keeping track of another human's nutrition. I can get in my car, blast "Unwritten" down a highway at 3am with no place to actually go. And there's something incredibly awesome about having that freedom.
I guess this is my way of telling myself it is okay to be in love with the life I've created even though it might not match what someone expects happiness to look like. You can be happy for your friends who follow the traditional path while also being happy with your life looking completely opposite to theirs. It's also okay to always carry a little hurt about not being able to be Shrek. That's a tough pill to swallow.
Ok get out of my swamp now.
How to Leave Town
Chief Live/Laugh/Love Correspondent Matt Spradling
Hello, it's root beer Matt. Think of it like whiskey Alex. There is no "but." I should be taken exactly as seriously. Also the root beer has tequila inside of it.
So lately I've been doing this thing where I get older. Think of it as like a diet; the juice I'm taking in excessive amounts of is the gradual but inexorable march of time (back pain), and the things I'm shedding in the process are sentimentality, romantic views of the world and major storehouses of childlike wonder.
You know how changes don't happen all at once, they're more of a gradual evolution and then something might happen to highlight it and you say "oh wow look at this change" and then you play up that moment for stories as the time or event that caused you to change, but really it was just a broad, organic spectrum of time and life that even now continues to occur? You know, that? Lately that change highlight for me has been realizing that I don't feel as much wonder about the world. I don't know, you read the previous paragraph, so I won't linger on it.
I think when you're in high school and then your early 20's, that's the age when your brain fully comes online and you learn about the world and discover what you believe and what you enjoy and everything is bursting like spring and overwhelmingly emotional, and mundane things like your favorite band releasing an album take on a genuinely religious level of importance and awe. I had that in spaaades. Every time I see a Bright Eyes album cover my eye twitches. I have made my feelings about Radiohead and Liverpool abundantly clear in this newsletter before and those are two of the things that most carry that flame onwards, so to speak in as pretentious a way possible. Idk I fell asleep last night caressing a copy of The Road like any faithful white man on a full moon.
And yet those feelings surface more and more rarely. I can't remember what the last thing to make me cry was, nothing gives me chills, and I certainly can't think of something recently that made me feel like I did in my bedroom in high school, hunched over comically large speakers, playing guitar to the songs I loved with red mood-lighting on.
I don't mean for this to sound negative. I'm not sure whether it's positive or negative. It's just honest. And I think that illuminates the heart of the matter - it's not prescriptive at all, it's just descriptive. I'm not assigning or creating meaning where none is deserved, I'm just living in the present, and my present just happens to be a 28 year old with slight love-handles who gets blisters when he runs and likes to play games on the weekend after his very privileged job has exhausted him ad infinitum.
Used to, when I'd visit my hometown, I'd drive around the neighborhood, and my childhood house, and my old favorite roads imbued with countless memories of nights driving around listening to very specific Radiohead songs (I admit I have a problem.) It was all very romantic, and all the things you'd expect - peaceful, yet sad, and fun, yet painful. But lately, I just haven't felt any of that. I drive through these places, and a road is a road. An intersection is an intersection. A park is a park. They once were mine, but are not anymore, and not in that mournful way, but merely a factual way. There are new kids driving new cars living their new lives there and not even listening to The Killers while they do it. And that's just how it works. Is that why people get so hung up on tradition? Like if there were things the new kids did that were the same as the things I - and the kids before me - did, then those things would be alive and we would feel some connection to something bigger than ourselves? Extrapolate that to whatever extent you want. But I don't think that thinking is quite real. It would just be something manufactured to make us feel like we still had that spark. Unless maybe whatever that hypothetical Thing is actually served some practical cultural purpose.
I'm also keenly aware of how privileged a position it is to have ever had these fond memories and places to call my own at all. How many children grew up without that, or desperate to get away from places that held nothing but painful and empty experiences?
When I proposed to Sam this time last year, we took a stab at sentimentality. We drove around to all the old milestones that held significance in our relationship, and listened to the music we used to listen to while we did it. I can't speak for her, but to me, this was a way of honoring the history of our relationship even though it didn't necessarily cause me to feel that same thrill and wonder as before. It wasn't visiting church; it was walking past a tree where there used to be a treehouse and simply acknowledging that. Tip of the hat. Sorry about all the squirrels. Plus I think the location where I asked her out has since become a McDonald's parking lot, so that really sets the soul ablaze.
But in a way that's just as nice, if not nicer; you know how with music, most of our listening pleasure comes from the anticipation of knowing a good part is coming up, and how that actually kind of carries over into experiencing stories (i.e. movies and games), casting doubt onto the concept of spoilers and pristine first experiences being what it's all about? You know, that? Maybe it's the same with life - experiencing the first time around is great and profound and fun, but it's also great to sort of have those things as trophies on your shelf, being able to visit and remember and honor them, and of course that doesn't make you feel the way you did when that trophy was initially earned, but it's nice to have a collection, and it's nice to pay your respects. Maybe the pessimistic observer might call that a museum and the optimistic a home.
Back around last fall, when we were living in a house which was a Pretty Bad time, I wrote some of this thing titled "How To Move". I wrote about how I sometimes harbor this notion about disappointing my childhood self and how that really gets to me, but ultimately I have honored him about as much as possible because I am still him, and I can trace the throughlines from here to there and while there's been unimaginable growth, in a way, very little has changed for me. When habits and propensities and strengths and weaknesses remain largely consistent, you can almost map out what will happen in the future - not in a no-free-will way, just an averages kind of way. It lets you draw a line between him and you now, laying in bed waiting for catastrophe.
You have so many of the same needs as before, like hiding and playing. Then there was more asking what is really different between toys and games and sports? More regarding sports, and how it's important not to mock playfulness despite the abrasive contrast between such inherent whimsey and some of the most toxic traits present in fandom at large. And then more and more, and something about the suffering of men and how you simply can't generalize and say the world is easy for hordes of suicidals. Some wondering about how much emotion we all feel that is innately the urge to protect our childhood selves. A conclusion about how really those throughlines still exist because I am still him, and why shouldn't I be, other than if the world twisted and broke him in some way? And how that is as much as I can do to honor him: to value and preserve.
And yet, I can't preserve that, because it's not a different entity, it's just me. In the end, you're still just you. Quite literally. There isn't a past
you. There are only memories of a time you made certain decisions for
certain reasons that may not be the same in the present. Places are still places, but their context and appearance change eventually.
Memories remain memories, for all their splendor and all their impotence. I don't know, I'm root beer Matt.
I Am Tinkerbell
Chief Vessel Correspondent Marina Martinez
It's funny, sometimes, how the mental image you hold of yourself differs so vastly from how others perceive you. It can sometimes be jarring, especially when the opinion comes from a group of people close to you. And of course, I'm not MAD at my friends for unanimously voting me as 'person most likely to cry somewhere at a party' or 'person most like creamed corn' during a fun (remotely-played) party game, but those descriptions vastly differ from how I view myself. Friends, apparently, view me as bland (I've never had creamed corn, I'm assuming this is accurate), vulnerable, and the type of person who would be comfortable enough to cry at a party. As I'm writing this, I view myself as a vengeful valkyrie ready to paint my lips red with the blood of my enemies.
There is obviously some sort of disconnect here. I think I can explain it, though.
I don't remember the person I was before I Realized. Whoever she was, that version of me toed a fine line between happily naive and blissfully ignorant of the world around her. She was perfectly content with her own sheltered life and did not know/chose not to learn about what was happening in the world around her. It must've been simpler, then, to be happy. Because I'm not sure about you, but it's heckin' hard to be happy nowadays. It's something you have to fight for on a daily basis. Just a scrap of serotonin takes more effort than the most hardcore jazzercise workout you've ever done.
So, internally, I'm aware that I have Realized - I scroll through social media pages and am heartbroken and furious and have to look up wholesome memes and 'Critical Role Funny Moments' compilations on YouTube to regain some semblance of normality. But the problem here is that somewhere between my Realization and now, I became very good at lying. And you probably have, too.
Realizing is simple. It's the involuntary experience of understanding that life is pain and anyone that tells you otherwise is selling something. I'm not being pessimistic, you understand, I'm just quoting The Princess Bride. Realizing can happen by reading the news or thinking about the fact that you'll die one day or eating too much dairy in one sitting and having a very intense Bathroom Experience. At some point in our lives, we Realize that the world we live in isn't fair, and then we all make the conscious decision to say we're still okay with things, generally.
We all Realize, at some point. For me, it happened when I left home at 18 and went to school. For others, it happens years earlier or decades later. But we all Realize. It takes some indeterminable amount of time, but once it's done, we are overcome with such a maelstrom of emotion that we instinctually just...ignore it. We pin it down and bottle it up and stuff it so far under our skin that nobody will ever, ever see it. And then we smile.
Maybe I am a happy person! I don't know anymore! My hair is usually fun colors, I laugh way too easily, and I don't remember ever being able to confront another human publicly in my life. Combined with my known social anxiety and the rest of my bad-brain cocktail, it's a wonder I have the capacity to feel very much more than happiness all the time. But is it genuine, or have I gotten so good at lying I've even managed to fool myself? Realistically, I can only feel one thing at a time, and it's usually just exhaustion.
To save myself a headache, I've decided that I'm Tinkerbell, now.
Associating myself with different fictional characters is the only way I know how to have a personality. (That's one of the disorders talking, probably.) In the past few years I've felt like Gimli, just an angry dwarf with a competitive streak and a height complex. Sometimes I feel more like Obi-Wan Kenobi, trying to be perfect and pragmatic but honestly ending up being the only adult in a situation (usually during a D&D game). Realistically, though, I am Tinkerbell. Or, no, I'm just an NPC fairy, I'm not anywhere near cool enough to be The fairy. I am small, magical, so filled with emotion that I can't multitask, and actually pretty useless in a fight.
This is who I need to be right now in order to process things, thank you. Get ready for next week when I create my fairy-sona live on Twitch.
Should I Buy a Pair of Cowboy Boots?
Chief Heels Correspondent Alex Speed
It seems innocent enough, right?
They're just like really long Blundstones.
This decision has plagued my thoughts for about a month so as any insane person would do - I have made a pros and cons list and am asking my dear reader for help in this process.
My future is in your hands, please be gentle.
PRO: They would protect my little feet and ankles and legs from possible snake bites. I do a lot of walking in weird places like ranches and the woods. Places where snakes and spiders lurk for their next victim. If I were constantly wearing a giant leather calf condom, their attacks would be significantly less successful. I also like to think that the boot itself would intimidate my potential snake and spider enemies, causing us to avoid any and all unwanted conflict.
CON: I live in Montana. I drive an F150. I listen to country music. I say "howdy!" immediately upon entering any and all buildings. If I also start wearing cowboy boots then I think my next presidential election ballot just auto-populates "Ronald Reagan's Ghost" which would really bum me out policy-wise, but it would also be cool to see the first ghost president. This con is doubled because I worry about the legal implications of electing someone who is technically already dead. Also Ronald Reagan did a bunch of bad economics and racism and I doubt death has made him any more tolerant.
PRO: Depending on what shoes I am wearing I am either 6'1.5" or 6'2". This is a fact that bothers me a lot and I always just tell people I am 6'2" because I have plenty of insecurities as it is and I don't need to throw height into my mental health arena. If I were constantly rocking a saucy pair of scootin' boots then I would have no problem perpetuating this little height fib.
CON: Imagine this: I am at a bar or, better yet, a Chili's Bar and Grille. There is suddenly some sort of ranch-related emergency in the parking lot. Naturally, the crowd of concerned Big Mouth Bite enthusiasts looks to the tall brown-haired guy in cowboy boots to solve the potential bovine emergency. They carry me outside to the scene - which is probably a cow giving birth in the parking lot of a Chili's - and the crowd screams "DO SOMETHING TALL GUY IN WRANGLERS" and I have to explain to the crowd that I don't know how to birth a calf, I just didn't want to get spider bites on my delicate little ankles. I am then laughed out of the state of Montana and have to move back to Austin and get my ears pierced.
NEUTRAL WILDCARD: Cowboy boots are good for motorcycle time because the leather protects my dainty little feet from stuff like the road and the gear shift and the heat that comes from sitting on a little machine whose job is to make a ton of tiny explosions that make you move really fast. This is neutral because too much motorcycle time could be bad. I dunno man I just work here.
As you can see there are a lot of (Reese's) pieces to consider here.
Please leave a note to weigh in on this as I will certainly still be agonizing over this decision for months to come.
I've never used an exclamation point in my life, so this praise cannot be directed at me and therefore is not worthy of these pixels. Just kidding. But please don't feed the staff.
This one I choose to believe is about me. Thank you Mr. Apple.
Newsletter articles have almost won the pulitzer, like, a couple times. So yes please.
Forwarding this to webnode.
Quiz: The Beatles or The Beach Boys?
Chief Trivia Correspondent Matt Spradling
Which lyrics belong to who? Answers at the bottom!
They rewrite history, I don't believe in yesterday / And what's a black Beatle anyway? A fucking roach? / I guess that's why they got me sitting in fucking coach
She say "Can you get my friends in the club?" I say "Can you get my Benz in the club?" If not, treat your friends like my Benz Park they ass outside 'til the evening end
Meanwhile the DEA teamed up with the CCA / They tryin to lock ******* up, they tryin to make new slaves / See that's that private owned prisons Get your piece today / They probably all in the Hamptons Braggin' 'bout what they made / Fuck you and your Hampton house I'll fuck your Hampton spouse
My friend showed me pictures of his kids / And all I could show him was pictures of my cribs / He said his daughter got a brand new report card / And all I got was a brand new sports car
I love your titties cuz they prove I can focus on two things at once
My dawg worked at Taco Bell, hooked us up, plural / Fired a week later, the manager count the churros
Don't do no yoga / Don't do Pilates / Just play piano and stick to karate
Mitt Romney don't pay no tax, Mitt Romney don't pay no tax
A: they are all The Beach Boys (Lennon/McCartney were famously straightedge)
Girls - MARINA
My anxiety wrote this, actually. -Marina
For No One - Houndmouth
One time I reviewed a song called For No One by The Beatles. This is a different song. It is shockingly just as sad. It is eerie and special and listening to it feels like having an idea you really care about that no one else has time to hear about. -Alex
Zenith - Kavinsky
This is, in many ways, the perfect song. Not *most* ways, but in some very important ways (e.g. containing jazz, pristine 80's vibe, strong building momentum, sounds like Daft Punk, ends with jazz.) You know Nightcall, that one Kavinsky song that is the one everyone has heard before? I like this one even more. -Matt
Turn It Off - The Book of Mormon OBC Recording
This is my piece this week but in song form and sung by Mormons. -Marina
Liberty Street - The New Basement Tapes
The other night I got really sad and played this song on the piano for about twenty minutes. It's a great example of Honky-Tonkish-but-also-kinda-sad. Which for those playing along at home is my whole ass brand. -Alex
Skrting On The Surface - The Smile
This is a strange combination of pure chaos (the time is in I think 11/10(?) and the drummer did literally only one take, performed while listening for the first time) and chill, subdued, glassy smoothness, and the result is beautiful. I'm mad at The Smile for not even announcing their album yet but this is a great gift in the meantime. -Matt
Shelved - The Mountain Goats
The Mountain Goats have an album called Goths which contains no guitars and is all about goths (the 80's Seattle kind, not the historical kind) and growing old and delicious delicious melodrama. I thought there was only one song on it that I really loved the production of (the opener) but came across this which is equally cool. Not gonna tour with Trent Reznor / Third of three, bottom of the bill / You can't pay me to make that kind of music / Not gonna swallow that pill / The ride's over / I know / But I'm not ready to go / Maybe dad is right / I'm still young / And I can write C++ just as good as anyone / I know this guy at LucasArts / He says they're looking for hands -Matt
Cosmic Hero - Car Seat Headrest
This might be my favorite album to like - actually listen to? Most of my favorites are sort of like weird pretentious wines where you want to savor them on occasion, but, similar to its older brother, this one can just kind of go forever, is a meaty, bonafide no-skips, and somehow sounds incredibly unique despite also essentially using the same guitar sound for the whole hour. Like a dreamy rock carousel that hits you once per revolution with a baseball bat wrapped in cutting emotional insight. -Matt
Banners - The King Is Dead, The Decemberists
Sword - You tell me man