Trip Home

Trying to sort things out; an essay with archival value if little merit.

I'll probably take this down, but this is what I write before I can write anything else.

This is what I'm reading: Hume, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Conrad, Nostromo. Some other Hume. And the regular retinue of magazines, newspapers, reference books, business and advertising magazines, whatever. I'm listening to Dire Straits, and finding them shitty, but I liked them in High School and the CD was on sale. And also listening to Squarepusher. That is the media I'm consuming.

My head is so absolutely chock full, partially from trying to make this long-distance relationship work, because it's the only thing I value right now, the only thing I want to keep, and also just because of the incredibly unorganized stupid way I live my life. I haven't mailed in my taxes yet. For the fourth year in a row, I'm late.

When I wrote that my girlfriend had "generous knees" her friends, who I guess all read Ftrain, asked her what I meant by that. It didn't mean anything, it was just two words to put together that indicated that they were nice knees, and I wanted to associate the word "generous" with her.

She thought generous meant fat, of course, and she's not fat. I guess that's how these things go. I wanted to talk about the generous swaying of her hips across the piano bench, but even I saw that phrase could be interpreted as fat, when what I really meant was that the motion was generous, that the way she plays piano is generous, and her body is part of the performance. But I edited the word over to describe the knees, and it caught up with me there.

1. generous -- (willing to give and share unstintingly; "a generous donation")

2. generous -- (not petty in character and mind; "unusually generous in his judgment of people")

3. generous -- (more than adequate; "a generous portion")

I was in Philly and Baltimore this weekend because my neice was having first communion. I don't mention my athiesm around most of the family, because I'm her godfather, and because the kids are at Catholic school and they're sensitive, and they like me, and I don't want them worried because Uncle Paul is going to burn in hell forever, raging flames basting me like an apple-mouthed piglet.

I have a cold and I'm cranky, and instead of writing the 195 well-reasoned entries I had in my head, entries about meaning and computers, entries synthesizing my passions and fixations into glorious, glorious text, I am spewing this.

In the church, I hate the blood-drinking and flesh eating. Transubstantiated starch. Not just the cannibalistic overtones, but the whole deal, the whole crazy ritual-rules-repression triad of guilt freaks me out. How sexual it is, putting on your nicest clothes, but not too revealing, but still looking fine, before going and dipping fingers in the holy water, sharing the wine with the priest? The naked bleeding Christ, the soft and gentle virgin? The saints with their breasts hacked off? The soft, pliant sheep, attractive, wooly, and waiting?

I don't want to go off there, into a rambling entry on celebrity, sex, and the saviour, and I guess you will be glad I didn't. And I wouldn't wish my personal ambiguity on anyone; if it works, cling to your faith and live it, shit, even if you're into Scientology, because when you lose it you'll find yourself trying anything to get it back, scrambling back up a million different cliffs before looking out into some hollow black void where the entire basic construction of culture is entirely meaningless, and you'll be reading E. O. Wilson in On Human Nature, explaining everything in terms of self-interested apes.

People are no help. Give a Christian-raised athiest a couple of beers and he cries for Jesus like for a lost lover. I do it, too. The leaders, the public Atheist skeptics, are as bad as any tent-show evangelist, their way or the highway, giving their St. Augustine confessionals of "I used to believe in this," and "I used to read the Tarot" and now it's all neurophysiology and the gene spool, and no one has any consolation to offer--except Consolatio Dei, or whatever it is in in Latin, to "believe because it comforts," but know you're lying to yourself in any case.

What you learn from the scientific and philosophical skeptics is that that anything comforting is probably wrong, and wasteful of time. Keep your wounds fresh, your mind open, and you'll figure it all out. But it hurts, when you hear someone saying, "but that's not fair," about the Columbine shootings, to think to yourself, "that's because fairness, morals, aren't real; they're constructed." Sometimes, when you read about a professor at Princeton who believes babies with serious birth defects should be killed, you would just like to be outraged, not sympathetic. But you don't have the moral compass. You have to say, "well, maybe babies should be killed." You have to ask the question. You can't just believe in God, or turning the other cheek, or the badness or rightness of abortion, or whether there is such a thing as evil, or whether pop-culture has value, or if Postmodernism matters.

I know it's all bullshit, but it's still there on TV. People are talking about it at work. It's in the paper.

My father and I went down to the communion together. Who knows what Dad believes; we never talk about it, but it isn't Jesus.

On my father's side of the family the men have Irish noses, bloodwebbed snoots, oxblood and wine-colored lines, thin as spiderlegs, on the tip of their faces.

My father's brother is dying, the big C, hungry rats eating his liver. A week, a few weeks, morphine and hospice. Dad and I talked about it for a while, but he didn't want to keep discussing. I've spent maybe 6 hours in my life with my uncle, so I only feel anything for my Dad, who'll be alone, cut off from his Connecticut past in its entirety after this next funeral.

As I said, my head is full. Work is going gangbusters, and we're growing hoo-ha, and there'll be zillions of dollars and an equity fund for employees, etc, etc. I am in a great position, but that doesn't mean anything, really; it can all turn to absolute shit and put me on my ass in the next month if the weather changes, and in any case, I feel like I'm wearing a big lead suitcoat during a serious flood, and I'm in a ravine, and there are a lot of cows coming down the ravine that got swept away, along with a Volkswagen, a trailer house, and eels, and I can't really swim in these shoes. I came to NYC in October, 1996, less than three years ago. I brought some stuff, some money, and had absolutely no idea what I was going to do for a living. Everybody predicted total doom. I thought I could temp.

I'm proud of myself, and I'm selfish and self-centered. I could list some examples but it doesn't get me anywhere. I use words like "added value" and "marketspace." I'm self-satisfied and swelled up like a tick on the fat dog that used to sit outside the pizza shop in my college's town, Elliot. I miss that dog. It was almost perfectly spherical. I have a cool web site with X daily readers and a great girlfriend and great opportunities, whoo hoo. Some people do better than I do, and I'm jealous of them. Some do not so well, and I try to help them, but I feel kind of self-important as I do it. Ha, I say, I was a poor kid at a school for poor kids. I had a fucked up family life. I'm a fat bastard. And I'm doing great. Look at me! Look at how smart and clever I am. And this attitude both devalues me into a series of labels, and makes me hollow and pompous.

Please don't send me any email about this, telling me I'm actually okay and I shouldn't be too hard on myself. I will be hard on myself, and you can read if you want to. I don't want to be a Buscagliated drone. I don't want to end up reading business strategy books and putting posters on my wall that say "you can do it." I'm trying to get away from my inner Livingston Seagull, and I don't want positive feedback; it doesn't help me get there.

(Most everyone stopped reading at that last paragraph, fed up.) See, what I'm trying to do right now is burn myself out, to crack under the pressure as soon as possible. I don't want to be 45 and say, "hey! I'm not happy with the life/money/family/career/cats I've chosen. I've got to get the fuck out there and start my very own punk band, called The Rotten Snatches." I want to just blow through my life by the time I'm 28, and then quit and figure out what I'm actually good for.

Do what will make you happy. What would make me happy is to sit in my apartment and write little sentences, then put some of them online, then go for a walk, then beat off a little, and do a little freelance work, and to hang out with my girlfriend, to listen to her talking, to help her out with her problems, support her in her endeavors, tell her my own problems, and when guys hit on her, to beat the living shit out of them. But I don't have the balls at all to do any of it. I'm a wus with a checkbook. I get worried what my Dad will think if I just picked up and started over. The pressure to be staid is enormous. I don't want to inconvenience anyone with any of my life choices. I don't want anyone to worry they might have to bail me out.

I listened to my girlfriend describe a kid she saw in a doctor's office, watching him play, how she responded. She saw more in ten minutes than I see in six weeks. I need to stop writing about myself, or about big things, and get back to little bits of life, which is all I'm capable of living, anyway.

My dad is a playwrite, he has a filing cabinet filled with novels, plays, poems, stuff he doesn't even send out anymore. "If I die," he says, "just save the writing." But we never talk about it much more than this, except a few words of encouragement once every 6 months or so. He knows about Ftrain, but I don't think he reads it. It's not his style, I don't think--he leaves that part of me alone.

There's also the supply-demand issue with dropping out. The world has enough novel-or-journal-writers, but it doesn't seem to have enough brand strategists who can think comfortably about the digital sphere. The world is hurting for information architects. If any of you are information architects, let me know, I can get you a job. Because that's what the world really needs, much more than art, or consolation. Just ask the headhunters. Technical writers, too. The world needs more technical writers. The world needs more web portals. The world needs guys who can come up with pithy ad copy, guys like me.

The world needs more web sites. Most of the English language is registered as a web site URL, but no one has registered the following URLs: titfunnel.com; assfury.com; clitormiss.com; clit-or-miss.com; earman.com; rainbowchicken.com; sneep.com

I'm only half-cynical. I dig the whole financial interchange, the same way I like science fiction. Life in business will make me go apeshit and start shooting sometime soon, but in the meantime, it catches my eye. I just wish I didn't hate it so much at a fundamental, gut level, because I really love the way all the people get excited about absolutely nothing. It's fascinating in the same way Presbyterian church used to be, all the rituals.

I have 2 business cards at Rock, Paper, Scissors: "Senior Writer" and "Brand Strategist." I have a cell phone with 660 paid-for long distance minutes, monthly. I have a laptop. I have a leash. I have handles drilled into my ankles so that I have something to grab onto when I get fucked up the ass, and I have to go now, so I can write a 2 million US dollar proposal by tomorrow morning. Whoopdidoo. There are a million of me. We're clerics, scribes for the kings of industry; we get to lick the condensed income off the big goblet of liquid cash. We're easy to hire and easy to fire. We owe you nothing, and you don't owe us, either. It's not fair, but there it is.

Besides, there are plenty of really fucking great, clever novel-writing 20somethings, with good bodies and goatees and addresses in Soho. Granted, the shit they write is absolutely useless, alienating, and deathly repetitious. It feeds into the ironic wasteland of modern prose; it offers no consolation.

Consolation is a big one with me today. And there are some great voices out there, too. I shouldn't be so cynical. But it does seem everyone starts a label now before they learn to play guitar.

What's great, is I'll get a lot of email from this entry, and some people will write me, "stop complaining! no one wants to hear you whine and ramble," and for these people, I refer you to the rest of the fucking World Wide Web, 100% whine-free. In the meantime, this is where I am sitting, on my found-on-the-street roto-office-chair. If you think this is boring, imagine how boring it must be for me.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

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Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

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